Open Letter to MP Chuka Umunna

Dear Mr Umunna

As residents of Cressingham Gardens, we feel compelled to dispel the myths and half-truths that our local Labour Lambeth councillors are communicating and which you appear to believe in your Facebook post.   Here is the detail that you have failed to mention in your political posting.  We are disappointed you appear to instead focus on denigrating your own constituents and their efforts to hold Lambeth to account.

  1. Lambeth’s housing stock is poorly maintained. Cressingham Gardens’ condition is neither unique nor expensive to repair, in fact cheaper than many other Lambeth estates.

Across the borough, Lambeth’s housing stock has required massive investment in the past few years in order to bring them up to the legally required “Decent Homes” standard. In 2012, Lambeth Living (Lambeth’s housing management organisation) estimated that 47% of its council homes were non-decent. At a recent public meeting, officers have now admitted that when they have gone in to do works, the non-decency rate in council homes has been closer to 85%.

The council rhetoric around Cressingham Gardens tries to portray the estate as being in such poor condition that demolition is the only ‘affordable’ option. However, we would like to refer you to the original analyses of all the estates across the borough in 2012. Cressingham Gardens was judged only as average/ below-average in terms of funding required to bring it up to the Decent Homes standard. This means that at the time the decision was made to put Cressingham Gardens into regeneration, around half of Lambeth’s estates were more deserving of demolition.  We are happy to provide you and your team once again this evidence if you have misplaced it.

Furthermore, financial analysis (even based on the council’s own numbers) shows that refurbishment is the most economically viable option. Residents have sat down with your team for hours showing them the analysis and numbers. You have even stated that there appears to be “bad maths.” Why do you then believe Lambeth’s rhetoric over financials when they have proven themselves to be wrong on so many occasions, if not all occasions? The council’s revision of refurbishment costs from £14-£16m down to £8-9m within literally weeks of residents’ presenting to them an independent report that residents had to commission themselves, should have been the last nail in the coffin in terms of Lambeth’s credibility in connection with financials.

  1. Refurbishment causes less stress & disruption than demolition

You argue that bringing homes up to a Decent Homes standard would cause stress and disruption to some residents. We don’t disagree with this, because we know how much disruption and stress has been caused borough-wide as Lambeth has been doing major works.

However, how much stress and disruption do you think demolition would cause residents? For every home that will be demolished, there will be a household that has to decant temporarily or move away permanently, let alone those left to live on a large building site for years. Have you considered the impact on the elderly who rely on their neighbours for basic support like shopping or even help to take medication? Lambeth council doesn’t have the funds to replace this unpaid service. Have you considered the impact on children and their education as they are forced to move at times when it makes least sense?

And these are not small numbers. Evidence is indicating that at least 1/3 of households have a family member with a disability or a medical condition that affects where they can live. Over 20% of households have members over the age of 65. We also have an above average proportion of young families, with around 30% of our residents under the age of 20.

Age distribution
Age distribution on Cressingham Gardens
Source: Social Life report

We have requested on multiple occasions that Lambeth council undertake an assessment of how the different options will impact on the community and given the council’s fixation on costs, how much extra or less each option will cost the council in the long term, e.g. replacing unpaid care services & support currently provided by neighbours with a paid service. This has been completely ignored. As residents we did our own first estimate based on HACT’s methodology and the social net costs of demolition far outweigh the net costs associated with refurbishment – around £40m pa

  1. Budget cuts don’t affect housing

We constantly hear the argument that because of the central government cuts to Lambeth’s funding means that there isn’t sufficient money for its council housing stock and in particular to repair homes on Cressingham Gardens. However, we are surprised given your position as a leading MP that you would also argue this as it appears to show a lack of understanding of how local authority funding works.

Since 2012, local authorities have been allowed to keep 100% of the rents from their council homes and it is ring-fenced so it can only be spent on housing and not redirected to other services. Hence, the funding cuts you speak of, have no impact on the council’s ability to carry out repairs and major works on its housing.

Cressingham Gardens generates £1.2m pa in council rents for Lambeth council, but their budget for repairs on the estate is only £200k. Indeed, Cressingham Gardens is a net cash generator for Lambeth council.  We have raised this issue with your office: Where is the surplus cash from Cressingham Gardens being spent if not on the estate?

  1. Demolition is less viable than refurbishment

You argue that Option 1 (full refurbishment), which also would have brought 6 void homes back into use after 16 years sitting empty, should have never been on the table because it was not going to be achievable. Residents have put together evidence & analysis that is indicating otherwise, including showing your team the calculations based on council’s numbers that show refurbishment as the only viable option and profit making for the council over 30 years.

We would also like to refer you to the council’s own documentation sent to all residents where Lambeth clearly states that also Option 5 (full demolition) is clearly unaffordable and not viable. So why do you not argue that demolition should also never have been part of the consultation?

Refurbishment, based on the evidence and analysis, is a viable and affordable option for the council, whereas evidence is showing the contrary for demolition.

  1. It is not going to be council housing

It would appear that you have not been kept up to date by your Labour colleagues in Lambeth council. The latest proposal is that all the new housing will be inside a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), ie the homes will not be owned directly by the council. Furthermore, council tenants are being told that if they want to stay at Cressingham Gardens that they will have to give up their secure tenancies regulated by the 1985 Housing Act (the gold standard across all forms of renting) and instead accept lifetime assured tenancies under the 1988 Housing Act. This means that their landlord on the tenancy will NOT be the council. Hence, we can categorically state that at the moment there will ZERO new council homes on the estate, let alone replacements for those being demolished.

