Lesnes Estate: South London residents call on Sadiq Khan to prevent their homes being demolished
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As reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) earlier this year, Bexley Council last October approved plans for housing association Peabody to build 1,950 new homes in South Thamesmead, 35% of which would be ‘affordable’.
Key to the proposals is the knocking-down of the Lesnes Estate. A group of residents staged a protest in June, opposing the demolition of their homes, partly due to concerns about the way Peabody had consulted on the scheme, but also about the potential displacement of current tenants, leaseholders and freeholders.
Adam Turk, 50, who has lived on the estate for 15 years, said: “The chances are that a lot of us are going to end up either outside London, which then poses the problem of paying lots of money to get into London for work, or going into property that’s in another state that’s been left to ruin.”
Now, a group of residents, led by IT consultant Dr Johnnel Olabhie, 56, is calling on the mayor to intervene personally, having staged a second protest last week directly outside City Hall.
In 2020, Peabody held a ballot among Lesnes Estate residents as to whether they backed the plans to regenerate South Thamesmead. According to Peabody, 70.2% voted ‘yes’, with a 65.4% turnout.
Dr Olabhie however described the consultation as a “sham”, and said the process as a whole was flawed.
“They told tenants what they wanted to hear," he said.
He raised concerns about the likely carbon impact of knocking-down and rebuilding the homes on the estate, and the future of those being offered equity by Peabody in return for their property.
“How will he afford another mortgage?” he said, indicating another resident present at the protest.
“They are saying you will get equity, and they will take your home. But if you are not working, how can you afford that equity?”
Instead, Dr Olabhie said members of the community wish to see their homes refurbished rather than demolished.
A Peabody spokesperson said the housing association wants the community to “stay together”, and is offering all tenants and homeowners a new property in the neighbouring new development, with their moving costs also to be paid for.
“We appointed an independent chartered surveyor to value the homes and many homeowners have been pleased to accept our offer of 10% more than the market value for their property,” they said.
When asked specifically what he wishes to say to Mr Khan, Dr Olabhie said: “We don’t want our home to be demolished, we want it to be refurbished. Because most of us have already started retrofitting our homes, and to tell him the process is with flaws and he needs to intervene so that the local residents can be a part of it. Right now, they are excluded.”
A spokesperson for the mayor said Mr Khan believes residents should be at the heart of estate regeneration projects, whether they include the demolition of homes or not.
They continued: “The mayor’s London Plan sets clear guidelines for local authorities and housing associations on the demolition and replacement of homes. For larger, City Hall-funded estate regeneration projects that include demolition, such as the Lesnes Estate, the mayor requires that local authorities and housing associations secure residents’ support for plans through a ballot that’s conducted by an independent body.
“While resident ballots are an important milestone in an estate regeneration process, the mayor’s funding guidance is clear that resident consultation and engagement should continue after a ballot has taken place to ensure there is ongoing input from residents into the process.”
A spokesperson for Peabody said: “Redevelopment is the very best option for the estate and will deliver better quality homes for local people, while helping to address the housing shortage.
“We consulted with residents about our plans over a four-year period and conducted a ballot in 2020, which saw most residents voting in favour.
“People tell us that the existing homes are difficult to heat, and we know some residents have concerns about neighbourhood safety. The new homes are energy efficient, and the new neighbourhood will have fewer narrow pathways and dark corners, helping people feel safer.”
The work knocking down the homes is yet to begin, with a Peabody spokesperson saying it does yet not know when it will take place. They said the association is working with each household “to find a solution that works for them”.
Bexley Council declined to comment.