Can Lambeth Council Be Trusted With Housing?

By Londonist Last edited 23 months ago
Can Lambeth Council Be Trusted With Housing?
Photo by Jason Cobb.

Lambeth Council likes to put across the claim that it does things differently. The current housing policy certainly matches this expectation. While other London boroughs place a scented hankie over their nose and do deals with property developers, the Labour-dominated council has become a property developer itself.

Homes for Lambeth is the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that was set up by Lambeth in October. An SPV allows a local authority to borrow from banks to build houses. Lambeth Council's SPV — essentially a business arm within the Town Hall — becomes the landlord, not the council itself. This also means that rents can be set differently from council rents in the borough.

Lambeth Council argues that by borrowing money to build, any profit that is made can stay within the borough. Homes for Lambeth has been predicted to deliver between 15-20% profit for the council.

It is a risky strategy. The SPV is at the mercy of any company on the free market. Lambeth Council admits that ultimately another organisation could come in and buy Homes for Lambeth.

Photo by Jason Cobb.

The Labour group increased its majority on Lambeth Council last year to control 59 of the 63 available seats. The manifesto pledged to build 1,000 new council homes during the duration of the four year period of office. The council claims that 21,000 people are on the housing waiting list. The main problem is that there are very few council-owned pieces of land where this can be achieved. This has led to the Town Hall itself being redeveloped. £50m is being spent on a new 'civic campus', largely paid for on the back of building a mix of social and private housing on the existing site.

The shortage of space is so serious that there is even the suggestion of building housing on top of the historic Minet library at Myatt's Fields.

Elsewhere in Lambeth, the controversial 'estate regeneration' programme is the answer. The council has identified six existing estates in the borough, plus the entirety of Somerleyton Road that can be regenerated. This basically means maxing out the space and building more.

But not all of these new homes will be made available for residents on the council house waiting list. The ambition of 1,000 new council homes appears to have become 1,000 new homes, with a mix of social, affordable and market rents.

Allowing private rents to prop up social rents is where estate regeneration is open to criticism. Cressingham Gardens on the edges of Brockwell Park was initially set on a consultation course where repair of the existing council stock was being considered.

When it became clear that the leafy surrounds of Brockwell Park would be attractive for the private market, repair became regeneration, and the council stopped consulting on repairing homes.

Lambeth is now proposing to bulldoze the entire estate, and allow Homes for Lambeth to invest in a mix of social, affordable and private housing. The idea has been sold with the net gain of just 23 new council houses at the expense of an entire estate being demolished. Residents are awaiting the outcome of a recent High Court judicial review looking at the process of the consultation.

Photo by Jason Cobb.

There has yet to be any official internal dissent from within the local Labour group on the council. The right wing of the party maintains a tight grip from within the Town Hall. Nervous ward councillors are looking over their shoulders as Momentum supporters grow in numbers at local ward meetings. The Reclaim Brixton demonstration back in April was a wake up call for many.

Lambeth Council still likes to brand itself at a ‘Co-operative Council’. Evicting genuine housing co-ops such as Carlton Mansions to put in place — wait for it — co-operative housing would be amusing if we weren’t talking about people’s homes.

The delivery of 1,000 new homes by 2018 is an obtainable target. The real test will be if Homes for Lambeth manages to deliver in building homes for people in need in Lambeth, or to prop up the growing private sector that is forcing many local people out of the borough.

Allowing four property developers to pay for Council staff to sell the vision of the Nu Lambeth at a property jolly down in Cannes doesn’t sound like the actions of a local authority that has social housing high up on its agenda.

By Jason Cobb

Last Updated 19 November 2015

Bob

Some of us will never qualify for social housing, but will never afford to be able to buy in the area and will be subject to unstable private rentals without more housing coming onto the open market.. A mixed approach to development seems sensible.

Hannah Jones

Lambeth aren't the only LA that are doing this. Many SPVs are being set up by other LAs in London so that they can cut the red tape and deliver regeneration projects much quicker given the housing crisis.

I understand the concerns of gentrification but if an estate can provide 23 new council homes as well as reproviding what was there, then no matter whether there's also private housing, that land is being better used and has unlocked some much needed housing for people on the waiting list. The Councils cannot afford to develop just social housing, especially with the 1% rent reduction. The schemes have to stack up financially otherwise the LAs will constantly make a loss instead of making a return that can be ploughed into other services.

Greg Tingey

Something very similar, but with regards to roads & local transport, is going on in Waltham Forest.
A clique within Labour, led by the appalling cllr Loakes are determined to wreck the centre of Walthamstow, & no-one seems able to stop them.
Sound familiar?

Boon Koh

Lambeth seems keen to put the screws on leaseholders as well, in cases where Lambeth Housing are the freeholder. They've started a "Major Works" programme that aims to do all repairs required in the next 15 years on leasehold properties, now. They've commissioned expensive surveyors/housing consultants from Pellings to determine what parts of buildings (e.g. roofs, windows, etc) will need work in the next 15 years. And then forcing leaseholders to accept their expensive contractors (e.g. Keepmoat) to do the works.

Initial estimates for the works are 2-3x what local builders could do the works for, and includes "consultant fees" and other "admin" fees. The worst thing? Leaseholders won't know the final bill until AFTER the works are done.

Someone needs to bring Lambeth Housing to task on all the issues going on.