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Protests and acrimony as Heygate estate regeneration plans approved

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Protests and acrimony as Heygate estate regeneration plans approved

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities, Local Government

Protests and acrimony as Heygate estate regeneration plans approved Protests and acrimony as Heygate estate regeneration plans approved

Southwark councillors have approved developer Lend Lease’s £1.5 billion outline plan to redevelop the vast Heygate Estate at south London’s Elephant and Castle, writes Paul Coleman.

Just after midnight, councillors voted by four to two, with one abstention, to accept a recommendation from planning officers to approve Lend Lease’s 10-year plan. Their decision came after a six-hour planning meeting punctuated by protests from local people opposed to Lend Lease’s scheme.

Southwark Council leader Peter John voiced delight at the decision and remains confident Lend Lease has the financial capability to deliver its plan to demolish the 1,212-home Heygate and replace the 1970s-built estate with up to 2,469 new homes over the next decade.

Lend Lease say they will also transform this part of the Elephant and Castle with a new public park and shops and will also preserve the Heygate’s huge mature tree canopy. Lend Lease also say the ‘new Heygate’ will create 1,000 new permanent jobs.

Local people protested during the meeting against Southwark Council’s decision to accept Lend Lease’s offer that 25% of ‘new Heygate’ housing could be affordable. Southwark’s official policy is for 35% affordable on new schemes.

Councillors sought repeated assurances that Lend Lease could afford to commit itself financially to delivering the project – billed as ‘one of Europe’s biggest regeneration schemes’. Independent viability tests suggested Lend Lease could secure returns if only 9.4% of new homes were affordable.

Lend Lease corporate officers said the global developer’s financial capacity enabled it to offer 25% as affordable but that 35% was unrealistic. Lend Lease chief operating officer Dan Labbad said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Despite challenging financial times, we have the financial capacity to commit to this scheme.”

Affordable homes could be split 50-50 between rented and shared ownership. Affordable rents on one and two-bedroom units will be set at no more than 50 per cent of market rent. Lend Lease say housing associations could also manage affordable homes once they are completed in phases across the next ten years.

Local people protested that only 71 family homes might be offered as social rent across the entire redevelopment. Over 200 former Heygate tenants still want to exercise a "right of return", according to Adrian Glasspool, one of the Heygate’s few remaining residents.

Southwark Council promised some Heygate tenants could return if redevelopment plans emerged. Council officers dispute Glasspool’s numbers but said they are managing requests from about 150 ex-Heygate tenants.

Thousands of Heygate residents were moved out of the estate in recent years. Some were re-housed in nearby new developments that included affordable homes. But others were moved across Southwark, London and south-east England.

Glasspool, a leaseholder, refused to leave. His home in the heart of the Heygate is now one subject to compulsory purchase.

Expressing disappointment at the council's decision, Councillor Anood Al-Samerai, leader of the Southwark Liberal Democrats council group, said: “The outline plan for the Heygate has gone through, but that doesn’t mean we will give up the fight. As more detailed plans come forward we will be making a strong case for more homes at social rent to replace those previously lost.

“Labour rushed this deal through for political reasons, which means they missed opportunities for affordable homes, schools and the environment. The legacy of the Elephant regeneration must not be local people getting ripped off.”

On members of the public allegdely being shut out of the meeting, Cllr Al-Samerai added: “It’s difficult enough already for residents to get involved in council decisions, so it’s ludicrous that when people do turn up to a public meeting they are turned away.

“For months Lib Dems have been saying this meeting should be held in a suitable room near the Heygate so that anybody who wants to come along is able to do so. Instead the leader of the council wants to put his hands over his ears and ignore anybody with a different opinion.”


Paul Coleman's commentary

Southwark’s midnight gamble hinges on Lend Lease’s financial capacity to deliver its £1.5bn scheme. 

Southwark’s locally elected politicians are between a rock and a hard place. Do nothing – and be damned for further delaying change to the vast and now almost completely vacant Heygate.

Approve and accept Lend Lease’s scheme with only 25% affordable homes - and be damned for compromising Southwark’s policy that new developments should deliver 35%.

Ominously, viability studies suggest only 9.4% affordable would guarantee Lend Lease returns. So councillors now depend on Lend Lease reassurances. Can Lend Lease find the money to deliver the scheme during the next decade likely to be dominated by fiscal austerity and overshadowed by economic uncertainty?

Southwark residents won’t politically forgive councillors if the loss of 1,200 Heygate council homes ends with stalled development and silent building sites surrounded by hoardings.

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