Friday, 26 December 2014

The New Era at Christmas: Londoners resist global investors and win

Rewind to late autumn 2014.
Residents on the New Era estate fear they will be evicted from their homes before Christmas, writes Paul Coleman.
A rich and powerful American property company now owns their east London estate – and apparently plans to raise rents to unaffordable levels.
The company wants to turn these 1930s-built homes into luxury rented apartments.
“I don’t know how these investment people were allowed to do it,” says resident Nell Hammond, whose husband Terry suffered a recent stroke.
“They want to destroy this community.
We thought we were going to die here.
But we might die here before this is all over because we can’t take all this worry.”

But the New Era tenants fight back and during November and December run a determined, high profile campaign.
Surprising themselves, they win – just a few days shy of Christmas.
There will be no rent rises in 2015.
No evictions.
Immediately, some commentators hail the New Era residents’ victory as momentous.
A sign that the London-wide decanting, dispossession and displacement of generations of born and bred Londoners can be successfully resisted.
And, that rent levels can be set on the basis of Londoners’ incomes rather than on London’s rocketing property values.

It also shows global investors don’t like campaigns against them.
Share values are vulnerable to protest.
Global capital sloshing around the world runs shy from bad publicity.
Flees insurrection.
So, the campaign by New Era residents points to a possibility that the avalanche of profit-seeking global capital - descending so destructively on Londoners’ family lives – can be halted.
Or, at least, scared away.
Global capital, in flight.
But taking fright when confronted by tenacious New Era residents.

The full version of The New Era at Christmas can be seen at

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, December 2014

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

'Tis the season to be in London...a Master of the Universe

London, at Christmas 2014.
People throng at the heart of the city’s West End.
Consuming their way along Oxford Street.
Scurrying through Westfield’s giant White City and Stratford malls.
Many trying to buy that special gift for a loved one.
Others seek a sense of well-being at the bottom of a designer shopping bag.
Forget cricket and football.
You’ll be forgiven for thinking shopping and sales are the national sports.
'Tis a season of good wallets to all mall kind.
A merry footfall, as chain retailers cheerily say.

Yet behind the tinsel and ubiquitous Christmas pap muzak in shops, London festers increasingly divided and conflicted.
A city where the stronger, more affluent and powerful – bloated by privilege, and motivated often by greed and lust – do what they can.
And where the weaker, poorer and powerless can only suffer what they must.

For instance, City of London investment bankers rank amongst the strongest and most powerful of Her Majesty the Queen’s subjects.
These guys – and they are mainly men - reportedly enjoyed one of their best years since the financial meltdown of 2008.
Tagged ‘Masters of the Universe’ by London’s mainstream media, they amassed £54 billion in investment banking fees from floats, new share issues, and multi-billion corporate merger and acquisition deals amongst healthcare, telecoms, e-commerce and consumer giants.

‘Universe Masters’ at JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Citi are enjoying a ‘bumper bonus season’ as a result of this 2014 revival in global finance.
And, lower down inside City of London finance institutions, salaries are also increasing to an average of just under £100,000, according to a survey by recruitment firm Astbury Marsden.
That’s some £76,000 higher than the average annual salary earned by the bulk of the UK’s population.

London’s mainstream media – especially publications dependent on real estate advertisement revenues – welcome inflated finance sector bonuses and salaries as a ‘shot in the arm for London’s property market’.
And, like a shot in the arm, property remains London’s drug of choice for the City of London’s wealthy and powerful.
“In December, we’ve seen an 18% increase in new applicants working at investment banks registering to buy apartments in the City and W11 postcodes between £2 million and £5 million,” says Giles Hannah, a senior vice-president of Christie’s International Real Estate.
“They’re expecting higher bonuses compared to last year and who see London as a place to invest.”
And, City of London firms are reportedly already seeking loopholes in new European Union laws that cap and limit bonuses at the start of 2015.

