Before the debate: West Kensington and Gibbs Green residents turn out in force to hear MPs discuss our campaign to save our homes
At a special debate in Westminster Hall on 20 February 2018, called by Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter, Housing Minister Dominic Raab said: “Regeneration should have the support of a majority of the residents whose lives will be directly affected”. The statement brings Government into line with the Mayor of London and the Labour Party who have said that demolition of council estates should only proceed with majority resident support.
Social Housing and Regeneration: Earl’s Court and West Kensington
A precis of the debate is reproduced below.
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
Last Thursday, Property Week carried the story that Capital & Counties Properties plc, the promoter of the Earl’s Court development, is about to sell the Empress State building to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime for around £240 million. Throwing in the towel on Empress State is the clearest sign yet that not just the master plan, but Capco itself is in serious trouble and is seeking to cut and run to save its own skin.
In 2013, Hammersmith and Fulham Council made a deal to receive £90 million for the estates, plus space in the new development to replace the homes lost. Uniquely, however, that sum was not index-linked. Moreover, the council needed to deliver vacant possession of the land. That meant buying out 171 leasehold and freehold homes, which is normally the developer’s task. The maximum needed to acquire the homes was budgeted as £60 million, although valuation experts assessed the true figure as between £150 million and £174 million. The council has already purchased 26 homes at an average price of £552,000, excluding compensation, which is well in excess of the estimated £350,000.
The true value of the land is not recorded, but reading across from the valuation of the exhibition centre site, which is, suggests that a more accurate figure is around £1 billion. By accepting no more than 10% of the land’s value and by underestimating the costs of acquiring vacant possession, the council could now be left with a zero receipt and a maximum of 672 replacement homes for residents of the estates, having sold 88 homes to cover its shortfall.
Residents have done everything they can to make it very clear what they do not want: demolition. In December 2009, a year after learning of the possible demolition of their homes, residents from 83% of households on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates signed a petition to oppose it. In March 2012, 80% of residents who responded to the council’s consultation on the scheme said no to demolition. Residents have also been very clear about what they want instead: community ownership. In March 2011, they formed West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes, a community-controlled not-for-profit organisation with membership from more than two thirds of households on the estates. It was set up with the intention of exercising council tenants’ right to transfer.
Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his powerful speech. Does he agree that residents could do a lot worse than learn from the community ownership experience in a neighbouring estate? Walterton and Elgin Community Homes was set up in the face of a threat from Westminster City Council in the late 1980s. It has proved to be one of the most successful and popular models for social housing in the country. Does he agree that that experience shows exactly the approach we should take when estates are threatened?
The right to transfer allows council tenants to choose a different landlord for their area. The objective of West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes is to become the community-controlled landlord for its members’ homes. For four years, it lobbied the Government to implement the necessary legislation to enable it to use the right to transfer under the Housing Act 1985, as amended by the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. The necessary regulations came into force in December 2013, and in March 2015 members voted 100:1 to serve a right-to-transfer proposal notice.
Residents came up with the people’s plan, which shows the professionals how new development ought to be done. At the outset, Community Homes brought more than 100 residents into workshops and site visits with architects. Residents and architects together identified space for up to 327 new homes and devised plans for improvements to their homes, streets and community spaces. The plans were costed and valued. Residents from 65% of households provided written feedback on these proposals, and 90% of respondents said that the plans were “excellent” or “good”, and “better” or “far better” than the Capco scheme.
I thank everybody in the community at West Kensington and Gibbs Green, and their supporters and advisers, for the struggle of the last 10 years. It has been gruelling, and 2,000 people have had their lives on hold, unable to move on with everything from modernising their home to planning their family’s future. However, it has created a fantastic community spirit and inspired people to create their own vision for the future.
I have only a couple of simple requests to put to the Minister. First, will he please determine the Community Homes application for the right to transfer, which his Department has been waiting to determine for more than two years? When he does so, can he please heed the residents’ call for him to uphold their legal right to take back control—a phrase I am sure he is keen to hear in this Chamber—of their community, so that they can deliver the homes that we need?
Secondly, I ask the Minister to get the Government, including his Department, to work with the residents, the boroughs and the Greater London Authority—they are all now of one mind, a very different mind from the one of 10 years ago—to provide decent, genuinely affordable homes across the Earl’s Court site.
