What a week! Three crucial and significant things have happened this week for the ongoing fight against the demolition of the Aylesbury Estate and the social cleansing this entails.
1) THE OCCUPATION
After two months in residence in three different buildings on the Phase 1 Aylesbury site, the Occupation has decided that it is time to leave. The difficulty in the last few weeks of 24 hour security guards who at times assaulted them, stole their stuff as well as the famous ‘Alcatraz’ fence that made it hard to get back into their chosen home made the Occupation increasingly stressful. The Lapa Security guards, who as minimum wage workers we would usually have some sympathy for, were mostly bullies to both the Occupiers and the residents. Some of them were the same guards used at the Heygate site when the Council fenced in the last three leaseholders. One of them on Aylesbury was even the same guy who assualted a Heygate leaseholder in 2013. Police were informed when that happened, issued a crime number but did not do anything about it despite the guy’s name and employer being known.
Although at Southwark Notes our family and work commitments meant we were unable to be around the Occupation much, we did get to know some of them and we take our hats off to all of them. They were so well organised and strategic and definitely sussed on the need to keep the Occupation dynamic and not get bogged down on the terms of the Council, the police or the security guards. They always set the agenda. After two amazing months having an exit strategy for leaving is part of that suss.
The Occupation is proof that sometimes you just got try something and see what happens! That’s definitely the case here. There are many arguments made about who is local and who is not. Who has a right to do what and who doesn’t. The Occupation has thrown up some great lessons into those questions and these will remain pertinent throughout the next few years of anti-regeneration struggles that are happening.
Although no-one from the Occupation was ever a tenant or resident of Aylesbury there were some initial long-term connections to the tenants struggle. In two months, the Occupiers ran themselves ragged making more connections, publicising the Aylesbury campaign all over the estate, organising events for all, working with the campaigns to make it known to Creation Trust, the Council and MP’s that all is not well on Aylesbury. There are a significant number of people there who do no want to be thrown out of the homes they love and who do not trust that they will be able to afford any of the new rented ‘affordable’ homes that get built there. The Occupation and the work of the campaigns has been a huge boost to those people who are consistently shut down and marginalised by the regeneration machine
The Occupation also shows that not all housing struggle occupations are the same and that has been a very useful lesson. They always insisted that the Occupation was both an act of solidarity with the Aylesbury campaigns and also the taking of homes for themselves as squatters seeking other necessary ways to live against the brutalities of mad private rents and the lack of any chance of a council tenancy. Alongside this, the Occupation maintained itself as a protest against the fairly recent criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings. With so many luxury flats bought as investments and then kept empty by their owners, this new law is vile and punishing. Everyone needs a roof over their head. The Occupation’s insistence on “squatting the lot’ makes sense when you look how at the housing crisis gets worse and worse. With the demolition of public housing (such as Heygate and Aylesbury), where else will people go?
The Occupiers short leaving leaving statement sums up their defiance and attitude: ‘ We are squatters who are not bound by the borders of the Aylesbury estate. We are residents who still have leases and tenancies. We are everyone who needs a place to stay. We are bound by nothing but this need.‘
2) THE FENCES
What to say? The Occupation’s leaving present was particularly momentous. When the last 20 or so residents around Bradenham and Chiltern asked the Council to maintain security around their homes they never asked to be fenced in behind locked doors. The residents remain clear on this despite the Council’s public statements that the fences were asked for. We’ve heard stories of residents afraid to leave their homes due to the guards, of residents crying from the stress, of relatives unable to visit, of residents’ mail being intercepted, of vulnerable people having to walk half a mile more around the estate due to the fences. It was clear from talking to residents that the fences were a humiliation. From talking to local people, it was clear the fences were a disgrace.
From the publicity that was first made by the residents and then others about the ‘Alcatraz’ fences, a groundswell of anger built slowly over the weeks towards the Council’s indifference to residents suffering. Not only this but how the fencing in of residents and the occupation showed how the regeneration scheme proceeds now on its own logic of success with little attention paid to both its unpopularity and the suffering it is causes. There can no longer be any real truth that the regeneration will benefit the local community. Not now and definitely not in the future.
It was no real secret that the fences would be pulled down. That was why people came to the demo and that is what was put into practice. 250 people came together to support a necessary direct action against this fence, the symbol of the violence of regeneration. As we said a few times now, regeneration politics never looked this way one year ago. A massive shift has occurred where people no longer have faith in the institutions that supposedly work on their behalf: planning committees, regeneration consultants, councils and so on. People know they need to do things for themselves and defend what they have. Protests, occupations, direct actions have all have upped the ante. We welcome this because this is what was needed and because these tactics work!
