Cabinet Member for Housing
Strategic Director, Commissioning
Neil Vokes Programme Director Strategic Capital Projects
(Report 41/15-16) (Key decision)
The Leader of the Council began the discussion by stating that this project had been ongoing since August 2012 and regretted the time it had taken; there needed to be lessons learnt and these needed to benefit other similar proposed estate regeneration projects. Although there was not one overriding view from the estate, the Council was committed to improving the estate.
The Cabinet Member for Housing introduced the report:
· He apologised for the process and length of time and said that there had been failings, but a decision needed to be taken. The launch of the Lambeth Housing Standard (LHS) in 2012 was one of the biggest in the country; however, cuts to funding by central government had left a £56 million short-fall in the project. The only options that seemed open were through refurbishing or rebuilding homes; but whilst refurbishing did improve homes it could not provide the extra housing the Council so desperately needed and would leave people without a home. In the test of opinion, 66% of residents lived in poor conditions and 42% were dissatisfied.
· The Cabinet Member commented upon an email received from a tenant that stated their preference of demolition given the poor state of their property, but admitted this was not a stance shared by all, however, all residents deserved better and the Council had a duty to act. Refurbishment would not address overcrowding, with a quarter of tenants overcrowded, and in March this option was removed due to a lack of financial viability and to meet residents’ needs.
· Councillor Matthew Bennett noted that throughout the debate there had been calls of social cleansing, but that this was and remained untrue, whilst the chosen policy met all tests: offering Council housing on a like-for-like basis, increasing bedroom numbers, rehousing residents, increasing the number of social housing; against a central government, London Mayor and failing market seemingly hostile to providing social housing. There was a choice to campaign from side lines or take a lead to build homes that local families needed.
· It was also noted that 21,000 persons in Lambeth were awaiting council homes whilst 1,300 were severely overcrowded. The regeneration figures in the agenda pack represented the baseline, were robust and could withstand changes in finance.
The Leader of the Council introduced the ward councillors to give representation:
· Marcia Cameron, ward councillor, stated that more information on what residents wanted was needed with improved support and advice, and raised concerns over secure and long-term tenancies, freeholders, and shared equity.
· Mary Atkins, ward councillor, had been involved for two years; affirmed that the issues were around overcrowding and conditions, and that the judgement, on balance, was correct. She commented that the low number of new homes at council rent was not expected and asked how residents would be involved in future. There remained issues with trust, poor communication, council rents, tenancy agreements, and mortgages, which would need solutions.
The following representations were heard:
· Fatima Elmoudden, Cressingham Project Board and Cressingham Gardens TRA secretary, spoke representing freeholders on the estate. All freeholders wanted to stay as freeholders and should be kept so under the Acquisition of Land Act (1981).
· Nicholas Greaves, co-chair of Tenants Council and Project Board representative, raised concerns over the lack and vagueness of information, whilst meetings arranged by the council were often short notice, or were cancelled or postponed at the last minute. He said that residents did not want tick boxes to answer, but wanted to be balloted properly and highlighted that some of the questions’ answer options were nonsensical. Democracy was important and the Council needed to stick to the ballot otherwise it would not carry. The estate’s current tenancies were among the best on offer, needing an Act of Parliament to change, whilst the new contracts would not be as secure (with a lower threshold to change and shorter eviction notices). For residents to aspire the regeneration scheme should mean improvement, whilst he lamented that the planned private properties had increased at the expense of social housing, resulting in only 23 extra Council homes. Rents were higher for 2- rather than 3-bedroom properties, and so discriminated single households; furthermore he asked how rates would be set and if future tenants could see further increase.
· Gerlinde Gniewosz, co-chair of TRA and member of Leaseholder’s Council, began by stating that three minutes to address Cabinet was not sufficient to tackle all the issues. Furthermore, the increased cost of living on the estate would force many residents into poverty, with other estates having had a better offer, whilst the disruption to residents was not warranted for the small increase in housing. In addition she stated that shared equity was not a viable solution; that residents would need to find additional moneys to have extra bedrooms; that Council officers had ignored questions and refused independent reviews; and, there had been no explanation of viability, especially with regards the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).
