Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has sensationally raised the stakes in the Potters Fields row by demanding that Southwark Council does a deal with Berkeley Homes within the next month.
Following his threat last week to use a compulsory purchase order to enable Berkeley Homes's controversial development on the former coach park at Potters Fields to go ahead, Mr Livingstone used his speech to the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth to stick the boot into Southwark's Lib Dem/Tory administration.
"Whilst I'm really proud of City Hall, I'm ashamed when I look out my window. Immediately under my window is a chunk of derelict land," he told delegates.
"Four years ago a housing developer came along and said 'I'd like to build housing there' ... He supplied an application to the local Lib Dem/Tory council. They didn't turn it down. They didn't accept it. They didn't respond until legally the time ran out.
"Another year has passed because the council refuses to sell the strip of land that they own to allow the development to proceed.
"So four years have passed and an empty site of incredibly expensive land in the heart of the city, in the borough of Southwark – which has tens of thousands on its waiting list – and still nothing being built.
"It is not that we have set an affordable housing target that prevents housing being built. It is Tory and Lib Dem councils blocking the development of housing because they think it will change the political complexion of the ward in which that house is built."
He added: "I say to Southwark Council now that if you can't agree within the next month to do a deal with the developer so we build housing on that site it will be the first time I have had to ever impose a compulsory purchase order on borough council-owned land."
Mr Livingstone's threat to Southwark was received with applause from delegates as well as prime minister Gordon Brown and Olympics minister Tessa Jowell who were on the platform with him.
The development of eight cylindrical towers – designed by Ian Ritchie – has been consistently opposed by Simon Hughes MP, the Liberal Democrat council leader Nick Stanton and Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones – as well as local residents who have held demonstrations on the site and burnt models of the proposed towers.
On Wednesday evening Southwark Council leader Nick Stanton responded to Mr Livingstone's remarks: "Southwark Council has been working with the Mayor's officers to resolve the issue at Potters Fields. Southwark Council wants to see this issue resolved as quickly as possible and the people of Southwark do not want Ken Livingstone to waste money on an expensive legal battle.
"Southwark Council resents any suggestion that it has been doing anything other than working diligently to ensure that whatever is built on the Potters Fields site provides community facilities and housing for local people.
"Potters Fields is a unique and significant site which deserves a use which reflects those qualities, and which is worthy of its position immediately next to the iconic landmark of Tower Bridge.
"The council's priority is to ensure that, in years to come, people feel that the right building has been built on this site – if that takes some time achieve, then this is better than scarring the site with an insensitive and unrepresentative development which has been put up to benefit developers and to pacify political impatience."
''Ken Livingstone's comments today about Southwark housing are offensive and preposterous nonsense," says Simon Hughes MP.
''Since before I was elected, I and my party colleagues have campaigned and worked for some housing on the Potters Fields site including affordable housing. It was a last minute deal between the then Labour council and a private development company which has given us all the problems over the years.
''The currently approved scheme is for a horrible development which the community, the council and I have consistently and reasonably opposed.
''Southwark Council have my full support in their current negotiations to get a good new scheme with a cultural building as well as housing development on this landmark riverside site."
"The Mayor is like a bull in a china shop on this issue," says Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the London Assembly and Southwark councillor.
"It's completely irresponsible to threaten a compulsory purchase order. All he can possibly achieve is to tie everyone up in the courts for years at great expense to taxpayers or else put extra pressure on the Council to bow to the developer's wishes.
"The reason the towers have not been built is simply because they are completely inappropriate for the location and local people want a cultural use for the site."
Alternative proposals for the site include a sports museum and The Hill – a cultural centre encased in a grassed artificial hill.
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