Greenwich Council is keeping quiet after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared to attack its policy of redeveloping housing estates at last week’s party conference in Brighton.
Corbyn pledged that a future Labour government would ensure that residents affected by plans to rebuild estates “must get a home on the same site and the same terms as before”.
He also said councils must hold ballots of tenants and leaseholders before embarking on schemes to revamp estates.
Both policies fly in the face of the way Greenwich and other London boroughs have rebuilt estates such as the Ferrier in Kidbrooke, which has been rebuilt by Berkeley Homes as Kidbrooke Village and the Connaught in Woolwich, being developed by Lovell as Trinity Walk.
Corbyn’s comments have been widely interpreted as a criticism of some of the party’s councils.
Greenwich did not respond to a request for a comment from housing cabinet member Averil Lekau on Corbyn’s speech, and she has not commented herself.
Councils say they need to do deals with developers because of the lack of funds available to build new housing, while campaigners accuse them of “social cleansing”.
Greenwich’s decisions to knock down the Ferrier and Connaught estates have not been anywhere near as contentious as Southwark’s demolition of the Heygate estate at Elephant & Castle and Lambeth’s plans for Cressingham Gardens in Tulse Hill and the Central Hill Estate at Upper Norwood. But the way they have been handled has been criticised.
While both Ferrier and Woolwich developments were subject to consultation, no ballots were held. And there was no right of return at the Ferrier, although some residents did come back when the first phase of Kidbrooke Village was develivered.
On the Ferrier, 1,906 homes originally built for council rent were demolished between 2009 and 2012, with some residents being taken to court to force them out. At the time, then-council leader Chris Roberts admitted most residents would be unlikely to return to the replacement development, which would offer far fewer homes for social rent.
Over 4,700 homes have planning consent at the Kidbrooke Village (1,450 have been built already) with 35% due to be “affordable” – a category which includes shared ownership and “intermediate” rent as well as social rent.
Now Greenwich is redeveloping three Woolwich estates on a similar model. The Connaught estate, close to Woolwich town centre, has already come down and the new Trinity Wharf development is rising in its place.
Two more estates – Morris Walk and Maryon Road, on the Woolwich/Charlton border – are also due to come down, in a project due to replace 1,064 homes built for council rent with 1,500 new dwellings. Again, 35% are “affordable” – again, a catch-all for range for tenures from shared ownership, through proportions of market rent to “social target rent”.
While Greenwich says there is a right of return here, the numbers alone suggest this may not be possible for everybody.
The decline of Greenwich borough’s local press means this complex issue has largely slid out of view in the past couple of years – the only reporter covering it was Mark Chandler at the News Shopper. But it hasn’t gone away, and Corbyn’s comments will reignite the debate – at least in local Labour circles – about how the council is treating these redevelopment schemes. Minutes of residents’ meetings peter out in May 2016.
The strength of feeling on both sides of the debate is so great that it’s even managed to slip through onto social media. Here’s one Corbyn-supporting councillor…
Then here’s former deputy leader John Fahy…
But then here’s current deputy leader Danny Thorpe.
With campaigning now starting to get under way for next May’s council election, voters will want to know which Labour party is in charge – the one that thinks the best way to redevelop estates is to tear ’em down and get a developer in to start again, or the Corbyn one that wants to keep residents there and get them more closely involved. This one will run and run.
If you’ve got personal experience of the Connaught, Morris Walk and Maryon Road redevelopment schemes, I’d be interested to hear about it.
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