WHAT A JOKE! 979 NEW HOMES – 33 AFFORDABLE!! THIS IS SOCIAL CLEANSING!!

•• PROTEST postponed. Probably now January 16th 2018 ••
MONDAY 18th DECEMBER 2017

SOUTHWARK COUNCIL H.Q 160 TOOLEY ST, LONDON SE1 2HZ

PROTEST FROM 5PM / MEETING STARTS 6PM going til late

• Object online here: Up The Elephant
• Sign petition here: Elephant Is A Castle

 

 

The demolition of The Elephant & Castle story concerns everyone in London who doesn’t want London to be crap.

Do you want the relentless weeding out of the small ways of getting by and the removal of those communal spaces and ties that make up all of our areas? In fact, is anyone actually seriously asking you what you want as your friends, your neighbours, shops, estates, open spaces disappear overnight, priced out or close down? In London right now it’s like new build flats go up as if by magic? But it’s certainly not magic.

The demolition of the Heygate Estate (1000 council homes lost) wasn’t the first in the disaster of regenerations that are being pushed onto us but it was certainly a mega-blueprint for continued social cleansing at the hands of Councils, developers, housing associations etc. And so today, there are certain frontlines of regeneration these days and these battles simply can’t be lost less we want to lose the great and messy communities that has so far made London a pretty decent place to live (despite it all!) The frontlines are places like Aylesbury Estate, Cressingham Gardens, Wards Corner, Haringey HDV. It’s crucial we win these fights and it feels like we can win them.

Elephant Poster Dec 18th

We call upon anyone who doesn’t want London to become ever more bland and boring to see them selves as one vital part of the struggle to say ‘No!’ to these changes, here and now. The fight against regeneration, gentrification and displacement of locals and local businesses doesn’t need to only be a local fight done only by those immediately under threat. Increasingly the successful regeneration of one area just means that any adjacent area will be next in line for social cleansing treatment. Come and support us in The Elephant as we support you in Brixton, Dalston or Tottenham or wherever. We can all be here there and everywhere offering support and solidarity whether we are affected directly or not.

PRIVATE HOMES MAXED OUT – THEY’RE HAVING A LAUGH!

A year ago when we wrote our long read ‘The Murder of The Elephant’, the plans to demolish the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre were bad. We were also cynical enough to expect them to get worse. Guess what? They did. Much worse! We won’t just repeat what we wrote back then but do read it as it sets out the whole sorry background to the current Masterplan of big time social cleansing of The Elephant. We will just update you here on the ever-shady deal between the Council and tax-avoiding offshore developers Delancey.

The number of new homes planned keeps getting higher and higher as the developer’s eyes water at the money to made at The Elephant. In 2013 the Council were refusing St Modwen’s proposed 500 homes on the Shopping Centre site as too many. Yet they are all set to now recommend Delancey’s scheme of nearly double that.

Of a planned 979 private homes, only 33 will be social rent affordable to the majority of people who live in the neighbourhood. That’s a staggering 3.3% of the total homes Delancey wants to build. Of the rest 96 flats will be ‘London Living Rent’ estimated at £250 a week for a two bedroom place). Then there is the 213 ‘Intermediate Rent’ flats for households earning between £50k to £90k. Finally the bulk of the development will be 637 Market rent flats – who knows how much these rents will be? We also have to add that all these homes are rental flats (i.e none for sale) where Delancey remains the landlord. The initial tenancy is only 3 years then you have to renew or move on. How does this add cohesion and stability to the area?

This is pure and simple Heygate Mk Two! It’s a land grab worse than the Wild West. It’s sad to think that University of The Arts London / London College of Communication‘s partnership with Delancey makes them a cynical part of this shameful social cleansing of the area they have long been part of.

The closure of homeless hostels through regeneration and the massive increase in street homeless people at Elephant is ongoing. We don’t like the term ‘housing crisis’ much as this seems to suggest that there is something wrong that the system can correct rather than the actuality that the crisis of finding some cheap and decent to live is exactly how the system maintain profits before people. 33 genuinely affordable flats out of 979. This is just taking the piss. Gotta say NO!

Elephant Stinks

TRADERS CHUCKED OUT – THEY’RE HAVING A LAUGH!

On the topic of the treatment of the numerous local traders at the Shopping Centre, there are still only poor intentions about making sure there are robust and genuine offers of relocation in the area. Delancey seeks to throw money at this problem by offering a pissy £250,000 ‘towards a relocation fund’ but it’s not clear how many of the 70 or so businesses there will get this help. It doesn’t add up to much really. They are also seeking to get out of policy compliance by offering £750,000 to relocate them into a proposed bunker-like mall in the disused garages at Perronet House or at disused railway arches in Arch St. Unsurprisingly, knowing their businesses and their customers very well, none of the traders think these are great ideas. Out of sight, out of mind no doubt! The Council has no idea how stressful and precarious any small business relocation is. They have been listening sort of to traders for years but listening and acting on what they hear isn’t their strong point. The traders are part of the essential fabric of The Elephant. Relocation plans have to be realistic and well financed and part of any new development, not shoved off-site into existing Council-owned places. The first promises to traders were for new ‘affordable retail units’ in Delancey’s development on Elephant Rd? What happened to this promised 7 units? Like the planned new market for current market stalls at the Shopping Centre, they seem now to have disappeared from the plans.

