BY ZOE JEWELL
Lambeth council’s decision to take on the development of Somerleyton Road itself, instead of contracting it out to a developer, was in response to demands from the community, according to a senior council officer.
Neil Vokes, regeneration project manager at Lambeth, told The Brixton Bugle that the decision “completely changes the dynamic” of the project to redevelop Somerleyton Road into a housing and community ‘hub’.
“The decision…was really to acknowledge the messages we’d been getting from the community that people didn’t want us selling the site.”
Bill Linksey, chair of the Brixton Society, said the decision “is very welcome. It would be good if they adopted the same policy for all the land they own in Brixton.”
Lambeth plans to take out what is essentially a giant mortgage to pay for Somerleyton, a loan either with a pension scheme or the government’s Public Works Loan Board. “We are looking to borrow about £50 million and take about 35-45 years to pay it back”, said Vokes.
This means Lambeth can now start to pin down the details of the financing of the project and most importantly how much of the housing will be socially rented.
In consultations many locals stressed the importance of having social rented flats, rather than high private rents.
Cllr Pete Robbins, cabinet member for regeneration said: “We’ve made a commitment that there is a minimum of 40% of homes that will be let at council rent levels – which are at about 40% of market rates – as our initial financial study suggests that can be supported.
“If it looks like a higher proportion can be supported then of course we’re keen to explore that – but it may be that local people would prefer to explore introducing some intermediate rents instead. We don’t want to prejudge decisions like this until we have explored them with the community.”
However Lambeth Housing Activists have called for 100% council housing and say the council needs to borrow over a longer period of time.
The council is working on Somerleyton with community group Brixton Green and the Oval House Theatre, both of whom have a vote in all final decisions.
Brad Carroll, director of Brixton Green, said: “When I first started this I used to get really, really frustrated with how the council dealt with it. After where we’ve come from, I think it’s phenomenal. We’ve got transparency in the financial model – if we see the numbers, then we can make really informed decisions.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of different types of developments coming up in Brixton at the moment, but on this (Somerleyton) I think they’re very much doing a real partnership.”
Robbins said: “I think that this project shows that it is possible to carry out positive development and regeneration hand in hand with the community – but that it takes time, effort and commitment.”
However, others were not so enamoured of the council. One person who attended the consultations earlier in the year said: “The Council say only 40% will be at Council target rents. Which is about the same as to be expected from a private development. The length of the loan is an issue. I do not understand why it has to be 30 years. Some Councils are doing it for a longer time.”
Brad Carroll also said that the timeframe to get planning permission – the council is aiming to do it by late 2014 – was a challenge: “I think the opportunity is enormous and the timeframe is very small. It’s like the door has suddenly opened and then you start to see all the other possibilities.” Cllr Robbins, however, insisted that there is “a clear timetable in place”.
The council has now asked for tenders for contracts to design and build Somerleyton and a ‘bidders’ day for all those interested will take place on December 4.
The residents of Carlton Mansions, which will be retained on the new Somerleyton development, are still under threat of eviction by the council.
More at brixtonblog.com