Questions without Answers: Reginald House and Old Tidemill Garden

Save Reginald Save Tidemill

On 19 October I wrote the following on the Save Reginald Save Tidemill Facebook page. My comment was written in response to a shared statement by Lewisham Labour Councillor Joe Dromey, the Cabinet Member for Finance, Skills and Jobs, that he had originally made on the I Love Deptford page about the regeneration scheme. The son of Harriet Harman MP, the former Acting Leader of the Labour Party, and Jack Dromey MP, the Shadow Labour Minister for Work and Pensions, Joe Dromey is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research, the think tank that did much to create and form the current programme of estate demolition and redevelopment with the publication in 2015 of ‘City Villages: More homes, better communities’. I asked to join the I Love Deptford page in order to respond directly to Councillor Dromey, but my request to do so was denied; and although Councillor Dromey had responded to earlier comments on the Save Reginald Save Tidemill page, he hasn’t responded to mine. In response, Roy Hobson, a qualified surveyor retired from the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors and supporter of the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign, copied my comment onto the I Love Deptford page, with the statement that he ‘totally agrees’ with its estimates. As of writing, Councillor Dromey still hasn’t responded. Here is the original comment by Councillor Dromey:

‘You may have heard that a judicial review had been brought against the proposed development at Tidemill to try and stop the development from going ahead. Earlier this week, the judge rejected the judicial review. The people campaigning against the development have a right of appeal, and I understand they will be doing so. But the development is now more likely to go ahead.

‘The Council is proceeding with the development because there is a desperate need for more social housing in our community. We’ve got 2,000 homeless households in Lewisham and many hundreds in Deptford. We’ve got 10,000 households on the council waiting list.

‘The Tidemill development will bring 104 additional social homes. These will be provided on secure tenancies, at below half the market rate, to households on the council waiting list. Over half (56%) of the homes on the site will be social housing – with the additional social housing representing 51% of the homes. A quarter of the homes (24%) are shared ownership to help people get on the property ladder. 20% are built for sale to fund the rest of the homes. It’s the biggest increase in social housing that we’ve seen in Deptford or in Lewisham in a generation.

‘All the existing residents (13 tenants, 3 leaseholders) will get a new home for life on the site. They won’t have to move off the site even for a day, and they won’t face higher rents. We want them to stay, and we want to provide more social homes for those in desperate need.

‘There will be lots of green space on the new estate, equivalent to over 80% of the size of the current garden. Most of this will be open 24/7 for our community.

‘Some have been campaigning to stop the development and to keep the Tidemill garden. It is understandable that some people will be unhappy with the decision, but there has been an extensive process, and the development has been approved by the Council, the Mayor of London, and now backed by the court. We can’t build the same number of homes and keep the meanwhile use garden. So our priority must be social housing to tackle the Tory housing crisis.

‘As ever, happy to discuss this with any members who have any questions.’

And here is what I wrote in return to Councillor Dromey’s invitation:

‘Dear Councillor Dromey, setting aside your suggestion that patches of newly-laid grass adding up to 80 per cent of the size of the Old Tidemill Garden is some sort of substitute for what Lewisham council is threatening to destroy, I find it hard to believe that the proportions of tenure you’ve indicated here are financially viable or even vaguely accurate. The last planning application for the redevelopment I saw was from September 2017, over a year ago, and it promised that the 16 council homes in Reginald House would be demolished and replaced by 209 new properties, with 74 for London Affordable Rent and 25 for shared ownership, constituting a total of 35 per cent ‘affordable’ housing across this and the 120 new properties on the Amersham Vale site being developed by Family Mosaic. Since then the developer has recently changed, yet I haven’t seen a new planning application on Lewisham council’s website.

‘Now, as everyone by now knows, London Affordable Rent isn’t social rent, as you claim, so that’s a lie. In Deptford the increase in rent between the two is more than 60 per cent, so saying tenants won’t face higher rents is also a lie. The site is now being redeveloped by Peabody, and under the Housing Act 1988 housing associations can’t offer secure tenancies, so that’s another lie. You either don’t know what you’re talking about, Councillor Dromey, or you’re deliberately lying to your constituents, but in the end it comes to the same thing. However, if I’m wrong, and you can indeed back these figures up, then you’ll agree that Lewisham council will have no reason not to make Peabody’s viability assessment for the scheme available for public scrutiny.

