Lambeth Council have known for at least four years that their award-winning housing estate redevelopment project was ‘not viable’.
The eviction of council tenants from Cressingham Gardens and the plan to develop much of the site into private apartments is part of a housing ‘policy’ in the neighboring borough that dates back to when Steve Reed was the head of the council there.
Reed has been MP for Croydon North since 2012.
When he became an MP, one of his key aides in Parliament was Matthew Bennett, a councilor for Lambeth and, from 2018 until May this year, a member of the council’s cabinet responsible for Cressingham Gardens demolition policy.
Yesterday the Brixton Buzz The website reported that details released as part of a Freedom of Information request showed Lambeth’s own consultants Mott MacDonald considered the council’s plan for the regeneration of the Cressingham Gardens estate not was not viable.
It was in April 2017 that Mott MacDonald was awarded a £6.7million contract to manage the redevelopment of Cressingham Gardens. “They were then mysteriously fired in 2019,” reports the Brixton Buzz said.
“Since then activists have been trying to find out why Mott MacDonald was sacked… We now know that at least part of the answer is that they were saying things in Lambeth that they didn’t want to hear.”
Reports by Mott MacDonald obtained under FoI show the 464-home Cressingham scheme that Lambeth Cabinet approved in 2016 would result in a loss of more than £50million. Under this program, almost half of the new homes – 227 – would be built for private sale or condominium.
According to the Mott MacDonald report, the only way to make the redevelopment of Cressingham in Lambeth viable would be to build between 800 and 1,000 homes on the sensitive site near Brockwell Park. Even with this volume of new housing, less than a third of housing would be social housing. According to the proposals, none of the new houses would have four bedrooms; Cressingham Gardens has supplied over 40 four-bedroom family homes.
And according to Mott MacDonald, even if Lambeth built 1,000 homes on the site, it would earn them a profit of… £44.
The FoI material strongly suggests that the 800-1,000 housing option would also not be in line with the Mayor of London’s planning policies on housing density. Under the 2018 version of the London plan, only 710 houses could be built on a site the size of Cressingham, well below the number Lambeth would need to make the project viable.
Brixton Buzz reports, “Lambeth Council has been sitting on this ticking time bomb for over four years. Knowing that their proposals were not viable, they continued regardless, against the wishes of the community.
“It’s no wonder ex-Councillor Matthew Bennett, who was the cheerleader for this program, did a runner before the chickens came home to roost.”
Bennett, who became deputy leader of the council in 2021, resigned as councilor in the local elections in May.
Council-run housing corporations appear to present town hall leaders with more problems – and debt – than solutions. In Croydon, Brick by Brick bankrupted the Labor-led council. In Lambeth, it’s Homes for Lambeth creating multi-million pound problems for Steve Reed’s former colleagues.
Part of HfL’s mission is the clearance of several major housing estates, including the architecturally notable Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill estate in Upper Norwood, evicting council tenants living in council housing there in order to build new homes primarily for a lucrative private sale.
Homes for Lambeth was founded in 2017 with the stated aim of delivering 1,000 new homes. Like BxB, HfL has become a money pit. Its subsidiary, HFL Build, posted a loss of £8.5m through March 2021. In January this year, labour-controlled Lambeth Council agreed to loan HfL £7.5m extra pounds.
Now the Mott MacDonald report appears to confirm that Lambeth Council leaders, including Reed’s former aide Bennett, had known for years that one of Homes for Lambeth’s flagship schemes would be ‘unsustainable’, before meeting these latest drains on the finances of their district.
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