The scale of Enfield’s housing crisis

In the second part of her investigation into Enfield’s housing problems, Sabah Hussain looks at efforts to build new homes in the borough

Only one of Alma Estate's four high-rise tower blocks remain standing (centre) as new housing (right) replaces it; the ongoing redevelopment will result in a significant net loss of social-rent housing on the Ponders End estate
Only one of Alma Estate’s four high-rise tower blocks remain standing (centre) as new housing (right) replaces it; the ongoing redevelopment will result in a significant net loss of social-rent housing on the Ponders End estate

Enfield’s most vulnerable residents have been living in bleak conditions in temporary accommodation – but what is being done to provide long-term housing for them?

Enfield Council has initiated several regeneration schemes to build new homes. The biggest is Meridian Water, planned to deliver 10,000 homes on vacant and industrial land in Edmonton. Major estate redevelopments are also ongoing at Alma Estate in Ponders End and New Avenue Estate in Southgate, while others are in the pipeline, such as at Snells and Joyce estates in Angel Edmonton.

At the same time, numerous market-driven development schemes, often replacing disused buildings or making use of vacant brownfield (previously developed) land, are being brought forward by private developers. Because of the need for these to be ‘financially viable’ to the companies building them, however, they often do not meet the council’s targets for cheaper, ‘affordable’ housing such as social rent, intermediate rent, or shared ownership homes.

Not enough new homes

The council hopes that large-scale developments such as Meridian Water will greatly reduce Enfield’s housing problems, but its flagship redevelopment project has yet to deliver a single new home despite being planned for the last decade.

In its draft Local Plan, published this summer, the council allocates 5,000 homes for Meridian Water over the next 20 years, rather than the 10,000 homes it continues to state is its target in other council publications.

Matt Burn, from local campaign group Better Homes Enfield, says the smaller target for Meridian Water is “far from ideal” and is being used in the Local Plan because significant doubts remain over whether the full 10,000 homes will ever be built, as much of the land required to build them is currently protected for industrial use. Construction of the first new homes at Meridian Water, on the site of the former Edmonton gasholders, began this summer.

Meanwhile, Enfield has been failing to meet its housing targets for the whole borough, with an average of 438 new homes built per year over the last three years – just 55% of the 798 annual target the council was previously set by City Hall. In the new London Plan published this year, the target has nearly doubled to 1,246 per year.

Councils that fail to meet 75% of their total housing targets can be forced by government to enact a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. This is now the case in Enfield, where applications for new homes are now being given greater priority.

In a recent monitoring report, the council also admitted that “in 2019/20, an average of 30% (139) of all completed conventional housing was affordable. This falls short of the 40% requirement for affordable home delivery”.

For the 11,000 people from Enfield living in temporary accommodation – the second-highest number in the UK – what’s most needed is homes for social rent. Office for National Statistics data show the number of social-rent homes owned by the council declined from 15,004 in 1996 to 10,692 in 2020. Much of this has been driven by ‘Right to Buy’ sales, but there have also been a significant number of social homes demolished by the council during this period.

The original Alma Estate had more than 700 homes, of which the vast majority were social-rent homes. The new ‘Elements’ estate now under construction is planned to have 1,080 homes in total once complete, but only 41% (444) will be designated ‘affordable’ and, of those, just half (222) will be for social rent.

To address the borough’s affordable homes shortfall, two years ago the council announced a major new homebuilding programme with a target of 3,500 new council-owned homes. These will either need funding from extra borrowing or from grants – there was good news on that front last month when City Hall awarded £166million for 1,120 new council homes in the borough – aimed at some of the 4,000+ families who remain on Enfield’s waiting list for social housing.

How affordable is ‘affordable’?

Median UK house prices have increased from £155,000 in 2009 to £250,000 in 2021, a rise of 62%. In the capital, house prices have doubled over the same period and now average almost £500,000. And even though Enfield is among the cheapest London boroughs, the average price of £412,000 remains well above the national average.

Part-rent, part-buy affordable housing presents an alternative for households in London earning under £90,000 a year, with shared ownership one of the most common types of affordable housing provided in new developments.

Shared ownership allows residents to purchase at least 10% of a property with a mortgage, while paying rent on the remaining share. This means smaller deposits are required, but the idea is that residents subsequently ‘staircase’ up by gradually buying a greater share.

There are risks associated with shared ownership schemes, however. Residents often have to pay ground rent on their leasehold property and will also have to pay a service charge, which can be subject to steep rises, while still being held liable for maintenance costs.

The recent cladding crisis across the UK has seen leaseholders – including many in shared ownership housing – being hit with bills for tens of thousands of pounds. If residents fall behind on rent payments they can be evicted from the property and potentially lose money from the mortgage.

Meridian Water is set to eventually provide 10,000 new homes in the borough, but some councillors have claimed that most won’t be affordable to local residents

Shared ownership is common across Enfield. At Meridian One, the first phase of Meridian Water, 226 shared ownership homes are being built, representing half of the scheme’s 50% affordable housing designation.

A Meridian Water scrutiny report authored by councillors in 2020 used an estimated average house price of around £440,000 for the area to calculate the predicted affordability of a shared ownership home with a typical 25% share – and suggested shared ownership homes at Meridian Water would be affordable only to households earning at least £56,283 per year.

Dino Lemonides, an independent councillor for Chase ward and a former Labour cabinet member for housing, told the Dispatch he believes most of the planned new housing at Meridian Water “probably isn’t affordable to people in Enfield”.

Matt Burn describes shared ownership as “misleading” and added: “I would really like to see the council reduce shared ownership as much as possible and be clear about actual discounted housing.”

Council defends its record

In its response to the issues highlighted, a council spokesperson pointed out that “the whole country is falling short” on affordable housing because of “massive under-investment over decades and a complex housing landscape”. They added that Enfield “needs four times the money we currently have from the government” as well as greater powers to buy land.

Regarding Meridian Water, the spokesperson said the aim was to build 10,000 new homes over 25 years, whereas the Local Plan sets targets for 20 years, and that the first two sites will produce 50% and 100% affordable housing respectively. With respect to shared ownership, they said recent changes enabled people to buy a 10% stake rather than the previous 25% minimum.

Regarding social-rent housing, the spokesperson said that “the rate of losing stock to Right to Buy is far faster than our ability to replenish social-rent housing, which is why we have opposed Right to Buy” and added that the Alma Estate plans were drawn up before 2018, the year the law changed to allow councils to borrow more money to support social housing delivery, and said: “This has been a successful scheme in terms of improving housing conditions and enhancing social and community facilities.”

This special investigation into housing problems in Enfield has been funded by Trust for London, in conjunction with The Centre for Investigative Journalism.