The long winter nights are finally getting lighter. And whilst a return to normality might seem a distant prospect, the rollout of the safe and effective vaccine programme is a beacon of hope for the future, writes Cllr Kieron Williams, leader of Southwark Council…
Southwark Council’s plan for recovery from the COVID pandemic is rooted in tackling inequalities and delivering fairness for all our residents – that includes building more homes that local people can afford.
In Southwark, I’m very proud to say we have the highest proportion of council homes of any borough in the country, by far the largest number in London. It is those publicly owned estates that make our borough an affordable place to live for tens of thousands of people, here in the heart of one of the world’s greatest cities. That is a legacy we continue to build on, with over 1,400 new council homes delivered or on site since 2010, all at council rents with lifetime tenancies.
I’m also glad to say that despite the immense challenges created by the pandemic we remain on track to exceed our goal of 2500 new council homes delivered or on site by 2022.
Yet what should really worry our community is the perpetual broadcast of ‘alternative facts’ on housing in Southwark, which are all too often grossly inaccurate. This includes a recent accusation that Southwark is set to lose over 2,500 council homes, the truth is the number of council homes in Southwark is going up not down. Our council house-building programme is the largest in the country, and includes the largest single new council homes site in the country too delivering 581 new council homes on the Aylesbury estate
What holds us back is the government. The Conservatives introduced their Right to Buy policy because they wanted to do away with publicly owned housing. In Southwark it has caused the loss of 1,300 council homes in the past eight years alone.
In an age of fake news it is all too easy to believe a throwaway stat in a Facebook post or a claim online so long as it’s been retweeted hundreds of times. Yet there is a real responsibility upon commentators and crucially our public figures to do their homework.
Despite the fact we are the 9th smallest borough in London, Southwark also has one of the best track records on housing in the UK and has consistently signed off more home completions than the majority of other councils. According to recent Government data, Southwark has delivered the 22nd highest number of homes of all kinds out of the 328 local authorities on the Government’s ‘Housing Delivery Test List’. Given that we rank as the 300th smallest district by area on this government list, this is a truly remarkable feat.
Council housing forms part of the foundation of a civilised society. It supports the belief that people should have access to decent housing, and that the state should be there to provide a safety net to those most in need. Yet over the last decade of austerity, we have witnessed the government wreaking havoc on low and middle-income families. It’s 2021 and thousands of families across the UK still cannot afford to rent, heat their homes or even dream of buying a place of their own. Too many people are living in overcrowded, cramped conditions and too many people are ending up sleeping rough on the streets.
The difference in Southwark is that in spite of losing 63 pence in every pound of government funding since 2010, we are tackling the housing crisis on the ground – ending rough sleeping in the borough, retrofitting existing council homes to make them more energy efficient and securing the delivery of tens of thousands of new homes of all tenures. We are doing our part to fix the broken housing market. We now need a government that will match our efforts. This is a unique opportunity for the Prime Minister to focus our national post-COVID recovery around major investment in infrastructure and public services to drive growth, protect jobs and crucially empower local authorities to invest in more social housing.