When Mayor Khan settles down for some reading over the holiday period, perhaps he should dust off a copy of his manifesto.
Just weeks after the new Mayor dropped a commitment to compel developers to deliver 50% affordable housing on new housing sites, another promise made before the election appears to be heading for the dustbin. This time the issue is the highly controvertial programme of demolishing council estates.
Recently, the Mayor released his good practice on estate regeneration. The document contains guidance on how local authorities should go about the practice of tearing down council estates.
The issue has been hugely controversial in recent years. Residents living in estates scheduled for demolition have become victims of the increasingly aggressive behaviour of councils, who seek to force them off their land before handing it over to a developer.
Despite promises made that existing tenants will return to an improved environment, almost invariably, schemes have led to losses of social housing preventing many council tenants from returning, and leaseholders are offered a pittance in compulsory purchase, forcing them out of their area.
The most high profile case has been the Heygate Estate in Southwark. There, around 1000 social homes were demolished, to be replaced with 83. Leaseholders on the estate were offered around £150,000 for their three bedroom homes in Central London. If they didn’t agree, their land was sold against their will through a compulsory purchase order. Needless to say, the compensation they received didn’t get them much in the local area.
For all of this, Southwark Council actually have ended up paying money to developer Lend Lease and are yet to see any of the profits of the new development.
A promise made
Against this backdrop, the Mayor’s manifesto contained specific and clear commitments on estate regeneration, which were as follows:
- Require that estate regeneration only takes place where there is resident support, based on full and transparent consultation, and that demolition is only permitted where it does not result in a loss of social housing, or where all other options have been exhausted, with full rights to return for displaced tenants and a fair deal for leaseholders.
The requirement that council estates can only be knocked down if the people living in them agree with the proposition was perhaps the most important safeguard proposed by the then prospective mayor. The kind of aggressive behaviour displayed by authorities like Southwark and Barnett in the past would be difficult if they were compelled to gain the agreement of their residents first.
But, when Mayor Khan published his good practice guide, the requirement was nowhere to be seen. Worse still, the idea that residents be given a vote on proposals is actively discouraged. According to the guidance there is:
“a potential reason for caution around using ballots or votes, since they can risk turning a complex set of issues that affects different people in different ways over many years into a simple ‘yes/no’ decision at a single point in time.”
Apparently the question, do you want your home knocked down and be forced to move out of London? is just too complex to be boiled down a simple yes/no answer….
The idea that residents should have a veto over estate regeneration is hardly a radical idea. Westminster Council, which has been run by the Conservatives since it was formed in 1964, does exactly that. Their policy only allows them to move forward with a housing regeneration scheme if a simply majority of affected residents support the proposals through a vote. So why can’t a Labour Mayor do the same?
When I contacted City Hall, they stressed the document was only a consultation, and that they are keen to hear views from the public. Presumably the Mayor is hoping that the public pressure him to return to his previous position.
The consultation is currently open until March 14 and can be accessed here.