Greenwich Council agree housing plot transfer to Community Land Trusts
Greenwich Council’s Cabinet last night approved the transfer of land at two sites in the borough to Community Land Trusts for new housing. The sites are in Kidbrooke with another directly beside Abbey Wood station platforms, which are to see Elizabeth Line services from next year.
One location is currently garage blocks on Susan Road, Kidbrooke and the other garages and a former council yard in Abbey Wood. The report states garages alone but an image in the report shows the adjacent yard is also included.
The idea of a Community Land Trust sounds positive and one major benefit is that homes are affordable in perpetuity and cannot be sold via right to buy (unless government decides to change things). Council-constructed homes run this risk due to government policy. Housing Association homes are not liable to right to buy though the current government have regularly raised the prospect of changing that.
One thing that made me laugh looking into a report into the plan was a section stating Railtrack have owned land in Abbey Wood while constructing Crossrail, when Railtrack were axed way back in 2002. Network Rail took the lead on Crossrail work and only last month was there agreement to hand back land in the area.
Time of the essence
One concern with a CLT is whether this method will ensure homes are built as quickly as needed. It’s hard to overstate how quickly homelessness is rising at the moment and related social costs not only to those in need, but financially to councils. CLTs are rare and is there local expertise to get projects moving quickly – and of suitable density – in locations including one beside a major transport hub with high frequency services?
Another factor is community involvement. This is of course crucial, but balance is key. Many in need, forced to live miles away given a shortage of homes, should not be overlooked. If NIMBY’s in the immediate area take over those forced to live miles away may be ignored. Does a CLT make this more likely perhaps? We will see. Are they more or less likely to take a cohesive overview of need compared to a council?
While Greenwich Council building homes directly runs the risk of right to buy in future, they have developed skills learned over the past two years through planning and starting to build 750 new council homes. It would be useful to see those skills utilised to speed up building. If not, the worst case scenario is years down the line progress is slow given need is huge.
An option not chosen is using Meridian Home Start which also ensures homes are not liable to right to buy. They have plans to build mid-density housing plans near Woolwich Arsenal station. Meridian homes for rent are more expensive than social rents (65 per cent v 40 per cent of market rates) though that can change.
The Abbey Wood plot is directly next to Crossrail platforms and a station footbridge. A new station entrance funded via new development could see an extension of a footbridge alongside the site to a small area on the housing plot, accessed via a lift with barriers at street level. This would be of great benefit to Abbey Wood estate residents and people coming from lower Plumstead.
Would a Community Land Trust have the means to push for that, or even build at higher densities to generate funds to cover the cost of building such an entrance? Sadly the council report makes no mention of pushing for it. While an outside shot, it’s worth pursuing and it needs a local authority to do so.
Greenwich also recently planted trees t the entrance to the site which I thought odd at the time. This limits space for new homes. The report states part of this area is needed for rail access but given other errors in the report and my own experience (I’ve walked past here hundreds of times) I’m not entirely sure this is true now. It was true when construction was ongoing but land has now transferred. I would check in person but the current situation make travelling not possible. If anyone knows let me know.
Another issue here is density. Given housing need, a half dozen low-storey homes and no infrastructure upgrades would be a very poor outcome at such a site. Well, except the very small number of people who get a new home, but far more would lose out.
With the number of both homeless families and those on the housing waiting list in Greenwich rising extremely quickly in recent months, and the number of people renting in insecure private rentals rising from below 20 per cent to over 30 per cent in just six years, hopefully this new method can mean badly needed new homes are built quickly. The things to watch are speed, density and related local improvements. Get all them right and it pays off.