Tag Archives: Peter John

THE DISMAL DECADE – GOODBYE PETER JOHN O.B.E, J.C.B, LEADER OF SOUTHWARK COUNCIL

In September 2020, after a decade as Labour Leader of Southwark Council, Peter John O.B.E has decided to hang up his Council Leader hat. For Southwark Notes, a small collection of local Southwark people who have been actively writing and working against the worst excesses of ‘regeneration’, we have been trotting alongside his ten-year leadership journey. It’s been a long and weary ride and it’s kept us very busy. What follows is a long three-parter. We hope it suffices as a clear summary of everything we’ve been fighting against.

Firstly, we look at the last ten years of Southwark with close reference to planning and what’s been sold off, knocked down and then built up. Secondly, we try to describe Southwark Labour in power during that decade and concentrate on how we feel that their top-down style of governing abstracts or tries to bypass any actual day-to-day actual politics that communities have to engage in to defend themselves. Lastly, we look at their claims that they are ‘municipal socialists’ and what these claims could mean if it was in any way true.

Peter John looking at the material benefits that came to local people when the Heygate Estate was knocked down and replaced by expensive apartments


If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, here’s a summary: We add up numerous well-documented examples from the last decade of Southwark’s planning regime and conclude that this local recipe for a shit sandwich is complete. It’s a pretty damning record. A decade of the creation of literally a new Wild West gold rush for developers in North Southwark with a wasteland of luxury flats and another wasteland of overpriced and poor quality ‘shared ownership’ new builds across The Borough, Bermondsey, Bankside now reaching inwards to The Elephant, Walworth, Peckham and Old Kent Rd. Also, the struggle continues.


A DECADE LASTS A CENTURY WITH SOUTHWARK LABOUR

As the half-decent human beings that we are, we didn’t spend ten years pissing and mewling about Southwark Council just for the sake of it. The Council trumpets its free school meals programme, its new libraries, improvements to Burgess Park, free use of sports centres for residents and Southwark’s commitment to being a Living Wage employer. That all seems good and we support it. Somewhere down the line in about 2015 Southwark also came up with the idea of building 11,000 new council homes over the next twenty years or so. The Council’s demolition projects particularly at Heygate and Aylesbury Estate have already resulted in a net loss of council homes in the 1000s so it’s not a good starting point. Neither is the idea of asking or insisting that existing estates possibly lose facilities like sports courts or  TRA halls or  small open green spaces for infill development. With tons of development going for new richer residents of the Borough, we find it annoying that existing estates have to be the ones to give up their space and get blamed by Southwark as being NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard) in whose hands lay the resolving of a housing crisis not of their making. For better or worse, plans to build on top of council blocks are also being discussed. If it’s of any solace, the new-ish Southwark Great Estates Programme (2018) promises on any new estate developments ‘a net increase in social rent homes alongside increased density, to meet the acute need of families on our waiting list and a right to remain for all rehoused tenants and leaseholders, for keeping communities together‘. As ‘Regeneration’ Dept has now been re-named ‘Social Regeneration’ Dept, we are hoping the social now gets privileged over developers profits!

We also have some concerns too about the economic merit of buying newly completed homes off of developers rather than the Council finding ways to build them. So, as we have said before, we support this if it can work but the proof will be in the pudding and Southwark has continuously been baking some unaccountable shit puddings over the last ten years!

Advert from April 2020: Elephant Park one-bed flat for £785,000 built on the demolished Heygate Estate where a one-bed flat would have cost you approx £120 per week in social rent


