In recent weeks this site has covered the potential sale of public land at three sites across Greenwich Borough to developer Pocket Living to build “affordable” (and very small) homes at 80% market rates instead of using council off-shoot Meridian Homes to provide social homes and avoid Government restrictions on council building.

This is despite many people being housed at great expense using council funds for short term temporary accommodation. Those people also have no secure future.

One of three public plots that are due to be sold

The option to develop using Meridian Home Start wasn’t even on the agenda when recently presented to Greenwich’s Labour Cabinet to rubber stamp the sale.

Meridian Homes notable by its absence on list of options for land

A quick note that the LA New Build scheme is NOT Meridian Home Start and LA New Build is subject to government restriction.

Since then two Greenwich borough Labour councillors, Gary Parker and Leo Fletcher, have called in the decision for greater scrutiny.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request we can see number of families in temporary accommodation by year:

2012-13 – 106
2013-14 – 182
2014/15 – 220
2015/16 – 304
2016/17 – 302

And  lone parents with at least one child looks like this:

2012-13 – 353
2013-14 – 359
2014/15 – 529
2015/16 – 586
2016/17 – 637

Why sell?

So what reasons are given by the council for selling land despite the housing crises?

The main argument now is that Pocket Living have loans from the GLA (after an initial agreement with Boris Johnson in 2013 extended by Sadiq Khan).

Is that good enough? If the Mayor is encouraging the sale of public land for expensive housing (the “affordable” tag here simply isn’t affordable for many) it’s hardly a model to follow and should that be supported?

Some councillors in Greenwich have frequently said they need to help homebuyers. Is helping buyers more important than the most vulnerable for a Labour Council?

Central government is already greatly aiding developers through Help to Buy and other schemes. Do Greenwich Council see their role as aiding even further?

Private sector and truly affordable

It’s curious as to why a Labour council is aiding the private sector who already provide a great deal more assistance to buyers at 80% market rates than they will at providing homes at 40% (or even 65%).

After viability assessments you’re lucky to get a figure for social homes in single digits in private developments.

So who will provide homes at 40%? market rates? One main option is a local authority or their development arms. Here we have public land and a tool to build in Meridian, yet sell off is being approved by a Labour Cabinet that hasn’t even looked at that option.

Another argument made is that Pocket Living buyers earn less than £40,000. It’s worth remembering that’s still far higher than the average wage in Greenwich borough.

Capability

Another argument is that Meridian Homes lack the capability.

We’ll bypass the question of why an agency that has existed since 2011 lacks the capability whilst many other authorities have built up experience in a short time since then, and start in the present.

Build it up from now. It’s an urgent matter. Families are living in poor quality “homes” not knowing where they will be next month. People are homeless.

As said, other authorities have built up capability quickly in recent years. What’s stopping Greenwich? Newham, Croydon, Ealing and many more have built big already, and have plans in the thousands. Even Bexley Council went from nowhere to plans for 1,000 homes years after Greenwich created Meridian in 2011.

It may take two or more years but it’d still ultimately provide more affordable homes than a sale to Pocket Living and a saving to taxpayers by providing secure homes for those in need rather than short term expensive private rentals.

The other reason is a sale will bring in money to build social homes. But it’s very unlikely to be enough to build anywhere near the number if land was retained and developed by Meridian directly.

Greenwich Council are not beholden to the GLA on this issue. They can develop on this land without selling to a private developer – GLA agreement or not (which was first signed in 2013 under Boris Johnson and then extended by Khan). Just because the Mayor and GLA have an agreement with Pocket Living that is no reason to permit this sale.

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