We have been quiet on the social media and blogging side since December, been busy supporting residents through ballots and other regeneration consultations.
A couple of years ago we wrote about a test of opinion that was too close to call (50:50 by voter and 52:48 by household) and the landlord decided they did not have a remit to pursue their proposed regeneration.
Since then our clients have been upping their game to develop proposals which, whilst they do not get universal support, are clear enough and beneficial enough to gain the support of the majority of those eligible to vote. These despite noisy minority, external and political opposition. The process has been challenging for regeneration partners who have become used to imposing their professional judgement on what is needed to regenerate neighbourhoods – the “we know best” designers, builders and officers. For residents and other community stakeholders the process has been genuinely empowering.
Schemes that are developed in genuine consultation with residents are better, it was ever thus. The Greater London Authority’s ballot guidance which also gives those waiting for housing a chance to vote (primarily homeless families in temporary housing and hidden households or adult children of tenants) discourages communities from voting for the status quo. However, regeneration schemes still need to be attractive and sustainable.
In our experience, there are some key factors to developing a scheme that will get a positive ballot:
- Social housing tenants universally think that social housing is amazing and want is retained or increased within reason.
- Nobody wants to be shipped out of their community to make way for gentrification
- Leaseholders and freeholders want fair treatment with regard to value and the ability to remain in their home area.
- Most people understand the broad economics of getting some new homes paid for via grant and the need to build for sale
For no voters, it is disappointing to learn that their neighbours do not agree with them and maybe they are personally not gaining anything
One or two landlords are thanking their lucky stars that their schemes fall outside the ballot guidance so that they can push through schemes which residents would never support. In the light of recent ballot results which demonstrate that communities can be trusted to make good decisions that affect their futures, those proposals’ days are numbered
This week, I have been procrastinating over our response to the Mayor of London’s Draft Homes for Londoners consultation. We love regeneration, not just for its own sake but because done well it can genuinely improve lives. But so many landlords seem to be hungry to realise land values at the expense of carrying local communities along with their plans. That is my major problem with the Guidance – that it stop shorts of giving existing communities a genuine say in the future of their homes and estates. In fact it even shies away from a test of opinion in case some conscientious independent tenants and leaseholders advisor interprets that as a ballot. It’s extremely short-sighted to believe that gentrification can continue at the current rate and surely nobody believes that there is not a price to pay for clearing working class residents from high land value areas.
Affordable homes can be built with the approval of residents, it’s not easy but infinitely doable. What is required is for landlords and their consultants to listen as well as speak. To develop business plans and programmes which protect or enhance the lifestyle of existing residents and place value on protecting affordable low cost renting options in the Capital.
Recently, I have heard planners talk about existing estates not being “dense enough”; landlords contemplating demolition of perfectly good social housing to maximise land use; and architects report that the requirement to make play provision is challenging. No wonder residents are angry. With thousands of families in temporary accommodation, nobody can argue with the need for more housing, indeed I have never heard a council tenant dispute the need for more housing they are the sector’s strongest champions. But turkeys will never vote for Christmas and tenants and leaseholders will never vote for redevelopment unless they can see something in it for them and the next generation.
So landlords must present proposals which protect secure tenancy rights, do not disadvantage leaseholders and create great places for people to live in. There will still be painful choices but surely we can get residents to agree that:
- Some blocks are beyond the end of their useful life (if they are)
- Garages and car-parking are less important than new homes and open space
- Community centres don’t have to be single storey standalone buildings
Certainly a compromise can be reached, and tenants will (and have in Hackney) vote in a ballot for good regeneration.
Failure to provide appropriately priced rented housing for the families of bus drivers (Sadiq Khan please note) or shared ownership options to which teachers can aspire will have a catastrophic on London’s economy and therefore the UK.