Mention the word “Peckham” and images of Del Boy, run down flats, and crime, disorder and nuisance behaviour might come to mind.
But if such a wild stereotype were ever true, it surely isn’t any more. Such is the rate of gentrification in the UK’s capital that the “new Peckham” is now home to innumerable hipster establishments serving craft lager from America, coffee in wheelbarrows and ever increasing new build properties housing trendy 20s-30s long since priced out of more “desirable” parts of the city.
On today’s market, a fairly typical 1 bed “affordable housing” property could set you back around £390,000. To put that into some context, that’s more than 10 times the average salary in Peckham, and so, for most people on low to middle incomes and without humongous deposits, not affordable in the slightest.
Now, for your £350,000+ – or the ever escalating rent on your new build – you would at the very least expect it at best to be well built, and at worse not to fall over or let the rain in. Not so for the dwellers of Solomon’s Passage – a new build development comprising of 85 homes of various tenures including rent and shared ownership.
The trouble at Solomon’s Passage began early in its life. The original developer, Green Acre Homes (South East) Ltd, went into administration in August 2011, and the final stages of the development (block 40) was finished by another company, Porchfern Ltd, in May 2012. Ownership and management of the properties was then passed onto Wandle Homes.
In the last few years, a range of serious problems were reported to and investigated by this housing association. The final straw seemingly came earlier this month, when all residents were told of a number of dizzying range of structural problems. They were subsequently informed that they’d have to move out for 18 months while major renovation and demolition takes place.
In other words, despite being only a few years old, two blocks of Solomon’s passage, blocks 42 and 44 – both occupied by tenants – will have be demolished altogether.
The reasons given include water coming into the flats, roof defects, serious fire risks and balcony problems. Understandably, the residents are not happy: with families being uprooted from their communities, disharmony seemingly reigns in this enclave of SE15.
It would be an exaggeration to say that all new build housing in London will suffer the same fate as Solomon’s passage – yet, complaints regarding poor quality of new build homes are rife. A study by the consumer body Which? suggested that more than half of new builds have defects of some kind, whilst internet forums are awash with disgruntled tenants and new build homeowners sharing tales of woe.
You could be forgiven for suspecting that developers are putting profit – something their annual results show they’re not short of – before all else. For more evidence of this, you need look no further than the nearby Elephant Park development, which replaced the Heygate social housing estate, and where developer Land Lease made concerted efforts to decrease the amount of affordable housing it had to deliver.
Clive Betts, the Labour chairman of the Local Government Select Committee has accused developers of deliberately not building homes in order to keep costs artificially high. Such views seem not to be shared by his party colleagues, however, many of whom are doing all too little to hold developers to account. (Liz Kendall, Martin Seaton: I’m talking to you.) The All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment inquiry into the Quality and workmanship of new housing in England, which is due to publish its findings imminently, should make for very interesting reading indeed.
So, what is to be done? Firstly, and most obviously, we need to build more homes. In London we need around 50,000 per year, and we’ll probably need to build on greenbelt land too. (No, this won’t mean London’s green spaces will enveloped by concrete.) This should drive down both rental and home ownership costs for Londoners.
But as essential as this is, it won’t on its own be enough to ensure that new housing is of sufficient quality. For that, developers need to be properly regulated to make sure new housing will stand the test of time and not fall to pieces in five minutes. The UK government might also want to consider getting involved itself, like it has done in the past with council house building.
Until policy makers start to get radical about both supply and quality, I fear, sad tales like Solomon’s Passage could become all too common.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article said that the condemned buildings were “unfit for human habitation”. Wandle Homes has since been in contact to stress that this is not in fact the case. We are happy to make this correction.
David Binder is a freelance writer covering society & culture, christianity, politics, social policy, and more. He tweets @davidpaulbinder.