Property investment addicts create real social problems for the rest of London’s subjects who see London, not as a place to invest, but as a place to live.
Indeed, where their families have lived for generations.
Rising bonuses and salaries also foments resentment against bankers.
After all, bankers and their pals in central and local government and in Parliament caused the financial meltdown in their first place.
But this income inflation for a few also pushes property prices and rents way beyond the means of Londoners earning closer to the average income.

Hence, many Londoners on the city’s Christmas streets have seen better times.
For instance, locked out of home ownership, increasing numbers of private tenants face further hiked rents, as well as raised living costs and regressive taxes.
In London, the average monthly rent is estimated to be £1,167.
Over 40 per cent of surveyed tenants struggle to pay their rent, according to the National Housing Federation, a body representing England’s housing associations.
Over 25% say they cut back on grocery shopping and on heating.
“We have too many renters just keeping their heads above water, who are being kept awake at night and suffering from stress over the worry of paying their next rent bill,” says NHF chief executive David Orr.

Politicians in London's local 'market states' continue to serve powerful private interests rather than local people.
Only an estimated 43,000 so-called ‘affordable homes’ were built across England during 2013-14, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
That’s nowhere near enough – with an estimated 1.4 million people waiting for public housing and with 85,000 children languishing in temporary accommodation.
To make matters worse, more and more homes are being offered as ‘affordable rented housing’ – meaning tenants are asked to pay rents up to 80% of already over-heated market rates.

Faced with this matrix, many Londoners on average incomes and less face a stark choice in 2015.
Do they try to cling on and stay in a prohibitively expensive city?
Or do they break traditional family ties and friendships – and let London become a financial playground for overseas property investors and those Masters of the Universe?
For now, at least for a few days, Londoners try to forget their future and enjoy Christmas.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, December 2014

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Artist Molly Parkin's alternative Queen's Christmas Speech condemns Earls Court demolition

Earls Court Exhibition Centre © London Intelligence 2009

"I've come here now, to sound the alarm," says artist Molly Parkin.
"A vicious, awful thing is happening."
In the short clip (above), Parkin, presenting an 'alternative Queen's Christmas Speech', condemns the planned demolition of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre.
The famous exhibition and live music venue is going to be knocked down as part of developer Capital and Counties' 'regeneration' of 77 acres of south-west London.
Hundreds of families on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates are also set to lose their homes.
Parkin also rails against the the destruction of family ties and of neighbourhood life across London - caused chiefly by the widespread demolition of council housing accelerating across London. 

Capco say their plans for 7,500 new homes will 'redefine prime central London', linking Earls Court to nearby high-value property areas such as Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham.
The developer's 'Four Urban Villages and a High Street' plan is based on a design by architect Sir Terry Farrell.
Capco say a Section 106 agreement with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and with Hammersmith & Fulham will also create 1,500 affordable homes.

Parkin, though, - like many other longstanding Earls Court residents - remains totally unconvinced.
As you'll see from the clip.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, December 2014

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Demolition City: Shaded Red on the Heygate - Uprooting Trees and People

The architect of one of Britain's iconic public housing estates reflects on its demolition by property developers and a local council.

Tree canopy over Heygate's Cuddington and Chearsley low-rises August 2012
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2012

Architect Tim Tinker revisiting the Heygate in February 2013
© London Intelligence 2013

Shaded red 

By Paul Coleman

'The Great Silver Maple'. 
'Walworth Woods'.
'Cuddington Copse'.
Titles evoking scenes of a tree-sheltered pub in some distant shire.
Yet, they are tree-filled quadrants named after blocks of homes on a south London council estate.

