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For a more affordable Southwark

Crap Journalism, Crap Deal

We blogged last week about the Guardian’s damning article, which revealed how Southwark had rolled over to Lend Lease’s demands to reduce affordable housing using highly questionable viability evidence.

Council leader Peter John claimed that the Guardian revelations were “wrong” and accused it of “crap journalism”. But after being challenged, neither Councillor John nor any other council member has come forward to set the record straight and say exactly what was inaccurate.

Former Southwark Regeneration chief Councillor Fiona Colley had her say about the viability assessment a while ago:

‘There is nothing I would like more than to publish this document and show the world what a fantastic deal we negotiated for the people of Elephant & Castle. However, we entered into those negotations with Lend Lease on a confidential basis, and I am not willing to break that agreement because a handful of people wrongly think the document contains something sinister.’

Now that we can all see the document, we all know the deal wasn’t fantastic - to paraphrase Peter John, it was crap.

One Labour head rises above the parapet

Newly elected Southwark MP Neil Coyle has responded more constructively to the viability revelations. On Monday he asked the Housing Minister Brandon Lewis a parliamentary question:

It’s good that Neil’s first parliamentary question has taken up this crucial issue and we don’t suppose he is surprised by the Housing Minister’s non-answer. But we must point out that the viability loophole can be closed by a local authority itself, with a simple change in planning policy. Greenwich council recently announced that it would be changing its policy to make all viability assessments public and Islington council has been consulting on similar policy changes. We hope that Neil’s parliamentary question is an indication that Southwark is about to follow Greenwich and Islington’s lead; including viability transparency in the draft New Southwark Plan would be a good start.

Neil also made his first speech in the House of Commons, during which he praised the new park being provided by the Heygate redevelopment. We and many other people in the area want to see this as a truly public park adopted by the council, not the privately owned, privately managed model that was approved at planning committee.

In a conversation sparked by the Guardian article on Facebook, Neil Coyle also points out that the ‘Heygate saga’ began under a Lib Dem administration. We feel bound to point out that Neil was Deputy Cabinet member for Estate Regeneration and ward councillor at the Elephant when his administration signed the Heygate deal with Lend Lease.

Council leader Peter John signing deal with Lend Lease (2010)

The truth is that all major parties have whole-heartedly and uncritically supported the regeneration, so they can share the blame for the Heygate shambles evenly amongst themselves. The task now is to make sure that future developments such as the shopping centre scheme, don’t end up the same way.

Over to you Neil..