Council leader Peter John recently stood up at a Local Government Association conference and claimed that building new council housing is the answer to the housing crisis.

Cllr John backed up his call by trumpeting Southwark’s claim of having the largest council house building programme in the country - 11,000 new homes (over the next 30 years).

However, what remains unsaid is that the 11,000 new ‘council homes’ will fail to replace those predicted to be lost through right-to-buy over that period and those being demolished on the Heygate and Aylesbury estates.

Neither does it account for the thousands of other council homes lost through other estate regeneration schemes over the last few years.

  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. The GLA has predicted that Southwark will lose 2,051 social rented homes as a result of schemes in its current pipeline (far more than any other borough) and GLA figures show that Southwark is in the bottom 3 boroughs for affordable housing delivery. In addition, we can’t even be sure that the small number of social rented housing provided isn’t actually affordable rent or won’t morph into it - as reported here.

Mayor Johnson and council leader Peter John celebrating Heygate redevelopment

Needless to say that Cllr John’s council house building programme is well behind on delivering its 11,000 target and the few new ‘council homes’ that have been delivered have not only been bought from developers but are being let at affordable rather than social rent.

Completing Southwark’s clearances with Savills

Despite widespread criticism, Southwark is ploughing ahead with further regeneration plans, largely informed by Savills which it has instructed to develop and manage an (APEX) asset management system and advise on strategy for future management of its housing stock. In 2013 Savills produced a Housing Stock Options report, which described a “legacy of housing in Southwark that is now reaching the end of its life” and outlined the “potential for the Council to improve its business plan .. through effective asset management. This would mean identifying those assets which are a net liability in the plan, and exploring alternative options for those properties” .

In 2014 the Council instructed Savills to conduct an ‘Asset Performance Evaluation’, which was to “identify as much potential land as possible for development opportunity”, involving “a detailed and comprehensive appraisal to be undertaken of the performance of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) assets” (ie. our council homes), leading to “an assessment of their worth to the housing business.”

The Council’s entire 40,000 homes were each rated according to their Net Present Value (NPV) and recommendations made outlining the “key potential options for identified poorly performing stock”:

2015 Savills evaluation of council housing stock

The evaluation went on to recommend a number of additional strategies to achieve the desired “improvement in business plan capacity”. These include increasing rents, albeit “subject to the Council’s policies on rents .. and plans to explore devolved management” - (a practice that we argue is already being introduced via the back door1).

2015 Savills evaluation of council housing stock

Savills’s evaluation informed the Council’s 2016 Housing Asset Management Strategy, which explained that “11.5% of the stock (4,167 units) has a Net Present Value which is below zero” located on what it terms ‘High Investment Needs Estates’2 - for which it is recommended that “options be explored with residents as to whether a small scale redevelopment or regeneration scheme may deliver better outcomes than direct refurbishment.”3

2016 Housing Asset Management Strategy

The publication of the Savills report and asset management strategy understandably created concerns amongst tenants living on the “poorly performing” estates in negative value homes. In response, the Council’s Housing Boss tried to reassure people by explaining that options will be considered on a “case by case basis” and that only “in a small number of cases it may mean demolition.”

We blogged about this in December and noted that Savills is just as happy selling off Southwark’s high-value assets, as it is identifying those low-value assets that could be candidates for demolition. Savills also prepared the notorious viability assessment that allowed Lendlease to slash the social rented housing on Elephant Park (the New Heygate) to just 82 social rented units.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that Savills are the brains behind David Cameron’s big idea of ‘regenerating’ 100 council estates, supplied by its Cabinet Office report ‘Completing London’s Streets’. The report happens to feature a photo of a Southwark estate, the Brandon, to illustrate how the estate’s generous green spaces constitute a “housing typography” that is “deeply inappropriate for current and coming decades”.

Savills report shows Brandon estate in Southwark as prime candidate for redevelopment

The report also uses the Nelson/Portland estate on East Street in Walworth as one of 6 case study sites to expound its ideas (Site C). Two other estates identified by the 35% Campaign are the Glyndon estate in Woolwich (Site B) and the Ampthill Square estate in Camden (Site A). The estates are not easily identified in the report, they are not named and have been disguised by flipping and rotating their layout plans.

Savills Case study site C unmasked as the Nelson/Portland estate in Southwark

Below Savills explains that their case study estates “do not represent any current, existing or proposed scheme”, so the residents of Nelson/Portland, Glyndon and Ampthill Square estates can rest easy in their beds…

City Villages

Savills and Cameron’s ‘Completing London’s Street’s report echoes many of the proposals put forward by Labour Lord Andrew Adonis, in his ‘City Villages’ paper published earlier in the year. We blogged in march about Adonis’s ‘City Villages’ and how they constituted a manifesto for the destruction of council estates. We also showed how he received support from Southwark Council leader Peter John, who wrote a whole chapter of the paper, holding the Heygate regeneration up as a successful model and blueprint for the manifesto.

