View from the Chamber: Sian Berry calls for ballots on Camden estates

Sian Berry AM and Highgate ward Green Party councillor says Camden Council should not be afraid to g

Sian Berry AM and Highgate ward Green Party councillor says Camden Council should not be afraid to give its residents a vote on housing redevelopments. Picture: GREEN PARTY - Credit: Archant

More than three months on from the sudden evacuation of the Chalcots towers, we are still waiting for the council to release all the information residents need to help inform the promised ‘independent review’ of what went wrong.

Ms Berry has said residents on estates such as the Chalcots deserve openness and respect from Camden

Ms Berry has said residents on estates such as the Chalcots deserve openness and respect from Camden Council. Picture: ANNA BEHRMANN - Credit: Archant

In fact, despite promises made in July, we’re no closer even to seeing a list of documents that will be released to show us how we got there.

This is not good enough. My own Freedom of Information requests have been refused, and many residents, councillors and reporters seeking the truth are similarly frustrated at the glacial pace of this process.

Openness and respect for residents are what residents on estates across Camden need, so I was very pleased to hear Jeremy Corbyn in his speech to Labour conference recently speak up for council residents facing demolition and promise every estate a binding ballot before plans go ahead.

Corbyn’s pledge followed a motion passed by conference put forward by the Tottenham branch of the party - a clear reaction to Haringey council’s controversial decision to put all its council homes into a deal with private developer Lendlease.

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Shadow ministers have since said that the new ballot policy will only happen if Labour gain power in Westminster. But in the many places where the party already has power, there’s no reason to wait before giving residents a real say in the future of their homes.

This includes London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is about to publish guidance for councils on estate policy, and of course Camden Council, which is embarking on its next wave of proposals.

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The council recently held ‘exhibitions’ outlining new plans for two estates in the Gospel Oak area.

The first of these is West Kentish Town, where the buildings hugely need work, and the low-rise blocks have potential either for new homes as ‘infill’ to help pay for renovation or for a phased scheme of demolition, where replacements are built first and every resident only moved once without leaving the area.

The real balance of local views on these options is ideal to be tested with a ballot.

The second estate, Wendling, is more solidly built and dense already. Here the case is very strong for refurbishment but residents are suspicious that the council seems to have ruled this out already and is only seeking demolition.

Any attempt here to impose redevelopment ‘from above’ by the council would almost certainly not pass a ballot test.

Camden may think it knows best, but it is important to give residents a final say on whether the council really has the best ideas to get homes repaired and provide new council houses.

If it involves residents, keeps their options open and makes its case in an open and honest way then it really has nothing to fear from a ballot.

However, officers in Gospel Oak told residents there are no plans for ballots on the final options for their estates.

Openness and respect for residents were at the heart of Corbyn’s new demands, and Camden council needs to listen and do better very soon.

*Sian Berry, AM, is Green Party London Assembly Member and a Camden councillor representing Highgate ward.

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