Cressingham Gardens responds to London Mayor’s consultation on ballots…

Question 1: Do you agree that the GLA should make resident ballots a funding condition for estate regeneration schemes?

Yes

Question 2: Do you agree with the proposed criteria that would trigger the requirement for a resident ballot? Why/why not?

The language of the consultation document does not make clear what the proposed criteria are, as there is no section headed ‘Criteria’. For the purposes of this response, we assume that the section “Requirements for resident ballots” covers the criteria.

However, assuming what we can determine are possibly the proposed criteria, we do not entirely agree:

  1. The funding condition of a ballot should be applied to all estate regenerations that are pre-planning approval stage, including where “contracts” have been purportedly been signed (see comments and arguments in response to question 14).
  2. Trigger should be where any homes are being demolished, not where at least 150 homes are being constructed.  Very unfair on the scenario where say 140 homes being demolished and 149 being built. The proposal is just setting a structure/mechanism that will be abused.
  3. Unclear whether in section 3.3, “affordable” home also refers to secure tenancy homes that have been converted to temporary accommodation.  It should cover all homes that were at any stage secure tenancy homes to stop local authorities modifying the tenancy in order to get around the rules.
  4. The information should include the proposed planning documents/submission, as well as further appropriate supporting detail, and there must be a legally binding guarantee that the offer to residents on the table is the (non-variable) offer. Should the scheme change (eg any reduction in number of homes for council rent, any reduction in amenity, change in offer to residents to their detriment, etc), there  should be a further/second ballot held and if any funding was already drawn down by the local authority those monies are to be immediately paid back if the ballot result is a ‘No’.

Question 3: Do you agree with the proposed scope of resident ballots? Why/why not?

The consultation document is quite vague as to the scope, and would allow extreme abuse by local authorities who are looking for legislative loopholes to operate through.

There is no mention about the financial impact on residents. Information must be clearly provided to all residents about the possible financial impacts on their personal circumstances.  Tenants and homeowners should be fully informed about the financial risks of regeneration, and the range of financial impact should be detailed clearly in the offer documents. For example, the rebuilt homes on Cressingham Gardens will be more expensive for both tenures. Current secure tenants can expect to pay up to 25 per cent higher rents due to the manner in which ‘council rents’ of new homes are calculated based on market values. Current leaseholders will have to find between £100k and £300k more per property to retain a leasehold on the new property, as well as service charge increases. All tenures can expect higher council tax following revaluation, and to be tied into uncompetitive energy contracts for decades that they cannot switch out of.

The offer document must highlight the other negative impacts on residents.  For example, if leaseholders are forced into shared ownership, they must be made aware of the change in their rights:

  • That there is a serious risk that they may not be able to port their mortgage or get a new mortgage, and that the local authority in the case of Lambeth council has refused to be a “lender of last resort”;
  • That there are constraints on being able to re-mortgage their property (and hence potential financial insecurity) going forward under shared ownership;
  • That if they have to pay rent going forward, that they will be paying rent for the rest of their lives including into retirement;
  • That they are no longer homeowners, but rather tenants under law and can be evicted for ASB with no compensation for the ‘equity’ component;
  • etc

The GLA should develop a template / example version of the offer document with the necessary detail, otherwise local authorities will do the minimum and may deliberately  mislead residents (there is historical precedent from many of the local authorities the Mayor’s remit covers). For example, there is very little of the important detail ever included in documents sent out to residents by Lambeth council and often worded in a manner that would mislead residents.  The latest document to leaseholders from Lambeth council is absolutely shocking in the lack of detail, with residents having to wade through cabinet reports to see what is supposedly going to be their rights, but obviously not clear what will or will not be implemented.

Question 4: Do you agree with the proposed stage in an estate regeneration process at which ballots should happen? Why/why not?

It should definitely be done prior to any planning application. This would save local authorities a considerable amount of unnecessary expenditure

As to when before planning, there are two options, with our preferred option being clearly (2) as described below, as (1) does not offer sufficient information for informed resident decision nor provide sufficient guarantees and security to residents:

  1. We Object: Before development team/master plan

The advantage for the local authority is that they will not be incurring the costs of the development management team if there is no support.  However, it is very hard to ensure that they will actually deliver on what was promised at such an early stage.

For example, Lambeth council cabinet approved the demolition of the Westbury estate with the clear statement that they would be delivering 150 additional homes at council rent.  However, the planning application submitted was for only 3 additional homes at council rent. This over-promising and under-delivering is rampant in Lambeth: South Lambeth was supposed to deliver over 100 additional homes at council rent, but now only 21; Knight’s Walk 25 additional homes at council rent, but planning submitted for a mere 10 additional. It is also a problem in many other local authorities in London – as exemplified in the debacle of the Heygate estate, where several thousand social homes were demolished, to be replaced by fewer than 100.

