(2 years, 1 month ago)Commons Chamber
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Amanda Milling.)
I am pleased to have secured this important debate.
There are few places that show the severity of the Government’s housing crisis more than Battersea. It is a wonderful, vibrant and diverse constituency, home to active and truly inspiring communities, but under the Conservative council for decades and the Government for the past nine years, it has been hit hard by the housing crisis. Planning and policy decisions have prioritised unaffordable homes, not the social and genuinely affordable housing that Battersea so desperately needs.
My constituents see countless luxury blocks rising around them. In Nine Elms, they see one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe, but there is not a single social home. At Battersea power station, they see a £9 billion development that contains just 9% of so-called affordable housing, and even those homes are being built half a mile away on an old industrial site. This is not building mixed communities for the social good of the many; it is building for private profit for the few.
I fear that the Winstanley and York Road estates regeneration is another example of a development that works for the few, but is not there to meet the needs of the many living in the constituency. The £1 billion regeneration project is being undertaken by Wandsworth Council, in partnership with developer Taylor Wimpey. There is no doubt that the estate is in need of serious investment. It is one of the most deprived areas in the borough and in the top 1% most deprived in the country. It has been neglected for years by Government and council alike.
Following the 2011 London riots, the council finally acknowledged that neglect, recognising that poverty and inequality were driving social alienation and discontent. That is what triggered the plans to regenerate the estate, and it could have been an opportunity to build the genuinely affordable and social homes that Battersea needs. It could have been an opportunity to tackle the housing waiting list and to home some of Wandsworth’s thousands of homeless children. That is what it could have been, but that is not what the council is pushing. There has been a welcome replacement of existing homes, including council homes, and the new leisure and community hub, which includes a much-needed leisure facilities centre, a community centre, a library and a children’s centre, is also welcome. However, the proposals will have no meaningful impact on Battersea’s desperate housing need. Instead, they mark a worrying change in the social mix of the Winstanley and York Road estate.
At present the vast majority of homes on the estate are council houses, but of the proposed nearly 2,000 extra homes, just three—0.15 per cent of the additional homes—will be council homes, while nearly 90% will be unaffordable private housing. That is more than 1,500 new unaffordable homes, taking the total number of private homes to more than 1,750. As part of the scheme, there are set to be 100 homes with so-called affordable rents—we know that, at 80% of market rates, they are unaffordable to many people—222 intermediate homes and 86 shared-equity homes, but this means the social mix will be radically changed. At present, nearly 70% of the estate is made up of social housing tenants; when the project is complete less than 20% of the estate will be for social rent. The social make-up of the estate will be transformed in what people have described as social engineering.
When Wandsworth Council has nearly 7,000 families on its housing waiting list, when 2,000 families are homeless, including nearly 3,000 children living in temporary accommodation, when private rents are soaring and when rough sleeping has rocketed by 150% in the last year alone, for a £1 billion development to have just 0.15% of its additional properties being council homes is totally inadequate. It is an insult to the many people in housing need.
Let us think for example of a family who have been to see me over just this past month. They have been in temporary accommodation for five years—a family of seven squeezed into a three-bedroom flat. Mould is destroying the walls aggravating their five-year-old’s asthma. When they raised this with the council, they were told to open their windows even though the heating in the home had broken. This is no way for a family to be forced to live. Dire housing situations like this are all too common, and my concern is that the additional genuinely affordable housing is so low in the regeneration because the council has not put the interests of its residents at the forefront.
The reported rate of return of the project is 35%, which is double the industry average. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be made in profit from this regeneration plan at a time when many in Battersea are struggling. And the concerns with the regeneration do not stop there. Residents of Ganley Court, which is set to be demolished in the later stages of the regeneration programme, have raised serious objections. Their concerns cover a number of issues. They have come to see me at my surgery on several occasions. In the proposal’s first phase are huge tower blocks: two towers that would stand at 77 and 120 metres high, dwarfing Ganley Court, overlooking their properties and denying their privacy. A further concern is that in phase two of the project Ganley Court would be demolished, with freeholders offered new properties in the development, but merely with shared equity, losing their outright ownership.