In response to questions:
· Julian Hart and Neil Vokes told attendees that the process had started off as regeneration, with consultation of Leaseholders’ and Tenants’ Councils and covered five of six Lambeth’s estates with input from all the communities. The fundamental offer was a guarantee for new homes and a commitment at Council rent levels. The report was appended with a draft assured tenancy, which was still under consultation and for which certainty would be provided during the ongoing 1-2 years process with independent legal reviews. Leaseholders had a variety of options, including shared equity within a new property (with moving expense paid); or shared ownership; whilst freeholders had the same options, with the Council trying to ensure that freeholds are taken into consideration in the valuation of properties. They were conscious this had not been a good process, but now had a dedicated team to give impartial and independent advice, and would look to remove jargon and improve understanding; with a permanent base to be installed on the estate to improve communications. It was restated that the numbers for properties provided were conservative, but were working to increase these figures.
· The Leader of the Council commented that neither the audience nor Cabinet Members were impressed with these figures, and that it was essential to improve.
· A 12-year old resident informed the Cabinet that the estate was rare and beautiful, with visitors commenting favourably on the area. She had lived there all her life and did not want to move out of London, with a lot of young residents in similar situation across the capital. In summary, she disagreed with regeneration on grounds of expense and that the increase in homes was not justifiable. The Leader of the Council and Cabinet praised the speaker for their contribution and reiterated that no one with a secure tenancy would move.
· Other resident representatives cited the lack of trust, inadequate information and notice of regeneration, as well as the length of time over the project; while the safe, closely-knit social fabric of the community was commended by all, with Cabinet urged to stop thinking about flats and instead about communities. The stress of regeneration on residents – particularly the elderly – was also raised; whilst issues over the site classification of Cressingham and building instead in other open spaces (such as the large car park at Tulse Hill estate, infilling disused spaces on estates, or on park land) was raised. The Leader of the Council confirmed that the Council would not consider building on Brockwell Park.
· Representatives questioned the logic of demolishing the estate for 23 extra council rent properties. The estate-sanctioned survey was mentioned in discussion with 86% of residents in favour of refurbishment (72% response rate), that the financial statement was riddled with contradictory statements, caveats and assumptions when past assumptions had been inaccurate, and which had not been disclosed for comparison. There was a feeling that the costs for refurbishment had been inflated and that historical Council neglect was responsible for this high figure, with the weather-tight repairs of £1.4 million highlighted as a sign of incompetence – having to carry out emergency repairs only to demolish. The regeneration would not significantly address the housing shortage, whilst rent and living cost increases would make it even less affordable for residents. Twentieth Century Society and English Heritage both supported residents and raised objections over the design (and would help fund independent surveys and viability checks).
· The project was criticised for inconsistency with residents’ views not taken into consideration, whilst one resident had moved to the area to live close to work and could no longer afford to move out given rising prices. They asserted that they had been told during the initial stages of consultation not to take notes or records, whilst demolition was considered to be off the table, only for refurbishment to be removed instead. The surveys often only included householders and this made some residents voiceless, and was therefore seen as illegitimate; it was claimed data protection rules were also broken by passing on confidential information from neighbours; whilst there were language barriers for some of the residents; and too few persons carrying out the survey. It was also commented that the Cabinet Member for Housing announced the demolition on twitter before informing residents.
· Anne Cooper, committee member Cressingham TRA, said lessons did need to be learnt citing the poor consultation exercise and seeking tenants’ views in 24 hours’ notice. She queried whether the Council was the sole landlord as the SPV guidance was not clear on this point; what were the guarantees about rent stability; and whether the proposal would meet the financial guidelines of the Localism Act 2011. She said that she had not been informed about the planned regeneration when moving into the property and furthermore asked when vulnerable persons would stop being relocated on the estate.
· Ann Kingsbury and Bill Linskey made representations on behalf of Herne Hill Society, Brockwell Park Community Partners, Brockwell Society, and the Friends of Brockwell Park. They highlighted the importance of green space, in a much-loved, open, surviving Georgian rural landscape, and that any surrounding development would affect it. The Cressingham Ridge was a prominent feature and currently the skyline was hidden by trees, with visitors praising the open vista. The Council were guardians of the park and needed to undertake an impact assessment, with English Heritage having recommended extending protection to Cressingham 18 months ago, which should have been acted upon. If moving forward, officers needed instruction for consideration to limit damage to park.
The Leader of the Council confirmed that this last motion should be added to the minutes; and asked Cabinet Members to provide further views.
· The Deputy Leader (Finance & Investment) said that he was a local resident, and noticed the high passion in the room, but commented upon the lack of truthful information. There would be no tower blocks and the regeneration was not to be sold for private gain. He commented upon the estate’s poor condition which was ruining lives and refuted claims that the proposal would result in homelessness, whilst reinforcing that financial viability was key, and that the Council did want to work together with tenants.
