Most New Southwark Homes Sold Overseas

Southwark Lib Dems have criticised Labour Southwark for taking no action about the selling of new Southwark homes to overseas owners.

A damning ‘Transparency International’ report revealed that 100% of the 51 apartments sold at South Gardens by the Australian property tycoon LendLease were sold to overseas investors. No locals getting to buy a local homes.

This flagship development at Elephant and Castle, replacing the now-demolished Heygate Estate, had previously been criticised for failing to provide  affordable homes demanded by the council’s own planning policy.

Southwark Labour councillors have often told us how good their relationship is with Lendlease, and claimed this allows them to get the best deal for our residents. Now that properties are being sold, it is clear that they are unable or unwilling to put any pressure on these developers.

Lendlease are building empty apartments for overseas investors, not homes for local Southwark residents. We are calling on the council to urgently investigate this and demand that homes built in Southwark are sold to UK residents first, not flogged off to overseas investors often with laundered money.

 

St.Ives Inspiration

The residents of St.Ives have voted via a new Neighbourhood Plan require that all new build homes must be occupied as principal residents – not holiday or second homes.

In Southwark many new homes are sold to foreign residents and sit idle. It means even the low new home build numbers are diluted further by so many homes being lost in this way.

Lib Dems have asked the labour Southwark administration whether they would support such a stance by neighbourhoods. They reacted by claiming no evidence of this problem in Southwark exists. That such homes generate receipts to be used for social housing. But they have said that for example if the Bankside Neighbourhood plan can justify such a scheme with damaging scheme viability ned meeting affordable housing they could support such a proposal.

Watch this space…

Bizarre Housing Policies

I was shocked to receive the news via the 35% campaigning group that Southwark is one of the worst three boroughs in London for social rented housing delivery. Only 3% of the total homes delivered in 2014/15 across Southwark were affordable and -5% of the total delivered was social rented (it is a minus figure because more have been knocked down or sold off than have been built).
Across Southwark 170 fewer social rented homes were built that were sold or demolosihed but 1,914 private homes were built. So 97% of net new homes are private. But Southwark has a target of 35% of new homes beign social housing. Plus a separate target of build 11,000 social rented housing.
Brent, Cryodon, Haringey, Havering & Waltham Fore achieved more than 40% social housing. So why can’t Southwark?
Why aren’t Southwark Labour rejecting Planning Applications without sufficient social housing?
Having sat on numerous planning committees and seen Labour councillors vote en masse to grant permission for almost everything put before them I’m completely puzzled. People purporting to be socialists defending private developers from building social housing – truly bizarre.

Never Never Land Housing

Southwark Council was created in 1965 from smaller morel local council authorities. It embarked on a hugely ambitious council housing programme. It built massive estates such as the Heygate and Aylesbury estates. Southwark Council borrowed lots of money to build them. Huge amounts.

Sadly those estates haven’t stood the test of time. Engineers have advised they’re already beyond their useful life. The Heygate estate has been demolished. Southwark Labour plan a number of phases to demolish and replace the Aylesbury estate.

Those massive loans were taken under circumstances where central government paid the debt interest. Unsurprisingly Southwark Council didn’t pay back any of those loans. It kept rolling them over. Effectively an interest only mortgage where someone else paid the interest. we now have debt for estates demolished or planned to be demolished.

Several years ago council housing finance was changed. Interest is no longer paid for by central government.

It makes sense for Southwark to change how it treats housing loans. We should ensure that each year we pay some of the principal back of the loan. For non housing loans we legally have to have a Minimum Repayment Plan (MRP). This hasn’t completely stopped some housing loan principle being paid back but it’s been voluntary and ad hoc. So debt over the last three years has been brought down by £55M to around £400M. But we should decrease it further now that interest payments are paid from actual rents collected.

Eliminating £400M of housing debt would bring council rents down by a number of pound per week.

Snail’s Pace Housing

Southwark Council needs to do much more to tackle the scandal of thousands of homes left empty in Southwark.

