Labour picks Damien Egan to run again as Lewisham’s elected mayor

Damien Egan
Damien Egan backed a Refugee Cafe fundraiser earlier this year

Lewisham’s elected mayor Damien Egan will stand for a second term next year after being backed by an overwhelming majority in a local Labour party vote.

Speaking after his victory, Egan, who was supported by 81 per cent of party members in a vote on whether he should run again, told members that critics within Labour needed to stop holding the party back.

Unlike Greenwich, which operates a leader and cabinet system, Lewisham is one of a handful of boroughs where residents directly elect a mayor to run the council.

Egan, who had been a councillor in Lewisham Central, became Lewisham’s second elected mayor when he succeeded long-serving Sir Steve Bullock in 2018 with 54 per cent of the vote. One of his pledges was to start work on 1,000 new social homes in the borough with the council’s Lewisham Homes arm and other housing organisations.

Thanking supporters, he said: “My campaign has been a real team effort and together we have been able to highlight the real progress our Labour council has been making over the last three years, from building more council homes, fighting the climate emergency and tackling social and racial inequalities.

“Labour councils have a good story to tell and we’ve got to stop the vocal minority on the fringes holding Labour back. The message I’ve heard time and time again from the majority of Labour members is that they’re fed up of division and want to talk about the real issues that impact people’s lives like job security, housing costs and health.”

There are no opposition councillors in Lewisham: the sole non-Labour councillor, Alan Smith in Catford South, is a veteran of the party who quit in protest when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

1 Creekside hoarding
Egan has started a homebuilding programme as Lewisham mayor

But Egan’s leadership has been criticised by vocal left-wing campaigners unhappy about redevelopment plans for the Achilles Street estate off New Cross Road and the old Tidemill school site in Deptford which include private housing.

At Achilles Street, 87 homes and 17 shops on a council estate are set to be demolished and replaced with 450 homes, including 150 council homes, with work due to start in 2023.

At Tidemill, off Deptford Church Street, work is now well under way on 209 homes – including 104 for London Affordable Rent and 13 for existing council tenants whose homes will be demolished as part of the scheme. There were protests about the loss of a temporary wildlife garden, leading to confrontations between security guards and demonstrators.

At both sites, campaigners objected to the use of London Affordable Rent – about half market rent and available to those on universal credit, but higher than traditional Lewisham council rents. They say these cannot be counted as social homes. Greenwich is using the same rent level for its new council homes.

Egan has also pulled Lewisham out of a controversial deal to compulsorily-purchase land at Millwall Football Club, launched plans to redevelop Catford town centre, and secured it the London Borough of Culture title for next year.

His reselection means he is now all but certain to serve a second term as elected mayor. Labour are highly unlikely to lose control of Lewisham, though the Liberal Democrats – who used to be the council’s opposition party – will be hoping that discontent with the low-traffic neighbourhood in Lee Green and Hither Green will see some of their candidates elected.

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