Part III: When The Locals Strike Back
As part of any residential development scheme the contribution of affordable housing plays a part in the planning and approval for local communities. Three well known developments for regeneration in London have brought controversy and now local activists are challenging their borough leaders and property developers when promises of new affordable homes are broken.
For the past several years London regeneration schemes were met with angry locals and organisations taking out their emotions on the local councils and developers on proposed schemes for Haringey, Heygate Estate and Battersea Power Station. Now the activism against new development schemes is spreading throughout areas of London.
Haringey Development Vehicle
One of the most recent grass root activists campaigns has occurred in North London borough of Haringey. The public-private development known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) called for demolishing two large council estates thus eliminating several thousand council homes.
The £2 billion venture to construct 6,400 homes and a new town centre was met with intense opposition with the partnership of developer Lendlease. The idea was a regeneration of what had been one of London’s poorest neighbourhoods. The plan was approved by the borough councillors 29 to 20.
The HDV had a campaign against the plan by the left leaning Momentum activist group that has been accused of trying to thwart the project by getting councillors who supported HDV dismissed and replaced by those Labour candidates that oppose the HDV plan. And its not just in Haringey that Momentum is trying to rid moderates and others from local councils but as the Evening standard reports this includes Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Ealing.
As a result the Haringey council leader Claire Kober has chosen to step down and allow a new leader to decide on the HDV.
Nickie Aiken, the Conservative of Westminster council, said in the Financial Times of Ms Kober’s resignation in Haringey:
“It has obviously become a crime to want to build council homes and create jobs in the Labour party.”
Ms Aiken’s is also being pressured by Labour councillors regarding development plans for 1,700 new homes on Church Street, near Edgware Road, arguing that the proposals do not include enough affordable housing.
‘Chris Wood, group director of housing consultancy Altair, doesn’t blame the council for the potential derailment of the project. He points the finger at Momentum.’
“It’s a real tragedy,” he says. “Claire was well regarded in local government. It’s the rise of Momentum and a prevailing view that private is bad and public is good.”
Nora Mulready of the Independent reports Momentum is not paying attention to the working class people from these estates who are for the HDV:
“One Labour councillor, a long-standing party member and trade unionist, told me, “I knocked on many doors in Northumberland Park during the summer and 98 per cent of the people I spoke to were in favour of the HDV. In fact, the concerns they had were how long it was going to be before the development got started.” When I spoke to local residents on the estate I was told again and again that they wanted it to happen.”
“Change is needed in Northumberland Park,” as one person said to me.”
“I was told by the former Chair of the residents committee on one of the estates that anti-HDV campaigners had knocked on doors and told council tenants the council was going to “throw you out, send you to places like Birmingham and Manchester and not going to let you back”. The campaigners repeated this idea again and again that existing council tenants would not be re-housed under the scheme.”
The entire development plan has become labelled as a method to ‘socially cleanse’ and charges of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by Labour party members of the Tottenham council. But Labour responds that this is hardly the case and that the Labour backed council :
“...a guaranteed right for all existing council tenants to remain in, or move back to, their estate if it is redeveloped.”
The private firm Lendlease says it is committed to the development.
The Heygate Estate
The controversy of the Heygate Estate began when the Southwark council sold the estate that housed 3000 people, saw it be demolished and then replaced with the new South Gardens in Elephant Park. The regeneration was under the direction of developer Landlease and complaints were made due to the homes being sold to foreign buyers in Singapore without allowing bids by British buyers.
Metro in its review of the sales data says buyers were purchasing three units at a time with the help of solicitor Riseam Sharples.
The council is said to have spent £44 million to relocate people from the estate and will receive £50 million from Landlease-the value had actually been put at more than £100 million.
“The council residents were moved into other housing stock but if residents had purchased their homes they would no longer be able to afford the area and have moved further afield.”
