About Editors

Editor

Estate Watch

Demolition or neglect: Are the Mayor of London’s ballots offering tenants a fair choice?

WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE

Over 35,000 homes across more than 100 London estates are earmarked for or undergoing demolition according to Estate Watch, a new resource for affected communities.

This despite the Mayor of London’s Estate Regeneration Guidance (2018), which was supposed to give council tenants and leaseholders a better deal.

Launching today, the Estate Watch website has been produced by community organisations Just Space and London Tenants Federation (LTF) to provide tenants and residents with independent facts and resources about the realities of demolition and possible alternatives.

Since 2018, councils and housing associations seeking Mayoral funding for large housing schemes involving demolition of existing homes must obtain majority resident support through a ballot. 

“We’re hearing worrying reports that balloted communities are being offered a false choice: demolition or neglect,” said LTF and Just Space in a joint statement.

“Tenants must be fully informed and have meaningful choices before we get to a ballot. We’ve established Estate Watch in part because of concerns that that is not happening.”

Luise, a leaseholder on Camden’s West Kentish Town estate, which voted in favour of demolition earlier this year, described seeing council officers visiting residents in their homes while the ballot was taking place to ‘help’ them fill in the form. 

“They were upfront that they were pushing for it to be knocked down,” said Luise. “There was nothing impartial about the consultation. They’ve been deliberately and continuously neglecting the estate. We were basically told that if we voted against demolition the estate would be run down even further.” 

According to the Mayor’s Guidance, “when considering the option of demolishing and rebuilding homes, councils, housing associations and their partners should always consider alternative options to demolition first”.

“In our case we had to work really hard over a very long period of time to get the best that we could out of a demolition and rebuild scheme, but there was only ever one option on the table. Refurbishment was simply dismissed.” said Harry, an LTF rep from a Kingston estate, where residents have recently voted for demolition.

The new website provides tenants with key facts, tools and case studies to fight their corner and to try to engage on more equal terms in discussion about the future of their homes and communities. 

This includes research by academics at University of Leicester (UOL) and Kings College London (KCL) showing that long term uncertainty, depression and displacement were common experiences among both tenants and leaseholders undergoing demolition.

“Just Space and LTF have set up Estate Watch because the realities of ‘regeneration’ for resident communities are very different to what’s depicted on council websites and brochures,” said Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester. 

“It comes on the back of my 3-year ESRC research project into gentrification and displacement of council estate tenants and residents. 

“My research identified that 55,000 council homes had been demolished in estate renewal schemes since 1997 and as a rough estimate, about 131,000 tenants and leaseholders were displaced.”

**************************************

Over the last 3 years, Just Space and The London Tenants Federation have worked with the University of Leicester and King’s College London on a research project that has provided detailed evidence since 1997 of the displacement of London council tenants and leaseholders through regeneration schemes.

As part of this research, 120 in-depth interviews were carried out with tenants and residents on 6 different council estates undergoing regeneration: Aylesbury (Southwark), Gascoigne (Barking and Dagenham), Ocean (Tower Hamlets), Love Lane (Haringey), Pepys (Lewisham) and Carpenters estate (Newham). The interviews showed that many residents were forced out of their neighbourhoods leaving behind that precious network of friends, relatives and neighbours. The research has also shed light on the conditions many residents have been forced to live in – with essential repairs often neglected by the Council for years – and the uncertainty about the future, which created high level of anxiety and stress.

As the research project draws to a close, the EstateWatch website has been developed as a resource for communities on estates facing regeneration, to know their rights and to ensure that tenants’ and residents’ choices will be respected. We want to monitor each scheme as it progresses and make space for residents to add updated information about their estate in real time. This can be a precious tool to hold Councils across London and the Mayor to account and make sure that future regeneration schemes benefit existing local communities.

Boroughs & Covid-19: update

The London Forum of Amenity & Civic Societies —members of Just Space and one of the partners in our campaign to defend democracy & participation during the pandemic— has sent this update, reporting on their survey of London Boroughs by Paul Thornton:

“Following … two Zoom meetings and the many contributions from member societies, we have consolidated the current state of play and our recommendations on best practice in an interim report available on the London Forum website via this link.

In general, the picture is better than we might have imagined. The transfer of Planning online has gone reasonably smoothly, it has had benefits as well as drawbacks, and some of our greatest concerns (greater use of delegated powers, loss of speaking rights at Council committees etc) have either not materialised or been confined to a handful of boroughs.

