Westminster Council leader Nickie Aiken puts rogue landlords ‘on notice’
Labour suggest under-fire Tories are aping their popular housing policies
10 November, 2017 — By William McLennan
THE leader of Westminster Council has told rogue landlords breaking holiday letting rules that they will be “chased out of town” as she announced plans to tackle the housing crisis.
Councillor Nickie Aiken said that developers would be made to build affordable housing, private landlords would be prosecuted if they failed to meet high standards, and Airbnb-style rentals that “flout the law” would be shut down.
She announced the proposals as next year’s budget, which sees the council’s funding from government cut by a further £30.8million, was laid out on Wednesday.
Labour welcomed the new approach, but accused the Tory leadership of copying many of their ideas.
Labour group leader Cllr Adam Hug said that plans to “reinvest the annual underspend in community projects” had been proposed six months ago.
He added: “I welcome too many of the words around housing – again an issue that Labour has long campaigned on in the face of Tory inaction. However, they have to translate words into real action at planning committees to raise the number of affordable units built by developers.”
In April, the council announced that they would be “flipping” the ratio of social and intermediate housing that is required from developers. It currently stands at 60 per cent social, 40 per cent affordable, but this will be switched around, reducing the amount of social housing required.
Cllr Hug said: “Cllr Aiken is actually proposing to reduce the proportion of much-needed social homes as part of any new house-building.”
At the first meeting at Westminster Council House in Marylebone Road since it closed for refurbishment, Cllr Aiken said: “I have made it clear to developers that if you want to build in our city, you build for our city.
“We will build more affordable homes from scratch but we will also do more about quality and standards in existing housing. That is why we are going to get tough on rogue and irresponsible private landlords.”
She said they will set up a “housing standards taskforce” with £200,000 of council money.
Addressing short-term holiday lets, which by law can only be rented for 90 days a year, Cllr Aiken said that the online industry had ignored her warnings and many landlords continue to “flout the law”.
She added: “I am today putting rogue short-term let landlords on notice that we are preparing a raft of measures which see them chased out of town. My message to them is: get out of this business while you can: this is Westminster, not the Wild West.”
The tough talk is a break from the council’s past approach, with developers permitted to make cash payments instead of building affordable homes. Council policy sets the level of payments required in lieu, but this was often quibbled by developers who were given vast discounts. In February, a £1billion project to con- vert the old War Office in Whitehall into flats and a hotel was agreed, with developers given a £30million discount on their contribution to affordable housing.
Budget papers presented at the meeting on Wednesday said that the council will make “savings of £37.695m” next year.
The report stated that “no savings have resulted from service reductions,” adding: “As far as possible, the council has targeted financing and commercial revenues, efficiency and transformation as being the main sources of the budget savings.”