Councillor John is a full subscriber to this 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.”

Cllr Peter John Quote

Councillor John has long been echoing these stereotyped opinions of council estates which seek to justify the demolitions. In a radio interview he described the Heygate & Aylesbury estates as a “byword for social failure, crime and anti-social behaviour - with all the sorts of problems that people are talking about being the problem with massive council estates.”

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”.

In a BBC interview he claimed “The Heygate was not a great place to live; there’s a reason why zombie and vigilante films were filmed on the Heygate estate, because it was a failing part of Southwark.”

On his blog he repeats the same criticisms of council estates touted by the Tories and their proposed replacement by traditional street patterns: “The answers which the Aylesbury provided were soon overshadowed by the problems which were inherent in the design of the huge monolithic and brutalist blocks. The previous street pattern was replaced by long corridors and above-ground walkways, which paid little regard to the human desire to travel at ground level and have neighbours and communities within easy reach.”

Southwark’s (Labour) Cabinet member for Regeneration also once said in an interview about the Heygate: “council estates are full of people who aren’t working and are on benefits”.

There is an alternative

The council leader’s claims are mistaken. This poll shows that the majority of Heygate residents were happy living on the estate and crime stats show that the crime rate was 45% below the borough average. Likewise, 73% of Aylesbury residents voted against demolition in the only ballot to have been held on the estate and crime rates there were consistently lower than the borough average.

It has been proven that this outdated ‘sink estate’ discourse lacks any grounded scientific basis and is peddled mainly to serve the interests of developers and politicians. If local communities are to be protected then regeneration has to mean something other than state-sponsored gentrification championed by the property services industry, which makes great profit from it in every which way.

Refurbishment needs to be considered. And if building new council homes is costing £383k each, when homes on ‘high investment needs estates’ can be brought up to Decent Homes Standard for a fraction of this, then there is no reason not to do that.

11,000 new ‘council’ homes

The council’s blanket response to criticism of its council estate clearances, is that it has embarked upon an ambitious plan to build 11,000 new council homes (over the next 30 years).

However, in the two years since the Council launched this ambitious programme it has built a total of just 1524. Meanwhile, according to GLA data during the last year alone the borough has seen a net loss of 170 social rented homes5.

This figure doesn’t even include those lost through Right to Buy during the year and according to figures quoted in this article the council is predicted to lose 9,000 council homes through RtB during the next 30 years.

Southwark’s own consultation on its programme to build 11,000 new homes made it clear that the programme will involve the wholesale redevelopment of existing council estates:

Southwark's consultation on its 11000 new homes proposals Extract from consultation on 11000 new homes proposals

In addition, the Council has set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) - Southwark Housing Company Ltd - a separate limited company that will own and manage the 11,000 new ‘council’ homes. This has led to fears that these will be let at higher rents, as is the case where other councils are using SPVs to build ‘council’ homes - i.e. LB Lambeth.

The first of this new wave of demolitions is currently being progressed at Canada Water, where several blocks on the Canada Water estate are being redeveloped (the ones overlooking the park). Needless to say, the Council is not delivering on its pledges and residents are up in arms..

Residents facing decant and displacement from their homes on the Canada Water estate

CPO archive

Compulsory Purchase Orders are a key part of any estate demolition and require the Council to put forward a “compelling case in the public interest” for demolition. Below are links to archived CPO Statements of Reasons for several estate regenerations to date. They provide an interesting record of the tenuous arguments used to justify demolition, for example:

“The scale and orthogonal formation of the blocks does not correspond to human scale, nor does it create opportunities for neighbourliness and local neighbourhood identity.”6

“residents are deprived of a clear address, and identity.”6

“High-level walkways .. contribute to crime and anti-social behaviour”.6

“While the estate presents generous green space, the lack of designated use and the lack of ownership of these spaces mean that they are under used.”6

“There is poor estate lighting, lack of ownership of open areas and lack of identity within the larger blocks”.7

“an arrangement of monolithic land uses that is out of place in this city fringe location.”8

Footnotes:

  1. See the Council’s response to this FOI request, which confirms it is charging more than twice the average council rent on properties located within regeneration schemes. See also this article confirming that the Council has set up a private company to manage its new ‘council’ homes. 

  2. See paragraph 3.2.3 of the Council’s Housing Asset Management Strategy 

  3. See Paragraph 5.10 (page 22) of the Savills Asset Performance Evaluation 

  4. See Council Assembly Question 1, 26 Jan 2016. NB: only 21 of the 75 Willow Walk homes are social rented council homes. 

  5. The London Tenants Federation has published its analysis of the latest GLA housing data published for 2014/15. The analysis found that Southwark demolished more social rented homes than it built – a net loss of 170 social rented homes in total. 

  6. See Southwark’s in-house architect’s Witness evidence to the Aylesbury CPO public inquiry.  2 3 4

  7. See Silwood estate CPO Statement of Reasons. 

  8. See Heygate CPO Statement of Reasons Para 7.22