Tuesday, 24 February 2015

'Transformation' or 'social cleansing': Residents of Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers face 'Option 3'

Tenants of Fred Wigg and John Walsh worry about their future
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Bits of paper fly around the Epicentre.
These Housing Application Forms clearly upset and anger many of the 100 or so tenants of the Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers gathered inside this Leytonstone community centre.
They're holding an action meeting on a chilly east London evening (Tuesday 24 February).

Zip back to 11 November 2014. 
The majority of 225 council tenants in the two 16-storey towers on Montague Road have already expressed their preference for Option 1 - refurbishment of their flats so they can stay in their homes.

But Waltham Forest councillors vote to decant residents from both towers in favour of Option 3 - 'Comprehensive Improvement' - later to become known as the preferred 'Transformation' way forward.

Waltham Forest says the Fred and John towers, built in 1966, 'need investment due  to age and design flaws'.
Option 3 'Transformation' involves striping Fred Wigg and John Walsh back to their concrete frames.
Rebuilding the flats internally.
Building a smaller 'infill block' to increase the estate's density but incurring a net loss of council homes in the process.
'Transformation' also involves moving tenants out during a 'rebuild' that Waltham Forest says will be completed in 2021.

Sonia, tenant of Fred Wigg tower for 22 years
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2015

Move out
Back to the action meeting.
Sonia (above) says the Council recently sent her a Housing Application form - even though she's been a John Wigg tenant of 22 years.

Of tenants being asked to move out during the rebuild, she says: "I asked the Council at a previous meeting 'why haven't you allocated homes for people to move straight into?' 
"To this day, I haven't had an answer."

Saima Hussain, Fred Wigg tower resident
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Estate agent Saima Hussain (above), a Fred Wigg tower resident for 17 years, says the Council promised to rehouse people in other council properties within Waltham Forest.
But none are available in a borough with a long waiting list for council homes.
Only housing association properties offering less secure tenancies arise.

The Council says the housing application forms help it to assess residents' 'housing needs'.
'We think that it is unlikely that most residents will have to move out permanently if they wish to remain in their homes,' says Waltham Forest.
'The Council is looking at ways in which residents could move to other areas in the borough if they choose to.
'Obviously the available social housing in the borough is limited and in high demand so this might not be possible.'

The Council has a long waiting list for social housing and very few council homes are advertised as available each week.
Hence, Fred Wigg and John Walsh tenants worry they will be forced to look for private landlord homes or to apply to housing associations for less secure tenancies.
"We are being bullied to fill housing application forms," says Hussain.
"I wouldn't want to stay whilst a regeneration programme goes on. 
"But I'm not going to fill in that form.
"Is the Council going to try and push us outside of London?"

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

Campaigners target London Mayor and Guinness Trust

Guinness Trust's Brixton 'regeneration' under attack from tenants
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Anger at the lack of genuinely affordable homes for Londoners on average and low incomes reached inside the inner sanctum of London government this morning (Monday, 23 February).
Mayor of London Boris Johnson watches as security guards eject several council housing campaigners from the chamber of City Hall, writes Paul Coleman.

The campaigners interrupt a public London Assembly meeting where Mayor Johnson presents his draft 2015-16 budget.
Protestors shout at Johnson that his budget will lead to 'social cleansing' of Londoners from their home city.
They deride Johnson's pledge to build 15,000 new homes in the next few years, saying most Londoners will not be able to afford these 'affordable homes'.

'We want council housing...Now!'
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Two protestors heckle Johnson as "racist" after the Mayor, answering Assembly Members' questions on homelessness, says Eastern Europeans account for London's recent spike in rough-sleepers.
Johnson denies UK nationals contribute to the rise in homelessness, adding: "The problem is acute but London isn't as bad as other cities in the world. New York has 53,000 on the streets every night."

