Saturday, 27 September 2014

Homes under the sledgehammer

It’s hard these days to tell whether Lambeth Council is being run by Labour or the Conservatives. Across the borough Lambeth is working with developers rather than local residents, in a strategy dictated by finance and commercial opportunities.

The beautiful Cressingham Gardens estate next to Brockwell Park, with its vibrant community of 300 properties, faces the bulldozer.  Sheltered housing communities in Streatham, West Norwood, and Gipsy Hill will be broken up, so the land can be developed. Meanwhile, in the Clapham area ‘shortlife’ housing co-ops set up between local people and the council over 30 years ago - but then ignored by Lambeth - are being sold off for profit and the residents evicted.

It follows a combination of chronic underspending and endemic waste by Lambeth Council which has left a backlog of repairs and a crisis of its own making.    

According to last years council’s accounts Lambeth Living spent three times more (£75 million) on supervision and management than it did on repairs and maintenance (£27million).   Neighbouring boroughs of Wandsworth and Southwark spend 40% more on every property they are responsible for.

But rather than get their own house in order, Lambeth has decided to kick local people out and get commercial developers in.  Local residents have described it as being framed for someone else’s crime.  The result is a form of ‘social cleansing’.

But there are plenty of alternatives.  There are grants available from Government and GLA to bring empty homes back into use.  Homes can be refurbished or rebuilt with extra stories, raising additional finance for repairs elsewhere.  Community Land Trusts can provide permanently affordable housing.  And of course, the huge inefficiency and waste of poor management should end. 

Rather than breaking up housing co-ops Lambeth could empower residents to be self-reliant - just as these communities have been since the start.

This is what a real co-operative council would do.  

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