Sunday 6 October 2002 6.22pm
The biggest problem with Southwark council is that they are desperate to be seen to be "listening to local communities" as a substitute for doing anything radical. And, yes, call me a blair-ite or a thatcher-ite, but I believe that radical means using private money and private investment to achieve greater public goods. But I think there is also another problem. Just as in some parts of the city (and country) there is a dearth of council (and "social") housing, there is a complete overload of the stuff in Southwark. Consequently, the simple fact is that much of the borough is a complete sh*thole. If we are to achieve genuine balanced communities, we should be revisiting the planning system to encourage greater provision of social housing (eg: in rural areas) and actually LESS social housing in areas like Elephant and Castle. That is the only way that you will start to tackle the great class divides is by challenging the views of so-called caring lefties and liberals who are still very much in power at a local level, even if they have been banished to the sidelines in national politics. The Left's actions (ie: both Labour and LibDems on a local level) merely exaccerbate the situation where you have huge social ghettos in certain parts of South East London (with all the social burdens that it brings) and at the same time, stuck-up NIMBYs living in rural Buckinghamshire (or Westminster, or Wandsworth), who block every new-build housing development going. The NIMBYs of the rural SE are especially keen to block new build if it is social-housing, because "it will lower the value of their neighbourhood house-prices". But the simple reality is that you will never get Southwark Council
(or many of the other inner London councils) sanctioning the building LESS social housing in the inner London boroughs, because they don't have the vision (or to be fair, the remit) to deal with the bigger picture of genuine mixed communities. One thing is certain, though, the longer Southwark Council
maintain the status quo of the borough being a 60s estate ghetto, the longer they will be playing into the hands of the toffs in other parts of the country who are all too happy to see the inner cities remain the lock-up for the socially excluded and dispossessed. And for those who say, but we need more not less affordable housing in London ("where can our teachers, nurses afford to live?") I would merely point out that, if Southwark and the other councils got their backsides in gear, and sanctioned high-rise PRIVATE development on levelled sites like Elephant, your young single nurses and teachers would have somewhere to live that they could afford to buy. Its simple supply and demand economics.