So, if you’ve been a dedicated reader of this blog over the years then, you will know something of how Peter John’s decade of commitment to urban ‘regeneration’ in the North Southwark area has been a dismal ten years for Southwark. When Peter John took power in May 2010 he inherited the ‘regeneration’ plans for the Elephant & Castle from the LibDems. Wanting to look like he meant immediate business, one of the first things he did was to hastily sign a terrible deal with multinational property development firm Lend Lease to demolish the Heygate Estate. PJ said at the time ‘I’m delighted to be working with our partner, Lend Lease, to develop an area with so much potential, to the benefit of local people and for all Londoners‘. However, the real story of the mass displacement of tenants and residents has been told a million times by now and has gone down in the history books as a public housing scandal. There’s little redeeming in it for Peter John who, in response to high levels of criticism, repeatedly flip-flopped between various positions. First it was all about learning from the mistakes and saying he would never do that kind of Heygate regeneration again. Then it was about saying actually how well they had done getting tenants out of such terrible conditions as if the decant and re-housing of the tenants had been the Council’s priority all along. But if you look at Lend Lease’s expensive Elephant Park development that replaced the Heygate Estate, it’s clear that ‘regeneration’ was simply about moving mostly poor people out of the local area for no other reason than to enable richer folks to have homes on that Zone One land. It would be hard to think of many actual material benefits that the Elephant Park redevelopment scheme brought to the mostly thousands of poorer people who live at The Elephant. There is just no way a Labour council can claim this disaster as motivated by any sort of ‘municipal socialism’ even with its most piss weak ‘our hands are tied by Central government’ justifications. But more on that claim a bit later on. Yes, central government funding for local authorities has fallen by an estimated 50% in the last decade approx with very real knock on effects upon continuing rising levels of poverty, housing and job insecurity, but an increasing reliance on real estate deals to allegedly subsidise ‘benefits’ for locals can never tackle this at root.


Peter John squirms as he is wonderfully grilled out of his arse by Australian ABC TV’s Steve Cannane in October 2016 about the Heygate Estate scandal



Just down the Walworth Rd, a similar Council ‘regeneration’ scheme for the much larger Aylesbury Estate is currently underway. This time the Council made the seemingly better decision to partner up with housing associations. First with L&Q. Then with that ever-expanding and awful mega-housing association Notting Hill Genesis. The first phases have been similarly controversial with the same high levels of decant and displacement for tenants and long battles by leaseholders to not be poorly compensated for their homes. Along the way we’ve seen the same aggressive use of Compulsory Purchase Orders on leaseholders as first pioneered by Southwark on Heygate. We’ve seen endless spin about ‘benefits’ for locals and confusion about any right to return for tenants. We’ve seen ongoing under-investment and increasing shoddy maintenance of the existing housing stock.  We’ve seen the standard terribly shoddy new homes that housing association homes build as their ‘affordable housing’ commitment. We’ve seen that ‘affordable housing’ shared ownership schemes are overpriced and way above the income levels of most Southwark residents. But with the current ‘regeneration’ climate now being very uncertain and new Aylesbury plans seemingly being moved in a more positive direction, the new plan, in part, seems premised on Southwark buying new homes off of Notting Hill Genesis and using these as new council homes. This will probably make Notting Hill Genesis happy as they already have 610 unsold private sale properties across London right now. Would Notting Hill Genesis even go forward with Aylesbury plans without the Council plan to buy their homes? The deal could see Southwark spend £193 million to buy 280 homes for social housing with hopefully a quarter of this stumped up from a grant from the GLA. That would make a total of 581 replacement council homes on the Aylesbury first development site.

News reports from March 2020 also stated that new Council plans could see on Phase Two ‘859 homes in total, with 287 at social rent – and could be increased to around 1,250 with a grant from the Greater London Authority’. Hard to understand any of this in actual detail yet. So, we await further news and guarantees. At the end of the day, there should be no net loss in council housing on Aylebury Estate nor tenants displaced to other parts of the Borough just so expensive homes can be built in Walworth. In the meantime tenants and leaseholders waiting to be decanted and bought out continue to live in increasingly shoddy conditions, with heating and hot water services cutting out on a weekly basis and basic maintenance being neglected.

Up The Elephant Campaign, Latin Elephant and supporters mark the closure of the Elephant Shopping Centre, September 24th 2020