In the December 2014 Lambeth Cabinet report it also states that this SPV will give the council “flexibility to leverage in private sector finance by way of equity participation in future years”.   It is clear that Lambeth council is already considering the use of the SPV as a way of privatising current council housing through the back door.   Every time the council needs money, it will sell off more and more of the equity in their housing stock. And because the council wants to remove not just the right to buy, but also council tenants’ rights to manage and to transfer, residents will have no influence or power to stop this privatisation.

  1. There is consensus – over 80% of residents want refurbishment not demolition

Back in 2013, the Tenants & Residents Association undertook a survey of residents, which showed that 80% wanted repairs and not demolition. Subsequent surveys of residents by Social Life, hired by Lambeth council to undertake the consultation, have shown similar levels of preference for refurbishment over demolition, with close to 90% preferring refurbishment over demolition.

Social Life survey
Results from Social Life surveys of residents, presented in March 2015 Lambeth Cabinet Report

There will always be a range of views and people should be allowed to express those views openly. However, it is extremely misleading of you to state that the message of ‘Save Cressingham Gardens’ does not represent the majority view on the estate, when the evidence shows the contrary.

  1. Cressingham Gardens is not a political pot shot. Residents have been and are supported by all main local parties (LibDem, Green, TUSC and Tory) EXCEPT for Labour.

The residents are getting and have had support and encouragement from all the main parties locally – Greens, TUSC, Lib Dem, and Tory – ie, all except for the Labour party.   If you were to refer to your own notes you will see that we came to you first as our MP asking for assistance as we were getting nowhere with Lambeth council.

You have, even at the single coffee afternoon, constantly iterated that you cannot tell Lambeth what to do. Your back room conversations with Labour colleagues in Lambeth have gone nowhere and the only result we see are placating letters from yourself outlining what you think is right, but which the council is already ignoring.

Fine, you have decided not to make a vocal and public stand for us and not to attend public workshops like your fellow Labour MP Kate Hoey has done for similarly affected Lambeth estates in her constituency.   However, nor have you gone out of your way to provide guidance on who can help or how to proceed. Why did you not provide guidance on how to make representations at Lambeth council? Instead we ended up receiving help from the local LibDem councillors in 2012-14 and now the sole Green councillor. Why did you not point us toward the GLA’s investigation into housing? Instead, residents found out very late and only managed to turn up at the last of the hearings, but nevertheless were then consequently introduced to Darren Johnson (Green), chair of the GLA Housing Committee. Why do you not raise our plight and that of the other 5 regeneration estates at the local hustings? Instead, it is the TUSC and the Green candidates that are doing this. Why have you not provided guidance as to where in central government complaints can be made? The LibDems pointed us in the direction of FoIs and the Information Commissioner, but the rest has had to be found out by the residents themselves.

There is cross-party support for Cressingham Gardens because we are not a cheap political pot shot, but rather it is about what is right and wrong, and the impact on a role model community and successful social housing architecture, that is even recognised by English Heritage and 20th Century Society.

  1. Replacing homes with new ones that are less affordable and less secure is not the way to solve a housing crisis

The proposals being put forward by Lambeth will see:

  • The market value of new homes being at least 50% more than current prices, thereby artificially driving all house prices up in the area (a rate of increase that far outstrips any price increase seen in the normal property market)
  • Council rents increasing because for new build they are calculated as a function of market value
  • Council tax increasing because the council tax band goes up with market value
  • For those least able to afford it (families & the vulnerable) a forced move onto water metres and thus increased water bills
  • Council tenants being offered “lifetime assured tenancies” rather than their current gold standard “secure tenancies.” And there is no guarantee that when one of the homes becomes vacant in the future, it is not then converted to “affordable” (up to 80% market rent) or market rent, thereby reducing further the truly affordable housing stock
  • Existing homeowners not being offered the new homes at what it costs the council to build, rather at an arbitrarily inflated ‘market value’
  • Homeowners’ mortgages getting triggered, with many no longer eligible for mortgages under the tightened lending rules, let alone to be able to raise £100k+ extra mortgage just to keep 100% equity in a home that will have less amenity, lower quality build and in double density
  • If a homeowner cannot afford the ‘value gap’, the council will be grabbing up to 40% of the equity in the home, but homeowners will be expected to pay 100% of service charges and maintenance
  • Increase in private rent levels, because they are a function of the market value of homes. Who will be able to afford the private rents on these homes?

In conclusion, there is a lot of detail that you appear not to have or do not wish to know or are outright ignoring.   We are living and breathing regeneration 24/7 and probably can now claim, that we know more about housing than yourself. Hence listen to us and be willing to learn, because your Facebook posting shows that you are not an expert in housing. At the moment you are failing in your duties to represent your constituents and your ignorance is causing damage to the community that may become permanent.

Regards
Cressingham Gardens Residents

Save Cressingham Gardens, and save a unique community with genuinely affordable housing

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5 thoughts on “Open Letter to MP Chuka Umunna

  1. Typical of the man, quite honestly. The same MP said he would campaign strongly against betting shops on the high street before receiving a donation from a gambling shop exec leading to him changing his tune.

    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/chuka-umunna-the-betting-shop-critic-accepts-20000-donation–from-gambling-tycoon-8748081.html
    Chuka Umunna the betting shop critic accepts £20,000 donation … from gambling tycoon

    Like

  2. what a masterful reply! As I read his version I was aware that he was not being entirely truthful, but I could not have skewered him as comprehensively and succinctly as the author of this article.
    I wish the author would think of standing: your letter shows the engagement understanding and empathy i would wish to find in my mp.I’m so pissed off that he’s actually put me off Labour and made me vote Green.
    At least they turned up.Honourable mention also to Libdems

    Like

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