Anger of residents as Herne Hill councillor fails to speak out over “luxury housing” scheme

Residents of a Brockwell Park-side housing estate have questioned why a senior Herne Hill councillor did not make any comment before rubber-stamping a report recommending its demolition. Jim Dickson, a Labour councillor whose ward includes the park, was urged by residents to think twice before striking off the options for refurbishing Cressingham Gardens from the Lambeth council consultation. Residents, some in tears at the prospect of losing their homes and community, had appealed to Cllr Dickson and other members of Lambeth’s Cabinet Committee, to have the courage to oppose the move.

Angie Hill, who has lived on the estate, on Tulse Hill, for 28 years, pleaded with the councillors on March 9:  “You are taking people’s lives as well as their homes.” Campaigners have calculated that to make the multi-million pound scheme viable, the local authority would have to build hundreds of luxury flats to replace the 300 affordable homes. They claim that like many other supposed regenerations, the development threatens to displace existing residents, heap a costly burden on many local services, and ruin the views from Brockwell Park.

Cllr Dickson, who is a director of Four Communications, a PR consultancy which has represented property developers on large-scale projects in Lambeth and neighbouring Southwark, agreed the report recommending demolition along with all five other senior councillors, without addressing any of the residents’ concerns.

Cllr Dickson's Twitter profile image
Cllr Dickson, director of Four Communications

The announcement came just days before a team of Lambeth officials jetted off to property trade fair MIPIM in Cannes, a champagne-fuelled networking event where developers talk deals with town hall executives on private yachts. Meanwhile, Cressingham Gardens residents were left coming to terms with the shock of the council decision. Cllr Dickson, who owns a property in Hawarden Grove, Herne Hill, worth an estimated £1.1m, is also Lambeth’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing. The councillor did not offer any words relating to his portfolio, his Herne Hill ward, the potential impact of the proposed development on the views from park, local services, or any other matter.

Drawing depicting full redevelopment, by council architect Karthaus Design Ltd
Drawing depicting full redevelopment, by Karthaus Design Ltd

Residents understand that he is currently canvassing for the Labour Party in Herne Hill, which is at present part of the constituency of Tessa Jowell MP.

Cressingham resident Pam Douglas, said it was “infuriating” that Cllr Dickson had no observations on the impact on the landscape, which she said was certain to feature a high proportion of “maximum density, luxury housing”.

“Being ward councillor for Herne Hill, whose constituents must have a big interest in Brockwell Park, you would have hoped he’d have at least a word of caution,” said Ms Douglas.

“But this is becoming increasingly the case in the Lambeth one-party state. No-one with any power is challenging what is going on. The interest is in making profit and the effect on people is whitewashed.”

Another resident, Anne Cooper, highlighted to the committee the threat posed to vulnerable residents: “Myself and others were surprised Cllr Dickson had nothing to say on the subject, as he is cabinet member for wellbeing,” said Ms Cooper. She added: “The wellbeing of the community has not been properly taken into account by the decision makers. The stress of potentially losing this important support network is also likely to have a big knock-on effect on other public services, such as mental health, GPs and social services.”

Cllr Dickson at the 9 March meeting (bottom left) Photo by Sam Mellish
Cllr Dickson at the 9 March meeting (bottom left) Photo by Sam Mellish

Lambeth council claims the regeneration will deal with the 20,000-strong waiting list for council homes – Lambeth Labour having made a May 2014 election pledge to “build 1,000 extra council homes” over the next four years. However the estate’s residents, 80 per cent of whom are against demolition, have seen no evidence that what is proposed will genuinely address the borough’s housing crisis.

Many believe it will worsen under the Cressingham redevelopment scheme, which they claim would drive up local rents and property prices even more.

In a speech to cabinet, Gerlinde Gniewosz, co-chair of the Cressingham Gardens Tenants and Residents Association, said the decision to abandon Options 1-3, and continue the consultation in relation to demolition-only options – involving partial or complete redevelopment – took no account of established “economic, social and environmental wellbeing criteria”.

