Tag Archives: Gentrification

The Murder of The Elephant

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This is a Whodunnit written in advance of a murder. It’s a very serious life and death affair.

Anyone who visits and uses the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, as we have been doing for over 25 years, knows that it’s exactly what it is. It’s exactly what it says on the tin – a Shopping Centre. It has about 80 businesses that go from the big Tescos and Smiths to the smaller shops like hairdressers and food places to the smaller kiosks for all sort of the things – clothes mending, coffee, handbags and so on. In what is really the moat of the Castle, for the Shopping Centre was built like a castle, there is the popular small market of numerous and varied cheap stalls. Mostly the shops and services are independent and often family-owned businesses where the owners live locally.

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. Although we can buy dog food, bags of nails or bibles (if you want), we also go there to catch up with what’s happening, with who is there, with what funny things are going on, with all the long-formed non-shopping things that people do under the Centre’s roofs. It’s a place that contains all the great funny stuff that local people bring to it, both funny ha-ha (the banter between people and shopkeepers) and the funny peculiar (like the guy stuck inside the service tunnels somehow before the subways were shut!). This is what makes the place human and simple. It’s the very heart of The Elephant and a poke in the eye to recent claims by developers ‘The Elephant & Castle has no soul..there is no community here’ (as Rob Deck, former Lend Lease Project Director of The Elephant regeneration told us all once).

We aren’t out here to tell tales of simple folks doing simple things as this is just patronising rubbish and there are plenty of people already painting this picture. 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. But we have to say it’s a cheap and cheerful place with no apology required. It’s not a fancy place. It’s not an expensive place unless you need a wee. It’s not a place for coming to for a Next or H&M or Wagamama or Giraffe or EE or Waitrose.

To return to our serious affair, we know that once this central heart of The Elephant is gone and replaced by 1000’s of expensive flats and mostly chain stores and restaurants, there will be very serious consequences for local people. This is the murder in its planning stages. This is the premeditated death of the Elephant community. Some people like to talk about how there is no such thing as ‘community’ but we tend to think those people don’t know because they either have never lived in one or they do but don’t know how to be in it. Community, such as The Elephant area, is always more like a community of different overlapping communities who mostly get along but it’s a recognisable physical, emotional and economic mish-mash of all of us.

The Shopping Centre is a kind of second home for many in those communities. It’s a place to go where you feel safe, there’s a familiarity, there’s a stability in visiting and a purpose, be that your dogfood or bibles, or sitting shooting the breeze seeing what’s up. It can be and is for many a place of direct social contact with traders you know, friends or strangers. It’s the breaking for many of the everyday isolation. It’s a vital connection for many but particularly older folks. It can be a place of sharing, of trust and of generosity in even the smallest encounter. Contained in all these moments and interactions is a sense of well-being and the positive affect this brings to people’s healthiness. What helps these feelings and meanings flow is that it’s a big place with places for sitting and its sheltered and it’s central. It’s the Shopping Centre, the centre being the Heart.

 

 

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BEHOLD THE USUAL SUSPECTS

The plans to demolish the Shopping Centre as part of the by-now infamous ‘regeneration’ of the Elephant area go back donkey’s years. By February 2004, Southwark Council had adopted a Supplementary Planning Guidance called ‘A development framework for the Elephant & Castle’ that proposed demolishing the Shopping Centre and the Heygate Estate. The vision they dreamed up was a new ‘town centre’ with new homes and new leisure and shopping facilities based around a network of new streets at Elephant and top of Walworth Rd instead of a centrally-located Shopping Centre. More plans and negotiations with the owner of the time St Modwen went nowhere past the envisaged removal of the shops ‘between June 2008 and June 2009 with demolition in early 2010’. There was always a big tension in the fact that the larger regeneration plans were hampered by the Council not being the owners of the Shopping Centre site. The Council could agree with Lend Lease to demolish the Heygate but had little real say in the Shopping Centre.

Then there was a funny moment when St Modwen and the Council seemed to suddenly agree to a ‘in-principle decision’ to not knock it down (as had been planned since 2002) but to refurbish the Centre and bung loads of new private homes on top. In the end, the Council were unhappy with St Modwen’s homes idea and refused to consider more than 500 units on site. St Modwen claimed this would not be ‘financially-viable’ of course but having also been playing a long and difficult game of speculation by holding on to the site for as long as possible finally sold to Delancey in 2013 for £80 million. St Modwen had bought the site of UK Land in June 2002 for £29 million anyow so ker-ching!

Delancey is major property company owned by Jamie Ritblat (see photo of one of his modest houses above) . You can Google that name to revel in his tax-dodging and avoidance of paying millions in stamp duty. Delancey is a British company registered in tax haven the British Virgin Islands (23,000 residents, 1,000,000 shell companies registered there!). Delancey’s ‘principal client fund DV4’ is the owner of the ever name-changing new development on Elephant Rd where three large ugly towers have gone up recently adjacent to the Shopping Centre. Here we are talking serious money and serious investment and serious land values.

Here’s how complicated the financing is:

In late 2013 Delancey and APG, the Dutch ‘pension fund asset manager’, formed a new ‘Joint Venture’ to deliver 3000+ new homes in London particularly at the ex-Athletes Village site post-Olympics in East London. Their other main development is the new retail and homes at the Shopping Centre. In 2016 there was a £1.4 billion merger between Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, Delancey’s client fund DV4 and the Dutch pension fund asset manager, APG.

Qatari Diar is a real estate company established by the Qatar Investment Authority in 2005, itself a ‘sovereign wealth fund’ owned by the state of Qatar, a country with a dubious record of workers rights amongst other things. APG is a €343bn Dutch pension fund asset manager owned by ABP, a public sector pension fund for people working in the Dutch government and education sectors. ABP slogan is ‘Tomorrow is today’ but we’ve known for ages that ‘Tomorrow is actually tomorrow’.

Anyhow, because they are only thinking about you, Sheikh Jassim Al-Thani, chief development officer for Europe and the Americas at Qatari Diar, says that they have a ‘vision to create vibrant, sustainable local communities where people aspire to live, work and visit’. You could be forgiven for thinking that paying into your pension fund was really about you having a few quid after you retire rather than the money being ending up being used by an international cluster of disreputable friggin’ sharks to make money from the gentrification and displacement of locals and local businesses wherever they happen to have their eyes on. The financing is as global as the resulting displacement – London, Sydney, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Luanda etc – and that’s how the system works! Money circulates internationally in ever fewer hands looking to land and make a profit. Any statements  about making ‘new great places to live for everyone’ is pure guff. The bottom line is profits. The Elephant is just one more example of how regeneration is just the making of money dressed up as an urban planning matter. To put it another way – they don’t care about you!

 

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DO YOU WANT SOME OF THIS?

Interestingly, although these companies don’t give a toss they do go along with the game of pretending they care about what we think. In a monumental time-leap from 2000 to now we are still subjected to what they call ‘consultation’ but we have come to callpantomime’. It’s worth thinking through how any of these plans to destroy the community are supposedly validated by the community.

In the early 2000’s, the Council conducted a ‘consultation’ at The Elephant about their plans to demolish it and replace it with a Town Centre. It’s published results were somewhat skewed. Of 464 responses to their viewing of the new plans, 80% of replies were either ‘strongly or moderately in favour’. Hence we calculate from an area containing 1000’s of local people, 371 were either dead keen on the plans or were ‘moderately’ in favour i.e their agreement was actually quite limited. From this consultation, the Council begins to trumpet a mandate for demolition from local people.

