We need proper Scrutiny

Last week on Wednesday 18 September Mayor and Cabinet approved the Landlord offer with no choices for residents, vague and empty promises and no detailed information. The decision needs to be called in and put to scrutiny to make sure all residents are given transparent detail and information they need to make an informed choice – below are some of our concerns. Thank you so much to everyone who sent emails last week at such short notice it really does make a difference- please help us to keep up the pressure by emailing the scrutiny committee by Friday 27 September ( they are meeting on Monday 30 September) please feel free to use and adapt the below. Scrutiny committee email addresses at end of the post

Dear Scrutiny Committee Member

We are writing to you to ask you to scrutinise the ‘Achilles Street Landlord Offer for an Estate Regeneration Ballot’ approved by the Mayor and Cabinet on Wednesday 18 September, 2019, Agenda Item 4. The reason for this request is that the decision was ‘rushed’ through and based on a report and appendices, which contained limited and at times misleading information (further details are provided below). This is an important decision which will have a huge and lasting impact on the lives of residents and the wider community in the Achilles Street area. Given the gravity of this decision and its potential consequences it requires diligent, independent and transparent scrutiny.

Reasons to call-in the decision:

  • The Report on which the decision was based was late going up on the Council’s website and didn’t give 5 clear days for public scrutiny. This is in breach of the Council’s own procedures, which are informed by the Local Government Act 1972. Whilst the Act does allow for some matters to be treated with ‘urgency’, thereby requiring less time for public scrutiny, there have to be ‘special circumstances requiring it to be treated as a matter of urgency’. No reasons were given at Mayor and Cabinet on 18 September as to why this decision was being treated as a ‘matter of urgency’ nor was there any indication as to the ‘special circumstances’ that allowed it to be treated as such. Given the importance and potential consequences of the decision for residents and the local community, more time should have been allowed for the public to scrutinise the documents and raise any objections and concerns.

 

  • Further to the point above, residents were informed that the Mayor and Cabinet meeting was taking place via a leaflet drop, at the same time the Report went up on the Council’s website. The leaflets were in English giving residents whose first language isn’t English no time to get the information translated. Other key stakeholders (such as small independent businesses, freeholders and residents in freehold property) whose homes and businesses stand to be demolished were given no information about the meeting at all; and therefore were denied the opportunity to raise any objections and concerns they may have had about the proposals for the area and about being excluded from the forthcoming ballot. Again, given the importance of the decision for residents and the members of the local community, more time should have been given to scrutinise the documents and raise any objections and concerns. 

 

  • The Report and Offer (Appendix A) contains no detailed information about the proposed ‘redevelopment’ but rather a series of vague aspirations and empty promises. For example, the boundaries to the ‘redevelopment’ have recently been changed, which means that there is approximately 25% less land to build on. As the Council is still aiming to squeeze more than 450 housing units into this smaller space it means that housing density is going to increase significantly. No new plans have been put forward to reflect these changes, which means that residents will have no idea of what the ‘redevelopment’ is going to look like. So residents are being asked to vote on something without being given crucial information to base their decision on. Similarly, the Report and Offer to residents doesn’t give any information about the impact of the ‘redevelopment’ on the social infrastructure, schools, GPs, congestion etc. Nor does it give any information about the environmental impact of demolition and the 8 years plus of planned building works. The Council is also refusing to open up financial information (costs, viability modelling etc.) about the ‘redevelopment’  to public scrutiny. How public funds are being spent and on what is an important aspect of political accountability and transparency. For residents to make an informed choice about the future of their homes, their neighbour’s homes and the homes and livelihoods of others in the local community there should be comprehensive, detailed and transparent information. 

 

  • Not only is there a severe lack of information, the Offer also contains no real choices for residents about what happens to their area, just ‘demolition’ or ‘nothing’. For almost 4 years now residents have been asking for a range of options to be considered and presented in terms of improving the area, for example infill or refurbishment. Over this period there have been 4 ‘consultations’ where the only option being presented to residents was demolition. There was a tokenistic attempt to claim that infill had been considered by belatedly referring to a small scale study that had been undertaken long before the Council’s first ‘consultation’! Therefore it is disingenuous of the Council to claim, as it does in the background section of the Report, that the proposals to date have been developed with significant input from residents and the local community. There has been no independent consultation and the only thing the Council has been prepared to ‘discuss’ for almost 4 years now is the demolition of the area. In terms of resources the Council has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on working up plans to demolish the area and not a penny has been spent on developing any type of alternative proposals with residents. The offer should give residents genuine choices about what happens to their homes and local community, at present it doesn’t.

 

  • The Council’s failure to listen to residents and to develop a number of genuine choices with the residents about what happens to their homes and local community continued over this summer. The tenants hall in Fenton House, which had previously been closed for 14 years, was refurbished has been turned into the ‘Fenton Community Space’. This is where the Council has been undertaking what it refers to misleadingly in the Report as ‘resident engagement’. The Council employed Studio Raw a public relations, branding and place making company; and they along with council officers have been holding weekly sessions since mid June to supposedly gather information about what residents would like to see in the Offer. Again, residents have asked for alternative options to be developed so that there are real choices about what happens to their area in the offer; and again they have been ignored. So these weekly sessions, to all intents and purposes, have been a vehicle for promoting the Council’s plans for demolition. The Council has spent a lot of money (the exact amount is currently subject of a Freedom of Information request) on refurbishing a disused tenants hall and employing a public relations / branding/ placemaking company in order to pursue their aim of demolishing the area; and not a penny on providing a genuine choice for the residents in the offer.

