Council ‘wants to resolve Greenwich Foodbank’s future’

The food bank’s site is earmarked for new council homes

Greenwich Council wants to secure the future of Greenwich Foodbank, which will have to leave its base in Eltham to make way for new council homes, a senior councillor has said.

The food bank, based on Orangery Lane, off Eltham High Street, had been told it would have to leave its council-owned premises by December. It had turned down an offer of premises in Thamesmead, saying it would be difficult for its volunteers to get to.

Greenwich’s cabinet member for housing, Chris Kirby, told a scrutiny panel meeting last Thursday that the council had been talking to the foodbank about its future since the beginning of the year.

“We’re working intensively with them to find out what works for them,” he said. “They were never going to have to be off the site by December, it was hoped that they would have been able to move before then.”

He said the council was working on having the food bank in a new site by July. “The sooner we can resolve this, the better,” he said. “They know they have our support.

“Ultimately, that site is going to have 40 council properties, for families in Eltham who are probably already using the food bank. Really, where we need to get to is a viable site for them.”

Jeremy Smalley, the council’s assistant director for regeneration, said that the issue had been complicated because the Orangery Lane scheme was receiving funds from City Hall, and the council had to hit deadlines for progress with the project in order to get the money.

The council could negotiate with City Hall – particularly when organisations like the food bank were affected by housing schemes – he said, “but that does bring some uncertainty about our delivery credibility and our funding cashflow with the GLA”.

Just three of the eight councillors on the scrutiny panel were present for the session quizzing Kirby on the council’s housing policies and its programme of building council homes, with only two left at the end. Chair Clive Mardner and Christine May stayed for all the session, Dominic Mbang left during it.

Kirby raised the foodbank’s future unprompted at the end of a session where he discussed the Greenwich Builds programme to begin work on 750 council homes, the biggest programme of works since the 1980s.

“750 homes, when we’ve 20,000 on the waiting list, feels like a drop in the ocean. Well, it is, but we’ve had to borrow £300m to do that, which is more money than we’ve borrowed for anything, ever,” he said, pointing out the council had to turn itself into a “mid-sized developer” from a “standing start”, having originally had no staff with experience of major homebuilding projects.

“There’s been some criticism that we’re not ambitious enough – but this is the start of a journey for us. This is a radically different thing we’re doing. We could have announced a meaningless target of 10,000 new homes in the next 10 years. It’s better for us from a policy perspective, it’s more realistic and it will get a sense of momentum going if we build it sustainably, and we grow the team to build the homes that we need to tackle the housing crisis.”

In an earlier, more wide-ranging segment dealing with his housing portfolio more generally, Kirby said there were now 1,800 children in temporary accommodation after an “explosion” in cases, a figure he called “staggering and shameful”.

Greenwich had lost 10,000 council homes through the Right to Buy scheme over the decades, he said, adding that about 60% of them were now being let out privately. “You have to question the morality of that,” he said. “[The government] wants to extend Right to Buy to housing association properties to enable people to buy under shared ownership, not even the whole property – they want to trap people in shared ownership, so the property can’t go back to social let. It’s just mind-numbingly stupid. The only way it makes sense is if you accept that it’s an ideological attempt to reduce the amount of social housing, because that’s what it is.”

Kirby also said the condition of homes on Morris Walk Estate, which is due to be demolished while awaiting a long-delayed redevelopment, was too poor to allow homeless families to move in.

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