I was the only London politician to speak at this demonstration on 3 November 2018, supporting residents on estates who have been cheated out of ballots by the Mayor, backed by campaign groups from unions and across London.
Watch my speech here:
Here’s the speech notes for what I said:
I’m Sian Berry, a Green Assembly member here and co-leader of the Green Party since September.
I want to say welcome to City Hall to what I think is the biggest delegation of housing experts who have ever come here.
You are the experts, you don’t just care about how London develops, you are the ones with the right ideas for how to do it.
You live in our homes, you know your estates and know how to improve them, and care about your communities, that risk being broken up when demolition is planned.
You are the experts who should be making the plans for how to build more council homes in London. And the Mayor and your councils should be listening.
The thing is, you’re objectively right when you oppose plans that think the best way to get new council homes in London is to demolish the ones we have.
That approach is not working, and the evidence shows it.
In my work here, I have looked at and analysed planning permissions for sites with existing social housing.
Over the last 15 years, completed schemes have led to the net LOSS of more than 4,000 homes.
And schemes not yet completed with planning permission will lead to the net LOSS of getting on for 8,000 more.
Demolition-based plans also lead to long periods with council homes out of action. I looked in detail at this for Camden where I’m a councillor, and added up the number of homes and number of years that they would be missing while they are knocked down and rebuilt.
Eventually in Camden the council’s schemes lead to a small net gain.
However, while we wait, while homes are ‘decanted’ and filled with property guardians not council tenants while they wait to be knocked down, while new homes are built, and while delays take place, the total just in Camden will be 800 years worth of households displaced, living in other council homes while we wait for these schemes to be finished.
And that’s not to mention the social impact of breaking up communities, the health impact of uncertainty and stress to those affected, and the environmental impact of wasting the concrete, steel, wood, brick and other resources in homes that could be refurbished, extended or repaired instead of knocked down.
These impacts were set out by the London Assembly before I even came here. My predecessor Darren Johnson was chair of the Housing Committee when they published a report ‘knock it down or do it up’ which set out these problems in 2015 and said demolition should only go ahead after an independent ballot of residents.
The committee was right then and the Assembly was right in November last year when we passed unanimously a motion I proposed to back ballots for residents on estates, so that no demolition could happen without permission. Even the conservatives voted for that motion, because they had seen the evidence too.
This pressure from the Assembly was part of a successful campaign, with thousands of residents writing to the Mayor too, and brilliant campaigning from demolition watch, Unite and many others, to get the Mayor to stick to his manifesto promises.
His draft regeneration guidance policy in December 2016 was terrible, but over the next year we changed his mind.
In February the new revised guidance came out WITH a policy to require ballots when demolition is planned. A huge victory.
BUT with catches.
It’s only for schemes asking for GLA funding – Sadiq has refused to use his planning powers to ask for them too.
It excludes small developments. The lower limit of 150 homes proposed for building I think will mean a suspicious number of schemes coming from landlords with 149 homes.
And not everyone who needs one will get to vote – private renters from leaseholders, and anyone not named on leases and tenancies will be left out of the decision when it should be every resident having a say.
AND I was furious when I found out what the Mayor had been doing during that long period between the end of the consultation on the draft policy and the final announcement.
This is a major reason for today’s protest.
In those 11 months, 34 schemes many of them the most controversial, were quietly given funding so they could slip under the wire of the new policy coming into force.
16 of them were signed off by Sadiq in the final 2 months before his announcement when he MUST have known what he was doing and what his new policy would be.
When the final detailed policy terms were announced this summer they also let any scheme with planning permission slip through, whether or not funding agreements were signed.
So planning IS relevant when it suits the Mayor and those councils he is mates with need a favour.
We’re here today to object to these betrayals of residents by the Mayor.
Despite the improved policy for the future, thousands and thousands of homes will be lost thanks to this slipperiness. He has put in too many loopholes. Done too many favours, and we object Mr Mayor.
We’re also here to stand up for the rights of residents and the PRINCIPLE of residents having the final say, in how their homes are developed AND managed.
Council homes need to be brought closer to the people, with proper accountability. Real transparency. We must put residents in control.
Development plans to add new homes to estates should only ever come from residents.
Who need a binding ballot for every plan.
And rather than treat estates as brownfield sites, public land needs to be set aside for new homes that the community itself wants to build, for council homes and community-led plans.
Like the Holloway prison site, and St Ann’s hospital and the people’s plan for Holloway and Community Land Trust plans being made by StART Haringey.
We have made some progress with the Mayor, but he needs to stop finding loopholes for his friends among our social landlords, enforce his ballot policy for Labour councils not just Conservative ones.
And we need to keep up our pressure and make the same demands of councils.
Several parties who control councils ran for election this May with ballots in their manifestos. We need to hold those parties to those promises, and not let them wriggle out of them with exceptions and excuses.
And councils who don’t have voluntary ballot promises or policies need to feel the weight of our feelings too.
Together we can amplify each other’s campaigns, make your collective voice louder, shame those who are letting residents down and bulldozering local democracy.
Working together, across London and across parties we’ve made progress and we can win if we keep up the pressure.