‘Given the cost of development is around £305,000/per dwelling, to which have to be added demolition costs and compensation for leaseholders, you may just be able to pay for 209 new properties with the sale of 25 of them for shared ownership and 110 of them for market sale, as indicated on the planning application. However, your claim that only 20 per cent (on the council website it says 24 per cent) of the properties for market sale will pay for the rest is frankly rubbish, financially speaking, and suggests to me that you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Why should you? You’re not a housing professional. But you are a councillor, so I would like to hear from you how the at least 50 per cent of properties that, in order to cover the costs of redevelopment, will have to be sold at upwards of half a million pounds can be claimed as doing anything to address the housing needs of the 2,000 homeless people in Lewisham or the 10,000 on the council’s housing waiting list. If you can prove otherwise, I would be very interested in seeing the viability assessment, and the planning application for your latest set of figures.

‘I’m the co-director of Architects for Social Housing, a practice that specialises in producing financially viable design alternatives to estate demolition. We’ve just published a report on the financial costs of estate regeneration, which I recommend campaigners and councillors alike read before they listen to or repeat the kind of nonsense you’ve written here. I think you should too, Councillor Dromey. If you’d like us to come and talk to Lewisham council about the viable alternatives to your proposals, please write to us at info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk.’

Unfortunately, despite his declaration that he is ‘happy to discuss’ the claims he makes about the demolition and redevelopment of Reginald House and Old Tidemill Garden, Councillor Dromey has not responded. According to the IPPR website, Joe has a first-class honours degree in history and politics from the University of Warwick, and a master’s degree in history from UCL; but doesn’t, as far as I can establish, have either an academic or a professional background in housing, architecture, quantity surveying or property development, so I’m not surprised he has fallen quiet in the face of these facts.

To clarify what these are, here is the planning application for the redevelopment, which is dated September 2017, 3 months after the merger of Family Mosaic with Peabody. As can be read in paragraph 5.7, the proposed development is for 209 new dwellings, of which 74 will be for London Affordable Rent, 25 for Shared Ownership and 110 for market sale. That’s just about financially viable, given the small amount of compensation for the 3 leaseholders in Reginald House and the relatively small number (13) of homes demolished.

However, Lewisham council’s current webpage on the development, titled ‘Tidemill site development – questions and answers’, says that there will still be 209 new dwellings, but now 117 will be ‘social rented’ homes, 38 will be for Shared Ownership and 54 for market sale. That definitely isn’t financially viable. So, unless these 54 homes for market sale that will supposedly pay for the cost of demolition, compensation and redevelopment will go on sale for millions of pounds each (and although Deptford is undergoing rapid gentrification such a property market doesn’t exist there yet), Lewisham council is lying.

Lewisham council has a history of such lies. Despite bombarding its constituents at the 2018 local elections with promises to build homes ‘for the many, not the few’, and like Councillor Dromey faithfully parroting lies about ‘tackling the Tory housing crisis’, in addition to the Reginald House and Old Tidemill Garden scheme, Lewisham Labour council’s current housing developments include:

  • Barratt Homes’ award-winning Renaissance development with 788 new properties, of which a mere 146 are for affordable rent;
  • The Lewisham Gateway development, where the 193 new properties on the first phase, following a viability assessment by Douglas Birt Consulting, will include no affordable housing at all;
  • The 169 properties on the second phase, of which 20 percent have been promised for London Living Rent, a rent-to-buy scheme;
  • The demolition of 565 homes on the Heathside and Lethbridge estates and their replacement with 1,192 new properties developed by Family Mosaic housing association (presumably under Peabody), 447 of which will be for as yet undefined rent levels, with the rest being for shared ownership or private sale;
  • The demolition of the 178 homes on the Excalibur estate, which are being replaced with 143 new properties for private sale, 35 for shared ownership, 15 for shared equity, and 178 for affordable rent;
  • The demolition of the 87 council homes on the Achilles Street estate, where the proposed new development will contain between 300 and 350 new properties, of which 55 are promised to be ‘social homes’, with the remainder being for London Living Rent, shared ownership and private sale.

It remains for Councillor Dromey and Lewisham council to explain to its constituents how such developments, including that proposed on the site of the demolished Reginald House and Old Tidemill Garden, will do anything to house either the 2,000 homeless households in Lewisham or the 10,000 households on the council’s waiting list. These are questions that the Labour council continues to refuse to answer.

As I publish this article, on the morning of Monday 29 October, on the direction of Lewisham Labour council between 100 and 150 police officers armed with dog units and masked bailiffs and security without identification numbers are forcibly and violently evicting the residents and campaigners who, 62 days ago, placed Reginald House and the Old Tidemill Garden under their community protection.

