Campaigners question vote backing controversial Achilles Street plans

Achilles Street shopping area. Pic: Caitlin Griffith Otway

A group of New Cross residents have voted 73 per cent in favour of Lewisham Council’s plans for the “comprehensive redevelopment” of the Achilles Street estate including the demolition of current properties.

But the scheme which includes plans for around 450 new homes has faced continued criticism from some residents, who claim their concerns are being ignored and campaigners have now challenged the ballot result

It is a requirement that residents on estates undergoing regeneration are balloted before councils can move forward with redevelopment.

In 2016, Lewisham Council revealed plans to demolish 87 existing homes and 17 businesses in the Achilles Street area and regenerate the site. The housing which is classed as a low-density housing estate, would be replaced by high-rise, high-density housing, which the council says would help to address the borough’s housing problem.

In a statement, the council said: “All existing residents will be offered new homes on the same terms with no increase in rent.”

Jacquie Utley from the campaign group Achilles Street Stop and Listen told Eastlondonlines that the council has ignored requests to continue with the option of redevelopment.

The group also claim that many tenants were unable to vote in last week’s ballot: “Residents who aren’t named on the tenancy or lease and private tenants (unless they were on the council waiting list for over a year) were denied a vote. All of the businesses were denied a vote.”

They also dispute the council’s claim that 73 percent of tenants voted in favour of the plans.

Over the past few months, many residents have voiced concern over the lack of clarity of the plans and the inclusion of a large number of homes for new private buyers. 50 percent of the homes will be up for private sale and only 11 percent of new homes will be for social rent according to the campaign group. They will be offered to existing council tenants.

Some campaigners fear that plans could disadvantage the most vulnerable residents. Achilles Street Stop and Listen claim that the council’s offer to residents has been “rushed” and “is not clear enough.” 

Other similar projects such as the Lewisham Gateway project, which had integrated affordable housing targets during planning stages, abandoned these plans during the construction period.  

A further concern for residents is the lack of maintenance funding for current properties. While Lewisham Council has often cited the poor condition of housing as a reason for demolition, tenants claim requests for repairs and maintenance have repeatedly been ignored. 

Residents have also complained that a hall built as a facility for tenants, but left empty and neglected for 14 years, was recently refurbished by the council as a headquarters for their own demolition planning, not for residents.  

Lewisham Council said: “This entire process has brought residents together, with a Tenants and Residents’ Association established within the meeting space.”

The result of the ballot means the council can now progress with the demolition. It has not yet given any date for the next steps, but each phase of building work is expected to take up to two years to complete.

A council report in December claimed that there are 9,635 families in need of accommodation on the housing register in Lewisham. 

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