Dear Mr Travers and Cllr Hopkins
I am writing to formally request that you lift the shadow of demolition from the residents of the six Lambeth Council estates that are earmarked for destruction by reversing the council’s decision to demolish with immediate effect.
My reasons are as follows:
- The Environmental Cost
We have declared a climate emergency and Lambeth’s voters, its council workers and most importantly its children want us to act now. We do not have time to wait.
- The Health Cost and Cost to the Communities
The programme is making people ill physically and mentally and is especially damaging the elderly. Interdependent communities have been broken and crime and antisocial behaviour is on the rise.
- The Financial Cost
Housing regeneration has cost more than the Garden Bridge so far and has delivered less. By repurposing the money earmarked to be borrowed for demolition, the estates could be refurbished and made more sustainable. The Housing Revenue Account is losing a fortune each year due to homes sitting empty.
- The Housing Cost
If demolition is followed through, the relatively few new council / affordable homes eventually built will cost our residents more in rent and charges. By the time the programme is completed any new housing will not address the housing crisis in the borough.
- There are Alternatives
Neighbouring Labour boroughs are trying to innovate to find housing solutions and are not taking on such huge projects. New solutions need to be found co-operatively with the support of residents.
Some more detail for you to back up my points:
- The Environmental Cost
Lambeth Council has declared a climate emergency and alongside that set the ambitious target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. While I recognise that new buildings can be built to higher standards of energy efficiency, this can also be achieved through retrofitting and refurbishment, without the massive release of carbon caused by demolition and rebuild. We should reuse what we already have extracted from our planet wherever possible.
The embodied carbon of a building includes all the emissions from the construction materials, the building process, all the fixtures and fittings inside as well as from deconstructing and disposing of it at the end of its lifetime.
An environmental Impact Assessment was produced by Model Environments for the Central Hill Estate after being commissioned by the Architects for Social Housing as part of their Case Study into Estate Regeneration. This details the embodied carbon for the estate which has 460 homes (less than a third of those planned for demolition by Lambeth Council). The estimate given is very conservative as there are many omissions. The bottom line is that the demolition of the Central Hill estate alone equates to releasing 7,000 tonnes CO2e. Which virtually equals the total declared carbon emissions by the whole of Lambeth council’s operations over a 12-month period.
The ASH environmental impact assessment does not cover air pollution and noise pollution. In the areas proposed for demolition we have no air quality monitoring so what may be dangerous levels of PM2.5 and PM10 in those areas now may become lethal. You are aware of the damage caused by air and noise pollution on the Westbury Estate caused by St James / Berkeley Homes these additional hazards have been inflicted on residents who have already been victims of years of stresses since the decision to demolish.
An urgent and thorough Environmental Impact Assessment needs to be carried out – reflecting fully the council’s commitment to address its part in creating the climate emergency.
- The Health Cost and Cost to the Communities
As the council is aware, I have been working with a doctor to put together a report into the effects on residents’ health of the council’s regeneration programme which will be published in the very near future.
In 2014 UCL’s Urban Lab and Engineering Exchange produced a report on estate regeneration in it is a factsheet on the health findings which clearly points out the benefits of Refurbishment on existing residents versus the problems caused by demolition. In it the key stated issues with demolition are:
- Lack of control and involvement in the decision-making process which has been found to have a negative effect on mental health.
- Demolition has been found to have particularly negative effects on the elderly.
- Announcement of demolition can have detrimental impacts on reported health.
- Demolition and relocation have been linked to an increase in self-reported stress anxiety and depression.
Despite this evidence pre-dating the bulk of the work on the regeneration estates, no meaningful mitigations have been implemented. However, having spoken to hundreds of residents over the last 5 years who are living on estates in the regeneration programme, and conducted surveys in my capacity as a ward councillor, there is now ample evidence that these issues are significantly affecting our residents.
