What's Happened to the 11,000 New Council Homes?

I have to admit that before I moved to London last year the issues that capital has been facing in regards to regeneration and housing were a rather abstract concept – I would do my liberal duty and read the occasional article published in a certain newspaper but I'll admit that I didn't have a real handle on it...

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It was only after moving to London and working in Southwark that the problem really became tangible. Yes – I am one of those economic migrants that have settled in the capital who some will accuse of exacerbating the problem. I ask you to hear me out.  

I have quickly come to learn about some of the more unpopular and controversial housing developments in the borough, as Southwark tried to match its shinier neighbours in recent years.

There have been well documented battles that local residents and campaign groups have had with Southwark council – particularly around the way in which the developments of the Heygate and Aylesbury estates have been conducted.

To say that these experiences have left people living in the borough with serious concerns would be putting it lightly. Have Southwark Council learnt their lessons from the 'decanting' of residents of the Heygate prior to its demolition for example?

Have Southwark been fair in their compulsory purchase of homes as part of the Ayelsbury regeneration? 

It can be argued that it is inevitable that some elements of regeneration will be unpopular and that you cannot stand in the way of progress. The dilapidated nature of some housing estates is surely the foundation for some regeneration?

This brings me to Southwark council’s ambitious plans to deliver 11,000 new council houses by 2043.

Peter John, the council’s leader, heralded the decision: "London is suffering from a chronic shortage of quality, affordable homes. We in Southwark are committed to using every tool at our disposal to increase the supply of all kinds of homes across the borough, including new council homes."

On the face of it Southwark is planning to leave other London boroughs in the dust. With all of the development going on across Southwark what is the current picture of affordable housing?

How is Southwark Getting On? 

I’m well aware that you can probably find statistics to support anything you like so I tend to take them with a pinch of salt. That being said the London Tenants Federation’s recent analysis of figures for housing in London are pretty damning from a Southwark perspective.

The borough is placed in the bottom three for affordable housing delivery, ‘beaten’ only by Bromley and Barking & Dagenham. Only 3% of homes built in 2014/15 were classed as affordable.

The figures look even worse if you look at the amount of socially rented and affordable rented homes – with Southwark actually selling or demolishing more than it build – equating to a NEGATIVE figure of -5% of the total homes that were built.

If we compare the figure to similar boroughs we get a different picture. Take Barnet for example, who had a similar total target to Southwark. Out of the homes they delivered 30% were affordable, and a further 25% were either social-rent or affordable rent.

And then there’s the millionaire’s playground of Kensington and Chelsea. Surely Southwark built a higher proportion of affordable homes…? Apparently not. Out of the 950 homes built in K&C, 21% were affordable, and 14% were either social or affordable rent. 

You can see a full list here, courtesy of the 35% Campaign website.

What ‘affordable’ actually means in reality is a discussion for another day and it must be added that Southwark did build the second highest amount of new homes in London, only behind Newham.

Southwark council will also argue that this doesn’t account for current developments, or phases of those, that have yet to be completed and, therefore, have yet to be included in the figures.

So What Can You Do?

It is little surprise that with such a drastic rate of change in the borough there are so many vocal and committed campaign groups in Southwark, some who have been active for years now. 

The ongoing efforts of these groups seemingly have no end in sight as Southwark’s regeneration scheme has taken root over the last decade. I wonder as to whether you can call some of the larger campaigns a success or is the regeneration machine too big to conquer?

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It can feel like there is an inevitability about the ultimate failure of such endeavours when a local authority has made its decision about a planning application - however that decision is reached.

So what is the answer? Can people effect change in housing and regeneration? 

In an ideal world the majority of planning developments (especially those that affect local residents) would be co-designed with the community. This would make the whole process a lot more transparent and also commit to genuine and meaningful consultation. 

Is genuine co-design just wishful thinking? Peckham Vision hope not. They are a resident-led local community consortium of individuals who live, work or run a business in Peckham. Their primary aim is to ensure that Peckham is a thriving and sustainable social and commercial centre.

Their bread and butter is planning and they have been taking part in ongoing discussions with Southwark council over a commitment to genuine co-design. Their website is a veritable treasure-trove of information and updates on upcoming planning developments.

They also have a sub-group called the Peckham Planning Network (email info@peckhamvision.org to receive their updates). If it’s Costa trying to stake a claim or a developer trying to get their piece of the pie you can bet that Peckham Vision know about it.

There have been recent attempts by PV to take part in the co-design of the courtyard outside of Peckham Rye station. This has led to minimal success due to accusations of Southwark council turning the process into a consultation about design details of a small part of the site. It is felt that there is an awful lot to learn from these initial attempts but at least it has (hopefully) created foundations that can be built upon.

Take some time to read about their efforts here.

Peckham may be leading the way in Southwark but there is no reason that there can’t be a Camberwell Vision or a Bermondsey Vision. There are many active community groups and residents groups in the Borough who are attempting to have a genuine say about what is happening in the streets around them (take a look at Bankside’s neighbourhood plan).

Who knows – your next Community Action Network meeting could be the place to start....

You could also try dipping your toes into the bureaucratic waters of local planning? 

If you want to find out about any developments that could affect you then head over to Southwark council’s planning web-portal. It contains details of every planning application they receive and whether they have been successful or not. It also provides you with a heads up on any consultations that relate to the applications.

Early engagement is vital if you want to have a say in shaping the area where you live. Although it is a daunting task to trawl through planning documents, there are plenty of well informed groups and individuals out there who can help you to make sense of it and therefore make sure that your voice is heard in any future developments.

Finally, Community Southwark is establishing a network of activists interested in planning and regeneration. For more details contact Steve Smith at steve@communitysouthwark.org.

As regeneration becomes more and more entwined with Southwark’s future, it is no longer an abstract concept for me. It certainly isn’t for the thousands of Southwark residents who have been affected by the seemingly ever-changing landscape it has created.

If you would like any help or support in getting to grips with planning or housing issues then drop us a line: engage@communitysouthwark.org.

For a list of current campaigns in the borough click here.

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