Fall out from CIP

Deputation to the CIP Scrutiny Review Panel, 11th January 2022

The CIP Review Panel is a panel set up by the Resources and Corporate Performance Scrutiny Committee to look at the effectiveness of the council’s ‘Community Investment Programme’, which was begun in 2010 and is due to end in 2025.

The panel’s concerns are

  • Value for money
  • Additional council rent homes and “social value”

Tom Young used his five minutes to share some examples to sketch what’s wrong with Camden’s CIP before summing up

  • Example 1: West Kentish Town Estate
    • The outline cost for this comprehensive redevelopment is £300m
    • Only £100,000 was spent on maintaining the estate’s 316 homes over the last 10 years i.e £30 per flat per year
    • Camden’s 2018 condition survey indicates about £1m would make a big difference: it listed outstanding costed maintenance items
    • In 2019, the Executive signed off three times that amount – £3m- to prepare the business case for redeveloping the estate site and trebling density
    • In 2020, residents were asked to choose between more of the same neglect or new flats in an unspecified time. What would you feel faced with that choice?
  • Example 2: Bacton Low Rise redevelopment
    • A start on Phase 2 is about 7 years overdue
    • Estimated cost has gone from £66m to £112m
    • According to Cllr Berry’s 2020 FOI, 8 fewer council homes plus 17 more homes for sale than originally planned are now anticipated
    • 47 households remain displaced. And have been for about 10 years
    • The Bacton demolition site has been a blight on the neighbourhood for that time
  • Example 3: Development of CIP disposal sites in Haverstock and Gospel Oak wards
    • Camden has given planning consent for about 220 homes on 5 sites it sold off to fund CIP
    • Just 3 are social rent although planning policy would lead us to expect in the region of 50 or 60. 
    • CIP’s protagonists have seen planning policy as a risk to residual site value and receipt from land sales to private developers. Of course, negotiations between site buyers and Camden are confidential.
    • The sites hosted community space, play areas, green open space, tenants storage and workspace. Pretty much none has been replaced
  • Example 4: The Gospel Oak and Haverstock CIP
    • All 6 schemes in our area will cost in the region of £800m 
    • Additional council rent homes from this spend is 60 sometime between now and 2035. Meantime, no one has any idea how many additional council homes the area needs to sustain itself and by when
    • Density across the 3 big estate developments will be tripled. Most of it will be property for sale on housing department land
    • Construction is expected to go on till mid 2030s, longer probably given past performance and the vicissitudes of selling flats in London
  • Example 5: Parliament Hill School
    • In 2021, Danny Beales told us: “the £37.8 million redevelopment has provided a 21st-century learning environment that supports pupils to reach their full potential” but had nothing to say about the project’s £15m cost overrun
    • The builder got over £40m out of it although the initial costing was £25m
    • A senior CIP officer said the gap was due in his words to: “an early expectation of what the budget would be based on relatively limited sort of design and survey information”
    • In short: public money spent on the back of a “ limited sort of design and survey information” has given rise to a £15m cost overrun

To sum up: CIP is characterised by 

  • Failure to plan at neighbourhood scale: neighbourhood planning is not much more than post-rationalisation of Camden’s planned interventions hiding important missed opportunities and losses of neighbourhood infrastructure that genuine planning could have addressed. A lack of appetite for integrating social research into local plans means no-one knows anything much about demographic impacts in relation to social mix, displacements, economic vitality, social continuity and cradle to grave needs. I assume something similar is true in other parts of the borough besides my own.
  • Delays: impacts on communities from delayed building contracts, extended displacement, living with demolition sites and the loss of facilities like workspace or play areas, are not taken into account. The Executive casts rescheduling as “flexibility” (in the face of market challenges e.g Brexit) congratulating itself while imposing planning blight on the communities
  • Excessive densities that are not approved by local people or justified in town planning terms
  • Gaudily inappropriate or “show off” building projects which are difficult to build or in the wrong places: see Brill Place Tower on valuable open space in Somers Town, the Grafton Road garden sites schemes or the awkward Highgate Community Centre development. In these and other cases, proposals end up “unviable” requiring yet more homes-for-sale on public land or are aborted

CIP is not a strategic approach to tackling the housing crisis in Camden. Due to Right To Buy and Camden’s demolitions, the number of council homes in the borough is now nearly 400 less than it was 10 years ago. The main focus of CIP is existing accommodation upgrade and replacement not the housing waiting list.

10 years ago, I said to Theo Blackwell that it is remarkable that a progressive borough’s major development programme now worth nearly £2bn doesn’t benefit from a top-flight urbanist at the helm. Since 2010, CIP has unfolded somewhat randomly project by project with no presiding intelligence except that of real-estate consultants and the inner group of invisible panels and boards which run CIP internally without democratic oversight. In retrospect, despite the name architects involved and the comms strategy, this will all seem like an aberration

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