Coronavirus has inspired Wandsworth Council to expand its plans for housing in the borough, explains council leader Ravi Govindia
The pandemic has changed so much. For us at Wandsworth Council, it has meant reflecting on our priorities and the need not only to prioritise housing for our residents and workers but to respond to other challenges we now face.
With that in mind, I have charged the council’s housing and regeneration teams to develop plans that could deliver an extra 2,500 homes for our local communities.
“The borough is home to one of the highest numbers of key workers in London, we want to help them live near their place of work if that is their choice”
My confidence in expanding our already ambitious £500m housing programme is based on what I know we are capable of doing. We are on track to deliver 1,000 council homes on our land, as well as two huge estate regeneration schemes.
I’m proud that we, alongside our partners, have continued delivering these projects during the pandemic, thanks to practical changes around social distancing, better use of IT, robust safety measures, community engagement, and accommodating flexible hours.
But the coronavirus crisis has also brought into sharp focus what we must prioritise in the coming months and years. This includes how we better plan to transform and rejuvenate our town centres, cater for new ways of working, and put in place a template for urban living which has climate change and delivering an improved urban environment at its heart.
It has also magnified the importance of our community resilience and our key workers as well as the focus we need to give to providing the right housing and neighbourhood offer.
“The pandemic has focused minds. We need to support family networks and reduce commuter times, not just for key workers”
If you live in a flat, having break-out workspaces and useable open spaces nearby are of premium importance. We are lucky to have some of the best green spaces, including the iconic Battersea Park, but we need to be more ambitious in how we adapt and plan for a greener urban landscape. More places to rest and reflect but also spaces that are connected and lead seamlessly and safely to well-designed commercial and public buildings.
That is why I am so proud of our plans for the Winstanley and York Road estates, which will see new leisure and community facilities built around a reimagined park space and allowing the creation of a new, pedestrian-friendly corridor from the Thames riverside through to Clapham Junction station.
I am therefore proposing that a similar transformative masterplan is developed for Wandsworth Town Centre that will utilise the council’s land at its town hall, acting as a catalyst for wider improvements to our streets and open spaces and supports Wandsworth’s place as a retail and leisure destination.
I am also ensuring that we carry out an audit of all public landholdings. A particular focus should be on seeing the development of the Springfield Hospital site taken forward at pace and working with St. George’s Hospital Trust to further develop masterplans for their campus to deliver better facilities and, I would hope, new housing.
The borough is home to one of the highest numbers of key workers in London, we want to help them live near their place of work if that is their choice. We will therefore work with the NHS to make this happen.
Future housing offers, delivered by the council or the private sector, must better meet demands. It is self-evident why, but I believe the pandemic has focused minds. We need to support family networks and reduce commuter times, not just for key workers. For Wandsworth, housing offers also need to be reaching out to those who now want to be moving on from our large private rent sector.
I strongly believe that councils must play a key role in planning and delivering this transformation as we have done before so successfully in Nine Elms. It is our responsibility as civic leaders to do this but we need the tools and flexibility to deliver. This is the time for the government to invest by giving us the funding to deliver change.
Funding to cover upfront costs to help with land assembly, site preparation and infrastructure, and funding to support new forms of housing that meet a diversity of needs and crucially are targeted at and prioritised for our local people. We also need other partners to step up, including the Greater London Authority, which needs to work with us.
This crisis must accelerate our efforts to deliver greener urban environments matched with regenerative plans for our town centres to deliver buildings, spaces and amenities that work for how we will work, rest, shop and play. We need to bring our communities with us on this transformative journey but not be afraid of change.
Ravi Govindia, leader, Wandsworth Council