Tenants, residents and social housing activists, engaged in anti-regeneration campaigns across London, also protest outside City Hall surrounded by a significant police presence.
They include Earl's Court tenants from the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates threatened with demolition and replacement with luxury apartments.

"Brixton became Notting Hill overnight" - Helen McDonald
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Another is Helen McDonald, one of 44 Assured Shorthold Tenants facing eviction. 
The Guinness Trust says it needs to 'regenerate' the Loughborough Park estate in Brixton, South London.
McDonald says many of the 44 households have lived on the estate for ten years.
"Now, we're receiving possession orders and evictions could start in April," says McDonald.
McDonald says none of the AST households would be able to afford to rent a private sector flat in Brixton.
"Rents have shot up," says McDonald. "Brixton became Notting Hill overnight."

Private flat
McDonald and campaigners like Betty, an AST householder (below), say 'regeneration' will lead to a net loss of 90 'social rent' homes.
The Guinness Trust says private flats need to be built to finance the building of new homes.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2015

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

'The Promise': 11,000 new council homes over the next 30 years

Sign of sentiment at protest outside Southwark Council on 10 February
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

In south London, Southwark Council’s Labour administration promises to build 11,000 new council homes by 2043.
Cynics say the ‘promise’ is timed for the general election on 7 May.
Eileen, a local resident, says promising to build new council homes whilst demolishing existing ones is "like trying to fill a bath with the plug pulled out".

“But it could be a popular vote-winning promise,” says Jerry Flynn.
Flynn and fellow members of the Elephant Amenity Network, a campaigning group of local residents, traders and tenants, scrutinise this ‘promise’ on 17 February at a gathering inside Crossway Church on New Kent Road.

They invite Southwark Council officers Alison Squires and Ebony Riddell-Bamber to present the Council’s housing policies drafted in the New Southwark Plan. 
Poignantly, Crossway Church backs onto the Heygate Estate where the Council and developer Lend Lease recently demolished 1,200 council homes to make way for a new development with only 79 social rent units.

Squires, a planning policy team leader, and Riddell-Bamber from Southwark's Community Engagement division, arrive primed with a map of Southwark showing proposed sites for these 11,000 new council homes.
Riddell-Bamber says "residents can plot where they think these new homes could be built on an 'interactive map' on the Council's website".

'Let's talk about' leaflet. Photo: © London Intelligence

'Poor doors'
Tony, a Peckham resident, tells Squires and Riddell-Bamber that "many people in my area are worried about whether these new units will mean their homes will be demolished".
Riddell-Bamber says she understands the 11,000 new homes will be a 'gross' addition to the council's housing stock.
Squires chips in and says: "My understanding is that the 11,000 hasn't been defined as net or gross. 
"Some of those council homes will be 'affordable homes'."
Did Southwark Council leader Peter John say 'net' or 'gross'?
Confusion reigns. 

At the moment
On demolition, Squires says: "There's currently no plan for demolitions on the scale of the Heygate or Aylesbury estates at the moment but that's not to say between now and 2043 that there won't be."
The phrase 'at the moment' hangs heavily in the air.

The 'Dulwich question'
"I could think of a lot of sites in Dulwich, for example, where it would be very nice to see new council housing," says EAN member Richard Lee.
Many 'middle class' people live in Dulwich's leafy suburban neighbourhoods in the south of Southwark.
"My worry is that if people put these areas forward the Council already has fixed a framework that will protect Dulwich spaces against these new council homes," says Lee. 
"Is Southwark ruling out such spaces before people submit them? 
"If Dulwich is deemed already inappropriate for new council homes, what's the point of this process?"
Riddell-Bamber, quoting Southwark's Direct Delivery Team, says "developments will have to be supported by residents".

Riddell-Bamber stresses Southwark Council is committed to building these 11,000 council homes by 2043.
About 1,500 will be developed by 2018.
Construction of some new homes is underway.
The first at Willow Walk will be completed in the next month or so.
Phase One of a ‘Direct Delivery Programme’ started in Spring 2013.
The remaining homes will be finished by March 2016, including at Long Lane, North Peckham, and Cator Street.
Phase Two involves homes at 15 other sites.

