Clapham Old Town is the best new public space in London

I’m delighted to report that Lambeth’s Clapham Old Town Regeneration Project was awarded the prize for ‘Best New Public Space’ at this week’s prestigious London Planning Awards.15822170093_2dcf1b4c21_z

Councillor Haselden, our excellent ‘design champion’, was there to accept the award.

Contenders were nominated by the property sector with the final shortlist judged by a panel of experts from the GLA, London First, the Royal Town Planning Institute and London Councils.

The Clapham Old Town Regeneration Project was a joint venture between Lambeth Council and Transport for London, in close collaboration with local residents.

Launched last June, the project has brought a new town square, wide step-free pavements with new zebra crossings, cycle paths and cycle stands, extensive landscaping with over 100 trees planted and new public seating to the area.

The work done was specifically designed to remain true to the historical look and feel of the area whilst giving space back to pedestrians for public enjoyment.

This is a great example of what can be achieved through working collaboratively with partners and residents. The project has delivered a fantastic, and now much valued local public space, that has now been rightly recognised for its contribution to the look and feel of London as a whole.

Councillor Haselden said, ‘It’s been quite a privilege to have been part of this project from the outset and to be its champion throughout the extensive consultation to completion. Clapham people shaped this design and are rightly showing pride in their new town square and attractive streets. It was an intricate piece of work and I congratulate all our partners and particularly Lambeth’s project team for their consistency and professionalism as they developed the successful bid and delivered a transformational scheme in this complex area.’

Clapham

Community Shop, West Norwood: Using surplus food for a social purpose

It was a pleasure to be invited this morning to the opening of the UK’s first full scale ‘social supermarket’. Called the Community Shop, it opened today in Vale Street in West Norwood.

Community Shop in West Norwood

Community Shop in West Norwood

The shop will offer heavily discounted food to 700 members facing financial hardship, in receipt of certain benefits like Income Support. The shop will sell surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.

This isn’t about giving people food that it is old or past it’s self by date. It is estimated that around 3.5 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK before it even reaches people’s shopping basket, even though about 10% of that would be good enough to eat – this is simply because its packaging has been damaged or mislabelled. In other cases, food has simply been over-ordered.

Not only will members be able to buy food at a discounted price, they will be offered other help and support, such as with getting back into work or with debt.

It’s a fantastic project and I’m really pleased that Community Shop decided to pick Lambeth for their first location and that we were able to help them secure a venue.

You can find out more about the Community Shop here.

We should be shouting louder about our record in local government

Cross-posted to Progress Online.

If we are to win in May, we must win back the public’s trust in our ability to manage the economy.

History tells us that won’t be easy.

After the Winter of Discontent it took Labour four elections and eighteen years to regain power. After Black Wednesday, it was three defeats and eighteen years before the Tories were voted in again.

At the last election, Labour suffered a huge loss of trust in our ability to run the economy.

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 was not caused by overspending on the NHS in England. But the Tories narrative – that the deficit is the sole product of Labour overspending has stuck.

There are many ways we should tackle this myth and our economic offer is obviously a big part of it. But one thing we should certainly do is shout louder about our record in local government.

Over the past four years local councils have been dealt a savage hand. In Lambeth our budget has been cut by 50%.

But rather than setting illegal budgets or hiking council tax, Labour councils have behaved responsibly, set about balancing the books and found new and innovative ways to do more with less.

In Lambeth we’ve changed our focus so we now look at the 50% of resources we do have, and how we can use that most effectively – rather than thinking only about the 50% we have lost.

It’s this approach that has allowed us to build the first new council homes in a generation and we will build 1,000 more over the next four years. A number of these will be at Somerleyton Road, where, rather than going into partnership with a private developer, the council has chosen to act as its own developer. This gives us more control over what is built so we can focus on building affordable homes and a thriving local community rather than making a profit. The homes will all be for rent and will be set up as a new housing cooperative to make sure tenancies and rents reflect what the community want.

Likewise, thanks to a pioneering new funding model we aim to protect the future of our libraries for years to come. We want to invest in a £10m endowment pot, which will generate around £400,000 per year to cover running costs.

There are countless examples of Labour councils elsewhere showing that our talk about delivering fairness in tough times is not an ambition – it’s a reality. Newham’s Workplace Scheme has helped get more than 17,000 local people into work in five years. Blackpool provides free breakfasts to all primary school children. 54 Labour Councils pay the Living wage.

