Richard Watts says expect an ‘aggressive’ house-building drive in Islington if Labour is re-elected

Islington Council Leader Richard Watts. Photograph: Islington Council

Islington Council Leader Richard Watts says residents should expect “an aggressive programme of house-building” across the borough if Labour wins a majority on 3 May.

In an interview with the Islington Citizen ahead of the local elections, Cllr Watts said he wanted to be “completely honest” about Labour’s plans so people who don’t want developments in their area can’t “say they were’t warned”.

Labour is promising to build at least 550 new council homes and provide 1,900 new “genuinely affordable homes” in Islington by 2022.

Cllr Watts, who was elected Council Leader in 2013, said a re-elected Labour-run council would “really press the accelerator” on house-building.

“I’m absolutely determined we make and even bigger dent in the housing crisis in the next four years, after the good work we’ve done over the last eight”, he said, speaking to the Citizen in his Town Hall office.

“I’m trying to just be completely honest about this, because I know building new homes in communities isn’t always the most popular thing to do with the people who live around it.

“And I just want to be really clear that if people vote Labour they’re voting for an aggressive programme of house-building all the way across the borough – genuinely affordable housing for local people.”

He added: “I don’t want in any sense, if we’re lucky enough to be elected and then pursue this, for people to then say they weren’t warned.

“I want to be really clear about what our intentions are.”

When asked what “genuinely affordable” means to him, Cllr Watts said “socially rented, rather than the kind of fake affordable of, say, 80 per cent of market rate”.

He called building private homes to pay for social housing “the only game in town” due to the government’s “ludicrous” borrowing caps, adding that 75 per cent of social housing built in Islington since 2010 was funded this way.

But Cllr Watts said he was proud of the council’s policy of reducing land values to “strike a hard bargain” with developers on including affordable housing in new buildings.

He said: “We are proudly the most difficult borough in London for developers to do business with, not because we don’t want the homes, but because we think we can strike a harder bargain on behalf of local residents.”

Cllr Watts said housing was “overwhelmingly” the top issue residents were bringing up on the doorstep, along with the cost of living and community safety.