Open letter to Tom Copley, Labour’s GLA Housing spokesman

Dear Tom,


Last week you posted some figures on Twitter about Labour councils building more social homes than Conservative or Lib Dem councils.


It must have occurred to you that many Labour authorities are in urban areas where the population levels are higher and the waiting lists are longer?  One might suggest that the figures are a bit skewed?


Not that anyone quibbles with the principle of building new homes, of course.  The problem is that I do not now trust a word that the Labour Party tells me as they have sold out my community – and others like them – in Lambeth.


Lambeth Labour went from saying to housing co-op residents that “Labour councillors will continue to fight for your right to stay in your home” to supporting their eviction.


This broken promise is scandalous.


What of the borough’s performance on housing more generally?


Of Lambeth, you specifically tweeted that they “have delivered the 3rd highest no of new social homes in London in last 4 yrs – 959″.


First, can you categorically state that all of these homes were available at social rent?


Assuming that they were, it is interesting to note that Cllr Lib Peck, Lambeth Council’s leader, and destroyer-in-chief of housing co-op communities, recently said at a meeting that she “hopes” that 200 new houses will be built next year.


Based on this activity, a repeat of that 959 figure is already in danger of slipping!


In a response to a query about the specifics of these new homes, Cllr Peck told me in an email that: “In terms of council housing, we have building plans on Ethelred estate (part of the shell development), Rushcroft road and Somerleyton road.”


All these units come from either controversial privately-funded developments or from partnerships that could have yielded 100% council housing, in the case of Somerleyton Road.


A subsequent Freedom of Information answer didn’t really help Lambeth arrive at a convincing figure for these new homes:


“The Council will provide more than 200 new Council homes funded through several routes including planning gain and capital receipts. These schemes include 19 new homes for tenants in Rushcroft Road as formerly squatted properties are refurbished, nearly 80 new Council properties for rent funded through the planning system requirements and a large number of new properties to be provided as part of the Sommerleyton [sic] Road development scheme. Homes built for Council tenants will be let at Council rent levels.”


That’s around 99 new units accounted for, with a question mark over the rest.  Moreover, the residents of a number of blocks in Rushcroft Road were made homeless, but the council has not accounted for the impact of this on the waiting list!


The waiting list in Lambeth is over 22,000, so Lambeth’s house building programme doesn’t look much to shout about in terms of keeping anywhere near pace – even in the context of the housebuilding inertia of successive governments, something you have discussed in the past.


Meanwhile, Lambeth Labour pledge cards for the forthcoming local elections state 1000 new council homes will be built.  Given the target of 200 in one year and the question mark over it, how are we supposed to believe that 1000 will be built over 4 years – a figure that is higher than the one you talk about above?


Put this all back in the context of ‘shortlife’ housing co-ops.


There were originally 1,200 such homes.  Retention of these homes would have made a significant dent in the waiting list, both in terms of keeping social housing stock and not adding the residents of these homes to the waiting list.


Now Lambeth is about to wipe away the remaining housing co-ops, some of which are home to residents in their 70s and who have lived in them since the 1970s.


These are long-term residents who maintained houses that Lambeth abandoned after the council CPO’d them for small sums of money to be demolished.  The council never sought any relationship with the co-ops and though it toyed with promises of permanency, it never seriously offered to do the decent thing and make the residents into tenants.


Even retaining the remaining co-op homes could provide long-term savings of millions of pounds for Lambeth Council.  Up to £13m of savings were identified by Lambeth United Housing Co-op, the Co-operative Enterprise Hub and expert social housing advisors.


Their social housing solution of the ‘Super Co-op’ that sought to retain the remaining units was presented on three separate occasions to Lambeth Council, but they were not interested.


Lambeth refuted the savings identified by suggesting that 1 bedroom properties were in plentiful supply, but when the high level of demand for 1 beds (figures obtained from an FOI) was pointed out, the conversation (which was grudging at best on Lambeth’s part) suddenly dried up.


Cllr Lib Peck and Val Shawcross like to say there was no viable plan on offer despite the fact that it was backed by the Co-operative Enterprise Hub and social housing experts, one of whom was recently made an OBE.


Ultimately the evictions are a triple whammy for housing in Lambeth – stock is being sold off; people with homes are displacing others on the waiting list; none of the monies raised directly correlate to new housing units being built.