We face a local housing crisis with housing need rising all the time with the local population set to rise to 355,000 by 2025. The Council has sold or demolished 1,973 of its own homes but built just 65 since Labour took power in Southwark in May 2010. There are currently 13,000 people on the Council’s housing waiting list.

Southwark is reckoned to have around 2,050 empty private sector homes, including second homes and homes left empty as investment opportunities by overseas buyers. A large proportion have been left empty for more than six months.

Under powers brought in by Liberal Democrats in the last government, councils can now charge 150% council tax on any home empty for two years or more. The latest figures show that Southwark is charging just 611 of the empty homeowners in the borough.

At the last meeting of the council I urged the borough’s leaders to demand more powers to tackle empty homes. I am calling for Southwark to be able to charge at least 200% council tax on empty homes after a home is empty for a year. Scotland is allowed to do this so why not English councils. The aim would be to increase the private sector housing supply in Southwark for rent and sale.

The Council needs to do much more to bring these homes into use and make it less financially worthwhile to keep them empty. It is shameful that new homes are being built all the time but are then allowed to sit empty while overseas investors make a killing.

It is not enough to just rely on building new council homes given the snail’s pace so far. The Council needs to get tough on developers who say they cannot build the affordable homes they should. It also needs to fight for extra powers to charge more council tax on homeowners who leave their homes empty.

My Lib Dem colleagues and I will keep fighting residents’ corner and pushing the Council to increase the housing supply in Southwark.

Flawed Viability Statements

Southwark Council after resisting years of campaigning from the people at 35% and Lib Dem colleague Cllr Adele Morris have agreed a new policy of publishing viability reports about whether a developer can afford to provide 35% social housing in any proposed development, some reduced amount or none at all.

For years developers appeared to hood wink Southwark Council and the council appeared to collude by keeping everything secret. So it is a huge positive step forward to publish such statements in future.

These statements are produced as per Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors guidelines. But they’re flawed and the concept is flawed. They look at the viability of a proposed scheme but take no account of whether the developer is a UK or foreign investment company that won’t pay the same tax levels. So effectively it penalises any UK company and hugely encourages them to base themselves off shore.

What should happen is some kind of factoring to allow for whatever tax regime the developer is based in. It’s bad enough we have a global tax evasion industry but for our council to encourage it makes no sense.

It also means if people can prove a scheme un viable with social housing, social housing doesn’t proceed. It maximises the land value at the expense of providing social housing. IF developers HAD to provide 35% social housing then the value of land would fall enabling this. People wouldn’t buy land at a price they would make a loss on any development while providing 35% social housing.

So the whole concept of viability squeezes down the amount of social housing. And if we’re going to have such assessments then at least ensure they’re a level playing field for UK companies.

Aylesbury Estate

In April the main Planning committee agreed to the demolition of the 2758 homes that form the Aylesbury estate. The vast majority being social rented council homes, all 2,249 of them + 509 leasehold homes.

The replacement will be 2,745 new residential units in tower blocks up to 20 storeys high with only 37.5% social rent and 12.5% shared ownership with the remaining 50% private homes. So a huge decrease in social housing.

I sat on that planning committee and we heard much contradictory evidence. Assertions such as the estate had high levels of crime, ill health and low employment levels. But after 20 years of low investment is this surprising. The crime rate was an odd one as past years when they had their own Police Safer Neighbourhood Team they reported record lower levels of crime compared to the surrounding areas. We heard the heating was unreliable. But we also heard how for long periods it hadn’t been maintained properly. Much of the ill health is probably from poverty rather than the homes they live in.

Democratic
Several times residents have been asked how they would like to see the future of council housing. Overwhelmingly they’ve said they want to live in council homes rather than Housing Associations homes.
Other consultations people have said they like the vision for the Aylesbury estate but we heard from a number who didn’t agree. No one attended to support the application which I found telling.
For leaseholders it was suggested years of agony arguing over the value of their properties with offers falling woefully short of the replacement cost. From the heygate debacle it looks like social cleansing of leaseholders from the area.

