Thursday, 26 March 2015

The battle for Sweets Way

Local resident Rose de Souza watches as protesters remove Sitex metal screens that ‘tin’ the windows to these smart north London homes.
“It feels like a little revolution,” says de Souza.
She looks on as protesters and residents occupy four emptied homes on Sweets Way in Whetstone, an estate in a quiet and relatively wealthy corner of the north London borough of Barnet.

The first quarter of 2015 saw the proliferation of ‘occupation’ as a growing protest tactic against the developer-led demolition and redevelopment of London’s social housing.
Housing activists invite Sweets Way residents who have lost their homes on the estate to move back.
Inside, the homes remain in good and habitable condition.

Land and homeowner Annington Property Ltd want to move all residents to make way for a new, ‘mixed’ and more densely populated development.
Sweets Way is a former Ministry of Defence-owned estate sold to the Annington consortium in 1996.
Annington sub-let homes to the housing association, Notting Hill Housing.
NHH asked Barnet Council to nominate families from the council’s list to live at Sweets Way.
But, in December 2014, Barnet granted Annington Homes planning consent to demolish 160 homes and replace them with up to 288 homes.
Annington say they will offer 59, or 20%, as ‘affordable homes’.
Twenty-six of these 59 will be offered as shared ownership with 33 as ‘affordable rent’.

Tellingly, for Rose de Souza and her fellow residents, none will be offered as social rent.
 “They’re destroying communities as they’re moving children away from their schools,” adds de Souza.
Many of the residents are school children.
They say Annington’s plan is disrupting their schooling and destroying family life.
Abdul, a teenage resident, says: “They kicked us out of our home and our Dad had to go to hospital with depression.”
“It’s social cleansing,” says de Souza.
“It seems only property developers can have houses now and rent or sell them to very rich people.
“People don’t matter just profit.”

Katya Nasim, a housing activist, says Sweets Way is the third estate in London to be occupied in 2015 in protest against demolition and ‘regeneration’ following similar actions on the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth and the Guinness Trust’s Loughborough Park estate in Brixton, south London.
“There is a sense we’re in crisis and that we can take our houses back,” says Nasim.
Nevertheless, courts are still upholding evictions.
Housing officers and bailiffs continue to force people out.

Yet Sweets Way protesters win a small victory on 23 March when a district judge at Barnet County Court rules they should be given more time to make their case against eviction.
The sight and sound of protesters and residents dancing and singing on the street outside the court clearly annoys Annington.
The landowner fears delay could lead to the occupation becoming more entrenched and larger.
“We need to nip it (the occupation) in the bud,” says Annington’s Tom Roscoe.

Everyone goes back to court on Monday morning, 30 March.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2015

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