Twenty years ago, Fred Manson, Southwark Council’s Director of Regeneration laid out the aims of the Labour council’s new regeneration strategy in the Estates Gazette: “We need to have a wider range of people living in the borough” because “social housing generates people on low incomes coming in and that generates poor school performances, middle-class people stay away.” He explained that the Council’s new ‘policy is aimed at reversing some of the problems caused by past social engineering.’

Twenty years later and it is clear to see that this policy has been a resounding success.

Southwark has lost over 13,000 council homes since the strategy was announced in 1999. Whilst Right to Buy sales have played a part in the overall decline in stock, the Council’s ongoing estate regeneration schemes have contributed to a significant proportion of the loss.

  Estate Council homes demolished Total new homes of which social rented
Silwood estate 63 127 22
Bermondsey Spa 131 2000 314
Elmington estate 519 640 215
Wood Dene estate 316 333 54
Heygate estate 1034 2704 82
Aylesbury estate 2402 3575 1471
North Peckham estate 3203 2019 1184
Coopers Road estate 196 247 98
  Total: 7639 11284 3266

That’s a loss of 7,639 council homes and net loss of 4,424 social rented homes as a direct result of Southwark’s regeneration schemes to date. GLA assembly member Sian Berry has predicted that Southwark is set to lose 2,196 social rented homes as a result of estate redevelopment schemes in its current pipeline (far more than any other borough). In addition, we can’t even be sure that the small number of social rented homes re-provided aren’t actually let at affordable rent - an increasingly common phenomenon as reported here.

Extract from GLA assembly member Sian Berry’s research

Council leader Peter John is the driving force behind the borough’s ‘regeneration’ plans supported by a cross-party ‘sink estate’ rhetoric. He wrote an article in support of David Cameron’s estate demolition proposals in Jan 2016, arguing only that Cameron’s plans weren’t ambitious enough and that more government funding should be allocated to the programme. In the article he describes the Heygate & Aylesbury estates as “symbols of inner-city neglect, with crime, antisocial behaviour, health inequalities and unemployment the only things that flourished there”. He added that “both had become hard to let to council tenants, and reinforced poverty, crime and inequality” and concluded that in any case, “most brutal estates do not make the best use of the land they occupy.”

In a local news interview he claimed that “brutalist architecture wasn’t conducive to building a successful economic community”. He evidenced this claim with an anecdote, in which he described local MP Harriet Harman’s visit to the Aylesbury estate: “Harriet and a councillor were in a lift with a man injecting drugs in his penis. That’s not the sign of a successful community”.

Councillor John’s justification for estate demolitions is his claim that Southwark has an ambitious programme to build 11,000 new council homes (over 30 years). But this programme is well behind schedule and the Council continues to knock down and sell off council homes faster than it is building them.

Void disposal policy

In 2009, Southwark’s Tory/Lib Dem administration introduced a policy of selling off every council home that becomes vacant and is valued above £400,000. In 2011 this was reviewed by the incoming Labour administration which reduced the threshold to £300,000. Government statistics show that Southwark has sold off over a thousand council homes under this policy in the five years from 2010 to 2015. This compilation taken from auction websites shows a sample of some of these.

A sample of hundreds of council homes sold by the current Labour administration under this policy

It is not just council homes that are being sold off. Southwark’s ‘modernisation’ drive has seen it sell off both Bermondsey and Peckham Town Halls; Harper Rd Social Services Centre; Castle Day Centre; Whitstable Day Nursery; Abbey St Children’s Home; Willowbrook Community Centre and the Wansey St Homeless Hostel:

The Council is also selling off land; recent sales include a plot near Millwall stadium and Southwark’s former car pound off the Old Kent Road, likewise a plot of land at Devonshire Grove and a plot of land on the Beacon House estate and one at Woods Road in Peckham.

All in all, the Council’s ongoing fire sale of council homes, community assets and public land is helping its reverse social engineering strategy become a resounding success - all under the banner of municipal socialism..