WALTER CRONXITE reports on how the council is getting on with its “ambition” to provide the many new homes needed by its growing population
That’s how many new housing units that have been completed by Croydon Council since Labour won control of the Town Hall in May 2014.Or a rate of just eight new homes per year. In a borough where homelessness rates had reached record levels – with 913 families on the council’s register as homeless in 2013.
The figures were provided in an official response provided by Alison Butler, the deputy council leader and cabinet member responsible for housing.
Butler’s answer said: “The current Council New Build Phase 4 programme comprises of 33 units of which 12 new homes have started on site since May 2014. All units apart from two units have been handed over and residents have moved in. The remaining two homes are due to be handed over this next week.” That was on October 19.
“Looking forward, the council is forecasting a step change increase in the number of new build homes delivered,” Butler said, promising more jam tomorrow.
In the Croydon Labour manifesto published before those last local elections, Butler and her leader, Tony Newman, had stated: “Croydon has a housing crisis and Labour will make tackling this a priority… If we want a town where big business invests and smaller businesses are given the opportunity to start up and grow, then we must provide decent housing, whether to rent or to buy, that is affordable for all.
“We are ambitious to build new homes to rent and buy to help tackle Croydon’s housing crisis.”
It’s just that building eight new council homes per year doesn’t seem to be overly, well, “ambitious”.
Of course, there’s a massive disincentive for local authorities, such as Croydon, to spend their scarce public resources on building new publicly owned homes: this Tory-run Government wants councils, and now the charities which run housing associations, to be forced to flog-off their social housing, usually at a massive public subsidy on the true market value, which in some cases could amount to £100,000 on a typical family home. It is another insidious effort by the Tories to transfer public assets to the private sector, and usually at a discount.
Croydon Council has been failing to build significant numbers of new social housing for some time. From 1988, under Labour as well as Conservative-controled councils, it went 22 years without building a single new council home. But even as recently as 2010, in the midst of the global economic downturn, the council managed to build at least 20 homes that year. That’s more than twice the rate managed so far under Newman’s leadership.Butler’s answer went on to state, “A thorough review of surplus council-owned assets has been completed and technical due diligence of 70 council-owned sites is currently being undertaken. The results of this work will help inform the programme from October 2015 onwards when design and planning work will commence on these sites as part of the expanded programme.”
These will be the sites which the council’s newly recreated architects’ department will be given the task of developing.
“In relation to grant funding, the Council has secured affordable housing funding from
the GLA for the delivery of 100 affordable homes as part of this programme to start on
site no later than August 2016,” said Butler.
In answer to another question, in respect of the council’s £500,000 fund intended to encourage property owners to bring empty houses back into use as homes for Croydon families, Butler revealed that so far “…grants for 11 homes, amounting to a commitment of £275,000” had been approved, before adding that not a single one of the approved projects had yet been completed.
So that will be
homes brought back into use so far then.
Hardly an inspiring record after the first 18 months in office. But then, perhaps the number of homes built simply indicates the real priorities of the senior council officials, the people who really are in control at the Town Hall. Jo Negrini was originally hired as the council’s six-figure-salaried executive director of development and environment, a title which has now been altered to “Place”. Hers is the department responsible for building more council homes, and keeping on-side with big business.It was Negrini, for example, who pushed through the deal to lend £3 million of public money to Boxpark for them to set up some take-aways and bars in shipping containers next to East Croydon Station.
Since Negrini’s arrival at Croydon Council, two of the department’s long-standing directors, Tony Brooks and Mike Kiely, have both cleared their desks in Fisher’s Folly. Among the notable new hires at director level have been Colm Lacey as “director of development” and Stephen Tate, who describes his role as “responsible for creating district centres that are places that residents chose to stay by ensuring that they include high quality homes, schools, leisure facilities and parks or open spaces with vibrant and attractive high streets and well-used community spaces”.
Negrini arrived in Croydon from Newham, where she had been working closely with Westfield on their supermall at Stratford. Before that, she had worked on regeneration in Lambeth. Lacey had previously worked at Newham, while other jobs included a spell at Lambeth. Tate’s previous job had been at Lambeth.
It may be, with local authority funds tight, the council can’t spend money it hasn’t got to build houses, especially when in Croydon there’s the promise the private sector will be delivering thousands of rabbit-hutch-sized Yuppie apartments, available at eye-watering high prices or rents. Croydon’s Hammersfield supermall alone will be building at least 400 new homes… though, of course, we now learn that work on the £1 billion development won’t be completed now for at least five years.
In the meantime, we have a council capable of spending £140 million on providing itself with new offices, but incapable of building even nine new homes in a year. Though at least someone in Fisher’s Folly is making good progress with building of another sort: empire-building.
Inside Croydon: Named among best regional media campaigns, 2014.
- Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 729,297 page views in 2014.
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at email@example.com