The information about the changes brought on by Coronavirus on most boroughs’ websites, though, is poor. It may well be there somewhere, but it is mostly poorly organised and hard to find. We have therefore included in the above document a model of what should be included, and how it can be made more accessible. We will email this to the Head of Planning Service and the Chair of the Planning Committee in each London Borough in the next couple of days.”

In the full report (linked in para 1 above) is also the finding that few councils have given much thought, if any, to how community participation can be maintained, let alone improved – though there are a few positive signs and some suggestions from the Forum.

See previous post for more on the campaign by Just Space, London Forum, CPRE London, Friends of the Earth and TCPA.

 

 

Ministry defensive on virtual meetings

8 May: The Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the ministry responsible for the planning system in England) has responded to the letter from Just Space and a number of bigger and national networks in which we had defended transparent and democratic features of the planning system and called for government action.

The ministry’s reply is mainly defensive, arguing that their priority has been to keep the planning system functioning and to give local authorities the flexibility to innovate in how they do that. [The implication seems to be that it’s up to the council how they proceed; complain to them if you are unhappy.]

On the more positive side, though, the letter does say that the government expects councils “…to provide for full participation in the planning system by the public and the press…”

Our letter had been a joint one with the Campaign to Protect Rural England, CPRE London, Friends of the Earth, London Forum of Civic & Amenity Societies, and the Town and Country Planning Association (see previous post). The ministry reply in full is here MHLG Response 20200506

Just Space is now in discussion with the other organisations about further steps to be taken. Meanwhile we do need member organisations in London to keep a close watch on how their councils are behaving during the lockdown. Are decisions being made by smaller groups of councillors or delegated to officers to an increased degree? Is public access as good as before? How are councils handling consultations on local plans and other documents, as well as applications for permission? How are councils protecting the rights of those who cannot access online systems?

Watch this space and follow us on twitter at @JustSpace7.

Add a comment here below if that is easiest.

Don’t let Coronavirus be an excuse for making planning less democratic

SAFEGUARDING THE PUBLIC VOICE IN PLANNING IN THE COVID ERA
A joint statement by Just Space, CPRE London, Friends of the Earth and London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies 

published 27 April, 2020 to be sent to councillors, GLA officers and assembly members and others. Please circulate widely and discuss what we do next.  This was the subject of a segment in BBC Radio 4 The World Tonight on 27th April. Listen here or download as podcast. In news items at start, then report at about 13th minute.

The new Covid19 regulations for Local Authority meetings risk undermining the communitys role in the planning process, as decisions could be made in virtual committees and closed meetings for up to one year. 

The way the planning system operates, like so much else, is going through significant change as a result of the coronavirus. It is vital that the process is not distorted in ways which disadvantage the vital role of community groups in informing local planning decisions.  

While planning has an important role to play in economic recovery, we have found serious dangers in the way in which some councils are changing their decision-making processes, which could result in long-term damage to the interests of local communities and to the environment.

Our rapid review reveals that Councils are interpreting the new rules for virtual meetings in very different ways. Some are re-assembling their planning committees online, while others will make key major planning decisions in closed meetings or increase delegation to unelected planning officers. The ad hoc access to the democratic process creates an unfair postcode lotteryfor local communities. 

Under normal circumstances major planning decisions are made by a vote in open meetings of elected councillors, with speaking rights for applicants and objectors. Fairness and transparency are fundamental to every Local Authoritys constitution and to planning policy. These principles risk being eroded.

We are calling on the Secretary of State and Local Planning Authorities to safeguard the role of local communities in the planning process and ask them to respect six key principles

1.  No planning application normally decided by a committee should be decided using delegated or executive powers. 

2. Virtual meetings should be reliably live streamed on video, with speaking rights for public objectors / third party representatives, as with normal committee meetings. 

3. Councils should produce a report setting out how, under the Covid 19 regulations, they will follow best practice for the involvement of communities, particularly disadvantaged communities and those with less access to technology and broadband.

4. Councils should create, and promote widely, a designated website page giving full information on upcoming meetings and consultations, providing clear guidance to communities and third parties on how to take part.

5. Councils should look to extending deadlines attached to the determination of planning applications and responding to consultations. 

6. Any public referenda or votes associated with Estate Regeneration should be put on hold until there is a reliable, democratic way to vote, as has happened with the referenda for Neighbourhood Plans. 

The role of Government  

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) must do more to recognise the important role of communities in decision-making and to highlight the risks of failing to engage local communities. The input and expertise of communities and third parties can be critical to the creation of better, more resilient developments.  

We are calling on Ministers to temporarily relax or extend deadlines for the determination of planning applications, to take the pressure off councils while they make the necessary changes to their systems, and to provide further guidance to them. 

