Did Lewisham Council deliver 1,200 social homes? Housing campaigners take a stand

The homes image tweeted by Lewisham mayor Damian Egan, edited to show a question mark. Pic: Lewisham Council/ ELL

Residents and housing campaigners are taking a stand against Lewisham Labour’s claim that it has delivered 1,200 social homes over three years.

In March of this year, in the lead-up to the local elections, Lewisham Council announced that they had delivered 1,200 social homes, with the claim promoted on Twitter by Deputy Mayor of London for Housing, Tom Copley and Lewisham Mayor Damian Egan.

“Over 1,200 social homes for local families have been delivered since 2018, Lewisham Council has announced, exceeding the Council’s original target of 1,000 homes,” the council claimed.

“The new homes have been delivered through the council’s house-building programme – Building for Lewisham – and by pushing private developers to increase the number of social homes built in new developments.”

Residents, activists and the media scrutinised these claims – asking the council for a breakdown of the number of homes built and to take down the tweets if they could not provide evidence of its claim to have delivered 1,200.

“I think it shows a real lack of accountability in Lewisham. There’s no political opposition, so they can make these claims without any real kind of scrutiny, follow up, or political opposition,” said David Williams from Housing Campaign Group, Achilles New X.

Question marks also surround the use of the word “social homes” in the claim, which Lewisham Council defines as: “homes for families on the council’s housing waiting list, temporary accommodation for homeless families and specialist housing for individuals with a housing need. The tenure provision for these homes is a mix of traditional social rent and new London Affordable Rent – classified by the GLA as social rent.”

Cheryl McLeod, from campaigning group Catford Against Social Housing, told ELL: “They’ve given you a word salad there and it doesn’t mean anything.”

“We call on the Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, to stop conflating London Affordable Rent with real council house rents or social housing. He must know the difference and if he does, he is lying to the people of Lewisham. If he doesn’t know the difference, he should resign and let someone [in] who does.” 

Housing campaigners sent two Freedom of Information requests to Lewisham Council in June: one asking to produce evidence of the 1,200 homes delivered and the other questioning how many of the homes were completed by March 2022 – the time of the council’s announcement.

The council’s Information Governance team responded late to the first request, on August 2, with an exemption letter under Section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, citing personal information, along with a list of the houses that the council had built. They would not provide a list of the private developers.

The council responded to the second request, stating: “Only 240 new homes were completed as part of the London Borough Lewisham Building for Lewisham Programme.”  

“We can only release the number completed by LBL. The 1200 number quoted also included private developer social homes completions in Lewisham for the financial years from 2018 to 2021. We do not hold the number completed by private developers.”

The council then proceeded to direct Lee Powell, who sent the FOI, to the annual council monitoring reports.

Lewisham Council told ELL:

“The 1,200 figure refers to the number of social homes delivered in the period 2018-22. This was calculated as the number of social homes completed in the borough between 2018/19 and 2020/21, as well as all social homes that were under construction through the Council’s Building for Lewisham programme as of March 2022.”

“626 social homes were completed in Lewisham from 2018/19 to 2020/21.”

“An additional 585 social homes were under construction through the Council’s Building for Lewisham programme as of March 2022.”

Housing campaigners are continuing work to have a say over social housing in the borough. 

“We’re at a point now in London and Lewisham where there’s an absolute housing crisis. We don’t need people making these kinds of claims that everything’s rosy when it’s a catastrophe,” Williams said. 

“We’ve always said that we want 50 per cent, at least in new developments, to be socially rented homes. So they are legitimately trying to do something in terms of tackling this housing crisis that we have within the borough,” McLeod said. 

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