On the afternoon of the eviction, I was finally allowed onto the I Love Deptford Facebook page, and immediately transcribed the contents of this article. The following day Councillor Joe Dromey responded as follows:

‘The figures that I have provided are accurate, and the Council is not lying as you claim. The Tidemill development will be 209 homes. Of these, 117 will be social housing. That is an increase of 104 social homes, as there are currently 13 council homes on the site. Of the rest, there will be 38 additional homes for shared ownership to help people to get on the property ladder. There will also be 51 properties for private sale to fund the rest of the development. So 56% of the homes on the site will be social housing, 51% of the homes on the site will be additional social housing, 18% will be additional shared ownership, and 24% will be homes for private sale. All the figures are available here.

‘I agree that the homes for private sale and those for shared ownership will not – on their own – do anything to reduce homelessness. Sadly, due to the failure to build enough homes for four decades, house prices have become unaffordable for most people. But while social housing is the most needed, we need to build homes of all tenure. Otherwise house prices will continue to rise out of the reach of all but the wealthiest. But the homes for sale and shared ownership – alongside investment from the Council and the GLA – are what allows us to deliver the social homes on the site. So they’re important in themselves, and they will help some people onto the housing ladder. But most importantly, they will pay for the building of more social homes.

‘The figures sin the Strategic Planning document in September 2017 have been superseded. We have been able to increase the amount of social housing through investing right to buy receipts, and through additional investment from GLA and Peabody. For the record, I wish would prefer we weren’t forced to sell council properties under ‘right to buy’, and I hope that a future Labour government changes this.

‘I am not, and never would, deliberately lie to residents. The 104 homes that will be built at Tidemill are social homes as defined by Shelter as they are let on low rents, on secure tenancies, to those who are most in need, and managed by a registered provider. The homes will be Amy London Affordable Rent, which is higher than Council rents, but less than half the market rent in the area. Most importantly, they will be let to tenants for life, so that they can have security, and can put down roots in our community.

‘You’ll see that I’ve just emailed you and I would be happy to meet to discuss your report, Tidemill, and the Council’s future plans.

‘You are right that I don’t have an academic or a professional background in housing, architecture, quantity surveying or property development. I’m just involved in this as I’m the ward Councillor. My focus is on employment and skills. But our role is as elected representatives of the local community – to whom we are accountable – and we are responsible for directing and scrutinising our officers, who do have professional expertise in those areas.

‘I’m happy to engage with you on this, and to answer your questions. But I’ve got to say, from this message, it doesn’t look like you are willing to engage with me in a constructive way. In this post, you’ve called me a liar, you’ve said I don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve said I’m spreading nonsense, and for some reason you’ve brought my parents into this. I am always happy to answer questions, and to be held accountable. You are of course free to disagree, but I don’t think it’s fair for you to personally attack me, to bring my parents into it, and then to expect me to continue to engage with you and respond in good faith. So I’d appreciate it if we stuck to the issues, rather than getting personal.’

 

I accepted Councillor Dromey’s e-mail invitation to come and speak about ASH’s alternatives to demolition, and suggested that Councillor Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing, and the Lewisham council officers directly responsible for overseeing the demolition of Reginald House and the Old Tidemill Garden, also be present. I then responded to Councillor Dromey’s comments on the I Love Deptford page:

‘Dear Councillor Dromey, a lie is a lie, whether the person who speaks (or writes) it does so deliberately or not. As I wrote, I’m willing to believe that the lies you’ve told are from ignorance rather than mendacity. For instance, while Shelter does excellent work, it doesn’t set the definition of what social housing is, as you suggest, either in rental levels or tenure. In fact, as the Lewisham council webpage that is the source of your inaccurate information clarifies, by ‘social homes’ the council means ‘social rented homes’, which is a tenure type set in UK legislation, not by a charity. Since you’ve now admitted that these are in fact to be for London Affordable Rent, as the planning document says, and not social rent, you’ve also admitted that Lewisham council is lying. So thank you for that clarification.

