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.

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.

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

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

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Is Labour really as doomed as it seems? The polls have got it wrong before

Pollsters often overrate Labour's performance. But in two elections, the opposite happened. 

Few moments in the Labour Party’s history can have felt as gloomy as this one. Going into a general election that almost no-one expects them to win, their overall opinion polling is appalling. Labour seems becalmed in the mid-20s; the Conservative Party has rocketed into the mid- to high-40s, and has even touched 50 per cent in one survey.

The numbers underlying those voting intention figures seem, if anything, worse. The Conservatives have huge leads on leadership and economic competence – often even more reliable indicators of election results than the headline numbers. High turnout groups such as the over-65s have turned against Labour in unprecedented numbers. Working-class Brits have swung towards the Conservative, placing once-safe Labour seats in danger. There are limited, but highly suggestive, hints among the data that the swing against Labour is higher in its own marginal seats – a potentially toxic development for any party seeking to hang on to MPs, as Conservatives defending apparently impregnable majorities under John Major in 1997 would attest.

All the while, Labour seems confused about what it is really for. Try as he might, Keir Starmer’s term as Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary has been marred by a fatal confusion and indecision about the extent of the UK’s future engagement with the European Union’s single market. Labour seems neither the party of Brexit nor of Remain, but one determined to irritate as many voters as possible. A similar situation reigns in Scotland, where nationalists under Nicola Sturgeon face Conservative Unionists led by Ruth Davidson, and Labour struggles even to gain a hearing.

Many Labour policy offers – free primary school meals for all, the promise of free university tuition, nationalising the railways, upholding the triple lock of pensions, opposing National Insurance rises for the self-employed – are pleasingly universal, while in isolation appealing to different electoral groups. But together, they represent a massive shift of resources to higher-income Brits that would take huge tax rises to offset. Labour is dangerously close to offering a regressive package under the guise of left-wing radicalism. This is pretty much as far from the British people’s electoral sweet spot as it is possible to imagine.

It is therefore little wonder that Labour lags so far behind Theresa May’s Conservatives. Even some Labour strongholds appear likely to fall - regional polls from London and Wales suggest that many Labour seats will be lost in the party’s remaining citadels. Brutal stories are already coming in from the campaign trail. Rumours fly of truly epochal losses - though it is important to note that other anecdotes seem much less dramatic.

Still, there are other indicators – all too easily missed in the heat of the moment – that point in the other direction. Labour’s performance in local by-elections has been dire for the main opposition party, but the swing towards the Conservatives has been running at "only" just over 2 per cent. The party has certainly suffered some big swings against it, and it has lost wards to the Conservatives in local authorities as varied as Hertfordshire, Harrow and Middlesborough. But there is no evidence that its vote has collapsed on the scale that some of the polling suggests.

Relatively recent history should also give us pause before we write Labour off altogether. Consider the last two general elections in which Labour had near-death experiences, in both 1983 and 2010. Britain’s third party - first the Liberal-SDP Alliance, and then the Liberal Democrats - seemed about to overtake Labour in the popular vote, and steal scores of seats from the bigger progressive party. On both occasions, Labour was able to draw on hitherto unguessed-at wells of cultural identity and strength to pull away right at the campaign’s end. These are in fact the only elections in recent times when the polls have underrated, rather than overestimated, Labour’s likely score. It might be that the same phenomenon emerges this time.

The Conservatives’ huge lead right now has not resulted from a sudden collapse in Labour support, but rather from the United Kingdom Independence Party’s well-publicised implosion. If anything, after about a year of steady decline, the last week or two has seen Labour’s twelve months of slow deflation grind to a halt. Labour’s numbers have even ticked up a point or two as some voters appear to rally around "their" flag. It might be that, as you squeeze the Labour vote down, it becomes more resilient to further shrinkage.

As the Conservatives try to push into Labour’s heartlands, they might find it harder and harder to persuade voters across, from Ukip as well as from Labour. The Conservatives’ image is still far from good in such communities, whatever the underanalysed and separate appeal of PM May as a strong, considered leader in need of a negotiator’s mandate in Europe. Voters might be attracted to May, and repelled by Corbyn - that does not necessarily mean that they will actually vote Conservative. There is little evidence, so far, of any realignment in how voters see themselves – whether they "are" Labour or Conservative, rather than the more ephemeral question of whether they will simply vote for those parties.

Humans always look for patterns. Experts are no exception, while journalists and commentators can always jump to rapid – but wrong – conclusions in the overexcited heat of an election campaign. So it is with the threat of a Labour catastrophe on 8 June. The danger of just such a result is definitely there. But some of the data points we already have, and two recent elections at which Labour walked close to an abyss, cast a little bit of doubt on the inevitability of such an outcome. There are still just over six weeks to go. A Conservative landslide is still quite likely. But it is not certain. We should keep an eye out for the many hints that May’s gamble might end in a rather less crushing victory than we have been led to expect.

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He blogs, in a personal capacity, at Public Policy and the Past. He is the author of a series of books about modern Britain, including The Politics of Water in Post-War Britain (Palgrave Macmillan: forthcoming, May 2017).

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