BINGO ELE
ECONOMIC GROWTH = SOCIAL LOSSES

As we wrote last year, ‘the Shopping Centre is more than just a series of shops though. Any day of the week sees people meeting friends there, hanging out, chatting in the cafes, loitering, keeping warm, watching the day go by or whatever people want to do there socially within reason…The Shopping Centre is as complex as all the people’s lives are who use it: stressed, joyful, skint, getting by, on their uppers, begging, coping, living large, whatever and it’s within those complexities that lies the Elephant’s care of its community’.

So-called ‘regeneration’ based on property development might economically increase a bit of council tax into the Council coffers but socially they actually increase poverty, isolation, ill health, anxiety and so on. For the hundreds of the elderly community who visit Palace Bingo 2 or 3 times a week, how will it feel to no longer be able to do this? For those who visit the Centre to catch up with friends in Jenny’s or Sundial, get their haircut in Lucy’s or sit in Café Nova and chat, where will they go when the area is filled with a more expensive and socially bland Costa or Café Nero? None of these informal lifelines or survival networks will survive in a landscape of luxury towers with chain shops and eateries at the bottom. Regeneration is just the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The Council pretends to act in our interests but are only ever about giving even more of what we’ve got away to those who already have too much. They want to permit the murdering of an amazing community so that an offshore non-taxing paying investment vehicle can make more money for those with already loads of money.

 

elephant-crushed-delancey

ON GROVELLING

To be honest, after years of fighting for the basic Southwark Council’s policy-compliant 35% ‘affordable’ homes in big developments, we’ve reached a point where this scheme is so blatantly about screwing over the area that we are sick of grovelling for percentage peanuts. We oppose the Elephant & Castle ‘regeneration’ because we remain impolitely bloody-minded about the area where we live. These days what even is a victory for any local community – a minimum of affordable homes, some re-jigged open space? We are not against those things, but we know the violence of regeneration casts a shadow over those crumbs from the High Table of property development.

We reiterate what we said last year, only this time this crappy regeneration plan makes us even more determined to say NO!

‘When we say that The Elephant is being murdered we refer to the area and to the killing of a long-term home-grown neighbourhood with special characteristics, peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses. When we say murder though we also mean it very specifically in that regeneration in this cynical fashion that seeks to replace deep bonds of community togetherness (with all its problems too!) with an alienating and sterile landscape of chain shops and pseudo-public places will result in a few local deaths from the removal of the heart of the area and the familiarities and connections it brings. Such community networks, developed and grown over years, provide people with support from neighbours in addition to, or instead of, the help from family. These informal support networks give people a level of emotional resilience derived from the sense of safety and well-being that comes from knowing and trusting people in the immediate locality. But the Council or Delancey won’t ever be consulting us on loneliness, or stress, or depression or isolation. For them the plans are all shiny wonders of progress that we should all be in awe of. For us these plans are deadly!’

See you at The Town Hall!

MONDAY 18th DECEMBER 2017
SOUTHWARK COUNCIL H.Q
160 TOOLEY ST, LONDON SE1 2HZ


 

Leaflet PDF for printing and ciculating about the plans and the demo here:
SHOPPING CENTRE DEMO LEAFLET DEC 18TH

SHOPPING CENTRE DEMO LEAFLET DEC 18TH

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What Do We Mean When We Say ‘The Council’?

After many years of writing about Southwark Council and its policies and plans we thought it might be useful to say what we mean when we say ‘the Council’. That’s because with friends of ours working in the Council and with reports that Southwark Notes is often seen in passing on the computer screens of Southwark administrative workers, when we say ‘the Council’ we know that such a body is made up of more than those who lead and direct it’s regeneration policies.

When we say ‘the Council’ we know there are hundreds of Southwark workers who have nothing to do with making decisions to decant the Heygate or who aren’t making deals with housing associations to demolish the Aylesbury. We know there are hundreds of workers who have no say or part in the decision to approve planning applications for more luxury flats in The Elephant or Peckham or Rotherhithe. We know that all those workers are powerless in most ways to prevent the knock on effects of more and more expensive property as local private and business rents shoot ever skyward.

public_goverment_the_project_Southwark_Council

Like any workplace, the majority of people are working hard to enable them to pay the rent, to buy food, to buy stuff and to survive each month. They aren’t super well paid for this daily grind. Working for the Council can be stressful, alienating, total pressure as bureaucrats above, managers above, Cabinet members above seek to put into place Council policy and Council responses to what’s happening across the Borough. Part of this is the inevitable top-down bullshit of any workplace. We know enough Council workers in enough departments to know that decisions get passed down from managers that just seem stupid, ill thought through or arbitrary. That’s not to say there’s not excellent managers in the different Council department and services but to recognise that often for many workers they are simply doing the job they are told to do.