The pressure to keep the economy moving is not a reason to allow short-term, environmentally-damaging development that we may live to regret. 

27 April 2020

3 June: Lucy Rogers writes in The Planner https://www.theplanner.co.uk/opinion/democracy-shouldnt-suffer-just-because-the-show-must-go-on

See also web site of the London Forum

Download PDF version of this statement – suitable for printing or sending to others: Statement Planning in the Covid Era

Virtual meetings

Because of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) crisis none of our member organisations can hold their meetings and many have been seeking advice on how to switch to online meetings.

In response we are putting together some advice for community organisations, drawing. on Just Space member organisations and a wide network of people across Europe facing the same problems.  It’s in the form of a document which anyone can read, print or edit so please add your own experience where you think that can make it more helpful. In just 24 hours it’s already become worth publishing. It’s at
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qDOcXzDdA0hw_PBKT9txvVSKLIk4FQCi-9FugnsNVqc/edit?usp=sharing

Continue reading

More ‘reforms’ for English planning

14 March 2020 The government publishes proposals for changes to planning in England at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/robert-jenrick-plans-for-the-future-to-get-britain-building

Paul Burnham comments: Both this document and the letter to the Mayor (see previous post) share this objective, ‘Everyone should have the chance to save for and buy their own home so they can have a stake in society.’

In other words, home ownership is seen as full citizenship, and to be a renter (or homeless) is to be outside society, and not to be able or willing to share in its progress – or to be concerned about ‘society’ in the same way.
In the early Nineteenth Century, the ‘stake in the country argument’ was used to deny those without land (by ownership or tenancy) the right to vote; and this remained the case until the electoral reforms of 1918 and then in the 1940s.
Okay back to 2020, it’s worth noting that there is little or no distinction in planning policy within ‘market’ housing between owner occupied and private rent properties: the ‘best’ and the worst tenures for residents are simply shunted together as one.   The fate of the poor in practice is thus private renting, and it is private landlordism rather than home ownership which is being supported here.
This is all packed with bad news. The use and extension of permitted development rights for developers will be a big campaigning point.
Kind regards
Paul Burnham
Secretary
Haringey Defend Council Housing

 

Breaking: Minister boxes Mayor’s ears

Today, Friday 13th, the Secretary of State wrote a very aggressive letter to the Mayor of London, chastising him for the inadequate performance of earlier plans (notably the under-production of housing) and using his powers to direct changes in the London Plan.

The Plan is thus – in effect – in Special Measures.

Letter and an annex specifying re-wordings are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/london-plan-letter-from-the-secretary-of-state-for-housing

He takes it for granted that escalating house prices are the result of inadequate building and that more building would be the solution, so he is extremely critical of the Mayor’s failure to build and will not accept the Plan without a list of changes (detailed in the Annex).

The government priority is the housing ladder and not social rented housing. He favours family housing but otherwise most of his points are contrary to the aims of Just Space and its member groups. We were already highly critical of the Plan on multiple grounds of worsening inequality and on environmental grounds. How much worse it’s going to be now.

— Mandatory residents’ ballots on regeneration estates, which have been a key win for us (& are recommended in his own ministry’s guidance), he calls ‘onerous’;
— Expansion of Opportunity Areas and proposes further jacking up densities there and in other already-dense areas;
— Wants the low-to-mid density areas (ie the suburbs) protected with ‘gentle densification’;
— Deletes “No Net Loss” of Industrial Land;
— Metropolitan Open Land quantum can be reduced.
This drastic action by the minister would have made it impossible for the Plan to be revised and adopted before the pre-election shut-down (called purdah) but the election has now been postponed until 2021 so the Mayor can go ahead…
Please let us have comments below or links to assessments and analysis. We’ll report further soon.
A first summary is by a firm of planning consultants, Lichfields, who comment from an implicitly pro-developer standpoint: https://lichfields.uk/blog/2020/march/13/housing-secretary-directs-amendments-to-the-draft-london-plan
Meenakshi Sharma (Ilford NOISE) writes:  I have received a tweet from Assembly Member Andrew Boff saying We can only convene if the Mayor presents a plan to us. If he does so we will’. I have asked him if it is solely up to the Mayor to present the plan or if the other LA members can ask for him to do so.  

Labour leader defends Plan

Following our letter of 3 February asking members of the London Assembly to reject the Plan (our letter is the previous post here), we received a prompt reply on 5 February from Nicky Gavron, planning spokesperson for the Labour group of AMs. She writes:

Thank you for your recent email regarding the upcoming Plenary Session at the London Assembly to approve the Mayor of London’s new London Plan. [1000h at City Hall, Thursday 6 February, open to all – ed]

Writing and implementing the London Plan is one of the most significant powers the Mayor has, and as Assembly Members our responsibility to scrutinise and approve the plan

As Planning Spokesperson for the Labour Group on the Assembly, I am responding to the points you raised with my colleagues below.