Seeing the fences come down was a great moment and it remains a moment. Just one moment of all the work done so far – street stalls, petitioning, public meetings, researching, writing, publicising, organising, learning together. We don’t mistake the fences for the trees. We are sure the fences are mended and back in place. It’s up to the residents and supporters to still maintain pressure to get them permanently removed. It’s also vital we support the one arrested Aylesbury resident of the night and we will post further details on this when she is ready. 20 people held a party outside Walworth cop shop as they waited for her to get out! It is also vital to keep on supporting the Aylesbury campaigns, both the tenants and the leaseholders.
Significantly, on the same day as the fences came down the venue for the Aylesbury Estate Compulsory Purchase Order Public Inquiry on 28th April and subsequent days was announced: Conference Centre, Millwall FC, The Den, Zampa Rd, London SE16 3LN
These few days are where there will be an open and public examination of whether the regeneration on Aylesbury will be of any benefit to the local community.We invite all who support the Aylesbury residents to attend and listen to the arguments, support those giving evidence and testimony and also if you are in a position to help as a legal bod or some kind of expert in planning, CPO, regeneration, housing policy etc, please get involved.
The leaseholders Statement of Case is worth reading but we also summarised some of it here. It makes the case that the regeneration is only about being a private development scheme that will see most residents displaced to either existing Council homes (like this one) or see leaseholders unable to stay in the local area (like Heygate), We doubt very few tenants or residents will take up residence in the new homes Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT) promise to build.
Also on the same day the fences were toppled, we had a reply from our question to Notting Hill Housing trust re: the tenure status of their 44 ‘affordable’ homes on their Exchange development in Bermondsey Spa. When planning permission was agreed, the application had NHHT promise 44 homes for ‘social rent’. That means that the rents are set according to income levels as determined by the National Rent Regime regulatory framework. This also means that these 44 homes were more likely to be affordable to local people. After the planning permission was agreed, when a later S106 agreement was signed with the Council, the 44 ‘social rent’ homes had changed unchallenged by the Council to ’44 Affordable Rent’ homes. NHHT clarified to us this week that they mean to rent these flats at 58% of local private rent prices. That could be up to £250 – 300 per week or more!
The Council very well knows the difference between ‘social rent’ and ‘affordable rent’. “Affordable rent’ was introduced by the Government in 2011. It means that Housing Associations such as NHHT can charge up to 80% of market rent for these supposedly ‘affordable’ homes. The council were part of 4 councils seeking a Judicial Review of ‘affordable rent’ as in the words on then Council Head of Regeneration Fiona Colley: ‘We are very keen to seek a judicial review of this decision. Maybe there are some areas of London where rent levels of 80% of market rent are affordable to most people, but they certainly aren’t in Southwark. The implication of the mayor’s decision is that councils will have little power to make sure new affordable housing is really, genuinely affordable for local people‘.
Not only this but the Council wrote to Boris Johnson in March 2012 outlining in detail how ‘affordable rent’ would be entirely out of reach of most Southwark residents pockets. See Southwark’s own graph above which shows how a council rent in Walworth is roughly £108 per week. Under ‘affordable rent’, the equivalent rent would be (at 2012 prices!) £226 per week. Southwark’s letter is here: Southwark Letter to Boris Affordable Rent
Whereas before NHHT has guaranteed in its planning application 44 social rent units, through sleight of hand and unopposed by the Council, these 44 homes have been taken away from local people. What concerns us is that as NHHT are the regeneration partner for Aylesbury regeneration will the promised 100’s of social rented homes on that site be magically transformed into ‘affordable rent’ ones? It’s a concern also because the loss of 44 social rent homes at The Exchange also means less homes for decanted tenants from Aylesbury. If 1000’s of Aylesbury tenants will only end up being rehoused in existing council stock outside the Aylesbury area then it makes a mockery of the regeneration benefiting tenants with new homes. With NHHT zealous love of ‘affordable rent’, will they seriously stump up the promised number of new social rented homes at Aylesbury? Increasingly Housing Associations are converting their existing social rent properties to affordable rent. In the past three years, London and Quadrant switched 1,673 tenancies earning an extra £4.2m and Notting Hill Housing Trust switched 853 earning an extra £3.3m. Both L&Q and NHHT are development partners at Aylesbury. Will the social rent homes L&Q built on Phase 1 slowly be switched or re-let to more expensive rents?
Horrible questions that need answers and these answers only seen to come from paying constant attention and constantly demanding them. For Southwark Council in its dreamworld of regeneration, everything is fine and everything is dandy. Their regeneration proceeds smoothly as social cleansing is either explicit or sneaked in through the back door. But there are many regeneration fences that are ready to be pulled, be they ‘Alcatraz’ ones or taking on the Council, NHHT and anyone else. We haven’t given up yet!