COUNCIL OFFICERS ‘REVIEWED’ 326-PAGE HOUSING REPORT IN LESS THAN ONE DAY
Council officers spent less than ONE DAY reviewing an alternative 326-page ‘People’s Plan’ to refurbish the Cressingham Gardens estate close to Brockwell park instead of demolishing it, says a shock report.
As News From Crystal Palace has reported, Lambeth council want to demolish several estates across the borough including Cressingham Gardens and the Central Hill estate, Upper Norwood.
“No clarifying questions were asked of residents after its submission” says Lambeth’s Green party Cllr Scott Ainslie.
“250 pages of appendices and a cover letter from The People’s Plan were excluded from the report to Lambeth council’s cabinet. “These included detailed financial cash flows.”
In what must be one of the hardest-hitting reports critical of council officers ever written by a single elected councillor anywhere in the country, Cllr Ainslie says:
“Lambeth has a responsibility to look at the feasibility thoroughly, and in detail, before dismissing the options out of hand.
“Given past experience of Lambeth officers making erroneous claims and representations …… their work does not have the confidence of residents unless and until reports and/or data substantiating their claims are issued.
“Five funding structures were presented in The People’s Plan. “These include Right To Manage and Right to Transfer options which a majority of tenants legally voted to support.
“These funding structures provide credible options for financing The People’s Plan.
“The officers report to the Lambeth council cabinet which considered The People’s Plan indicates that the only objections to community ownership are 1: they don’t think residents could raise the finance and 2: that it would take time for the legal formalities hence delaying refurbishment.
“For reasons of confidentiality, residents offered to engage a third party to confirm evidenced interest from potential funding organisations, but this offer was not taken up.
“Lambeth officers are now assuming in their own models that any refurbishment would be carried out over 10 years, so the second objection also lacks validity.
“A lot of significant costs are missing in the demolition financial models. “For example, the following ‘known’ costs have not been incorporated:
Building a new community hall on the Cressingham gardens estate to replace the Rotunda
Car parking provision
External and drainage works
Dealing with the 40” water main that passes through Cressingham Garden that is older than the estate itself
Dealing with the invasive weed present across the entire estate (For the same invasive weed to be removed from the Olympic Park Stadium development site, approx the same size as Cressingham Gardens, it cost reportedly £70m)
Compensation payable to non-returning homeowners to cover the stamp duty and legal costs for replacement homes
Cllr Ainslie (St Leonard’s ward) says council tenants returning to live on Cressingham Gardens will be expected to pay 10 to 25 per cent more in council rent over a five year period. A majority – 70 pc of residents – will be expected to pay 23pc more in council rent. In addition, council tax is also predicted to go up through band changes.
“This will push many of the residents into further reliance on housing benefit or onto housing benefit for the first time. In a time of austerity.”
Proposed private rent levels are also obscenely high, adds Cllr Ainslie.
Private rental levels are being set by Lambeth at a level that is unaffordable on the average annual household income for the borough, which the council’s own ‘State of the Borough’ report for 2016 cites as being ‘…around £26k’:
£1.5k/mth for a 1-bed home (£18k pa).
£2.0k/mth for a 2-bed home (£24k pa).
£2.6k/mth for a 3-bed home (£31k pa).
£3.3k/mth for a 4-bed flat (£39k pa).
Private sale prices are also obscenely high, he argues.
“Homeowners will be expected to pay 100pc of increased service charges while no longer owning 100pc of their homes due to the market value gap.
NO BUDGET:Nowhere in the cabinet report does there appear to be a budget for the next phase, says Cllr Ainslie in his report. “The cabinet appears to have signed off another blank cheque without any consideration of the officers’ own arguments over lack of funds.”
SPECIAL PURPOSE VEHICLE: Last year Cllr Ainslie called in the SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) cabinet decision. (“Homes for Lambeth”, a 100pc council-owned and run company which Lambeth council claim will help meet the election pledge to build 1,000 extra homes for council rent – Ed.)
One of the issues raised at the time was the lack of budget, he adds.
“Residents were assured by an officer at the August 2015 meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee that:
‘SPV is a shell entity and it’s very unlikely it will have any staff so costs of setting up the SPV are very insignificant. ‘It’s the cost of setting up a company which you can buy off the internet and then it will be the annual cost of accountancy and so on.’,”
As a matter of interest, www.gov.uk/register-a-company-online lists set-up costs as £15, says Cllr Ainslie.
“But at Lambeth council’s cabinet meeting of 21st March 2016 it was mentioned that Savills estate agents have been instructed in connection with the SPV and according to the tender document, the cost of this contract to Lambeth is in the realm of £60k-£90k.
“This is not nothing, and definitely more than the few hundred pounds it costs to buy an off the shelf company on the internet. “This money could have paid for up to 45 new kitchens in council tenant homes.”
Cllr Ainslie’s report will be considered by the overview and scrutiny committee next Monday (May 9th) at 7pm. Venue: 110 Union Road (Springfield Community and Health Centre), London, SW8 2SH. A Lambeth council cabinet scheduled to have taken place at the same time has been cancelled.
(The full 17mb People’s Plan report can be downloaded from: www.cressinghampeoplesplan.org.uk )