As we slowly write this, we’ve just seen the last day of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre. Once again, despite the promises of ‘regeneration’, we wonder what’s in it for local people when the Centre is demolished and replaced by close to 1000 new homes and a new London College of Communications campus. We’ve written extensively on the human cost of the closure of the Centre on local people here  and here. Although Up The Elephant campaign secured an increase from 33 to 116 social rented homes of the developers, we wonder if these promises will ever come true? We have so little trust in Southwark holding developers to account or that the developers will actually build what they were given planning permission for. These 116 social rent homes aren’t on the cards until Phase 2 of the plans, so that’s donkey’s years ahead. On the vital question of genuine affordable housing in the development plans and the relocation of traders from the Centre to other sites, North Walworth councillors have been dreadful, in the main. After the planning permission was passed by Southwark in July 2018, these councilors did send an open letter to Sadiq Khan criticising the Delancey plan and asking him to ‘insist on changes which can fix these significant moral and policy failings‘ and to ‘to pressure Delancey in delivering a better deal‘. Nothing happened from Khan, of course! We suggest it might have been better to send this letter to their own Council leader Peter John who had cheer-led the whole scheme describing the measly 33 social rent homes plans as ‘on-balance…good enough’. Subsequently, those same councillors, dropped out of sight at Up The Elephant campaign meetings and became either well-meaning but useless or just plain cavalier, unreliable and pompous. To its credit, the Council officers did step up to persistent trader and  campaign demands and opened up a set of garages as the new Elephant Arcade below Perronet House for displaced traders from the Centre. Despite some ongoing tensions over rent levels, lack of storage, small units etc, traders will have to see how it works out. In October this year, the Council responded well to Latin Elephant and 35% Campaign‘s call for new market pitches in The Elephant for the displaced traders who Delancey did not help get new sites. Good luck to all traders starting again in The Elephant at Perronet, the sadly ill-conceived Castle Sq pop-up shops and any new market spaces.



But, as was pointed out in July 2018 by no less than Rebecca Lury, North Walworth Labour Councillor and Deputy Leader of the Council at that time: ‘As municipal socialists we are glad the Council has come forward with a plan to support traders at Perronet House, but find little comfort in the use of public money to rectify the colossal failings of a massive private developer’. Southwark stumped up £200,000 public money to aid trader’s relocation. Again, although this support is much welcomed and came mostly from pressure from the community campaigns, these costs should all fall on Delancey. But then there was always something out of tune with Peter John and Delancey’s love song duet. Again, despite the serious and feisty Up The Elephant campaign piling the pressure on Delancey, the Council preferred to capitulate to the developers instead of using that very public strength of the campaign as leverage to actually secure real benefits for their constituents.

STRANGELY, THEY (PROBABLY) ACTUALLY BELIEVE IN WHAT THEY ARE DOING?

Ok. You’ve made it this far. Well done! Hold on to your hats as we are about to board the rollercoaster of reflection as we look back at some of what we think has made Southwark so awful over the last ten years.

As local people, working alongside the amazing groups like 35% Campaign, Latin Elephant and Up The Elephant, we’ve been digging in together to highlight again and again in detail how Southwark operates – highlighting how ‘consultation’ of local people is entirely bogus and works to deflect from their social concerns or how seemingly participatory ‘co-design’ processes still offer only the illusion of being listened to. A report by Social Life entitled  ‘Understanding Southwark Daily life and the impact of COVID-19 across the borough – First phase of area-based qualitative analysis: Key Findings’ (October 2020) interviewed numerous local Walworth and Elephant people and found that ‘Residents and traders reported low levels of voice and influence in local areas, the reasons for this varied. There is a widespread cynicism around consultation and the impact that local voices have on local decision-making, particularly among people with fewer resources (in time and money) and BAME groups. It was widely noted that opinions about new housing developments polarise feelings in all six areas‘). We’ve all been highlighting how developers use viability assessments to spin why they can only provide low levels of ‘affordable’ housing in their schemes and despite Southwark policies for 35% affordable housing for big developments the Council relentlessly passes non-compliant schemes. We’ve been banging our heads against a wall as Southwark again and again allows planning permissions they have granted to be flouted and social rented homes built and offered as the more expensive ‘affordable rent’. We been watching dozens of councillors and high ranking council officers leave the Council to take up employment with developers or planning consultants. We’re seeing the Council sell off asset after community asset – land, council homes, Town Halls, children’s homes, health and day centres.

 Government statistics show that Southwark has sold off over a thousand council homes  in the five years from 2010 to 2015. Source: 35% Campaign


Interviewed in May 2010, just before taking power in Southwark, PJ commented that ‘the first thing we’d do is not sell off our existing stock‘ yet the Council continues to auction off family-sized homes year after year to this present day. Although this policy was introduced by the previous LibDem/Tory regime in Southwark, the Labour Party in power reduced the previous over £400,000 value threshold for sale to over £300,000 value threshold for sale. Prize historical public assets like Camberwell Town Hall were also sold off in December 2014 to an offshore -based developer; Bermondsey Town Hall was sold off in December 2012 to developers and the make over of the fire-damaged Walworth Town Hall has been contracted out to private developers in 2019 despite two Council consultations were local people clearly stated they wanted the Council to keep the Town Hall as a real public asset.

