Housing a frontline for London’s terror fight

A review of London’s readiness for a major terrorist attack warns of a need for specialist emergency services worker housing in the capital.

Transformation in the Police

Housing is in the frontline of London’s fight against terrorism.

A new review of the capital’s responsive preparedness to a major terrorist incident says warns of a need to ‘formally identify’ specialist emergency services worker housing as a key planning consideration issue.

24housing first reported on this earlier in the year.

Then, a case was made for London’s emergency services having the mayor as their landlord.

Now, the first two recommendations  of the review say:

  • The Mayor should ask the Chair of the London Resilience Forum to consider how London’s preparedness to deal with a major incident may be impacted by a majority of the three main ‘blue light’ emergency services workers living outside London.
  • The Mayor should consult the London boroughs and the Corporation of London on an alteration to the London Plan to formally identify the need for specialist emergency services worker housing as an important planning issue for London.

The review recognises London as facing ‘some particular challenges’ in terms of the delivery and cost of vital public services, citing London Ambulance Service (LAS) being put into special measures by the Care Quality Commission a year ago with concerns raised about emergency planning and staffing.

While the review accepts that other services do not suffer from the same acute problems that the LAS has, it does outlined defining challenges all services in London face.

First, doing business in London is simply more expensive than other parts of the country. This is largely driven by higher wages, linked to the higher cost of living, and a higher cost of services provided to agencies. Secondly, and intrinsic to the high cost of living, is the cost of housing in the capital.

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in its  June 2016 report Living on the Edge, highlighted some of the problems facing those working in London’s emergency services, and the consequences for service delivery.

This report found that average starting salaries for London emergency services workers appear not to be sufficient to rent a home within London.

Using the generally accepted definition for affordable rent of no more than 35% of take-home pay, an emergency services worker who earns £24,000 after taxes and benefits, should not paying more than £700 per month in rent – £500 below the average one-bedroom rent in London.

Consequently, the report found that the majority (54%) of ambulance paramedics, police officers and firefighters live outside the capital.

The review accepts that In an emergency situation, where having extra personnel available for support can be essential, this can have a significant impact.

It can also impact recruitment and retention of staff, if they have to commute considerable distances to get to work.

As such, the review reinforces a need for work to address the problem seeing the start of a solution in Living on the Edge, stressing that the mayor should ask the Chair of the London Resilience Forum to consider how the capital’s preparedness to deal with a major incident may be impacted by a majority of the three main ‘blue light’ emergency services workers living outside its boundaries.


CASE STUDY: Commuter Cops

A report this year by public service think tank Policy Exchange recommended conversion of existing police buildings into residential property for London police officers.

Given the considerable number of police buildings sold under London’s last Mayor, the report – called Commuter Cops – accepted this as an ‘unlikely source’ of a significant amount of housing.

Instead, the report says the Met should convert some of its existing buildings into police officer housing acknowledging the closure of front counters and entire police stations under the previous Mayor as being achieved ‘without noticeable difficulty or impact on the public’

The Met estate remains substantial at more than 6 million square feet across almost 400 separate sites with 73 front counters.

In May last year, the Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, floated the possibility of further reducing the number of Met sites from 400 to 100.

Commuter Cops  says further closures and consolidations should take place  but not, as before, to provide income for the force from property sales, but to free the sites for conversion or redevelopment into officer housing.

Previously, Policy Exchange has recommended setting up confidential police contact points – replacing local front counters – in the Tube’s disused and now surplus station ticket offices seen as much more accessible to the public than police stations.

To Policy Exchange custody suites could be consolidated and smaller ones closed, back-office functions currently in inner London should be moved to outer London and some police stations amalgamated with fire and ambulance stations.

Converting 25 per cent of the Met/MOPAC estate to housing would generate 3,350 one-bedroom properties, or 2,750 two-bedroom properties, the report said.