by Richard Fleury
Did you hear the rumour about the London Borough of Lewisham buying up homes on Faversham's new Love Lane housing development to offload its housing list?
It originated, as so many rumours do, with a friend of someone's friend. In this case they went to buy a house off-plan and (allegedly) overheard sales staff saying Lewisham had bought loads of them.
Normally, publishing unsubstantiated hearsay is a strict journalistic no-no. But this persistent tale rapidly gained Massey Ferguson levels of traction as it did the usual rounds.
A mention on Facebook group Faversham Matters prompted no less than 200 responses, some approaching Daily Mail comments section levels of hysteria.
“It’s going to be a free for all,” warned one cheerful chap, “Stab vest at the ready!”
“I think the rubbish of society need to stay wear (sic) they come from,” proclaimed another.
“All the little wanna be gangsters running around in Faversham are gonna be in for a shock when the real big boy gangs turn up,” prophesied another thoughtful contributor.
One wanted “developers named and shamed and their homes boycotted until their social housing goes to the local waiting list”. (That was from Mrs Margaret Abram, Mayoress of Faversham 2018-19).
Despite housing policy being decided by Swale, some even blamed the new town councillors, who by then had been in office all of seven weeks.
Some might say this is only to be expected of social media, where everyone's an expert and “I reckon...” is the only qualification required. But the rumour was even repeated as fact in Swale House's hallowed corridors of power.
Now, much as we love Faversham, this sort of thing was one of our reasons for starting the Eye. It's the sort of town where rumours go sprinting around yelling through a megaphone while facts are still shuffling about in their pyjamas.
So we decided to investigate.
Our first call was to Lewisham itself. A slightly exasperated council press officer said he he had been told 'in no uncertain terms' the borough was not buying, or planning to buy, any property in Faversham, adding wearily that a local newspaper from Thanet had called the same day about a similar rumour circulating on its patch.
Next we contacted Lewisham Homes, the borough's Arms Length Management Company (ALMOs are not-for-profit companies that provide housing on behalf of a local authority). Again, the answer was negative ('We have no interest in this development').
Time to talk to Crest Nicholson, the housebuilder behind the development previously known as the Lady Dane estate but now being marketed under the name 'Kingsmead'. They told us more than half of the new homes have been sold to Britain's biggest housing association.
In a £28m deal, Crest Nicholson sold 109 of the 196 homes to the Southwark-based Clarion Housing Group. The Clarion Housing Group is massive. It includes the UK and Europe's largest housing association, Clarion Housing with 125,000 properties nationwide across more than 170 local authorities including Greater London Authority and plans to build more 50,000 homes over ten years.
Clarion now owns the development's 42 'affordable' rented homes and 67 shared ownership homes ranging from from one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom family houses. The remaining 87 properties are available for sale to private buyers.
So, who will be getting the affordable rented and shared ownership homes? Faversham people or London overspill?
We contacted Swale's ever-helpful press officer Phil Sutcliffe who came back with this clear and detailed answer:
“The s106 affordable requirement on this site was agreed as 59 affordable homes (42 affordable rent and 17 shared ownership). As well as the 17 shared ownership homes, Clarion Housing Association got funding from Homes England to deliver an additional 50 shared ownership dwellings. So a total of 109 affordable homes of which 67 will be low cost home ownership.
“The 42 affordable rented homes will be advertised in the usual way to our housing register in accordance with our current allocations policy. One criteria is a 4 out of 5 year residence in the borough (unless exceptional circumstances apply and agreement is gained from the Housing Options Manager). This means that households can bid for homes that meet their needs, but this this could be households from across the borough, not just Faversham.
“For the shared ownership homes, nominations will be received directly to Clarion from the Help to Buy agent. There is a nominations agreement between us and Clarion so they prioritise those with a local connection to the borough. In practice this means that the shared ownership homes should be made available to local households in the first instance, and thereafter sales can be agreed with those from other Help to Buy applicants who can afford the homes.
“From our point of view, there is a good mix of affordable homes being made available that includes 1 and 2 bedroom flats along with 2, 3 and 4 bedroom houses across both tenure types.”
So that cleared the matter up.
Or did it?
A few days later, another high-level Swale source swore blind the rumour was true, insisting that Lewisham was quietly bulk-buying some of the 87 homes available on the private market to house the borough's ne'erdowells and undesirables.
Not according to Crest Nicholson: “The 87 units are being sold individually,” confirmed its spokeswoman.
So, after spending untold hours making a thorough nuisance of ourselves trying to chase down this rumour, it looks very much like this story has turned out to be a non-story.
Which, for once, is good news for Faversham people, both for those hoping to buy their own homes and raise their families here…and those about to rush out and buy a stab vest.