Summer 2018 – Southwark Council agrees to sell off two plots of its own freehold land close to Old Kent Rd for developments


At the same time, the Council now complains about how land values are too high in the Borough and prevents them from purchasing and ‘re-municipalising’ land along Old Kent Rd for their new council home building programme. Leo Pollak, Council Cabinet Member for Housing writesin the midst of a land speculation frenzy—a Great South London land rush—our job as builder and as planning authority in maintaining the link between real-world housing needs and housing supply in our borough is made unnecessarily difficult…an unregulated market for land creates a ratchet effect that treats planning permissions and site allocations like any other kind of tradeable commodity, dissociated from the council’s imperative of meeting local housing needs, securing sums for social infrastructure and ensuring good growth’ *. This is literally the speculative development and land-banking gold rush landscape Southwark have been laying the ground of in the last ten years. We find it hard to make sense of what Southwark does in this respect. Right now, Southwark is busy buying up lots of parcels of over-valued land along Old Kent Rd and yet only two years ago it sold two large pieces of land it owned at Mandela Way and Devonshire Grove, off Old Kent Rd!

Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth regular meeting


On another tip of local people dogging the Council’s shonky decision making, the excellent group Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have done dogged casework for people and securing them council housing against Southwark who were consistently gate-keeping applicants from applying. HASL also do top work on tackling overcrowding, temporary accommodation and Southwark’s terrible way of dealing with actual sentient living feeling humans being in distress. Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations have been great at highlighting how current Southwark plans to re-jig democracy and accountability to tenants are likely to result in less structures to try and have a voice on and say in Council plans.

This all adds up to what then? That the Council’s ideological commitments to ‘regeneration’ and rebalancing the social mix – otherwise know as social cleansing or gentrification – are what has made Peter John’s decade at Southwark the most famous. Whether that’s the terrible deal they made with Lend Lease for the Heygate or the disgusting cheerleading and outright brown nosing of offshore-based, tax-avoiding developer Delancey for the Elephant Shopping Centre scheme or the current disaster-to-be of the Southwark fuelled gold rush for developers along the Old Kent Rd, this is all just more long-term social cleansing in action. We’ve written about this a lot here.  Oh, and don’t even mention the massive Canada Water ‘regeneration’ plans at Surrey Quays!

But it’s not just us banging on about this. In 2016, Southwark Giving released a detailed report called ‘A Tale of Two Southwarks’. It was an independent research report into the needs of local communities in the borough of Southwark. From the title you can see that they were concerned about and highlighted the effects of so much private market housing in the borough. They wrote: ‘The difference between affluent and deprived areas is becoming more prominent in Southwark, with areas on or near the river and in the south becoming increasingly unaffordable whilst the areas in the middle of the borough are becoming more deprived…Redevelopments and new businesses attract higher-salary workers to some areas which lifts the local economy but leaves other areas stagnating. While average earnings in Southwark have risen with the influx of new industries, this has not benefitted all workers. Nearly one third of households in Southwark earn less than 60% of national median income after housing costs; this is the fifth largest proportion of households in inner London boroughs. 4,509 individuals received help from the Southwark Foodbank in 2013/14 (roughly 1.6% of the borough’s total population). Poverty is not the only decider of life chances and opportunities. Other issues can divide Southwark’s residents into ‘two cities’ based on: gender, age, ethnicity, income, housing, health, wellbeing, education, employment, and membership of a minority group’.

This mirrors everything all the local campaigns have been saying and actively fighting against for years – that Southwark’s planning and development policies consistently favour large developers and large developments that lead to further poverty, dispossession and displacement. Once again this is not rocket science. The effects are very clear if you live on the poor side of things as most of us do. You see the effects everyday.

Land value and speculation – how it works: Empty site Blackfriars rd & Stamford St. Land Securities bought most of the site in 2003 for £38 million. Israeli-backed Circleplane buy the site as £90 million in 2007. Malaysian-backed, Jersey-registered company Black Pearl in 2014 for £114 million. Hero Inc. Ltd, Staycity Ltd and BSW Land and Property Ltin 2019 for £235 million.


LUXURY POLITICS WITH EVERY LUXURY FLAT

Our face-to-face experiences of Peter John are thankfully few and far between. The ones we did have were indicative of the full range of his style and panache. Firstly, when we organised a silent visual protest inside the Council planning meeting that would pass the Masterplan for the demolition of the Heygate Estate in January 15th 2013, PJ was outraged by the community members holding up critical posters. Close to the end he snatched a poster out of one of our hands and put it on the floor and got all grumpy faced. Pretty funny.

