Leader's Column in Southwark News - June 2021

We need more council homes - but not at the expense of vital green space


Like many local residents, I have been making far more use of local parks and green spaces over the last year. As I look around the borough, it is clear that our green spaces are a lifeline especially for those without private gardens and for families looking for space to play and exercise outdoors... writes Cllr Hamish McCallum, leader of Southwark Liberal Democrats in this week's Southwark News …

See full article here or read below

But, with only 300 recognised parks and green spaces, Southwark has limited areas available for its 320,000 residents.

In fact, Friends of the Earth last year ranked Southwark as one of the worst local authorities in the country for residents’ access to green spaces within a five minutes’ walk of people’s homes.

Green spaces are not just a nice-to-have, they are essential for our health and wellbeing. In fact, they deliver significant savings to the NHS, with a 2020 London Green Spaces Commission report estimating that green spaces save London £950m per year in avoided health costs. A recent study in Denmark also found that children who grew up with the lowest levels of green space had up to 55% higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder.

Our local environment also benefits enormously, with urban temperatures reducing by up to 2°C during heat waves where there are green spaces. Even crime levels have been found to decrease in areas with increased local greening.

That is why the Southwark Liberal Democrats have announced a new policy to formally protect green spaces in the borough from development.

This includes spaces on existing estates, many of which were created as part of the amenity provision when the estates where built. We will enhance these areas for the use of local residents and will invest more in improving our parks and green spaces across the borough.

Our policy announcement follows recent resident-led campaigns to resist housing development planned by the Labour-led Southwark Council on Jocelyn Street Park (aka the ‘Flaxyard Site’) and elsewhere in the borough which would see the loss of parks, green spaces and play spaces on estates.

Local residents will be concerned that last week the Labour Cabinet Member for Housing refused to rule out development on green spaces, parks and community amenities, stating in an open letter that Southwark would explore “all the sites available to us”.

Instead, we believe that the Council should do more to buy and develop new sites that are better suited to delivering the numbers of homes that local people need. We fully support building new council homes, but those homes should not be at the expense of scarce and vital green spaces.

Such an approach would also accelerate Southwark’s long-awaited council house building programme, which latest figures show is still lingering at just 698 completions.

Yet, since 2010, the Labour-led Southwark Council has sold or demolished over 3,000 council homes and allowed over 7,000 homes to lie empty, including a number of council properties such as Maydew House by Southwark Park which has been empty for nearly a decade.

All the while, the housing waiting list has grown to 15,000.

Southwark needs bold and ambitious action to deliver the homes that local people need. We need council housing developments in the right location and of the necessary scale, and we need to take urgent action to get empty homes back into use.

Only then, can we build the future communities of Southwark — which must include the parks, green spaces and play areas which will make those communities happier, healthier and safer for years to come.

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