Since the council published its strategy for building 11,000 new homes and began consulting with residents on ‘infill’ developments, it has become one of the most controversial topics we cover.
Around 28 specific estates so far have ‘infill’ plans as defined by the council, but this map highlights 53 sites with infill, rooftop extensions, garage conversions slated for estates across Southwark, the vast majority of which are currently in consultation phases with residents.
Some builds are already at advanced stages and have been designed with support from TMOs, TRAs and residents’ project groups. Around half of social rent homes built on estates are specifically committed for those living in the immediate area in housing need, with the rest open to the general register based on bidding priority.
The majority of these builds are solely homes for social rent and are designed with the council’s new ‘best in class’ design principles which aim to elevate social housing. Some developments, however, include private housing as well. Several have seen sustained opposition from residents who say ‘garage sites’ and ‘disused car parks’ slated for development also include green space and play areas, as covered by the News.
Here we examine some of the key issues facing these projects, look at why the council has taken this approach and what political support and opposition exists for this new chapter in the borough.
Borough & Bankside
- Rochester Estate – 3 social rent homes on the parking court on Nicholson Street
- Dodson Estate – 11 social rent homes at 49-56 Dodson Estate, including on garages
- Styles House Estate- 24 new council homes are already under construction in partnership with the estate’s TMO
London Bridge & West Bermondsey
- Creasy Estate – 15 social rent homes proposed for the Leroy Street garage site
- St Saviour’s Estate – 5 storey building providing 16 social rent homes on what is currently Fendall Street garages. Also potential for 42 new homes on car park and garages opposite Woodville House via a 5 storey block
- Pynfolds Estate – 8 social rent homes in two new blocks on the corner of Cathay & Paradise Street
- Slippers Place – 18 council homes infilled on a ‘car park and pram sheds’ site
- Abbeyfield Estate – 2 storey rooftop extension and redevelopment of an undercroft to create 28 new council homes and another 28 for private sale. A separate redevelopment and extension to Maydew House will create 69 new social rent homes and 18 affordable homes
- Haddonfield Estate – 14 new social rent homes on former garages
- Canada Estate – 23 new social homes over six storeys proposed on a car park
- Chilton Grove – 44 new council homes created through the redevelopment including rooftop extensions
- Silverlock Estate – proposed new 5 storey block in Tissington Court with 35 social rent homes. A games area will be relocated and new play area created with a courtyard
- Gaywood Estate – a proposed rooftop development of 20 social rent homes
- Lancaster Estate – Proposed 18 new rooftop council homes
- Rockingham Estate – plans outline ten new rooftop homes. A further 14 new rooftop homes have been proposed for a block in Falmouth Road.
- Lawson Estate – seven new council homes approved for a garage site at Alderney Mews
- Elim Estate – 32 social rent homes on land including the ball court
- Cluny Estate – Conversion of Decima Street TRA hall into 2 new council flats
- Whites Ground Estate – 4 council homes proposed in a gap between two blocks
- Longfield Estate – 7 social rent infill homes facing Balaclava Road
- Vauban Estate – 13 social rent homes planned for a site with a car park
- Eveline Lowe Estate – 11 social rent homes via demolition of existing garages and infill at Linsey Street, and another infill development on a green space near Amina Way
- Charles McKenzie Estate – 13 new social homes proposed on existing garages
- Rennie Estate – 12 social rent homes proposed through rooftop extensions, on top of 49 extra council homes underway through a new block which includes an outdoor gym, extending an existing children’s playground and improved lighting
- Manor Estate – 12 new council homes in a part 2 and part 4 storey block due for completion in 2022
- Welsford Street – 10 social rent homes in a new terrace on former garage site
- Salisbury Estate – 26 new council homes planned on a car park and rear courtyard
- Kingston Estate – 8 new council homes at a garage site near Dawes Street. Residents say it includes a garden and veg patch
- Astley Estate – 20 new council homes on former garages
- Rutley Close – 25 new council homes on a former bungalow block and disused car podium
- Pelier Street – 17 new council homes at the 7 storey William Cuffay House on a former garage site
Old Kent Road
- Unwin and Friary Estate – 35 new council homes through rooftop extensions
- Ledbury Estate – 265 social rent homes and 75 for private sale with new homes built as part of the wider estate’s redevelopment
- Linley Estate – 44 new homes in a new l-shaped block
- Elmington Estate’s Lomond Grove – 22 new council homes on a grassy, woodland area the council describes as ‘walled off’ after locking it up itself
- Goschen Estate – two new blocks of sixteen council flats are currently under construction
- Champion Hill Estate – 25 new homes planned for the Seavington House and garage site.
- Sceaux Gardens – Proposed demolition of Florian and Racine blocks and Marie Curie garages to redevelop as 79 new council homes
- Southampton Way – Adding 2 storey rooftop extensions to create 32 new social rent homes
- Vestry Road – 11 new council homes and a TRA hall on the current hall’s site with a new playground.
