BY JAMES DAVIES
A local authority has been slammed for building a small number of new council houses despite a “huge” sell-off of its properties.
A report by local pressure group, Lambeth People’s Audit, shows the extent of Lambeth council’ home sales in recent years.
According to The Great Lambeth Housing Sell-Off report, released this month, more than 300 homes were sold between 2010/11 and 2017/18, in addition to 600 properties sold in the 10 years to 2010.
This number excludes properties bought by council tenants under the Right-to-Buy scheme.
But the report found that only nine new council homes were built between 2014 and 2018, despite the increase in capital receipts.
Using Land Registry data, the group found that £150m was raised from sales between 2010 and 18, and cost £1.5m in staff and legal fees.
The report raises questions about Lambeth council’s housing strategy by illustrating a number of properties sold cheaply and then sold on by developers, buy-to-let private landlords and wealthy individuals, for considerably higher sums.
In all 23,000 people are believed to be on the borough’s council house waiting list, with a building target of 1,000 extra council-rent level homes set by Lambeth council for 2020.
The report said that despite borrowing £300m from government to fund home building, only a small amount of the money raised from the sales has been spent on funding new housing.
The publically available data used by the report shows that most capital spending has been on schools and resurfacing roads and pavements.
Chartered quantity surveyor and report co-author, Simon Morrow, 52, said: “Lambeth council are making decisions on the basis of politics rather than what is best for residents.
“What Lambeth struggles with is they don’t like being exposed like this. But the numbers speak for themselves and the vast majority is irrefutable.”
Mr Morrow helped set up the group along with a number of other professionals living in the area after questioning the council’s figure of £14.5m to repair the Cressingham Gardens estate, and challenged its assertion that the estate was too expensive to repair.
Mr Morrow said the council dropped its estimate significantly after he proposed a figure of £6.95m.
Mr Morrow added: “We were driven to do something by seeing maladministration in the council.”
Cllr Andy Wilson, Lambeth’s cabinet member for finance, said: “We have endured a decade of government budget cuts, amounting to more than 50 per cent in our core funding – over £230m – slashed from our budget between 2010 and 2020. And we now need to find another £44m of savings over the next four years.
“Like councils all over the country, we have to find the money wherever we can to keep funding our priority services. This has largely come from making savings across the organisation, while avoiding ill-advised moves like running down the council’s reserves.
“Our property disposals are part of a sensible policy of selling surplus land and buildings to help pay for front-line services.
As a result of prudent and considered disposals of council assets, we have been able to save £36m from internal financing. This is because we have delayed external borrowing.
The properties listed, including former short-life houses, were surplus properties. The proceeds went into general council funds, helping pay for key services including education, social care and housing.
“This administration has chosen to realise wealth that was benefiting the few and use it for the benefit of the many.”