Good transport links will be the foundation of new homes for London

Not enough of these. Image: Oli Scarff/Getty.

The latest in the Future of London series, presented by Transport for London.

This time: how can we solve the capital’s housing crisis?

Ask a random group of Londoners what is the biggest challenge for the city and most will agre: housing. People are increasingly being priced out of inner London, and “generation rent” are wondering if and when they will ever be able to get on the property ladder. Recently, we’ve even heard stories of young Londoners relocating to Berlin, where property is cheaper and globally mobile jobs are available.

The problem is being compounded by population growth. London now has 8.6m residents – more than at any time in its history – and is predicted to reach 10m by 2030. That gives the city a monumental challenge: building the homes to house 1.4m more inhabitants when there’s already a housing crisis.


The city has a housing target to build 49,000 homes a year. Meeting that target means building 4,000 homes a month, or one home every 10 minutes.

The next mayor, elected in May 2016, will have to work round the clock to solve the housing crisis. If they don’t, it could cost the economy £35bn over the next 10 years.

The next mayor isn’t going to put a hard hat on, get their shovel out and build the houses themselves, but they will have a good toolbox with which to work. In the UK, London’s mayor has unmatched powers over strategic planning and, crucially, an integrated transport network, to unlock land for development. If combined with a clear vision and leadership from City Hall and supported by national government, London can deliver the homes Londoners need.

One of the pressing questions is deciding where the houses should be built. Mayoral hopefuls are looking at options including building outside the city’s boundaries, capitalising on opportunity areas, densifying parts of inner London and developing town centres in outer London. They are also looking at using parts of public sector-owned land to create homes.

Connecting homes with jobs

For each strategy considered, the next mayor will also need to look at effective transport links, which are fundamental to unlocking housing potential and to London’s economy.

The most productive workers in the country work in central London. The firms they are employed by need to recruit from a wide pool of candidates, with many commuting from across the South East to work there. Seventy-nine per cent of workers in central London travel into work by train, and they travel further than commuters across the rest of Britain.

But the jobs they do are often globally mobile, making the imperative of providing affordable homes even more pressing. Seventy-three per cent of London businesses think that the current housing shortage poses a risk to the city’s economic future. Firms looking for global headquarters will consider risks like that when they look at locating in London.

Economic activity unlocked by Crossrail 2 would deliver a sum more than sufficient to pay half of the scheme’s costs

Meanwhile, firms locating in outer London will also expect their employees and customers to be able to access them easily. This requires an effective road network and connections for people cycling, walking and using local bus services.

Good transport links are therefore vital to unlocking the developments which are needed to address the housing shortage and maintain London’s competitiveness. Crucially, the housing they unlock can help to fund the transport schemes themselves.

Under the capital’s control

The planned extension of the Northern line, running from Kennington to Battersea, is being funded in part by the developers building on the land around it. The area is expected to deliver 16,000 new homes for London. A further 24,000 homes could be built around Old Oak Common, an area set to benefit from improved links on the London Overground and High Speed 2 lines, while new bus and cross-river rail links could unlock 11,000 new homes at Barking Riverside.

Another scheme that could be part-financed by Londoners is Crossrail 2, with the capital funding more than half of the cost of the scheme. Economic activity unlocked by Crossrail 2 would deliver billions of pounds of net additional tax receipts, a sum more than sufficient to pay half of the scheme’s costs. It could support 200,000 new homes across London and the South East, deliver transport and regeneration benefits, and support around 60,000 jobs across the UK during construction.


With the equivalent of two full Tube trains of people being added to London’s population every week, the city cannot afford to let Crossrail 2 sit on the drawing board. If Crossrail 2 is given the go ahead, work could start by 2020 and be finished by 2030. 

London’s next mayor will have the powers to unlock new housing, and will undoubtedly have a strong mandate from voters to do so. By integrating new developments with the existing transport network, improving links and ensuring that the right financing for projects is in place, the next mayor can deliver thousands of new homes.

But their capacity to push forward and finance schemes like Crossrail 2, which could transform housing supply across the city, still lags behind competing cities like Berlin.

To catch up, giving the mayor more powers to plan for the long-term and secure funding, could transform the city – and have a dramatic effect on whether Londoners will face the same challenges in years to come. 

The future of London series is supported by Transport for London, and commissioned by CityMetric. You can see the other articles at the following links:

"What will the capital look like in 20 years time?" The powers the capital needs to thrive

"Data helps us provide better transport": an interview with Shashi Verma, TfL's Director of Customer Experience, about big data and new methods of payment

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.