This is ASH’s brief commentary on the Greater London Authority policy on Resident Ballots for Estate Regeneration Projects, the recently published addendum to the London Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, and the outcome of the promise to ballot residents made by Oh Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour Party conference back in September 2017. This is the policy document that has had Labourites panting with anticipation ever since as they look forward to what the Labour Leader promised would be estate regeneration ‘for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators,’ with the added stipulation that ‘councils will have to win a ballot of existing tenants and leaseholders before any redevelopment scheme can take place. Real regeneration, yes, but for the many not the few!’ Unfortunately, like all the promises made by the Labour Leader, that hasn’t come true. As an example of the servile appeasement of property developers masquerading as resident empowerment this document will take some beating in the consistently appalling housing policy coming out of the GLA under the title of Homes for Londoners; but for those of us attentive to the yawning chasm between the socialist rhetoric of the Labour Party and the neo-liberal reality of its policies, this is both instructive and indicative of the extent to which Oh Jeremy Corbyn will be able to keep all his other pie-in-the-sky promises if and when he is elected to head the government of this country. A commentary on every implication of this former lawyer’s circumlocutions would, as in our commentary on the Labour Mayor’s Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, be longer than the policy document itself, so I’ve confined myself to a series of questions which those Labour activists with access to Sadiq Khan may, given the chance, wish to address to him. These are followed by some of ASH’s policy proposals that need to become reality – and soon – if we are to see estate refurbishment and, where appropriate, infill become the enforceable default option for any council or housing association undertaking the regeneration of a housing estate.
8.1.1. Since the GLA has made ‘Investment Partners’ rather than local authorities the agents responsible for conducting Resident Ballots as a condition of winning funding for council-led estate demolition schemes, why is this term not clearly defined in this document?
Why – by making ‘Investment Partners’ rather than local authorities the agents of Resident Ballots – is the GLA handing over responsibility for the future survival of London’s council and social housing to private interests rather than our elected representatives, which – much as they consistently fail to represent us – are still subject to a modicum of public scrutiny and accountability, as opposed to the entirely unaccountable and inscrutable property developers, housing associations, offshore investment companies and real estate firms that will presumably constitute these ‘Investment Partners’?
8.2.3. Of what value is resident ‘input’ after a ballot has taken place if it does not have the power to influence a further ballot leading to a contrary result?
8.2.4. Why should the effects of regeneration plans on residents be limited to ‘long-term means of engagement’ rather than expanded to include the obligation to produce impact assessments of the financial, social and environmental costs of the demolition and redevelopment of residents’ estates that are made available to them before they are balloted?
8.3. Application of Resident Ballot Requirement
8.3.1. Why should ballots be arbitrarily restricted to redevelopment schemes of 150 dwellings or more, or is the GLA assuming that residents of small estates or parts of estates isolated and targeted for partial demolition have less rights than those on larger estates?
8.4 Voter eligibility requirements
8.4.2. Why should residents of either private or council housing bordering an estate targeted for demolition, or residents of the surrounding neighbourhood whose homes will be affected by the redevelopment, not also have a vote in the ballot, when such residents will, for instance, be subject to years and sometimes decades of living close to a building site, with all the pollution and noise and burden on their streets that will entail; to the increased burden a new and sudden increase in the local population will place on their already stretched public services; and when their homes and businesses and shops will be subject to higher rents and rates and prices consequent upon the resulting construction of high-value properties specifically designed to realise latent land values in London, and all the other negative effects of so-called ‘gentrification’ on their community?
8.4.3. Given that the process of estate regeneration includes councils exerting pressure on residents to take up early council offers of rehousing for tenants and compensation for leaseholders that reduces the number of secure tenancies and home-owners and their replacement with tenants in ‘temporary accommodation’ that the council has no obligation to rehouse, why should such residents not have a vote on the demolition of their homes when it will directly lead to their eviction and the prospect of homelessness or housing poverty on the private rental market?
8.4.10. Given that, under the Mayor’s newly-coined category of London Living Rent, buy-to-let properties are one of the forms of so-called ‘affordable housing’ that will replace the homes for social rent lost to estate demolition schemes, and that the majority of properties for market sale that typcially constitute 50 per cent and more of new developments are themselves bought by foreign investors and offshore companies and let on London’s lucrative and expanding private rental market, why are non-resident leaseholders similarly letting their homes out not given a vote on the demolition of their properties?