But there is trouble for the trees in this Elephant and Castle urban forest in south London. 
A developer's notice, clipped to a formidable metal fence, labels three trees as ‘T80’, ‘T81’ and ‘T82’.
And colour codes the them, as 'shaded red'.
Red for felling and removal.
Just three of the 450 mature trees that, according to local people, formed a magnificent 'urban forest' or 'secret woodland' on a council estate - just a hop from the Elephant and Castle's grunge of traffic.
Felled trees, local housing activists say, that symbolise Britain’s national housing crisis – with more than 1.4 million people waiting years for public housing and with an estimated 85,000 children living in temporary accommodation.
A crisis biting deep in the south London borough of Southwark.
With over 18,000 households languishing on Southwark's waiting list.
And, with the Council saying it intends to build 11,000 new council homes - by 2043. 

Remnants of felled Heygate trees - 'T80, T81 and T82' - and conserved in background
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2014

Removal notice of Heygate trees, shaded red
© London Intelligence 2014

For 40 years, Heygate's natural canopy of trees - mainly maples and London Plane - shielded thousands of residents living in low-rise blocks at the heart of the council estate.
The trees themselves sheltered inside an estate periphery of high-rise blocks.
Blocks that presented a stark external face to the rest of the world.
But deliberately designed by Heygate architect Tim Tinker to protect many of the estate’s 1,212 homes from traffic noise and pollution.
But they couldn't protect Heygate tenants and leaseholders from being 'decanted' and evicted - a consequence of a plan by 'development partners' Lend Lease and Southwark Council to 'regenerate' the Heygate with new 2,735 high-density, luxury apartments and 'affordable homes, as well as shops, a new park, and open spaces.
Tinker told a 2013 public inquiry that Lend Lease and Southwark Council had "stigmatised" the Heygate and his brutalist 'concretopia' design as a crime-ridden labyrinth.
"It's notorious reputation is a farrago of half-truths and lies put together by people who should have known better," said Tinker.

By December 2014, demolition crews have weeded out nature.
Trees, including T80, T81 and T82, lie hacked, sliced and removed – next to council homes reduced to piles of rubble.
Tinker tells London Intelligence: "I think the Heygate was fundamentally and reasonably sound. The flat inside were very spacious.
"And the high-rise blocks intentionally created a surprisingly very peaceful place inside the estate."
Tinker says Southwark Council wasn't entirely to blame for the estate's poor management and maintenance in later years.
"We didn't get everything right at the Heygate but we got a lot right," adds Tinker.

Tinker re-visted the Heygate in February 2013 - just as Southwark Council and Lend Lease sought compulsory purchase orders to weed out the estate's last few right-to-buy leaseholders. 
Tinker noted nature's intensifying presence in the hiatus between Heygate residents being 'decanted' and their homes being demolished.
Birds, bats and butterflies flitted between the trees.
Violets and Forget-Me-Nots covered lush, frothy patches of grass.
‘Guerilla gardeners’ grew vegetables on plots and in poly-tunnels.
They kept bees.
Tended chickens.

Chicken on Heygate's Chearnley block © London Intelligence 2012

Butterfly on a wildflower in the 'Heygate hiatus' © London Intelligence 2012

But, by December 2014, demolition has exposed this oasis to the choke and roar of traffic. 
Little or no trace remains of the thousands of council tenants and clutch of leaseholders who lived on the Heygate.
In the Heygate’s heyday, anyone could enter the estate.
Yet property developers now own this 25-acre expanse of formerly public owned land.
Fences, CCTV and security guards secure perimeters.
And, once the construction site fences go, local people say the new development will be a highly patrolled privately owned area.
Restricted mainly to residents living in 2,735 new ‘Elephant Park’ luxury apartments and houses.
Lend Lease says it is 'creating central London's new green heart' at Elephant Park - although it seems to have dropped references to 'creating London's largest new park'.
Tinker isn't convinced by Lend Lease's green credentials.
"New residents in expensive flats will complain they can't use Lend Lease's little tuppenny ha'penny toy park as people are coming in from outside," says Tinker. 
"They'll expect to have priority use of the park."

