Southwark’s Labour council must come clean on its deals with developers after being dragged through the courts, local Liberal Democrat councillors have urged.
Following a three-year legal battle, the developer’s assessment of how many affordable homes could be built to replace the demolished Heygate estate at the Elephant & Castle was ordered to be released by the Information Commissioner. The Council had initially refused to release it as it would breach their confidentiality agreement with their developer, Lend Lease.
In response to an urgent question from Liberal Democrat councillors, it has now been revealed that the developer spent £56,063 on legal fees challenging the original freedom of information request on behalf of the Council.
At meeting of all the borough’s councillors last week, Liberal Democrats also called on the Leader of the Council to explain why council officers did not even have the correct software to check the developer’s assessment and commit to making public all agreements on affordable housing levels in major regeneration schemes, following the example of London boroughs Greenwich and Islington.
Opposition Liberal Democrat councillors have now also written to the Leader of the Council with a further list of questions about the deal with Elephant & Castle developer, Lend Lease, and the Council’s affordable housing and planning policies.
The move follows a recent attack on the Council by one of the six potential Labour mayoral candidates, David Lammy MP, for giving planning consent for tall buildings that damage local heritage, the low levels of affordable housing provided by developers and the number of ‘penthouse suites’ being granted planning permission by Labour-run Southwark Council.
Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Anood Al-Samerai, said:
“This was yet another failed legal case for the Council and it is sad that Southwark Labour councillors think it was right and proper to spend nearly £60,000 on fighting residents in court in a desperate attempt to keep its deals with developers secret.
"The genie is out of the bottle now though. The release of the viability assessment clearly shows that leading Labour councillors were happy to accept a deal that doesn’t come anywhere close to replacing the lost council homes on the old Heygate estate, doesn’t meet the Council’s own affordable housing targets and results in a huge profit for one of the world’s biggest construction companies.
“This resident victory for throwing light on these shady deals should also set a precedent which will affect all future developments in the borough. That’s why Liberal Democrats are calling on the Labour leader of the council to set out exactly how full transparency in all future regeneration schemes will become the norm in Southwark.
“Only this way can we ensure the borough’s affordable housing targets are met and that local people have a chance of getting a new home in all these developments. It’s wrong to price existing residents out of the borough.”