Housing: Aiming high

By James Renoux-Wood

Housing continues to dominate local and national government agendas. The borough's cabinet member for planning, investment and new homes, Councillor Matthew Bennett, speaks to Lambeth magazine about how the local authority is tackling the major issues

The housing crisis continues to affect places up and down the country and in inner London boroughs such as Lambeth the problem is particularly acute. What do you believe were the contributing factors to this?

London is one of the greatest cities in the world to live and there are few better places than Lambeth. From the banks of the Thames in the north to Gipsy Hill in the south, Lambeth is one of the most diverse and open places on the planet. People from all over the world come to build a life for themselves and their families. Increasingly though, living in Lambeth and London has become more expensive and difficult for those on low and middle incomes.

The success of our capital has meant that more and more people want to live here, and that’s a good thing, but it’s been clear for some time that our housing market isn’t delivering the homes that our communities need. Rather than correcting that market failure, we’ve had a government which has made the problem worse. Deep cuts to affordable housing budgets in 2010 have seen affordable housing levels fall as grants disappeared. The way viability testing has come from the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] has seen land values inflated with serious consequences for affordable housing.

What is the council doing to honour its affordable housing pledges? What made the council launch its own housing company?

We are doing all we can to drive up the level of affordable housing in private developments. We've introduced transparency in development viability and introduced a clawback power, meaning if developers make more profit than their viability test forecasted, then the council will take 80% of that additional profit and spend it on affordable housing.

But we know that fighting for a bigger slice of the private pie won't solve the housing crisis; we have to build homes ourselves if we’re to try and meet the demand from local people for a better place to live. We are building 1,000 homes at council level rent, delivering the first new council homes for a generation, with a target of ensuring that at least 40% of homes on all housing developments are affordable. Our new homebuilding includes using council-owned small sites that can be developed for new housing. We’ve set up Homes for Lambeth, a 100% council-owned company.

We will use council land, infill on estates and rebuilding others that are of poor quality and which the council cannot afford to refurbish, to build a new generation of the highest quality social housing for local families. These decisions have not been easy, but we’re committed to rebuilding those estates with no loss of social housing, building additional homes at council rent, providing a new home for every existing council tenant.

How important are partnerships with the private sector in dealing with the housing shortage? Why do you consider Mount Anvil's Keybridge scheme a good example of how this can work?

Private sector investment has been hugely important for Lambeth. In the absence of state funding, it's been the key driver of new homes and has created hundreds of local jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities. We’ve also been able to work creatively with partners to secure investment and improvement in public services, which are also thinly stretched by central government. In Vauxhall, we've worked closely with Mount Anvil on its Keybridge house scheme, which is delivering 595 new homes. We’ve been able to do that alongside its delivery of a much-needed expansion to Wyvil Road Primary School.

The school expansion will see an extra 360 extra school places created to accommodate the growing community in Vauxhall, with 12 classrooms and new playspaces. In Brixton, the council worked in partnership with Muse to deliver the Your New Town Hall project. This has seen the council move from 14 office buildings into just two, which will save the council £4.5 million a year in running costs, freeing up money to invest in front-line services. The development is creating 200 homes in central Brixton, and is almost 50% affordable, with 55 homes for social rent for local families.

The full version of this article appears in issue two of Lambeth magazine.

Click here to get a free copy



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