So when we write or say ‘the Council’ in regards to the ‘regeneration’ and gentrification of Southwark, we are not referring to some monolithic machine. We know there are loads of workers there who don’t agree with what’s happening in the realms of regeneration and think it’s ridiculous and wrong to pursue such social cleansing. We know there are loads of workers who actually live in either Council homes that could be affected by demolition and displacement or who live locally in private rented homes where the landlords are increasing the rents almost bi-annually. We know there are loads of Council workers who want their own children to be able to afford to rent or buy locally but who know that such an option is becoming more and more unlikely. We even know a few Council workers who moved out of the Borough as their wages could no longer cover local rents in Southwark!

 

TWEEDLEDUM & TWEEDLEDEE

For us Southwark Notes folks, and for all the other local campaigners against the disasters of this ‘regeneration’ regime, well, we have jobs and commitments too. Some of us have families that we care for, both locally and further afield. For the Council big-wigs, It might seem like we have nothing better to do than scrutinise them and try to hold them accountable for what they are and aren’t doing. Well, we are proud to say that very far from being ‘keyboard warriors’, we are active across many local societies and TRA’s, amenity and service groups, community centres as well as having deep and long term connections to where we live in Southwark. We do what we do, day in and day out because we love where we live and we love all those great people we work with. We say it all the time – we are not against change in Southwark out of some bloody mindedness. Our website has clearly stated from day one: ‘We don’t think it’s wrong to demand that a regeneration scheme enhances the quality of our lives. We don’t think it’s wrong to oppose gentrification. In this way it turns out that our negativity is really only a mask for our positive wish for all of us to live our lives free from those who pretend to act in our interests but are only ever about giving even more of what we’ve got away to those who already have too much!

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The local politics we all do is always much more in depth and dynamic than the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Labour and LibDem arguments. We have probably zero faith in any of these political parties, if we ever did in the first place. For Labour, local campaigns are viewed as a pain in the ass that just won’t bow down to some supposed ‘mandate’ they have from an average of 35% turnout in ward elections. If it wasn’t for the Information Commissioners Office, the GLA or Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, they would happily continue to ignore the numerous scandals, outrages and arrogance that all we Southwark campaigns post online week by week.

For LibDems, we have no idea what they want as they have been a useless opposition to Heygate and Aylesbury estate clearances and local luxury property developments. Seeing as one of the most rapidly understood realities by Londoners in the last few years has been how local Council’s love-ins with private housing market has been a disaster for age-old communities, you would think they would be banging on about this a bit more aggressively. But strangely, no!

 

THERE’S NO JUSTICE BUT LUCKILY THERE IS JUST US

As we always say, it’s really up to us. By this we mean the local campaigns, the TRA’s, the local park supporters, the community centres, the volunteer groups, the pensioners groups, the youth clubs and so on to keep defending what we have and what we don’t want to give away to property developers. It’s up to us and we won’t be stopping anytime soon.

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So when we write or say ‘the Council’, we are saying it’s up to Council workers too to be part of this local opposition in whatever way you can. We reserve our contempt for those Cabinet Members, executive officers and Councillors who are the main engine of regeneration as it plays out locally. You know, the kind of Council representatives who seem all nice and caring in public (on the TV or in the newspapers) but when they come to the community they treat them with a contempt they themselves are mostly unable to see. Just ask Ledbury tenants right now for the difference in behaviour from the night of their delegation to the Town Hall when councilors acted like their saviours and how they are actually being treated by councilors and housing managers day to day.

Any road up, we’ve had a few titbits, rumours and the occasional leak* passed our way from Council workers and that’s been helpful. When this happens we are always grateful. But we mean more than just this. We mean that local Council workers in whatever capacity they can act, can be part of opposing phony regeneration schemes and the disastrous social cleansing policies of ‘the Council’. What this looks like on the ground, in Council offices, in Tooley St, on the street, in the unions or local party branches etc we just don’t know. We’re just hoping to reach out and tell you what we mean when we write or say ‘the Council’.

You can contact us at elephantnotes(at)yahoo.co.uk
Follow us on Twitter @SouthwarkNotes


 

 

Concrete Action is a platform to provide support for architecture and planning professionals and communities fighting for housing in London. They say ‘If you have access to information which you believe is being wrongfully withheld from the public, we are here for you. Whistle-blowing has a proud history of helping to create change! By speeding up the availability of information through direct action it creates pressure on the existing system – we are not against development in principle, but we want development for and with all residents of the city. If you have information the public ought to know, please get in touch. Do not send us information which has been obtained by criminal means, personal information about you or anyone else, or any other information which it would not be in the public interest to publish’.