Instead there is a feeding frenzy for developers who either seek to ‘flip’, or have ‘flipped’ houses.  Furthermore, despite repeated questions on whether housing covenants have been adhered to in the sales of ex co-op homes no answers have been forthcoming.


Any more reasons not to trust Lambeth Labour on housing? I am glad you asked…


At the same meeting, mentioned above, where Cllr Peck expressed “hope” that these 200 houses were built, she said that Lambeth had set a target of 40% affordable or social housing in new developments – but actually the Labour manifesto of 2010 states it is 50% affordable or social housing!  Affordable being, of course, another misnomer – like ‘shortlife’.


Labour’s housing policy reminds me of something Steven Norris once said about Jeffrey Archer: “If Jeffrey told me it was one o’clock, I’d check my watch.”


There are a number of Labour voters in Lambeth who will not vote Labour again at a local election because their trust has been broken over the ‘shortlife’ issue.  I include myself in this, having voted Labour in 2012 at the GLA elections.  I did so due to what was then clear support from Val Shawcross against the housing co-op evictions.  That support quickly evaporated after the election.


Other ex Labour supporters are among those who have made their feelings clear on the petition against evictions and on the comment sections of the various articles about the issue.  Add their voices to the views clearly expressed by Kate Hoey MP, John McDonnell MP, Cllr Helen O’Malley, Mark Seddon etc, as well as to those of the opposition parties in Lambeth, and the cross-party support is obvious.


Lambeth is looking increasingly isolated its pursuit of this vindictive policy.


Here are some examples of the criticism the council’s policy has attracted among local residents: 


From my experience Lambeth wastes more money on the way they approach repairs and who they employ to do them and this is the first thing they should be looking at to cut costs. Social housing and co-ops are an asset and the people who are prepared to rebuild derelict houses should not be dismissed in favour of the developers quick buck. I cant even write about the way I was treated throughout this very stressful and upsetting process…maybe one day…”



One of Lambeth’s Labour councillors has been saying to council tenants and housing association tenants, unabashedly, for several years, that there’s too much social housing in Lambeth. That’s really what’s going on here. They’re evicting all the ‘short lifers’ some of whom have been in their homes for over 30 years first. It will be the rest of us next. Maybe you should ask the canvassers about what Labour voters are saying on the doorsteps. It’s something that should really worry you.”



What an appalling but typical way for a bunch of greedy unprincipled bankers to behave…… Hang on these are Labour councillors.. now I’m really confused…”



As a former short-term co-op member and with 30 years experience in housing I know the effort put in by short life co-ops. Speaking as a Labour Party member I say: Shame on Lambeth Council and the Labour Party. Learn what co-operative means!”



Even I, who’ve profited enormously from the sell-off of these properties, now think it’s gone far enough. Lib Peck should be publicly flogged for allowing this to happen on her watch after she had the chance to change Steve Reed’s short-sighted policy on ‘short-life’ and the ensuing destruction of these long established communities all for a measly few million. The developers/private landlords will be rubbing their hands with glee, I think they saw her coming…”



These are homes not equity. Lambeth’s mismanagement led to a criminal deficit in its housing revenue account which is why they are selling these homes and other long-cycle voids that they failed to upkeep. All at a time of rocketing homelessness. Lambeth – ‘the co-operative council’ lol, should be enabling co-ops not destroying them. Permanent housing co-ops are willing to take these homes into management but Lambeth insist on market value, which means £500K for a dilapidated house in central Brixton! Even the large Housing Associations can’t buy at these prices. Communities destroyed and more profit for wealthy developers and sharks (ie private landlords). Brixton is filling with young professionals sharing homes in multiple occupation – they are the only ones who can afford to live here – families are forced out. Shame on you Lambeth.”



I feel that prospective Labour voters should know more about Lambeth’s poor behaviour on this issue, and the validity of their promises on housing generally, before they exercise their democratic right in May.


However, perhaps Lambeth would like to snatch a moral victory from the jaws of a moral defeat and avoid scenes of having OAPs and families dragged from their homes?


This would go a long way to lift the lingering doubts on Labour’s ability to deliver on housing promises, and to show that they value community over encouraging transient neighbourhoods.




Julian Hall





Julian Hall
Mobile: 07810 486658
Twitter: @LUHousingCoop



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