Phases 1 and 2 will deliver 644 new homes but with 437 offered as social rent homes (equivalent to council rents).
Included in that 644 are 42 specialist supported homes, and 64 ‘shared ownership’, and 101 units for private sale.
“But that’s well short of the 1,500 to be developed by 2018,” says Riddell-Bamber.
“We want local communities to identify sites for this housing they want to see.”

At an earlier local residents’ meeting at Walworth Methodist Church (10 February),** Flynn says local tenants’ experience of the demolition of the Heygate Estate and planned demolition of the Aylesbury Estate “entitles us to be cautious”.
Flynn asks: “Does this promise open the door to a widescale regeneration of council estates that will leave us with less council houses than when we started?
“There are worrying signs that this could happen.
“On two of the first developments lined up by Southwark – East Dulwich and Maydew House – there will be net losses of 70 and 31 council homes respectively.
“Obviously, future developments will have to make up these losses if we are to get to our 11,000 total.”

Southwark’s current ‘regeneration’ portfolio doesn’t bode well for the future delivery of the ‘promise’.
The council approves developments with little or no social housing.
At the Elephant and Castle, six large developments rise out of the ground – Tribeca Square, Strata Tower, 360 Tower, Eileen House, One the Elephant, and Elephant Park.
“That’s 4,220 new homes,” says Flynn.
“Only 108 will be socially rented.
“That’s 2.5%.”

Southwark envisages two other strategies to build these 11,000 new council homes.
Buying them from private developers and buying the land on the open market to build them on.
“Southwark’s track record on doing either of these things is very poor,” says Flynn.
“So if 11,000 council homes are to be secured, then tenants and residents will have to be very vigilant.
“We have to keep our eye on Southwark to see what they’re doing and not just accept at face value what they tell us they’re doing.
“The Southwark Group of Residents and Tenants Organisations has taken a lead in defending tenants and residents interest and we must support them.”

Flynn says most of the 20,000 people on Southwark’s housing waiting list can only afford social rented homes.
“But, at the moment, Southwark gives no priority in its housing policies for building social housing,” adds Flynn.
Southwark policy is to build ‘mixed and balanced communities’ through ‘intermediate’ (‘affordable’ shared ownership and equity) and free market housing.
“This doesn’t mean building council estates in Dulwich,” says Flynn.

Jerry Flynn, speaking on 10 February © London Intelligence 2015

“In practice, around here, it means knocking down council estates and forcing us out of the area,” says Flynn.
“Southwark is now re-writing these policies and we must all demand that priority is given to social rented housing above intermediate and free market housing," adds Flynn.
“Stop demolishing council houses.
“Stop allowing developments that have no social housing.
“Get rid of ‘affordable rent’.
“Yes to 11,000 council homes.
“No to dodgy regeneration schemes that gives us less.”

* Elephant Amenity Network's scrutiny of housing policy in the New Southwark Plan. 
took place at 6.30pm, Tuesday 17 February, at the Crossway Church, 100 New Kent Road, London SE1 6TU.

** Jerry Flynn earlier spoke at a Defend Council Housing meeting at Walworth Methodist Church on Tuesday 10 February.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2014

Update: Council issues regeneration 'commitment' to existing residents

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Earl's Court 'regeneration'

On 16 February, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea issues a ‘commitment to tenants and leaseholders’.
In a statement, the Council says: ‘Essentially, Kensington and Chelsea will only redevelop a Council estate if it is possible to rehouse all existing tenants in better homes in the new development or in the nearby area (unless, of course, they choose to move elsewhere).’

The statement continues: ‘In addition the Council will try to offer all resident leaseholders on such an estate access to a shared equity scheme of the kind being piloted at Pembroke Road, to enable them to buy a home in a new development, even if it is worth more than their original home.'

