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Southwark Labour's Housing Record: The Aylesbury Estate

29 September 2017

At this week’s Labour Party conference there was real energy and enthusiasm for public investment in social housing and a willingness to tackle the scandal of homelessness from delegates, members, and Jeremy Corbyn in his speech. At a time when local government and social housing is under attack by the Tories this clearly shows that only Labour has the ambition to build the homes our country needs.


Labour councils like Southwark are in an extremely difficult situation, our budgets for delivering public services have been cut by 40% and all support from central government to support our council home stock has been completely removed, and for new affordable housing it has been slashed. One of the main reasons we were elected to run Southwark Council in 2010 – after 8 years of Tory and Lib Dem rule – was because of the dire state of housing in our borough. Southwark is the biggest landlord in London with 55,000 homes, in 2010 barely 50% met the decent homes standard, repairs and maintenance were abysmal with an outsourced call centre that was failing our residents, and there was no plan in place to invest in our homes. Residents repeatedly told us this on the doorstep and were desperate for change. So we took immediate action and seven years on we have invested £425m in our council homes. The decent homes rate is now 93% with an ongoing programme to continue pushing this higher, the call-centre has been brought back in house and is now based in Peckham, and after a borough-wide consultation with our residents we now started the biggest council home building programme in the country.


However, some of our estates – like the Aylesbury Estate which is a poorly designed and constructed estate – are beyond repair and at the end of their lives. The heating system is on the Aylesbury Estate is fundamentally flawed, the flats are riddled with damp and leaks, and the design of the estate – based round cars rather than people – blocks the estate off from its neighbouring area. With no support from the Tory or Lib Dem governments we consulted with our residents on what should replace the estate and following a competitive tender we appointed Notting Hill Housing Trust as our development partner.


In our agreement with Notting Hill we have guaranteed 50% affordable housing on the new development with 75% at social rents for 250 years, with the remainder made up of shared equity and shared ownership homes to help leaseholders from the estate stay in the area. The remaining housing will be private and will cross-subsidise the affordable homes, this will also mean there is a mixed community. With no funding from central government we were not willing to leave our tenants in substandard homes.


By working in partnership with the local community the plans we developed also include new parks, a new GP health centre, a new council run library, extra care housing for vulnerable residents, over 55s housing, and homes for people with learning disabilities. The estate overlooks the amazing Burgess Park which we have invested in and is a real success. Residents of the Aylesbury told us they wanted these views shared so blocks of all tenures will have stunning views over the green heart of our borough. We have also invested with Notting Hill and partners in education, support, employment and young people from the estate and surrounding area – for example in the past 18 months 685 unemployed residents have received support, and 200 children enjoy activities every week.


The claim made by some that we have forced tenants out of the area is another misconception.  95% of tenants from the Aylesbury who have moved still live in the borough with the majority in the same or neighbouring postcode to the Aylesbury, and all tenants have the right to return. Because we operate a choice-based letting system our tenants decide where they move to, and if they want to remain a council tenant then they can.


We also have a range of support in place for leaseholders who live on the estate (for speculative private landlords we offer the statutory requirement of market value plus 7.5%), in addition to finding a home themselves there is shared ownership, shared equity (where you don’t pay rent on the part of the new home you don’t own), or if they want and qualify they can become a Notting Hill or council tenant. We have already reached voluntary agreement with 286 leaseholders, it can be difficult sometimes because people’s properties aren’t worth as much as they think but there is an independent legal process to determine this and we provide support for their legal costs. 


As mentioned above following an extensive consultation with our residents we have now embarked on the most ambitious council home build programme in the country, by 2043 we will build 11,000 new council homes. We have already completed the first 360 with another 173 on site another 1,000 being consulted on and designed in partnership with local residents. Contrary to what some people think these new council homes – let on secure council tenancies at council rents – are being built all over our borough, including near The Shard, by the River Thames on Blackfriars Road, in Camberwell, Peckham, Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, Walworth, and Dulwich.


We have also taken a stand against poor practices in the construction sector and we insist on the London Living Wage as a minimum, local apprentices being trained, trades unions recognition, and we have tight anti-blacklisting rules. We are doing all of this from our own resources, with a Labour government investing in social and council housing again we could do even more. With the clear and passionate commitments from Jeremy Corbyn at Labour Party Conference this week he has shown there is an alternative to the attack on the social fabric of our country that Theresa May is trying to force on our country. Labour councils like Southwark are showing what Labour can do in power locally with limited resources, with a Labour government we can and will do even more to tackle the housing crisis.  


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