London People: Richard Blakeway
Interviews with people, who live, or work, in London who have made an impact on the city; each in their own way. And their relationship with the capital.
by Sarah Kinson
Richard Blakeway is the Mayor of London's new director of housing and his team recently announced a new strategy for housing in the capital.
When did you first arrive in London?
I spent three months sleeping on a mate's sofa in the summer of 2001, after I graduated from University. He'd just bought a first time buyers flat in Limehouse Basin and I colonised the living room. There were no curtains, and the balcony was above a 24 hour bus stop. I think London is such a fantastic area for opportunity and so incredibly diverse. It's absolutely amazing to live in such a vibrant city.
Where did you grow up?
In a market town called Ellesmere in Shropshire. The place is so rural people could be forgiven for thinking that I pointed at aeroplanes until I was about ten. I was incredibly fortunate to benefit from the freedom of green space, which is why I passionately believe we must protect London's precious open spaces to enhance quality of life.
Why did you move to London?
To get a job. London is the greatest city in the world for opportunity; that's why we've got to make it more affordable for young professionals. After several summers volunteering in London politics, I secured a job in Parliament. And I spent my summers volunteering overseas.
What parts of London have you lived in?
I've tended to hug the South of the river. I imagine I could live anywhere in London, although my yearning at the moment is for Hampstead village. It has fantastic shops and restaurants and magnificent views across London.
Where do you live now?
East Dulwich. The area has completely transformed over the last ten years, with Lordship Lane arguably boasting more artisan shops, delicatessens and gastropubs than a similar stretch of the King's Road. There's even someone who looks like the late Marcel Marceau selling onions every weekend from a bicycle.
Is London a good place to bring up children?
Yes because it offers such a richness of diversity and opportunity. Yet we need to make sure young people feel connected to their city. A youth worker told me once that almost 70% of one borough's teenagers have never travelled to zone one. It's crucial that the capital's richness benefits everyone.
Describe a normal day at work for you.
The job is incredibly varied. Every day I wake with a sense of wonderment that I am able to put into action the policies devised during the campaign. We have spent the last few months working on the Mayor's housing strategy which will guide almost £2 billion worth of investment each year.
Getting results is a huge team effort, and there is an intense amount of negotiation. I meet with Boris to talk about how to support housing in this tough time and I have lots of meetings with the London council boroughs and those working in the housing industry. I also like to go out to see innovative housing projects, and to speak to people about what we are trying to do to help Londoners get on the housing ladder.
What are the main problems for Londoners, in terms of housing?
Average house prices here are about 13 times higher than average wages. And despite the fact the cost of living is higher in London; we have the same restrictions on who qualifies for affordable housing as elsewhere in the country. So, it's still too difficult for ordinary Londoners to get onto the housing ladder.
We need to offer a genuine choice of housing options. We need to improve the design quality of what we deliver; and to enable more social mobility for Londoners.
What are you going to try and do about these problems?
We have just launched our flagship First Steps scheme, which entitles all Londoners who earn at the basic rate of income tax, to benefit from affordable home ownership.
We have scrapped the target which required new developments to make sure 50% of their housing is affordable. While the idea sounded good, sadly it was never met, and what it did in some cases was strangle development. So, instead we now have an aspiration to deliver 50,000 affordable homes over the next three years.
How will this be done?
Underpinning all this action is a radically different approach to funding the development of affordable housing which meets the new market conditions. At the moment, Government money for housing is given as a subsidy and we want to move from being a subsidiser to a shareholder in developments.
For example, we can use public land owned by Transport for London, and put it in as part of a construction deal, which removes the risk and allows building to go ahead.
Looking back on it now, do you think the 'Right to Buy' policy, whereby people could buy their own flats from the council, was good or bad for Londoners?
Right to Buy gave hope to thousands of Londoners. There's an incredibly strong link between homeownership and better communities - it can kick-start lives and make households more financially secure. The Mayor will be introducing a new scheme to give the same opportunity to today's social tenants, whilst ensuring those people stranded on waiting lists get access to new homes.
What do you do to relax?
I have a romanticised, and highly cultural, vision of viewing American modern art at the Serpentine gallery. But it's usually rugby at Quin's with a four pint pitcher.
What is the worst thing about London?
Road works. And we are raging a war against them! The Mayor and my colleagues are talking to utility companies to make sure they work in a more synchronised way, so that the same roads are not constantly dug up to do different types of utility work.
What is the best thing?
The River Thames. It's an amazing resource, and we should make more of it. I have no doubt it will be at the centre of the Olympics. Whatever its budget, Beijing never had the kind of river along which this great city is built.
If you had only one more day in London (i.e. had to leave tomorrow) what would you spend your last day doing?
Ronnie Scott's. My father was a jazz drummer, playing there regularly and I have yet to pay homage.
Where do you want to end up when you pop your clogs?
Scattered over the River Thames, after a party on one of those iconic old Routemaster buses!!!
last updated: 24/11/2008 at 13:02
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