8.5. Arranging resident ballots
8.5.1. If the ballot must be held ‘prior to the procurement of a development partner’, who exactly are the ‘Investment Partners’ required to hold the ballot, given that private development partners are typically acquired by councils long before an estate regeneration scheme is announced to residents?
And if the ballot is held ‘prior to finalising the precise specification of works’, what exactly are the eligible voters voting on, and what measures are there to stop the Investment Partners changing their ‘Landlord Offer’ after the vote has been cast?
8.5.7. Is the ‘simple majority’ required to give consensus to demolition a simple majority of eligible voters or those who vote? Is there a minimal requirement for a percentage of eligible voters to vote before a vote becomes legitimate, or will councils be allowed to continue their current practice of making claims to resident consensus on the basis of tiny numbers of residents, as happened, for example, on the Joyce Avenue and Snell’s Park estate, for the demolition of whose 744 homes Enfield Labour council won 56 per cent of the vote in September 2017 from a ballot of 92 residents, meaning just 52 of the estate’s more than 2,000 residents produced a ‘yes’ result?
What kind of consensus is established by a ‘simple majority’ if, for example, 600 of the more than 1,200 residents on Central Hill estate in Lambeth oppose the demolition of their homes to no avail, and why, given the documented devastating consequences for residents of estate demolition and redevelopment, does a ‘yes’ vote not require a two-thirds majority at the very least?
8.5.11. Why does the ‘minimum’ information on which eligible voters are expected to cast a vote not include the single most important information that will determine whether they can take up their ‘right to return’: this being the increase in their rents, mortgages and service charges, and the reduction of their tenancy rights and security?
In the absence of ‘Investment Partners’, how are these costs, or the ‘tenure’ of the properties they will determine, to be established with any veracity or accuracy, since those tenures and costs are established, under the current model of estate demolition, privatisation and redevelopment, by viability assessments dependent upon the investment and profits of those Investment Partners?
How are commitments to ‘open and transparent consultation and engagement’ to be met when Investment Partners are not subject to Freedom of Information requests, and all financial information determining the tenure and costs of the future development is withheld from public scrutiny behind the cloak of ‘commercial confidentiality’?
8.5.14. Why should the information given to eligible voters not include the effects of demolition on their fellow residents, or does the GLA believe that residents only care about themselves?
8.5.15. Can the ‘tailoring’ of the information given to, respectively, tenants, leaseholders and residents on the housing register be interpreted as anything other than an attempt to divide these groups from each other, to depict each group as in competition with each other rather than as part of an estate community, and therefore as an already cynical attempt to manipulate their votes that the GLA should be writing policy to prohibit, not encourage and condone?
8.5.17. In determining the time between the publication of the Landlord Offer and the ballot, why does the GLA use vague terms open to abuse like ‘appropriate’, ‘sufficient’ and ‘reasonable’, rather than a clearly specified time period, given that councils have in the past given residents as little as 5 days to vote on documents running to thousands of pages?
8.5.18. If the GLA expects residents to be updated on the ‘progress’ of the development, does that imply that progress equates to radical changes to the Landlord Offer – as seen, for example, in the ‘progress’ between the submission to Cabinet by Lambeth Labour council in November 2015 for the redevelopment of Knight’s Walk (with a tenure mix of 51 social rent, 7 freehold and 39 market rent) and the planning application made in December 2017 (9 social rent, 14 London affordable rent, 13 target rent, 12 intermediate rent, 6 freehold, 45 market sale) – what purpose does this serve, in the absence of any subsequent resident veto to such ‘progress’, other than to give a veneer of ‘transparent and open consultation’ to a process open to such manipulations and changes, and which this Resident Ballot Requirement contains nothing to stop?
8.5.20. If the GLA is not placing a limit on the number of ballots Investment Partners can use to gain consensus – as, for example, happened on the Excalibur estate in Lewisham, where between 2002 and 2010 residents were subjected to repeated campaigns of inducement by marketing professional and consultancies that saw the TRA that opposed the scheme disbanded by Lewisham Labour council and finally reduced an initial 93 per cent vote in favour of refurbishment to a marginal vote of 56 per cent in favour of demolition – why is this absence of limits not extended to further ballots in the event of a ‘yes’ vote that would compel Investment Partners, first, to make a Landlord Offer that more accurately reflects the actual outcomes of their schemes, and, second, keep them to the tenures and resulting costs to residents whose homes are subject to these schemes?