Residents will need some very strong rights legislated to force the necessary transparency in order to check what is being proposed, compared to the promises made by the local authority.  Also, there is a question as to how residents can compel the GLA to act upon any agreements. For example, in the template GLA contract, the GLA has removed the Third Party Act, thus consciously or unconsciously disempowering residents.  The FOIA works too slowly to get data prior to decisions by local authorities, leaving only the judicial review route, which only looks at process rather than the substance of decisions.

2. We Agree: After master plan but just before planning submission

Ideally, it should be done after the master plan, but before planning application is submitted.  Only at this stage is there enough information for residents to make a truly informed decision and to know that there is a better chance that their local authority is not going to go back on all their supposed guarantees and promises (something that will still be possible through planning amendments).

Knowing that residents could vote “No” to the masterplan, should also help ensure that the development team properly listens to residents, and designs something that is suited to the community, rather than suited to the maximisation of income.

If residents do vote “No”, then it should be binding on the local authority for 5 years.  It is grossly unfair on residents to have to keep engaging with local authorities over the future of their homes, as it is a very time consuming process and has many negative consequences to family life.

Question 5: Do you have any other comments on the threshold, scope and timing of resident ballots?

The ballot should also apply to estate regenerations that the GLA have signed off funding contracts during the past few months.  There has been absolutely deplorable behaviour by the Mayor and the GLA with regard to his sub rosa signing of contracts, and there is zero trust now in the Mayor or the GLA.  Residents of Cressingham Gardens contacted the Mayor’s office in August 2017 requesting a meeting, but we were told that the Mayor was extremely busy and couldn’t meet with the democratically elected residents representatives over the subsequent months.  In a FOIA response in October 2017, the GLA confirmed that no contracts had been signed with Lambeth. This appears to have been a lie, given that a contract had been signed with Lambeth for Westbury, Knight’s Walk and South Lambeth estates in September 2017.  Residents announced a protest march requesting a ballot on November 2017 for 2 December 2017. A further FOIA response in February 2018 simply referred back to the previous FOIA response in October 2017. We are thus very saddened and angered to discover through another FOIA response that the GLA had secretly signed a contract with Lambeth on 1 December 17.

We will be happy to work with the Mayor to see how the contracts his office have signed over the past few months can be amended or terminated.

Question 6: Do you agree with the proposed eligibility criteria for resident ballots? Why/why not?

We do not agree with the proposed eligibility criteria as currently outlined:

1. Requiring homeowners to have lived for at least a full year before the ballot denies many residents for whom their property is their primary home a vote, even if they have recently moved in (estates typically have the most affordable housing in their areas and thus there are very few options to buy off an estate for such residents)

Furthermore, it ignores the following example situations:

    • Residents who have temporarily moved out to look after elderly parents or other relatives
    • Not all families can afford the step up in market value to buy a larger home when needed.  Consequently, there are families who have moved out of say the family home (1 bed flat) due to insufficient number of rooms and are renting a larger home.  They have kept the original home as the sole family home and propose to move back in once the children move on.
    • On estates, many of the homeowners are marginal homeowners and work within the freelance / contracting industries.  Thus, many of them are required to live elsewhere for periods of time due to work.

Consequently, we believe that all residents that have lived in their home at any point in time should get the vote, as this ought to screen out the ‘buy-to-let’ landlords, whilst not disadvantaging the residents who consider the home as their primary home even if not living in it for a full year prior to the ballot.

2. All private tenants having lived on the estate for more than a year ought to get a vote, not just those on the housing waiting list. Private tenancy is one of the most insecure tenancies and have the least rights and protection with regards to the regeneration.  If the GLA is going to insist that they they are on the housing waiting list, then there must be a requirement that the local authority is required to assess whether they would be eligible to be on the housing waiting list prior to the ballot. There are many reasons why a private tenant might be eligible to be on the housing waiting list, but is not on the list.

Question 7: Do you agree that eligibility criteria should be the same for all schemes? Why/why not?

Yes.   At this moment we cannot think of any circumstances when a certain type of scheme should get an exemption from the rules.

Question 8: Do you agree with the Mayor’s proposed requirements for implementing ballots? Why/why not?

We do not agree that an independent body should merely ‘supervise’ the ballot.  We believe that the independent body should be required to take a more active and accountable role:

  • Carry out the ballot
  • Ensure that the materials presented to residents are both truthful and not misleading
  • Make available appropriately qualified independent advisors (ie accountable to residents and not to the council) to answer any questions from residents about the implications of the proposals (e.g. legal, financial, language support etc)
  • Report any incidents that they become aware of where the local authority has  unfairly pressured or taken advantage of individual residents to vote in one way or the other (eg free from threats, whether direct or implicit).  Any ‘visits’ by council officers to vulnerable residents to be recorded as recommended recently by the Commons Works and Pensions Select Committee in connection with disability assessments.

In order to demolish an estate, there must be a majority of the residents voting ‘Yes’, not just a majority of the voting residents.   We have seen too often where Lambeth council has undertaken / attempted to undertake consultations during holiday periods when many residents are not around.  By requiring a majority of residents to vote ‘Yes’, not just a majority of those voting, it will remove the temptation to run ballots during the holiday periods when many residents are away.

