Lewisham Council look set to approve plans tomorrow to retain a temporary housing block instead of building 232 homes if council officer recommendations are given the green light.
The site currently houses a temporary modular homes named PLACE approved in 2014 and installed in 2016. It gained much media attention at the time. Lewisham’s Cabinet and Mayor have two options before them at a meeting tomorrow, either “deliver a comprehensive scheme delivering circa 232 homes or to retain the PLACE building and deliver circa 69 new homes to the rear of the site.”
Fewer new homes will cost large sums of money. According to Lewisham Council: “The average cost to the Council for a 2 bed household in Nightly Paid (Temporary Accommodation paid on a nightly, rather than weekly or monthly) accommodation is £6.9k per year. PLACE/Ladywell has saved the Council £166k per year in avoided nightly paid fees over the 4 years since it was first occupied.”
PLACE showed how much each new social home can save an authority. However, despite the clear benefits of additional social homes both for those in need and taxpayers, Lewisham Council’s Cabinet are now being advised to approve plans to retain the temporary housing and only build to the rear which could provide as little as 48 additional social rent homes in total, or 93 social homes and zero homes of other tenures to cross-subsidise. The other option would provide 112 social homes and 151 to cross-subsidise. That option – which provides the most homes both social and market/intermediate is not the option being recommended to the Mayor and Cabinet.
The report states “If PLACE is to be retained and the new homes are to be built around it, including the nursery site, current proposals are that circa 69 new homes could be delivered – a reduction of 70% against the opportunity presented through either relocation or demolition.”
Moving temporary housing now stopped?
The site formerly housed Ladywell leisure centre, and in 2014 was designated for uses such as retail and housing. The current modular block was designed to stay in Ladywell for around five years then move. One option was to now move to Forest Hill car park, though the council state “there is strong local opposition to the loss of the town centre car park” and the location may be unsuitable due to ground conditions. They also state moving the block – which was a flagship feature in 2016 when it opened – is now too expensive.
The report highlights how poor this looks: “It should also be noted that there are reputational risks associated with this option. One of the defining innovative attributes of the PLACE building was for it to be able to be relocated to a new location when the current site was ready for redevelopment. To retain the building in its current location would go against this. However, this must be balanced against the unprecedented financial demands that the Council now faces as a result of
the pandemic, and to support our aims of fighting climate change.”
Climate change as a reason is a bit rich given many more people will be housed miles from support networks requiring continual travel if the option to provide fewer homes is chosen. In terms of financial demands, fewer social homes will only cost the authority more in the mid to long term. 24 homes saved £664,000 over just four years. A 70 per cent reduction of overall homes now advised will see heavy costs.
It cannot even be stated that retaining the modular block assists existing residents and business as many have now been moved out – with further to follow.
There are various options that could enable the larger scheme not mentioned such as using an arms-length developer that can borrow funds (the equivalent of Greenwich Home Start and Red Door Homes in Newham) or partner with a Housing Association.
If approved, the option that benefits the least people will be the one taken forward. There is a net gain of social homes from current levels, but far less overall social housing and homes to assist with the housing shortage. In short, a major missed opportunity looks like being approved tomorrow night. Many more families will in turn be spending much time in temporary housing many miles from support networks, and costs to taxpayers will rise ever higher. Short term it may make sense – perhaps – but it’s far from wise beyond the immediate few months. The mess that is UK housing – and truly affordable homes in particular – looks set to continue, with everyone paying for it.