Pete Elliott, councillor for the Gipsy Hill ward in Lambeth, tells us about the process of regeneration in Lambeth, how it affects people and the environment and why social and climate justice movements should join the campaign to oppose it and offer better sustainable alternative such as refurbishment.
As climate and social justice activists we need to be able to show empathy for the thousands of thousands of people caught up in this awful demolition process and provide whatever support that we can.
The Process of regeneration
- Regeneration starts years before any formal announcement, with the running down or deliberate mismanagement of estates. In Lambeth this was done in part by stopping routine and preventative maintenance and also by putting spending caps on the values of repairs that could be done. During this stage much more money is taken in rents than is being spent on repairs.
- The stress for residents starts to kick in when there is the announcement that the estate is to be demolished, and residents are told that they will be consulted on the options for regeneration. The reality is that those decisions have already been made. This is also the point that you start seeing mental health issues – long term elderly residents are affected the hardest – those who expected their council home of 50 years to be a home for life. I have spoken to many of my neighbours about how this has made them feel and people have taken different routes to deal with this from restarting a smoking habit to antidepressants – to much more serious outcomes.
- Then to pile on the pressure, the psychological warfare on residents really starts. Surveys, leaflets, meetings – but rarely public meetings though, as the developers and council don’t want the community to come all together and organise.
- There is more pressure from the misinformation, uncertainty, the false promises, the lies, the guilt trip that is laid at the door of those residents who dare to resist and are made to feel they are standing in the way of progress – for daring to want to remain in their homes.
- Then the gradual awakening of the fact that that the council does not want anything other than demolition – the casual put down of any alternative community-based plans that address the council’s stated needs, better than the council’s own ‘back of a cigarette packet’ ideas. The council plans that don’t stand up to the lightest scrutiny – but that doesn’t matter as this is ideological not something that will solve the stated problems – and the council hold most of the cards, and all the money.
Campaigners from Cressignham Gardens outside Lambeth Town Hall to demand the end of social cleansing and a residents ballot.
- The ‘consultations’ can go on for years before the cabinet decision is formally made leaving tenants and especially leaseholders in limbo who can’t sell their now blighted homes.
- The next stage is the formal decision at the council’s Cabinet committee.The cabinet decision can be called in for further scrutiny, although in Lambeth this process is tightly stage managed. If that challenge fails then a further objection can be made via a Judicial review.
- Nothing the council or Homes for Lambeth (the council’s private house building company) has yet been delivered on time.
- Once the decision has been formalised then residents start to be moved off the estate. The elderly and most vulnerable seem to go first, along with those who have been making a lot of noise, the organisers, and those standing up to the council on behalf of the wider community. Families are split up – I was speaking to a mother and daughter recently who both lived on the estate in separate homes, both with health issues and who should be supporting each other, now the daughter is living 2 miles away and that small but important support link is broken – there are hundreds more of those links that have been broken in the last 7 years. Interdependent communities that have taken decades to mature and establish themselves have been destroyed in a few short years.
- For those who remain on the estate the psychological warfare continues where the council tries to maintain its dominance and control over the residents.
- Those residents who have been challenging the decisions through this period will have been worn out by the previous years of effort. Residents need support from people on and off the estate to help them through. Whilst some amazing people have become experts in campaigning, housing law, the council processes along with many other skills along the way they, they still need support as this process takes its toll on all of its victims.
Residents need support from people on and off the estate to help them through
- Of the 4662 homes currently planned to be built, 806 (17%) will be affordable and 1070 (23%) will be at council rent leaving 2786 (60%) for private sale.
The case of Central Hill
- On regeneration schemes time seems to have little meaning. The Central Hill plans ( presented in March 2017 stated that the demolition and rebuild would all be completed by 2025. In March 2020 the completion date had been extended to 2035 and in July 2020 just 4 months later we were told that the completion date would be 2040.
- On Central Hill Estate we have now had over 4 years since the decision was made at cabinet and we still have no master plan with none due for at least another 3 years. Over a third of the original residents have been moved off the estate and many of the homes have been filled by residents in temporary accommodation, or private renters on short term contracts who are being used like pawns in a game of chess to be sacrificed or, like unwilling property guardians to be moved on at their own cost when Homes for Lambeth finally implements a non-existent plan.
- On Lambeth’s 3 largest estates that the council wants to demolish planning applications have been forced through with no master plan and on two of them with a huge amount of objections. On Central Hill this is only for the first phase and involves the demolition of one temporary accommodation block which used to be a nurse’s home. This piece of work though is a trojan horse for the rest of the estate’s demolition. It involves the felling of a number of mature trees and the loss of green space to be replaced by a 7 storey block of a completely different scale to anything in the area.