8.6. Exemptions to the Resident Ballot Requirement for projects
8.6.6. Given that 300 council-owned blocks are currently fitted with cladding systems that place their residents at the same risk as that which killed 72 residents of Grenfell Tower, does the exemption from resident balloting as a result of ‘resident safety issues’ open the demolition of estates to be implemented against the wishes of residents under false pretences, as is happening on, for example, the Chalcots estate in Camden, the Ledbury estate in Southwark, or the Broadwater Farm estate in Haringey, where residents have been decanted from their homes by Labour councils intent on demolishing them in their absence on the assertions that they are ‘unsafe’?
8.6.8. Given the cloak of confidentiality behind which estate regeneration is hidden from residents, and given the track record of Labour Cabinet Members for Regeneration claiming that mould, for example, is justification for demolishing residents’ homes, why does the GLA not require that the proof that Investment Providers have explored options other than demolition to address resident safety be made available to residents for their own judgement, and thereby adhere to its previously stated commitment to ‘transparent and open consultation’?
8.6.10. Why should residents in supported housing not have a veto on the demolition of their homes, when residents of Macintosh Court, for example, were quite capable of launching their own successful campaign to save their supported housing estate from demolition by Lambeth Labour council, or is the GLA implying that residents of supported housing aren’t capable of judging whether their own homes meet their own ‘needs’?
8.6.15. Why does the GLA consider that residents of the numerous estates condemned to demolition and redevelopment without their consensus should have less say over their futures than those on estates not yet condemned?
When no less than 34 estate demolition schemes have received GLA funding since Sadiq Khan drew the consultation on his Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration to an end in March 2017, and 16 of them since last December when he announced a moratorium on any further funding before the consultation on Resident Ballots was completed, why should residents of estates condemned to demolition by councils that acquired funding during this period of apparent inactivity have no vote over their futures, especially when so many of those estates – such as Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill, both in Lambeth – have conducted long campaigns of opposition to demolition and produced their own ballots showing that around 80 per cent of their residents are opposed to the demolition of their homes?
8.6.16. Why should the granting of planning permission on a project be a time limit beyond which residents have no veto over the demolition of their homes, or does this mean the GLA places the financial investment of Investment Partners above the rights of the Londoners the GLA is meant to represent and uphold?
More generally, why are there so many restrictions on the rights of residents in existing demolition schemes to veto those schemes if not because those schemes will result in the loss of thousands of homes for social rent and the social cleansing of their communities from the new developments, which from the Ferrier to Woodberry Down, the Heygate to West Hendon, has happened on estate after estate subjected to so-called ‘regeneration’ schemes?
8.6.18. Given that subsequent phases of redevelopment schemes are always subject to viability assessments which on estate after estate have seen social housing provision reduced to lower and lower levels unrecogniseable from what residents were initially promised, why are residents whose homes will be lost to such phases not given the right to veto their demolition in a Resident Ballot?
8.6.19. Since ‘affordable housing’ can and does include rent to buy products and shared ownership deals on properties on sale for £650,000 and higher in Inner London, why does the Resident Ballot only apply to voting on the demolition of so-called ‘affordable housing floorspace’, rather than on the replacement of homes for social rent with rental tenures and properties that in rent levels or investment bear little or no relation to what estate redevelopment schemes are currently demolishing in their tens of thousands?
8.6.20. Given the sudden rash of demolition schemes granted GLA funding in the months leading up to 18 July, 2018, can this exemption mean anything other than that the GLA has no confidence that the residents of these estate, if balloted, would overwhelmingly reject the disastrous regeneration schemes to which the GLA has given its financial support, and which will see them socially cleansed from their homes and the loss of thousands of homes for social rent during a housing crisis of affordability the GLA and its Labour Mayor are supposed to be writing policy to address, not accommodate and extend?
8.6.23. Can the lack of criteria for this catch-all exemption be anything other than an invitation to Investment Partners to manipulate and seek to circumvent the already ambiguously phrased requirements and myriad exemptions laid out in the Resident Balloting Requirement?
