Thursday, November 24, 2011
Southwark's Housing Commission
Over the next 5 years Southwark will be investing £326 million in making every council home 'Warm, Dry and Safe' in line with the commitment which we made to the electorate in 2010. This equates to nearly £1100 for every resident of the borough - and includes the use of over £100 million generated from asset sales outside the council's current housing estate. We are able to do this as a local authority as we are a significant land holder in the borough. However, there will come a point where we do not have other land assets to sell in order to fund our housing improvements and in any event, we have to ask whether it is right for us to invest so much money in our housing stock which could also be spent on improving our libraries, leisure centres, roads, pavements and other general assets used by all residents of the borough.
At the same time as we face this financial challenge we also face an unprecedented demand for our council housing in Southwark, with nearly 20,000 people on our housing waiting lists. There is undoubtedly a demand for high quality affordable rented housing in Southwark - indeed right across London; the sort of housing which councils are supposed to provide.
To consider these two challenges we have decided to appoint a Housing Commission to report within a year on how we might best manage Southwark's housing stock over the next 25 - 30 years. The Commission will be wholly independent of the Council, run by The Smith Institute and be chaired by the leading housing barrister Jan Luba QC. Jan Luba has an impressive record and has previously successfully represented tenants in claims against the council.
It is important that the Commission should be independent from the Council. Firstly, it will give the Commission a credibility which it would simply not have if it was made up of local councillors who may be regarded as having an agenda or pre-determined outcome. Secondly, I believe that it gives the Commission the ability to really consider all of the options which might be available for financing our existing stock and meeting future demand. The Commission will receive evidence from anyone who has an interest in the future of Southwark's housing - no one will be prevented from making submissions to the Commission and actually people will be encouraged to do so. Once the Commission has reported there will no doubt be much debate and consideration of its recommendations.
I start from the position that I want Southwark to retain its housing stock, but it would be irresponsible of us not to look at the big long term questions - too many administrations in Southwark have done that in the past.
It's disappointing that the Commission has already been dismissed as a "pointless" waste of money by Southwark's Lib Dems. I think it and the issues it will consider are too important to be dismissed without any real thought on the part of all politicians in the borough.
The photo shows Jan Luba QC with myself, Cllr Ian Wingfield and Cllr Fiona Colley