London social housing residents urge rewrite of "worse than useless" development plans

by Matthew Ponsford | @mjponsford | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 14 March 2017 14:29 GMT

A wall mural is seen by a housing estate in east London, Britain, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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"The mayor's estate guidance draft ... doesn't offer a way for tenants to have a real say in the futures of their estates" - Sian Berry, London Assembly member for the Green Party

By Matthew Ponsford

LONDON, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Residents of London's public housing blocks will be left without a voice in construction projects that could demolish their homes unless drastic changes are made to the Mayor of London's plans, according to some city politicians and estate residents.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is asking for feedback by March 14 on draft guidelines for development projects on London's social housing estates - large-scale complexes of apartments built mostly by government for low income residents.

Khan said projects will have to meet these guidelines to be eligible for his planning applications support or grants from a 3.15 billion pound ($3.8 billion) fund for London housing.

The plan is intended to "put local people at the heart" of dozens of schemes reshaping the city's skyline by demolishing or upgrading housing estates, and guarantee low-income Londoners a right to remain in central areas, said Khan.

London's estates, many built in the 1960s and '70s, have become flashpoints in the capital's housing squeeze as local government-led schemes have bulldozed concrete high-rises to erect higher density modern developments.

After consulting with residents, Sian Berry, London Assembly member for the Green Party, said the guidelines are "worse than useless" and "need rewriting from scratch".

Berry, a member of the assembly's housing committee, said rules for local governments and developers are too vague to be enforced, and criticised the mayor for rowing back on a promise there would be no demolitions without a ballot for residents.

"The mayor's estate guidance draft is extremely disappointing and puts thousands of homes at risk because it doesn't offer a way for tenants to have a real say in the futures of their estates," Berry told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A spokesman for Khan, who grew up on a south London estate, said the mayor is committed to getting resident support for projects and will respond to public feedback before guidelines are published later this year.

Estates across London accommodate more than 660,000 households, according to a report by Savills estate agency.

Academics have criticised the Mayor's guide for failing to say which housing blocks are defined as estates.

As average London property prices soared 90 percent in the past decade, more than 30,000 new homes have been built by estate regeneration schemes, according to the London Assembly which works with London councils and the government on issues.

While the number of private properties on estates has soared during these schemes, 8,000 homes rented at below-market social rates were bulldozed and not replaced, the report said.

A group of academics, activists, and estate residents convened by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council demanded an independent "Estate Regeneration Board" be set up to monitor if regeneration projects met any new guidelines.

Their response said guidelines lacked clear conditions under which regeneration could go ahead and asked why the guidance is overwhelmingly written for institutions leading the construction projects rather than the estate residents it aims to empower.

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(Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

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