Looking back at the borough election results, two of the smaller outcomes seem to speak clearly to a larger theme – the heightening tensions arising from property development in various parts of town.
One of those two outcomes is the election of Labour’s Pancho Lewis as one of the three councillors for West End ward in Westminster. Statistically, this looked a long shot marginal at best – Tories have dominated the ward forever and the thought of an area containing Mayfair turning red seemed a bit novel at best. But Soho falls into the ward too and well-organised activist groups have raised concerns about loss of local character and quality of life by unsuitable new buildings.
Labour’s local campaign sought to tap in to these discontents. It looks to have paid off, with Lewis finishing a close second in the ward and just 26 votes separating the Tory who finished third and the Labour candidate who came fourth. To Lewis now falls the task of articulating a different approach to meeting demand for more residential and commercial premises without further eroding the historic qualities that make those Central London neighbourhoods unique.
The second significant outcome was the winning of five seats in Lambeth by the Green Party: in St Leonards wards, sitting councillor Scott Ainslie was re-elected and joined by Nicole Griffiths and Jonathan Bartley, who is also the Greens’ national co-leader; Becca Thackray broke up the Labour full house in Herne Hill Green; and Pete Elliot did the same in Gipsy Hill, where he had finished a close second at a by-election two years ago. The Greens took a tidy 19% of the total vote in Lambeth and now form the council opposition group.
The Greens’ success in Lambeth bucked the recent trend for their party in London losing votes to Labour since Jeremy Corbyn became its leader. It might be read as a protest against the types of regeneration policies Lambeth’s Labour authority has been pursuing, notably in seeking to redevelop some of their housing estates. A couple of these – Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill – have become anti-demolition cause célèbres. The latter is in Gipsy Hill (though the former is in Tulse Hill ward, where Labour won all three seats and the Greens, though runners up, were some way behind).
It will be interesting to see what alternatives to Labour’s programme the Greens offer for meeting rising housing need, not only among the poorest and homeless Lambeth residents but also its lower middle-class would-be first-time buyers. The in-fill approach to increasing the number of dwellings on an estate has obvious appeal, but often cannot supply the same additional quantity of extra homes or improve overall quality. There is a dilemma there, which any serious housing policy must address.
Both Pancho Lewis in Westminster and the quintet of Lambeth Greens have won seats in the context of disquiet about the scale and the type of property development in their respective parts of the capital. How would they strike a different balance between conservation, change and meeting Londoners’ desires for more homes and “good growth”? How would they resolve London’s regeneration tensions? These are big, interesting and difficult questions that aren’t about to go away.
On London is co-promoting a debate about regeneration and “good growth” with the London Society, to be held in Brixton on 12 June. Panelists will be Clare Coghill, leader of Waltham Forest Council, Lisa Taylor from Future of London, Southwark planning officer Colin Wilson and Tim Gledstone from architects Squire & Partners, who are hosting the event. Buy your tickets here.