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'Social cleansing' or ‘the right thing to do’? council candidates clash over affordable housing cash

James Hatts

Southwark Council's decision to allow luxury housing developments in the north of the borough with no on-site affordable homes was debated at hustings held this week in the run-up to the elections on 22 May.

Representatives of seven political parties took part in hustings organised by Community Action Southwark with a particular focus on local voluntary sector organisations.

The meeting was held on Thursday afternoon in Southwark Cathedral's Garry Weston Library.

Bill Mullins, representing the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), was the first to raise Southwark Labour's controversial policy of taking cash payments from developers in North Southwark to allow them to dispense with the usual requirement to build affordable homes alongside flats for private sale.

"In effect, the Labour council in Southwark is carrying out social cleansing by forcing people who live in the north of the borough, if they are poor, down into the south of the borough, by the policy of [accepting] payment in lieu from developers," said Mr Mullins.

Lib Dem leader Anood Al-Samerai also took up the theme, describing the policy as a "scandal".

She added: "It means we lose mixed communities which actually make this borough what it is.

"In my ward we have a mixed development at Bermondsey Spa which was created under the Lib Dems and you have shared ownership, social rent and owner-occupiers.

"You've got families from the Dickens Estate moving in there, as well as new people coming in, and it's a delightful place to live.

"Sadly we won't ever see developments like that in Bermondsey again if Labour continue their policy. The consequences for generations to come terrify me."

Labour Leader Peter John defended the policy: "A perfect example is the Neo Bankside development next to Tate Modern. Some off-site housing was delivered by the developer but we took an in-lieu payment from the developer of £12 million.

"That £12 million would have delivered on-site 16 affordable homes.

"Those 16 affordable homes would have been shared ownership. In order to qualify to buy even a quarter in that shared ownership scheme you would need to be earning £80-90,000 a year.

"That is not affordable housing for the majority of residents in our borough.

"Therefore I think it is right to take the pragmatic response of taking that £12 million with which we can build 60 – maybe more – council homes at social rents for people to live in.

"60 or 16? I know which I would choose and that is the right thing to do."

The Dean of Southwark, Very Revd Andrew Nunn, recently added his voice to the debate. Writing in Southwark Cathedral's annual report, he said: "... our constant concern is
that all the new accommodation being built in the cathedral parish is at the high end of the
market. 'Where is the social housing?' is our constant question to developers and to the
borough council alike.

"We are, of course, fully aware of the market pressures on the area and the way in which property prices have rocketed in SE1 in recent years but we do not believe that this therefore means that all social housing should be provided in the south of the borough.

"The glory of the area is its mixed character and we have to work to ensure, as far as is possible, that there is a place for the wealthy and the not so wealthy in the same community because that is what makes for a good, vibrant and real community."

• Borough council elections will be held on Thursday 22 May

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