Issue - decisions

Building the homes we need to house the people of Lambeth - estate regeneration update

31/07/2015 - Building the Homes we need to house the people of Lambeth

The Cabinet Member for Housing introduced the report as an update on estate regeneration, started in 2012 alongside the Lambeth Housing Standard (LHS – Lambeth’s decent homes programme) and costed at that time.  However, there was now a shortfall of £56 million and the Council was committed to 1,000 extra homes each year. The report contained different plans for each estate, as detailed in the report’s appendices, and sought authorisation on procurement of a development management team and feasibility work, and to commit officers to work with residents.  The Cabinet Member stated there were 21,000 people on the waiting list for a council home; and severe overcrowding, especially for those with children and/or disabilities, remained a poignant issue.

 

Cabinet heard the following representations from the public:

·         Members of the public stated their awareness that housing was an issue that needed a solution, but were concerned about its execution; with no consultation prior to December 2014’s decision, conflicting information, and poor communication by the Council.  The resulting effect was that residents felt excluded from the debate or that it had been manipulated, with trust cited as poor.  Meetings with Council officers were said to have been refused, arranged at short notice or cancelled at extremely short notice; and the treatment of residents were raised as issues.  Overall, it was causing anxiety and confusion amongst residents, especially the elderly; with one representation saying it amounted to a form of anti-social behaviour by the Council.

·         Further questions were raised over the maintenance of properties and lack of repairs prior to the consultation, the planned number of houses compared to the disruption that would be caused; which highlighted immorality and a lack of decency from the Council.  Leaseholders’ mortgages, insecurity over tenancies, the special purpose vehicle (SPV), construction, and significant delays were further raised.  There were claims that there had been no independent housing adviser or architect, and a pause and review for full resident involvement was requested.

·         The Vice-Chair of Knight’s Walk Group Residents Association commented that they were not opposed to regeneration or extra build on the estates, but did not want to see full demolition. The Chair of Central Hill Estate commented that the Council was selling off assets due to budgetary constraints, however, these were not only properties, but homes and the Council were disrupting communities for insufficient reason and requested that extra council and truly affordable housing be guaranteed.

·         Concerns were also raised over the consultation, with representations saying it had been flawed and used leading questions, with answers used to justify demolition. Plans had not been considered fully and tthere had been an overall lack of transparency and meaningful consultation, with many representations questioning the intentions of the Council.  The significance of the estates’ architecture and the communities’ social value were also raised.

 

The Leader of the Council reiterated that claims of gentrification were unfounded and that there was no point in proceeding with only a marginal increase in council housing, with the Council re-providing for existing tenants and 40% of housing to be affordable.  The Council was not partnering with developers and therefore a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) was needed. However, tenancies would still be lifetime-assured and 99% of the contract was the same as the current secure tenancy agreements and the Council would further liaise with residents.  Councillor Peck also noted that the proposals compared favourably to other London boroughs, for example, there was only 15% of affordable housing in Wandsworth, particularly in the current financial and political environment. This made Lambeth only one of ten boroughs to fulfil the Greater London Authority (GLA) housing target.  The conversation now needed was on how to get a balance of quantity and quality, whilst insuring that more homes could be provided. 

 

In answer to the questions raised, officers replied:

·         Officers reiterated that the Council did not want to break up communities, but bring them closer together.  The Council recognised the difficulties and was looking at guarantees for homeowners, freeholders, leaseholders and other tenants, and the option of shared equity for all residents to remain on site.  Realistic options would be provided by the ongoing feasibility work by the dates listed in the agenda pack (page 17). 

·         There was enough time for further conversations and future open sessions would reflect upon both the numbers of homes to be replaced or regenerated, and what local residents inputted.  These meetings would have independent help, would be run fortnightly, and be positive and constructive.  Independent residential and architectural advisors would be in information packs so residents could choose advisors themselves.

·         It was noted that the consultation in Knight’s Walk had been commissioned with an experienced engagement company (Soundings) and had involved every single household, with residents able to discuss proposals.  The Council and Mae Architects worked closely with Soundings so that consultation feedback could further inform development.

·         Equalities Impact Assessments (EIAs) would be completed for all residents across the estates so that the details of regeneration could be worked out; whilst social value was acknowledged and needed to be quantified for decision-making with the Council in conversation with experts. 

 

Cabinet Members made the following comments:

·         The Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing commented that it was very useful to have residents attend Cabinet to hear their concerns and feelings.  Consultations would be taken on board, but the Council faced a fundamental dilemma of working with residents across a number of estates that required major investment, without funds from central government, and with social rented homes in desperate needed.  There would be difficulties, but there was also a real commitment to work with residents to plan and deliver neighbourhoods with improved access to health, education, and other facilities, and build better communities.

·         The Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability noted the concerns of residents over this progressive yet challenging policy, stating the need for clear and meaningful consultation, but acknowledged that there were 21,000 persons on the housing list.

·         The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care said that the Council needed to be certain and provide assurance of affordable housing at council rents, not just social housing. She enquired about the costs moving into the next phase, Asset Management Cabinet Advisory Panel (AMCAP) clearance, and the composition of officers dealing with the proposals.  Councillor Meldrum also noted various risks, many of which would not be known until autumn; that there was less money and the options were difficult, but substantial investment would continue to be the best option.  The Cabinet Member commented that it was essential that disabled persons have gardens and that they be represented on panels, whilst setting aside a percentage of homes for those persons.  She also noted that a strong design was essential and that residents would start to see changes during the masterplanning phase.  There was also an error in the report (page 23, agenda pack) on Central Hill which should read March 2016, not March 2015.

·         The Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods said that her ward sessions in Oval regularly comprised of 90% of persons on the housing list and the Council was committed to meet the 1,000 homes aspiration.  She added that council rent homes need be maximised, with 10% disabled access, and enquired why Council-estate meetings had been cancelled or re-scheduled at short notice and sought reassurance of improvement here.

 

In response to Member’s questions:

·         Officers noted that central government policy had raised a number of issues, citing potential changes in the autumn Housing Bill, and the 1% reduction in social housing rents on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) undermining future cash-flow; meaning there was a need to proceed immediately.  Officers confirmed that affordable housing for tenants was at council rents and were conscious of the importance of design.  There would be a series of workshops and expert advice regarding design and disability – especially around long-term planning and gardens, and would work with residents and supplement design with local needs.  The Programme Director for strategic Capital Projects confirmed that it was clear that communication needed improvement over the coming months, and the Council would provide each estate with a dedicated team for viable and deliverable masterplans.

 

The Leader of the Council thanked officers for their work, but reiterated concerns over flexibility in delivering outcomes with likely changes from central government, tenancy assurances, numbers of social homes at council rent, and the importance of working together during the next phase. 

 

The Cabinet Member for Housing said that 40% of rents was affordable and compared well to the 28% London average, in a difficult set of circumstances with a Mayor and central government seemingly hostile.  Councillor Bennett further noted that the Council was able to provide housing for 24 households per week, but to meet demand needed between 60-80.  This Council-led programme would be delivered to all tenants and Cabinet was committed to meeting this need.

 

RESOLVED:

1.    To authorise the procurement of a development management team to progress the regeneration or redevelopment of each of the estates as set out in paragraph 2.1 to 2.4.

 

2.    To continue with feasibility work toward confirming masterplan objectives for each estate considered in the report according to the timeframe set out in paragraph 2.1.

 

3.    To commit to officers working with residents in the process of procurement of the development management teams for the respective estates.