If we jump to Delancey’s public consultation in July 2015 when the first few details of the proposed plans are shown, we can see how such ‘consultation’ (asking for people’s input) is skewed by the misleading and bogus questions people are asked. There is no point going over old ground again and so you can read our critical responses to those questions here! Worth pointing out that at no point does this question – Would you like the development to include homes for people who love and live in London? – ask about what kind of homes are they talking about? Why are there no questions about types of tenure so that people answering the questionnaire can specify types if tenure they desire locally. People could then also talk about the absent question of social rented and affordable housing in the scheme.

As part of the ‘regeneration’ of the area, the Elephant & Castle zone has been awarded the dubious status of being an ‘opportunity area’ which we read as being an area ripe for the picking for opportunist investors, developers and more international shitehawks. Such an ‘opportunity’ means that the area is set for a ‘minimum of 4000 new homes to be built by 2031‘. This also supposedly includes at least 1,400 ‘affordable’ homes although few truly affordable social rented homes are being built or even if they are promised through the contract of S106 provision, they are being switched to unaffordable rents at the last moment. These are the same ‘affordable rents’ that the Council says ‘we do not think that the new affordable rent tenure is affordable for people in housing need in Southwark’.

What is becoming increasingly clear is Delancey’s plans to maximise the number of private homes across the whole Shopping Centre site and what will be the former site of the London College of Communications over the road by building 650 homes. (You’ll remember from earlier that St Modwen sold up after being refused only 500 homes!!) The LCC deal means that’s acres of prime land where the college now sits will be the landing place for numerous tall towers (19 to 31 storeys) adjacent to the other tall towers (20 to 31 storeys) planned for the Shopping Centre land themselves adjacent to Strata tower, the One The Elephant tower and the 44 storey tower at Newington Butts. We wonder if any daylight will reach us mortal at ground level?

For us, the question remains: who is this new housing for? Already we know that it will be entirely made up of towers of ‘built to let’ properties. This is a new fast growing housing sector that means developments are only made up of new private rental properties. None of the flats are for private sale, or for shared ownership and none are socially rented or ‘affordable’ rented (rents up to 80% of local private rents). Instead they are all owned by the developer and rented out to people for a maximum of three years. When Delancey’s Stafford Lancaster was asked by Council members what guarantee Delancey would give as to the level of social rented housing in the development, he ‘stressed again that these were very early days’ and said ‘that as the rental model was a mass-market product rent levels would need to reflect this. No firm commitment or comment was possible at this stage but there would be a robust discussion about the viability assessment’. This is simple code for no cheap housing as they are allegedly a drain on profits. Back in the real world of property and profits, Realstar, a large Canadian developer of the private rental market, is offering studio flats at their Courland Grove tower in Stockwell for £246 per week! What rents will Delancey be offering at The Elephant? We shudder to think.

 

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DISPLACEMENT, DATPLACEMENT, NO GOOD BLUES

If we are to think of the number of times promises have not been seen through by the Council and developers, we shudder to think again, of the fate of the independent shops, kiosks and market stalls who make their living in and around the Shopping Centre. There has been a great campaign being run by Latin Elephant that raises the question of how to protect the strong local Latino businesses and culture that has been around the Shopping Centre for over two decades now. At the end of the day, of course, everyone is in it together and all the businesses there have to come together to fight for the rights and against being shafted.

For many of the Latino businesses outside of the Shopping Centre redevelopment, being mostly in the railways arches, they will have to face the aggression of Network Rail who have a disregarding  flair for kicking out their tenants once an area is ‘up and coming’. Network Rail’s vision is for more Nandos and more high fee gyms and not necessarily the often precarious tiny business created inside mini-malls in the arches. But inside and around the Shopping Centre are numerous small businesses that will have no place in the new retail zones to be built. There will be some provision for ‘affordable retail’ built into the plans with phased rent-free periods and discounted rents but the few that have been built locally have been tiny and unsuitable for much (see the minuscule unit set aside for Shopping Centre traders that’s in Dashwood Studios student building 120-38 Walworth Rd). Such ‘affordable retail’ units will be set out in developers Section 106 contracts but we’ve been seeing that increasingly such S106 agreements are being weaselled out of.

Delancey’s Elephant Rd development is still supposed to have a market square in situ but we doubt this will be for the kind of popular market stalls the Elephant currently has. Delancey has also used their provision of this market square as an ‘exceptional circumstance’ for why it could not possibly include any affordable homes in their development. Delancey has also been making dubious movements on its promises of affordable retail in its development (see ‘Delancey – a morality tale’ in this post from 35% Campaign). It has also lined the Council up to use its Compulsory Purchase powers for traders who are unable to agree a compensation level for their business move or closure.

None of us here at Southwark Notes Towers can remember a time when traders at the Elephant were happy with the regeneration plans. The most common complaints have always been that traders had no idea what was going on, felt that the Council weren’t talking to them and that they would not survive any regeneration of the Elephant area. By 2007, things were so bad that the traders managed to present a Traders Charter to the Council detailing their concerns: ‘As small business traders at the Elephant and Castle we feel that the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle, approved in 2004, has significantly disadvantaged us, by damaging our existing business livelihoods and future prospects. We have suffered a slow and progressive cloud of regeneration induced recession with the prospect of extinction. Our businesses have suffered over the past four years, with little hope of any improvement. During this time many small businesses have folded, through being driven out of business by the regeneration’. The demolition of the Heygate and the displacement of those residents resulted in a drop in trade for many of the local businesses.

Jump ahead with us once more to 2014 and the ‘Trading Places: Research at The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre‘ report from consultants Social Life found traders still saying ‘it will kill my business’ or ‘I will lose everything’. Traders told Social Life’s researcher that they fear rent rises, displacement, closure and lack of compensation and the majority said they were not being talked to by the Council. Many traders also affirmed the social role they and the centre plays in people’s everyday lives saying ‘It’s not just about shops, it’s community, saying Hello’ and ‘We look out for our customers. Some of them come at special times or on certain days so if they are not they I ask about them’.

The following story does not add much conviction to Delancey’s commitment to traders in the Shopping Centre. Paulette Simpson of the Jamaica National Building Society spoke at a meeting of the Council where Delancey were present on behalf of businesses from the Caribbean community. She said that the community was concerned at the lack of consultation, the provision for displaced businesses, whether businesses would be able to afford to return to the new shopping centre and how long the development would take. What profile of businesses was Delancey was envisaging, including size and rents, and what reassurances were there that current businesses would not be driven out. Stafford Lancaster from Delancey stressed that consultation was at a very early stage and that he looked forward to engaging with all businesses.