 




Secondly, we witnessed the literal duet he performed at the Borough, Bankside and Walworth Community Council meeting on 9th January 2018 with Investment Director at Delancey Stafford Lancaster. Both of them sang the praises of the Delancey scheme to the high ceiling of St Peters Church. Stafford took on the verses whilst PJ did the well-worn choruses: ‘People don’t like the fact that a private developer is involved or that private money is going to have to pay for the redevelopment of the Centre and that they are a company with investors and shareholders and they allowed to make profit and that’s their business, that is the reality of their world and our world’.


Peter John croons ‘What Kind of Fool Am I?’ to Delancey’s Stafford Lancaster, 9th January 2018 at the Borough, Bankside and Walworth Community Council meeting.


But only a very chosen few get to join in the sing-song. What’s obvious from the decade of Peter John’s reign is how he always maintained the luxury of not answering any awkward questions from people who desperately needed answers and input into things that affected their lives, their survival. Meanwhile, he was selling Southwark cheap at a property trade fair in sunny Cannes in 2013 and promising as many luxury flats that the borough could cram in. Different shades of luxury, we suppose. No doubt he was telling the story over canapés of how they had decanted all the tenants on the Heygate to make way for such luxurious property development. With Cannes always on our mind, there was always the amusing spectacle of his official Gifts and Hospitalities logged at Southwark’s website. A £50 quid lunch here with Chris Horn, six years as Southwark Council project director of the £2bn Elephant & Castle regeneration before he launched his own ‘affordable’ housing development company Enter Homes. Or a nice dinner there at Pont de la Tour with Bell Pottinger Group. This dinner was handy as the restaurant was 5 minutes away from PJ’s then swanky apartment in posh The Circle development in Shad Thames. It was to be one of nine such meals with Bell Pottinger or Peter Bingle or latterly Terrapin Communications. Who they you might ask? Only the UK’s must dubious PR and Comms firm who were caught in 2011 boasting how it uses ‘dark arts’ to bury bad coverage and influence public opinion. Clients include multiple shady dictatorships, the arms industry, the fracking industry, the gambling industry, the tobacco industry etc. A strange repeat dinner company for a socialist Man of the People, like Peter John O.B.E.

The dinners with developers flowed like fine wine and developers built stuff in Southwark. Sure, as Leader of The Council, you expect a certain amount of meeting property developers but there are meetings and then there are meetings! We always presumed that Peter John actually had an office at Tooley St to meet people in but maybe he was forced to hot-desk at local restaurants. We love to quote the old Workers City line and we’ll do it again here:

‘When developers visited the City, the used to creep in at the side door, now the councillors bring them in the front door, one on each arm’. Not only had it become respectable for councillors to be seen with developers, it soon became imperative to be involved with them. Indeed, it got to the stage where councillors and developers became indistinguishable. The only real way they could be told apart was that the developer was always talking and the councillor was forever nodding his or her head’.
From ‘Glasgow’s Not For Sale’ by Brendan McLaughin (1990).



Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, and Lend Lease EMEA CEO Dan Labbad sign off the destruction of 1000+ Council homes on the Heygate Estate, 23rd July 2010 in Southwark’s Tooley St HQ. Smiles all round!


Of course, the fine dining and the quote points to how much of the Labour party has changed over the last 30 years. Peter John is pretty typical of many other London Labour council’s regimes and we’re thinking of Croydon (currently going bankrupt!), Lambeth, Lewisham – all Blairite-fuelled dynasties of reactionary PJ type-clones. Some of us Southwark Notes lot are former Labour voters and if we weren’t on a more radical tip and disbelieving that party politics will do anything for us all, we would still vote Labour because we were brought up to be Labour. That bringing up instilled in us some class-consciousness and had us believe that Labour was the party of the working person. But Peter John and others should have no illusions about what having a Labour mandate means in a massively solid working class area like Southwark. You could stand a turd with a red rosette stuck in it round here and it would be elected for the rosette and not the turd. Voting for a red rosette though doesn’t mean people then want to see a load of alienated posh people colonise their traditional stomping grounds. But it also doesn’t mean local people don’t want change or even regeneration. Of course, they do, if they’re actually centered at the heart of it.