Emma Dent Coad (Kensington) (Lab)
Let us hope that the days of cosy relationships between developers and planning departments are well and truly over. How the world has changed. Three years on, Capco is on the ropes, its share value plummeting due to the local luxury housing over-provision, and the heat has been taken out of the market, by, among other factors, fears over Brexit. Capco’s recent half-hearted attempt to intensify the provision of units at Earl’s Court—to provide more small housing units that it thought it could sell, rather than the huge and unwanted super-prime units of its dreams—seems to have hit a brick-clad wall.
Politically, culturally and in terms of local need, the scene has changed dramatically. The international appetite for buying flats to park money—sometimes dodgy money—has waned, and it seems that even Capco has accepted that. It had hoped its desire to intensify Earl’s Court could be agreed within the current planning permission, but that is not happening.
Let us not compound the litany of errors and developer greed with yet another round of international online poker, using our neighbourhoods as chips, to sell the site abroad. Local house prices are plummeting—or what the estate agents call “softening”—and there is no longer any taste for these super-luxury developments that have turned parts of London into ghost towns. The current plan is undeliverable; we need to start again. We need to curtail the developers’ rampage through our neighbourhoods and look to a future at Earl’s Court that does not offer empty units for international investors but instead satisfies local needs and provides homes for existing residents.
Let us show that change now by finding ways to realise our constituents’ ambitions. Let us leave the 2,000 residents of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) in peace to enjoy and manage the homes built with conscience and care over the past 50 years. On my side, at Earl’s Court, let us support a struggling area that has been decimated by developer greed, by working closely with the London Mayor and the Government to repeal the current planning permission where possible and work with the people of Earl’s Court to provide socially rented and truly affordable housing for those who need it, cleaner air, and a fantastic modern exhibition centre that will provide jobs and return vital business.
The Minister for Housing (Dominic Raab)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this debate. We have sparred many times on justice matters, and I look forward to an equally rigorous friendship on housing issues. He takes a close interest in those issues and I know how tenaciously he makes his case for his constituents and on matters of principle. I pay tribute to the residents who have come to listen to him and to hear the different views on this important matter.
I take note of all the hon. Gentleman’s points regarding the merits or otherwise of the development of the Earl’s Court and West Kensington area. He will know that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has been asked to make a decision on two specific matters submitted for his determination. The determination requests are currently being considered in the Department. The hon. Gentleman made some specific requests that I want to address clearly. As a lawyer and an assiduous local MP, he will know that that process precludes me, for legal and propriety reasons, from commenting specifically on the regeneration proposals for the Earl’s Court and Kensington area.
Social housing is a priority for this Government. Estate regeneration done the right way can create new improved homes and communities for the people who live there. It can increase the supply and quality of homes through densification and design. The best estate regeneration schemes make the community central to the project. Residents are clearly key partners in any regeneration scheme. They should have opportunities to participate from the start, developing the vision, design, partner procurement and delivery. Working with residents can help to build trust and consensus on regeneration.
It is particularly important that residents have the opportunity to express their views on the final options for regeneration, whether as individuals or through the democratic process more generally. The way that is done should be agreed locally. That is the template for the national policy that we put out. The regeneration should have the support of a majority of the residents whose lives will be directly affected.
I appreciate the tone of the Minister’s speech and what he said about not giving a view on the regeneration scheme. However, may I press him a little? If he cannot say what his position is, can he indicate—this is not unreasonable after two years—when there is likely to be a decision on the right to transfer?
The hon. Gentleman has made his point in a constructive and reasonable way. I appreciate his frustration on the time issue. After the length of time and all the issues that have been churned over, no one will say this has been done in a rushed way, but we need to take the time required to get the decision right. I cannot give him a specific timeframe, but we will move as expeditiously as we can. I certainly will take back to the Department the point that he has made.
I am glad we had a civilised debate, but that does not detract from the fact that what has happened, particularly to the tenants and residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates over the past 10 years, has been an outrage. It would not have been tolerated were this not an area of social housing. Threatening to demolish 750 private homes in the same way simply would not happen. All we ask is that similar standards are adopted. That is why I am delighted with the Mayor’s new guidelines and his wish to use his own power and economic clout to ensure that tenants are fully consulted in future.
I end where I began by thanking everybody who has taken part in the debate. Most of all I thank the tenants and residents not only for giving up their day and being here—they have given up so many days—but for everything they have done for their community. By resisting the demolition that was due in the area, they have prevented it from happening to other communities in Hammersmith and elsewhere. For that we all owe them an undying debt of gratitude.
After the debate: Elected representatives Andy Slaughter MP (centre); Earl’s Court Councillor Linda Wade (left); and Emma Dent Coad (right) surrounded by residents.