One of the main reasons Sadiq Khan won the race to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor over the favourite Tessa Jowell was their respective stances on estate renewal. He took inspiration from Islington council’s approach, who rejected large scale demolition and insisted on extensive involvement of residents.
Jowell recruited Andrew Adonis, who had written essays urging large scale demolition and redevelopment to create ‘city villages’. At Labour hustings this idea went down like a lead balloon, and it was an early indication that Jowell would struggle to win selection.
When Khan won, his election manifesto was clear: “estate regeneration only takes place where there is resident support, based on full and transparent consultation, and that demolition is only permitted where it does not result in a loss of social housing, or where all other options have been exhausted, with full rights to return for displaced tenants and a fair deal for leaseholders”.
This issue is a touchstone for many Labour activists – who were dismayed when the first edition of the Mayor’s good practice guide on estate regeneration downplayed balloting residents on regeneration schemes. It was widely written up as a u-turn. Political pressure over the issue reached the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who did not equivocate in his 2017 conference speech: “councils will have to win a ballot of existing tenants and leaseholders before any redevelopment scheme can take place”.
Corbyn also repeated Khan’s commitment to one-for-one replacement of existing homes, and Khan has shown he holds that dear by refusing Barnet’s Grahame Park regeneration which would have meant fewer social rented homes. Now he has updated the regeneration guide, u-turning on a u-turn and now requiring ballots as a condition of GLA funding.
Council leaderships with ambitious building plans which involve demolition (and that is not just Haringey) now face having to win ballots, many for schemes long planned. Many of them will be difficult campaigns, but everyone involved should remember that deep down, everyone agrees that estate regeneration can be done positively: Sadiq Khan hasn’t committed to ballots because he wants the schemes voted down. He’s committed to them because it means regeneration schemes must be designed to be popular.