Our housing correspondent, BARRATT HOLMES, on a U-turn by the Mayor of London that comes complete with a bundle of questions
Residents’ groups across the borough, and their lawyers, will be poring over the details of a policy change by the Mayor of London, announced yesterday, that says that people living on estates threatened with demolition will have an effective veto over the fate of their neighbourhood.
In Croydon, where housing estates are few and far between, residents will be looking for ways to adapt Sadiq Khan’s latest announcement to thwart attempts by Brick by Brick, the council-owned house-builder, to concrete over their green spaces or kids’ playgrounds.
Given that there have been Town Hall briefings in the past fortnight suggesting that there will be millions of City Hall funds released to help Brick by Brick schemes, Khan’s announcement may yet provide a useful hand-brake for existing residents. Khan’s new ballot rules will apply to all schemes receiving funding from City Hall.
But, Khan’s ballot announcement specifically excludes development schemes where funding or planning permission has already been granted, which will come as a kick in the balls to the people living on the Central Hill estate, just across the borough boundary in Lambeth, or Cressingham Gardens in Tulse Hill.
Other estate “regeneration” schemes in Southwark, around the Heygate and Aylesbury estates and Elephant and Castle, have been characterised as “social cleansing”, moving working class tenants who have been living in social housing out of the area, which is then rebuilt with high-priced private housing, much of it bought by investors based overseas.
But in his announcement, the Mayor offered some straws to grasp at for those in Croydon looking to preserve their neighbourhoods from council-backed overdevelopment.
Khan said: “Anyone drawing up plans for estate regeneration must involve local people and must consider what impact their plans will have on people who live there now.” Which, as a principle, is the sort of thing you’d imagine any reasonable local authority would do as a matter of course, and not have to be instructed to do.
Khan’s announcement came the day after a Momentum-led Labour council in Haringey scrapped plans for a controversial £2billion speculative property deal with developers Lendlease, which aimed to use public property to develop lucrative private housing. Sound familiar?
It had taken the ousting of Haringey’s previously Blairite leader, Claire Kober, for the Labour council to junk the unpopular HDV scheme. They have announced, instead, an “innovative” council-owned housing development company. Yep, really…
Khan made no mention of the change of direction in Haringey (there was no reason why he would), but he did say, “From now on, City Hall funding for significant estate regeneration schemes involving any demolition of social homes will, for the first time, only be approved where there has been a positive residents’ ballot.
“When estate regeneration is done well, it can improve the lives of existing residents as well as building more social housing. But that has not always been the case.” Wheyhey, Lambeth, and Southwark.
“With estate residents usually the only group of people who face the prospect of having their homes demolished, I am really pleased with the Mayor’s decision to require ballots wherever demolition takes place as a condition of funding for regeneration schemes,” said Assembly Member Tom Copley, Labour’s housing lead at City Hall.
“It is also good to see the strengthening of these requirements with guidance on how funding can be clawed back when a completed project doesn’t honour what was promised by the landlord, and with the stipulation that ballots will be conducted by an independent body.
“We want to see that estate regeneration delivers better quality homes and more affordable housing. But unless it is done with resident support, schemes can face being blighted from the start. This is something that both the London Assembly and community groups have been calling for in recent years and I’m pleased that the Mayor has listened.
“I’d also echo the Mayor’s call on London councils and housing associations to adopt his commitment to balloting residents on non-GLA funded regeneration schemes they oversee.”
A public consultation found 88 per cent of respondents support the ballot rules, which also have the backing of London Assembly members.
Draft proposals for estate balloting – which will enfranchise eligible residents aged 16 and over – had been published in February, when Khan gave a strong impression that he opposed the idea.
Sian Berry, the Green Party Assembly Member who has campaigned for the ballot scheme, welcomed the change in policy but questioned why it was so limited.
“Too often we have seen huge numbers of council homes demolished with residents displaced against their will in schemes that don’t provide net gains in council homes and seem to only help developers generate profits,” Berry said.
“The Mayor says he is ‘determined to use his funding and planning powers to their fullest extent to protect social housing’ and now he should make ballots a condition, not just for funding, but also for planning permission.
“We also know that the Mayor secretly approved a number of funding schemes just before announcing this policy in February, and I want reassurance that this has not happened again. I’ll be asking him to give details of any new deals signed between then and today, when this policy has finally come into force.
“I am very disappointed the Mayor has also not listened to my feedback to extend the right to vote in these ballots to all people who live in threatened estates, including people who rent privately from leaseholders even if they are not on the local housing list.
“The chance of getting accepted for the council list varies hugely across London and this will be unfair on many private renters who already endure virtually no security.”
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