When private developers refuse to build social housing as part of luxury developments like the one in Elephant and Castle, they have to pay the council some financial compensation. Southwark Council Leader Peter John has stated that this money is allowing the council to build new council flats – promising 1,500 by 2018.
The Green Party argues that in most cases it is better to refurbish buildings to modern standards rather than demolish and rebuild from scratch. Refurbishment is cheaper, more efficient (in terms of resources such as building materials and fuel)  and can strengthen existing communities rather than break them up. It’s too late for the Heygate estate, despite the valiant efforts of residents to propose an alternative approach. But the Green Party will continue to support residents’ efforts to secure genuine regeneration elsewhere Southwark.
Where are the promised new flats?
Some of Southwark’s first new council homes are being squeezed into spaces on council estates. On the East Dulwich Estate, two new blocks are being built cheek by jowl with existing flats. This wasn’t derelict land. Residents have lost a caged play area which was used for informal games of football, small kids racing about on bikes, even bicycle polo. They’ve also lost dozens of car parking spaces. The council is hoping to squash all those parking spaces into the rest of the estate – and they haven’t even talked about an alternative for the kickabout play area.
‘I’m living on a building site’
On the East Dulwich Estate, the building contractors discovered reinforced concrete foundations that their preliminary surveys hadn’t revealed. They spent 12 weeks breaking out the foundations with jackhammers on diggers. For residents in the surrounding flats, in the houses on neighbouring streets, and for children and staff at the nursery at Whaddon House, the noise was unbearable. Work went on from 8am to 6pm. Concrete dust rose in plumes and settled in the neighbouring flats. One resident said, ‘I feel like I’m living on a building site.’
Residents have attended site meetings with contractors and contacted council officers to inform them about problems with noise, air pollution and signs for traffic on Pytchley Road. Building new blocks in these tight spaces, practically in arm’s reach of people’s kitchens and bedrooms, is very different from building on a large clear site. Contractors need to take especial care to listen to residents – residents are the people who understand how the site and its surroundings are currently used by pedestrians, commuters, children going to school and playing after school, and so on.
Southwark Council has some good policies on environmental protection (e.g. dealing with noise and dust from building sites). The Code of Construction Practice can be downloaded from this page. Officers in this department are kept very busy inspecting sites and advising contractors on best practice. But contractors should be complying with these guidelines from the outset – and council officers need to make sure that they do. After all, it is the health and wellbeing of residents that is at stake.
1. Housing accounts for over 25% of UK CO2 emissions through energy use, with all buildings contributing to around 50% in total. [Good Homes]