With the news that leaseholders on the Aylesbury Estate have successfully fought off compulsory purchase orders for their homes to be demolished, this is a good time to think carefully about how London goes about adding to more homes to areas currently filled with council estates and existing residents.
I’ve written to James Murray, the Deputy Mayor for Housing, setting out some of the key principles that should be taken into account in the new guidance he has promised for the process of estate regeneration.
This follows pledges from the Mayor that decisions about Londoners’ homes should be made with the full involvement of residents on estates, not behind closed doors in developer and council offices.
It also follows good answers to me during MQT where he said that often-overlooked private renters would be included in these processes and have a proper say.
Getting this right is vital: over the past decade, estate demolition has led to the net loss of over 8,000 social rented and affordable homes in London. If we continue to lose homes at this rate, we’ll never solve the housing crisis and London will become a place where it’s more and more impossible for working people to live.
These are the key principles I want to see in the Mayor’s new guidance:
1. No residents excluded
There is no reason for Councils, housing associations and developers to separately engage with tenants and leaseholders over plans for housing estates. Private tenants also make estates their homes and should have an equal say in consultations and ballots.
2. Full transparency
An important bottom line needs to be that all information needed to assess options for estates and to propose alternatives in an informed way should be made publicly available. The Mayor’s guidance should specify that there is a public interest in publishing all relevant information.
Too many planning documents are opaque, overlong and difficult for residents to challenge. Plans, business cases and viability assessments must all be provided in an accessible format online, and technical documents accompanied by a non-technical summary. Private partners should be made aware that this will be a condition of being involved in regeneration schemes.
3. Early and wide engagement
Engagement should begin when the goals of the regeneration are still open to change and when options for achieving the goals are being deliberated.
Residents in and around estates must be included in all communications and asked to come up with their own ideas and options. They should also be resourced to hold their own workshops and meetings.
Consultation should not just be with council registered Tenant Associations and Resident Groups. Other local groups, such as community centre committees, friends of parks, and emerging campaign groups concerned about particular issues or representing sub-groups of residents, should be respected and included. ‘Divide and rule’ and mischaracterising campaigners with genuine concerns have been features of some of the very worst council processes.
Developers and councils should also work to involve the wider community. The London Assembly wrote in its 2014 report ‘Knock it down or do it up’ that: “It should be noted that neighbours to regeneration schemes (whose lives may be almost as greatly affected as those of immediate residents) also need to be engaged. Where neighbours’ views are not sought, resentments may arise.”
4. Practical support for residents’ own plans
Where residents’ own plans could deliver some or all of the goals of the project – for example adding new homes or reducing running costs – these should be developed, with funding and expert support, to produce outline plans and business cases.
This could be done via a unit in City Hall that builds pan-London expertise in this work and expertise in engaging with residents, funded by contributions from developers or by the GLA.
5. A meaningful final say
Residents need to have (and know that they have) decision-making powers over the final options. Without this guarantee, constructive engagement will be very difficult to achieve. Whether this is done via a ballot, door to door surveys or other methods, the wishes of residents must be respected.
We will see a draft of the new guidelines soon, and people across London will be asked to comment, I hope these principles will be followed and that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor live up to the promises they made to London’s estate residents.
Supported by important precedents set by the Aylesbury decision on the right to keep your home unless there are overriding reasons for demolition, the growing campaigns to save London’s existing affordable homes will join me in standing up for their rights if they don’t.
Sian Berry represents the Green Party on the London Assembly