Lambeth set to give go-ahead for estate demolition and rebuild

Lambeth Council is poised to authorise the demolition and regeneration of a post-war housing estate in Upper Norwood, arguing that this represents the best option for its residents and those of Lambeth as a whole.

A report to be considered by the council’s cabinet on Thursday recommends that a “masterplanning phase” for redeveloping the 450-home Central Hill estate should begin on the basis that every household there will be offered a new, replacement dwelling on the same site to meet its needs and that the scheme will enable “hundreds of additional homes” to be built in Lambeth to help address demand for housing in the borough.

Council officers and cabinet member for housing Matthew Bennett concluded last October that full rebuilding of the estate is “the only practical way to improve living conditions for people living on Central Hill,” many of whom inhabit “very poor quality homes, facing problems with damp, mould, cold bridging and noise transference,” the report says.

The estimated cost of refurbishing the estate rather than knocking it down and rebuilding is put at £18.5m at 2015 prices or £44,000 per council unit, which is described as “almost three times the average for the rest of the borough,” understood to be £16,000.

The Labour-run council’s half billion pound refurbishment programme for its stock has seen an estimated shortfall increase to £85m according to the report, which stresses that the council “has to consider how best to use a constrained budget for refurbishment across all council homes in Lambeth”.

Bennett acknowledges divisions of opinion among estate residents, with a consultation finding overall support for the regeneration at 49% compared with 38% opposed, but with 55% of the estate’s council tenants backed it compared with 34% against while only 31% of leaseholders were in favour and 51% against.

He has pledged that there would be no loss of social housing under the plans, with tenants of replacement dwellings given “a lifetime tenancy and council rents”, and that homeowners “would have a range of options to stay on the estate”. He says the alternative to rebuilding would be to “leave tenants in homes that aren’t fit for purpose” with no certainty about if or when refurbishment could take place.

Central Hill was built between 1966 and 1974 under Lambeth’s noted director of architecture at the time, Ted Hollamby. In November, public body Historic England decided against adding the estate to its list of 400,000 places it judges worthy of some legal protection, a decision criticised by its fellow heritage protection body, the Twentieth Century Society.

Another product of the Hollamby era, the Cressingham Gardens estate by Brockwell Park, is also lined up for demolition despite a determined residents campaign to prevent it. The council has been looking at redeveloping six of its estates in total.

Thursday’s meeting of the cabinet is also expected to endorse “key guarantees” for estate residents affected by regeneration schemes, which include those who choose to stay on the estate being able to “get involved in the design of the new homes and the estate as a whole and influence decisions around the phasing of building new homes and the construction works”.

Lambeth says it currently has over 23,000 people on its waiting list for a council home and that there are nearly 2000 homeless families in temporary accommodation in the borough, the vast majority with children. It intends to set up an independent housing company called Homes For Lambeth, owned by but separate from the council, which would have greater freedom to raise funds for building homes than the government permits it to as a local authority.

Further pressures on Lambeth’s housing revenue account, and those of all London’s 32 boroughs, have been caused by the Conservative government’s ordering an annual 1% reduction in council rents across the country for four years from April 2016 with a view to lowering the housing benefit bill. The measure was introduced by George Osborne when he was chancellor of the exchequer. Osborne was named last week as the next editor of the Evening Standard.

Housing estate regeneration in Lambeth has been a focus of opposition by protest groups and some within the Labour Party as well as some residents. Central Hill is in the Gypsy Hill ward which Bennett represents. However, earlier this month he and his two fellow Labour councillors for the area were comfortably re-selected by branch party members to defend their seats in next year’s borough elections.

The report for the council’s cabinet on Central Hill and the “key guarantees” for Lambeth’s estate residents is here.

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