A campaign has been launched by newly created Greenwich Housing Forum alongside a petition to halt one of the most controversial decisions in recent Greenwich Council history; selling off plots of public land to private developers for new build homes with no social housing – despite rising homelessness.
Greenwich’s Cabinet recently approved the land sale to private developer Pocket Living – which has former Woolwich and Greenwich Labour MP Nick Raynesford on its board – for flats that just scrape over the minimum size limit for new homes.
Pocket Living flats are 38 square metres. The legal limit is 39 sq metres, though that is reduced to 37 if there is no bath.
The cabinets decision was called in by other Labour councillors and a scrutiny panel – formed of two Labour and one Conservative – sent it back to the Cabinet.
The petition can be seen here.
Greenwich Council’s argument for selling three plots of land is firstly, that Pocket Living’s new builds will be “affordable”, though the affordable level on offer is at the very highest limit of what is permissible – 80% market rates – instead of 40-50% that social homes traditionally are.
The 80% rate was widely criticised by Labour members from centrists to Momentum supporters when introduced.
Greenwich claimed correctly that central government caps hamper their ability to build outright, though their development company Meridian Home Start is not liable to caps and CAN borrow to build. Meridian Homes has a default level price level of 65% market rates, and that could be lowered if chosen.
To compound the issue, the current “market” rate that “affordable£ is based on is already highly elevated by Government schemes which have raised prices sharply in recent years such as Help to Buy. The pocket flats would need two adults each earning around £35,000 to buy.
Argument number two is that selling the land would see 80% of income reinvested into new council homes. However this would almost certainly mean far less social homes than building outright on the land through Meridian Homes, which does not require a 20% profit margin that Pocket Living will take.
Argument number three is that Meridian’s capacity to build at scale and type is lacking, though the obvious answer is build up capacity. If Greenwich want to embark on a mass building program through Meridian or directly (if government changed tack) it would need to build up capacity anyway.
Argument number four is that there will be £100,000 to £130,000 of council tax income. Well, whoever builds, income tax is levied so that income will still be received.
And finally, argument number five is that there is a need for “affordable” homes to buy. Yet the private sector is far more likely to build these types of expensive “affordable” homes on existing private land, so should public land be used for similar instead of social homes when homeless numbers are so high?
I’ve read through every document related to this and it still seems a shocking decision that doesn’t stand up and conflicts with Labour values, and even if you’re on the right and don’t much care for social homes it’s a financially poor decision that leaves many more people in expensive short term accommodation that is costing taxpayers many millions.
Finally, the covenant on not selling on or converting to buy to let only lasts ONE year.
The petition can be seen here.
Greenwich Housing Forum are holding a public meeting about the plans at Charlton House on Monday, September 3 at 7.30pm.