By Bill Linskey, Chair of The Brixton Society
“Future Brixton” is Lambeth council’s umbrella term for the redevelopment proposals at Somerleyton Road, Brixton town centre, and the Town Hall site; it even has its own website. What links these three sites; what is the bigger picture?
All the consultations have concentrated on the detail – do you prefer option “A” or option “B” – and shied away from the fundamental questions of what it’s all about. What is so wrong with Brixton that it needs all this redevelopment?
Much of the railway side of Somerleyton Road is literally a waste of space and some form of redevelopment seems to have considerable community support. In Brixton town centre something has to be done with the ice rink site and the station entrance. The key driver for change at the Town Hall is the idea of co-locating as many as possible of the shrinking number of Lambeth staff to save public money. And overarching all this is the desperate need for more housing.
So there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the plans? Well, dig a little deeper. Why at Somerleyton Road is the best thing that the council can say is that it is, “aiming for at least 40% at council rent” (Future Brixton website) when it owns the land? Why does there have to be so much redevelopment in the centre disrupting parts that should be left to develop organically? Why such overdevelopment at the Town Hall site that we are to have (on the most recent plans) a 22 storey block of flats looming over St. Matthew’s Church and the Town Hall?
The answer, of course, is that there is no public money available to pay for what needs to be done; primarily, the provision of social housing. The only game in town is to let private developers build fabulously expensive housing that few local people can hope to afford to buy or rent in exchange for some “affordable” and, hopefully, some social rent housing. Even then we have to be careful of how the game seems to change as developments progress; look at what happened with the Barratt development in Coldharbour Lane. How much affordable housing was delivered compared to the original plans? No wonder the best the council can say is that it is “aiming” for a particular figure; it knows it cannot promise anything.
But given that we are in “the age of austerity”, what else is the council to do, nothing? Well, it could wait a bit …
The next general election is now less than nine months away and nothing is going to be built or, probably, even get planning permission in that time. What if a new, incoming government took a different approach and decided it was time to end the decades-long tax strike that the super-rich (individuals and big corporations) have been on. If they were to pay their proportionate share of taxes then the country’s fiscal crisis would be solved without ordinary working people (or even the most comfortably off middle classes) needing to pay a penny more in tax. Then councils could be funded to build social housing and make public realm improvements without needing to let private developers take over.
Clearly our council does not think that a new government with the gumption to do that is going to be elected.
Bill Linskey, Chair Brixton Society, writing in a personal capacity