The Autumn Statement confirmed that David Cameron and George Osborne have now failed every test and broken every promise they made on the economy. Borrowing is a staggering £219 billion more than he planned and working people are now £1,600 a year worse off on average.

As we approach the next election we have good reason to highlight our track record. After all countless Labour councils have succeeded where Cameron and Osborne have failed – by balancing the books, protecting the most vulnerable and keeping household bills down.

Devolving power to our communities

The idea of devolution has been talked about a lot since the Scottish referendum a few weeks ago. The feeling that the current balance of power needs to change – in some way yet to be defined – has really captivated people.

Personally I do think that change is possible and even necessary, but I don’t believe an English parliament or ‘English votes for English laws’ is the way forward. To me that just sounds like extra layers of bureaucracy, when what ordinary people are crying out for is to better connected to the decisions that affect them.

For this reason, I strongly support the call for greater devolution of powers to our cities; the ‘City Centred’ approach.

However, when we talk about London in this – rather than say Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool – people generally tend to assume London already has the power it needs. Either by simple proximity to Westminster, or through assuming that we got our settlement with the reform to the GLA and the Mayor of London role in 2000.

But the picture for many London boroughs like Lambeth is quite different. We house some of the most deprived communities in the country, and record some of the highest levels of unemployment and other complex problems. Our populations are vast and growing, yet meanwhile our funding has been dramatically cut – in Lambeth we’ve lost 50% of our budget since 2010.

As a council we hold some really significant responsibilities; whether it’s housing our growing population, safeguarding the most vulnerable in our communities or keeping our streets clean and safe.

But in trying to meet the needs of our communities, we often find ourselves stymied by a lack of powers – such as to tax and spend as we see fit to invest into building more homes, stimulating local jobs and growth or investing in children’s early years. Simply – if we were better able to manage our own income, we would be better able to deliver on the things our residents tell us are their priority.

Furthermore, the devolution London has been handed so far doesn’t necessarily work for us. Often the powers of the London Mayor conflict with our ambitions for our borough. That couldn’t be made clearer than in our commitment to building more affordable housing, where amongst other frustrations, the Mayor of London has allowed developers to set ‘affordable’ rent as 80% of market rents – that is simply unaffordable for most of the people we would want to benefit from affordable housing. (You can read more about this in my blog here).

But it’s not just about London or London boroughs getting more powers per se. In doing so it means we can do more to represent the communities we’re inherently better connected to; which I feel the London Mayor is much more abstracted from. As a local council we interact with our communities daily; and in Lambeth we’ve even been giving our residents a central role in the services they want and how they are delivered.

In this way, councils like ours are at the forefront of innovation and efficiency in public service delivery. Working with our communities to co-deliver services and interventions that they want and need, and working with them to identify both problems and opportunities early on – we are simply more efficient. We make better policy.

Greater fiscal powers for councils like ours, or for groupings of like-minded authorities, would mean we could craft policy that betters suits the needs and aspirations of our communities. We’re already working with Southwark and Lewisham to help our residents into work, and with Southwark to look at affordable childcare solutions. But whether we’re running local employment support services, fully taking over from the desultory Work Programme, or working together to develop Children’s Centres as key community hubs – there is so much more we could do given the chance.

Bringing decision-making closer to the real people it affects – and giving people a real voice so they are not just passive recipients of public services – also goes a long way to combating that sense of disillusionment and apathy that has become so rife of late.

You can read more about the potentials for greater devolution for London in this excellent piece of work from London Councils, which outlines some of the key policy areas we could make a real difference in – given the powers to do so.

Why I went to the MIPIM conference

In my last blog I spoke about the huge demand for housing in Lambeth. Nonetheless, it’s worth repeating the facts. We already have 21,000 people on our housing register – that is, people waiting for a council home or for a transfer to a more suitable one – meanwhile our population is expected to grow by almost 30,000 by 2030.

All this means that there are simply not enough homes to go round. That pressure means that prices in the private sector both to rent and to buy are soaring, and for us as a council there is a rapidly growing demand for council homes.

I also detailed how we’re doing our best in Lambeth to tackle this housing crisis. We’re absolutely committed to building new homes – and let’s be clear, that’s the only real way to get us out of this crisis. However, I was also clear that we can’t do it on our own. And as I said in my speech on affordable housing at the conference, it would be naive to think that we could.