At the recent launch of Latin Elephant’s ‘The Case for London’s Latin Quarter: Retention, Growth and Sustainability’ on 6th June 2016, Mark Williams Cabinet Member for Regeneration & New Homes said the Council will “shout it to the rooftops” that E&C is London’s Latin American quarter and that the Council will “fully support” the report on protecting and enhancing The Elephant’s Latin Quarter. It’s a tricky situation for us overly pessimistic types and we don’t want to pour any cold water on the amazing work of Latin Elephant in engaging with the Council and others to ‘voicing the concerns of Latin Americans in the Elephant’ but we wonder what real guarantees the Council can give traders that they will be benefiting from the ‘regeneration’ and not being thrown out of the area. It’s simply not possible for all the little businesses to survive regeneration which then beggars the question of how and who does regeneration really benefit? It’s also tricky because over years we’ve simply ended up believing that the Council cannot be trusted and between us and numerous other local blogs there is not a week goes by when another shoddy and scandalous revelation is laid at the Council’s door. BUT we support 100% Latin Elephant’s engagement with Southwark and it’s organising around protecting the Latin American community. It’s vital work.

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DISPLACEMENT:
IT’S NOT LIKE THE COUNCIL DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING!

Interestingly, until forced by statutory requirements of the Equalities Act (2010), no assessment of the effects of regeneration on the area’s more marginal, vulnerable or precarious people had been carried out despite the numerous policy plans that were produced both Borough-wide and for The Elephant. The first Equalities Impact Assessment (EqIA) was undertaken for Southwark’s 2011 Core Strategy document that provides a ‘local development framework’ for the borough. It’s worth looking in detail at the EqIA for the Shopping Centre and Walworth Rd area and the Council’s own noting that East Walworth ward still ranks in the 10% most deprived areas in the country and that parts of Faraday and Newington wards rank in the 20% most deprived areas in the country. It’s a long document but we can summarise quickly by simple quotation the main thorny question of ‘regenerating’ The Elephant.

The report says ‘The plan could unintentionally fail to meet local housing needs by not providing the right housing type and mix for the local community which could sustain or result in overcrowding and poor quality accommodation which in turn disproportionately affects older people, young and Black & Minority Ethnic community’. Following on from this insight, the report continues that ‘The regeneration of Elephant and Castle may result in a rise in house prices and housing may become unaffordable to those currently living in the area, especially for, lone parents, disabled people, the BME community and elderly people. This may also result in a dilution of the community as people are forced to move out of the area as they no longer can afford to live there’. Is this the only ever common sense to be found in Council thinking and experience of the real community-smashing effects of regeneration schemes? What does Heygate show about displacement and replacement of council homes with unaffordable Housing Association rentals? It then beggars belief when right after the above two lines the Council can assert that ‘redevelopment and regeneration of areas may result in the disruption of communities’ and that ‘as part of the Elephant and Castle SPD we will look at how we can successfully create mixed communities with a range of housing types and tenures. This should help to improve social cohesion’. The Council’s EqIA’s solution to the problem of ‘social cohesion’ is to ‘mitigate’ displacement by building 4000 unaffordable homes and destroy the local community business base at The Elephant.

 

 

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REGENERATION = DEATH

We’ve long been critical of the use of the term ‘regeneration’ to signify much that’s positive for local people. It sits alongside the Council’s use of the term ‘revitalise’ for places like The Elephant, Peckham, Old Kent Rd etc. Do they really mean that they will ‘give new life’ to these places where we live? What on Earth do they mean when these places are already full of life. We know they already think we are the ‘wrong sort of residents’. Do they know think we are the wrong sort of lives too?

When we were thinking about the title of this writing, we thought about how some of those displaced from their homes on the Heygate suffered terrible ill health from stress and anxiety at being removed from the deep social bonds they had created and maintained for years and years. We thought of how some people had died prematurely from the awful experience of decant and displacement. We also thought how the Council had no monitoring in place to keep in touch and be aware of the circumstances of those who it moved at of their area just so they could see if people’s lives, health, employment, happiness and so on was improved or denigrated from being moved off the Heygate. Is this going to be the same for 1000’s of Aylesbury Estate residents too as they get the heavy hand of ‘good for you’ regeneration?

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!

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Aylesbury Regeneration Boss Says Social Housing Is ‘Undesirable’

NOTHING HILL HOUSING (DON’T) TRUST

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Notting Hill Housing Trust logo: a maze game to find your way to NHHT social housing!!

Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT) is Southwark Council’s development partner for the complete demolition of Aylesbury Estate’s 2700 homes and their replacement with up to 4200 new homes. NHHT is a Housing Association: ‘a private, non-profit making organisations that provides low-cost “social housing” for people in need of a home’. NHHT is one of the biggest Housing Associations in London. Since the 1980’s when local councils stopped building council homes, it has been Housing Associations that have increasingly been the main developers of low-cost social rented homes.

That might all sound fine and dandy but in the last decade the big Housing Associations have started to develop more and more private homes as a way to finance more ‘affordable’ housing. The problem is that such ‘affordable’ housing is now more likely to be either shared-ownership homes where you need a large salary to buy a percentage of a new home or the rent will be what is called ‘affordable rent’. Such ‘affordable’ rents are up to 80% the price of local private rented homes. So in Walworth this can start at £150 – £200 or more per week. It’s been estimated that even at 65% of local Walworth private rents, you would need a salary of £35,000 to afford to rent such a home.

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The Chief of Notting Hill Housing Trust is Kate Davies. In this position she takes home £200,000 a year. She is also a ‘Fellow’ of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ, a Conservative think tank with dubious Christian leanings). The main cheese of the CSJ is Iain Duncan Smith, former Leader of the Conservative Party and now their somewhat Benefits guru as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He has been responsible for numerous attacks on those who rely on welfare benefits to get by. He has been the ideas man behind financial ‘sanctions’ on claimants who can’t satisfy ever and ever harsher Job Centre conditions. His Centre for Social Justice project pretends to be about ‘empowering’ poor people but there is no real justice on offer. Only pressure and stress. An estimate that is on the very low side talks about 60 suicides as a result of benefit sanctions. The DWP is refusing to release data it has about other suicide cases relating to benefit cuts.

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In 2008 Kate Davies contributed an Introduction to a Centre for Social Justice report on housing called ‘Housing Poverty’. She says ‘council estates are ghettos of needy people’. She says ‘council homes are subsidised by the taxpayer’ yet NHHT (and other Housing Assocations as well as private developers) receive millions of taxpayers money to build so-called ‘affordable’ homes. NHHT has been allocated £77.4m of funding to build 2,250 largely unaffordable homes in London.

She says council tenants ‘often pay little or no rent, and get their home maintained in good order for free’. She also maintains that ‘living on an estate can affect your health, your ability to work, the type of education your children will get and your life chances’ To top it all she adds that ‘social housing is not a desirable destination’ and that ‘private ownership is preferable to state provided solutions’ i.e council homes.
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These are the typical ignorance and lies that feed the demolition of council estates and then the gentrification of these areas.They pretend that council estates are not made up of all sorts of people doing all sorts of jobs. They pretend everyone is unemployed or single mums or alcoholics. It’s the usual stigma to create a picture that council housing is a failure and needs to be replaced by ‘mixed communities‘. But we know this a code word for getting in more wealthy people to live in new private homes. You can read her introduction here:
Housing Poverty Kate Davies Introduction

You can displace working class people to far and wide and bring in more wealthy folks but poor people remains poor no matter where you pack them off too. ‘Mixed communities’ as an idea seems to conveniently forget this er…easy to grasp fact!

Notting Hill Housing Trust says ‘Centre for Social Justice report ‘is 7yrs old, much has changed inc Gov policy. NHH still committed to finding housing solutions for all needs’. We asked if Kate Davies was still a ‘Fellow’ for them as the CSJ project seems well in line with what they are doing on Aylesbury which will actually see less genuine cheap homes for current residents and future residents than it currently has.

