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London’s affordable homes in expensive locations, a lesson for Nigeria

The London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, like the Banana Island in Lagos and Maitama District in Abuja, Nigeria, has some of the most expensive properties in the UK, but a new development of affordable homes has been approved for that location.

In the Nigerian highbrow locations, especially Banana Island, property values are such that the houses built on that island are targeted at a particular class of people. Any other person is a total stranger who is expected to leave immediately after his visit because he does not belong here.

But the story is different elsewhere. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has taken over the Notting Hill Gate scheme and doubled the amount of affordable housing being built to 35 percent, up from 17 percent. Under the new plans, about two thirds of new affordable homes will be available at social rent levels, others capped below the London Living Rent level.

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The application to redevelop Newcombe House in Kensington and Chelsea was turned down by the local council in March, before the Mayor took over the application later that month. The borough has consistently failed to meet targets for new and affordable homes.

Khan pointed out that last year no affordable homes were given planning permission by the council. But through his takeover, the Mayor has secured amendments to the plans that increase the level of affordable housing from 17 to 35 percent.

This is a big lesson for government’s at all levels in Nigeria. The mayor in London who is influencing the redevelopment of affordable homes in expensive areas is an equivalent of a local government chairman in Nigeria.

This underscores the importance the government attaches to housing the citizens but in Africa’s largest economy, housing is a luxury. The expensive locations in the country are exclusive for only the rich and high net-worth individuals who have chosen to live in such locations for a number of reasons including affordability, class, taste, and above all exclusivity of that location where only men of means are found which widens the inequality gap in society.

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For the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea to have chosen to develop more affordable homes in the expensive locations means there is a deliberate attempt to close the inequality gap in the society.

The development will include a medical centre, step-free access to the nearby Notting Hill Gate, underground station and a new public square with permanent pedestrian and cycle access.
“Since taking office, I’ve been clear I will use all the levers at my disposal to increase the supply of council, social rented, and other genuinely affordable homes that Londoners need across the capital,” said Khan.

Continuing, he explained, “having considered all the evidence available to me, and following hardwork by my planning team to increase the level of affordable housing, I have decided to grant permission for this development”.

This is a huge lesson for Nigeria where affordable homes for low income earners is not part of the concerns of government. Majority of private sector operators don’t factor affordable housing into their calculations and those who do usually go to the hinterland to develop. Demand here is not strong because many people would rather rent at the city centre than own a home in the ‘bush’.

The proposed development in London will also include important new step-free access to Notting Hill Gate station, a major improvement benefitting local residents and visitors coming to enjoy this vibrant and exciting part of the capital. This is unimaginable in a location like Banana Island where such a development will not be permitted because it will impact negatively on the exclusivity of the location.

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London has housing crisis like Nigeria, but unlike Nigeria, the government at various levels are addressing the crisis. Nigeria has a deficit estimated at 17 million units that requires an annual housing delivery of about 700,000.

But, Chudi Ubosi, an estate surveyor and valuer, says aggregate output at the moment is not up to 100,000 units.

Khan believes that ‘London’s housing crisis won’t be solved overnight, but hopes “this will send a clear message that I expect developments to include more genuinely affordable housing and other benefits for local people,’ he added.

CHUKA UROKO

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