Lambeth promises to build new council housing in Brixton

Lambeth housing officers and Cabinet member for Housing and Regeneration Pete Robbins announced at a ‘community briefing’ last week that the Somerleyton Road site will not be sold off to developers as originally proposed but instead retained and developed by the council itself.

The plan to build council housing on the site is a shift in policy by the council, who have been selling off public housing up to this point, and is apparently in response to local concerns about the loss of public land and the lack of genuinely affordable housing in the area.

The announcement was welcomed by local housing campaigners at the meeting, who are demanding that all 280 of the planned homes be rented at traditional council or ‘target’ rent levels. But previous experience suggests that local pressure will be needed to ensure that promises are delivered and not watered down.

The council claimed at the meeting that it won’t be possible for all the housing to be let at these rents due to the time it would take to pay off the estimated £50-60m building costs of the scheme, which includes a new home for Ovalhouse Theatre, currently based in Kennington.

Robbins said that “at least 40 per cent” of the housing could be let at council rents – which would only meet the target Lambeth sets private developers, despite the fact that the site is already in public ownership and the council is able to borrow at lower rates that private companies. However, he promised that the council would publish their calculations in around a month’s time so that local people could understand the different options for the cost of the scheme and how they would be paid for.

Campaigners challenged this arguing that there was no need for the project to be self financing and that money could be borrowed over a longer period of time. There are 21,000 households waiting for council housing in Lambeth and it was argued if the council was going build council housing then it should build significant amounts and offer a real solution to the housing crisis and a real alternative to central government policy.

Next steps for the scheme involve appointing a design team and the set-up of a wider stakeholder group for consultation – the current steering group for the project consists only of Brixton Green, Lambeth Council and Ovalhouse Theatre. It was also promised that minutes from the steering group meetings would be published. There has been a lack of transparency about the discussions of the steering group and very limited consultation in recent months so these commitments were welcomed by many of those attending the meeting.

Lambeth council say they hope to secure planning permission for the scheme by September 2014, with building work on the site starting in 2015. Despite these timescales and their supposed commitment to making sure the site is used in the estimated 18 months prior of the start of construction work, the council continue to try and evict the residents who are currently living on the site in Carlton Mansions.