SOUTHWARK’s SECOND CLASS POLITICS STRICTLY IN THE POST

‘…from this moment forward to think and speak the language of those who govern, no longer the language of those who are governed. They spoke in the name of the government (and as part of it), no longer in the name of the governed (and as part of them). And so of course they adopted a governing point of view on the world, disdainfully dismissing (and doing so with great discursive violence, a violence that was experienced as such by those at whom it was directed) the point of view of those being governed… The most that any of them would deign to do would be to replace the oppressed and dominated of yesterday—along with their struggles—with the “marginalized” of today—who were presumed to be of a passive nature. They could be considered as the silent potential recipients of the benefits of various technocratic measures that were intended to help the “poor” and the “victims” of “precarity” and of “disaffiliation.” All this was nothing other than a hypocritical and underhanded strategy meant to invalidate any approach to these problems that used terms such as oppression and struggle, or reproduction or transformation of social structures, or inertia and dynamism within class antagonisms’.

From ‘Returning to Reims’, Didier Eribon (2009)

It has been a long and ever bumpy ride for those who have been active for any number of years against what is called ‘regeneration’. Decades ago the Tories cut Central government allocations and Councils were forced into local competition with each other for funding. New Labour brought an emphasis on partnerships where developers, councils and local community all appear as ‘stakeholders’. In these so-called partnerships decision making power is weighted heavily on the side of developers first, compliant and desperate councils second and lastly for us locals where community involvement via ‘consultation’ is toothless. What actually takes preference with such a planning regime in force, is that social questions – what do working class communities need? – arrive last place to questions of economic growth and development. This has been summed up well by urban writer Guy Baeten in a 2009 piece about the regeneration of The South Bank in London. He says ‘Regeneration efforts, exclusively conducted through the institutionalised channels of partnerships and governmental grants, create a singular discourse about what regeneration should be about, and reduce any alternative regeneration view, expressed by whomever whenever, to sheer background noise’.

New Labour flagship Tony Blair declares that no-one will be left behind in 1997 but by 2020 the Aylesbury Estate was being demolished by Southwark Labour


Not only did Southwark Council join in the fan club for partnerships, they also dove head first into the mire of New Labour Blairite thinking on what we can term ‘the political’. Although there was a ‘New’ in ‘New Labour’, it also never really escaped the heavy top down mix of old-fashioned Right-wing Labour paternalism –  ‘we know best’. Classic 70s/80s Old Labour in Southwark ran as a kind of semi-benevolent mafia acting in the alleged interests of their working class constituents but always from on high and never asking what people needed or wanted. But the New Labour thinking continued this paternalism but with the class politics removed because they believed that politics as politics was over. New Labour ideas and policies actually remove the political from local government and local community demands. By the political, we simply mean the cut and thrust of community demands to local government to defend what they have – council homes, youth clubs, open spaces, local shops, nurseries, estate repairs, TRA funding and maintaining some kind of power in actual decision making or demanding it through protest and sometimes occupations. For New Labour, that kind of day-in, day-out community-activated fuss, dissent and righteousness became seen as something in the way of them just making decisions that affect people’s lives and survival. No longer were community voices and channels seen by the Council as a part of a wider Labour movement but they became to be seen as something negative and thus could be written off through the disingenuous stroke of saying that these local voices were not representative, responsible or ‘positive’. Community members saying ‘No’ to things were viewed as illegitimate because Southwark wanted to move forward in partnerships with developers and the community should be happy with what was promised from that unholy alliance. What’s worse is that dissenting voices are then portrayed as politically motivated which, of course, they are. Politics is the public moment of fighting for your best communal interests! But for Southwark being ‘invited’ to the table is more about some kind of powerless ‘Community Conversation’, as they termed it at one point. In all reality locals are just being ‘included’ to tick a box of community involvement and not to listen to their actual political beliefs. It’s just an illusion, a bureaucratic acknowledgment of presence but not your arguments. These new leaders in the Labour Party don’t believe in helping to build confidence, self-belief, identity and personal growth in people so that they can be active on their own behalf. All of these things are what parts of the socialist movements have tried to do over time. The anarchist planner and writer Colin Ward wrote in the 70s about ‘a tendency towards bureaucratic paternalism and alienation in public landlordism, which he believed treats tenants like ‘inert objects’ rather than active subjects….housing was done to and for people rather than by them’ (**). Many Southwark council
tenants would know the feeling. We certainly do!