The Council says the principles are being applied to its planned redevelopment of its Pembroke Road offices.
The statement adds: ‘This offer will depend on the viability of each regeneration project, but would also be in addition to all statutory compensation and disturbance allowances.'

'These new commitments mean that existing communities would be kept together if and when regeneration projects go ahead, rather than being displaced and dispersed as happened in some historic examples.’
Tenants and residents have strongly opposed the demolition and developer-led ‘regeneration’ of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green council estates at Earl’s Court.

Aylesbury Estate occupation

Protestors against Southwark Council’s demolition and Notting Hill Housing’s ‘regeneration’ of the Aylesbury Estate in south London report that the Council has secured a legal order to end the protestors’ occupation of the estate’s emptied Chartridge block.
Later, at 5pm (17 February), protestors plan to picket local Labour MP Harriet Harman at her regular constituency surgery at Walworth Methodist Church. 
They want Harman to oppose Southwark Council and Notting Hill Housing’s ‘regeneration’ plan to demolish and redevelop the 2,704-home estate.

Plan for '11,000 new council homes'

Meanwhile, the Council's New Southwark Plan, including the promise to 'build 11,000 new council homes over the next 30 years',  comes under scrutiny at an Elephant Amenity Network meeting.
Housing department officers Alison Squires and Ebony Riddell-Bamber are due to make presentations about the Council’s housing policies to the EAN, a group of tenants, residents and traders who campaign for ‘regeneration’ more directly beneficial to the existing local population.
The Elephant Amenity Network meeting starts at 6.30pm, Tuesday 17 February, at Crossway Church, 100 New Kent Road, Elephant and Castle SE1 6TU.

Segregation of council tenants from private residents

Members of the City of London Corporation say they will oppose Berkeley Homes and Southwark Council’s plan to stop tenants of a new council block from sharing the same garden as owners of adjacent £15 million penthouses.
James Hatts, of the London SE1 community website, reports (13 February) that Southwark Council and Berkeley Homes seem to want to reverse plans, originally approved in 2011, to allow 43 Horace Jones House council tenants to share access to courtyard podium gardens with purchasers of luxury One Tower Bridge apartments.
This is the latest example of local London politicians believed to be siding with developers to segregate affluent private homebuyers from average and lower income council tenants.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2015

Sunday, 15 February 2015

London's housing crisis: Occupation - campaigners intensify resistance to council house demolition

Campaigners for council homes gathered in south London on 15 February
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015
Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone says occupations win concessions
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Has something changed?
A slight shift, perhaps.
A mighty oak might be far off still.
But a small acorn seems planted.
And, it grows by the name of, ‘Occupation’.

It's Sunday afternoon, (15 February), writes Paul Coleman.
Some 150 council house campaigners from across London convene at Pembroke House in Walworth, hosted by Brick Lane Debates and Fight 4 Aylesbury.
Campaigners report anger and despair rising each day across London.
Council tenants, leaseholders and private sector renters face eviction and displacement.
The tide of developer-led and council-endorsed demolition of council estates seems relentless.
An estimated 50 or so council estates across London stand to be knocked down, pardon the pun.
As powerless tenants' anger rises, activists accept they face a bigger challenge.
Marching on the street in protest isn’t enough.

'Direct action' is needed, they say.
Campaigners say they must occupy council homes on estates emptied by local politicians for demolition and developer-led ‘regeneration'.

Campaigner Jasmin Stone tells the gathering about the Focus E15 group’s occupation of the Carpenters Estate in east London.
Occupation contributed to Newham Council finally promising to house 40 households on a temporary basis in homes left empty.
“It’s an amazing victory,” says Stone.
“It shows we need to get on the streets.
“To talk to our neighbours, and fight back.”

