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:
Ledbury Action Group – @LedburyAction
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.
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.
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.
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.
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