8.6.24. Will the reasons for exemption from Resident Ballots put forward by the Investment Partners be made available for public scrutiny, or will this too be withdrawn behind the cloak of ‘commercial confidentiality’; and, if the latter, how is this consistent with the GLA’s previously repeatedly stated but rarely honoured commitment to ‘transparent and open consultation’?
8.7 Cancellation and/or recovery of GLA funding
8.7.2. Why is the GLA’s powers to enforce compliance with the Landlord Offer to residents limited to the withdrawal of GLA funding, when the enormous profits being made by Investment Partners make such funding welcome but not necessary to the financial viability of their schemes, rather than being extended to the withholding of GLA planning permission?
8.7.3. Why are the ‘material deviations’ from the Landlord Offer the GLA anticipates grounds only for the withdrawal of GLA funding, and not extended to the re-balloting of residents along with the opportunity to veto the demolition of their homes, or is the GLA’s censure of such deviations limited to the recovery of public funds rather than stopping the social cleansing of Londoners from their communities consequent upon estate regeneration schemes in which the ‘right to return’ is contingent upon the financial capacity of tenants to afford the more expensive and less secure tenancies offered in place of their demolished council homes, in which the compensation offered to leaseholders is insufficient to own a property on the new development, in which the number of homes for social rent demolished are not being replaced but lost in their thousands, in which the number of new properties is tripled and dominated by properties for market sale and investment in order to accommodate the huge financial costs of replacing those demolished, and in which the tenure of the new development, even before being subject to viability assessments that are withheld from public scrutiny, is at least 50 per cent for market sale – in which, in short, all these outcomes of demolition and redevelopment are not the ‘deviation’ from what residents are promised but very much the norm?
Alternative policy proposals on Resident Ballots
In the form presented to residents by GLA policy, residents given a ballot on the demolition of their estate will be presented with a choice between, on the one hand, demolition and redevelopment, and, on the other, a continued lack of maintenance and managed decline. This is no choice at all. For ballots to constitute a genuine consensus from the community for an estate regeneration scheme, GLA policy should require that:
When proposing an estate regeneration scheme, a social landlord (council or housing association) and their Investment Partners must set aside sufficient funds for a refurbishment and infill option to be developed up to feasibility study stage, such as those developed by ASH for Central Hill and West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, to be designed, assessed and costed by a team of architects, engineers and quantity surveyors independent from the team given the brief for the demolition and redevelopment scheme.
An independent team must be given funds, from either the Investment Partners implementing the scheme or the Greater London Authority, to produce an impact assessment of the social, financial and environmental costs of demolition and redevelopment for existing residents, the local community and the landlord, and that its findings are made public before any resident ballot is taken on regeneration.
Enforceable target requirements must be set in GLA policy defining what a Landlord Offer is required to meet before receiving either GLA funding or local authority planning permission, laid out not in vague phrases about ‘like for like’ replacement of homes, residents’ financially contingent ‘right to return’ to them, or undefined proportions of promised ‘affordable housing’, but in non-negotiable, clearly defined numbers, proportions and rent levels that are not subject to, for example, the future viability assessments of Investment Partners.
If an estate community votes against a proposed demolition scheme, the council must carry out the refurbishment and continue (or in most cases restart) the maintenance of the estate at the least, and preferably to implement the infill options produced by the independent team, so that residents’ cannot be presented with a choice between the demolition of their estate and its managed decline.
The London Mayor must allocate sufficient funds through his Homes for Londoners programme, which at present are entirely lacking, for estate refurbishment and infill, and if the residents vote for this option require that these funds be made available to them, either working in tandem with the council or through the various forms of resident-managed and community-led models increasingly being explored by residents who have no confidence in the councils implementing the demolition and redevelopment of their homes for the benefit of their Investment Partners.
In the absence of the alternatives these policy proposals will make available to residents, what validity can the GLA’s Resident Ballot have beyond a choice between redevelopment and doing nothing? We advise residents to reject both, and instead to put pressure on councils, housing associations, their investment partners and the Greater London Authority to allocate the funds required to explore the refurbishment and, where appropriate, infill of their estates, which ASH has repeatedly demonstrated to be by far the most financially preferable, socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable model of estate regeneration – in the words of Jeremy Corbyn – ‘for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators.’
Architects for Social Housing