Southwark residents could be given land to develop and manage themselves in test to boost homebuilding

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

Residents could be handed land to develop themselves to boost the number of cheap homes and offices in one of England’s most crowded areas.

A group of experts have drawn up a list of five possible sites in Southwark that could be entrusted to people in the borough to manage as part of efforts to free up more land in the rapidly gentrifying area for the benefit of residents.

People would be expected to form worker co-operatives, housing co-operatives or community land trusts and develop the land through these organisations for the local community.

A map of who owns land in Southwark (Picture: Southwark Land Commission)

The proposals have been put forward by the Southwark Land Commision [SLC], an independent group of specialists, who were tasked by Southwark council to look at how land is used in the borough.

Southwark is the seventh most densely populated council area in England and faces challenges in ensuring there is enough land for cheap housing, affordable offices for local businesses and green spaces in the borough.

According to a report released by the SLC yesterday, the price of land across Southwark has risen more steeply than almost anywhere in the country in recent decades.

The report notes that “urban development has contributed to 45 per cent of Southwark council’s revenue, through developer contributions in the planning process, new council tax and business rates receipts raised on homes and businesses which would not have otherwise been there.”

But “on the other hand, spiralling land values have created fundamental problems for the economy… Rising housing and property costs are leading to the gentrification of many neighbourhoods across the capital, which are pushing out diverse and long-standing communities due to rising prices.”

The commission hopes the five sites across the borough will provide a testing ground for new models of developing land. The five potential pilot sites are listed below.

Bowley Close, Crystal Palace 

A collection of nine residential properties that were transferred to Southwark council from NHS in 2021. The flats are meant for people with mental health illnesses and learning disabilities. One of the properties is currently empty. A second it is in poor condition and needs investment to bring it back into use.

Land in Latona Road, Peckham, which the council uses to store grit (Picture: Google Street View)

Land at Latona Road, Peckham 

An open yard currently used by the council to store grit. A development consisting of homes and industrial space could be built here.

Land between Sandgate Street and Verney Road

Warehouse buildings with yard space. Much of the land was originally acquired by Southwark council in 2018 with the intention of developing new homes, offices and a school on the site. As school numbers in the borough have since dropped, the school is likely no longer needed so the site can be developed in a different way.

133-137 Queens Road, Peckham 

A cleared site near Queens Road Peckham railway station owned by the council. It could be used for housing, offices or community space.

St Anne’s Church, Thorburn Square, Bermondsey 

A rundown church from the 1800s that is in desperate need of renovation. Building housing on the land around the church could help fund its restoration and secure its future.

The commission also recommends the council create a publicly accessible map showing who owns land across the borough and a database of rooms that can be booked by people and community groups.

Over a third [36 per cent] of land in the borough is owned or controlled by the council, with other public organisations such as Transport for London [TfL], the NHS, the Met Police and the London Fire Brigade [LFB] also owning large amounts of land in Southwark.

Unused land at 133-137 Queens Road (Picture: Google Street View)

Other recommendations outlined in the 68 page report include ensuring that half of homes built on public or community land are available at the social rents – the cheapest type of rent – or London Living Rent, which is a rent aimed at people on average salaries and is significantly more expensive than social rent.

The report also recommends that the council focuses on asking for cash from developers during the planning process to pay for cheap workspace in the borough, rather than trying to get companies to build it directly as part of developments. Offices built in the latter way are often still too expensive for local businesses because they are only available at a 25 per cent discount on market rates according to the report.

Southwark Land Commission was chaired by Peckham Labour parliamentary candidate Dr Miatta Fahnbulleh and vice-chaired by councillor James McAsh, Southwark’s cabinet member for sustainable development.

Pictured top: The sun sets over Southwark (Picture: Victor Ochieng/Flickr)

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