Tuesday, 17 February 2015

'The Promise': 11,000 new council homes over the next 30 years

Sign of sentiment at protest outside Southwark Council on 10 February
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

In south London, Southwark Council’s Labour administration promises to build 11,000 new council homes by 2043.
Cynics say the ‘promise’ is timed for the general election on 7 May.
Eileen, a local resident, says promising to build new council homes whilst demolishing existing ones is "like trying to fill a bath with the plug pulled out".

“But it could be a popular vote-winning promise,” says Jerry Flynn.
Flynn and fellow members of the Elephant Amenity Network, a campaigning group of local residents, traders and tenants, scrutinise this ‘promise’ on 17 February at a gathering inside Crossway Church on New Kent Road.

They invite Southwark Council officers Alison Squires and Ebony Riddell-Bamber to present the Council’s housing policies drafted in the New Southwark Plan. 
Poignantly, Crossway Church backs onto the Heygate Estate where the Council and developer Lend Lease recently demolished 1,200 council homes to make way for a new development with only 79 social rent units.

Squires, a planning policy team leader, and Riddell-Bamber from Southwark's Community Engagement division, arrive primed with a map of Southwark showing proposed sites for these 11,000 new council homes.
Riddell-Bamber says "residents can plot where they think these new homes could be built on an 'interactive map' on the Council's website".

'Let's talk about' leaflet. Photo: © London Intelligence

'Poor doors'
Tony, a Peckham resident, tells Squires and Riddell-Bamber that "many people in my area are worried about whether these new units will mean their homes will be demolished".
Riddell-Bamber says she understands the 11,000 new homes will be a 'gross' addition to the council's housing stock.
Squires chips in and says: "My understanding is that the 11,000 hasn't been defined as net or gross. 
"Some of those council homes will be 'affordable homes'."
Did Southwark Council leader Peter John say 'net' or 'gross'?
Confusion reigns. 

At the moment
On demolition, Squires says: "There's currently no plan for demolitions on the scale of the Heygate or Aylesbury estates at the moment but that's not to say between now and 2043 that there won't be."
The phrase 'at the moment' hangs heavily in the air.

The 'Dulwich question'
"I could think of a lot of sites in Dulwich, for example, where it would be very nice to see new council housing," says EAN member Richard Lee.
Many 'middle class' people live in Dulwich's leafy suburban neighbourhoods in the south of Southwark.
"My worry is that if people put these areas forward the Council already has fixed a framework that will protect Dulwich spaces against these new council homes," says Lee. 
"Is Southwark ruling out such spaces before people submit them? 
"If Dulwich is deemed already inappropriate for new council homes, what's the point of this process?"
Riddell-Bamber, quoting Southwark's Direct Delivery Team, says "developments will have to be supported by residents".

Riddell-Bamber stresses Southwark Council is committed to building these 11,000 council homes by 2043.
About 1,500 will be developed by 2018.
Construction of some new homes is underway.
The first at Willow Walk will be completed in the next month or so.
Phase One of a ‘Direct Delivery Programme’ started in Spring 2013.
The remaining homes will be finished by March 2016, including at Long Lane, North Peckham, and Cator Street.
Phase Two involves homes at 15 other sites.

Phases 1 and 2 will deliver 644 new homes but with 437 offered as social rent homes (equivalent to council rents).
Included in that 644 are 42 specialist supported homes, and 64 ‘shared ownership’, and 101 units for private sale.
“But that’s well short of the 1,500 to be developed by 2018,” says Riddell-Bamber.
“We want local communities to identify sites for this housing they want to see.”

At an earlier local residents’ meeting at Walworth Methodist Church (10 February),** Flynn says local tenants’ experience of the demolition of the Heygate Estate and planned demolition of the Aylesbury Estate “entitles us to be cautious”.
Flynn asks: “Does this promise open the door to a widescale regeneration of council estates that will leave us with less council houses than when we started?
“There are worrying signs that this could happen.
“On two of the first developments lined up by Southwark – East Dulwich and Maydew House – there will be net losses of 70 and 31 council homes respectively.
“Obviously, future developments will have to make up these losses if we are to get to our 11,000 total.”

Southwark’s current ‘regeneration’ portfolio doesn’t bode well for the future delivery of the ‘promise’.
The council approves developments with little or no social housing.
At the Elephant and Castle, six large developments rise out of the ground – Tribeca Square, Strata Tower, 360 Tower, Eileen House, One the Elephant, and Elephant Park.
“That’s 4,220 new homes,” says Flynn.
“Only 108 will be socially rented.
“That’s 2.5%.”

Southwark envisages two other strategies to build these 11,000 new council homes.
Buying them from private developers and buying the land on the open market to build them on.
“Southwark’s track record on doing either of these things is very poor,” says Flynn.
“So if 11,000 council homes are to be secured, then tenants and residents will have to be very vigilant.
“We have to keep our eye on Southwark to see what they’re doing and not just accept at face value what they tell us they’re doing.
“The Southwark Group of Residents and Tenants Organisations has taken a lead in defending tenants and residents interest and we must support them.”

Flynn says most of the 20,000 people on Southwark’s housing waiting list can only afford social rented homes.
“But, at the moment, Southwark gives no priority in its housing policies for building social housing,” adds Flynn.
Southwark policy is to build ‘mixed and balanced communities’ through ‘intermediate’ (‘affordable’ shared ownership and equity) and free market housing.
“This doesn’t mean building council estates in Dulwich,” says Flynn.

Jerry Flynn, speaking on 10 February © London Intelligence 2015

“In practice, around here, it means knocking down council estates and forcing us out of the area,” says Flynn.
“Southwark is now re-writing these policies and we must all demand that priority is given to social rented housing above intermediate and free market housing," adds Flynn.
“Stop demolishing council houses.
“Stop allowing developments that have no social housing.
“Get rid of ‘affordable rent’.
“Yes to 11,000 council homes.
“No to dodgy regeneration schemes that gives us less.”

* Elephant Amenity Network's scrutiny of housing policy in the New Southwark Plan. 
took place at 6.30pm, Tuesday 17 February, at the Crossway Church, 100 New Kent Road, London SE1 6TU.

** Jerry Flynn earlier spoke at a Defend Council Housing meeting at Walworth Methodist Church on Tuesday 10 February.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2014

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