‘You might also confirm the information to which I’ve linked revealing that in Deptford London Affordable Rent is more than 60 percent higher, which is more indicative of the increase existing tenants will face than your statement that it is ‘less than half market rent’. Perhaps you also don’t understand that social rent levels are not indexed only to market rent. The calculation of social rent is complex, but the 2014 Guidance on Rents for Social Housing from the former Department of Homes and Communities on calculating it for ten years from April 2015 were as follows: 70 per cent of the national average rent, multiplied by average county earnings as a proportion of national average earnings, multiplied by the bedroom weight, plus 30 per cent of the national average rent, multiplied by the relative property value as a proportion of the national average property value. Then there are all sorts of further variables, but in Deptford average social rent for a 2-bedroom home is £95.54 per week. London Affordable Rent, by contrast, is £152.73 per week. You’re not quite right, therefore, but you’re at least a little closer to the truth, when you write that London Affordable rent is less than half the average market rent for a 2-bedroom home of £323.08 per week; but you’ll agree that will be of small comfort to tenants facing a 60 per cent increase on their rent and the loss of security in their tenancy due to the demolition of their homes.

‘As I also wrote, secure tenancies cannot be granted by housing associations according to UK legislation, and saying they can based on a webpage from Shelter repeats the lie you told the first time. Housing associations, as you should know, can only issue assured tenancies, and describing them as ‘for life’, as you have in your comment, doesn’t change the tenants’ rights or their security, should they be able to afford the increased rents and service charges.

‘Unfortunately, therefore, Councillor Dromey, in attempting to refute my claims you have repeated your original lies. When someone – particularly someone in authority, and even more so when they have been elected to represent the people to whom they are speaking – repeats lies that have been shown to be lies, then, yes, those people are justified in questioning that person’s integrity, as your has been. I make no such attributions of intent or motivation to you, but I will continue to point out when you’re lying, as you are now, and describe the repetition of those lies in the face of the facts as nonsense.

‘I thank you, however, for clarifying that the planning document of September 2017 has been ‘superseded’ by Lewisham council’s webpage. Unfortunately, as I’ve just pointed out, you yourself have contradicted what the webpage says in defining the tenure type of most interest to council tenants whose homes are to be demolished by Lewisham council. More importantly, a webpage is not a planning document, and in my experience councils will remove them from their website as soon as the contradict what that council is actually doing. As we’ve written about in our report, the regeneration scheme for Knight’s Walk in Lambeth shows that such promises are worth nothing. In fact, notes from a briefing to the Lewisham Mayor and Cabinet in June by Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing (below), say very clearly that ‘materially changing’ the Tidemill scheme would require a new planning application, the costs of which would be ‘significant’. But if, as you say, the strategic planning document to which Councillor Bell refers has been superseded, even partially, by these new figures, can I, as I requested in my original comment, see the new planning document?

‘I ask because, as I said in my comments, to which you still haven’t responded, the figures in the council webpage are not financially viable as they stand. If, as you write, the lack of viability has been ameliorated by Right to Buy receipts and what you call ‘investment’ from Peabody’s and the GLA, can I see the viability assessment? Our own analysis of the costs of estate regeneration, which I hope you and your colleagues read carefully, take into account GLA subsidies, and any investment from Peabody will be recouped from rents and sales like any other developer, so nothing you have said here has changed my opinion about the unviabilty of the scheme as it is described on the council webpage.

‘The only way this scheme might be financially viable is if its proportion of housing for London Affordable Rent is cross subsidised by another scheme. The council webpage rather allusively says that the Tidemill scheme is ‘linked’ to the Amersham Vale scheme. This is a typically evasive description, but in the planning document you say has been superseded it states that there will be ‘35 per cent affordable housing’ across both sites. According to Councillors Bell’s briefing (below), the Amersham Vale site will have 120 properties, of which a mere 24 will be for social rent (more likely to be London Affordable Rent), 15 for shared ownership, and 81 for market sale. Now, those figures are financially viable, and would go some way to explaining how the figures on the Lewisham webpage for the Tidemill site, even with London Affordable Rent rather than social rent, are possible.

‘If this is the case, as a councillor elected to speak on behalf of the needs of your constituents, is it not your duty, Councillor Dromey, to clarify what the total number of dwellings and at what tenure these two ‘linked’ sites will be, and to make available to the public the planning documents that explain how these schemes are cross-subsidising each other? Isn’t the failure of the council to publicise how the increase of dwellings for London Affordable Rent on the Tidemill scheme is being compensated for by the reduction in affordable housing in the Amersham Vale scheme an example of ‘manipulating’ figures? And given the widespread opposition to the former demolition scheme, hasn’t this cross-subsiding been done precisely in order to deceive the public about the actual outcomes of Lewisham’s housing policy? In short, isn’t this another lie by omission, one which you are guilty of repeating, Councillor Dromey? Indeed, you are yet to comment on all the other schemes I have listed in Lewisham’s disastrous housing developments and their completely inadequate percentages of even affordable housing, let alone homes for social rent.

