Lambeth Council has known for at least four years that their proposed redevelopment of an award-winning housing estate was “unviable”.
The eviction of council tenants in Cressingham Gardens and the proposed development of much of the site into private flats is part of a housing “policy” at the neighbouring borough that traces its beginnings back to when Steve Reed was the leader of the council there.
Reed has been MP for Croydon North since 2012.
When he became an MP, one of his key aides in Parliament was Matthew Bennett, a Lambeth councillor and from 2018 until May this year, the council cabinet member in charge of the Cressingham Gardens demolition policy.
Yesterday the Brixton Buzz website reported that details released under a Freedom of Information request showed that Lambeth’s own consultants, Mott MacDonald, deemed the council’s scheme for the regeneration of the Cressingham Gardens estate to be unviable.
It was in April 2017 that Mott MacDonald was awarded a £6.7million contract to manage the redevelopment of Cressingham Gardens. “They were then mysteriously sacked in 2019,” the report on Brixton Buzz says.
“Ever since then campaigners have been trying to find out why Mott MacDonald were sacked… We now know that at least part of the answer is that they were telling Lambeth things they didn’t want to hear.”
Reports from Mott MacDonald obtained under FoI show that the 464-home Cressingham scheme that Lambeth’s cabinet approved in 2016 would lead to a loss of more than £50million. Under the scheme, nearly half the new homes – 227 – would be built for private sale or shared ownership.
According to the Mott MacDonald report, the only way Lambeth’s Cressingham redevelopment could be made viable would be to build between 800 and 1,000 homes on the sensitive site close to Brockwell Park. Even with this volume of new homes, less than one-third of the properties would be social housing. Under the proposals, none of the new homes would have four bedrooms; Cressingham Gardens provided more than 40 four-bedroom family homes.
And according to Mott MacDonald, even if Lambeth built 1,000 homes on the site, it would deliver them a profit of… £44.
The FoI material strongly suggests that the 800-to-1,000 homes option would also fail to comply with the Mayor of London’s planning policies on housing density. Under the 2018 version of the London Plan, only 710 homes could be built on a site the size of Cressingham, far short of the numbers Lambeth would need to make the scheme viable.
Brixton Buzz reports, “Lambeth council have been sitting on this ticking time bomb for over four years. Knowing that their proposals were unviable they have ploughed on regardless, against the wishes of the community.
“It is no wonder that ex-Councillor Matthew Bennett, who was the cheerleader for this scheme, has done a runner before the chickens come home to roost.”
Bennett, who became deputy leader of the council in 2021, stood down as a councillor at May’s local elections.
Council-run housing companies appear to present Town Hall chiefs with more problems – and debts – than solutions. In Croydon, Brick by Brick bankrupted the Labour-run council. In Lambeth, it is Homes for Lambeth that is creating multi-million-pound troubles for Steve Reed’s former colleagues.
Part of HfL’s mission is the clearance of several large housing estates, including the architecturally noted Cressingham Gardens and the Central Hill Estate in Upper Norwood, evicting council tenants living in social housing there in order to build new homes mainly for lucrative private sale.
Homes for Lambeth was founded in 2017 with the stated goal of delivering 1,000 new homes. Like BxB, HfL has become a money pit. Its subsidiary, HFL Build, recorded a loss of £8.5million to March 2021. Labour-controlled Lambeth Council in January this year agreed to lend HfL another £7.5million.
Now, the Mott MacDonald report appears to confirm that Lambeth Council’s leadership, including Reed’s former aide Bennett, knew for years that one of Homes for Lambeth flagship schemes would be “unviable”, before they encountered these latest drains on their borough’s finances.
Read more: Londoners being priced out of London by social cleansing
Read more: Norwood residents ask MP Reed to act over estate demolition
Read more: Lambeth is showing the way with destruction of five estates
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