As a council committed to building new homes, we have to work with developers.

However, that doesn’t simply mean handing over the keys to the borough and letting them profit unbarred – no, we work with developers to get the homes we need, and we use our clout to get the best deal for Lambeth and its residents in doing so.

As a baseline we ask all developers to commit to 40% affordable housing in any new project (N.B. boroughs like Tory Wandsworth only have a target of 15%). In fact, with the Streatham Hub development we managed to achieve 50% affordable housing.

That said, as I mentioned in my last blog, the government hasn’t made it easy for us to hold up to this target – by introducing a minimum profit level into ‘viability tests’ for developers, this now means that the ability of the developer to make a profit from a site holds more sway than our local needs. That is, if they feel that building too many affordable homes will make the development unprofitable, then they don’t have to provide them. That makes things very difficult for us – however much we as a council strongly want to build more affordable housing, our hands are tied by national legislation.

But we don’t give up without a fight – Lambeth has secured a review mechanism for viability tests, which means that we get our fair share if the site ends up making more money than first evaluated. We also have all developer’s viability appraisals independently reviewed and scrutinised to check their analysis is fair. Often this ensures a substantial improvement in the deal we secure – indeed this was the case at Vauxhall Sky Gardens where the developers initially said it would not be viable for them to provide any affordable homes; we disputed this and actually secured 35 social rented and 6 shared ownership units.

Where viability issues mean we’re not able to achieve our 40% target, we always make sure developers provide as much affordable housing as they possibly can.  For instance, as part of the Vauxhall Nine Elms development we’ve secured 29% affordable housing in Eastbury House, 33.6% in Hampton House and 29.8% in Prince Consort House. And with the Keybridge House development we secured land for a new school.

I believe that affordable housing in new developments is crucial, not just to meet the growing demand for homes, but also so that those new developments end up as mixed communities, with a different mix of backgrounds and people. We don’t just want houses, we want homes that are part of, and contribute to, the community. That’s why it’s important to us that developers provide affordable housing on the same site.

For some boroughs, the principle of asking the developer to give them money for affordable housing instead of building the actual homes is attractive, but what that really means is that places with higher land value such as Vauxhall would price out ordinary people. We don’t want that to happen, so we always start from a point of wanting affordable homes provided on site.

In exceptional circumstances, we sometimes have to get developers to provide affordable housing slightly off their main site, but that can bring other benefits too. It’s not always about the number of new homes being built in total, but also about the number of people they can eventually house – that is, creating enough good family-sized homes too. For example, by agreeing to allow the developer to build off-site from the Shell development in Waterloo, we were able to secure 71 family sized social rented units and a new nursery on nearby Lollard Street, rather than 17 on-site 1 and 2 bedroom units which would not have met local family needs.

I also welcome Labour’s proposal announced yesterday to prioritise new homes for local people.

I think it’s important to give these messages loud and clear to developers – as I did on Wednesday at MIPIM.

*For the record: I didn’t get flown to Cannes, I caught the train to Olympia.  

Doing our bit to tackle the housing crisis

Various Coalition government policies have made it harder not easier for us to deliver the new and affordable homes we need in Lambeth – not least the 50% cuts to our funding – but we remain more committed than ever to doing so.

Lambeth is already one of the most densely populated boroughs in the country, and yet our population is anticipated to grow still further. The number of households is forecast to increase from 130,000 in 2011 to 158,000 in 2030.

That means there are simply going to be more households in need of homes than we have available.

At the same time, this increasing pressure on our local housing markets is causing prices in Lambeth, both to buy and to rent, to soar. Many local families are finding it increasingly difficult to find an affordable place to live.

Yet the Coalition government have slashed capital funding for social housing, as well as making it harder for us to require developers to provide a decent proportion of affordable homes. Likewise, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has changed the definition of ‘affordable’ to 80% of market rent, which puts it far out of the reach of many ordinary families.

Government policies like the Bedroom Tax have again added yet more pressure to the growing housing demand and made it harder for our residents to make ends meet.

As a council, we do our best to lobby against these changes and to fight for a fairer deal for Lambeth. But meanwhile all this means that more and more people are approaching the council for social housing, and that more and more people – particularly those in work but struggling to make ends meet – are having to claim Housing Benefit.*

This is an unsustainable situation, and the only way to tackle it is to increase the number of homes in Lambeth.