- Bells Gardens Estate – 65 new homes for social rent and 32 for outright sale
- Peckham Green / Flaxyard site – 96 new social rent homes and 24 affordable homes
- Pennack Road Estate – 18 new social rent homes through rooftop extension
- Fenham Road – Garages converted into 5 social rent homes
- Rye Hill Park – 23 social rent homes and a children’s play area on a garage site due to be completed in 2022
- Copeland Road car park – 24 social rent homes, 18 affordable and 25 for private sale along with a rebuilt basketball court and new landscaping by Hazel Close completed in early 2021.
- Clifton Estate extension – 53 proposed social rent homes, 38 of which through rooftop extensions and 15 on an infill site.
- Nunhead Estate – 45 proposed new social rent homes, 27 via rooftop extension and 18 through ‘infill opportunities’
- Fenwick Road – 8 new council homes on current garages and car park
- Consort Estate – 8 social homes in a 4 storey new housing block, Heaton House, on a former car park.
- Woodland Road Estate – 14 council homes proposed on green space in Woodland Road. It will include a new play area.
- Lordship Lane Estate – 12 new council homes proposed on garages adjacent to Maxwell Court
- Bassano Street – council garage conversion into a terrace of 4 social rent homes
TIMELINE: The mounting controversy
- March 2014 – Southwark Labour launches its election manifesto pledging to build 11,000 new council homes by 2043.
- April 2019 – In an exclusive, the News reveals the location of 2,780 new council homes in the pipeline, by electoral ward. Many are ‘infill’ projects but have yet to be described as such.
- October 2019 – Southwark Council announces new strategy to build ‘rooftop extensions’ in a bid to tackle the housing crisis.
- March 2020 – The local authority publishes its draft ‘New Homes Delivery Plan’ outlining how it will build its new homes – including infilling and converting garages into housing.
- November 2020 – More than 100 sign petition against infill plans in Nunhead’s Priory Court in first campaign of its kind against the scheme.
- December 2020 – Then housing cabinet member Leo Pollak tells the News the council now ‘builds homes quicker than it loses through right to buy’ and is ‘half way there’ toward 2,500 new homes by 2022 target.
- February 2021 – Pollak resigns from his position after it emerges he has been running an anonymous twitter account criticising campaigners as ‘NIMBYs’, apologising for his ‘serious error of judgement’. Calls from campaigners for him to step down as a councillor were unheeded, as the Liberal Democrats attacked Labour for refusing to stop its ‘golden goodbye’ payments for ex-cabinet members.
- March 2021 – In a victory for campaigners, infill plans are scrapped for Priory Court as the new homes would not represent good value for money.
- April 2021 – The News first reports on residents’ concerns over plans to build on Elim Estate’s ball court. Groups from Bells Gardens and Brenchley Gardens also join the anti-infill movement as it spreads across the borough.
- June 2021 – A planning decision on Elim Estate’s new homes is delayed by three months and residents in Dodson and Amigo Estate vow to fight redevelopment plans.
- July 2021 – Labour votes against a Liberal Democrat motion to pause infill projects and protect green spaces on estates that are not officially designated as open land or public parks. Stephanie Cryan, who took over from Leo Pollak, refuses to stop projects in Bells Gardens and Dodson and Amigo but reiterates her desire to work with residents. Meanwhile, 300 sign a petition against a project in Elmington Estate and campaigners against development on ‘Peckham Green’ stage their first demonstration.
- August 2021: Protests continue in Peckham Green, with campaigners hitting out at the council’s claims the land ‘is not designated a park’ as contractors begin work. Robert Hutchinson, an Elim Estate anti-infill campaigner is arrested over unsubstantiated hacking claims and later released with ‘no case to answer’. Campaigners later claim the allegations were ‘politically motivated’. Vauban, Kingston and Slippers Place estates are the latest to launch petitions and stage protests against planned new homes.
Why is the council doing this?
Massive rise in empty homes
Anti-infill activists have routinely called on the council to focus on requisitioning empty homes to help meet its housing targets.
Although a growing problem in the borough, bringing every empty home back into use would only scratch the surface of the council housing shortage.
Last year the charity Action on Empty Homes compiled new statistics it described as ‘extremely worrying’ showing that the number of empty homes in Southwark had rocketed during lockdown, with one in 24 having ‘no one living there’.
More than 3,600 homes in Southwark in 2020 were no longer listed as primary residences, up by almost 600 per cent from 523 in 2019 – the highest recorded rise in any London borough.
There are also a further 2,358 homes listed as long-term empty properties in Southwark, up from 1,469 this time last year. While properties can be listed as temporarily empty in snapshot data during renovations, house sales or in between lets, any rise in the number that are empty long-term is particularly concerning.
In April, Cllr Helen Dennis told us the council was working with landlords to bring homes back into the rental market and aimed to buy up empty properties where possible, but without more powers from central government its hands were tied.
In a letter to the government’s housing minister Robert Jenrick she urged him to change national planning policy to let the council do more about the “unacceptable” situation and “provide local authorities with the power within planning policy to insist on full occupancy as a condition of planning permission”, with any vacant properties to be let out at “affordable” rent.
