Somerleyton redevelopment takes a step forward

By Cllr Jack Hopkins, Cabinet Member for Jobs & Growth – originally published on Lambeth Labour’s website.

SomerleytonAn important milestone in the redevelopment of Somerleyton Road will be reached when Lambeth Cabinet meets tonight.

I will be asking Lambeth’s Labour Cabinet to agree the next step of a unique London community development one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country that will see over 300 new homes for rent, built in the heart of Brixton, owned and run through a community trust.

Of those houses at least 50% will be genuinely affordable (not the Tory Mayor’s definition of affordable) and 70% of those will be at council rent levels, way below what a private landlord charges in Brixton.

That’s been made possible because Lambeth has decided to do it ourselves, not go into business with a private developer. This means the Council and community have much more control over what is built, the quality of the build and importantly that the 20% profit which is practically guaranteed under Conservative planning rules will remain within the scheme.

Working in partnership with Brixton Green and Ovalhouse Theatre, our focus has been on delivering genuinely affordable homes and a thriving, mixed local community, rather than making a profit.

With 21,000 people on Lambeth’s housing waiting list and 1800 families in temporary accommodation, we are proud that over half of the new homes will be affordable, against a London average of 28% and a scandalously low 13% over the river in Westminster. It will be a road where people pay fair rent and none of the homes will be sold off. For the social rented units, the rent on a one bedroom flat will be around £100 a week. That’s 3 times lower than local rents in Brixton.

The social, affordable and private flats will all be in the same blocks – there will be no poor doors on our development – because we believe in mixed communities where everyone, regardless of their background should be neighbours and get the same services. We may not be able to control this in private developments in our borough, but with this scheme we have more freedom to do what we think is right.

As well as new homes, a children’s nursery, chef school, flexible community space and a theatre will all find a home on Somerleyton. There will also be training opportunities, healthy activities such as a street gym and spaces for growing food. The latest plans can be viewed here.

The other distinctive thing about development is the genuinely collaborative approach to planning and design. Residents have been involved right from the start, providing ideas for what they and their neighbours need in this part of Brixton. In January a sustainability workshop was held and in February a housing event took place to help us understand the needs and preferences of local people and throughout the process we’ve always touched base with locals and interested people. Residents from Fitch Court who will be moving into a purpose built extra care facility are working with the architect to shape the design and landscaping of the flats they’ll be living in. Even after the last brick has been laid at Somerleyton, residents will continue to be in control as the final development will be managed by local people through a new housing cooperative.

This level of involvement has not made this the simplest process and at times there definitely felt like there were a lot of cooks. But I’ve been determined to ensure that this long-term investment in Lambeth, with its 250-year lease, is done right. Spending time in dialogue will, I’m sure, result in a better scheme.

As the Cabinet report sets out, the majority of funding will come from the Council. It will be paid pack through income from rents – estimated to be around £86m – over 50 years. The Community Development Trust which will have a 250 year lease is being developed and with the housing coop have to balance rents between the private flats and the affordable.

In 1968 Somerleyton Road, which was then the heart of Brixton’s West Indian and Irish communities, was condemned because of the cramped and overcrowded conditions and dilapidated housing. Nearly fifty years on, the decision by Cabinet on Monday should mean we can look forward to a new community on Somerleyton road – some newcomers, some who’ve been in Brixton for years – but all enjoying good quality, affordable homes as part of a community right in the heart of Brixton.

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