Procedure

Although the Assembly is considering this Plan before the final version, with any amendments from the Secretary of State, is available, one of the primary responsibilities of the Assembly is to scrutinise the work of the Mayor, and the version we are considering on Thursday is the London Plan as the Mayor intends. It means we can scrutinise the Mayor’s policies and decisions, rather than allow issues to be deflected to the Secretary of State.

The Assembly has also agreed that if/when the Secretary of State does respond to the Intend to Publish version of the plan with significant revisions, we will hold a further session to scrutinise the impact of any changes. We have also received legal advice that the relevant legislation does not allow for the Assembly to reject directions made by the Secretary of State to the Plan.

Policy

The London Assembly Labour Group has worked now over two and a half years to challenge the Mayor and his team, with views from community groups, constituents and our own research, to improve the Plan at each stage of consultation. Through our work, we have secured significant improvements to policies including: affordable housing, family-sized housing, industrial land, biodiversity assessments, air quality mitigation and waste capacity.

The Mayor’s Plan sets out a bold vision to deliver sustainable economic growth for London in the coming 20 years, and will help the city tackle some of the biggest challenges we face, not least the housing crisis and the climate emergency. We do not believe that it is a perfect plan, but it is a significant step forward from the policies of the previous Mayor – which delivered record low numbers of social housing – and the London Assembly Labour Group will continue to pressure the Mayor so that any supplementary guidance and revisions to the plan best meet the needs of all Londoners. We will continue to hold the Mayor to account and monitor the delivery of development

The Plan seeks to deliver high levels of affordable housing to meet London’s urgent needs, and sets a strategic target of 50% of all homes to be affordable, of which up to 70% should be at social rent levels – matching the ambition set out in the first London Plan in 2004, since lost by the last Mayor. We pushed the Mayor to increase this further to reflect the massive and urgent need for social housing in London, and will continue to make this case in the coming months and years.

The new Plan introduces many policies which will protect existing social and other types of low cost housing. Policy H8 makes clear that all alternative options should be considered in full before the demolition of existing affordable homes. Any social rent homes that are demolished must be re-provided with the same or increased floorspace, and in order to receive Mayoral support, there must be a ballot of residents ahead of any estate demolition, in line with the Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, implemented in 2018.

The Plan must also be seen in the context of non-planning and national Government policies. The planning system alone cannot deliver the levels of social housing we need. The Mayor has joined many others to state that the current “cross-subsidy” model – whereby private sale developments fund affordable housing through Section 106 – is broken and will never deliver what we need in London.

Direct grant funding is responsible for the majority of affordable housing in London, but grant has been cut considerably since 2010. The Mayor has secured £4.82 billion from Government over five years, and has delivered a record number of affordable housing starts since City Hall took responsibility for this in 2012. But in order to build what London needs would require £4.9 billion per year in funding from Government, seven times what London currently gets. Furthermore, councils and the Mayor are hampered in their efforts by the continuation of the Right to Buy, which over 40 years has drained London of much need council homes. Since the Government “reinvigorated” Right to Buy in 2012-13, councils have been forced to sell more homes than new social homes have been built in London.

The first Good Growth objective is about building strong and inclusive communities and talks specifically about tackling inequalities and building a more inclusive city. Independent Planning Inspectors agreed that the Plan’s policies will tackle the disadvantages faced by groups with protected characteristics, and the Plan implements much better policies for marginalised groups, including Gypsies and Travellers. The Mayor has resisted Government and introduced a more progressive and encompassing definition of this group to ensure that the community’s needs are properly assessed. The Mayor will lead a new London-wide needs assessment of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation, and ensure that new targets are set to all boroughs. In addition, 10% of all new homes should be fully wheelchair accessible, and all others should be accessible and adaptable for people with disabilities.

The London Assembly Labour Group has worked to improve the industrial land policies of the new Plan to ensure better protections for “behind the high streets” light-industrial premises and workspaces. These are the kind of SMEs that ensure London thrives, but are often “non-designated” industrial sites, which makes up 36% of all industrial land in London. The Plan has been strengthened to better protect these sites from residential development, as part of an overall “no net loss” approach to industrial land across the city. The Plan also sets out London-wide policies on affordable workspace for the first time, encouraging boroughs to secure below market-rate workspace for community groups, charities and social enterprises.

