Estate regeneration ballots can’t be a referendum of whether to build new homes at all

The Pembury Estate, Hackney: not, to our knowledge, due to be demolished. Image: Geograph.co.uk/creative commons.

The Labour mayor of Hackney on the role of democracy in regeneration schemes.

Estate regeneration has become an increasingly polarised debate. Events in my neighbouring borough of Haringey this week and Sadiq Khan’s backing of ballots for future major estate regeneration projects this morning demonstrate this better than anything.

It’s always worth reminding ourselves why we’re talking about this at all. When our country is shamed by the 120,000 children who spent last Christmas in temporary accommodation, it’s clear we urgently need to unleash a new generation of genuinely affordable council housing – a challenge the government continues to spectacularly fail to meet.

We must stand up for the needs of the many – the 13,000 families waiting for a council home in Hackney alone – but not at the expense of existing tenants and leaseholders, some of whom have lived on their estate for generations. They are rightly concerned about the prospect of development and change on their doorstep.

That’s why I’ve been working closely with Sadiq to develop his Estate Regeneration Good Practice Guide, which he also announced today. And I’m delighted Hackney is recognised as a trailblazer.


It sets out the red lines existing tenants should expect when their home faces demolition – no net loss of social housing, a guaranteed right to return to a new home at the same type of rent and rights, and the opportunity to have a real say throughout the planning and design process.

That’s something we’ve been doing in Hackney for years. We’re building 3,000 homes ourselves through our estate regeneration programme, with the consent and deep involvement of local communities – and at least half of those are for social rent and shared ownership. That’s complimented by council housebuilding on empty and underused land, where we are increasingly focussed, with an even higher percentage of council social rent and shared ownership.

Regeneration done well can provide fantastic new properties for existing residents, much-needed homes for homeless families, and massive improvements to the sometimes poor public & community spaces on estates. It can also bring jobs, training and inject new life into the local economy.

But our estates aren’t just brownfield land ripe for development. They are real communities. The rhetoric of government ministers for the last eight years has suggested otherwise – and I’m pleased to see Sadiq redress that balance.

Labour councils aren't gentrifiers. They are trying to build new homes during the worst housing crisis since the war – a housing crisis in which, despite the rhetoric, there is no meaningful funding from the Tories for new council homes, just further years of austerity.

Londoners rightly want to see the system change, and we will continue to make their case loud and clear. But we can't just sit on our hands if we are to build the homes places like Hackney need.

This week, I joined local residents in Shoreditch to celebrate a construction milestone in one of our biggest projects. The same residents through a petition overwhelmingly backed the original planning application to build nearly 200 homes for outright sale, which will pay for their new Council homes.

That was only possible because of the years of close partnership with them, architects and independent advisors on where those homes should go, where those homes should be, and why we are building them at all.

This isn’t rocket science. If you want to demolish people’s homes, no matter how vital new ones are, they should have a meaningful say in what, how and when that will happen.

If a ballot of residents cements these principles, we should consider how we can introduce it into the process in a constructive way, and I welcome the necessary conversation Sadiq has started today.

Ballots have a long history in regeneration programmes – but this has generally been when Labour governments were ploughing cash into building new social housing. Because ministers now don’t give a penny to build council homes, local authorities like Hackney are forced to build homes for sale to subsidise the genuinely affordable homes we need.

Sadly, right now if we don’t accept that principle, we don’t build any homes. But what ballots shouldn’t be is a referendum of whether we build new homes at all – everyone worth their salt agrees with that. And if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that a binary yes/no vote can be more complicated than it seems.

Philip Glanville is the elected Labour mayor of the London borough of Hackney.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.