Residents have repeatedly raised these concerns with the council, only to be given unhelpful, sometimes misleading information. They feel betrayed by their council and feel that the proposals do not give them a fair deal. And forgotten in the proposals are existing private renters. I know of families who have rented on the estate for 10 years and whose children go to the local school, but their block will be demolished, with no support or rehousing. They will be uprooted and disrupted, while their private landlords will be offered a new property. That is not fair and shows that it is not a project for the many.
Unfortunately, the regeneration scheme fits into a long history of the council supporting unaffordable private housing. Last year, 90% of the houses built in the borough were unaffordable private homes. Less than 3% were council homes, and over the past eight years, for every 20 unaffordable private homes the council has allowed to be built, it has built less than one council house. This is not house building to meet demand or to protect vulnerable people; it is house building for the benefit of the few.
But this is, sadly, no surprise from a council that for decades has favoured developers over the interests of residents. It was Wandsworth Council that launched a right-to-buy scheme before it was national policy, even then refusing to replace the properties it sold, and under the Tory Wandsworth council, 24,000 council houses have been sold, deepening Battersea’s housing crisis.
On house building, central Government have also failed. Across the country, there has been an 80% fall in new social rented homes and a 50% fall in new affordable homes for ownership. There has been a total failure to replace homes bought through the right-to-buy scheme, with only one being built for every four that are sold. Just as is happening in Battersea, the Government’s failure to build housing to meet social need has driven a social crisis. In nine years, rough sleeping has doubled, child homelessness has increased by 70% and 120,000 children are now living in temporary accommodation. More than 1 million people are now privately renting, and we know that private rents have soared.
If we look at the cold hard numbers, and if we go beyond all the spin, the truth is clear: in Westminster and Wandsworth, the Tories have presided over this housing crisis. The housing market is broken. It is failing the families crammed into homes that are falling into disrepair, failing the children who are moved from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation, failing the young professionals who spend half their income on soaring rents and, most of all, it is failing the most vulnerable: those who are sleeping on our streets.
There is a national housing crisis, but it does not have to be this way. Rather than being just another example of regeneration that serves developers, the Winstanley and York Road regeneration could serve local people. Labour knows that if regeneration projects are to be successful, they must be supported by local residents. That is why we believe that all estate regenerations should hold ballots. That has not happened with the Winstanley and York Road regeneration. The council has refused to carry out a ballot, as it is fearful that residents would reject its proposals. It claims that such issues are too complex for residents and does not trust their knowledge and experience. But if the council were to hold a ballot and to trust in its regeneration project and its residents, it could apply to the Mayor’s affordable housing fund and access up to £50 million for genuinely affordable housing, which could add more than 100 council homes to the project.
Since the Mayor’s introduction of ballots as a funding condition, we have seen their success. So far there have been five estate ballots, all in favour of the proposed plans, including the High Lane estate in Ealing, where the council, the Mayor’s office and local residents worked together to improve the local community. This approach could be taken with the Winstanley and York Road regeneration, to access funding that would make a genuine difference. I am pleased that Greater London Authority is currently scrutinising the viability assessment, and we await its findings. Elsewhere, we are seeing housing developments that will make a real difference, such as the Holloway Prison development, where the Mayor and Islington Council have worked together to provide 1,000 new homes, including 600 genuinely affordable homes with at least 400 at social rent.
For the housing crisis to be solved, we need a change in policy and a change in Government. Labour’s plans are to build 1 million new homes, including 500,000 council homes; implement rent controls; require ballots on all estate regeneration projects; provide indefinite tenancies for private renters; and end rough sleeping, with ring-fenced housing for those sleeping on our streets. These polices will make a real change. It is the bold, radical programme that we need. The people of Battersea deserve so much better than they are being offered. They deserve a housing market that works for them.
To conclude, does the Minister believe that it is acceptable for only 0.15% of the extra properties in the £1 billion Winstanley and York Road regeneration to be council homes? Does he share the council’s view that residents cannot be trusted to judge for themselves whether regeneration will work for them? Does he agree that residents should be balloted on regeneration projects? Finally, does he believe that the council should pursue all funding options, including applying to the Mayor for GLA funding, to secure much-needed, genuinely affordable homes as soon as possible?
It is a pleasure to wind up the debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) on securing it. I welcome the chance to respond to the points she made.
