London’s councils spend £22m a year renting back homes they used to own. It’s time to scrap Right To Buy

Some flats. Image: London.

There is a fundamental dichotomy at the heart of the government’s analysis of the housing crisis. On one hand, ministers acknowledge that the housing market – over which they have presided for the last nine years – is broken, and requires change. On the other, they seem incapable of enacting the reform that’s urgently required to fix it. This would of course necessitate a publicly-led programme of large scale housebuilding in places where people want to live, meaningful reform of the private rented sector, and an end to sticking plaster solutions such as Help to Buy which often do more harm than good. All of which they’re seemingly unwilling to confront.

Nowhere in Britain is the scale of the housing crisis more acute than it is in London. The government’s recent announcement of an end to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) cap is welcome, but without the funding required to enable councils to meaningfully participate in the housing market again, public building will continue to be supressed. London needs 30,972 new low-cost rented houses a year – but despite the best efforts of the mayor and many local authorities, demand continues to far outstrip supply with just 7,905 of these houses completed in the last five years.

Surely then, in the face of increasing homelessness, the last thing that hard-pressed boroughs need is the ongoing legal requirement to sell off this precious public resource, at a discount of up to £108,000 per home, under the auspices of the Right to Buy scheme.

The ostensible aim of the Right to Buy was to increase rates of home ownership; but the reality is that this is in freefall, with Londoners and young people the worst affected. With an ever-greater proportion of former social homes falling into the hands of private landlords, the hard reality is that the Right to Buy isn’t only depriving councils of secure homes to offer to those in the greatest need – it’s also depriving so many more people of the security of tenure they rightly demand.


When I last investigated the impact of this policy in London in 2014, I found that at least 36 per cent of all homes sold by councils in London were being privately let. This week I published a new report, ‘Right to Buy: Wrong for London’, which takes a deep dive into the damaging legacy of this policy in the capital. The sobering reality is that the situation has worsened in the last five years – now an astonishing 42 per cent of former Right to Buy homes are owned by private landlords.

The picture in some boroughs is particularly grim. In Westminster, Harrow and Enfield more than half have fallen into the poorly-regulated private rented sector. Some landlords are building property empires out of what was once social housing: in Greenwich alone there are more than 200 individuals who own five or more former council homes.

With thousands of families across London stuck in temporary accommodation, it beggars belief that our boroughs are forced to line the pockets of private landlords simply to put a roof over people’s heads. Councils across London – already battered by almost a decade of austerity – shell out an astonishing £22m a year, at least, to rent back the very same homes that they were forced to sell at a discount. How can it be right that Newham, for instance, have little choice but to rent 808 of their former homes at a cost to the taxpayer of £12.9m a year?

The solution of course is to build thousands more homes for social rent. While City Hall has announced plans to fund the development of 11,000 more council homes in London, the government is failing to even replace those that have been lost under the Right to Buy scheme. The mayor of London’s new ‘ring-fence offer’ for London councils to protect their Right to Buy receipts is also a positive step. But in order to meet need, some councils are buying back homes they had previously sold under the Right to Buy, with Ealing Council spending £107m on reacquiring 516 homes they were forced to sell for just £16.2m.

It must be recognised that home ownership is important for many Londoners - but that should not come at any cost. The government needs to face facts, protect our capital’s housing stock and scrap the Right to Buy in London.

 
 
 
 

Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.


The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.