Don't Infill... Retrofit!

Residents of the Kingston estate in Walworth are among groups across Southwark campaigning against the council’s plans for new infill housing on their estate. Development here would lead to overcrowding and loss of light for existing residents, the loss of a communal garden (including veg-growing and children’s play areas) and the “relocation” of trees. The council wants to build a four-storey block with eight new homes on the site. 
Southwark has a housing crisis, with 16,000 people on its waiting list. But is infilling the answer? What other steps could the council take to find much-needed homes?
Empty homes on the Aylesbury estate in Walworth, awaiting demolition

Nationwide action on empty homes

Southwark Green Party members this month took part in a national day of action on empty homes. They joined campaigners from several Southwark estates, including Jimmy Colfer from the Kingston, in calling on the council to bring homes back into use and stop further demolition of its own properties, which – along with the government’s refusal to abolish right-to-buy in England – is helping to drive our housing crisis.
Leading Southwark’s contribution to day of action, and speaking on livestream amid 600 empty homes on the Aylesbury estate in Walworth, Shaun O’Regan from Homes4AllUK called for an end to infilling, a practice he described as “building on any little space the council can find on our already densely populated estates”.
Also speaking on livestream, from Bristol, was the Green Party’s new co-leader, Carla Denyer (Carla’s contribution starts approx 7 mins in; Southwark campaigners follow straight on) who urged a “retrofitting revolution” to bring homes such as those on the Aylesbury estate back into use. 

Tracey Beresford (L) and Liba Hoskin (R) from Southwark Green Party with Jimmy Colfer from the Kingston estate at the national day of action on empty homes

  The green space on the Kingston estate where Southwark Council wants to build

Ending the demolition-and-newbuild cycle

The Green Party has long supported campaigns to end the sell-off of council estates to private developers, with Carla noting: “Many of our big cities are becoming hollowed out, packed with luxury build-to-rent investment properties, standing empty… Investors exploit the housing crisis at the expense of people on low and average incomes.” We can see the effects of this in our own borough, where many newbuild “luxury” homes on land that was formerly publicly owned remain unoccupied.
Choosing retrofitting over demolition has enormous benefits for the planet as well as for people. A recent report led by the Royal Academy of Engineering highlighted "embodied emissions” – the CO2 emitted when buildings and materials are made – which are responsible for a stunning 51% of a new home’s carbon footprint over its entire lifetime.
A report published earlier this year by Siân Berry, Green Party member of the London Assembly, found that over 6,000 council homes have been lost in London through demolition since 2003. In Southwark, there has been a net loss of 2,577 council homes.

The Green Party in the community

Southwark Green Party members continue to work to oppose the demolition of homes and to support estates facing unwanted infill development. They include community campaigner Robert Hutchinson, who is supporting action by residents of the Elim estate in Bermondsey to save their ballcourt from development. He writes: “Infill means stripping communities of children’s play facilities, trees, gardens and green spaces which support residents’ physical and mental health, and the health of the natural urban environment. The housing crisis in Southwark has been worsened by years of mis-management by Southwark Council, who are now imposing unwanted developments on the poorest communities in some of the most overcrowded estates in London.”
Green Party supporters Anna and Tom, with children Tilda and Briar, at the national day of action on empty homes
Local campaigner Claire Sheppard supported the successful anti-infill campaign at Priory Court estate in Nunhead and says: “The council must start listening to estate residents and stop dismissing opposition to infill development. Bringing empty council homes back into use won’t by itself solve Southwark’s housing crisis – that will need action by national, as well as local, government. But it would end infilling, take hundreds of families off the waiting list, and play a major part in tackling the climate emergency, which will hit the poorest in our communities the hardest.”

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  • Tracey Beresford
    published this page in News and Views 2021-10-18 20:00:03 +0100