The Plan seeks to meet the Mayor’s target for London to be 50% green by setting requirements for development proposals to incorporate green infrastructure, achieve biodiversity net gain, avoid damaging mature woodlands and protect Metropolitan Open Land and Green Belt. The Labour Group and the Mayor have stood firm in protecting green belt designations, despite Government objections. This is one of the key areas of disagreement between the Mayor and the Government. Biodiversity net gain, a policy adopted early on in the development of this London Plan, has now been brought forward at national level. Labour Group secured an improvement in the Plan by noting that biodiversity net gain must be achieved within a limited distance from the original loss.

The Plan builds on the Mayor’s targets to clean up London’s air, we secured a requirement for all development proposals to be at least air quality neutral as well as major developments being air quality positive, i.e. improving London’s air quality. In practice, this means they must use cleaner heating technologies that do not emit toxic fumes, promote clean travel and contain green infrastructure.

The Plan contains some of the most ambitious energy efficiency policies of any planning policy across the country. The Mayor has set a requirement for new developments to reduce their carbon emissions by 35% above what is required by current buildings regulations, in large part through energy efficiency measures. This means that London’s new buildings will be some of the most affordable to run in the country. Furthermore, by promoting the uptake of new low- and zero-carbon heating technologies, the Plan is helping to prepare the industry to fully decarbonise heat, which has historically been harder to decarbonise than electricity. Major developments are required to offset the rest of their operational carbon by contributing cash sums to local funds. This is helping to move London towards meeting the Mayor’s target to be net zero-carbon by 2030 and zero-carbon by 2050.

[end]. Just Space letter, to which this is a reply.

 

Assembly urged to reject Plan

Call to reject this London Plan

Letter sent to all Members of the London Assembly on 3 February 2020

On 6 February the Assembly will consider the Mayor’s draft new London Plan before the GLA has received the Secretary of State’s formal response to the Plan.  The SoS has written that he will provide his response on or by 17 February, so the 6 February debate is procedurally unfair and irrational as Assembly members should have an opportunity to study the response before deciding on the Plan.  We question the logic and lawfulness of this 6 February decision and urge Assembly Members to defer their decision to the 6 March meeting.

The draft new London Plan should not be adopted. Just Space and its many member groups challenged the draft plan on many deficiencies throughout its progress, have chalked up some small gains but it remains a Plan which will further deepen inequalities in the city and fall badly short on environment.

The emperor has no clothes. We call upon the Assembly to send it back for a complete re-think.

Like its predecessors, the London Plan reinforces the dominance of property and financial interests in the development of the city, at the expense of low- and middle-income Londoners, the environment and the ordinary economy.

Specifically, the draft Plan is bad because of its…

  • Deepening inequalities and poverty, particularly in the provision of cheap housing;
  • Failure to discharge the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) from the outset of the planning process. If the Mayor had considered the PSED properly from the outset – and the duty to consult those groups properly – he would have had some chance of achieving the ‘Good Growth’ he favours.
  • Failure adequately to consider alternative strategies, notably the Just Space community-led plan of 2016. (LSE London made a similar challenge, arguing the need for an explicit evaluation of alternative strategies beyond the London built-up area.)
  • A mistaken approach to housing based on maximising total housing numbers, rather than protecting and growing the stock of council and low-rent housing which is London’s overwhelming need. This mistake will lead to the backlog of unmet housing need getting even worse in the coming years, families being sent miles from home if they become homeless and to those who do find housing spending so much on rent that they can neither save nor enjoy London.
  • Failure adequately to protect the jobs and services in London’s industrial areas, in and behind high streets and in town centres as land is switched to produce yet more expensive homes. This failing makes the economy less robust, increases the need to travel and would have regressive effects on many protected equalities groups.
  • Weak approaches to climate change and bio-diversity, lacking urgency, tangible measures and timelines of target outcomes. failure to meet the requirements of the UK Habitats Directive in concluding that the London Plan will not have adverse impacts on Natura 2000 sites, and the last minute removal without consultation of Policy G6 C(3) which required Boroughs in their development plans to provide net biodiversity gain when harm to a SINC is unavoidable. [Second sentence added on web after the letter was sent to Assembly Members.]
  • The absence of convincing ways of paying for social and physical infrastructure without cutting the provision of low-rent housing; contributing to unsupportable increases in housing density and land price inflation, especially in Opportunity Areas which are supposed to contribute so much of the housing we need.
  • Continuing failure to devise and require transparent and democratic mechanisms for the designation, planning and implementation of Opportunity Areas.

Download PDF version of this letter: Reject this London Plan 03022020