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In Southwark, NHHT are developing thousands of new homes on old council estate sites (Walworth, Camberwell, Peckham etc). In their ‘The Exchange’ development in Bermondsey they promised 44 social rent homes but after planning permission was approved they changed these to the ‘affordable rent’ category, a sleight of hand that was signed off by The Council themselves. With such underhanded tactics, tenants on Aylesbury are concerned that the promised social rent homes in the regeneration will be also whisked away at the last minute, just like the broken promises at Heygate.

Aylesbury residents have a right to be nervous and demand answers and guarantees from NHHT.

The Council has said that Aylesbury will ‘not be another Heygate’ but Kate Davies and NHHT beliefs and policies mean that it’s very likely to be a repeat of the Heygate scandal. NHHT cannot believe that social housing is ‘undesirable’ while at the same being asked to ‘regenerate’ one of Southwark’s largest social housing estates. NHHT can’t be trusted.

— PDF Flyer of this article here: notting hill dont trust flyer

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January 2017: We highly recommend the article written from the inside on NHHT and especially Kate Davies role in their moving away from building social rented homes: Here on Red Brick blog

Externally, Kate was often heavily involved in policy development and lobbying. Amongst other things, she was a key advisor to the extremely influential Localis review (Principles for Social Housing Reform) on which Red Brick has commented many times (for example here). She chaired the ‘Housing and Dependency Working Group’ for Duncan Smith’s (misnamed) Centre for Social Justice producing a report – using NHHT resources – on housing poverty in 2008, where she repeated her call for an end to security of tenure and criticised social housing for providing ‘low cost living for life funded from the public purse’.

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Interesting stories of ye olden times concerning Kate Davies.

Internet says that back in the day, late 70’s and early 80’s Kate Davies was calling herself Kate Marshall and was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. In 1985, as General Secretary of the RCP, she wrote a pamphlet called ‘Moral Panics and Victorian Values‘ detailed the prevailing return under Thatcher’s Tories of the insistence of hard working family life as a cure all to society’s evils such as gays, single mothers and so on. Forward a few decades to 2008 and Kate is now writing for Tory think tank Centre for Social Justice about ‘aspiration‘, ‘home ownership‘ whilst the CSJ with it’s strong Christian Tory leadership goes on about the strong role of the nuclear family in keeping society healthy. What a mad and vile tangle she weaves.

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It’s Not Too Late Aylesbury Estate: What happened and what next?

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.

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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.
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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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3) AYLESBURY GOING FORWARD

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.

And here’s why:
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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!

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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

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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?

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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!

Aylesbury Estate Is Everyone’s Fight

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In the last 12 months, London has finally woken up and smelt the instant coffee about what ‘regeneration’ really means:

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Residents’ property strewn across the Sweets Way estate after eviction preceding ‘regeneration’

Before the decanting, displacement of residents and final demolition of the Heygate Estate, there were other total demolitions of London council estates but it was the Heygate and all the work local people did on publicising what was going on there that made ‘Heygate’ the well-known byword for regeneration, gentrification and social cleansing. The most well known fact about the ‘regeneration’ of the Heygate is that were as once there were 1000+ council rented homes, only 79 new equivalent social rented homes will be built on the new scheme.

Despite Southwark Council’s claims that it has ‘learnt from the mistakes’ and that ‘Aylesbury Estate won’t be another Heygate’, the massive Aylesbury Estate in Walworth is another further testing ground for what can be gotten away with in the name of ‘regeneration’. The only difference is that instead of the Council’s partner developer being an international development corporation (Lend Lease at Heygate), at Aylesbury the choice is mostly the housing association Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT).

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Since January 31st there has been the ongoing protest Occupation of different blocks on Aylesbury at different times. This has been both amazing in itself as a principled act of solidarity that has given long-term campaigners on Aylesbury a big boost and also because the Occupiers stress that these squat actions are about direct action to house themselves in the midst of the housing crisis. Between the campaigners and the Occupation, there has been a two month engagement with other locals (through door-knocking, petitioning, street stalls and other events) and there is a strong feeling from many people that they do not want to give up their flats to demolition and an uncertain future.

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In 2001 when 73% of those balloted on the estate said ‘No’ to stock transfer and demolition it was precisely because they ‘didn’t believe the new Housing Association would be able to keep its commitments on rents and service charges”. The Council likes to paint that ‘No’ vote as ancient history and irrelevant now but it was only four years after that ballot in 2005 that they decided, with no new ballot or consultation, against the wishes of the majority of residents and to go ahead with demolition and redevelopment. Overriding people’s wishes and concerns only four years after the ballot remains as relevant today as back then. We will see later on, the fears of higher rents and service charges were well founded.

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Creation Trust, funded by The Council and overseen by Councillors, so not really ‘independent’!

Despite the many publicities and promotions of the pro-regeneration Creation Trust who oversee public engagement and social programmes around the Aylesbury demolition and development, it is in no way certain that the remaining 2000 households desire the destruction of their community. The Occupation and the campaign have been proving this week by week from all the troubled and angry conversations the are having with other Aylesbury residents. Creation Trust would do good to actually begin again and be honest that there is not a done and dusted mandate for demolition on the estate.

REGENERATION IS VIOLENCE AGAIN…

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Without saying it all again in detail, in the last few weeks, the Council has been up to its usual standard operating mode of bullying anyone who disagrees with it. Since it has been twice unable to defeat the Occupation and supporters through the courts, it decided to fund to the tune of £140,000 pounds the construction of a large fence to block off Aylesbury towers Bradenham and occupied Chiltern House and everything in between. When we say ‘in-between’ we actually mean the existing 18 homes of council tenants and leaseholders within that area. That means Council Tax paying, rent paying or mortgage paying residents are having to ask to be let in and out if the area where they live. Despite 7 exits being guarded 24 hours a day by security guards costing the Council £1000’s per week, residents are only allowed to use one exit/entrance. They have also been subject to brutal conditions:

(Being) forced to make a lengthy detour, all the way over to the gate on Westmoreland Road, every time they leave their homes or come back in. If guests want to visit them, the security guards insist that the residents must come all the way to that one gate to fetch them. This had made it impossible for many elderly friends and relatives to visit at all, and has left at least one woman housebound. Whenever asked about the fencing/ security arrangements, the council trot out a line about how they did this because those residents asked them to. From our conversations with the residents, it’s clear that this is a lie. Some of them asked for doors to be fitted to the actual blocks they live in, with an entry-phone system to let their guests in, but they didn’t ask for this. They had no wish to deprive people from walking their dogs, or traveling across this corner of the estate, and hate the fact that they now live in what is effectively a big cage’.

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Ramping up this week has also been the security clampdown on anyone attempting to get to their home at the Occupation, to visit the Occupation and even stopping a prospective MP from canvassing residents inside the fenced in part of the estate. The Occupiers are reporting both the violent frogmarching out of the area of occupiers and supporters and theft by security guards of a laptop.
The Council is once again taking the Occupation to court this Thursday 2nd April. The Occupation is calling for a ‘solidarity with the residents demo‘ on that evening. All welcome!