Other demands included allowing councils to raise the tax on long-term empty homes, to make it easier for local authorities to use compulsory purchase orders to bring empty homes back into use, and to consider loans and grants to cut the number of empty homes.
Cost of land
Building on existing estates is one of the ‘creative solutions’ the council has adopted after finding itself priced out of the market.
In March 2019, then-housing cabinet member Leo Pollak said: “The great south London land rush is eating away at the affordable housing and infrastructure contributions Southwark residents could otherwise be benefiting from.”
Sites he had in mind for new homes included a plot on Ilderton Road, given an existing use value of £1.8million and then put on the market for a staggering £15 million. Meanwhile, the same year he said it cost the council around £310,000 to build its average new home.
Right to buy
While activists blame empty homes, large scale estate demolitions and developers failing to keep to social housing commitments for the social housing crisis in Southwark, one of the council’s key issues is one it has no control over whatsoever – right to buy.
In nearly a decade the number of new council homes built in Southwark is only around half the total number lost through the policy.
From January 2012 to 2021, former tenants bought 1,583 properties in Southwark. In the same period, just 785 replacements were either under construction or newly built
Labour has lobbied for councils to receive 100 per cent of right to buy receipts, new legislation to prevent purchased homes from being rented out privately for at least five years, and called for buy discounts should be set by local authorities, all to help mitigate the impact the scheme makes on housing stock and availability.
Shockingly, in 2019 we reported how the council spends two million a year renting back former council homes sold under right to buy for people in desperate need of housing.
Are rooftop extensions safe?
In August 2020 Arup conducted a survey on the possibility of building rooftop extensions in council blocks across the borough, looking in detail at nine estates.
The report highlighted safety concerns in blocks built before 1970, even with just one extra storey, the high cost of doing so, and significant disruption to residents if extensive strengthening work were required. Blocks that are built over 18m may then have to be retrofitted with sprinklers over fire safety fears, casting their cost effectiveness into doubt. The council says only one project would go over this height threshold; at Chilton Grove. in Rotherhithe. We asked Cllr Cryan whether rooftop extensions were safe and a good use of funds.
“We asked Arup to do a very general, desktop based, study into our council blocks and their potential for rooftop extensions,” she said.
“Their initial report does make some blanket comments about some of our older blocks currently being unsuitable for extensions – but the report also goes on to suggest it is possible with some additional works.
“Again, this report was done without any invasive work to any specific blocks and is incomplete. We would, of course, take every proposal for rooftop extensions and do complete, individual and in-depth assessments of the blocks in question to ensure their suitability, and no works would take place where there was any doubt to the safety of our residents.”
Where do our politicians stand?
Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle said it was “overly simplistic to treat infill as one policy – each building and site are different.”
Although he is unable to ‘call in’ planning decisions, unlike ward councillors, he says he has met with residents from estates to help provide advice and resources to those engaging with the planning process.
“I’ve had some campaigners tell me there is no support for infill homes – it is an interesting view that no one wants new housing, that’s not the reality in my inbox or in my constituency,” he said, adding that “Southwark Labour is doing more than any council in the country for house building. In some cases it needs tweaking but overall I think the public do support it.” He described Southwark Lib Dems’ view as ‘party politicking’: “They criticised the council when it was being too slow to build and now they’ve worked out they can get a few votes by council house bashing.”
*MPs Harriet Harman and Helen Hayes were contacted by the News but we did not receive a reply before going to press.
Where does the opposition stand?
In July, Southwark Lib Dems came out against infill homes on green spaces when their housing spokesperson Anood Al-Samerai tabled a motion – later defeated – at a council assembly meeting which called on the council to audit and protect all green spaces and urgently review the site-selection criteria for council-led developments.
During the debate she told councillors: “Estates are designed specifically with communal green spaces because people don’t have gardens. I can’t believe we can’t agree that there should be formal protections for green space and play spaces.”
The same week, a Southwark Green Party spokesperson said: “We recognise the need for more, good-quality council homes. Some sensitive infill on genuine brownfield sites may be acceptable, however building on inner city parks, gardens, ball courts and sports pitches is not.
“Parks, gardens and ball courts are not spare land. This space and facilities are built into the design of estates in lieu of private gardens and open spaces. These schemes effectively ask those with the least to give up the most.”
The party says it is concerned that residents are often only finding out about planning applications at a ‘very late stage’ and that consultations are often ‘top down’.
Instead, it has called for better enforcement of social housing in private developments and for the council to prioritise renovating empty properties that could be available in far shorter timeframes.
Should estates have a ballot on in-fill homes?
In August we asked Southwark Council’s new council housing boss Stephanie Cryan why estates were being given the right to a ballot on regeneration projects but not infill homes.
She told us: “I understand the concerns of the campaigners, but there is a difference between large-scale estate regeneration projects where existing social rented homes are demolished and replaced with large numbers of new homes, and our smaller new homes projects.
“The Greater London Authority’s (GLA) criteria for holding ballots on estate regeneration projects applies to any scheme seeking GLA funding that involves the demolition of social rented homes and the construction of 150 or more new homes.”