Pressure on local councils to reject planning permission for housing projects that do not meet their minimum affordable housing targets is mounting across London. But are councils listening to the demands of housing campaigners fighting for more genuinely affordable homes?
Recent successes for campaigners in deferring regeneration projects that do not meet minimum council targets of providing 35% affordable housing suggest that they are beginning to.
In January, Southwark Council delayed its decision to grant planning permission to developer Delancy after campaigners opposed their plans for the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre. The plans for 1,000 new homes met the council’s minimum requirement for affordable housing target overall but did not provide enough social rented accommodation.
Later that month Haringey Council chose to leave the decision on whether to continue with the £4bn Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) to the next council. Local campaigners protested against the roll-out of the HDV, fearing it would demolish council tenants’ homes and replace them with new luxury flats they could not afford to return to.
Then in February Tower Hamlets Council postponed planning permission for Poplar HARCA’s redevelopment of Chrisp Street Market following a heated local campaign against the “gentrifying” impact of their plans. The housing association’s proposals committed to building 35.8% affordable homes of a total of 649, but only a little over half of these (20% of the total) were to have been social housing.
In light of these recent victories for London housing campaigners, we spoke to some of the residents spearheading campaigns against luxury flat developments across the ELL boroughs: Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Croydon and Lewisham.
They told us why they are calling for more affordable housing in their boroughs and spoke of their tentative hopes that councils might start to build more housing that meets the needs of the community.
‘There are a lot of poorly served people whose housing needs are being completely ignored’
Pat, a former teacher who has lived in Hackney for 41 years, is a key campaigner for local social housing tenants’ rights and a delegate on the London Tenants Federation.
She is also one of the organisers of the Save Britannia Leisure Centre campaign, which is fighting Hackney Council’s proposals to demolish the current centre to build a new leisure centre, a permanent place for City Academy secondary school and 481 new flats. Only 81 (17%) of the new flats are designated as affordable.
“Again and again, when we speak to people outside the Britannia they tell us their family can’t afford to live in Hackney anymore. People have been here for generations, I just think it’s out of order.
“When the council say they are going to build 81 affordable homes, in fact they are only building 48 social-rented homes—the rest are shared ownership. Shared ownership is actually well above the pockets of most Hackney residents, it’s aimed at households earning at least £60,000—you can’t call that “affordable”.
“There are a lot of poorly served people whose housing needs are being completely ignored, so it’s important to stick up for them and give them the opportunity to stick up for themselves.
“The council talk about the current leisure centre as if it’s a decrepit, useless facility, when in fact it is really valued by the community. We don’t want a shiny new leisure centre that will only appeal to a wealthier clientele.
“There is some hope that the tide might be turning as more residents start to take action on housing and community issues. The problem is that the council just seem to be ploughing on regardless, and that is a serious difficulty.”
‘All our main customers who live in social housing are being pushed aside. If the market packs up, where else is there for us to go?’
Ammar runs Prime Wholesale UK, a business located in Chrisp Street Market in Tower Hamlets, and has been an active member supporting the Chrisp Street Market traders for many years. He is a key member of the Save Chrisp Street Market campaign which calls for genuine community consultation before the demolition of the market goes ahead.
Housing Association Poplar HARCA have proposed a £280m regeneration of the historic market with new shops, a cinema and 650 new flats, with only 35.8% of flats designated as affordable. In February the council voted to postpone planning permission for this scheme.
“At the beginning we were told that Poplar HARCA would work with the residents and the businesses to come up with plans for the regeneration of the market, but that has not been the case.
“We’ve got no problems with them regenerating the area as it does need redevelopment but the community needs to be properly consulted.
“Nearly all the flats they are proposing to build are luxury flats. All our main customers who live in social housing are being pushed aside. If the market packs up, where else is there for us to go?
“The city workers who will be able to afford these new flats won’t use the market. They’ll be going to work before we open and coming back after we close. And it’s going to push up our rents and business rates too.
“We’re glad the council deferred the planning decision but we know that it’s just because the elections are coming up. The councillors feel they have to side with us now because there’s been such strong opposition, but once they’re reelected they’ll probably side with the developers again.”
‘Our campaign has helped pressure the developer into delivering more affordable homes and guaranteeing a community asset will remain, albeit not one we will be operating.’
Saif Bonar is the owner of Croydon café and culture hub Matthews Yard which he set up to challenge the negative perceptions of Croydon after the 2011 summer riots.
Matthews Yard may be forced to close later this year if proposals to redevelop 5-9 Surrey Street into 55 flats, with only 11 (20%) classed as affordable, go ahead.
“For five years Matthews Yard has regularly been cited as a beacon of hope, a phoenix rising from the ashes and the heart of the community in Croydon. So to lose all this work to a block of luxury flats would be a travesty.
“On a positive note, our campaign has helped pressure the developer into delivering more affordable homes and guaranteeing a community asset will remain, albeit not one we will be operating. Closing for three years for redevelopment to then return and start from scratch wasn’t an option for us, so our focus is firmly on moving to new premises nearby and we are having some really positive talks with Croydon Council and other organisations around potential locations and what assistance might be available to us.
“Only 5% affordable homes being built last year is a paltry figure by any standard but I understand the affordable housing situation is quite a complex one. The Right to Buy mechanisms introduced by Thatcher in the 80s and maintained by successive governments have depleted social housing stock and more recent savage cuts by central government have made it hard for local authorities to put any money aside to build more homes.
“While I am disappointed more hasn’t been achieved in Croydon, I am hopeful that Brick by Brick and other social landlords will emerge in Croydon in the next decade to meet the growing demand for decent, affordable homes. If they don’t, I have no doubt residents will unite to demand better from elected representatives, on housing and other important matters.
“I also hope the Mayor of London will continue to apply pressure to ensure the London Plan delivers results which are in the best interests of local people.”
This article is part of EastLondonLines’ Home Truths series, which looks at how Londoners are losing out on affordable housing. Click here for the full series.
This article amended on 14 April 2018 to correct two points:
- Poplar HARCA have proposed to designate 35.8% of flats as affordable in the regeneration of Chrisp Street Market, not 20% as an earlier version said.
- An earlier version said Ammar Hasanie “has been on the market traders committee for 14 years”, where “has been an active member supporting the Chrisp Street Market traders for many years” was meant.