WHY THE LEASEHOLDERS FIGHT IS FOR EVERYONE

On 28th April, the Aylesbury Estate leaseholders will get to attend and state their case at a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) Public Inquiry at a venue still to be decided. Disputing the very low valuations being offered by the Council for their homes, some leaseholders have been subject to the violence of CPO that means that the Council takes your home by law and gives you what it wants to for it. Low valuations means that leaseholders cannot afford to buy anything comparable locally to what they had on Aylesbury Estate. On Heygate it was the leaseholders who were displaced the furthest – Sidcup, Gravesend and even Slough. If you don’t like it the Council says you can ‘sue’ them. The Council saysThe council will want to avoid using the powers of a compulsory purchase order where possible and only do so as a last resort” yet they used them on Heygate and so far have used them on all phases of Aylesbury regeneration. The are also seeking CPO’s for Elmington Estate Phase 3 and for traders at Peckham Rye Station. On Elmington it’s clear this is no ‘last resort’ as they sayThe council has engaged with leaseholders since August 2011 and it will continue to negotiate to acquire those remaining leasehold interest in parallel with the Compulsory Purchase Order process.’

But the leaseholders fight is not just about gaining adequate compensation for the forced removal from their home but is about challenging the entire Aylesbury Estate regeneration itself. The struggle against CPO affects everyone locally as it seeks to argue that the granting of CPO and thus the green light for the scheme is not in the public interest. Their excellent detailed Statement of Case can be read here but its worth us summarising some of the main arguments just so more light is shone on the details of why the regeneration is another rip-off for local people.

The legal question for CPO asks if there is a ‘compelling case in the public interest’ for regeneration? A CPO needs to be set within a clear strategic framework and in this case the over-arching GLA London Plan would be such a framework. The London Plan states that states that the loss of social housing “should be resisted unless the housing is replaced at existing or higher densities with at least equivalent floorspace.” The planning applications underlying the Order (14/AP/3843 / 14/AP/3844) will see the net loss of at least 1393 social rented homes; and if the Objectors’ concerns about the precise tenure mix are well founded, then this net loss could amount to 2,700 social rented homes. Such loss of social housing is not only in breach of the London Plan policy requirements but also of Southwark’s Aylesbury Area Action Plan (AAAP) on which the regeneration is based. Policy 3.3.1 of the AAAP envisages a total net loss of just 150 social rented units. Furthermore, policy 3.3 states clearly that 50% of all new homes should be affordable and that “of the affordable housing provided, 75% should be social rented”.

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However, it is unclear and yet to be clarified that NHHT will be providing its social rented housing at rents defined by income (as determined by the National Rent Regime regulatory framework) and not as a percentage up to 80% of local private rents as ‘affordable rent’ introduced in 2011. In the Aylesbury estate postcode (SE17), a study shows that in Dec 2014 a 1-bed social rented flat costs on average £97 per week, in contrast to the new ‘affordable rent’ at 80% market rent costing £239 per week. The study shows that the 80% affordable rents would require an annual household income of £41,600, which is well beyond the £14,300 median income of existing Aylesbury estate residents.

The Statement of Case also contains many arguments about how the scheme is premised on breaches in the 1985 Housing Act re: failure to consult residents on the steamrolling through of the 2005 demolition plan and the subsequent failing of those residents re: the Human Rights Act 1998. The regeneration scheme also breaches the Equalities Act 2010 by failing to assess the impact of demolition on 8 protected minority groups and this is a most pertinent question when 67% of the residents come from a minority ethnic group. The Aylesbury New Deal for Communities (ANDC), the precursor to Creation Trust, had acknowledged in a report in 2003 that ‘There are specific Black & Minority Ethnic communities who are not represented and whom ANDC have little contact with. These are the Turkish, Somali, SE Asian, Bangladeshi and Latin communities, all of whom have a significant presence within the ANDC area. There is currently little being done to address the needs of these specific communities’.

Later ANDC  set up a committee dedicated to promoting BME group participation in the regeneration plans, the Aylesbury Black and Minority Ethnic Group (ABMEG). Yet when ABMEG wrote to the Government Office for London in 2003 complaining about the management of the ANDC, the ANDC responded by suspending all ABMEG board members, this move described by ABMEG as ‘an attempt to silence ABMEG’.

Two years later Lord Ousely’s Report on Southwark, black and minority communities and regeneration determined that black traders were being driven out by the Council’s regeneration plans. Equality Impact Assessments on Aylesbury scheme have not been fully undertaken and when partially completed only seek to reassure that black and ethnic minority groups in the area will be okay as new homes will be available to rehouse them. Yet those very groups tend to be the most poor and vulnerable and can in no way be reassured that housing will be there when the questions around how cheap rents in the new flats will be has not been answered.

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It’s been an amazing 2 months on the Aylesbury Estate. Once again local people, just like they were forced to on Heygate, have been setting the record straight over and against the ‘revitalising’ spin that the Council and Creation Trust ceaselessly promotes with a straight face. Lessons have been learned and lessons are continually being learnt by loads of other areas facing regeneration. Tactics, ideas and strategies are being shared (legal, protest wise and also as direct action – occupation, taking the struggle to the Council, developers etc). Certainly nothing will be the same again. ‘We won’t go!’ is the message. Let’s keep hitting that home together.

Aylesbury Estate Occupation: Solidarity Demo tomorrow

Statement from the Aylesbury Estate Occupation re: court dates & solidaritY

We are calling for as many of our friends and supporters as possible to come along tomorrow (Wednesday 4th March) in the day time.

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We’re starting the day with a solidarity demo outside Camberwell Magistrates Court (15 D’Eynsford Road London SE5 7UP). One of the ‘Aylesbury Six’ – the people arrested during the eviction operation on Tuesday 17th (links to media articles below) – has a plea hearing, and we’ll be outside to support him. He’s a tenant from the estate, and we want to make sure he feels the strength of our solidarity, so would love to have a large presence outside the court.

We’ll be there from 10am – 12 noon, and then we’ll go back to the estate to get ready for any eviction attempt, and work out how to continue our protest. So if you can’t make it along in the morning, come and visit us in the afternoon instead.

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Southwark Council have applied for another Interim Possession Order, and that case is being heard at the same time, at Lambeth County Court. It’s likely that the police are already planning another massive operation to enforce that later this week. We’ll be running some legal workshops on Wednesday pm so that everyone knows their rights.

Please come and join us!

Refuse Resist Repopulate Refurbish”

Fight for the Aylesbury! website here!

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/18/six-arrested-as-police-help-in-evictions-from-london-estate
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-31526037
http://rt.com/uk/233443-social-cleansing-protest-southwark/
http://www.londonlive.co.uk/news/2015-02-18/protesters-say-they-will-not-move-from-aylesbury-estate
http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/six-arrests-during-chaotic-eviction-of-housing-activists-from-one-of-londons-largest-estates-10053161.html
https://vimeo.com/119923934
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fmkgh1-Sxg

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Aylesbury Estate update: Eviction support and demo

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The struggles at Walworth’s Aylesbury Estate continue in the next two weeks. Here are two quick call-outs for support

1) AYLESBURY OCCUPATION OPEN DAY this Sun / EVICTION THREAT

Since moving itself somewhat smartly during last weeks failed police eviction from the old Chartridge block to the new one, the Occupation has been keeping on with getting the message out. This Sunday they are having a Open Day for all to ‘meet the Occupation‘ Get on down and check it out if you haven’t been. Am sure they would also appreciate some good new banners to hang on the block. We are still working on our ‘Peter John – no free lunches here!‘ banner!