Environment
From an environmental perspective it didn’t feel good.
The plans will see more than a one third reduction in open space. From 4.8 hectares down to 3ha. No segregated cycle paths. Routes within the park don’t all align with paths in Burgess Park.
The target is to only reduce CO2 emissions by 30% when we know the planet needs 80% reduction. But this will be more than swallowed up by the huge loss of embedded carbon in the current structures. We heard and I’ve visited a number of blocks that could be kept and urgent residential leaseholders
Could be decanted to them over time. But the applicant rejected this out of hand.

Safety
We heard that the building weren’t safe and could collapse like a pack of cards. Objectors pointed out it was the same design as the Heygate estate which didn’t fall down like a pack of cards during demolition. So the expert evidence just did;t come across as credible compared to real world experience in Southwark.

Conclusion

So I found myself unable to support these plans and no longer supportive of the general Aylesbury plans. They appear wrong headed on so many levels now that the detail has been fleshed out. Problems could be fixed through helping people find work to boost their incomes. Through long-term proper maintenance. And yes I have visited homes on the estate. AS a minimum many blocks are perfectly sound.

So I voted against the plans and application which I was surprised at as I had anticipated before reading the report that it would have been well thought through and convincing

Action For Warm Homes

I’ve been approached by Action for Warm Homes. They are great Manifesto for Warmth which I fully endorse and support.

Insulating our homes, public buildings and businesses must be a strategic priority. In Dulwich & West Norwood it’s estimated that 3,514 homes or 7.9% suffer from fuel poverty. Although this is a smaller proportion than the London average in the 21st century no one should be living in fuel poverty.

It’s calculated that this fuel poverty has led to 30% of the 27 excess winter deaths in our area.

Lib Dems in government have ensured a million homes have been insulated so many more clearly need  to be insulated. And just because a family isn’t in fuel poverty doesn’t mean they don’t have huge energy bills.

We must fight this for peoples health, social cohesion – people sacrificing other family budgets to pay for heating, environmental – we must reduce our CO2 emissions. But it is also a strategic priority. We don’t want to import more energy than we absolutely must.

Is your home fully insulated. You can also save money with climbers.

For ideas and a checklist or here.

 

Labour ‘Rackman’ Landlord Behaviour

I’ve have had a number of residents contact me from East Dulwich and neighbouring areas living in Southwark Council street properties with rotten windows. I’ve even had neighbours of such properties contact me.

These ancient sash windows are rotten, without locks, victims of burglary, breezy from ill fitting, wet from condensation, stop residents heating their homes because the heat blown straight out of the home.

I’ve tried working with council officers but they’re stuck. When Lib Dems ran led Southwark Council we replaced such windows.

Last night I asked the Labour councillor in charge the following question:

“Why is the council not implementing its Warm, Dry and safe policy of ensuring “windows in good condition or double glazed with secure locks” for acquire street properties and instead leaving tenants with cold, we, dangerous ancient sash windows, well over 40 years old, which consist of more putty, fuller and rot than wood and are often without window locks?”

Answer

“The Arm, Dry and Safe standard ensures that all residents’ windows will be wind and water tight.

The current Warm, Dr and Safe brief for street properties is to repaid the existing windows and decorate as and where required to ensure that this standard is achieved and are in a secure state. The council will also renew sections of any such windows that are beyond reasonable repair on a like for like basis.”

To push the point I spoke solely about this during the debate about Southwark Council spending £2 billion pounds of capital works over the next 10 years. But still they refuse to replace windows in street properties.

All of these properties are worth more than £500,000 and the council has a policy of selling such properties when they’re no longer tenanted.

A cynic would suggest they’re not replacing the windows because they’re waiting for the tenants to leave from desperation or die. Rackman landlord behaviour that Labour Southwark should be ashamed of.