It is not just in Croydon that residents’ groups have been alert to the inherent risks of placing the entire planning system into the hands of a few unelected council officials.
The delegated planning powers, prompted by the coronavirus emergency, have been necessary because of the difficulties of holding public meetings during the lockdown, but they have been described by some groups as “a developers’ charter”.
And in neighbouring Lambeth, the Green Party opposition at Brixton Town Hall has made a move to stop profit-hungry developers – or the council’s own housing developers- from exploiting the covid-19 emergency for their own ends.
Lambeth has more council estates than Croydon, and the Labour-run council there has not paused for coronavirus as it pushes through plans which could see thousands of social rent tenants moved out and their homes demolished – potentially making way for redevelopment of the sites by private developers.
Croydon’s Brick by Brick and Lambeth’s Homes for Lambeth are, to borrow a phrase, two cheeks from the same arse.
Where Brick by Brick is building on children’s playgrounds, green spaces and garages on infill sites between existing residents, Homes for Lambeth, or HfL has designs on demolishing six estates around the borough, including the 461 homes on Central Hill in Crystal Palace and the architecturally admired Cressingham Gardens in Tulse Hill, which has more than 300 homes.
The HfL business plan, which speculatively seeks to generate millions of pounds for the council’s coffers through property schemes, at present suggests that 223 homes will be built in the next three years. Lambeth Council has refused to release any documents related to the financial viability of their projects.
Now Lambeth’s Green Party is accusing their council of using “coronavirus crisis as a smokescreen to push forward homes demolition business plan”.
Pete Elliott, the Green Party councillor for Gipsy Hill ward, has “called in” the Homes for Lambeth Business plan, which was given Town Hall approval last week. Elliott’s move will see the plan reconsidered at a “virtual” meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee.
Previous set-piece council discussions on Lambeth’s estate renewal plans have tended to attract large protests to the Town Hall which, of course, is impossible under current crisis circumstances.
Residents of Central Hill are demanding the estate regeneration ballot that has been promised to all in their position by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Some estates, though, are more equal than others: Khan has already granted funding to Lambeth for the demolition of Cressingham Gardens, without the residents there ever being given a say about their homes.
The schemes to rebuild Lambeth’s estates have been around for some time, since Steve Reed, now the MP for Croydon North and a shadow minister at Westminster, was leader of the council there.
The baton for estate demolition has been taken up with enthusiasm by Matthew Bennett (who also worked as parliamentary aide to Reed) and Jennifer Brathwaite, the unimpressive Labour parliamentary candidate for Croydon South in 2017. Both Bennett and Brathwaite are councillors for the same Gipsy Hill ward as Elliott.
In a statement issued by the Greens yesterday, they said, “The decision to approve the plan, which includes borrowing £125million, was made without a meeting of either the cabinet or the council’s scrutiny committee – both of which were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“A request by the chair of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee for a postponement of the decision was also rejected.
“Most of the previous recommendations made last year by the committee with regard to Homes for Lambeth have still not been implemented.
“As part of the call-in, Green councillors have highlighted breaches of the council’s constitution, failures to adequately assess huge risks, misleading statements, incompatibility with meeting targets on climate change and a lack of financial detail.”
And Elliott said, “The decision to approve the estate demolition Business Plan has been made by stealth, under the cover of the coronavirus crisis.
“The council has used this crisis to ride roughshod over democracy and to push ahead with a plan which residents have made very clear that they do not want.
“It is clear that the business plan itself is riddled with unacceptable risk, lacks financial detail and has completely inadequate oversight.
“It appears that Lambeth council is willing to gamble many millions of pounds of public money without subjecting their plans to proper scrutiny.
“At a time of such profound economic uncertainty, this is reckless in the extreme.”
- Click here to read how the kind of social-cleansing redevelopment Lambeth wants to implement was first started in nearby Southwark
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