By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter
Lambeth Council has cancelled permission for its own housing company to demolish homes on an estate.
The council said it would be cheaper to axe the project than battle families in court over the plans.
Council-owned Homes for Lambeth (HfL) got planning approval in February to knock down 12 homes in Tulse Hill’s Roper’s Walk – it planned to build 20 affordable flats, with 14 for council rent – it in its place.
The plans formed part of the council’s planned redevelopment of Cressingham Gardens Estate by Brockwell Park, which would see 306 council homes demolished.
Council bosses said there would be no loss of social housing, but residents argued that there should be more if the estate is to be flattened against their wishes.
Cressingham Gardens is one of six estates HfL is redeveloping, along with Westbury, Knights Walk, South Lambeth, Central Hill, and Fenwick.
Residents and Green Party councillors in the borough are fighting the plans.
There is little support from those who live in Cressingham Gardens and no masterplan yet – despite this being promised to residents five years ago.
Last year, the Mayor of London pulled GLA funding for the estate’s regeneration because the council refused to ballot residents.
The planning application from February had nearly 400 objections and two comments of support.
The estate was designed and built between 1969 and 1979 by a celebrated team of council architects led by Ted Hollamby.
Save Britain’s Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society, the Herne Hill Society, the Brixton Society and Brixton Neighbourhood Forum have all thrown their support behind residents, who have been fighting against the plans for nearly a decade.
Though Roper’s Walk is part of the estate, the council put the plans forward as a stand-alone scheme, leading to accusations of ‘salami slicing’.
Salami slicing means dividing a scheme up into smaller developments to avoid putting the whole scheme forward at once for approval – effectively increasing its chances of being granted permission.
In July, a High Court judge granted a Judicial Review of the planning permission after residents said the estate had not been properly considered as a “non-designated heritage asset” as part of the planning assessment.
The council announced on July 22 that it was “not prepared to spend more taxpayers’ money” on court costs.
The planning application has now been “re-activated”.
A Lambeth Council spokesperson said: “Lambeth remains committed to these new affordable homes at Trinity Rise, as an important contribution to our efforts to tackling the borough’s housing crisis.
“We regret that this important project to provide new homes for local families is going to be delayed.
“The people of Lambeth need all the new, affordable homes we can provide, and as quickly as possible.
“We’re not prepared to spend more taxpayers’ money contesting a challenge that could end up delaying these new homes for at least another year while we wait for a court date.
“Quashing the original permission, and ensuring that an updated plan is put before the planning applications committee, is the cheapest and quickest way of resolving this issue in the interests of everyone in Lambeth.”
HfL will now commission another heritage assessment to explicitly consider the non-designated heritage asset.
The plans are expected to go before a committee again this autumn.
Millions in loans
In March it emerged that the council had loaned a further £5.5 million to HfL, added to £5 million loaned last year.
It came as a progress report on Homes for Lambeth’s business plan for 2020-23, approved by cabinet on March 15, stated a lack of resident support was a “likely” risk to its regeneration programme.
The loaned money is expected to be paid back out of “project surpluses”, profit made from the new homes.
But the Green opposition, who are against the demolition of the estates, have warned it is a risky strategy and HfL could end up like Croydon’s failing housing company Brick by Brick.
According to the council, the programme “remains financially viable”, despite the risks outlined in the report.
The risks include lack of support from residents (likely), failure to deliver the HfL regeneration programme (likely), potential impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic (very likely), impact of Brexit on the availability of labour and minerals (likely), and a change in regulatory or subsidy regime (very likely).
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