See here for how.

concrete action

 

LEDBURY ESTATE: Community’s amazing fight for safe homes

Southwark Notes members have been following the rapid-changing news from Ledbury Estate, down on the Old Kent Rd for a while. We were happy to meet some residents back in July after they invited us for a chat. We also attended the residents delegation to the July Council meeting where they put forward their ten demands to Southwark. We wanted to write something about the amazing campaign they all been waging for safe and secure homes but pressing time never allowed us to put pen to paper!

Then, this week, the excellent Radical Housing Network has asked us to host this text about the ongoing  struggle at Ledbury which we are happy to do so. Here at Southwark Notes HQ we don’t have much faith in Labour but appreciate the energies and arguments of all those working with Ledbury residents in their campaign.

This week Ledbury residents demanded that Southwark Council’s Cabinet Member for a Housing and Deputy Leader Stephanie Cryan should resign. You can join that call here!

Support Ledbury residents:
ledburyactiongroup@gmail.com
Ledbury Action Group – @LedburyAction


LEDBURY ESTATE:
Community’s amazing fight for safe homes

Two months after Grenfell, 224 families in Southwark high-rises are preparing to be evacuated. No fire. Just the discovery that their blocks are completely unsafe.

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It was a 12th floor resident, in the wake of Grenfell, who raised the alarm about ‘compartmentation’. She sent pictures of the cracks in her walls direct to the Fire Brigade, sparking a chain of events which overturned the findings of all the council’s previous fire risk assessments and structural surveys. 24-hour fire wardens were put in place until the cracks could be sealed. But residents invited independent experts to continue investigating and this week the council finally confirmed their findings – that gas should never have been installed on the blocks. The independent surveyors also say it’s not possible now to make the structures safe but the council insists it will do so, and have costed this work at 100 million, apparently even before they have their own surveyors final report.

ledbury big cracks

A bombshell letter was delivered to tenants announcing that the blocks were the same as the Ronan Point blocks which collapsed killing 4 people 50 years ago; that the gas was going to be turned off immediately; and everyone moved out within weeks. Residents asked for a meeting with council leaders but they refused. They are on holiday.

For residents who feel angry, betrayed and abandoned it’s not hard to see the similarities with Grenfell. Another estate run down prior to ‘regeneration’. Residents continually reporting problems being fobbed off by contemptuous officials, and cracks literally papered over. Years of poorly managed work by subcontractors. Fire risk assessments that failed to deal with risks. And still the ingrained methods of disrespecting council tenants prevail.

A resident who asks about moving to a hotel is told haughtily that they can apply but they’ shouldn’t expect The Ritz’. Gas workers are instructed to break into people’s homes to cap their gas pipes without giving any notification.

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Council tenants have come to expect being treated badly. From Thatcher’s Right to Buy to the 2016 Housing & Planning Act, governments have attacked the ‘privilege’ of council housing for working class people and tried to force through privatisation, higher rents and less secure tenancies. Global speculators and developers made billions but for the rest of us, in private as well as public, there’s been rising rents, increased insecurity and homelessness, overcrowding and more substandard housing. A process for which Grenfell tower stands as testament.

The Tories have no interest in reversing this process but could this be a turning point for Labour? Southwark have been responding to some of the residents’ demands. They claim they want the estate to stay council and that leaseholders shouldn’t lose out. But they are also trying to manage residents’ expectations rather than defy the government’s spending or borrowing limits. They say they can’t afford to buy more flats immediately and that if they demolish they can’t afford to rebuild it as council housing. So tenants begin to weigh the risk of staying in dangerous blocks as preferable to moving into properties with vastly higher rents and losing their council tenancies, or moving out of their community altogether.

When the council refuses to guarantee tenants will be rehoused locally in good quality council homes it is creating an atmosphere of fear, setting people in competition with each other, and preying on feelings of powerlessness to make people accept anything for fear of losing everything.

 

ledbury mtg grass

So it comes down to the residents who are organizing themselves. On Sunday, after meeting on the green to draw up their demands, tenants marched to an empty new private development which has only 6% social housing. They do not believe the council cannot buy up these flats for council housing. They do not accept that the Government should not foot the bill. The residents are pointing the way and Labour in Southwark now have the opportunity to deliver.

by Grace Perry, Radical Housing Network

ledbury lux flats visit.jpg

ledbury west grove

Keys Now for Aylesbury Residents Trapped Behind Regeneration Fences

Hopefully you know by now that the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth is being ‘regenerated’ by Southwark Council. It’s a very big deal because the Aylesbury’s 2700 flats are currently home to an estimated 7500 residents. The plan is to demolish the existing estate and, in partnership with mega-Housing Association Notting Hill Housing (NHH), to build nearly 4000 new homes. In reality (just like Heygate Estateregeneration’ before) the regeneration and demolition of the Estate will result in thousands being displaced not only from their current homes but also from the local area all altogether.

creation trust displacement map 2017

Nearly 400 households were decanted in Phase 2 and only 34% of them were able to find existing council homes in the local area. Aylesbury Estate council tenants have limited rights to return to the area and none will be returning as council tenants to any of the new homes being built. Council stats show that decanted tenants are moving to existing council homes right across the Borough. Some of those people might choose to return to the area to the NHH new homes but under what conditions – higher rents, less secure tenancies? We don’t see that this is a particular beneficial option for 100% of those decanted in the name of ‘regenerating‘ their estate.

