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Walthamstow Isn't 'Social Cleansing' - It's About Excellent Affordable Housing for Local People

05/08/2015 12:13 BST | Updated 05/08/2016 10:59 BST

I agree with Melanie Briggs on some things. Like her I don't like the language of "estate regeneration" with 'decant status' 'phasing' and all that. I'm not a technical housing expert but a local resident who moved to Waltham Forest ten years ago, got involved, became a local councillor and want our residents to live in good housing.

I know that Ms Briggs came to the Marlow Road estate in 2013, buying a former council house sold under the Right to Buy from the 1980s. She puts her finger on it when she talks about not being enough social housing for ordinary people. Damage was done because the Tory Government took the proceeds of the Right to Buy and wouldn't build homes. In London, that's really the root of our housing crisis. The Right to Buy did create social cleansing; council tenants bought their houses but too often they are now in the hands of private landlords. Today it costs £1600 a month to rent a two-bed flat in Walthamstow. Many tenants work full time on low pay, and with a cut in housing benefits, they still can't afford to pay the rent and get thrown out. In Waltham Forest we've now got 2000 families in temporary accommodation, costing the council £5million a year. On top of this we've got 13,000 households on the council house waiting list. It didn't help that in 2010 the coalition government cut funding for new genuinely affordable homes by over 60%.

We can either give up or do something about it. So, Waltham Forest has adopted Private Rented Sector Licensing to crack down on slum landlords. And we've started a council house building programme with the aim of building 2000 new homes by 2020. But to get the money for us to build we need to make sure we work in partnership with the developers who effectively help fund our house building programme.

This is what is happening with Marlowe Road - an estate which has had more than its fair share of problems. But the vibrant community wants to get on. We started consulting with residents in 2011, and by 2013 80 per cent of residents told us they wanted the estate redeveloped. We've made sure residents have been with us every step of the way, from choosing the developer, Countryside, to altering design. Social cleansing is an emotive word that is completely inappropriate for this regeneration scheme, which will benefit our existing residents and improve homes to ensure they meet the needs of our future generations.

It's odd that Ms Briggs talks about her social neighbors in a bidding war. Right now there are 150 council homes on the estate. In the first 'phase' (yes that word), 150 new energy efficient council homes will be built together with other homes. After they are built, the council tenants and indeed most of the leaseholders / freeholders move into them. So in the vast majority of cases there is one move. 'Decant status' means that every council tenant is guaranteed a council house on the estate. And since not everyone can afford to buy a home, we want to help local residents onto the housing ladder, so we've got 40 shared ownership homes in the scheme.

And how about leaseholders and freeholders? As part of the estate regeneration the homes need to be developed and renewed. We want every leaseholder and freeholder on the estate to negotiate direct with us to get a market price for their home. We provide an independent district-valuer to value the property. Plus we add 10% plus to the price for home-loss, disturbance and removal costs. If the leaseholder / freeholder is not happy with the price, the council pays for a surveyor of their choice to value it - then they negotiate with each to reach an agreement. We also pay for stamp duty, legal fees and mortgage redemption fees.

So far, 23 out of the 48 of the freeholders and leaseholders have taken this up - selling their properties to the council and moving locally or elsewhere. 13 are still making up their mind on whether to stay or not. 12 want to stay and will move into a new shared equity home on the estate. We will buy their existing home and transfer the equity into a new upgraded home worth a lot more than the old one. They will live rent and mortgage free as long as they want. If and when they want to sell, the council will buy their equity out.

On the play area, yes, the GLA granted us the money a couple of years ago, when everyone - the GLA, residents, the council knew we were going to redevelop. We could have said no keep your money or lets have the space and equipment for the time being. And yes, we are going to make sure that the play equipment will be used locally and there are plans for a new area for kids growing up on the new estate.

The plain truth is this isn't about "Awesomestow" or "social cleansing" - it's about getting excellent affordable housing for local people.