In 2014 Southwark Labour had its best local election results in 30 years, taking 48 seats. By 2018 they had almost routed the Liberal Democrats from the borough, and had seen off the Tories.
It was a remarkable turnaround given that the council had been controlled by a Lib Dem-Tory coalition until 2010.
Labour had some eye-catching manifesto pledges during that time, including the free gym and swim and theatre trip for children initiatives. One key pledge has, however, always stood out: building 11,000 new council homes.
Overall the target is for 11,000 built by 2043, with at least 2,500 of these built or under construction by next year.
It was only in March 2020 that voters first heard exactly how – and where – these homes would be constructed with the publication of the ‘New Homes Delivery Plan’.
This paper outlines some of the key financial and regulatory constraints faced by the local authority. They are certainly numerous and difficult to overcome.
The council is powerless to stem the loss of homes through right to buy. It has next to no control over the private rental market, other than enforcing standards – which involves costly court battles – and already has one of the largest social housing stocks in London, if not the UK.
Yet this barely touches the sides when it comes to the level of need in such an expensive, inner city borough with high levels of deprivation.
The cost of buying up some of the few large-scale plots of land still available and ripe for redevelopment is astronomical.
‘Estate infill’ projects is one of the answers put forward. Just under 30 estates have been identified as suitable for new housing to be added into their footprint, in a policy that is proving to be the most controversial since the Southwark Estates Initiative of twenty years ago.
Building new social housing always has merit, and there are obviously compelling arguments for repurposing garages and other spaces to make room for new homes.
There is also a clear balance between preserving greenery and ensuring more people have a safe home to call their own.
But many estates were designed specifically with their layout and proportions in mind, to ensure that there was a balance between much-needed housing, often high rise, and light and space.
Once this design is interfered with it can risk changing the entire character.
Few people are against building new homes, but how many people would argue that estates across the borough have too much unused green space?
Already high-density estates with tower blocks and homes without private gardens could be about to become far more crowded.
And just because an area is not ‘designated’ as a park, it doesn’t mean it isn’t seen or used as a park by the people who live next to it.
Was this what Labour’s supporters voted for?