Dozens of people gathered outside the Manor Place Depot development in Walworth on Saturday (April 17) to protest homes standing empty in Southwark and across London, writes Kit Heren…
The gathering was part of a wider protest by the Action on Empty Homes group, which calculates that there are 268,000 homes in England that have been empty for more than six months, 260,000 second homes with no permanent resident and 120,000 short-term lets through platforms like Airbnb – with 70,000 of those in London alone.
And Action on Empty Homes says Southwark is London’s “hotspot” for unoccupied housing. Some 2,358 homes stood empty in 2020, according to the group. Many of these are in the north-east of the borough.
Southwark Council said there are more than 1,300 “long-term empty” private properties, based on its own council tax records. There are more than 14,000 households on the council housing waiting list in the borough and 3,000 in temporary accommodation.
“It’s got to the stage where you can’t just ignore it anymore,” said Will, a protester in Walworth on Saturday. “It’s crazy that there are all these houses just standing empty with the level of homelessness that we’ve got in London.”
The masked group gathered together for a photoshoot. Some chanted “requisition, not demolition” outside the block as several residents looked on from their balconies.
One woman living in the building told the News: “I basically support what they’re doing, we all want to end homelessness and things like that. But I think they’ve got the wrong target coming here. [My husband and I] are key workers and we do actually live here.”
Manor Place Depot was chosen as the site for the photoshoot because it is “a symbol of much that is wrong with regeneration”, according to organisers. The development’s flats start at more than £550,000 for a one-bed property, according to the website of developers Notting Hill Genesis. Just 44 of the 262 flats are for social rent.
A spokesperson for Notting Hill Genesis said: “We have a total of 23 properties at Manor Place Depot that are as yet unsold. Of these, seven have been reserved and 16 are still on the market. We have already sold all 82 shared ownership homes and let out all 44 social rent homes.
“The last year has been difficult due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, but we are confident Manor Place Depot will continue to be very popular and that the remaining homes will not be empty for long.”
Southwark Council’s plan to tackle empty homes in the borough includes buying up empty properties and using them as council housing, as well as working with landlords to use empty homes as temporary accommodation. But the council said its hands are currently tied by national planning policy.
Cllr Helen Dennis, Southwark’s cabinet member for social support and homelessness, urged government housing minister Robert Jenrick ahead of the Action on Empty Homes protest to change national planning policy to let the council do more about the “unacceptable” situation.
Dennis asked Jenrick in a letter to “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.