On a serious note, the Occupation is back in court on Weds 4th March (next week) and if possession is granted to Southwark Council, a repeat of last week’s police assault on the Occupation is guaranteed. We can’t stress enough how anyone who supports the Occupation should keep abreast of news after Weds to be ready to get down to any subsequent eviction attempt. Maximum support needed. Please spread the word. This is serious frontline anti-regeneration stuff going on (amongst all the other great campaigns and fights) . Be there and get your mates down too. All hands on deck!

Evcition News updates here.
Occupation Twitter feed here. This is going to be where any eviction attempt is posted (as well as other sympathetic twitter accounts. Ours, SL RCG, PRS etc.)

Please circulate the need for eviction support via Twitter, Facebook etc and through your own networks and email lists.

2) AYLESBURY PROTEST MARCH: SAT 14th MARCH

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All welcome. All housing campaigns welcome.! See you there. Make some noise!

Regeneration Is Violence

How is it in London in 2015 that people who reside in public housing can be subject to such extremes of subtle and unsubtle violence? When we use the word violence what do we mean? Well for starters we mean the slow burning, long-term violence done to those who are being forced out of their homes in the name of ‘regeneration’ with it’s routine accompanying upheavals, anxieties, stresses and affects on physical and mental ill health.

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How is it to lose you home? What does it mean to be ‘regenerated’ and be asked to leave your home where there is no alternative presented to you but to lose your home. What does ‘home’ mean to people in this instance – isn’t it a vast collection of memories, events, experiences and also connections to others around you? How do you ‘regenerate’ those very personal aspects of people’s home lives and their community?

What is it like to be live day-in and day-out, not wanting to leave your home as more and more people around you are leaving? What is it like to have to move to Sidcup in Kent as you can’t afford to stay local as gentrification means your leaseholder compensation from the Council is too small to buy you anything where you have lived for much of your life?

What does it feel like to be treated with zero dignity or respect even though your crime is only to live in a home where the Council and it’s partners want the land your home sits on? Do you and your life and your community’s life count in this instance? Or are you just a statistic on the regeneration paperwork? How is it to be issued a Compulsory Purchase Order for your home that you have paid off, receive a low valuation and then be forced to take up a new mortgage for a home miles from where you want to live?

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How is it that opponents of moving from their homes, of social cleansing, of gentrification, can be ignored by the Council as if these desires, feelings, views and good common sense simply does not exist. How is it to be in your latter years, be removed from your community and support networks? We know from our interviews with ex-Heygate tenants that there is a lot of anxiety, sadness, depression, ill health and in some cases early deaths happening with many of those decanted and displaced from that community.

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How is that a Council would rather smash up it’s decanted homes than let homeless people live in them?

How is that once you could live in London in cheap housing because that was a common sense housing policy but now the policy is to force you out in favour of developers profits, those who use housing as investments, those who already have too much and those who think you are unworthy to live in central London?

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This is what we mean by violence. This is where we see that regeneration is a type of violence.

These social costs of demolition and displacement are huge and yet the Council ignores this in favour of simple economic arguments that pretend ‘regeneration’ is all about benefiting a local community. But Londoners and especially those subject to these awful schemes are winning the argument that such schemes are only really about social cleansing. It seems that the last 6 months of high-visibility campaigns have won that battle. The next stage has been reached and campaigns are no longer simply arguing that regeneration is gentrification but are now moving into practical and shared actions to defend their homes from regeneration and to act against evictions – Focus E15 mums campaign and their re-occupation of Carpenter’s Estate in Stratford, the New Era estate in Hoxton victory of preventing a new private owner of their homes from evicting them, the Guinness Trust occupation in Brixton and the Aylesbury Occupation, are all amazing moments of the last few months.

And then there is a less subtle violence that all concerted actions against this regeneration bollocks will have to face and that is the ultimate use of the police and bailiffs by Council’s to get their way. This week we have seen that violence on Aylesbury Estate:

Aylesbury Occupied

This last fortnight has seen a somewhat incredible local and public denial that regeneration of Southwark’s large council estates is good for local communities. You probably already saw that part of Chartridge block on Aylesbury estate had been re-occupied by protestors who wanted to both draw attention to the social cleansing of poorer parts of Southwark and to give a boost to local housing campaigners on and off the estate. It certainly did that with daily meetings, petitions by residents of residents on the Aylesbury, street stalls on Walworth Rd, public meetings and a lively posting of news and arguments up on the Internet. All of these events and activities were organised by the occupiers, local residents and local groups.

Council’s First Response
Southwark Council’s only response was to repeatedly use the same tired old press statement in any media coverage.  None of the detailed arguments made by Aylesbury residents, leaseholders, the occupiers and people like us were answered in any way. Mark Williams, Cabinet member for Regeneration, instead claimed in the oft repeated statement that ‘In Southwark we are tackling the housing crisis head on and in the last three years we have built more affordable homes than any other London borough. The squatters do not represent the residents of the Aylesbury and are risking the delivery of the very homes they claim to be campaigning for, for the people they claim to be campaigning for. Southwark is working hard to tackle the London-wide housing crisis but others must also play their part to provide the homes Londoners need.’

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We would say simply: How do Southwark think they are tackling ‘the housing crisis’ by building these so-called affordable homes (eg. 25% shared ownership in Southwark requires an income of £56k for a 2-bed)? 47% of households in Southwark have incomes of £15,000 or less per annum. The median income for Council tenants was just £9,100 (Southwark key housing data 2012/13). So the numbers just don’t add up as numerous criticisms can be found of ‘affordable’ homes where it’s clear that are not ‘affordable’ unless you are on a very good wage or unless you can move from a cheap council rent to a more expensive Housing Association rent. So decanting tenants out of the Aylesbury, demolishing it, and having Notting Hill Housing Trust build some social rented homes but mostly private or shared ownership homes is not tackling the housing crisis for local people. Decanting tenants off of the Heygate Estate, demolishing it, and having Lend Lease build a tiny amount of social rented homes (79) but mostly private or shared ownership homes (3000) is not tackling the housing crisis.

Both regeneration schemes immediately reduce the numbers of available council homes by demolishing them and not replacing them (Heygate 1100 homes gone, Aylesbury will be 3000+ gone). Not only are council places lost but decanted tenants are re-housed mostly in existing council housing stock further reducing available council homes for those 18,000 people on the waiting lists. The experience of Heygate is that when some new homes were built for decanted tenants locally very few ex-Heygate residents took up the offer as they were either too expensive or they didn’t want to move once more. By the time these homes were built the Heygate community had already been displaced so people felt there was no longer any point in returning to near the Heygate site. It will be the same for the Aylesbury regeneration scheme. In both cases, tenants and residents have long argued that they want to stay in their local area and in their local community. If you have kids, are ill, are elderly, are low waged or unemployed, like large spacious and light flats, like Walworth and its shops and so on, these are some of the many reasons people do not want to move. Council rent means being able to have a decent home and to be able to survive for many many people.

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Removal of council homes means upping the level of those just above, on or below the poverty threshold and Heygate and Aylesbury sites are high on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Let’s be clear, regeneration schemes do not tackle poverty, they make it worse. Decisions made in offices or at fancy dinners with developers do not arise from actual contact with local people. As was said this week on Twitter re: Aylesbury regeneration – Southwark Council just ‘doesn’t understand Council Housing from the perspective of a tenant’. We think that’s a very useful point. They do not understand and really do not care about the impact of these schemes on local communities. That’s the impact on the very people who vote them in to supposedly look after their community.