· The Deputy Leader (Policy) thanked attendees for their contributions, but noted the mixed views and ongoing difficulties. From the Council, there was a need to get better and they were listening to people, but there was also a need to provide more social housing.
· The Cabinet Member for Jobs & Growth compared these proposals to the Somerleyton development, and remarked that it was easier to do on a blank canvas, but the solution for a real community was different. The process had not been right and this needed acknowledgement. He said that the projected number of homes also fluctuated in Somerleyton, but working together with a strong existing community meant that residents could have decisive input. He enquired around protection of tenants’ rights, shared ownership and what help residents might receive to get on the housing ladder.
· The Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing thanked attendees and remarked on the difficulties and length of the process. Housing was central to health and wellbeing with poor conditions often key in determining people’s life prospects. He noted that regeneration in London was normally developer led and did not re-provide the same number of homes, but this was not the case with Lambeth’s estate regeneration programme and hoped the proposals could be worked up with the local community.
· The Cabinet Member for Environment & Sustainability commented that this process had been fraught and there was now a lack of confidence and trust. There needed to be clarity over the offer on the table to give degrees of assurances, whilst confirmation was required that freeholders were not subject to capital service charges and also on whether leaseholders would have to pay bills relating to weather-tight repairs. She concluded by stating that redevelopment offered quality and additional homes for all Lambeth residents.
· The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care enquired as to the next steps of the masterplan and stated that there were to be a few more years before rebuilding, that it was stressful, but the strong sense of community would help negate this, if they were supplemented by clear communications which needed vast improvement.
· The Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods enquired around the SPV viability and the vision going forward with Brockwell Park, but stated that she was disappointed by the 23 council rent property baseline.
· The Cabinet Member for Children and Families acknowledged the Deputy Leader’s (Finance & Investment) point of misinformation and was disheartened to hear a young resident think they were going to be moved out when this was not the case; nobody would be happy if people were pushed off the estate, and she commended the offer on the table compared with other London developments.
· Officers confirmed that the SPV would be wholly owned by the council, otherwise new housing would require housing associations or developers, and this would allow the Council to control rent levels and social mix. There was lots of ongoing work around the SPV, but other schemes (e.g. Somerleyton) were along similar lines, but it was the only way to deliver the Council’s goals. The next steps would involve working up a masterplan with residents to get a vision of the estate and how it would take place during which clarity would emerge; 1-2 years after that construction would begin. At present consultants were pouring over the last 3 years of consultation to set a brief that listened to residents’ requirements. The weather-tight repairs were works required to ensure the estate remained habitable in the interim as emergency repairs were needed. A lengthy conversation with freeholder representatives to explain options was also needed around the capital service charges.
The Leader of the Council drew attention to agenda page 71 (masterplan objectives) and confirmed that the Council would remain the landlord, but that the leasehold deal would need to be reviewed further. Before continuing to summarise the discussion, the Leader of the Council added five points to the recommendations.
· The Cabinet Member for Housing summarised the discussion by confirming he was content with the above proposals by the Leader of the Council. He reiterated that too many homes in Lambeth do not meet LHS, though some are nice, too many live in substandard conditions. The best case scenario of refurbishment did not have a budget to meet the costs and that regeneration was the only way to deliver, and he was committed to delivering many more than the 23 additional council rent properties.
1. To authorise the redevelopment of the entire Cressingham Gardens estate, in accordance with the approach set out in Section 2 of this report and Appendix A, and to procure a development management team to progress the redevelopment of the estate as set out in paragraph 2.1.
2. To agree the Key Guarantees to secure tenants and homeowners (as annexed to Appendix A) at Cressingham Gardens in accordance with the principles as set out in paragraph 2.7 in the context that a compulsory purchase order may be required in due course to enable redevelopment of the estate.
3. To authorise inclusion of additional land holdings within the masterplan for Cressingham Gardens estate, where such land lies on the boundary of the Estate, and where such inclusions would improve the placemaking outcomes and deliver a net increase in the number of homes.
4. To require officers and the procured development management team to work closely with residents in the procurement and formulation of the masterplan, including a phasing strategy and a local lettings policy for the Estate.
5. That the Cabinet report confirms tenants will be offered like-for-like properties.
6. To look at the management of the consultation process and put in place a workable, mapped out communications plan.
7. To improve transparency of the proposals and especially around financial viability information where possible so that confidence improves.
8. That the comments put forward by local organisations regarding Brockwell Park be included in the report.
9. That there be an increase in the number (23) of council rent properties, whilst ensuring that any targets were feasible.