Part Two: Keeping Score
As explained in Part One of this series of posts, residents felt reasonably optimistic back in December 2012, after agreeing a five-stage process with the council, beginning with Stage One: “Common Understanding”. This was designed to establish what the issues were that the council was trying to solve through regeneration, and aimed to create a baseline of facts. This was to involve an estate-wide survey so that the claimed defects could be assessed and costed. So why did the consultation fail at the first hurdle? Firstly, the estate-wide survey report is still in draft form (despite the structural engineer having been paid in full). There is a series of freedom of information responses in which the council claims to have released the final report. But it is still a draft. The council also made it very difficult for residents to analyse the criteria for choosing Cressingham. The analysis was finally obtained by a number of freedom information requests, and revealed serious flaws in the 1-3 rating system, which the council would not engage on. For example, the data showed that Cressingham scored high (i.e. “3”, and highlighted green in the table below) on size, estate issues and tenant participation. This roughly translates to “Cressingham has more than 250 homes, has antisocial behaviour or structural problems, and a tenants and residents association (TRA)”. However, evidence from the (draft) structural survey shows that structural problems are “isolated”, and according to local police statistics, the estate has low crime. These findings together totally discredit the assessment against the ‘estate issues’ criteria. Cressingham was therefore chosen because it has a TRA and more than 250 homes. Seem odd? The other three categories in the regeneration criteria, where Cressingham got medium scores (i.e. a “2” and yellow in the table), were: planning opportunities, leaseholder volume, and decent homes investment costs. It should be noted that “planning opportunities” was defined as whether external developers were interested, not whether there was an opportunity for more social housing, let alone affordable housing. And despite the council’s ongoing rhetoric that Cressingham Gardens would be expensive to refurbish and maintain, it only scored a 2 for the amount of “decent homes investment” needed. Part way through the consultation, therefore totally out of sync with the analysis, the council added a new additional objective to “look at opportunities” for increasing the number of homes on Cressingham. However, it was still only a secondary objective to Lambeth’s central aim of financing repairs given the council’s £50m funding gap in the Housing Revenue Account. Indeed, this new factor had the quality of a curveball, and the impact was not something that was properly analysed with residents. The evidence suggested Cressingham was not the best location for achieving this extra homes objective, but this has not been acknowledged by Lambeth. Planning opportunities are not good compared to numerous other estates that are highlighted green in the table. The estate is already medium to high density according to the GLA’s own guidelines for sustainable development. The PTAL rating, a way of relating capacity to public transport links, scores a low 2 at the northern end of the estate, while most of the rest of the estate is a 3. This means capacity is only 200-450 habitable rooms per hectare (hr/ha) based on GLA planning guidelines. Cressingham is already within the target at 258 hr/ha. The standard rule of thumb in the industry is that for a new development to be financially viable, it needs to be at least around 2.5 times the housing density. For example, at Myatts Field North, there were 477 homes and the redevelopment has doubled that figure to 980. Cressingham Gardens also borders and is partially covered by the Brockwell Park Conservation Area, which places additional constraints on what can be built. Residents, supposedly being consulted, were forced to second guess what this special recipe for viable regeneration might be. For example, the redevelopment options, complete with density illustrations and used for reference during the consultation, were in the end relegated to the category of “conservative” by housing cabinet member Cllr Matthew Bennett. Decent Homes Standard (refurbishment) investment costs on Cressingham are another matter with a huge question mark. The council recently confirmed it has (or had) £3.4m available to spend from the DH budget, but it has ruled out simple refurbishment because the costs are around £8m (brought down from nearly £15m as a result of a report by an independent quantity surveyor, employed by residents). Residents were working on a “green retrofit” option as part of the consultation, which would draw in external funding opportunities for energy-efficient schemes, and which would eliminate fuel poverty. But Lambeth dropped the workshop from the consultation. Residents have even received a £20k government grant to develop a business plan for this innovative option. Tom Chance also hints at this idea in his recent open letter to the council, totally independently of Cressingham residents’ efforts. He says of the nearby Central Hill estate: “So if the residents decided they wanted to explore an option involving refurbishment financed by infill, income from solar panels and a bid to UK or European funds for innovative retrofit approaches, the council should put some money behind working that idea up.” A reasonable conclusion to draw would be that it is precisely because residents are offering an affordable alternative to redevelopment, that they are being ignored. The evidence suggests that on Cressingham, the council did not think through what it would mean for the residents to truly own the objectives at all. Lambeth could now think through how to turn that around. Will it take the opportunity? Part Three looks at whether the council does have the funds for refurbishment but hopes Cressingham won’t notice.