The communities on Lambeth’s regeneration schemes are massively diverse, many are relatively poor and from international backgrounds. For many English is not a first language. Many depend on carers or other forms of support. Over the last 3 years the communities have been gradually uprooted and broken.
As people are moved out, the interdependent communities are broken up and empty properties are created. In July we had 189 empty homes sitting empty across the estates due for demolition. We have a similar number of homes on these estates occupied by Temporary residents, many of whom have children and who have no rights whatsoever and can be moved out very quickly. As a result of all the empty properties and this movement in and out of the estates, we have experienced a breakdown of communities and a corresponding rise in crime and anti-social behaviour which has had further detrimental impact on resident’s mental health.
Older residents have been particularly badly affected by the Council’s treatment of them. There have been several interventions that I have had to make to protect them in the last few years. Mr Travers you met my 80-year-old neighbour last year and she is not unique in the desperate way she has been made to feel by Lambeth’s Regeneration team, and despite your visit 9 months ago just before Christmas she still continues to feel the same and still has not had her questions answered. Some of these residents have been living in their homes for over 50 years and have been expecting to spend the rest of their days there. To uproot them in the way this is being done is ‘callous and cruel’ (a quote from one of the surveys).
- The Financial Cost
From the outset we have known that the finances don’t stand up to proper scrutiny. It is clear that the reason that some of the 3-year-old Financial Viability Assessments remain redacted is that the figures never did add up. We know that the due diligence required for such a huge scheme on the Central Hill Estate had not been done and the same was true of the other estates.
This year’s 20-page Homes for Lambeth (HfL) business plan which prompted dozens of questions from residents, (that took 4 months to reply to) was not serious. Many of the responses to our questions just raise more questions. A 20-page business plan for a wholly council-owned business that mentions the safe delivery of capital budgets up to £1.6bn is just not credible.
Figures given to me by the council at the beginning of June suggested that at the start of this financial year around £60m had been spent on Estate regeneration. Since then another £20m has been borrowed and more homes have been bought back, just to be demolished. The Garden Bridge project which Lambeth Council also supported only lost £53.5m with nothing to show for it – at least with the Garden Bridge the decision was taken to stop throwing good money after bad – now it needs to be the turn of Lambeth’s failed regeneration scheme.
The original justification for setting up HfL does not now stand up. The borrowing cap on the Housing Revenue Account has been lifted and with it the main justification for setting up a private company owned by the council has been removed. Instead of adjusting its plans accordingly however, the council appears to have decided to change the rationale to justify an already ill-conceived project.
As I stated earlier, as of July we had 189 empty properties across the 6 estates. Even if the council were only receiving an average of £100 per week in rent for the homes then that equates to around £1m per annum that is being lost directly in rents. Money that would have been going to the HRA. There will be other costs though to both the council and residents. Service charges and any works on the estate are being shared amongst fewer people. The council will not be in receipt of 189 instances of council tax. A further 189 households are currently being accommodated elsewhere in Lambeth’s privately-owned temporary accommodation which costs an average of £1500 per month per property. This strategy is denying homes to vulnerable people in the borough who desperately need it.
Many residents are sickened by the closures of Children’s Centres and the loss of key personnel such as librarians, expenses that relatively cost peanuts and effectively pay back to the community the money that is invested in them. At the same time as cutting critical services the council is managing to find tens of millions to spend with developers with no tangible benefit to those who are paying the price.
- The Housing Cost
On the Westbury estate, as part of a section 106 agreement, the developer is contracted to build 70 social housing homes. The agreement was reached with Lambeth Council because the St George’s Wharf development in Vauxhall, a mile and a half away, which has around 1400 homes, was allowed to be built with no council housing. It’s a similar story with Lollard street and the Shell Centre development. The rate of return of council housing on new developments across London is not good and Lambeth is not going to buck this trend.