A percentage of ‘affordable homes‘ will be built on site, 50% closer to cheap council rents and 50% shared ownership homes. We don’t need to rehearse the arguments about the latter being entirely un-affordable to local people. Whether the social housing units provided by Notting Hill Housing will be close to existing council rents or more likely be the NHH-preferred ‘affordable rent’, well, we aren’t holding our breath. ‘Affordable rent’ means such rents being charged up to 80% of local private rents which, of course as the local area gentrifies faster and faster, means such ‘affordable rents’ are rocketing year by year.

 

FENCED IN – ‘TO MAKE US SAFE OR TO MAKE US INTIMIDATED’?

Unlike the Heygate, the demolition of the Aylesbury has been taking place in phases. L&Q Housing Association in partnership with the Council had already demolished the Wolverton blocks at East St and ‘regenerated’ them – 147 new homes, 49 of them affordable rent at 50% of local private rents. The next phases though are all Notting Hill Housing with the First Development Site (FDS) comprising of four Aylesbury blocks, two high towers and two low rise ones. The Council’s own timeline indicated that demolition would take place in summer 2015 with the first new homes available in autumn 2017. Things have however gone very differently. The Council failed to gain possession of all the flats in the area of the FDS. Leaseholders who own their homes on Aylesbury have been facing a nightmare. Faced with the Compulsory Purchase of their homes, the compensation they have been offered by the Council does not enable them to buy anything equivalent locally. And so our tale begins.

bev and agnes Aylesbury-Estate-2-1

One Aylesbury Estate resident has lived in her home for 27 years and loves it. She is maintaining an amazingly strong and dignified fight to receive adequate compensation to stay local to the area she also loves. But of course it’s not easy to stand firm and the fight comes with tons of stress and aggravation.

In November 2014, Leaseholders in the FDS had a meeting with the Council to discuss security issues around the emptied out blocks and how they might deal with safety and anti-social issues. In January 2015 housing campaigners occupied the empty Chartridge low-rise and maintained a successful protest against the social cleansing of this regeneration programme for a couple of months. This was the Council’s worse nightmare as it brought a ton of publicity to the many arguments for refurbishing and saving the Aylesbury.

It was during this occupation and definitely in response to it, that the Council suddenly began fencing in the blocks in the First Development Site. Southwark claimed that the fencing in was needed for the ‘safety of residents’ because of the protests. The resident told us in February 2015 as we looked down from her flat: ‘As you can see downstairs, they are boarding us up. They are boarding up the circumference of the building. I don’t know whether that is to make us safe or to make us feel intimidated. Because this really shouldn’t be taking place until after they have sought possession”.

ayles fence cost1

By March 2015, the fencing in of the site was completed at a cost of £140,000. On March 11th the Council wrote to remaining residents now living behind the fence telling them that in two days time:

‘Access to these blocks will be via the pedestrian and vehicular gate in Westmoreland Rd. The entrance is for use by all residents, visitors, deliveries etc and once operational your only means of entrance to your home will be via these gates. This entrance will have 24 hour security personnel presence in position to ensure that your access to the estate is not impeded’.

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And so began the life behind the fence where leaving your house forces you to walk a whole lot further each time to access the one gate and where you don’t know how long it will take to get back in again.

 

ENOUGH MISERY! FENCES MUST GO!

It was with local support and outrage at what people were called the ‘Alcatraz fence’ and the ‘Berlin Wall’ that the new fence became its own infamous image of what everyday violence regeneration happily dumps on people’s heads. It seems so entirely symbolic in the sense of the Council’s urgent desire to get residents off the estate that they could leave through the gates using the door handle but couldn’t get back in without having to ask! You can go and please don’t come back!

 

ayles occ pcard

The fence became a perfect site for slogans and posters in both chalk and paint against the regeneration of the Aylesbury. There was even a protest on 2nd April where 300 people marched around the fence and parts of the crowd pulled down three large sections of the fence in anger. But, as we wrote at the time, as good as that direct action was, the struggle against social cleansing continues every day in small and minute moments of organising against it. The day after the fence was pulled it was rebuilt and remains almost two and a bit years later both the impediment to normal life that it is for residents and the material reality of how awfully the Council can treat people in the name of the local benefits for all from regeneration.

