THE LAMBETH VIEWPOINT:
From an officers report to tonight’s meeting of Lambeth council’s overview and scrutiny commitee*:
1.2 Lambeth is investing hundreds of millions of pounds in bringing existing council homes up to the Lambeth Housing Standard (LHS), but there exists a severe budget shortfall in the LHS programme, which has arisen in part because the cost to deliver the programme is proving to be greater than originally predicted and in part because of pressures on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), which are limiting what the council can borrow into its HRA. On the latter, government changes, such as the reduction of 1% per annum in council rents (over the next 4 years), are acting to reduce the HRA income and thereby reducing the council’s capacity to borrow.
1.3 Rebuilding Central Hill estate (the estate) will enable the council to fulfil its commitment to provide warm, dry, decent homes at council rent levels to council tenants living on the Central Hill estate, despite the major shortfall in the Lambeth Housing Standard (LHS) budget.
As part of the review process that took place involving the Resident Engagement Panel (REP), an independent surveyor (Martin Arnold) was brought on to review these costs with residents. All information available was given to this surveyor, and he met with the REP in October 2015 to review the stock condition and investment conclusions.
His summary was that this amount was probably an under-estimate given that the normal Lambeth Housing Standard works would not resolve many of the problems that are manifest on the Central Hill estate.
The council has been clear throughout the engagement process that refurbishing the estate to Lambeth Housing Standard would not address all of the design and construction issues that exist on Central Hill such as, but not limited to, cold bridging, the capacity of the drains, accessibility, etc.
The council asked the same independent surveyor to provide an approximate estimate of what the costs could be to deal with all these other issues, together with the normal Lambeth Housing Standards works; a report was produced which shows that to deal with all the issues, the potential cost could extend to £40m.
This cost was not included as a formal part of the the option appraisal process; but it gave council officers further confidence that the cost of fully refurbishing the estate would be very extensive and far above the normal refurbishment costs being undertaken elsewhere in the borough.
The council has not sought to assess to the same level of detail the full costs to address all the problems with the estate because the £18.5m cost is already in excess of that which the Council can afford or is normal; as set out in the Cabinet Report, the average cost of refurbishing properties to Lambeth Housing Standard is around £16,000 per home, whereas the £18.5m suggests that this would be closer to £44,000 per home on the Central Hill Estate.
The decision that has been taken by the Cabinet is not simply about the finances; it is about how to give residents certainty that they will have good quality homes to live in within a reasonable time period. In addition to this, redevelopment of the estate provides the opportunity to address the wider design problems inherent with the existing homes and neighbourhood and at the same time will enable the Council to build more and better homes for Lambeth residents.
The council is aware of the concerns about asbestos and it is important to be aware that dealing with any asbestos would need to be included in either refurbishment or redevelopment.
If properties were to be refurbished, then the existing asbestos in the properties would need to be removed. This would require residents moving out of their homes for an unknown period of time and would have just as much likelihood of causing pollution from such asbestos as full demolition.
Given the poor state of many homes, refurbishment of many properties would be highly disruptive to residents; possibly more disruptive than simply moving to a brand new, high quality home.
Tonight’s meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny commitee will also be considering the ‘call in’ of key guarantees for people living on the six council estates Lambeth want to demolish – Central Hill, Cressingham Gardens, Fenwick, Knights Walk, South Lambeth and Westbury.
Among the points made in another officers report to tonight’s meeting:
There are minimal changes such that residents of the Central Hill estates cannot claim to have been misled; where changes have taken place, they represent improvements… (Agenda item 2a page seven).
Separating the key guarantees into principles and mechanisms allows the council to communicate to residents exactly what the commitments are. (Agenda item 2a page nine).
Officers are conscious that as regeneration projects are long term initiatives, there will be external factors which may impact on the council’s ability to deliver the key guarantees and in these situations the council needs the ability to change where necessary in order to still deliver the principles of the key guarantees.
It is difficult to predict what these external factors might be. Some examples: changes to homeloss and disturbance guidance as set by central Government; changes to state aid guidance; changes to welfare which impact on residents ability to afford properties; change to mortgage rules; changes to the housing market and interest rates. etc.
Each tenant and each homeowner will be in different situations and it is critical to allow officers to have the flexibility to determine how best to apply the key guarantees for each household.
The structuring of the key guarantees in this way provides transparent commitments and at the same time gives flexibility to deliver these in the best way possible for each household. (Agenda item 2a page 11).
*(Item 3 on tonight’s agenda: Investing in better neighbourhoods and building the homes we need to house the people of Lambeth – Central Hill: Call In)