Southwark accidentally leaks confidential information

Southwark Council accidentally published the details of its controversial agreement with property giant Lend Lease over the £1.5bn regeneration of the Heygate estate.

The Heygate estate has been awaiting demolition since 2008
The Heygate estate has been awaiting demolition since 2008 [Photo: Marie Le Conte]

Southwark council accidentally leaked some confidential information about the regeneration of the Heygate on their website. They’d attempted to publish a redacted version of an agreement that was part of the compulsory purchase proceedings against the last tenants living in the estate.

Most of the contract was redacted, but a group of tenants realised that they could access the full text by copying and pasting it into a new document. The incident revealed that the council would only get £55m from the 22-acre site, knowing that it has already spent £43.5m on the project so far, and is expected to spend £6.6m more before the final demolition. As a comparison, the neighbouring Oakmayne/Tribeca Square development site, which is only 1.5 acre, got sold in 2011 for £40m.

The figure also sounds incredibly low, considering that the council had initially planned an estimated gross development value of £990m for the Elephant & Castle site. On the other hand, Lend Lease are predicted to make a £194m profit before any overage profit is shared.

The agreement, signed in July 2010, also showed that the council will be breaching its very own social housing policy by only including 79 social rented homes in the new development, on a total number of 2,535 houses. The council leader, Peter John, had previously guaranteed that the plans would involve 25 per cent of affordable housing, which already was 10 per cent less than it should have been.

The move had already been criticised by the local Liberal Democrats, who issued a statement on Monday attacking the Labour council’s apparent inability to “get a good deal for local residents or council taxpayers”. They also added that the blunder had raised “big questions about the low price Lend Lease bought the land for, and why the developers of Southwark's biggest development are being allowed to make their profits at the expense of desperately needed local housing at social or affordable rents.”

These worries echo the controversy around the demolition of two housing estates in Earl's Court by the Hammersmith & Fulham council as part of a larger regeneration scheme. With nearly 800 homes, the West Kensigton and Gibbs Green estates could be sold to property giant Capco and demolished despite the objection of the majority of the residents. It was also revealed last month that Stephen Greenhalgh, former council leader of Hammersmith & Fulham, had promised to put some residents on a "VIP early movers list" if they accepted to publicly back the project. Now the deputy mayor for policing and crime, he is being investigated by the IPCC.

Also under investigation is Peter John, after having failed to declare one of the two tickets for the Olympics opening ceremony, costing £1,600 each, that had been given to him by Lend Lease.

The Australian company, which was contracted to build the Olympic Games Village, has been under scrutiny earlier this year, as it settled over allegations of fraud and agreed to pay fines of $56m for over-billing authorities on public contracts in New York. It is not known how much profit they made from the Olympics, but its profits rose by 28 per cent in 2012 - when it was built – though we know that the project cost the taxpayer £275m in total.

The regeneration plans it has been working on with Southwark have been heavily criticised by local residents, who are accusing the company and the council of trying to gentrify the area, and force people with low incomes to move away from central London. The protests have been going on for over five years - when the estate started being emptied - and are part of a larger battle for the conservation of social housing in the (relative) centre of the capital.  The latest controversy around demolition plans arose in the last year in the Carpenters, close to the Olympics site. Newham council and its leader, Robin Wales, want to demolish the estate to make space for a new UCL campus; some of the tenants are attempting to resist the plans, arguing that the changes equate to social cleansing.

This article has been updated to remove innaccuracies concerning the Earl's Court development.