That’s why – despite the raft of unhelpful policies from this Government – ensuring that new homes are being built to accommodate Lambeth’s growing population, and that existing council homes are kept at a good enough quality to remain in our stock for years to come, are two of our highest priorities as a council.

We have a good record of delivering new social and affordable housing. We’ve delivered 2866 new affordable homes so far in the last five years, and we’ve committed to building 1000 more new social homes over the next four.

But we can’t do this on our own. We must ensure we attract investment into Lambeth by working with housing associations and developers. So too we must be firm with developers on what we expect from them – demanding at least 40% affordable housing, and a mixture of good quality family sized and smaller accommodation too.

It also means working with the community; delivering new homes through innovative partnerships, like the 350 new homes we’re building at a range of social and affordable rent levels in Somerleyton Road; as well as regenerating estates where we know the quality of housing has not been good enough, like what we’re doing at the Myatts Field North project. This will also deliver 305 new homes, of which over half will be affordable. Both have included the community at every step of the way, provide new community spaces, and offer jobs to local people.

We’re also spending over £490m in improving the standard of the homes we already own, bringing them up to the Lambeth Housing Standard, which has been co-produced by Lambeth Tenants and Leaseholders. That’s the biggest ever investment in Lambeth’s homes. Each home we keep in good condition is another home for a Lambeth family to live in for years to come.

At the same time we’re working with those who are already in severe need to avoid homelessness. We have a duty to help them, but we don’t want families stuck in temporary accommodation. It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for us. Families lack the stability of a settled home; meanwhile every pound we spend on funding a place in temporary accommodation is a pound we could have spent on building new homes. And it’s only through building those new homes that the pressure on housing demand can be quelled.

That’s why we’re offering people in temporary accommodation the opportunity to be supported into a secure, private tenancy – we do all the leg-work, putting the paperwork in place and ensuring that the tenancy is both stable and safe. That means a family with a more secure place to live and more money for us to invest back into Lambeth homes.

At the election we said that everyone in Lambeth deserves a decent home. It should be clear, the Coalition government and the Mayor of London have not made it easy for us, but we’re working hard to make this ambition a reality for our residents.


Notes:

*In Lambeth, we have 21,000 people waiting on our housing register, many of whom live in overcrowded conditions.
We have 1750 people living in temporary accommodation.
Lambeth has the highest percentage of households receiving Housing Benefit of any region in the country, and the second highest number of Housing Benefit claimants in London.

The Black Cultural Archives are open – what a great moment for Lambeth

Cllr Peck speaking at the BCA opening event

Cllr Peck speaking at the BCA opening event

I was both honoured and humbled to be at the opening of the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) yesterday.

It was a fantastic, celebratory day and I was immensely proud to be invited to speak at such a landmark occasion.

Yesterday we really were witnessing the realisation of a long held dream, and one of such profound cultural importance to all of us.

Our community in Lambeth would be so fundamentally different without the input of our diversity of cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Now finally, at 1 Windrush Square, we have a way of recognising that.

The BCA is the first collection of archives dedicated to documenting Black people’s experiences of, and contributions to, the UK.

It’s amazing it’s taken so long for this to happen, but it’s such a privilege to have such an important resource here in Lambeth, and right on our doorstep in the heart of Brixton too.

It’s exciting for all of us that we now have a great new attraction, which will bring visitors into our borough from afar. As I said yesterday, I’m sure that within a matter of years the BCA will be ranking amongst our top museums and cultural centres in Britain.

And for local visitors and residents too, it’s fantastic that generations of Lambeth children will now have a resource from which to learn about Black culture and heritage, and I’m excited to see the kind of programmes that will develop with our local schools.

I think it’s also fair to say it has taken a lot of time and a lot of hard work to get here; there have many obstacles along the way. It really has been a labour of love for a number of very dedicated people over the last 20 years, and I made a point of thanking as many of them as I could yesterday.

But what a journey: from a small collection of archives housed in Coldharbour Lane, managed by a small but dedicated group of volunteers; the BCA now stands in its beautifully restored building, able to open its doors to the public for the first time, and hold exhibitions, talks and community events.

As a council, we’ve tried our best to support this project, and as I affirmed yesterday: as long as there’s a Lambeth Council there will be continued support for this fantastic project.

BCA