Ms Gniewosz, who is a member of both the Regeneration Project Team and Lambeth Leaseholder Council, told the committee to resounding applause from residents: “The council has failed to carry out even a preliminary comparative analysis of the social impact of each of the options on the wellbeing of the community, let alone the impact on the wider community in terms of transport, schools, and other services. “Consequently, we [residents] have done this for you now in the spirit of co-operation, using the industry standard HACT [Housing Associations Charitable Trust] model. “As you will see, from the table in front of you, Option 1 delivers £20m per annum in social wellbeing improvement, whereas at the other end of your scale, Option 5 has a £22m per annum negative social impact on the community as a whole.”

Ms Gniewosz also pointed out that the report showed no comparison of financial viability. Analysis shows a crippling debt burden relating to the current full redevelopment option, Option 5.

However, since releasing the figures on which these calculations are based, the council has confirmed it is now looking to set up a council-owned company that would boost its borrowing capacity. This would potentially enable it to borrow enough money to make a profit on building even more new homes at even higher densities beyond planning guidelines.

Homes still standing on Cressingham Gardens, from Single Aspect blog
Homes still standing on Cressingham Gardens, from Single Aspect blog

Similarly, the council did not appear to have analysed the five options in relation to the environmental impact, added Ms Gniewosz. A recent University of Central London review of academic research concluded that: “refurbishment typically performs better than demolition”.

Ms Gniewosz concluded: “In summary, comparing against economic, social and environmental wellbeing criteria, Options 4 and 5 are not viable and are indeed highly detrimental to the community.”

The community is conducting its own consultation on innovative refurbishment options and has won £20k from the Government’s Urban Community Energy Fund, to put together a business case for a “green retrofit” of the estate, cabinet members were told. The environmentally-friendly scheme promises to eliminate fuel poverty along with mould and damp issues, and due to a range of external funding sources, it would compare favourably to the other options. The resident-led proposal would also bring back the “six voids” – properties that have stood empty on the estate for more than 16 years, the committee heard.

Explaining his silence, Cllr Dickson later said: “It’s not customary for all cabinet members to comment about every matter before them.” He said the “points I would have made had already been very well expressed” by Cllr Jackie Meldrum, cabinet member for social care and Cllr Matthew Bennett, housing cabinet member. Cllr Dickson said he agreed to rule out “unaffordable refurbishment options”, in favour of “significant regeneration of the estate”. He added: “We will make every effort to limit the disruption Cressingham Gardens residents experience while the regeneration work is going on.”

Following the meeting, council leader Cllr Lib Peck wrote in her blog: “It was a difficult meeting and emotions understandably ran high with residents and campaigners putting their case forcefully and eloquently. However, I am convinced that what we are doing is the right thing for the estate and the right thing for Lambeth. The Estate Regeneration Programme, of which this is a part, presents a golden opportunity to act in the face of the crisis. It has the potential to see hundreds of new properties made available for council rent and, where needed, existing homes brought up to a decent standard. Importantly, Cressingham will be a council development; it will not be sold to a private developer and the council is guaranteeing that all tenants on the estates will end up either in a new home, or a completely refurbished home. All homeowners, whose properties may be replaced, will be given the opportunity to keep living on the same estate.”

A council spokesman confirmed four officers were attending MIPIM, between March 15 and 18, in an effort to find: “…partners for the council’s major investment programmes, including regeneration in central Brixton and many of the borough’s estates.” The trip was part-sponsored by Muse, the developer behind Lambeth’s New Town Hall project.


Reports on MIPIM:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/14/yacht-cannes-selling-homes-local-government-officials-mipim
http://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/8120
http://www.brixtonbuzz.com/2015/03/your-nu-town-hall-developer-muse-helps-to-pay-to-send-four-council-officers-to-cannes-for-property-conference-jolly/

Lambeth Town Hall development:
http://yournewtownhall.org/

Four Communications projects:
Lambeth:
http://discodamaged.typepad.com/files/fo1346-bondway-invite-2_v3.pdf
Southwark: 
http://planningonline.southwark.gov.uk/DocsOnline/Documents/332718_1.pdf

Cabinet report:
http://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/documents/s72153/03a%20Cressingham%20Gardens_March%2015%20Cabinet.pdf

Ms Gniewosz’ full speech:
https://savecressingham.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/residents-tell-it-to-lambeth-council/

HACT info:
http://www.hact.org.uk/measuring-social-impact-community-investment-guide-using-wellbeing-valuation-approach

Lib Peck’s blog:
http://lambethlabour-labourclp132.nationbuilder.com/cressingham_gardens_update

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