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Never Mind The Ballots
The Council’s lack of will to actually enter into argument and debate about it’s regeneration policies comes from the arrogance of those who now control the Council. It’s a very top-down affair of thinking they know what is good for us without ever asking us directly and with a transparency and accountability that is needed. Instead, they use consultation companies to arrange ‘show and tell’ meetings with those facing regeneration where the outcome of those meetings have already been pre-determined to show pro-regeneration support. We have already written much on the consultation con and we won’t repeat here. However, two illustrations might shine a light on the current state of whether the Aylesbury regeneration is supported by a majority of residents :

When the draft Aylesbury Area Action Plan (AAAP) was published in 2009, a series of ‘consultation’ meetings and events happened. The AAAP was the master-planning document was the blueprint for how the demolition and regeneration of the estate would be. On 6th and 7th March 2009 the Action Plan was ‘publicly displayed’ in Thurlow Lodge Community Hall and people invite to comment on it. Over the weekend, ‘133 people recorded their attendence over the two days…of whom 100 filled in questionnaires’. The Council was then able to write that this event ‘clearly showed local support for the Action Plan where 82% of questionnaire respondents supported the vision for the Aylesbury’.

The Aylesbury had approx 6000 or 7000 residents. If we do some maths, we can argue that responses from 100 people out of whom only 82 were supporting the regeneration is not a large very sample to trumpet out local resident support for the scheme. This is especially the case when in 2001 73% of residents voted against their homes being demolished and their tenancies being transferred to a Housing Association. Yet the Council now ignores the ballot and also constantly refers to a ‘vast majority of residents who want to be rehoused’. It also refuses to runs ballots on any further estate that they seek to regenerate as they know people have rumbled the regeneration rip-off.

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The 2014 Statement of Community Involvement summarises the process of public consultation that has taken place on the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate in preparation for the submission of a detailed and outline planning applications. In the above chart you can see how many actual people attended each consultation or event. At the end of the chart the total attendance is put at 732 people in attendance. But how is it possible to know whether these 732 attendees were all different people and not a more likely mixture of the same people? How is it possible to know what they even said? The report only mentions in passing peoples obvious concerns about displacement. (You can see the hole-ridden 148-page Statement of Community Involvement here).

However, what struck us this week as we went to the occupation, the well-attended public meetings, the petition work or when we just met people passing through the estate was how few of them actually believed regeneration was in their interest. In fact the term ‘social cleansing’ came more out of people’s mouths than ours in these days. People instinctively grasp that what Southwark is doing is moving on poor people on large estates and moving in under the phony guise of ‘mixing the community’ more wealthy people. In one small shop on Westmoreland Rd, the owner was worried how his business would fare when the Aylesbury residents all moved on and more affluent people moved in. There was also a common acceptance of people living in empty buildings if they want too. People said again and again – ‘if they are empty why shouldn’t people live in them’.

Yet none of these concerns and desires not to leave the estate or the area, nor people’s support for the Aylesbury occupation seem to register in the Council’s propaganda machine. This week saw Leader of The Council, Peter John expressed dismay that any of this regeneration stuff could be seen as ‘controversial’. In light of Heygate scandal, the Aylesbury social cleansing with it’s stressful and pressured removal of tenants, the Compulsory Purchase Orders of very elderly residents, the non-affordable new housing, you wonder what there is there that isn’t controversial! Re-iterated again and again through public events about regenerating the Aylesbury  is that local residents see ‘affordability’ of new homes as their major issue and concern and yet the new homes are, as we know, going to be very unaffordable.

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Council’s Second Response: More Violence
Every day, the Occupation held a public meeting at 6.30pm where many people came and discussed both the regeneration and the Occupation and how to proceed. Within the Occupation there was clearly a sussed understanding of how they were occupying to help local people re-energise their opposition to the regeneration.

The Council’s line was that ‘the squatters’ had no support nor we’re they representative of local people’s feelings. They tried to distance any support for the occupation that as we have said was clear by just pretending that a part of the estate has been squatted and this had nothing to do with the regeneration or it’s opponents. At one point, Peter John called the squatters ‘fakes’ because some other squatters who were clearly nothing to do with the occupied Chartridge block held an unwanted noisy party. Police both accepted that this was nothing to do with the protest occupation but also did nothing when some of the occupiers were attacked by the party squatters when they asked them to stop the music which was pissing off local people.

On Tuesday evening, the Council decided it needed a final reckoning, and after securing an Interim Possession Order in court that morning, police arrived on the scene team handed. Although they had been filming the occupation that day, had been stopping and searching people there, had police on site 24 hours a day and had been trying to understand the situation with the occupation, they still basically spent a couple of hours evicting an empty block. The Occupation has simply moved at the start of the police raid into the adjoining block that was not covered by the Possession Order. The defence of this block was made even easier because when the Council had previously smashed up these flats a week before to prevent them being occupied they had also erected sturdy metal fences that now aided the occupiers against further police incursion.

At this moment of impasse, the police then made 6 violent arrests of supporters from the crowd of 100+. It was entirely provocative when the evening had so far been angry but calm even when the police were raiding the empty block with a show of force.

With no eviction then in place, outsmarted and somewhat deflated, the Council then tried to persuade the police that they had evidence of criminal damage committed when the occupiers took over the block. Police then came to the occupied block saying they were going to arrest all who didn’t leave due to ‘criminal damage’. The occupiers and crowd made a great job of arguing that this was a lie and somewhat ironic as the Council had already smashed up the block the week before. In the end, the Chief Inspector on the night with a nervousness that was quite funny to watch declared a dispersal order to clear the area but also didn’t go through with an illegal eviction.
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The Council, until it makes it’s next legal move, has been hiring private security to be a pain in the ass to the occupation, producing more intimidation and violence and its supporters and is also building many fences around the block as if laying it to siege. Potentially very dangerous but then the Council always operates from siege mentality unable to actually talk to local people, treat them nicely, see the actual harm of their regeneration regime and so on. They remain hunkered down in their in posh houses or secure in council chambers.

 

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As we write the occupation continues at 69-76 Chartridge Block, Westmoreland Rd, SE17. Their website is here for news and updates. Last Saturday they held a Family Fun Day for all and this brought more people to the place to see what’s going on and to enable further discussions around local people’s objections to this ‘regeneration’.
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We wonder when Peter John or any high-ranking regeneration officers last visited the Aylesbury for a chat with locals? Any guesses?

Southwark housing campaigns and activists support the occupation on the Aylesbury Estate

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Add your name: If you, as a Southwark resident, or a local community group or just a supporter from anywhere, would like to add your name to the list of supporters, please email here as soon as you can – if you are a resident, all you need to do is say is your first name and area you live in, eg John, Camberwell:

Statement on the occupation and housing action on Aylesbury Estate ( Friday 6th February):

Numerous Southwark housing campaigns and other local activists warmly welcome the ongoing occupation of a number of empty homes on the Aylesbury Estate. The current occupation of Chartridge block on the Aylesbury Estate has brought a much-needed spark of inspiration to local residents and housing campaigners.

