Councils play damaging property game: short-term gain but long-term threat to London

3 mins read
Capture from BBC 1 Inside Out documentary

On Tuesday 3rd September, BBC1 released a very interesting documentary on Council regeneration plans (BBC1 Inside Out 03/09/2018). The programme featured Westminster’s “regeneration” programme (this city council plans to flatten 300 homes at the Ebury Bridge estate in Pimlico to make way for 750 new properties, the majority of which will be sold on the private market) but it also dealt with the issue more widely – the property development activities of various other London Councils.

The 29-minute documentary clearly shows why getting rid of council housing in favour of expensive redevelopments and making financial gains for the Councils (and more obviously private developers) is such bad news long term for London: pushing out vital elements of the population who help to keep the city running.

The documentary raises depressingly familiar concerns, for instance, issues of consultation (tenants’ protest groups disputing the figures the Council have given that cite support for demolition of home etc.), and opaque or confusing number-crunching to do with meeting requirements for ‘affordable homes’.

In the documentary we hear:

“Over the past 8 years London councils have privately sold and auctioned over 1,100 council homes, with sales raking in almost £350,000,000.”

Since 1980 for every 5 houses sold by councils in London only one has been built.” In the meantime, “nearly 250,000 Londoners are on council housing waiting lists.”

“118 London estates are currently undergoing or facing regeneration within the next 5 years, affecting  over 31,000 residents.”

“We have a net loss of over 4000 homes in schemes that have been completed over the last 15 years. And when you look forward with schemes that have planning permissions, there are 7600 homes that will be lost over the next 10 years. So the whole process is accelerating” says Sian Berry, Green Party, London Assembly Member.

“It has pushed up the cost of housing not only for those who depend on social rented houses but for everybody because an ‘option’ that most people could have taken advantage of having a decent housing is being withdrawn” says Jerry Flynn, a member of the 35% Campaign.

Leaseholders tend to be pushed completely out of the city. They are priced out of London by the below-market value  [offered by the local authority]” says Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography, University of Leicester. “The compensation is nowhere near enough to live in the area that is being regenerated, so many of them are being moved out of London boroughs” says Jerry Flynn. He later commented that “all the promises that were made to the residents [of Heygate estate] about new homes that they could move in quite immediately were all broken.”

Cllr Smith at Westminster Council says that the Ebury Bridge estate in Pimlico regeneration “will lead to 120 additional affordable homes and nearly 90 of those will be of social rent. People have been involved in the whole processes and in looking at the design of the new scheme, and the response has been very positive. Of those who responded to the formal consultation, the majority were in favour of the proposal”. However, other Ebury Bridge estate residents are unhappy; they say they “have been locked out of the decision-making process and want a fresh vote“. They claim that they have done their own survey and they have come up with very different findings: most residents do not want it demolished.

“Our capital has a history of undemocratic regeneration […] these sorts of development have gone ahead against the majority of resident wishes. Lobbyists meet with local authorities; the deals are done and then communities are ‘consulted’ about those deals afterwards, when they are effectively a done-deal.”

“A lack of care was taken maintaining the estate. […] The idea was to run the estate into decline so it would be a reason to pull it down. Councils undertake a process of managed decline in the run up to regeneration of estates so they can argue that it is in poor condition” and thus justify the Council’s plan.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has told councils they must now ballot residents on regeneration plans to secure City Hall funding. But however good  this promise, from our experience we can already list several major flaws:

  • This is not going to be applied to previously agreed regeneration schemes.
  • This is not going to concern regeneration schemes not receiving funding from City Hall.
  • This is not going to concern schemes with fewer than 150 homes.

And some troubling questions:

  • Are Council tenants, with a promise to be rehoused in the new estates developments, going to be considered equal to leaseholders who risk being evicted (with CPO – Compulsory Purchase Order) and priced out of the area?
  • What will happen if the promise to re-house onsite the tenants is broken?
  • What happens if over the many years it takes to complete, the scheme changes completely (from a moderate redevelopment to a massive cluster of towers, for instance)?

Read also on the BBC website: Dozens of London council estates earmarked for demolition



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CJI editor and Clapham Junction Action Group co-founder and coordinator since 2008, Cyril has lived in Clapham Junction since 2001.
He is also funder and CEO of Habilis-Digital Ltd, a digital agency creating and managing websites and Internet solutions.