Darius, part of 200 campaigners who occupied the Aylesbury Estate
© London Intelligence 2015
Council housing campaigners called for unity
 © Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

"We didn't just want to march from A to B and go home," says Darius, one of 200 younger people who occupied part of the Aylesbury Estate on 31 January.
Southwark Council and housing association development partner, Notting Hill Housing, want to demolish the Aylesbury and replace council homes with mainly private housing.
Darius and some 2,000 other council tenants, residents and campaigners marched through central London on that rainy Saturday. 
They rallied at City Hall in protest against council house demolitions and tenants' displacement from London.
But after the March for Homes, the 200 took 'direct action' and occupied the Chartridge block on the Aylesbury.

On 16 February, Southwark Council starts legal moves at Lambeth County Court to remove the occupiers.
But even if Southwark removes them, this won't deter campaigners from future direct action and occupations.
"We're not winning," says housing author Lisa McKenzie. 
"Council estates give working people an identity.
"But thousands of people are being driven out of London and many elderly people are just left isolated."

"Council estates give working people an identity" - Lisa McKenzie (above)
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Inevitably, occupation of a council house, managed by a local authority, brings the citizen and council into conflict.
But campaigners hope to build a 'movement' for council housing.
A movement that can end demolitions.
And secure enduring ballots for tenants to decide the future of their estates.
Yet mass occupation of council estate blocks - primed for 'regeneration' - raises a political challenge against the power of the local market state (councils, developers, bailiffs and police). 

London has seen some of this before, of course.
The city had 30,000 squatters in the 1960s.
Occupations of empty homes continued throughout the 1970s in Finsbury Park, Holborn, King's Cross, Bloomsbury Square, Piccadilly and in outer London in Ilford and Ealing.
But London's 21st Century shortage of genuinely affordable homes presents new challenges and dangers.
London's intense cult of property ownership demands rapid and ruthless state intervention when properties are occupied either by the homeless or campaigners.

One younger campaigner tells the Pembroke House cluster: “All this talk of London’s ‘housing crisis’ is part of the media furniture.
“Why should there be a shortage of homes in London?
“London is full of houses.

A bitter irony underpins London's housing inequality - conspicuous scarcity for working people amidst surplus abundance for the affluent and 'High Net Worth' globetrotters.
Campaigners are working tirelessly to seek to harness tenants' anger at this inequality.
They want to spark a political challenge and construct a 'council housing movement'.
For the moment, London's councils, developers, corporate housing associations and property speculators seem blissfully dismissive of this brew bubbling in their 'regeneration' cauldron.

Food for thought: occupying emptied council homes
© London Intelligence 2015

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2014

London's Housing Crisis: Professor Loretta Lees - "Stop right-to-buy, stop demolishing council estates"

The Heygate Estate - now demolished - in south London
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2012

Loretta Lees is a Professor of Human Geography at University of Leicester.
Professor Lees specialises in urban regeneration, gentrification, and urban geographies of young people.
Lees is an author of Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London.*
The handbook offers ‘successful tactics and tools used by groups challenging’ council-backed, developer-led ‘regeneration’ and offers ‘alternatives to council estate demolition’.

It’s 11 February 2015 and Professor Lees addresses a gathering of architects and surveyors at City, Country, Suburb?
This event is part of ‘The Future of Housing’ series of talks, organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, hosted by the Geological Society on London’s Piccadilly.
This is what Lees has to say.

“The 21st Century is urban. For the most part, we’re all urban now,” says Professor Lees.
“We’ve all urban mindsets, even those living in the suburbs or rural areas. Some call this ‘planetary urbanisation’ – the complete urbanization of society.

“The traditional divisions of city, country, suburb, urban, suburban and rural are breaking down.
“We’ve got gentrifiers with suburban mindsets living in gentrification frontiers in the cities.
“They’re not the left-liberal gentrifiers of the past.
“But conservative with a small ‘c’ and even with a big ‘C’.”

