Brixton Gardens, architectural rendering by Leonie Weber
What is ‘community-led housing’? The phrase is used these days with increasing frequency, but what does it mean? How can it embrace the resource and advice hub set up by the London Mayor to build more affordable housing, and which has just been allocated £38 million of funds, and, at the same time, proposals made by campaigners trying to save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Lewisham, which has been condemned to demolition and redevelopment by a council and housing association acting with the financial support and planning permission of the same London Mayor? Beyond its rhetoric of government decentralisation and resident empowerment, what does ‘community-led’ mean in practice? Is it an initiative by London communities in response to the threat to their homes of estate demolition schemes implemented by councils in which they no longer have any trust? Is it emblematic of the kind of initiative envisaged by the former Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his image of a Big Society that takes back responsibility for housing UK citizens from the state and places it in the hands of entrepreneurs, whether small developers or housing co-operatives? Is it a way to relieve London councils of the responsibility for housing their constituents? Is it just another term in the increasingly duplicitous lexicon of Greater London Authority housing policies designed to hand public land and funds over to private developers and investors under the guise of being ‘community-led’? Or is it a genuine, if limited, solution to London’s crisis of housing affordability, one that will finally build and manage at least some of the homes in which Londoners can afford to live? In this article we address these questions through looking at ‘Brixton Gardens’, a proposal for a co-operative housing development that was made last year by Architects for Social Housing in partnership with the Brixton Housing Co-operative.