By Tim Dickens and Zoe Jewell, Editors
It was nearly 11pm at the end of a long, stuffy planning meeting at Lambeth Town Hall when the committee finally got round to discussing the change of use of 48 homes at Brixton Square from “social” housing to “affordable”.
Some who had come to hear the discussion over Brixton Square had already gone home, and it took the Labour majority on the panel less than 20 minutes to approve the application and further line the pockets of a successful property developer. Not one Labour councillor on the committee saw fit to question Barratt Homes (who made a healthy £45million profit in the last six months alone) about just why they were going back on their promise to deliver social housing. Or why they had waited until construction was all but finished before applying for the change. There was no mention of the joint community campaign, including the Bugle, Urban 75 and Brixton Buzz, that attracted the backing of hundreds of fed-up residents.
In a letter on this blog, Cllr Pete Robbins defends the move, blaming coalition government for scrapping grants for new social housing. But Barratt Homes knew there were grants before they submitted their first planning application, which included “social”, rather than “affordable” allocation. It was this Labour council who signed off on the original agreement for Brixton Square, complete with an allotment of housing that would have been truly affordable.
The abject failure of the council to stand up to mega-developers like Barratt sets a chilling precedent. Indeed, the council already has a record of not standing up to developers, as we saw with Streatham Hub and Tesco. As we prepare for consultations on a hefty development across the street from Brixton Square, in Somerleyton Road, all the council have done is shown their true colours. They have shown they have no desire to protect families from being squeezed out in favour of the more wealthy by preserving truly affordable housing within our town centre
Council and government policies on “affordable” housing are not, in fact, affordable. In a workshop on housing at Somerleyton Rd last month, a member of the Lambeth Tenants Council said that average income of someone living in council property is £13,000 and yet “affordable” is often set at 60% of the market rent and nationally sometimes at 80%, with the market rate rising fast in Brixton. Why has “affordable” been set so high?
Lambeth council, as a substantial landowner in Brixton, needs to replace soothing words on protecting our community with hard action. Soaring land prices in Brixton mean that Lambeth should have had the upper hand in these negotiations. The Barratt Homes and Tescos of the world should be bending over backwards to please us – not the other way round.
Finally, we were shocked and saddened to hear about the untimely death of Fr Tom Heneghan. Dozens of comments on Brixton Blog, and more than 15,000 page views of Cllr Heywood’s touching tribute, are a testament to this truly great man.
For discussions on the Somerleyton developments, where the quota of social and/or affordable housing will be a big part of the debate, see urban 75′s forum here.