Just before Christmas Southwark Council issued a press release, accompanied by a lovely map entitled “Housing Estates and Sites for New Council Homes”, which shows where 1500 of Southwark’s 11000 new council homes will be built.
But as we showed in the previous blog, this council-house building programme is not all it seems. For example, the 19 new homes planned on the East Dulwich estate (Gatebeck & Southdown House), will be offset by 50 council homes which are being sold off on other parts of the estate - a net loss of 31 council homes in total1.
Another site on the map, Maydew House will also show a net loss once completed. This 24-storey block containing 144 council flats overlooking Southwark Park, has been decanted (amidst protest) after the council declared the cost of repair “difficult to justify”. It is now being refurbished and 5 extra penthouse floors added to provide a total of 180 units, but only 74 will remain as council flats - a net loss of 70 council homes2. The remaining 106 flats will all be sold off on the open market.
Building council homes is a popular pledge and one that we unquestionably support – it’s the best, most economical way of providing decent housing to those who most need it - but we are reminded of similar promises from the not-so-distant past that were used to mask over the loss of the Heygate estate’s 1200 council homes3.
When we blogged in October about concerns that the new homes would only be replacements for council homes sold off or demolished, council leader Peter John reassured everyone that there would be a net gain of 11,000 council homes; he said - “To be absolutely clear, the 11,000 new homes that we promise to deliver will be new homes additional to our existing stock. ……These are new homes and do not include the existing stock of council housing.”
These latest findings show a different picture. A council house building programme that depends upon ‘asset disposal’ and ‘estate renewal’ needs close scrutiny, if it is not going to end up leaving us with fewer council homes than we started with.
March for Homes
Housing (or the lack of it) is set to be a key issue in the parliamentary and mayoral elections in May. A ‘March for Homes’ has been called for Jan 31st by the South London People’s Assembly. It has an impressive list of supporters (including the 35% campaign) and is now to have two legs: one starting from South London and one from East London, both to converge on City Hall.
The South London leg will assemble at St Mary’s Churchyard - in the shadow of Strata Tower, One the Elephant and the planned 360 Tower: three towers comprising 1162 new homes with zero social housing; the perfect place to start.
West Hendon residents fight for their homes
Meanwhile, residents of the West Hendon estate face a public inquiry into the compulsory purchase of their homes. The West Hendon regeneration is for 2,000 new homes and requires the demolition of 500 social rented units to be replaced by 250 affordable rent (up to 80% market rent).
They have organised a day of events on Jan 22nd:
- 2pm: Focus E15 Mothers talk about their campaign
- 4-5pm: Hot soup and rolls
- 5pm: March from the estate to the Public Inquiry at Hendon Town Hall
- 6pm: Rally outside Hendon Town Hall, joined by Women from The New Era campaign, speakers from the Our West Hendon Group, Radical Housing Network , Unite The Union and other estates in Barnet.
Fifty shades of embarrassment
A marketing video for One Blackfriars tells us who this housing is really for, if we were in any doubt - people who can afford to go househunting in helicopters.
The video features a sexy affluent white young professional couple, indulging in Fifty Shades of Grey fantasies as they view One Blackfriars’ swish appartments. The video was quickly removed from the web after widespread ridicule in the national press:
Evening Standard - ‘London flat advert branded the creepiest thing you will ever see’
The Independent - ‘Gross ad for luxury flats is dropped’
The Guardian - ‘Property promo pulled after twitterstorm’
One Blackfriars was granted planning permission by Southwark Council in July 2007, despite objections from English Heritage, Lambeth Council, Westminster Council and the Royal Parks. It will have 274 flats, none of which will be social rented or affordable. Instead an in-lieu payment of £29m is to be paid by developers St George, which is a fraction of the £700m Gross Development Value i.e. the total estimated sales value of all the appartments.
An FOI request for the viability assessment which justified this generous deal has been lodged with Southwark Council.
Viability on the agenda
The viability assessment fiasco is firmly on the agenda in the run up to the elections. In an interview with 24Dash Housing, a former housing quango chief has estimated that viability assessments caused the loss of £1bn of affordable housing and that many in the sector “consider these appraisals something of a joke”. The Guardian’s editorial has branded the appraisal loophole a ‘public betrayal’ and has called for developers to “show their sums”. A reporter who wrote about the problem earlier in the year has also put it at the top of his New Years wishlist, calling for “opening up this shady world of cooked books”.
We are also looking forward to helping lift the lid on the viability assessment scam. We have been talking to professionals from the across the sector, who will be helping us analyse the viability assessments obtained from the forthcoming Heygate & Greenwich Peninsula Tribunal cases and put forward ideas for policy changes that could close the loophole. Watch this space!