Professor Loretta Lees, with surveyor James Goff (left)
and architectural writer Owen Hopkins © London Intelligence 2015

“The new-build city centre developments where they live are sold as ‘new urban’ but they’re really suburban in character.
“Urban hipsters hark back to a simpler, even rural way of life, identified through organic food and an environmental conscience.
“They’ve conspicuous thrift in renovating old houses and getting back to basics.
“Stripped wood floors.
“Open plan.
“All the aesthetics that IKEA and Habitat are now mass producing.”

“The suburbs themselves are more urban now.
“As more people have moved into London’s post-war suburbs, bringing gentrification demands with them.
“Good coffee shops.
“Urban parks and playgrounds.”

"Urban hipsters...organic food...good coffee shops...Habitat..."
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2010

“Planners and policymakers need to wake up to the breakdown of the old categories of urban, suburban and rural.
“Realistically, the way forward is to rethink cities.
“The Green Belt, I think, should remain.
“We should infill and densify our main cities and protect rural areas.
“Environmentally and economically, this makes good sense in terms of jobs and services.
“But infill and densification needs to be thought about creatively.”

“We can democratise the future of cities.
“If we draw upon the best aspects of the city, suburbs and rural, planning them together.
“We need a nationally efficient high speed transport network like Switzerland that can rebalance the economy between North and South cities.
“We need better, faster local public transit.
“Property values are already jumping around in London, especially those areas close to new rail, tube and even cycle paths.”

“People think in terms of spatial capital – the ability to live in a strategic location to where they work – and this needs to inform where houses are built.
“Such as around transport hubs – for instance, at Colindale in north London.
“Good idea.
“But the downside is that it is often at the expense of council estates and tenants – who are pushed out.”

"Affordable housing is not affordable for the vast majority"
© London Intelligence 2014

Get back
“My view of garden cities is that our big cities are already redeveloped as garden cities – or green cities – that encompass nature.
“But all of this is dependent on planning democratically.
“The core issue of planning theory and practice is fundamentally about the allocation, distribution and alteration of property rights.
“Planning needs to get back to its reformist roots.
“Planners need to start realistic and strategic conversations about the social and economic reform of our cities.”

“All new housing needs to be affordable for the population that needs it.
“As affordable housing is not affordable for the vast majority of people.
“Council housing, or social rented housing, needs to be retained. “Grown and protected.
“We need to stop right-to-buy.
“We need to stop the significant demolition of council estates.
“We need to make sure that if registered social landlords take over council estates that rents don’t through the roof.”

“The state has an obligation to protect us from gentrification.
“The state also has an obligation to house the poor and the less well off.
“And even beyond that, to allow middle class people to have access to social housing, if they so desire.
“The cult of property in the UK needs to be undermined – and not supported.
“Homes are for living in.
“They are not investments.”

“Given the volume of investment in real estate – not just in London – we may yet be in real trouble.
“Because there has been an over-escalation of money invested in what Marxists call ‘the second circuit of capital’ – real estate.
“Many people still say, ‘gentrification is good’.”

“But the academic research evidence over 50 years says ‘no, it isn’t’.
“A February 2015 report by the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth looked at the regeneration and renewal of estates of the kind happening in London.
“It says: ‘Overall the evidence suggests that the measurable economic impacts on local economies, employment, wages and deprivation, are not large and are often zero. In contrast, these
projects have a positive impact on property prices.’”

“So, all the forms of urban regeneration we’re seeing at the moment are actually ‘gentrification’ – and this is a problem.
“We need urban regeneration that is not gentrification.”

Afterwards, Professor Lees is asked, ‘which fundamentally aggravates London’s shortage of genuinely affordable housing – ‘right-to-buy’ or ‘buy-to-let’?’
"Both," replies Lees.

* Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London, London Tenants Federation, Loretta Lees, Just Space, Southwark Notes Archive Group, June 2014, London.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2015