Aylesbury Estate tenants protest at continued breakdown of hot water and heating, February 2019



But despite this attempt in Southwark for the Council to inhabit and operate in what has been called the ‘post-political’, there has been an enormously feisty and determined coalition of people fighting the worst aspects of Peter John’s Labour ‘regeneration’ regime. At Southwark Notes we’ve long recognised and mapped out how such a post-politics might attack at the roots and legitimacy of community organising and campaigning and we didn’t step into that swamp by trying to be nice and cuddly. We long recognise that politics is necessarily antagonistic to power and that you won’t get very far trying to sit at the same table of power. We would rather stand on top of the table and say ‘No!’ or be lurking underneath sawing its damn legs off.

Needless to say, Peter John was always ready to denounce us and others as ‘keyboard warriors’, as people entirely unrepresentative of what local people wanted or as outsiders and so on. For sure, we aren’t deluded enough to think that we stand for what all local people think but in those ten years we’ve certainly found a massive resonance locally for what we say and do. But Peter John is the perfect ‘post-political’ operator. He plays that patronising role of ‘the adult in the room’ perfectly. Nothing radical or experimental or challenging can be allowed in. It’s the politics of pragmatism, of paternalism, of ‘we know best’. Rather than forging a shared politics of resistance to challenge the economic logic that privileges real estate as an alleged driver of people’s well being, he holds tightly on to a ‘politics of the possible’. Yet without some kind of radical vision, what is possible is only to open up Southwark more and more to the violent actions of development under the guise of ‘progress’. For people like us who believe in something a bit more, something maybe a bit more impossible, he relies on the luxury he has to close down any arguments by having a final word then retreating to silence.

For example, despite one of us at the time actually living on Heygate in its final years. Despite us working with 35% Campaign who were organising with Heygate residents and families yet to be decanted and despite us actually originating the now famous Heygate Displacement maps that showed how many tenants and leaseholders had been forced out of the area. Despite all this, Peter John could still publicly assert that when he became Council leader in 2010 ‘there were six families still living on the Heygate. I met each of them and ensured their needs were met’. There is a well-known non-post-political phrase and saying you could apply to this statement– Patently Bollocks. A good time to recall here then his one time awesome rebuff to someone who was questioning PJ. He replied that the reason he knew what he was saying was correct was, quote, ‘Facts!’.


Peter John demolishing all critics in his ‘Facts’ JCB


Or, do you remember when we leaked the secret Southwark and developer Lend Lease regeneration agreement to the press and when this was later featured in a withering rebuttal of all of Southwark’s Heygate spin by respected Guardian journalist Olly Wainwright in June 2015, and Peter John publicly denounced the article as ‘#crap journalism’. End of story for Mr Peter John. Nothing had been done wrong. There was no scandal. It was just ‘crap’. As we have said above, when PJ was publicly called out on a lie by us and others, he hunkered down in his Tooley St bunker and discussion or debate was then taken off the cards. This is the perfect post-political manoeuvre. It attempts to maintain the narrative until the very point the narrative is shredded by campaigners, then to go silent and withdraw from any actual argument because campaigns are just being ‘political’.

Letter to Peter John was was publicly lying about Up The Elephant campaign pretending that the campaign was prventing new affordable homes being built when the Campaign had secured 116 socail rent homes against the Council-approved 33! (January 2019 and we are still waiting for a reply! *-)
 


For years now we have been calling Southwark’s frequent use of this tactic – ‘The Void’. We’ve written about it here at length. From our own perspective and ideas of community politics and organising, The Void makes things very hard for us. Despite years of hard campaigning, the simple fact remains that communities and community groups have just so little power to force change means that we have not been successful in defeating the rapid social cleansing at hand. In the realm of post-politics, where community campaigns are de-legitimated, we spent far too much time actually legitimating politicians and developers and recognising them as equals in some sort of polite liberal conversation where we often expect them to do better or to finally have an epiphany and do the right thing. But this will never happen. Ruling Labour politicians, who neither come from where we do economically and often culturally, are ideologically committed to a capitalist realist approach of there being no alternative to private market-led development.