 

  • There is a distinct lack of clarity in the Report and Offer about the number of council homes the ‘redevelopment’ will provide. Council homes, as they are commonly understood, are homes owned and controlled by a council and let out at a rent set by a formula devised by central government i.e. council rent, which is the most affordable type of social rent. The Offer only commits the Council to re-provide homes to the 49 council tenants living in the area at the same level of rent they are currently paying. This means that only approximately 10% of homes in the proposed ‘redevelopment’ will be let out at the most affordable level of social rent; and these homes will only replace the ones that the Council intends to demolish. Council homes at council rent is the most affordable type of social housing and the type of housing most needed in Lewisham and London more generally. The offer and the proposal on which it is based will do nothing to increase the number of households paying most affordable levels of social rent in Lewisham.

 

  • Similarly, there is a distinct lack of clarity about what is being offered to temporary council tenants in the Achilles Street area. This is partly due to repeated or unfinished sentences in this section of the Offer document but also partly due to the terminology being used. According to the Offer document temporary council tenants will be offered ‘a new council owned home for social rent’, where it seems that the term ‘social rent’ refers to London Affordable Rent. At present London Affordable Rent is 77% – 50% higher than Lewisham average council rent (depending on the size of the dwelling). This means that temporary tenants currently living in the Achilles Street area will be re-housed on London Affordable Rent; and will be paying £55 – £65 more per week more than their secure tenant counterparts, who will be re-housed at their current level of rent (Lewisham council rents). The Council’s proposal to differentiate its tenants (secure/temporary) in this way and then use it as a basis to treat them unequally is a matter of serious concern and one that requires scrutiny.

 

  • The Report and Offer tends to avoid the fact that 50% of the homes in the proposed ‘redevelopment’ will be private (for rent or sale), the most expensive type of housing. So in terms of housing provision by far the largest part of it is going to be private; and the people who stand to benefit most from the proposed ‘redevelopment’ are those who can afford to buy property on London’s private housing market –  people in the highest income bracket, the richest 10% of people in the country – these will be the people who first and foremost stand to benefit from the proposal to ‘redevelop’ the Achilles Street area. Why public funds and resources are being committed to increase the provision of private housing, the most expensive type of housing, is highly questionable; and in terms of the proposals for the Achilles Street area the figures speak for themselves:

image1 (6)

  • The Offer and proposed ballot raises some serious ethical concerns, which the Council haven’t even considered. A lot of people in the community who will be directly affected by the result of the ballot will not have the right to vote. This includes temporary council tenants who haven’t been on the housing waiting list for a year, private tenants and small independent businesses, all of whom could have their homes demolished and their livelihoods destroyed without having had any say in the decision. Another problematic ethical scenario would be if one of the blocks of flats in the Achilles Street area voted unanimously against the offer to save their homes from demolition, yet the result of the overall ballot went against them. Why should they be forced to have their homes demolished because of decisions taken by people who don’t even live in their block? These types of questions raise serious ethical concerns that to date have received no consideration and that deserve to be scrutinised.

 

 

We hope you consider the above reasons and call this rushed and ill-thought through decision in for scrutiny.

 

Yours faithfully,

Sources:

  • Lewisham Average Council Rent – Lewisham Homes Area Panel, Housing Revenue Account (HRA) – Rent Setting Report, 31 January 2019, Appendix 3: Leasehold and Tenants Charges 2019/20 Lewisham Homes, available at:

http://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/documents/s62239/05%20Rent%20Rise%20Report%202019-20%20-%20310119.pdf

 

  • London Affordable Rent – Homes for Londoners: Affordable Homes Programme 2016-21, London Affordable Rent – weekly rent benchmarks, available at: 

https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/housing-and-land/homes-londoners-affordable-homes-programme-2016-21

     

 

Appendix A   Appendix A – Achilles Street Landlord Offer

Appendix B  Appendix B – EAA Achilles Street Estate Resident Ballot

 

Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel

Councillor Bill Brown cllr_bill.brown@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor Sakina Sheikh Cllr_Sakina.Sheikh@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor Peter Bernards cllr_peter.bernards@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor Juliet Campbell Cllr_Juliet.Campbell@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor Patrick Codd Cllr_Patrick.Codd@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor Liam Curran cllr_liam.curran@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor Jim Mallory cllr_jim.mallory@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor Joan Millbank cllr_joan.millbank@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor John Muldoon cllr_john.muldoon@lewisham.gov.uk

Councillor Luke Sorba cllr_luke.sorba@lewisham.gov.uk

Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel email list for copying and pasting 

cllr_bill.brown@lewisham.gov.uk

Cllr_Sakina.Sheikh@lewisham.gov.uk

cllr_peter.bernards@lewisham.gov.uk

Cllr_Juliet.Campbell@lewisham.gov.uk

Cllr_Patrick.Codd@lewisham.gov.uk

cllr_liam.curran@lewisham.gov.uk

cllr_jim.mallory@lewisham.gov.uk

cllr_joan.millbank@lewisham.gov.uk

cllr_john.muldoon@lewisham.gov.uk

cllr_luke.sorba@lewisham.gov.uk

 

 

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