The Aylesbury resident later reflected on this with us once more:
‘A few weeks later we were still walking throughout the estate with just the fencing up, they hadn’t put any gates in. Then, all of a sudden, one day I saw them putting gates in. Maybe about three weeks after they started to put the fencing up they started putting these gates still thought well, they are putting gates in clearly they are going to be giving us keys to access to come and go cause we live here, this is our home. And then all of a sudden we was told we couldn’t access the building at certain points and after 27 years of coming in the estate whenever I wanted to at whichever point I wanted to, if I came in on Albany road, her, obviously that’s the nearest bus stop to me, with shopping and stuff which makes it easier, more accessible’.

They have many tales of not being able to get into the Estate, waiting for security guards, being stuck outside late at night etc. This has been an entirely unnecessary regime imposed upon the residents. Postal services have been a constant battle to maintain delivery of vital letters as well as general disrepair in the blocks. In March 2016, the main lights in the blocks were broken for four weeks leaving the residents in darkness in the public areas. In December 2016 they were trapped in the lift for an hour when it broke down. The lift has broken down due to a water leak that they had reported a month before to the Council.

 

TWO YEARS LATER: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

The need for a secure fence is not controversial. It’s normal practice for guarding development sites and having one is not the argument we are making. What FDS residents have been asking for for ages now is easier access such as the gate having a lock and key, a numerical keypad and code or a swipe card lock. None of these things are costly or difficult to install and would give residents the autonomy they should have had from day one to come and go on their own terms. In March 2015, Mark Williams, Southwark Cabinet Member for Regeneration told South London Press: ‘We will continue to review these arrangements to make sure they work for the residents and that we respond to any feedback we receive‘. These ‘arrangements‘ have clearly not worked for residents since day one so what’s the point of continuing to make residents suffer in this way?

A Freedom of Information request to Southwark Council about the costs of the fence so far revealed the following:

Q1) What has been the total cost from March 2015 to present day that the Council has paid to
the security company who guards the fence. Information up to the last paid invoice or date is
acceptable?

A1) £705,000 

Q2) Can you send a monetary figure that is a estimation of how much is currently being spent by
the Council per month for the security company. eg over the last six months.

A2) £24,000

Being forced to lived behind the fence because you are unwilling to move out of the area and are demanding proper compensation for you home becomes somewhat spiteful when the Council has spent close to £900,000+ so far on this over the top security.

With the current demolition of the Bradenham, Arklow, Chartridge blocks happening under residents noses within the First Development Site, we are asking of the Council that residents are now given some form of self-managed entry and exit from their homes. The next round of the Public Inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase of leaseholders homes is not until October so it’s time now for the Council to sort this for residents!

We don’t believe the security regime is mostly about security. We believe this disgusting treatment of residents who are putting up a fight for housing justice is entirely because of that fight. We agree with residents – this is just intimidation and an attempted war of attrition. Enough is enough.

keys for residents

KEYS FOR RESIDENTS – WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Keys for residents and the other residents now:

If you support this demand, please spread this article far and wide via your social networks and social media (#keysforResidents)

Please contact the following Councillors with your respectful demand for keys for Aylesbury FDS residents:

Peter John, Leader of The Council: peter.john@southwark.gov.uk / @peterjohn6

Stephanie Cryan, Cabinet Member for Housing: stephanie.cryan@southwark.gov.uk / @steviecryan

Mark Williams, Cabinet Member for Regeneration: mark.williams@southwark.gov.uk / @markwilliams84

Creation Trust is a ‘charity dedicated to residents on the Aylesbury estate and ensuring they receive the benefits of the regeneration of the area’.

Charlotte Benstead, Chief Executive of Creation Trust: charlotte@creationtrust.org / @creationSE17

The Luxury of Not Being Burned To Death

“Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.”

Eduardo Galeano

 

This has been the longest week ever for many. The agony of the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire continues. So many lives lost and so many people still unaccounted for. We are all still in mourning.

In the streets below the burned Grenfell Tower this afternoon, everyone’s saying where was the emergency response from Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea? Few council officers have been seen in the multiple help centres local people have run or chatting to people by the flowers, memorials and ‘Missing’ posters. Instead they lock themselves behind closed doors in the Town Hall and wonder why people tried to get in to demand answers.

Yet from a tragedy that had been so desperately predicted by residents in Grenfell Tower for many years, comes a sense that little can be the same again. Listening today at the perimeter to the charred tower to the angry voices from that community has been both sobering and inspiring. It’s been such a long time since working class voices and in particular black working class voices have been heard so loud.  It’s amazing. It’s fresh fucking air finally. We can breathe once more.

We have no particular faith in the mass media to represent those voices. There have been so many instances this week where journalists or reporters cannot simply just let people speak what’s on the mind. But we don’t need balance or to be calm right now. People have been rightly saying from Day One – you can’t depoliticise this! Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever else spreads the word, there has been a massive highly sussed community response to the criminal business at hand.

