Old Kent Road is one of the last frontiers of regeneration – or gentrification, depending on your view – in London. It’s certainly the only plot left in Southwark with the potential to build thousands of homes; 20,000, to be exact.
Southwark’s Labour run council has not often held its hands up and said it has got redevelopment wrong.
A proliferation of luxury flats, a skewed housing market geared toward high earning City professionals, and continuing loss of social housing is more often than not attributed to the pains of austerity and strained budgets, policies beyond its control – like right to buy – and the actions of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in years past.
But there has been a marked shift in how the local authority talks about housing in the last two years especially, and its relationships with developers.
In January of this year we reported on a new ‘social regeneration charter’ for Old Kent Road, a series of commitments to ensure redevelopment brings opportunities for the people it is meant to help in the first place.
Tellingly, the council pledged to “work differently and better with developers”.
The council is also taking a firmer line on ensuring the 35 per cent affordability criteria for new housing developments is met. By setting up its own construction firm and returning repairs services in-house, it is is also rolling back outsourcing and privatisation.
In the five years since the council first launched consultations on Old Kent Road’s regeneration, there have been a series of legal challenges to regeneration projects including Delancey’s Elephant and Castle, Camberwell Union, and Aylesbury to name a few.
Strong opposition to the initial Old Kent Road plans came from all directions – businesses aghast at a focus on ‘shared working space’ with little focus on industry and manufacturing, residents worried about high-rise blocks and overcrowding, and loss of heritage assets.
The latest iterations are said to show ‘significant changes’ – all in response to a series of well coordinated campaigns.
Whether these revisions go far enough, and how legally binding they are, will become clearer when the public consultation begins next month.
What is clear is that the people who have fought for a better kind of regeneration now have more influence than ever at Tooley Street.