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Southwark agree no demolition of wider estate but won’t make it official

On Friday 4th May 2018, a day after local elections, Ledbury Action Group were sent documents that were drawn up in February by Southwark Council, laying out the brief for the Options Appraisal Consultants on the next steps for the Ledbury Estate.

We were alarmed to see written within this document the sentence. 'Various options ranging from strengthening and reinstatement works to full demolition of the estate'.

The Ledbury Estate contains nearly 400 homes, 224 across the four tower blocks which all require major strengthening and fire stopping works. The other 170+ homes are low rise brick maisonettes, which are not of the same form of construction as the towers, and suffer none of the issues that apply to the towers, and, to date, had not formed part of any discussions.

Resident Project Board members also reported to us that at their meeting held on 1st May, Southwark Council Officers were 'throwing ideas around about possibly demolishing some of the low rises.' It was at this meeting that the council also pulled out a new possibility of finding 'infill' sites around the estate where they could build new housing to help fund the works that need doing to the four tower blocks, which hadn't previously been discussed, but the council now appear to be leaning heavily towards.

After raising concerns over 'full demolition of the estate' with Southwark Council, including emailing both Council Leader Cllr Peter John and Cabinet Member for Housing Cllr Stephanie Cryan several times, appealing to them for clarity, they did not respond to our emails. Instead on Tuesday 8th May we received a response from Abigail Buckingham (Southwark's Design and Delivery Manager) stating:

'Following on from the Ledbury Resident Project Group last week , residents have asked for clarification on the scope of the Options Appraisal process for the whole of the Ledbury Estate .  We have prepared the following for you to distribute to the RPG and other interested parties  & an update along similar lines will  be in this weeks newsletter  :

We confirm that Hunters are appointed to carry out the Options Appraisal process which includes the whole of the Ledbury Estate , not to consider the demolition of the  low rise residential  blocks , but to consider infill options , which means looking at the estate to see if there is anywhere to consider building new properties to help pay towards the cost of the work to the Towers .

The Options Appraisal process is concentrating on the Towers , to develop options that could include the refurbishment options that have already been developed and demolition options . The rest of the estate is not being considered as part of any demolition options. 

In the event of any demolition to existing buildings the Council have made an absolute commitment that as a minimum there will be no reduction in the number of Council owned homes on the estate and that any replacement homes will not be reduced in size .  Please be assured that the Council will be consulting with all residents as the options appraisal process moves forwards. We are continuing to meet with the RPG and will be discussing methods of consultation at future meetings .  As part of the open discussions RPG reps were involved in the selection of the options appraisal consultants and we will continue to be open with regards to the whole process by publishing progress with Hunters on the web-site.'

The Resident Project Board, Ledbury Tenants & Residents Association and Ledbury Action Group held a further meeting on 8th May to discuss the issues and voted to put the following motion forward to Cllr Peter John and Cllr Stephanie Cryan requesting an IDM (individual Decision Making notice) categorically ruling out any demolition to the wider estate:

'This meeting asks Peter John (Leader of the Council) and Stephanie Cryan (currently Cabinet Member for Housing) to give a categorical undertaking that under no circumstances will Southwark Council consider the demolition of the low rise housing and the School on Ledbury Estate, SE15).'

On 11th May a response to this was received from Cllr Stephanie Cryan stating:

'I want to clarify that the options appraisal includes the whole of the estate as we have just been elected on a manifesto that commits to “secure the future of the Ledbury Estate with no reduction in the number of council homes.”

We will not be considering the demolition of the low rise blocks but will need to consider infill options which means looking at the whole estate to see if there is anywhere to consider building new properties should we have to demolish the tower blocks. I am confused as to why the school is mentioned in the motion as that has never formed part of the options and is not part of the HRA nor is it housing land.

In respect of the commitments I have publically made in respect of the tower blocks, I have always said that my hope is that we can carry out the strengthening works required and that my wish is that we won’t have to demolish the four towers. This still remains my view, however the demolition option does have to be costed as one of the options available as we do not yet know if it is possible to strengthen the blocks nor what the cost will be if it is possible.

The final decision on the options appraisal will need to be made by Cabinet so an IDM wouldn’t be appropriate for this.'

By refusing to consider issuing an IDM notice, Southwark Council must be aware that for many residents, their concerns have not been satisfied. Although the council state that they will 'not be considering demolition of the low rise blocks' - this is far from the absolute commitment that residents and the wider community need. As the Options Appraisal progresses, there is nothing currently in place to prevent this option from brought in and explored later down the line, unless it formally becomes council policy now to categorically rule this out.

Residents are rightly sceptical of Southwark Council, following the Heygate Estate, Aylesbury Estate and Elephant and Castle schemes and are concerned that ultimately Southwark Council will find a way to cash in on the land value of the Ledbury Estate, as it is located less than a 2 minute walk from where a new Bakerloo Tube line station is set to be built and in the heart of the Old Kent Road 'Core Opportunity Area.'

Ledbury Action Group are urgently appealing to Southwark Council leader Cllr. Peter John to reconsider the formal request of the Tenant and Resident's Association, Action Group and Resident Project Board and immediately issue an IDM ruling out the possibility of any demolition to the wider estate as formal council policy. 

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