BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on another source of funding to build homes, which in Croydon risks being hijacked by the council’s failing house-builder
Croydon Council has made what one of the Labour-run council leadership has called “an ambitious pledge” for the grand total of up to five – Yes! Five! – community-led housing initiatives in the borough, as it tries to get its hands on some part of the £38million fund which the Mayor of London has made available for such schemes.
But in Croydon, any community which decides it wants to build a housing scheme will have to do so with the “expertise” and “support” of Brick by Brick, according to Alison Butler, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for building private housing.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced the London Community Housing Fund last month, when it was described by some in the housing sector as “the most significant investment in community led housing in a generation”.
Community-led housing allows local residents to get directly involved in building and managing new homes themselves, often through co-operatives and community land trusts.
When making the announcement in January, City Hall quoted “a Croydon mother” who is a community-led housing campaigner with London Citizens. “Me and my neighbours are working hard to deliver community land trust homes in my neighbourhood. We think it’s fantastic that the Mayor is supporting groups like ours that want to do our bit to build the genuinely and permanently affordable homes that Londoners need. This funding will make a big difference.”
The Mayor’s Community Housing Fund will make grants or loans available to support building, development and delivery of homes – about 500 to be completed across the capital by 2023, they expect. Some of the funding will also be allocated to provide financial help for potential costs such as submitting planning applications or design fees.
So far, so good.
“In London we have become far too reliant on large developers to build new housing,” Khan said.
“We need more homes to be built by councils and by communities themselves – and so I want to support more community-led housing projects that put London residents at the heart of the process. This new fund offers practical support and help with development costs that have often held community-led projects back.”
So far, so good.
And then you get to Croydon, where Butler appeared before the Town Hall scrutiny committee recently and chuckled as she told them that community-led housing “isn’t going to solve the housing crisis”. So that’s a vote of no confidence, then.
Earlier this month, Butler wrote a column for the Community Land Trust Network in which she explained how community groups who want to build in the borough will be steered into the arms of Brick by Brick.
This has filled some involved with community housing in Croydon with dread, and a sense of doom. “Any offers of help are of course welcome,” one told Inside Croydon. “But by insisting that we work with Brick by Brick, the council risks tying one hand behind our back. We’d like to make our own choices about who we get advice and support from.”
There is also the suspicion that the insistence on community groups having to work with Brick by Brick is a blatant ruse so that the council’s struggling builders get their sticky mitts on a chunk of the Mayor’s funding.
Brick by Brick is the council’s own house-building company which, since it was formed in 2015, has so far built no new homes, it will not be building a single council home, and which in 2019 will be flogging off 71 per cent of the properties it completes to the private market.
The manner in which the council has bulldozed through the planning process for 40 sites for Brick by Brick – mostly done when Butler’s husband, Paul Scott, was chair of the council planning committee – has also managed to alienate and undermine whole communities throughout the borough, from Upper Norwood to Purley.
In her column for the community housing network, Butler wrote, “As a council we are aware of the crisis in the supply of homes and we are committed to supporting residents to access a range of good-quality affordable homes.”
Croydon has failed to build a single council home since 2014.
“Community-led schemes are part of the overall mix we need to tackle a nationwide shortage,” Butler wrote when addressing a community housing audience.
Brick by Brick, Butler explained, “are keen to use their expertise to assist community-led housing in the borough”. Given some of the issues which have arisen around Brick by Brick sites, what form that “expertise” takes might be debatable.
“Croydon Council are delighted to see strong government and GLA support for the community-led housing sector through the £38million Community Housing Fund in London. This funding, together with our own support will give local people the opportunity to make their ideas a reality, to build strong communities that meet affordable housing need,” wrote Butler.
“Croydon Council will open the bidding process for community groups later this year, and those who submit successful business cases will receive design and logistical support from BxB.
“We look forward to seeing what bids come forward in our borough.”
In Croydon, where, in the words of Sadiq Khan “community-led housing projects that put London residents at the heart of the process”, are handed straight over to Brick by Brick.
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So, Corporation plagiarism is alive and well in Croydon. It seems to be accepatable (according to Ms Butler), to hijack the plans, work and aspirations of local communities and then funnel them through their own Byzantine processes, claiming the funding and credit in the process. How can any local group have confidence in Brick by Brick that hasn’t produced a single Council home in three years since it was spawned?
It seems the “my way or the highway” mantra isn’t limited to Mrs May’s Brexit nebulous Brexit package. This fashion leaves national and local democracy as an abandoned concept.