Published On: 12th December 2023Categories: General, Gentrification
Photography: @savecentralhill / Twitter

On 21 November 2023, the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) sent a pre-action letter to Lambeth Council on behalf of the Central Hill Estate Residents Association (CHERA).

CHERA – a group of residents from the Central Hill Estate in the Lambeth – challenged the council’s decision to run a public consultation on Lambeth’s Housing Strategy across just six weeks, from the period 9 October to 20 November.

On 8 December 2023, Lambeth Council confirmed they would extend all three consultations until 19 January 2024.

CHERA also challenged the council’s decision to run two other public consultations concurrently – on Lambeth’s Housing Allocation Policy Review and on Central Hill Environmental Improvements.

Owing to the similarities between these consultations, and the importance of public engagement on all issues, PILC and CHERA argued that there was a strong risk of public confusion and ‘consultation fatigue,’ especially given that two consultations were open for an identical time period, and an additional third for the majority of the time period.

On 17 October, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) – a volunteer-led community housing group made up of families and individuals who are homeless, living in overcrowded housing or facing other housing problems – wrote to the proposed Defendant with their concerns about the Housing Allocation consultation. HASL raised concerns about:

  1. The levels of outreach and engagement undertaken by the proposed Defendant to ensure that ‘hard to reach communities’ most affected by the policy were consulted;
  2. The format of the policy review and the accessibility issues;
  3. The nature of the Equality Impact Assessment; and
  4. The timeframe of the consultation of six weeks being too short.

Pre-action letter

In the pre-action letter sent to Lambeth Council on 21 November, PILC challenged the length of time allocated to the three concurrent public consultations, given the length of the documents to be reviewed, the lack of consideration for people whose first language is not English, and the lack of support provided to enable people with access requirements to respond to the public consultations.

The Law

Where a public body undertakes a consultation exercise, it must be conducted properly. When public consultations are conducted outside a statutory requirement, a duty to consult arises where there is a ‘pressing and focused’ impact on a particular group through a policy or project ending abruptly, or where a legitimate expectation exists that a consultation would take place. The overall test is whether the consultation process was so unfair as to be unlawful.

The requirements for a lawful consultation were established in R v London Borough of Brent ex parte Gunning and consist of four principles which enable a consultation to be fair and lawful:

  1. Consultation must take place when proposals are at a formative stage;
  2. Sufficient reasons must be put forward for any proposal to allow ‘intelligent consideration’ and an informed response;
  3. Adequate time is given for consideration and response; and
  4. ‘Conscientious consideration’ must be given to the consultation responses by the decision makers before making a decision.

CHERA says:

“Lambeth doesn’t seem to be engaging properly with, or truly listening, to residents, just completing tick box exercises.”

Alexandra Goldenberg says:

“Housing is the most pressing issue facing Londoners. Residents of Lambeth should be given a chance to have a say in the future of housing policy in the borough.”