‘It is the evidence of these developments, including Lewisham Gateway, Renaissance, the Heathside and Lethbridge estates, the Excalibur estate and the Achilles estate, that expose the inaccuracy of your claim that building more properties for market sale will either subsidise the homes for social rent Lewisham needs or reduce the sale prices of those properties. Neither is true. Both are a lie. A degree in history and politics might have taught you how to speak nonsense to constituents, Joe, but it hasn’t taught you about the financialisation of London’s property market, and how your simplistic economic model of supply and demand has no descriptive purchase on that market. Again, I recommend you invite ASH in to come and explain how that market works; though the evidence of the developments to which Lewisham council has granted planning permission should be all the evidence you need. I’m afraid that repeating this lie, which is one of the myths on which the estate demolition programme has been founded, means that, once again, you are speaking nonsense.

‘These are not, as you claim, personal attacks, which is what politicians always revert to claiming (rather noisily) when someone disagrees with them. These are statements of fact. For your clarification, personal attacks are what the masked bailiffs Lewisham council hired to evict the occupation of Old Tidemill Garden did to campaigners. As I wrote to you in my e-mail, someone, such as yourself, who has defended the disgraceful violence enacted on the local community by the council is not in a position to be issuing ultimatums about behaviour.

‘If you can drag yourself away from defending your offended sense of your own importance, Councillor Dromey, I would ask you, once again, to answer the questions I have addressed to you, not with more lies, and not with reference to transient webpages, but to planning documents, to viability assessments, to what the residents of Reginald House, the users of the Old Tidemill Garden, the constituents of your ward and the people of Lewisham have a right to know: the truth.

‘I note your invitation, in your e-mail to me, for ASH to come and present the findings of our report to Lewisham council. We have accepted this invitation, and I will be following up how you honour that promise on this page.’

 

The answer wasnt long in coming. This is Councillor Dromey’s response:

‘I have never defended violence. That is just not true. I have encouraged anyone who has said they were a victim of or witness to violence to report this to the Police, and to get in touch with me so that I can raise specific incidents with the Council. Yesterday I raised these concerns in person with the the relevant Executive Director. I have asked him to report back to me on this.

‘You mention that tenants are facing a 60% increase on their rent and the loss of security in their tenancy due to the demolition of their homes. This is just not the case. The tenants at Reginald House will not face an increase in rents, and they will receive compensation. This is set out here.

‘I have acknowledged that the homes will be at London Affordable Rents, and that this is more than council rents. I have never claimed that they will be at Council rents. Though as I mentioned, the current council tenants will not any more as you’ve suggested.

‘They are assured tenancies. The development agreement – which is legally enforceable – sets out that these are for life. That’s really important, as it gives the families who will move in security, and the ability to put down roots in our community.

‘The Tidemill site is tied to the Amersham Vale site. I have never denied this, I have regularly acknowledged this, and it is made very clear in all the planning docs.

‘And there is a difference between something which is not true and a lie. A lie is something that is not just untrue, but which someone knows to be untrue. I’ve never told residents anything which I know to be untrue. I have answered every question put to me, and I have provided evidence for my claims.

‘On reflection, given this message, given your unfounded accusations against me, and statements like ‘a degree in history and politics might have taught you how to speak nonsense to constituents’, I don’t think a meeting would be fruitful. I will have a read of your report. You will see I’ve passed on your email to our Cabinet Member for Housing and the Chair of the Housing Select Committee.’

 

So that’s that. It would appear that Councillor Joe Dromey’s offended sense of his own dignity is more important to him than exploring the alternatives to Lewisham council’s disastrous housing policies that are a blueprint for the demolition of council assets, the privatisation of their redevelopment, the marketisation of housing and the social cleansing of residents and the Deptford community. Behind Councillor Dromey’s childish accusations about ‘personal attacks’ and his apparent obsession with his parents, this is an example of the unaccountability and, it has to be said, the arrogance of the all-Labour council that promised Lewisham’s constituents at the local elections that it would build ‘for the many, not the few’.

The crisis brought about by London’s shortage of affordable housing and the estate demolition programme that is driving it is first of all a political crisis, because until we change the existing political system and make councils accountable to the electorate – both the 20 per cent who voted them into power and the 80 per cent who didn’t – councils will continue to act as semi-autonomous fiefdoms that will conduct their business behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality without any obligation to listen to the local community, and who will – as Lewisham council has just demonstrated – send in violent masked thugs when that community doesn’t obey them.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

 

 

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