While every mayoral candidate promises they can build the most homes, few are talking about the homes they’ll demolish. This really matters, because as I’ve found we can end up actually losing more homes to demolitions and sales than we build. The next Mayor could easily leave London in an even worse position at the end of their four years.
While chair of the London Assembly’s housing committee I led an investigation into estate regeneration. We found that schemes in the past decade had knocked down 8,000 more social rented homes than were built in their place.
Earlier this year I obtained figures from the Mayor showing that estate regeneration schemes in the pipeline will see the net loss of another 7,000 social rented homes.
For all the new homes bluster, many Labour and Conservative councils are actually making things worse.
Boris Johnson made some vague promises to back communities in his manifestos and housing strategies. The government promised to refurbish before demolishing buildings. But in the end those were empty gestures. They’ve ignored – or even promoted – the slow motion destruction of working class communities across the capital.
Both Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith have included policies in their manifestos that, on the face of it, look reasonably positive. Both want schemes to enjoy the support of residents, but if a majority vote against, will Mayor Khan or Mayor Goldsmith, then face down councils forcing demolition on residents against their will?
I have yet to hear Sadiq promise to join the side of residents against Labour councils at West Kensington, Gibbs Green, Broadwater Farm, Somerset Close, Lido Square, Moira Close, Andover, Central Hill, Cressingham Gardens, Knights Walk, Wyatt Park, Boleyn Ground, Carpenters, Aylesbury and doubtless many more.
Zac has set out some reasonably strong policies in his manifesto, but he also strongly backed calls from the likes of Lord Adonis for a massive programme of estate demolition, saying councils have an “ethical obligation” to do this. Would he reverse Boris’ plans to demolish estates in his housing zones, and stand up to Tory councils like Barnet trying to get rid of council housing altogether?
It seems much more likely to me that these manifesto pledges will turn out to be empty gestures. That is why the London Green Party laid down estate demolition as one of their four ‘red line’ priorities.
Whoever ends up being Mayor I know that newly-elected Green Assembly members will be strongly supporting local residents’ campaigns to end estate demolitions.
The next Mayor must come up with something practical and effective to stop that net loss of 7,000 social rented homes that Boris predicts.
Many voters on these threatened estates will be comparing other Mayoral candidates to Sian Berry, who has visited and publicly backed residents on estates across the capital.
She has worked with me, and with Green councillors, to help residents develop their own plans, and as Mayor would give them practical support to make their dreams a reality.
Her policy builds on my work on a community homes unit in City Hall funded by a People’s Housing Precept, providing a £1bn capital fund and expert support so the residents could regenerate their estate themselves.
The residents of the Walterton & Elgin estate did this in the 1990s to stop Shirley Porter, now others can follow to stop their own cabinet members clearing out their homes. That is the kind of positive plan that many Londoners living on neglected estates would welcome.