Residents of a Bermondsey estate have hit out at plans to tear down a community sports area to build new social housing, writes Kit Heren…
Some residents of the Elim Estate on Long Lane are upset that the plans, submitted by Leathermarket Community Benefit Society (CBS) in December, would mean losing the ballcourt, which one local called “an important space for young people to come together and blow off steam”.
Residents also claimed that they had not been properly consulted by Leathermarket CBS, a non-profit group that works to build homes for social rent on infill sites in Southwark. Sister company Leathermarket Joint Management Board (JMB) manages the Elim Estate.
The proposal, which will go before Southwark’s planning committee later this year, is to build 32 new homes, all for social rent. The two blocks would be on the current site of the ballcourt and some garages respectively.
Plans also include a garden, “community hub” and indoor sports hall, but residents, who asked to stay anonymous, pointed out the difference between an outdoor court that anyone can walk up and play on and an indoor space that could need booking.
Various documents submitted with the plans call the ballcourt “under-used”, after 42 people either told Leathermarket CBS that they rarely or never used it, or did not know about it. But other Elim Estate residents said the ballcourt was vital for the wellbeing of the community.
“The ballcourt has always been important for us and our kids, but even more so in Covid when we have had to stay indoors so much,” said a woman with two children who has lived on the estate for more than a decade.
“This is the only open space we can go to easily,” she added. “It’s a nice space to come and be in, not just for kids and also other people come, not just people from the estate. It’s a good place for people to mix.”
Residents also claimed that Leathermarket had not carried out a proper consultation.“They did door knocking,” the woman said. “But I’ve spoken to lots of people on the estate who said they’d never spoken to anyone. Some people didn’t even know that the plans were in.”
Leathermarket said in a planning document that it had “undertaken considerable efforts” to engage with local people and carried out several forms of consultation, including door-knocking, letters, webinars and drop-in events over more around two years. But just twelve people came to one drop-in event, according to documents submitted with plans – in an estate with 119 households. Other events were better attended.
A petition submitted by campaign group Save the Long Lane Ballcourt and Garden, bearing the signatures of 112 locals, calls on Leathermarket to withdraw the application and “act in the community’s genuine best interests by engaging residents in open and honest consultations.”
Some 133 objections have been made to the planning application while there are 25 comments in favour. The plans are due to be considered in May or June this year.
Leathermarket also pointed to the long waiting list for housing in Southwark, with 13,000 waiting for affordable housing in the borough and 3,300 in temporary accommodation. Some Elim Estate residents themselves are in unsuitable housing, including a family with three children living in a bedsit.
Asked about the pressing need to build social housing in the borough, locals said the area around their estate was already very densely populated.
The plans also include a play area to the west of where the ball court is now, 33 new trees (although thirteen are to be cut down), CCTV and improved lighting.
John Lynch, vice-chair of Leathermarket JMB, said: “The JMB is a resident managed organisation and the big message coming back to us is the lack of re-housing options for our tenants who are overcrowded or have homes unsuitable for their medical needs.
“We set up a sister company, Leathermarket CBS, to build new homes to be let at council rents. I’m enormously proud of what they have achieved in building homes for residents who are in housing need, including those living on the Elim Estate.
“However, each time I get approached by someone living in a bedsit with a couple of children or an older person who is housebound because they can’t get down the stairs I know that there is more to do.”