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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.