Lend Lease model of 'Elephant Park' at former Heygate site
© London Intelligence 2014

Lend Lease says it will ‘plant new trees to ensure there is no net loss of trees’, saying its 'Elephant Park' development will 'contribute to the 1,200 plus new trees being planted throughout the area over the next ten years'.
"Maybe, it's not the place of an architect to say, but I regard the loss of the trees as symbolic of the manipulation involved in the new development," says Tinker.
"The tragedy is that developer has run rings around promises made about relocating tenants and providing affordable housing. 
"Somehow they've managed to persuade everyone they can't build hardly any affordable housing."

Tinker says some degree of 'gentrification' in the Elephant and Walworth areas was inevitable and even necessary. 
"But central government seems to say to councils they can only build new homes by cutting deals with large developers," says Tinker. 
"Gentrification has small-scale advantages but is highly dubious on this huge scale."
Tinker worries similar mistakes will be made at the Aylesbury estate just down the road from the Heygate.
"I'm a bit saddened that Notting Hill Housing are developing the Aylesbury in a similar way to Lend Lease at the Heygate," says Tinker. 
"Notting Hill used to sensitively do up blocks of houses to improve neighbourhoods.
"Their Aylesbury scheme looks more like the plans of a corporate developer."

Councils and developers engaged in 'developer-led regeneration' of 'new neighbourhoods’ dismiss such views as naive romanticism.
Developer Lend Lease and Southwark Council mantra that urban ‘quarters’ like the Elephant and Castle need ‘new homes’.
Tinker accepts their arguments remain persuasive to many outsiders.
Especially, to people with no sense of the family and neighbourhood ties uprooted and torn asunder by such large-scale, long-term schemes.

Tinker has heard many local people say they simply won’t be able to afford any of the 2,735 new luxury homes to be built for sale on the site.
Homes on the first phase at 'Trafalgar Place' on Rodney Road were pre-sold 'off-plan', many to overseas investors - with one-bedroom apartments selling for £380,000.
Tinker feels a ‘right of return’ once offered by the development partners to former Heygate residents now increasingly looks more like a misleading sop.

Shading red powerless working people.
And mature trees.
To be uprooted.
"Why should people who need public housing be pushed out of central London?" asks  Tinker.
"I think this is already being seen as a mistake."

Guerilla gardeners grow vegetables on the Heygate 2012
© London Intelligence 2012

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, December 2014

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Southwark Council leader Peter John trumpets building of new council homes

It’s 17 September 2014 – and Southwark Council heralds plans to build the first 1,500 of 11,000 new council homes, publishing details of where these properties will be located, writes Paul Coleman.
The Council says the homes ‘will be let at traditional council rents’.
The new homes will include converted vacant spaces, such as ‘former community halls, disused rent offices, and laundries’.

But there’s initial confusion about the nature of these new ‘council homes’.
For instance, the Council says the first new homes – at Willow Walk in Bermondsey – will ‘include 75 affordable new homes’.
Of these 21 will be for residents on Southwark's housing register – and 54 for households ‘requiring urgent temporary accommodation’.
The press release presents a problem. 
At best, it confuses terminology, conflating council with 'affordable' homes.
At worst, it shows that even the building of a small number of council homes seems infused with property speculation.

Nevertheless, Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, says: “Our commitment to build 11,000 new council homes across the borough by 2043 is the most ambitious in the country.”
Southwark has some 18,000 households waiting for a council home.
John adds: “I’m pleased that we can now announce where the first 1,500 will be which we have committed to getting underway by 2018."

Competitive rents
“Council housing remains the most genuinely affordable option for many," says John. 
"This new generation of council homes at some of London’s most competitive rents will mean people across the borough will benefit.”
Southwark Council’s trumpeting of its new council homes hits a discordant note for many local residents.
They say the Council’s ongoing ‘regeneration’ of the Heygate and Aylesbury estates will result in a net loss of over 1,900 council homes.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, December 2014