The amazing level of support for Cressingham residents fighting against Lambeth’s underhand practices was clear at Monday night’s cabinet meeting with a passionate and noisy protest. This saw the shamed home-snatchers, our cabinet members, retreat to vote on our demolition fate in private.
Through the People’s Plan, residents had offered the council a financially viable and cost-effective alternative to demolition that also would provide 33 extra council rent homes, more than the council’s own proposals, but sadly this was overruled by the council on highly spurious grounds. Nonetheless, we will continue to develop the plan and challenge the council.
We also heard about the betrayal by Melissa Madjitey, the Lambeth resident chair of Brixton Area Leaseholder Forum, a consultant for estate agent Savills, who has stood down to become project manager for the council’s scheme – Savills having now been contracted to help set up subsidiaries of Homes for Lambeth. It’s also of note that cabinet member and Herne Hill councillor Jim Dickson is a director of Four Communications, a regeneration consultancy which counts Savills among its clients.
The final straw, triggering loud chants of “shame on you” during the meeting, was the false and highly misleading claims of the supposed financial expert on the cabinet, Cllr Paul McGlone, ward councillor for Ferndale. He said redevelopment was the “only affordable option”. How can a supposed expert fail to address the profitability of the People’s Plan, compared to the flawed unviable redevelopment plan? He should be ashamed. Our professional analysis submitted to the council shows redevelopment would require up to £40m public subsidy on top of the £112m needed from a private investor. How can this folly be justified during crippling austerity and while libraries are being closed across the borough?
And no-one should consider themselves safe from the land grab – we heard the emotional pleas of a homeowner living next to Cressingham, whose block Park View Court is under serious threat from compulsory purchase because of the scheme. This is a sign of desperation from Lambeth which needs to build and sell more overpriced private flats to make its plan look viable. It’s worth noting that Lambeth’s property company plans to sell one-bed flats at £436k; two-bed flats at £610k; three-bed flats for £750k; and four- bed flats at £863k; with market rents ranging from £345/wk for a one-bed flat, to £757 per week for a four-bed flat. Even the rents designed for those on housing benefit are high at at £204/wk for a one-bed, and £265/wk for two-beds, all in an area where the median household income is around £29,000 pa.
Of course there is a very real risk that the impact of this scheme will only become known once the community has been ejected from their homes, and the already small number of additional council rent level homes will shrink in favour of homes for the wealthy, echoing what was seen at West Hendon (BBC documentary The Estate We’re In).
The refurbishment of Cressingham was only going to cost £7m which it claimed it couldn’t afford, but the council is already preparing to gift £7.5m to the demolition scheme, part of a £25m public investment earmarked for the private company Homes for Lambeth, to distort the sums so they look better than they are.
Such waste and cruelty, from the Lambeth Labour party, over something residents and wider organisations fiercely oppose, really beggars belief. We urge the borough’s residents to join us in opposing this council and to call for an independent inquiry into its financial and shameful wrongdoing. Please give generously to the fighting fund.