Streatham Soapbox - Issue 11

Last month we put out a call about developments in the area that didn't seem sensible and/or seemed to trample over residents rights and amenities. We weren't expecting the deluge of response, and some from places we've never delivered to. We heard from regular readers; we heard from neighbours and we heard from people whose neighbour had picked up a magazine from a surgery or salon foyer on the High Road. What we can say is there seems to be a growing chasm between what the council sees as desirable development and what Streatham residents want. There also appears to be an increasingly cosy relationship between the council and developers.

We heard from a group on Wyatt Park Road who claim the council didn't fulfil its consultation obligations before planning consent was granted and now is loathe to engage at all. We heard from folk on Woodbourne Avenue who expressed surprise at the scope of a development relative to the described planning application. We heard from the Ferrers Triangle where the council wouldn't allow a ground and first floor extension, although there were 17 others on the same side of the road, but allowed a roof terrace next door that looked into their child's bedroom. We herd from innumerable Streatham folk who are belaboured under various misapprehensions of how the planning system works. Then last week we spoke to a group of people around Fawcett Close with an almost identical experience to the Wyatt Park Road group. It runs out the same developer is involved there as well.

In a perfect world, or under less stressful financial circumstances, one could posit the council had benign strategic plans to contribute to the greater good. In the current environment, though, we have to ask why a specific contractor's similar developments in Lambeth generate similar levels of complaints of lack of engagement? We have to ask why in both cases (and allegedly more cases than that) there are unanswered questions of safety equipment egress in the event of a house fire? We especially need to ask why Lambeth refuses to answer Freedom of Information Act requests fully and in a timely manner then approves such incredibly dense, relatively high-rise developments mere feet from people's houses? 

Assuming a population of 65,000 give or take, Streatham represents just over 0.1% of England's population, yet in 2014 finished 0.5% of housing deliveries in England (around 500 units). This represents 5 times the number of housing units delivered per head of population than in the rest of the country. We know there's a housing crisis; we're not sure Lambeth should make Streatham solve it single-handedly, and best not in this way.

But the underlying analysis brings out nuance that doesn't show immediately in the figures. In spite of the delivery over-achievement, few new units are classed as being affordable. New dwellings are not cheap, and barely dent house prices thus are affordable to a select few. As a means of plugging holes in council finances, the new reality is that it's a way to increase council tax take as well as collection rates as new residents will necessarily be "on the radar" in terms of registrations, jobs and stake in society. Just the previous two years' unit deliveries added over £1 million per year to Lambeth's top line. “Refurbishments” of council properties can mean marginal additions to that whilst cutting dependency rates. If this is the council's strategy, it's been spectacularly successful and probably sheds weight off the council's balance sheet allowing “borrowing for further investment” but also comes at the expense of residents' amenities and a reduction in provided council housing.