WESTBURY a year after Grenfell

Residents of Westbury knew fully well what Lambeth Council had decided to do to their homes long before it consulted them. There it is on the front of newsletters it was producing back in 2015: “Lambeth Council will be going ahead with regeneration. New homes will be built and some demolition will very likely happen.” With that threat hanging over their heads from the off, there was never going to be any real opportunity for those living there to influence the future of their community. By July 2016, 89 demolition notices had been served. To sugar the pill, the council proudly announced it was setting up an ‘engagement hub’ (aka drop-in centre). So over the last three years there have been monthly coffee mornings at 7 Fovant Court. People are invited to come and learn to cook, grow vegetables and make hanging baskets. Yet while “flower arranging is so relaxing and the great thing about flowers is they all go together no matter which combination you use” [Westbury Estate Newsletter 24, July 2018] someone has to be footing the bill for this protracted programme of occupational therapy and every night that 7 Fovant Court is dark and empty is another night one of those 23,000 families Cllr McGlone says Lambeth has on its waiting list could be housed.

The Clapham Town Ward Labour Party registered a formal objection to the Outline Planning Application in January because the scheme didn’t fit Lambeth’s own Local Plan that required at least 50% of the housing produced to be “affordable”. The Council have dismissed that by claiming the 126 social rented flats in the existing tower blocks adjacent to the Westbury regeneration area should be factored in so that when they are added to the 89 new affordable homes, the total is exactly 50% of the overall 430 homes that will make up the transformed estate.

The first phase of construction was meant to have started in May but so far that has only amounted to some tree-felling. Of the tiny handful of tenants who have been moved off the estate, some are already reporting issues with the structural condition of the properties they’ve been allocated.

Reports appear to indicate that it’s taken nearly two years to finalise a couple of leaseholder buy-outs and others wanting to be bought out apparently need to have particular extenuating circumstances to qualify.

Even then it’s being dragged out for many months or years in notable cases with much lower property valuations in reality than the examples outlined at the outset.

Tenants who thought when they exercised their right to buy that they were set for life are faced with the prospect of having to downsize or share ownership if they want to come back at all.

Some negotiations are revealing that the ‘key guarantees’ that the council stated would allow residents to return or stay in the locality, if they wished to do so, aren’t forthcoming in practice.

Worse the council’s showing no genuine or real willingness to help meet advance costs for relocation of those soon to be in the middle of a building site.

But at least there’ll be Tai Chi in the garden of 7 Fovant Court to look forward to.