I start by recognising that a home is more than simply bricks and mortar. A home provides safety, comfort, financial security and a community for residents. That is why this Government are building the homes our country needs so everyone can afford a safe, decent place to call their own—and we are helping more people on to the housing ladder.
I note the points that the hon. Lady made about the Winstanley Estate, but I have to tell her that because a formal planning application has been submitted to Wandsworth Council for the Winstanley and York Road Estate development, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it on the Floor of the House, so as not to prejudice the Secretary of State should the application eventually end up in front of him. Although I cannot answer her questions precisely, I hope she will bear with me, because she raised some broader points about affordable housing that I would be very happy to address.
Building more affordable homes, including those for social rent, is a priority for the Government. Since 2010, we have delivered more than 407,000 new affordable homes, including more than 293,000 affordable homes for rent. We also recognise that a mix of affordable tenures is required to meet the needs of a wide range of people. That is why, through the affordable homes programme, we have made £9 billion available for affordable home ownership, affordable rent and social rent.
The hon. Lady talked about the importance of councils building, and alongside the £9 billion we have lifted the housing revenue account cap to help them build more. That should enable councils to deliver up to 10,000 homes a year in the short term.
To turn to Wandsworth in particular, I am pleased to say that it appears to be a very high-performing borough in terms of overall housing delivery. It is achieving numbers of new homes significantly in excess of its local plan targets and it has made significant and welcome commitments to delivering new housing stock through the HRA. I pay tribute to its leadership and energy in providing the homes its community needs.
Although I cannot answer the hon. Lady’s specific question about the nature of the affordable housing in this development, so as not to prejudice the planning application, it is worth putting it on record that the new development will have 35% of the building for affordable units.
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on whether any particular planning application meets any standard, but 35% is in excess of the local authority target of 33% for affordable housing developments. Indeed, there is a tripling of housing supply overall and an increase in affordable housing in the development in question. Of course, that will be decided in a formal planning application.
We talked about estate regeneration, and I agree with the hon. Lady that estate regeneration, done the right way, can create new and improved homes and communities for the people who live there. The Government published a new national estate regeneration strategy in December 2016 and, as she said, estate regeneration works best when the community is at the heart of the project. Residents must be key partners in any regeneration scheme and they should have opportunities to participate from the start, developing the vision, design, partner procurement and delivery.
I am a localist, and although the Government provide overall guidance and direction for local authorities it is of course right that they determine how exactly to engage best with their communities in each and every circumstance. My understanding, reading through some of the material, is that in this instance there has been extensive engagement and consultation with the residents in question by the local authority.
We, of course, as a Government, have set out our expectation that estate regeneration should have the support of a majority of the residents whose lives will be affected. My team have been informed by Wandsworth Council that the majority of Winstanley Estate residents who responded to the options consultation chose a more extensive regeneration approach involving the demolition and development, refurbishment and new community facilities that we heard about.
It is also important to set out clear commitments on how the regeneration process will work and the housing options available. We believe that all existing tenants should have the option to return to the estate, and I am pleased to say that, as was acknowledged by the hon. Lady, Wandsworth Council has said that all council tenants will be offered an alternative home at social rent within the regeneration area. I am sure that that is warmly welcomed.
In addition, the estate regeneration national strategy sets out our expectation that disruption to residents should be minimised. Indeed, Wandsworth Council has informed my officials that a phased approach is being undertaken at the estate so that, where possible, residents are moved only once, from their current home to their new home. Furthermore, Wandsworth Council has stated that resident homeowners will also be able to take part in an equity share scheme. It is important that these home purchase options are made available, because residents should be given the opportunity to change tenure.
Although I cannot answer specifically every question posed by the hon. Lady, given the planning application that is in force, I hope she sees that I agree with her that local regeneration can deliver better-quality homes; additional homes, both for affordable rent and for market sale; and improved facilities for the community, as I believe she acknowledged is happening in this case. Good regeneration requires the strong leadership of local authorities and the engagement of residents. It is right that that happens and I am sure that she will make sure it continues to happen throughout the process. Of course, this approach does benefit from central Government support, which many communities have received, not least with the expanded affordable homes programme and infrastructure funding.
On that note, I thank the hon. Lady for bringing these matters to my attention and that of the House, and wish her well as she ensures that the planning application proceeds with all these considerations being borne in mind.
Question put and agreed to.