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‘No one is happy’: Families fight plans to build homes on greens and rooftops in South London

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There is an uprising happening on the estates of Southwark as little pockets of green space have been earmarked for housing.

Southwark Council is eyeing up 28 estates with plans to build homes on either rooftops or plots of grass.

The local authority says the move is necessary to hit its target of building 11,000 council homes by 2043.

There are 15,000 households on the waiting list in the borough, with more than 3,000 in temporary accommodation – which is often substandard, unsafe and overcrowded.

But residents on the targeted estates say the council’s plans will disproportionately hit the poorest and most vulnerable, and that it should come up with a better solution.

According to the council’s housing strategy, it will “consider the needs of the whole estate and how it will benefit from any new homes and associated works”.

But people afraid of losing rare bits of green space feel they haven’t been listened to.

‘The people’s estate’

Southwark is planning to build new homes on green spaces in the borough

Lewis Schaffer lives in Priory Court estate in Nunhead. When Southwark said it was planning to build on green and communal spaces on the estate, he and other residents got together to fight against it.

Southwark Council backed down in the end, and said the plans were not financially viable – though Lewis thinks it was because the press got involved.

He said: “They have convinced the people that they own the land and in theory it’s their estate, but it’s not actually – it’s the people’s estate.”

The New York-born comedian said Southwark residents are at “tipping point”, that the borough is “having a paradigm shift”, and that the sitting Labour council could be on the way out.

He said: “The end of the ruling party will be like the end of Saddam [Hussein] or [Nicolae] Ceaușescu, they will be last to know until they are being slow hand clapped.”

After the success at Priory Court, he began warning other estates about the council’s plans and others are fighting back.

‘They wouldn’t do this in leafy, middle-class Dulwich’

On July 14, the council assembly heard from Janine Below, a mum who lives just beside Bells Gardens estate in Peckham.

The council is planning to build nearly 100 homes on green space, a third of which will be private, and a community centre.

At the meeting, Labour councillors rejected a call from the Liberal Democrats to put the scheme on hold.

The refused motion asked that the council give formal protection for the borough’s green spaces, including Peckham Green and Bells Gardens, “to ensure that they are not needlessly lost to developments”.

The plans for Bells Gardens include cutting down mature trees and taking away a ball court, where Janine’s son and other young people play. The council plans it to replace it with one half the size.

Green space housing plans Southwark

Southwark is planning to build new homes on green spaces in the borough

The council has already submitted a planning application for the site. It extended the consultation period, due to end in July, to the end of October.

But Janine told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the original consultation was “biased and misleading”.

She said: “The council says ‘this is what the community wanted’, but they basically offered a small pitch or a smaller one – there was no other option.

“Rio Ferdinand’s dad used to live on this estate so he played here. It’s one of the only pitches that’s proper full-sized.

“Boys and girls want to be able to kick the ball properly. My 13-year-old son said [the smaller pitch] won’t work.”

The mum added that the community is angry. She said: “They wouldn’t do this in leafy middle classed Dulwich.

“I don’t think Southwark Council know what’s coming to them.

“I think the council is afraid now because all the communities are linking up so they can’t just pick on one estate and then come to our estate and then go somewhere else.

“It’s really difficult to live in a really dense space. They are picking on the poorest, the most vulnerable people.

“We don’t have time to be going to meetings. People are working three jobs – who’s got time for this?”

Alex Osorio, who has lived on the estate since she was two, said “no one is happy” with the plans.

Green space housing plans Southwark

Southwark is planning to build new homes on green spaces in the borough

She said: “It’s awful, just shocking. A lot of it is private. I’ve lived here since I was two years old and this is my home – I have good memories of our outdoor space.

“Kids from the estate have somewhere to play now and they are just taking that away from their futures.”

Alex said despite the council extending the consultation period, she doesn’t hold out much hope.

She added: “Money always wins, they’ll probably find a way to go through with it.”

Nearby is a green space used daily by school children and locals. Dubbed the Flaxyard site by the council, construction is set to begin on 120 new homes on August 9. A protest against the plans will take place on July 31.

The space, by Sumner Avenue and Melon Road, is just off Peckham High Road and provides a welcome respite from the fumes.

The development will provide 96 council and 24 shared ownership flats.

Alden Simpson has lived in the area for 24 years. He and his friends meet every day at 5pm in the park to play dominos and other games.

Green space housing plans Southwark

Southwark is planning to build new homes on green spaces in the borough

He said: “They are going to mess it up and we won’t have any access to it.

“The kids come play football in the evening, people have drinks and food, we celebrate birthdays here– we use it. It’s used every day. This is the only greenery around here and it’s a vital space.”

What the council say

Green space housing plans Southwark

Southwark is planning to build new homes on green spaces in the borough

Councillor Stephanie Cryan is the cabinet member for council homes and homelessness.

She took over from Cllr Leo Pollak after an investigation from South London Press revealed that he was operating under an anonymous Twitter account and was slamming resident-led campaigns as “pathetic nimbyism”.

Housing scrutiny commission members recently probed Cllr Cryan about the growing opposition from residents.

Commission chair, Cllr Gavin Edwards, also raised concerns about the council’s consultation process.

Residents by the earmarked Brenchley Gardens in Camberwell were initially told there would be a certain amount of development on their green space.

He said: “When the consultation was launched it included an entire new block which had not been mentioned in any of those previous meetings, either with councillors or local residents.”

The plans have since been paused.

Cllr Cryan denied there was a system-wide problem and said it was a “one-off”. But she added: “We have to learn to from it and review.”

Cllr Cryan told the LDRS: “We have a duty to act in the interests of all residents in Southwark, thousands of whom are living in unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation, many with young children.

“We are in the midst of a national housing crisis, and with more than 15,000 households on our waiting lists, of which half include children.

“It is absolutely vital we explore every opportunity to build more council homes.”

She added that there was “extensive consultation” with residents on Bells Gardens estate and by the Flaxyard site, which she said will meet “urgent need” for council homes.

Cllr Cryan said the council is “investing heavily” in green spaces.

She said that includes £14 million on improving Burgess Park, “located in the centre of many of our borough’s working class neighbourhoods”, and £61 million on parks since 2010.

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