(Speech to Wandsworth council, December 2013 – starts at 31.30mins)
I think this crucial regeneration project has begun well, thanks to hard work by staff and consultants, co-operation between political parties and, crucially, engagement from local people. Who have, so far, backed the most bold option put in front of them.
It is a mighty challenge now for the council to sell the benefits of potentially demolishing 700 homes and replacing them with around 2,000 new homes – perhaps a billion pounds of new housing – on that estate.
I would say the way you convince people it’s a good idea is to make sure they have a chance to rent and buy those new properties and also, as in Nine Elms, have the job opportunities that come with construction.
I’m very excited by the plans which will preserve but completely change the green space, bring shops and job opportunities to the estate and a new leisure centre.
There will be a new route from the flats by the Thames through to Clapham Junction station, where there will be a improved entrance at Grant Road (see latest plans).
However, it is not really what we think that is of interest at this stage. Now it is time for us to reach out and listen to local people. Tony, Wendy and I have spoken to hundreds of local people over the past few months.
Many people are comfortable with even the most disruptive plans but some concerns remain:
- Tenants are more in favour of the plans than leaseholders, as they are guaranteed a new flat in the local area. But they are concerned about long build times – what happens when they are ‘decanted’ from one place to another? Some of them have googled other regenerations and seen that residents don’t always get to move back, despite the promises made.
- Leaseholders are offered the value of their property plus 10pc. I spoke to one very upset man in his seventies with health issues who pointed out “I’ll never get another mortgage”.
- Most of the votes for widespread demolition come from council tenants in the York Road estate slab blocks. Leaseholders and freeholders in low-rise blocks are not nearly so sure. Homeowners may feel the system is unfair if the votes of tenants in a block 200 metres away leads to the demolition of their house.
- There are some residents in Ganley Court who are dead-set against the regeneration. They perfectly rationally pointed out that even if you give them what their three bedroom house with a garden five minutes from Clapham Junction is now worth, they simply won’t be able to buy another similar property in the area. On this point, the masterplanners’ repsonse to those issues at Ganley Court so far have been really encouraging and creative.
- Some residents believe the regeneration will never happen. There is a lack of trust in council from the way the estate has been treated in the past.
- Long-term private renters – some who have lived on the estate for more than a decade and have children in local schools – will leave with nothing.
- Many people have said that this project end Labour Party representation in Latchmere. Most likely it will.
- A key question was put to me recently: “Will this scheme will result in a single extra affordable home for local people?”. All existing council tenants will be re-housed, but the project will have failed if it does not create extra homes that local people on low and medium incomes can rent or buy.
- There is real confusion over the £100m figure that is attached to the regeneration. Is the council spending £100m on the Winstanley Estate? Well, no. The council is investing the money – largely to buy out existing leaseholders and knock down the estate – and will expect to get it back as the new flats are sold. In effect, it is a cheap loan to property developers to make sure the project gets going.
- There are fears that the existing strong sense of community will be lost
These are real fears, but we will tackle the problems together. There has been extraordinary support from both political parties.
It was a wise move to put Cllr Martin Johnson on the steering committee. He has decades of experience, most recently the regeneration of Castlemaine Tower. He has said we should bring forward the benefits to residents to the start of the project. I agree. As a first step we should regenerate the incredibly run-down public square in front of Pennethorne Square to help build trust and credibility with residents.
I would also suggest we capture some of the gains from what may be £1bn of new housing for the community. The National Lottery has given £1m to the west Battersea area over the next 10 years. This ‘Big Local’ fund has brought together the knowledge and talents of local people and would be the ideal vehicle for community fund contributions from developers.
I remember how this project started. The regeneration project was announced in March last year. On the day of the Southfields by-election a group of Labour and Conservative councillors left the campaign and travelled to the Winstanley Estate to discuss how the Big Local might work and how to improve the neighbourhood. Unfortunately we couldn’t use York Gardens Library as a young man had been shot hours earlier. The head of Thames Christian College kindly let us use his hall and we got a lot done.
So much of the very first discussion we had on that first day have come true – and I hope we can keep the same spirit. The love of the local community, the purposeful collective action and determination that local tragedies will only strengthen our resolve to renew the neighbourhood. That’s the spirit of this project.
There is a big prize: a template for regeneration of our estates into mixed, integrated communities. We shouldn’t tolerate enclaves of great deprivation or great wealth. We want neighbourhoods where people from all walks of life can meet in the street, share public spaces and be proud that their children thrive in the same schools, libraries and playgrounds.