Are estate ballots working well? New report.

On the fourth anniversary of its introduction, I say that the landmark policy to bring democracy to estate redevelopment in London needs reform.

My new report shows how, in a number of cases across London, estate ballot rules set by the Mayor have failed to ensure residents are content they have had a fully democratic say in what happens to their homes.

Reviewing 21 ballots where data is available and carrying out research with affected residents across London, my team’s research has identified a number of failings in the current processes which would breach the rules of democratic elections, including:

  • A lack of spending limits, leading to huge amounts being spent by landlords to secure a ‘yes’ vote, while resident groups lack access to resources.
  • Concerns about the conduct of ballots, including paid door-knocking by landlords, and lack of confidence in the counting of online, phone and postal votes, and data on turnout being shared with landlords, potentially skewing results.
  • The absence of rules to ensure information on voting is neutral and balanced, with official material promoting turnout also promoting one outcome of the vote.
  • The absence of a complaints process when estate residents want to raise concerns about these issues.

I have written today to the Deputy Mayor for Housing, Tom Copley (who as an Assembly Member helped push for the policy to be introduced), with specific proposals for updating the guidance and rules set by City Hall, in order to ensure fairness, transparency, trust and confidence in future ballots.

The Mayor finally brought in ballots for estate residents facing demolition in 2018 which was a hugely positive step for housing policy in London. But the raw numbers don’t tell the full story: I have been listening to residents across London to hear their experiences and these are often negative.

They are telling me there’s an uneven playing field, where landlords have all the advantages in putting the case for demolition while valid criticisms cannot be aired. Many of the issues reported to me would breach the rules of democratic elections, but are not prevented by the current guidance from the Mayor.

This can be fixed. The ballot conduct checklist and guidance document are both four years old, so it is important to review them now. I have given the Deputy Mayor a specific set of proposed changes that would help make sure the way this policy works on the ground remains fair and robust, and I hope he will implement them quickly.”

Residents who speak out are too often ignored or treated as adversaries. New rules are needed to make sure the conduct of ballots is transparent and accountable, and to recognise the value of their expertise.

Issues in Newham were reported on the BBC in February – watch here:

And below are extracts of quotes from residents who took part in ballots. Full versions can be found in the report. Some names have been changed.

A resident from Carpenters estate, Newham, on being approached by council officers pressing her to vote for demolition, said: “I had them come to my house three times, three times a week, three of them, not one, three at a time. Hounded!”

Jacob, a resident from Broadwater Farm estate, Haringey, said: “We’ve never had so much money spent on sweets, bouncy castles, and so-called community fun days. This is not a consultation.”

Dominic from Tustin estate, Southwark said: “An ‘estate representative’ spoke out against Manor Grove putting up banners asking people to save their homes from demolition. Someone in fact pulled these banners down. But this same [individual] was found on a council meeting to discuss the plans soon after […] claiming that everyone was happy with the plans now, and they met everyone’s requirement”

Jenna living at Milford Towers, Lewisham, said: “The only thing on offer to tenants like us was the notice and we were likely to be given a couple of months free rent to save to be able to leave”

The research gives details of 21 ballots conducted since July 2018, for estate plans featuring the demolition of 6,486 homes. All but one of the outcomes returned a ‘yes’ vote (Gilbeys Yard and Juniper Crescent estate in Camden voted ‘no’ in 2020). The average result where ‘yes’ received a majority was 80 per cent. The average turnout was 72 per cent.

Read the two documents I have published today:

1. Estate resident ballots: are they working well? – a study conducted with estate residents who have experienced ballots in Newham, Haringey, Lewisham, Southwark and Camden, with evidence, testimony and quotes from across London.

2. Proposals for updating estate resident ballot processes – a letter setting out specific demands for improvements in the oversight and conduct of ballots to Deputy Mayor Tom Copley.