Several other housing developments in London feature separate playgrounds for richer and poorer children, Guardian Cities can reveal.
Politicians from across the political spectrum this week joined in denouncing developer Henley Homes after an investigation showed that it was blocking social housing residents from shared play spaces at its Baylis Old School complex in south London. The furore led Henley to back down in a public statement yesterday, and Lambeth Council has begun demolishing the wall.
Now a subsequent investigation has revealed that the story was not unique. As many as half a dozen developments across London – most of them relatively new, or featuring recent conversions of older buildings – separate play areas for richer and poorer children, often with hedges or other barriers.
The Seren Gardens development, located near Greenwich Park, has a mix of social, shared ownership and private homes, and won an Evening Standard award for best large-scale mixed tenure development.
The shared ownership and social housing part of the site, however, which is run by Moat Housing, has no access to the communal leisure areas.
“We have no outside space at all, just that balcony which of course I don’t want my children out on very much,” says resident Lucy, who didn’t want to be identified. “Two children over in the private development are at school with my kids. But they can’t play together. And the kids know – they know there is a play area they can’t use.
“We just play in the carpark when it’s sunny.”
Attempts to persuade the housing association to give them access failed. Lucy said Moat replied that they paid different service charges to the private owners.
“They make it really complicated because there are different people involved, one housing association in that building, one here – but we do pay service charge, we pay £130 a month.”
A spokesperson from Moat said: “Although Leamington Court and Seren Park are situated adjacent to each other and share the same access road, they are two separate developments under different ownership structures. Both developments are mixed tenure and all residents, regardless of tenure, have access to the amenities within their particular development.”
A spokesperson for Greenwich council said they were looking into the matter when contacted for comment.
Another building on Church Road in Islington, managed by Southern Housing, features private and social housing overlooking a large central garden, to which only the private owners have access.
Basia Lazaro, a resident of the social housing section, said she was initially given access to the garden – and then five years ago social residents were told they could no longer use it. A sign on the gate now says: “Private.”
“I’ve been really banging on about this,” said Lazaro. “They actually disabled my fob. My children know – they saw [the Henley Homes story on] Good Morning Britain and said, ‘Hey, that’s just like us here.’
“If we could get in there, we could play, put a blanket down, socialise. It would be a shared social space for us.”
Lazaro said the residents have written several times over the years to Southern Housing with no response.
A spokesperson for Southern, Chris Harris, defended the decision to restrict access to the leisure area, saying there were other play spaces for residents to use nearby.
“Southern Housing Group is a not-for-profit social housing provider. We take care to ensure that communal spaces on our estates are accessible to all our residents. The garden belonging to Blocks 313 and 317 Essex Road is not a communal space for the estate and no one else has right of access. Red House Square (situated between Church Road and Ashby Grove) is public and play space which is accessible by all residents.”
Diarmaid Ward, Islington council’s executive member for housing and development, said the site would never be approved today.
“We have been clear that all new formal play spaces should be free and accessible. Any planning application that would exclude affordable housing tenants from communal spaces would be strongly resisted,” he said.
“This development would never get approval today and we call on all building managers to ensure that existing play spaces are accessible for all, regardless of tenure.”
London Square Streatham Hill is a large mixed housing development, completed last year by the London Square developers on the site of a former nightclub and bowling alley. Prices for the sold-out units started at £500,000 for a one-bedroom flat with views over enormous landscaped gardens.
Residents in the social housing part of the block, which is managed by Peabody Housing, contacted Guardian Cities because they were told they couldn’t access the gardens.
“Some of our flats have views over these huge gardens and we have nothing,” said one of the residents. Nowhere for the children here to run or play outside. This is modern apartheid.
“I work, I pay service charge of £220 a month. I’m actually glad I don’t look over the gardens: how would I tell my children that they can’t play there because I don’t have a fat bank balance?”
However, after the Guardian contacted Peabody Housing and the developers, London Square, they issued a joint statement in which they promised to desegregate the space:
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We apologise that this confusion has arisen. This scheme was designed specifically so that all residents can enjoy access to the garden. We will write to the residents individually to explain this and ensure that they all have access.”
Lambeth Council’s Matthew Bennett, cabinet member for planning, investment and new homes, confirmed that the council explicitly secured access for all residents to the communal courtyard when granting planning permission.
“I could not be clearer in my condemnation for any form of segregation. The communal areas of shared housing developments should be just that – communal.”
Peabody said it was “grateful to the Guardian for drawing this issue to our attention”.
Dick Mortimer, the group’s executive director, said: “Our tenants and leaseholders should and will be able to use the communal gardens. Indeed, it was a planning requirement that our residents would have the same access as the private purchasers subject to paying service charges.
“Unfortunately we did not properly explain this or do enough to get access for our residents. I am very sorry and have now written to our residents to confirm that the gardens are for all residents to enjoy and that we’ll cover their service charges in respect of the gardens for five years to make up for the mistake.
“I’ve also asked for all of our other new developments to be checked for similar issues.”
In Camberwell, the Mary Datchelor School was for several years the headquarters for Save the Children. In 2009, the developer Berkeley Homes converted it into a complex of apartments. There is an adjacent block of social housing, operated since 2017 by Peabody Housing.
The blocks all border an inner garden – with a hedge dividing the garden, separating the private owners from the other tenants.
Berkeley Homes did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Peabody said it was investigating the matter, and reiterated its commitment to checking all its developments for potential segregation issues following the Guardian investigation.
Responding to the new revelations, the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said housing developers needed to be far more focused on bringing people together.
“Children should be able to grow up knowing that they are a valued part of their community, not a marginalised outsider just because they’re from a less well off background.
“I want to see housing developers using their skills to bring communities together in inspirational places to live and play with strong social values and inclusivity at their core. Every council planning department should be looking for the same, and removing any barriers that allow some children to be pushed to one side.”
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