 

The Fire In Which We Burn

We are still making sense of this crime in the City that we love and that is being destroyed and socially cleansed faster and faster. Every day we come across new injustices, new indignities, new outrages. Many, like this one, have been committed in the name of regeneration, a process steeped in everyday violence against us.  Regeneration has long been publicly unmasked as a massive act of social engineering where profit is the central machine that drives us out. Homes become investments. People get ‘decanted‘. People get Compulsorily Purchased. No longer are we welcome in the communities we have all had a hand in growing. Our communities are airbrushed away in architect’s plans. The other side of the story is disinvestment, our estates breaking down from a planned lack of care and funds. We are stigmatised here there and everywhere. We are told we are shit. We often live in shit – mould, damp, overcrowding. We are felt to be surplus to the remaking of the City as one massive cash machine that dispenses profit making unaffordable homes be they luxury towers or shared ownership apartment blocks. And if much needed refurbishment is done, the imperative of covering and making housing pretty for the area around it leads to criminal decisions, such as using cheaper flammable cladding.

It’s tragic that the fire, the terror and the deaths at Grenfell Tower have had to be the final potent symbol of all that has been brought down on our heads in the last 30+ years. It’s like everything has been exposed now – the greed behind gentrification and the greed behind cutting corners when maintaining or refurbishing, on materials and fire safety equipment. It’s as everyone has been saying this week – they don’t care about us!  Well, if they don’t care about us then it’s only up to us to come together and overthrow the rotten system at heart.

 

The Problem Is Not Towers, It’s Greedy Bastards!

The liberal chatterers in the press or TV wants us to be silent and wait for ‘the findings‘. The Tory media counter attacks that our anger is ‘a lynch mob‘ and that we should calm down. They want us to be silent and believe what phoney urban planners (like Create Streets) say so that the blame is shifted onto things and technicalities: obsolete buildings, faulty construction, ‘complex’ outsourcing. ‘The problem is tower blocks’ say many, including Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn: “It may well be the defining outcome of this tragedy that the worst mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s are systematically torn down.

By the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s, he doesn’t mean the three 42-stories high residential towers of the Barbican, nor the now luxury refurbished Balfron Tower, but those that are still our council estates. Tower blocks do not seem a problem as long as those living in them are not poor, nor as long as millions of profit can be made on – (often) – public land like at Heygate or Aylesbury Estates.

Since 2007 in London have been built at least 20 luxury flat towers taller than 29 floors, 10 of which have over 35 floors. There are tens and tens of high-rise luxury residential towers under construction across the city, 10 of which will be taller than 50 floors.  Not only this, but high rise towers such as the Skyline at Woodberry Down in Hackney (31 floors, 2016) replaced the low and medium rise council housing estate by the same name. So let’s not be fooled: tower blocks are not to be blamed. High-rise living is not to be blamed. The blocking of the two alternative exits of the Grenfell tower is to be blamed, not the height of the building. Bad maintenance and murderous refurbishment are to be blamed, not the 24 floors.

 

Mourning & Organising Together

What heartens us, as always, is when the distant horizon that we walk towards seeking social justice decides every now and again to turn tail and run towards us. This sad and angry week is just that moment. Whatever story they stuck to in defence of their greed or arrogance has dissolved. The story has changed overnight. It’s our story now and it’s rushing up to us as fast as it can. It’s often dizzying to keep up with. A fortnight ago, no politician would say ‘occupy, compulsory purchase or requisition’ the empty new posh developments! A fortnight ago on no news TV would could you hear the words ‘working class’ as much as we’ve heard in the last five days. This opening is one entirely of our collective making but one we need to safeguard and keep widening out. The Tory government or the shameful local Labour boroughs burden of holding the story together has burst – the truth is out. As ever it takes our pain and our suffering to move us a few steps towards the horizon.

There are many roads we need to keep open and many horizons we need to chase. No going back to our suffering and humiliation that seemed horribly normalised only two weeks ago. Keep on mourning and organising!

Friday 16th June at Grenfell

On Friday 16th June, two days after Grenfell Tower burned, I visited the area in an attempt to find a way to lend some support. Over the two days after the fire, local community centres and faith organisations were inundated with donations sent from all over London and beyond, an incredible and spontaneous expression of solidarity that had resulted in tons and tons of clothes, toiletries, bedding and other items accumulating at collection centres. From the information that came through online it seemed that what was needed on the Friday was a hand in sorting the donations – so a friend and I headed to West London with a list of addresses that were looking for volunteers.

The first few places turned us away because they were full – they already had enough volunteers to help. Then by chance, walking along the Westway, we came across a collection point that still needed volunteers. We spent the afternoon sorting through bags of clothing and separated it out in cardboard boxes by type: women’s trousers, men’s shirts etc. Dozens and dozens of people lined up on the pavement and sorted, sifted and carried for hours on end. Every now and then a van would turn up and take a load of boxes away, to another storage facility.

