A look at Greenwich Council’s report into selling public land to Pocket Living

A report into selling public land on three sites across Greenwich borough for micro flats from Pocket Living has been placed online. Let’s have a look.

First off, we already know plans to sell two out of three sites have been scrapped. Consultation results in this report show strong opposition from respondents despite a strong PR campaign and dedicated website with pre-filled response from Pocket Living.

Even among many who supported the sale in the consultation was a caveat that homes should be “really affordable” – and that is very debatable.

Genuinely affordable?

The document gets off to a controversial start with the council describing proposed micro flats as “genuinely affordable”. This is stretching the definition a hell of a long way. They are to be sold at 80% market rates – the very highest level of “affordable” brought in by the Conservatives in 2011.

That definition means homes of £1 million are called “affordable” in parts of London.

In Greenwich borough it wouldn’t be that high but would still require incomes up to £90,000 according to Mayor of London guidelines.

But let’s assume that is too high and £60k will be the level needed – we still have to ask whether providing homes for people on that income is the authorities priority? The private sector already provides tiny flats for people on that income.

The term “genuinely affordable” is controversial here as it normally refers to cheaper cost scales such as social housing at sub 50% market rates.

Even many on the right argue 80% isn’t “affordable” when market levels are so high.

Charlton sell off

The council have decided to proceed with selling land in Charlton despite just 14% of respondents agreeing.

The decision to proceed with selling this plot is given as:

“Again, while the estate residents disagree with the proposals (albeit on a
small sample), the weight of other evidence, including general support for
house building and the wider need in the borough it is recommended that
the council will proceed with the disposal of this site to Pocket Living in line
with the July 2018 recommendations to Cabinet.”

They’ve taken general support for house building, and in particular public house building in the consultation, as a reason to sell to Pocket Living.

As for “wider need”, aka private homes, does that trump building social homes or temporary modular buildings as last week’s Greenwich cabinet meeting notes show homelessness has jumped substantially once again?

Why not use modular homes on these sites as Lewisham Council have done? It’d save putting people in very expensive short term accommodation (costing taxpayers huge sums) whilst public and Meridian Home Start plans are drawn up.

Or the council’s own developer Meridian Home Start could play a role. It is not mentioned once in the new report and they aim to build at 55-65% market rates (though that could be lowered).

Council building

The consultation was criticised by some as being worded in such a way as to blur lines.

Here’s one passage:

“255 respondents told us that the Council should build homes to help solve
the housing crisis and 277 told us that this should be a range of housing to
suit different circumstances.”

Note that is the council should build homes – not Pocket Living. As we saw earlier that is then used as justification to sell to Pocket Living.

And does “a range of housing” include micro flats?

It’s pretty common in consultations to ask a question few will disagree with and mix that with a later question people may oppose but then adopt a result that conforms with the former and not the latter.

As people have objected to Pocket Living we are told:

“Despite this, and outlined below, when asked about specific neighbouring sites residents of the estates largely disagreed. This highlights a tension that Cabinet will have in building homes where a general principle to build is supported but specific sites are less popular.”

Well, sure there’s NIMBYism but the type of homes and who builds them are important factors too.

Indeed, “28 per cent of people (89 of those who answered the question) told us their views may change if the proposals were for council housing.”

Modest incomes

The final paragraph states another reason to sell to Pocket Living:

“The Council still recognises the need for first time buyers on below average
incomes and in particular the needs of public services to be able to employ
the next generation of key workers.”

And Pocket Living does that? Pocket Living have previously described £90,000 wages as “modest”.

How many first time buyers on below average wages are going to be able to afford even a micro flat  at 80% market rates? How many nurses or teachers? Not many.

Greenwich’s consultation letter to residents stated “around 50% of Pocket buyers work in the public and charitable sector”.

It doesn’t say what positions they occupy in those roles. Senior managers? Those from a wealthy background whose parents could help with the deposit and ongoing costs?

Flat sizes and mix

And there’s the issue that those moving in will not be able to start families in flats so small they barely pass legal limits. It’ll be a transient population without a mix of flat size.

Comparing sizes of these properties to the sizable public homes built after World War Two shames these micro flats.

The consultation even tried to persuade residents by stating some income would be spent on their estates – which is exactly what existing Section 106 and CIL income should be doing, but unlike other boroughs (see example below from Southwark) very rarely does.

How it’s done in other Labour boroughs

Can we only expect improvements to many long-neglected Greenwich estates if parts are sold off?

And to top it all off Pocket Living’s FAQ doesn’t even exclude sub-letting in all circumstances.

Why are Greenwich Council so keen on this?


Incidentally, why are strongly opposed consultation replies (and many of those most cogent in their replies ) placed at the bottom?


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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

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