Southwark Labour council has been publicly claiming how the Aylesbury was not going to be another Heygate, as ‘lessons have been learned‘. The Heygate Estate decant programme has been widely denounced as an exercise in both the undignified displacement of locals and initiating the gentrification of the Elephant & Castle. However, exactly like on the Heygate, Southwark has been displacing the Aylesbury residents out of their immediate area and subjecting leaseholders, many of them elderly people who’d lived in the area their whole lives, to unnecessarily brutal Compulsory Purchase Orders. Abysmally low offers for their homes are forcing them to leave their neighbourhood and communities for good.

The right of tenants to return to a ‘regenerated‘ Aylesbury would force them to take non-council tenancies in more expensive Housing Association flats, something many residents do not want. In 2001 a majority of Aylesbury residents voted ‘No’ in ballot on the Councils desire to transfer the estate out of council ownership. Not only is this ballot no longer being honoured, the Council has been unwilling to undertake a new ballot of residents on the question of refurbishment instead of a total demolition.

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The Council attempts to dismiss the occupiers as ‘not representative‘ of the Aylesbury residents while claiming Southwark is building ‘more affordable homes than any other London borough‘. Council-backed developments such as the One The Elephant tower contain zero (0) ‘affordable‘ homes, let alone any social-rented ones.

Local people know that council-rented homes are the most affordable and secure. Promises by the Council to build 11,000 new council homes in the next 30 years have been met with hesitant support, with no guarantees that this will not simply involve demolitions of estates without residents being balloted.

In a borough that has some 18,000 people on the waiting list for council (and not housing association, nor ‘affordable‘) homes, none of the above can be tolerated any longer.

Since they reclaimed the homes on the Chartridge block, the Aylesbury occupiers have been holding public meetings every day at 6.30pm, and each meeting has been packed with neighbours from the estate itself, other Southwark residents and campaigners from across London. The occupation clearly highlights the disasters of Southwark’s own and London housing and development policies in which profit gained from land speculation comes way before the people whose homes and lives are destroyed in the process. ‘Ordinary’ Londoners, be they the Aylesbury occupiers, FocusE15 mothers or the New Era Estate residents, are showing that alternatives exist and they work.

Our homes are not for sale!

Supported by:

Alvey Tenants and Residents’ Association
Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group
Aylesbury Tenants and Leaseholders First
Better Elephant
Hawkstone High-rise Community Association
Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
People’s Republic of Southwark
SolidariTea
South London Renters
South London Revolutionary Communist Group
Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign
Southwark Defend Council Housing
Southwark Notes

Andrea, Peckham

Charlotte, Camberwell

Dan, Peckham

Dave, Peckham

Deb, East Dulwich

Denis, Peckham

Hattie, East Dulwich

Janice, Peckham

Jennifer, Bermondsey

Jennifer, Peckham

Joana, Elephant & Castle

Karen, Waterloo

Katy, Peckham

Laura, Peckham

Mike, Walworth

Milena, Elephant & Castle

Nick, Walworth

Nile, Walworth

Olivia, Peckham

Penny, Peckham

Roy, Walworth

Steve, Peckham

Stuart, Camberwell

Suzan, Rotherhithe

Tina, Peckham

Tom, Peckham

Tony, the Albert Triangle

Tracy, Camberwell

**

FocusE15 campaign

People Before Profit

Labour Land Campaign

People’s Republic of South London

National Bargee Travellers’ Association

Our West Hendon

Barnet Housing Action Group

Grenfell Action Group

Brick Lane Debates

Save Earl’s Court Supporters Club

Makers of Concrete Heart Land

Unite Community Waltham Forest

AST Guinness Trust (Brixton)

The Occupied Times

Lewisham Homeless Persons Union

Lambeth Housing Activists

**

Anastasia Ahern, London

Byron Peter, Hackney

Deepa Naik, This is Not a Gateway

Elena Besussi, University College London

Eli Davies, Camden

Glyn Robbins, Unite Housing Workers branch

Hazel Emmons, Clapham

Heather B, Camden

Jane Crow, London

Janette Evans, Barnet

Jim Chynoweth, Epsom

Jim McDonald, Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH)

Jordana, London

Les, Hackney

Lita Wallis, Hackney

Mark Winston, Focus E15 campaign

Matthew McQuillan, Clapton

Owen Hatherley, Woolwich

Paulette Singer, Barnet

Pilgrim Tucker, London

Rastko Novakovic, BFI Southbank BECTU branch

Tony Smetham, London

Trenton Oldfield, This is Not a Gateway

Add your name: If you, as a Southwark resident, or a local community group or just a supporter from anywhere, would like to add your name to the list of supporters, please email here as soon as you can – if you are a resident, all you need to do is say is your first name and area you live in, eg John, Camberwell.

This Sat 7th Feb: Public meeting on the occupation of empty flats in Chartridge, Aylesbury Estate

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Aylesbury Estate empty flats revitalised

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Aylesbury Estate Occupation: 77 – 105 Chartridge, Westmoreland Road, SE17. Map here.

You probably heard but people have opened up a few of the decanted and empty flats in Chartridge House on Aylesbury Estate in Walworth. The occupation came at the end of the March for Homes on Saturday 31st January which ended at City Hall at Tower Bridge. About 150 people marched back to the Aylesbury and helped support the flats that had been opened up earlier on. Right now (Monday night), the occupiers have released a statement of why they are doing this and have set up a website to keep people informed.

Come and have your say, get involved!
There are open assemblies for anyone to come to each day at 6.30pm. The one on Monday was great with lots of locals, long-term housing activists on Aylesbury and other Walworth Estates and other supporters. There was cake supplied by one generous local woman and lots of practical ideas and help was offered to the occupiers. The contact for the occupation is: aylesbury(at)riseup.net. Pop down and say Hello and see what they need, maybe!

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Everything we have to say on Aylesbury Estate is here so we won’t repeat ourselves. But this occupation is about both the fights on Aylesbury for saving the estate as well as the more general crisis around real decent affordable housing for all. At the meeting today it was clear that the occupation is one tactic amongst many but it was supported with great enthusiasm and solidarity by all.

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Statement from the Aylesbury Estate occupation

“Since the “March for Homes” demo on 31st January, we have re-opened and occupied a part of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, South London.

We are tenants, squatters, and other people who care about how our city is being grabbed by the rich, by developers and corrupt politicians, socially cleansed and sold off for profit.

The Aylesbury Estate is where Tony Blair made his first speech as Prime Minister in 1997, making empty promises about social housing. Since then, for the past 18 years, Southwark Council and their developer friends have come up with one misguided scheme after another. All with the same result: to dispossess the residents, demolish their homes, and dispose of the land.

In 2001 Aylesbury tenants fought and won a campaign against demolition and voted down the original scheme in a ballot. But now big areas of the estate are emptied and sealed up awaiting the bulldozers, while residents are “decanted” away from the area.

The same bullshit that we have seen on the nearby Heygate estate, and all across London.

No demolition of the Aylesbury.

No yuppy flats.

Homes for all.

We are here to fight for the Aylesbury.

We are here to fight for our city.

We are here to liberate this space and bring it back to life. Come and join us.

PS: Thank you to everyone who has come down to show support, to all our neighbours and to those who have even come from as far away as Hackney bringing tea!

PPS: Come along to our public assembly today at 6.30PM. All neighbours and friendly visitors are warmly invited.”