As mentioned earlier the financial viability of the schemes do not stand up to serious challenge and scrutiny and across London there are no regeneration schemes that I am aware of that are replacing and adding to the council housing stock in any significant numbers – certainly not on a scale that would bring Lambeth’s waiting list down. The mayor’s affordable housing targets are failing to be achieved, despite grants being handed to developers and councils.
Affordable housing is not affordable for most residents and by gradually putting rents up across the board more of our residents will become financially vulnerable. The creation of more expensive properties to replace cheaper ones are putting more people into poverty, or socially cleansing the borough. The new homes have increased rents and service charges, and this is not being articulated honestly to residents, indeed members of Lambeth’s Cabinet are still misleading residents about the rent levels.
There are many reports of significant issues with new housing that has been put up across London. Myatts Field and Woodberry Down to name two but I can cite many others. Central Hill was designed to last for 125 years – if it was looked after by the landlord it would do so. It is also already high-density housing, there is no need to demolish and build upwards.
Coming back to the 189 empty homes figure; if we make a few assumptions and estimate on average 4 people live in each home and each home is empty for a year (we know some have been empty for much longer) that is 260,000 nights that residents on the council’s ‘waiting list’ could have been in secure housing. By the time that the estates have been regenerated what will that figure be then? How long will it take the handful of additional council houses supplied across the estates to make up for that loss?
Finally, the estates themselves. These have been deliberately left, and so run down by the council: to save money on repairs; to help justify demolition; and to encourage residents to leave their neglected homes. Major works need to happen now as the estate regeneration programme continues at snail pace. The number of the council’s disrepair cases are rocketing, (up from 150 to 450 in the last report) and this is going to continue to rise as works continue to be neglected on the regeneration estates. Residents are living in conditions where, if it were anyone else those responsible would be branded “rogue landlords”. The outstanding problems and solutions need to be worked through and agreed with residents; the current resident engagement model of dictating solutions to residents has not worked and will not work whether it is Lambeth Council or Homes for Lambeth imposing their will.
- Next Steps and Alternative Solutions
I look forward to working with you and the communities on the next steps but here are a few of my immediate suggestions:
- Call an immediate halt to the regeneration programme to give residents some certainty about their futures and to help the council do its bit to address the climate crisis.
- Provide support and counselling to those residents that have suffered health problems over the last few years and look for ways to help address individual disrepair issues that they have.
- Urgently bring the homes that are empty to a rentable standard and fill them with families who are in greatest need, increasing revenue into the HRA and reducing the numbers in appalling conditions in Temporary Accommodation.
- Encourage all residents to get involved with identifying issues and solutions on estates and allow them to help prioritise works.
- Use the money that the council has arranged to borrow to refurbish the regeneration estates to optimum environmental standards and efficiencies. Then look to follow this up with a wider refurbishment across the whole borough as the climate emergency dictates that we must do.
- Look to other boroughs that are not demolishing estates to identify alternative solutions. Croydon Council’s housing corporation Brick by Brick for example is working in partnership with a Community Land Trust. Southwark are looking at putting modular homes onto rooftops. We need to be bold and imaginative to address the housing and climate crisis that we have in the borough – both of which need to be supported by Lambeth’s residents.
- Cressingham Gardens CIC / TMO has offered to take over the properties that Lambeth doesn’t want to use for TA. The CIC would like to refurbish them to a level that they can be rented out. The rental agreement would be an assured tenancy (similar to that offered by HfL), and thus still offer the council the required level of flexibility in the scenario of demolition whilst allowing the homes to be occupied. Further, it will save the council the additional cost of securing the properties.
- Cressingham Gardens is moving ahead with the Right to Transfer process, and so this offers the council a way out of their predicament if they want to halt the Cressingham Gardens full demolition and still create extra social homes.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and consider alternative possibilities.
Cllr Pete Elliott
Cllr Nicole Griffiths
Cllr Jonathan Bartley
Cllr Scott Ainslie MEP
Cllr Becca Thackray