A resident hangs a banner outside of their flat in Central Hill
Why regeneration is not the answer
The new homes will not be better for the environment
Whilst new homes will be more efficient than the post war estate homes, they are still not being built to the highest standards such as Passiv Haus, and energy savings declared by the council in planning applications are being compared with the existing buildings and not a retrofitted version; or environmental efficiency is being compared to the minimum standards required by planning requirements. The bar is not high enough.
Retrofitting is not even being considered or provided as a costed option. In Lambeth the council is borrowing 100s of millions of £ from the public works loan board to hand over to Homes for Lambeth. HfL are then handing over a carbon offset tax back to Lambeth council because the carbon emissions of the new buildings are far from carbon neutral. In the case of phase one of Central Hill this offset is worth £28,600.
What is worse though is that the embodied carbon in the demolished buildings and the new building’s materials are not even considered let alone taxed. As Greens in Lambeth we were proud to have been the first council in London to declare a climate emergency but so far in Lambeth I have been utterly disappointed by the progress made so far – especially in housing – other councils are doing much better.
Destruction of an interdependent Community
As I mentioned, regeneration destroys communities, in rare situations it can help bring people together and we have seen this to some degree on Cressingham Gardens as the community faces this existential threat and has organised and fought back. Mostly though it destroys interdependent communities and the integrated support networks that are inherent in many of the established estates. Residents and their estates are dehumanised, residents are decanted from their homes like some dirty wine, homes are described as units, and phrases like ‘sink estates’ and ‘brownfield sites’ are used by politicians and the media to further create a negative impression. There appears to be an active programme of breaking the community and individual residents will have pressure applied to move off the estate when they report faults rather than the repairs being carried out properly.
Crime free estates are branded as crime hotspots, Crime was not an issue on Lambeth’s estates earmarked for demolition – if it were then there are much more effective measures to deal with crime than demolition. Crime only became an issue on Central Hill since Homes for Lambeth started to move people out and we have had illegal raves that were based around blocks that have been emptied by the council.
I already mentioned the damage to mental health which can lead to physical issues. Disrepair has caused significant health and safety issues. Injuries have been caused by uneven walkways and steps and poor lighting and electrics. The roofs and the sewage system have not been maintained and some residents have had issues with sewage and water leaks along with damp and mould triggering asthma in children and adults. On Westbury and South Lambeth Estates residents have been hospitalised due to poor building practices and management as works have commenced.
SouthLambeth Estate during works
This is not going to be a money-making exercise for the council. Between now and 2042, they are to invest £1.9bn in Homes for Lambeth with a forecast of a £2bn revenue. This is an appalling return over such a long period of time especially when you layer the external risks on top such as Brexit, COVID, and the climate emergency along with the risk that this has never been done before in Lambeth Council with their own private developer. What is far more likely is that as Lambeth sucks up to developers we will end up in the same position as Croydon who have been brought down by their house building company Brick by Brick. We have already spent over £100m on the regeneration of the Lambeth’s estates and Homes for Lambeth with no buildings demolished and none built.
We have a housing crisis across London yet we will be demolishing more council owned homes in Lambeth than we will be building. Those in Temporary Accommodation who have been moved onto the estate now have no guarantee that in 20 years when the Central Hill Estate scheme is supposed to have been delivered that they will have a council home.
The system in Lambeth is broken. The directors who manage HfL also Manage the Planning team and the team responsible for the climate emergency and the citizen’s assembly – there is a conflict of interest here.
We need regime change to protect our environment and residents and we have local elections in 11 months time. Estate regeneration is all about social cleansing not about solving the housing crisis.
What can i do?
Inform yourself and take action from home:
- Follow and retweet Real Homes for Lambeth, the ethical and sustainable alternative to Lambeth HfL, on Twitter, and the Radical Housing Network for London-wide updates and info.
- Make sure you submit your views during planning consultations, sign the petitions and donate money to the various campaigns whose costs can really hike up.
- Check what your candidate and party’s stance is on housing and planning before you vote!
Get involved in real life:
- Join one of the various campaign groups in your local area and help support events and demos that they organise. The Real Homes for Lambeth Twitter account frequently shares their details and events. You do not need to be on Twitter to access.
- Join XR Lambeth, who is supporting the campaigners, and help raise awareness and support with nonviolent direct action. Check our Get Involved page