Greenwich Council has been “badly let down” by the developer in charge of rebuilding the crumbling Morris Walk Estate, its senior councillor in charge of housing said last night as it approved plans to knock down the 1960s estate.
The council entered into a 12-year deal with Lovell in 2012 to redevelop the Connaught Estate in Woolwich town centre and the Morris Walk and Maryon Road estates, on the Woolwich/Charlton border.
While Lovell has pressed ahead with turning the Connaught – close to the under-construction Crossrail station – into the Trinity Walk development, where 445 of the 689 homes are for private sale, work has not started on Morris Walk or Maryon Road. This is despite the council having spent years moving tenants and leaseholders out.
Now frustrated councillors have agreed to tell Lovell to knock Morris Walk down anyway, to stop the largely deserted estate from being a haven for crime and anti-social behaviour. Demolition had been due to begin in autumn 2018.
‘Build date could not be met’
Chris Kirby, the cabinet member for housing, told the cabinet – the council’s main decision-making body – that the council has been asked for “vacant possession” of the blocks. “When that process had begun, we were informed that the build date could not be met,” he said.
“To say I am disappointed doesn’t cover my feelings towards that. I feel badly let down by Lovell and I have told them in no uncertain terms.”
The agreement was signed off by former leader Chris Roberts and his cabinet, which included current Woolwich Riverside councillors John Fahy and Jackie Smith, whose ward covers the estate.
“If we were writing it now we would design it in a different way, but I’m not here to unpick old agreements,” Kirby said.
“Where we are in is a really difficult negotiation about bringing the build date forward. There’s a huge amount of concern and frustration about the start date – it’s difficult to give a running commentary on a negotiation, but as soon as we have concrete information for residents, we will do.
“We’re looking for that start date to be as soon as possible. We’re working with Lovell, with PA Housing [the housing association involved in the scheme], with police and with residents to mitigate the fallout from where we are.”
‘Not short of a bob or two’
Addressing the cabinet, John Fahy spoke of how Lovell’s parent company, Morgan Sindall, presented to councillors at the Local Government Association conference in Bournemouth last week that it had “£2billion in 2012, and £2 billion in 2019”, “They’re not short of a bob or two,” he said.
Kirby responded: “I just agree with you. Developers are allowed to get away with this kind of activity all around the country and what we need is a radical government that’s going to stop landbanking and restore grants for the building of social homes.”
Council leader Danny Thorpe defended the original deal with Lovell, saying the estates were “exempted” from the Decent Homes Programme, a Blair-era programme to bring social housing up to scratch. “We can’t defend squalor, we want to see a decent standing of housing moving forward, and we will be holding PA Housing to account for their actions as well.”
Councillors also approved a decision to approve compulsory purchase orders on the estate on improved terms, following a government decision involving Southwark Council and the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth. “This is now seen as best practice, which is why it is back before us tonight,” Kirby said.
Also approved – without discussion – was a decision to spend £64 million on buying up housing to use for temporary accommodation which would, for the first time, see the council buy properties outside the borough.
A report presented to the cabinet said the council had been placing people in rented homes as far away as Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and the Medway Towns – and had found itself placing people in poorly-heated or unsafe properties.
The report said it aimed to buy properties in the neighbouring boroughs of Bexley, Lewisham and the northern part of Bromley. Expanding the scope of its properties would also help it tighten up its procedures for vetting rented temporary accommodation, it said.
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