On the 13th July Lambeth’s cabinet will be asked to endorse the full rebuilding of Cressingham Gardens estate. This means that all residents will live in a warm, dry, decent home with enough bedrooms to meet the needs of their family. Every resident homeowner will have the opportunity to stay living on the estate as part of the Cressingham community and, crucially, there will be an increase in the number of homes for council rent for local families. The decision will be controversial, but it is the right decision to make.
Over two fifths of residents on Cressingham Gardens say that they are dissatisfied with their home; two thirds of residents say that they live in damp and disrepair. As a Labour council we have a duty and a commitment to ensure that none of our tenants live in those conditions.
It's why, in 2012, we launched the £490m Lambeth Housing Standard programme, one of the biggest single investments into council housing anywhere in the country. But we have always been upfront about the significant financial challenge of meeting the full cost of the refurbishments after the Tory-Liberal government cut our grant from the anticipated quarter of a billion pounds to just £100m. This cut left Lambeth £56m short and in 2012 we were clear that the shortfall would have to be made up, in part, by the regeneration of some of our estates, rather than just leaving tenants with no prospect of improvements to homes in very poor disrepair. At Cressingham this has meant being upfront that refurbishment would be unaffordable but that doing nothing for existing residents would be unacceptable.
Since 2012 we've also seen London’s housing crisis, which affects Lambeth as badly as any other London borough, get progressively worse. Where hundreds of social homes used to be built each year by housing associations, with funding from a Labour government and a Labour mayor, we now anticipate only 40 will be built this year. While the supply of homes has plummeted, demand has soared. 1800 homeless families in Lambeth are now in temporary accommodation, the vast majority are families with children. 1300 families are classed as being severely overcrowded, meaning they lack more than two bedrooms, which is no fit place for a parent to try to raise their children. And there are now as many people on Lambeth's waiting list as there are council homes in the borough. As a Labour council we are committed to ensuring that our communities remain mixed and diverse and we can do that by investing in the future of our estates. We simply cannot reject the opportunity to build more social housing, to build more homes for rent and to offer the hope and security of a permanent home to those families caught up in the housing crisis.
Where private developers are building we're doing all we can to get more genuinely affordable homes. Across Lambeth we continue to meet our target for 40% of all new homes to be affordable, against a London average of 28% and a scandalously low 13% over the river in Westminster. But that doesn't get away from the fact that there simply aren't enough social homes being built - and if we don't take the lead as a council then nobody else will do it for us. That's why we're committed to our manifesto pledge for 1000 extra homes for council rent for local families, but we're also going to be upfront that we don't have lots of spare land in this borough and that means building to a higher density on some estates in order to give the chance of a permanent and decent home to local families.
At Cressingham the debate has gone on for over two and a half years, far too long for residents to be uncertain about what will happen to their homes. The process has not been a good one. Even in the best of circumstances, having politicians and council officials, neither of us trusted at the best of times, coming in to talk about the possible demolition of that most precious commodity: your own home, is going to be difficult; at Cressingham, probably more so than it needed to be.
Opinion on the estate continues to be divided and much more nuanced and broad than many people have been led to believe. In the test of opinion a third of residents oppose total rebuilding, a third are in favour and the remaining third weren't firmly one way or another. This lack of consensus doesn't give the council a clear mandate to act - but we do need to take a decision.
Existing tenants deserve a better home, and without rebuilding there’s no hope of delivering that. Families and children stuck in temporary accommodation or insecurely and inadequately housed in the private rented sector need homes built, and without rebuilding estates like Cressingham there’s no chance of delivering them. The proposal for cabinet will enable all existing residents to stay living on the estate and will increase the number of social homes.
Over the next year existing residents will be able to select master planners for the estate and be involved in design work to deliver a strong and diverse neighbourhood to offer the hope and chance of a decent home to hundreds of local families. That’s the right decision for the people of Cressingham Gardens and the right decision for our borough.