Question 9: Do you have proposals for other potential Mayoral requirements for implementing ballots?

There should be a requirement for local authorities seeking funding, that they present a fully-scoped and costed – as audited by an external independent body – scheme that does not have future flexibility on volume, housing residency split and other important factors written into it. Too many developers, including local authorities, use such flexibility to the detriment of current residents, using vague terminology such as “like for like”.

The fully-scoped and costed proposals should be made public so that residents can review.  It is totally unacceptable for the GLA and local authorities to hide behind an excuse of ‘commercial sensitivity’.  For example, releasing approximate build costs in any viability statement will not impinge on any tendering process if there is a competitive market.  (Clyne vs ICO) and thus should not be subject to commercial sensitivity claims.

Question 10: Do you agree with the proposed exemption where the demolitions are required to deliver an infrastructure scheme? Why/why not?

No.  The majority of residents will vote in favour of demolition if what is being proposed and offered provides them with the security of an equivalent home (as would be considered equivalent by the residents, not as per planning jargon) and a protection of rights.  The problem with most demolition developments, they do nothing for the current residents and all too often are detrimental to them. We believe if local authorities truly worked with communities a ‘win-win’ solution can be found and the local authority will achieve a Yes vote.

Question 11: Do you agree with the proposed exemption where the demolitions are required to address safety issues? Why/why not?

No.  Local authorities will abuse the definition of ‘safety issues’, and create a situation that could be down to their own shoddy repairs and maintenance.  What will stop a local authority creating a situation where they for example refuse to do roof repairs leading to an unsafe circumstance in order to avoid a ballot.  This exemption would actually endanger current residents.

Again, as responded in question 10, if there is an honest discussion with the community, then the majority of the community will vote Yes.

Furthermore, if there is truly an urgent safety issue, residents would need to be evacuated straight away into temporary accommodation.   In any case, why shouldn’t there be a ballot of Grenfell residents as to what should be done going forward with their homes?

Question 12: Do you agree with the proposed exemption where a specialist or supported housing scheme is being decommissioned by a local authority? Why/why not?

No. Again, as responded in question 10, if there is an honest discussion with the community, then the majority of the community will vote Yes.

Question 13: Do you have proposals for other potential exemptions to the proposed funding condition?

No.  We can’t think of any possible exemption.

If all of the residents were not able to exercise their vote, then we believe in this circumstance the legal guardian/proxy should be allowed to vote on their behalf and in their best interests.

Question 14: Do you agree with the proposed transitional arrangements? Why/why not?

We totally object the proposed transitional arrangements.

In Sadiq Khan’s election manifesto in 2016, he wrote:

“Require that estate regeneration only takes place where there is resident support, based on full and transparent consultation, and that demolition is only permitted where it does not result in a loss of social housing, or where all other options have been exhausted, with full rights to return for displaced tenants and a fair deal for leaseholders.”

Subsequently, in the GLA’s Affordable Housing Funding Program document issued November 2016, it was clearly stated:

“Estate regeneration

94. The Mayor is developing a Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, which will set out good practice in relation to landlord aims and approaches, consultation and engagement, and offers to tenants and leaseholders that the Mayor expects to see in estate regeneration projects. Providers who bid for grant to deliver estate regeneration will need to contractually commit to these standards for their estate regeneration projects.”

Thus, it should not come to the surprise of any local authority that resident ballots would be required.  Indeed, any local authority that bid for the latest round of GLA funding (2016-21) were made aware upfront that they would be contractually required to meet the estate regeneration guidelines set down by the GLA.  The fact that they GLA is trying to avoid residents ballots now for the next 3 years worth of estate regeneration makes a complete mockery of this consultation and residents’ expectations. Only a ballot can provide appropriate evidence that there is majority resident support.

To be very clear, there should be no transitional requirement for any contracts signed under the 2016-21 GLA funding program.

The GLA has been signing contracts with local authorities throughout 2017 and 2018 during the various consultation periods in connection with estate regenerations that do not evidence resident support, such as Cressingham Gardens.  This shows the lack of due diligence on the part of the GLA and reinforces some of our concerns over whether the GLA has appropriate skills / experience to enforce this funding ballot, let alone the poor estate regeneration guideline document that has been issued.

Whether or not the GLA does decide to renege on its own policy and deny ballots, there must be full transparency over the contracts signed with the local authorities.  To date we have been denied access to the contract signed with Lambeth council and to any of the due diligence performed by the GLA. The fact that the GLA now wants to be able to make further exemptions on a case by case basis and provides no definitions as to what would be considered a ‘significant change’, provides further evidence that this is just a white-wash by the GLA.  It would appear the GLA has no intention of giving any residents a meaningful say or influence or input into the future of their homes or community.

To read the full consultation document issued by the GLA, click Estate Ballot Consultation document

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