Baroness Dee Doocey writes… Protecting tenants in estate regeneration schemes

In January, the Prime Minister announced in The Sunday Times that he wanted to see 100 of Britain’s most run-down estates transformed.  His ambition is apparently ‘nothing short of social turnaround…with massive estate regeneration, tenants protected and land unlocked for new housing all over Britain.’

‘Together,’ he said, ‘we can tear down anything that stands in our way.’ What fighting talk! Yet what stands in the way is usually the fact that people actually live on these estates. Several generations of the same family may have done so.  People cannot and should not just be swept aside in these waves of prime ministerial purple prose.

Good estate regeneration schemes look to provide existing residents with a crucial ‘right of return’ – the only way to give real meaning to Cameron’s promise of protection for tenants. The deal should be “while you will need to decamp for perhaps a year or two, you will be able to return to the same estate and live in a home of a higher quality”.

To make that possible, Councils already have to joust with developers over what is and isn’t “viable”, in their battle to have social rented and shared ownership units reprovided.  And we know some authorities have already given up. Just look at the Heygate Estate, in Southwark.  Once a place of more than a thousand council properties, its new guise will see wealthy investors ascend to glinting penthouses, while only 79 socially rented units will be replaced.

Now, the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill will make these situations even worse. By making “starter homes” – coined “non-starter homes” by Shelter – a priority in the planning process, over all other forms of tenure, they will be asking local authorities to negotiate the following with developers:

  1. Rebuild an estate
  2. Build enough market rate private housing to fund the scheme
  3. Re-provide existing social rented properties so tenants can return
  4. AND provide starter homes.

Such an ‘ask’ can only result in failure, especially in London. Either the crucial ‘right of return’ will be denied to existing residents when regeneration goes ahead – more Heygates – or the Prime Minister will fail in his ambition to regenerate estates.

In our first debates on the Bill last week, I tabled an amendment which would exclude regeneration schemes from the Government’s demands that starter homes take precedence over provision of real affordable housing. We received strong support from Crossbencher Lord Kerslake, and from Conservatives Lord Horam and Lord True.  Responding on Thursday, even the Minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, agreed that “that the requirement to deliver starter homes might affect the viability of a site.”

So far, so logical – but of course the Government didn’t accept the amendment. The Minister told Peers she would prefer to deal with the question of exclusions through a departmental consultation. The danger with such warm words is that they simply don’t add up to a commitment to protect regeneration schemes – and existing tenants on regenerated estates. Only a solemn promise that such schemes will not be put at risk by the starter homes initiative will satisfy Peers when it comes to the next stage of this highly controversial Bill.  I’ll be working across party lines to secure this, and will report back here on LDV.

* Dee Doocey is Liberal Democrat Tourism Spokesperson in the House of Lords.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Adele Morris 9th Mar '16 - 4:29pm

    I think the comment ‘we can tear down anything that stands in our way.’ says it all. This Government does not care about those people who are least able to help themselves and sees housebuilding as simply a numbers game. They resent planners, residents (usually referred to as NIMBYS) and any other ‘obstacles’ that they perceive as getting in the way of building houses. Note that I say houses, not homes – since residential property has simply become a commodity to buy and sell at a profit. Renting is a dirty word unless, of course, you are a buy to let landlord who is renting out an ex council flat for 3 times the rent the council was charging. There are so many elements of the Housing and Planning bill that – when combined – will lead to the permanent erosion of truly affordable housing, pushing more people onto the streets or into debt. Coupled with changes to housing and other benefit reforms, the Tories are creating a hideous situation for the most vulnerable in our society. I am pleased to see our Lib Dem peers doing what they can in the Lords, and hope we can at least get some concessions on this pernicious proposed legislation.

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