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"Ground breaking" Southwark Housing Commission's findings published

Published Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Housing

For the past year, an independent Housing Commission chaired by nationally acclaimed housing lawyer Jan Luba QC, has been looking at the future prospects of council housing in the borough.

The independent Commission's task was to propose innovative, but deliverable, long-term ideas to respond to issues created by the unprecedented demand for council housing, that will ultimately help future generations of families prosper in the heart of central London.

Their final report was received by the Leader, Cllr Peter John, on Monday 15 October and has been made immediately available to view by our residents and everyone else who has an interest in public housing.

It breaks new ground in its analysis of the challenges and opportunities facing Southwark and will be of great interest to all local authorities that retain a large housing stock.

Southwark Council has already been taking steps to improve its housing service, for example, investing £326 million to make all of our homes warm, dry and safe; hiring a new Housing Director to head a new professional housing department; taking the call-centre back in-house and terminating Morrison's repairs and maintenance contract.

Despite this, there is a continuing and pressing need for further investment in the council's existing properties, as some buildings reach the end of their lifespan and others continue to require significant capital investment.

At the same time, the council is faced with an unprecedented demand for council housing in Southwark, with the waiting list now exceeding 20,000.

The Housing Commission has looked at solutions beyond 2015/16 that are sustainable and affordable to council tenants and home owners in the long term and break the current cycle of an escalating demand for resources to maintain the quality of the stock.

The Housing Commission report will be formally received by the cabinet at its meeting on 23 October. What is presented in the report will then opened out for public debate over the coming months.

Councillor Peter John, Leader of Southwark Council, said: "The council is wholly committed to council housing provision. In line with this commitment, and demonstrating the importance we place on understanding the way forward, the council commissioned an independent report, the findings of which are now public.

"We wanted to see hard facts and the Commission has given us this. We acknowledge the importance of continuing to improve and we understand the legacy of past decisions, but our priority is the future."

He continued: "This research will be the catalyst for opening out the discussion more widely and to develop a long-term strategy for Southwark. A wide reaching community engagement plan to discuss the report over the coming months will be agreed by Cabinet in December.

"We asked a simple, fundamental question – what is the future for council housing in our borough? However, we knew the question was easy to pose but much more challenging to address. I would like to thank the Commission and everyone who submitted evidence and attended meetings for their time in helping to shape this ground breaking work that we hope will not only benefit Southwark but councils across the country."

Jan Luba QC said: "I welcome the enthusiasm with which the Council has received our report and its commitment to immediate publication. This must now mark the start of an informed dialogue with the residents of the Borough about the future for council housing in Southwark.

"Any reader of our report will immediately see the scale of the issues that need to be addressed. I hope they will also find much of help in formulating a detailed strategy - and a long term plan - for council housing in this vibrant part of inner London."

Notes

Southwark Council is the largest local authority social landlord in London, with 39,000 social rent homes and 15,000 homeowners living in council property.

The official title for the commission is the London Borough of Southwark Independent Commission on the Future of Council Housing.

The decision to formally establish the housing commission was taken at Cabinet on 13 December 2011.

It was always hoped that the work of the commission would provide guidance for other authorities across the country which face similar issues.

The commission invited and heard evidence from all key stakeholders, tenants, leaseholders, other residents, housing associations, and all those who are involved and interested in providing housing across the borough. It is presenting its report to the cabinet on 23 October 2012.

Jan Luba QC has been actively promoting the development of social welfare law and access to legal services for over 25 years. He has chaired the Legal Action Group and the Free Representation Unit.

He was an early member of the Housing Law Practitioner's Association (serving for many years on its executive and as Vice Chair).

He has been shortlisted for a Human Rights Lawyer of the Year Award and was the Legal Aid Barrister of the Year 2007. A full list of other commission members is set out in the published report.

An independent research organisation, The Smith Institute, was selected to support the commission. The Smith Institute is a leading London-based public policy think tank, which specialises in housing and place-making.

The Institute has worked with a wide range of housing organisations, funders, developers, tenant groups, housing charities, construction firms and well known experts and academics in the housing field.

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