Council Wants to Speak to You: From Community Conversation to Community Conversion

Er..you might not have seen it but Southwark has ‘launched’ a new initiative as part of their own-going Community Conversation. This time they are asking people about how they feel on the plan to build 11,000 new Council homes across the borough. Seems fair enough plan, no? However, the devil will be in the detail. As we already said many times before, the idea of building all these new homes is laudable and we would support it if we actually felt like there was not a predictable hidden agenda behind the plan – further demolition of local council estates in the guise of ‘regenerating them’ as ‘mixed communities’. We spent years writing and campaigning against the results of these ‘regenerations’ – displacement of local people and social cleansing – forgive us we seem doubtful of the Council’s intentions.

With the scandal of the Heygate demolition and displacement of residents still fresh in people’s minds and the ongoing Compulsory Purchase Orders being used against Aylesbury leaseholders as well as the future loss of social housing units that the ‘regeneration’ of the estate means, we remain suspicious of further Council plans for Elephant, Walworth, Camberwell and so on.

Two groups have been looking further into the details of the plans for the 11,000 new homes. It’s worth us putting up two links to the good and proper arguments they are making:

• Peoples Republic of Southwark: Housing Conversations

“Where are all those new homes to go? Where can they go? If you look at the map of Southwark as it is, Dulwich seems the most spacious. Except that a lot of land in Dulwich is privately owned so it’s a no-go area for ‘mixed communities’.

The lovely folk at 35% campaign have recently published an image (taken from the council’s Community Infrastructure Levy documents) which highlighted virtually all of Camberwell, Walworth and Peckham as ‘areas for major redevelopment’, precisely where we now have the largest number of council estates. The only way anyone would be able to build 11,000 or 50,000 new homes would be to knock down an unspecified amount of existing council estates and replace them with two, three times as many homes of all tenures. If this sounds a bit similar to what’s happening at the Elephant, Aylesbury, around Blackfriars Road, etc it’s because it is”.

 

• Southwark Defend Council Housing: Join Our Community Conversation Document

“This document reproduces the questions Southwark is asking in its ‘Community Conversation’ about its plans to build 11,000 new council homes. Southwark Defend Council Housing has included comments to explain why these proposals are so dangerous. The Community Conversation strongly implies that the Council intend to demolish the houses and flats on a large number of estates, in what they are calling the Estate Renewal Zone, which covers most of Peckham, Camberwell and
Walworth.

Although they are committed to building 11,000 new council homes, there may be no additional houses or flats overall for ordinary Southwark residents. We know from experience that the estates will be rebuilt at a much higher density, with most of the additional housing being for sale. It is this element which will finance the new council flats. They say they will complete the job by 2042, with the initial 1800 flats.”

Well worth reading the whole of Defend Council Housing’s considered reply document to Southwark’s Conversation and its 6 pledges to local people: SDCH_Survey_Council_Housing_2014_Final

southwark comm con people

From Community Conversation to Community Conversion

It’s unfortunate that the image Southwark chooses to illustrate it’s Community Conversation with an image of the chattering classes – fresh faced, well scrubbed up and designer clothes. This photo seems to much more likely show the kind of people moving to the new Heygate development and buying flats anywhere up from £350,000. Am sure the Council webteam didn’t spend too long thinking through the inclusion of this stock photograph but it does speak volumes about presenting how out of touch they are with most local people and what that photo might mean to anyone opening up the Community Conversation for the first time. This is what Walworth and Elephant still looks like to us:

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After years of being what we call ‘consulted to death’ over more and more regeneration plans, there is a certain cynicism about how these consultations (don’t!) work. Instead of asking and funding local people to engage with their own neighbourhoods, come up with local plans, spend time reaching hard to reach voices in their communities and so on, Council consultations mostly just ask for individual contributions and don’t plan to systematically make sure that the hundreds of local societies, parents groups, schools, campaigns, youth clubs, pensioners clubs and so on prepare a response. Expecting people to come to you to answer questions is always the wrong way around for genuine consultations. You have to go where people are and in that setting involve them. Anything else is both limited (by design) and just a Public Relations exercise. Such ideas on how to consult are not rocket science, just common sense. We wish local people were paid tons an hour as the contracted-in consultation industry professionals are. If that happened there would be a more serious engagement with local people’s feelings and ideas and less of a top-down imposition of false consultations.

In the past and today we still see the ‘facts’ bandied about that ‘80% support the regeneration of The Elephant‘ because at some random Council consultation a tiny fraction of local people individually said they liked the plans. This is a ridiculous and misleading statement and offensive seeing as regeneration will affect thousands more people than those who tick a box saying they liked regeneration at some mysterious time and place in the past. This is not seriously asking what local people want but the repetition of this ‘fact’ serves the Council’s agenda of just getting on with doing what it wants (as we have seen at Heygate despite years of seriously informed opposition by local people). As we said on our Listening To No End writing into the miserable consultation company Soundings (who did Lend Lease’s and the Council bidding) and their miraculous figures on who supports what locally – ‘In no other industry, apart from the newly invented ‘regeneration’ industry, could these statistics be credible!’

Yet, local people are stuck between a rock and a hard place by wanting to have some arena for getting their voice heard and affecting Council decisions but feeling that there is no real point, as historically these Council exercises in ‘listening’ only really serve to give the Council some cred on going ahead to do what it was always going to do.

Here is a link to the Council Survey that is asking for your views. You don;t have to register to fill it in. Look for the second web link right at the bottom – “No thanks, just take me to the form:

In a rare moment of non-cynicism (:-0), we suggest as many people as possible fill it in with serious and tough questions for the Council and follow up after the deadline (Oct 13th) asking for the Council to publish online all replies to the survey.

PS: On the topic of Southwark Council pledges (such as the 6 pledges in the Community Conversation, here is one from March 2o14, just before the May 2014 elections: “our pledge to deliver free swimming and gym use to all Southwark residents’ (Peter John, Council Leader). Compare this pledge to this more recent update on our free swimming and gym use: here. – ‘Southwark’s free swimming could start with Fridays-only deal’.

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