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Volunteers kept turning up, alone and in little groups, until the area became completely congested. It wasn’t clear whose collection points this was, who was in charge, and who was just there in passing like us. That withstanding, people got organised, asked each other for advice and worked out what to do. A determined and industrious energy pervaded the place, as people focused on their task, talking and sharing, but mostly just getting on with it.

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The great majority of volunteers here were women, many very young, many arriving from all over London, and many local to the area. The spontaneous surge of so many people collecting donations and then coming together to help, in the total absence of local and central government, is a testament to the strength, cohesion and community spirit of a grassroots and working class London that cuts across ethnic and faith lines – the great diversity of people involved a reflection of a London miles away from the wealthy enclaves of Kensington borough. Working class, Muslim, brown and black communities that mainstream political discourse and the press vilify and criminalise are organising a grassroots self organised aid effort of unprecedented scale.

 

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After leaving the sorting centre, I headed west along the Westway towards Grenfell Tower. As I drew nearer the determined energy fueling the collection centres quickly gave way to a sombre air of mourning and grief. At Latimer Road people were paying their respects at a memorial site, leaving flowers and candles and leaving messages, crying and talking quietly. So many people out in the street, standing together and staring in disbelief, in eerie, tense silence, in a collective grieving and feeling.  Underneath the grief, a smouldering anger. A crowd had just left the area, headed to Kensington Town Hall.

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The Town Hall is a long walk from Grenfell Tower, but when I finally arrived, having crossed some of the wealthiest streets of the capital, the Territorial Support Group had just kicked the angry crowd out of the building. A group of people remained by the doors, confronting the police, demanding a response from the Council. I saw a school girl pressing the picture of a missing person up to the glass, screaming in frustration, young women in hijabs standing tall blocking the police, and a many more expressing their anger at a local administration that ignored and silencer them for years, and at the police for protecting them.

People kept gathering and then marched, in a crowd of a few thousand, back to Grenfell Tower. The messages from the crowd pointed the fingers at the Tory government, demanding May’s resignation, and demanding justice. They also spoke loud and clear of the solidarity of this swelling movement across racial, ethnic and faith identities. The connections that are being created in the immediate aftermath of the fire will be hard to unmake.

But what is next?  Residents, survivors and local groups are the ones that know what is needed, but it seems important to us a that in the first instance the following demands are met:

– The council must re-house all residents within the Borough in high quality housing

– The land Grenfell Tower stands on cannot be sold off and the Council must reconstruct without loss of any social housing

– Residents living at the foot of the tower must be also re-housed and supported.

These demands require this surging movement to keep fighting and pushing the council and the government for an adequate response. It seems that this organising effort will be really important, and we will continue to follow and support it. We also want to hold and honor the need for quiet grieving, for silence, for privacy and for prayer, as well as the drive from people all over London to help in the ways they can. Anger, organising, quiet mourning and solidarity are all modes that are needed in the response to the fire.

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We burn. They profit!

What happened at Grenfell Tower is a crime, a criminal affair that is now under everyone’s eyes.

The deadly machine of profit-making subcontracting neatly slots into abysmal national fire and building legislation. Add to this waves and waves of budget cuts to reveal once again the overriding logic of cutting corners to make a quick buck on the skin of those who don’t have enough money and resources to fight back. This logic runs deeper and wider than the disaster at Grenfell across all the other tower blocks to embrace the whole edifice of this deeply unjust city.

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The true crime of the Grenfell Tower is the contempt with which council housing residents, here and elsewhere, have been and continue to be treated by those in charge of deciding if they deserve to live in decent, secure homes. Or if they deserve to live, full stop. ‘It’s always the same who die in fires‘, as our French friends in Droit Au Logement (Right to Housing) say.

And these were not voiceless, faceless and fragmented neighbours. They were organised neighbours, they spoke out, they denounced and protested and were ignored, silenced and threatened.

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The anger of people has been articulated forcefully on the streets. And even in sadness and anger, people are speaking out, eloquently, passionately. Their voices and their actions are shaking the grounds of the arrogance and spite of the cowards who pass themselves of as our rulers, or so-called building professionals and consultants, or so-called councillors, administrators or their contemptible Deputy Leaders or Cabinet Members for Housing, Property and Regeneration. Silence and threats must not and will not stop us any more.

The aftermath of Grenfell is a growing tremor, a sustained shout for justice, justice for the victims of this horrific and entirely avoidable disaster, but beyond it, justice for this profoundly unjust city, for the deep wounds of long-term discrimination and contempt, the smugness of the inviolability of those who profit from the death industry of indecent housing.

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And in the absence and silence of any institutional response, solidarity has shown the power of self-organisation, of love, of mutual support.

Those people need homes, and there are hundreds of empty perfectly decent ones left empty for speculation. Public opinion is shifting.

Don’t say it was a terrible disaster, say let’s start today to destroy the edifice of injustice so that it will never happen again.

We are in mourning still, crying still daily but we are angry!