Brixton residents have raised concerns about the gentrification of the area, at a local neighbourhood planning meeting.
At the meeting, held in a packed room at the Brixton Community Base on Talma Road, residents told Lambeth Council cabinet member Cllr Lib Peck that they had seen the area change rapidly, and were concerned about the effect of this on marginalised groups.
“I’ve lived in Lambeth a long time, and there is a sense that the community is changing around us,” one resident said. “A large number of people feel sidelined. They see the changes but they are not part of it. Who will speak for them?”
A lively discussion was sparked when one resident said the decision to allow the Ritzy Cinema’s bar to use some of the space in the centre of Windrush Square as a summertime outdoor seating area was a sign of the problem.
“Why has the Ritzy been given that position?” she said. “It’s a public space that the community worked hard for, and suddenly we see the Ritzy using it to make money. There are a lot of people round here who can’t afford Ritzy prices and are being pushed out of the space. Where is the community cohesion?”
Several Twitter users disagreed, saying that the outdoor seating created a good atmosphere and did not take up too much of the square.
At the meeting some residents criticised Lambeth Council’s approach to local planning. “It is just following the money,” one said. “Property developers have got money and are prepared to put it in, and the council allows it even if it’s not what local people want.”
However, Cllr Peck said she was keen to listen to residents’ wishes. “I can’t promise a smooth ride but I’m trying to say there is a real commitment to try and work as fully with the community as possible,” she said.
“Gone are the days of us sitting in the town hall and being able to present plans for a local area and assume they will be passed. If we tried that, we’d never get past the starting point.
“We are keen to use the expertise, commitment and passion in this room to look at neighbourhood plans so it feels like something that community groups can buy into.”
Ron Hollis, chair of the Lambeth tenants’ council, said the council’s approach was improving. “There have been changes, and at the top of the council we have some very good people who thoroughly believe in what they say about listening to communities,” he said. “But there are still some officers who see local residents as a pain and an intrusion, and would rather go back to the 1960s, when the council controlled everything.”
The meeting was arranged to discuss putting together a local neighbourhood plan for the area, through which residents could influence the council’s planning decisions. No formal decisions were taken, but it was agreed that the issue was a priority.
Unfortunately Brixton Blog was unable to attend the beginning of the meeting, so any attendees who would like to add more information can do so in the comments section below or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: A debate about Ritzy and Windrush Square has been going on at Urban 75 for the past year – check it out here.