Thousands of council tenants were left dumbfounded this week after a report branded their homes as having a value less than nothing.
The survey, carried out by property management company Savills, for Southwark Council, looked at over 50,000 properties in the borough and valued them financially and socially.
Those deemed ‘Poor performing assets’- estates which need a lot of work – have been left vulnerable to ‘disposal’ (selling off) or redevelopment.
The jargon-jammed report, presented to the council’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday night, evaluated each estate, block and street property owned by Southwark in two ways. First it arrived at their ‘net present value’ (NPV) by calculating how much money would need to be spent on them over the next 30 years in repairs and maintenance costs and compared that to the amount of income it expected to receive through rent and service charges.
Then it looked at the community living in the buildings and combined indicators such as household incomes, levels of deprivation, fuel poverty, crime and anti-social behaviour, resident satisfaction, transport accessibility and health to get the ‘social sustainability’ score – which the council says helps it establish if these are places people enjoy living in or not.
In terms of the financial value, more than 4,000 homes came out with a negative number below £0 per property. That means the council would have to spend more on the upkeep of the homes than it would get back through rent and charges.
Nearly ten thousand more had a ‘marginal value’, meaning the council would only be in the black up to £10,000 per property.
When estates came out with a “weak financial performance” and “weak social sustainability” the report said those homes would be “prioritised for a wide range of options to improve outcomes.”
One of the options which has Liberal Democrat councillor Ben Johnson concerned is the “disposal of non-viable properties to remove onerous liabilities from Southwark’s balance sheet” – which roughly translates as flogging properties which are losing the council money to private buyers.
Speaking to the News, Cllr Johnson said: “If this is used as a way of investing in estates that need investment that’s great, but let’s see if the money follows this report. I’d be alarmed if the council was looking to sell off any of these so-called ‘low value’ estates.”
Cllr Johnson was also concerned that poverty levels had been used as a criteria. “What we don’t want is a situation where people on estates on low incomes are not seen as valuable to the area. These are real people’s homes that tens of thousands of people live in, not ‘council assets’. The report doesn’t seem to take in to account the affect this will have on the people living on these estates day in day out, whose housing is being graded with a ‘net present value’ of zero,” he said.
Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, Richard Livingstone, insisted the ‘Asset Performance Evaluation’ had been misunderstood and reassured council tenants that it was only ever an exercise to see how the council could invest its funds in an informed way, to improve everyone’s living conditions.
“I would like to reassure residents that the rankings are in no way meant to be a reflection on the people and communities living on our estates.
“They are an indication of where higher levels of investment are needed in the buildings alone, to make sure they are up to the standards of quality our residents deserve.
“Even then they are only a starting point and we will continue to have further conversations with local tenants and homeowners about what they think needs to be done to enhance their estate, and work with them to make sure they have the best housing possible,” he said, adding that the council is determined to deliver on its commitment to make every one of its homes warm, dry and safe.
Other options put forward in the report to improve the ‘poor performing’ estates is ‘remodelling’ (investing to improve the environment of the existing homes), rent and service charge reviews, ‘management initiatives’ (including reducing the number of empty properties and reducing repair costs), ‘diversification’ (change them from council flats to shared ownership or private rented properties), transfer them to another housing provider and ‘small scale regeneration’.
The report makes it very clear that there is no need for Southwark to consider any further large scale redevelopment schemes like the Heygate or the Aylesbury and that any redevelopment would only be considered as a ‘last resort’.
The council is currently putting together a major works programme for the next few years with a full tenants’ and leaseholders’ consultation to be held in the autumn, before making final decisions in March next year.
‘We are talking about people who live here and telling us that we are third rate citizens’
Residents on the Silverlock Estate in Rotherhithe were “devastated” to find out their homes had been categorised as ‘below average’ and ‘poor performing’ in the Savills report, according to the Tenants’ and Residents’ Association chair, David Eyles.
Though he agreed there were “a lot of issues” on the estate, he said the council was aware of that and to a certain extent, had allowed that to happen. He also objected to the way the report seemed to rank estates in a clinical fashion.
“We are talking about people who live here and telling us that we are third rate citizens. These are lovely people,” he said.
Renae Kirton, 55, who has lived on the estate for three years, said she had tried to set up an edible garden for all the residents, but had not received any support.
“I don’t think it’s fair to categorise the estates like that. Yes there are issues but the council know about that,” she said. “How dare they tell us what’s bad about our estate when they haven’t even come here? They’ve just sat in an office.”
Julie Hinton, 43, said if the council wanted to improve the estate they should put security gates up and give the residents key fobs.
“Each estate is different with different problems, we shouldn’t just be lumped together,” said Carol Upton, 58, who has lived on the Silverlock for 27 years. “If they got a few people from each estate and just asked them what they would like to improve that would be better.”
Christine Offord, 61, has lived on the Acorn Estate in Peckham since she was nine years old and can’t understand why it has come out below par in the survey. “You get problems, of course you do, but you get that anywhere. When people come round to us they say ‘oh it’s so quiet and a nice area’. They are really lovely homes,” she said.
“It doesn’t surprise me though because there’s a lot of land here so they could build an awful lot of flats,” she added. “When they pulled the Wooddene down we said it wouldn’t be long before they decided to pull these down too.”
The report does emphasise that redevelopment would be a “last resort” and no large scale regeneration schemes were deemed necessary.
The News has put together a list of estates and properties which the Savills report deems ‘below average’ in terms of their ‘net profit value’ and also ‘below average’ in terms of ‘social sustainability’.
Albert Barnes House
Barlow Estate 4.38
Bonsor Street 12-17 (C)
Rainbow Street 1 – …
Borough Road Estate
Brook Drive 071-089
Cherry Garden Street
Darwin Street 3A- 53A; Mason Street
East Dulwich Grove 047 – 057
Fair Street Estate
Gervase Street Estate
Havil Street Estate
Jack Jones House
King Charles Court
Kings Grove 056- 060 & 060A
Lew Evans House
Linden Grove Estat
Meeting house lane 18-22 (E) 18A – 22A (E)
Montpelier Road 076-078 (E)
New Place Estate
Rotherhithe New Road 209-219
Rouel Road Estate
Rushworth Street Estate
Surrey Square 028-030
The Birches and the Limes
Wilson Road 026