COMMENT: Sell-off fears of council homes are inevitable

(23 July, 2015) Editorials

Town hall bosses should not be surprised that tenants see council homes survey as a move towards selling off their homes.

2925Southwark Council leader Peter John

It makes absolute sense for the council to carry out a massive survey of its housing stock, but town hall bosses should not be surprised that tenants see this as a move towards selling off their homes when they employ an estate agent to do it.

If the Labour-run administration is going to make good on its manifesto pledge of creating 11,000 new council homes in the next 30 years, identifying their current assets is an obvious starting point.

Many have criticised the pledge because of its timescale of 30 years. Without set dates and targets during this period, Council Leader Peter John could be promising these desperately needed homes on the never never. The News has revealed the exact figures of council homes lost compared to the amount of social homes retained in the Heygate regeneration programme. Essentially 1,194 council homes have been lost and the amount of truly affordable homes with social housing rents will be between 74 and 84.

Certainly many in the borough and some on the Heygate felt that the estate was not viable and needed to be demolished. Successive council administrations have said that there was not enough money to make these homes decent, warm and safe. Selling off this prime real estate land to developers would bring in enough money to start from scratch and start building more council homes – even if that does mean more high rises. This does make sense, but with numerous major and smaller regeneration projects now underway or in the pipeline like the Aylesbury, the 50,000 properties in this latest survey are what are left.

Perhaps for the first time this survey has looked not only at the net value of each property, but the sustainability of the community on particular estates and streets. Many will see this as an exercise in categorising communities and classing some estates as ‘sink estates’. Certainly if the council plans to use the data – as it has suggested – to see what it has left, the condition of those properties and the social needs of the inhabitants to plan how they are going to make them better, no-one can criticise them. However, identifying high value land always comes with a flip-side, which was borne out a decade ago with the infamous Southwark Estates Initiative. Under this scheme communities were set against each other, where residents for example in an estate on Tooley Street saw their homes earmarked for sale so more could be invested in East Dulwich estates.

The fact the council employed estate agent Savills to conduct the survey does inevitably raise suspicions. It is too early to say exactly how the findings will be used and it right the local paper and indeed opposition councillors keep an eye on this process, to ensure that the survey helps to improve the lives of residents currently living in Southwark.

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