Controversy erupted with Heygate when plans called for replacing 1,194 social rented homes with 198 with affordable rent, 316 homes with shared ownership and 82 available for social rent.
Flats rated as affordable were priced at an average value £790,000 to £1,500,000.
Councillor Mark Williams, cabinet member for regeneration at Southwark Council, told Metro.co.uk:’
‘All homes sold by Lendlease help pay for the affordable homes.’
‘It is not within the council’s interest to manage regeneration schemes which do not offer the best deal for residents – everything we do is for the benefit of residents.’
Battersea Power Station
One of the most well known and the largest of its kind in Europe is the regeneration of the famous Battersea Power Station. It not only generated power for London but has also been the stage for commercials, movies, music and television.
My first experience with the issue of Britain’s housing crisis shortage began in 2003 while filming a documentary about the London landmark Battersea Power Station and its re-development. Two people who appeared in the film were artist Brian Barnes MBE and local architect Keith Garner founders of the Battersea Power Station Community Group that had spent years following the various construction plans submitted to the local planning council in the Borough of Wandsworth. One of their primary concerns was not only protecting the listed historical property from being demolished but making any future housing plans by developers be affordable for the local community.
Today the Battersea Power Station is finishing its regeneration and is expected be near completion by 2020. But without the number of affordable housing unit that were originally planned for the community. It was announced in the summer of 2017 that the original proposal for affordable homes was to be reduced by 40% to 386 units while expecting the development to see an overall profit of £1.8 billion. The reasoning for the reduction of units was based on cost of construction, economic issues and the ‘lack of commercial viability’ in a statement by the developer.
The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, responded:
“I am extremely concerned about plans to reduce affordable housing at Battersea Power Station. We need more affordable housing, not less.”
The developer has said it would build 386 affordable homes perhaps three years earlier with residents being able to move in by 2020.
A decision on another 250 affordable homes that were to be built in the original plan will be made after an “end of scheme review” of the financial situation. Advisor PNB Paribas is reported to have told the local council that the chances of the 250 homes being built is probably not going to happen.
Keith Garner, said in The Guardian:
“Underlying it, the financial model is all wrong. A developer-led project to conserve, repair and bring back in to use a famous London landmark is turning in to a predictable disaster.”
The activism against new developments is no longer an isolated case here and there. One property insider told the Financial Times (FT):
‘...pressure was building against development in “every” Labour controlled borough in the capital.’
“Haringey is the most extreme example, but there is a trend, whether it’s Camden or Hounslow.”
“In most London boroughs, you are having the same phenomenon, albeit on a more low level scale.”
Other developers have decided against planning new construction because of the political backlash.
“I think it’s a very significant problem because it’s hard enough to get things done with all the planning controls.”
“If it becomes even more difficult, [developers] will increasingly begin to pull back."
Many of the new London residential towers and homes have been for the wealthy and many times overseas buyers. While affordable housing plans are typically included by agreement with developers the number of needed new affordable homes is still an acute problem.
Jerry Flynn, a local campaigner says:
“People are being priced out of the area and the existing community is being broken up.”
The Labour party is weighing on the issue with complaints that local councils are catering to developers at the expense of those needing affordable housing. Mr. Len Duvall of the London Assembly says:
“Across London there are elements in the community and the party that feel developers have been having it all their own way . . . and that local authorities need to start explaining why they have done these deals.”
In the FT Adele Morris a councillor in Southwark is proposing that the regeneration project for Elephant & Castle, Southwark, be cancelled saying that the plan was not going over well with residents.
“It’s true that pressure groups have come in, some saying there shouldn’t be any private buildings at all . . . which is quite an extreme and undeliverable view.”
“But I think the community are getting more and more anxious about . . . developments that are simply not affordable . . . one-bed flats costing £500,000.”
Sian Berry of the Green Party: “This is not a tribal thing, this is people on the ground and the grassroots taking on people who run London councils.”
Next Part IV: Parliament and the Future of affordable Housing