The problem of normal ‘politics’, especially as we experience it in 2020, is that it appears totally legitimate even when it beggars belief as to what is going on. We are supposed to believe in politics, in Parliament, in the economy, in fictions of fiscal prudence and austerity and that we will need to tighten our belts some more as skinny as we actually are these days! Labour is complicit in this as much as Tories. We had some time for the Corbyn project even if, at best, it was only a limited social democratic possibility for tackling inequality in society and not any kind of actual socialism that would take on changes at a basic and deeper structural levels and roots. By this we mean dismantling profit, the free market, how we conceive of work AND everything else, that is, actual radical society-wide change. Not easy, of course, because you can see how much The Establishment will destroy anyone who even brings limited challenges to the deep structures of societal power and inequality. Right now, even though that moment is over, they are literally prepared to eternally salt any ground ever walked by Corbyn just in case the rest of ideas get any funny ideas again of changing things even at the most reformist level. In Southwark, that Corbyn moment produced a handful of actually Left councillors and push to take more power but the whole structure is the mess really. Party politics? We would say it’s irredeemable as a vehicle for the deep structural changes we need to make.

NO IRONY MUNICIPAL SOCIALISM

Back to the paternalism of Southwark Labour in power and that despite what we’ve outlined above, they still call themselves ‘socialists’. There’s little irony lost on us about how if you were to look at, for example, the Militant Labour council in Liverpool in the early 80’s, you would see the same top down ‘we know best’ attitude but from a totally different political perspective. In Liverpool, the Militant-led council worked from the position of ‘municipalism’, this being that the Council is what leads the defence and advancement of the city’s working class needs. They built a lot of council homes but they also attacked working-class people’s setting up of actually community-controlled housing co-ops because they saw them as undermining their municipal role as guardians of working class interests. Paternalism always!


Private homes built by big builder Bellway Homes replace 113 council flats demolished on Elmington Estate in Camberwell, 2018, and Government ‘Help To Buy’ scheme inflates the value of the new homes. In total 346 council homes lost in Three Phases of Elmington ‘regeneration’ (2005 – 2018)


In a May 2018 interview with Peter John on the SE1 website, we can read that ‘his party’s programme for the borough is rooted in “old-fashioned municipal socialism”’. We find this a somewhat bizarre claim for many reasons. Given that any high points of the varied UK histories of municipal socialism always involved a politics based squarely in working class interests, there would be very little to recognise in the last ten years of Southwark Labour that resembles what we take socialism to mean – the social ownership of production and distribution, democratic decision-making structures, participatory planning etc. Instead what we get is a bowing down to the free market to provide, purely as a legal concession, tons and tons of ‘affordable housing’ that everyone knows isn’t affordable. Peter John talks a lot about needing to help the ‘squeezed middle’ but can’t grasp that that granting planning permissions time and time again to big home builders doesn’t mean that more homes are available at affordable prices. All it means is that these new homes are just part of the increasing unaffordable and often Government-subsidised home ownership landscape. ‘Affordable housing’ such the ubiquitous ‘shared ownership just keeps house prices artificially high against continued depressed wages. This is not providing much relief to the squeezed middle, in fact, it’s just adding to their continued squeezing as big homebuilders profits go through the shoddily built roof. Peter John’s great statement in January 2018 that ‘in a housing crisis, you need to build houses’ is both naive and absurd. Allowing big developers like Taylor Wimpey, Barratts, Bellway etc to build new homes in great number will never be some magic rebuttal of the building industry’s tight control of what gets built. It’s a fallacy that lots of new homes drive the price of housing down. Peter, show us anywhere in the U.K where this is happening? Supply and demand is a free market myth. In the excellent new book ‘The Property Lobby’, Bob Colenutt nails it clearly when he says that studies ‘have shown that developers routinely drip-feed new housing units onto the market in order to keep up house prices…property investors need the housing crisis to continue in order to ensure the flow of profits into their business. The gulf between the world of property investment and the reality of tackling the housing crisis could not be wider‘.



Ten years of benefits for local poor people and the ‘squeezed middle’ as property prices rise 103% in ten years at The Elephant


For a ‘socialist’, PJ doesn’t understand the basics of capitalism very well! If they actually found some municipal socialist gumption they might actually play and inspire some kind of way forward for local government to contest the situation the Council finds itself forced into by central government. For their paternalistic sins, Left-wing councils like Liverpool and Lambeth and even Southwark did attempt to defy Tory cuts in the mid-80’s. But then current Southwark Labour are toothless fighters with no class position and so they oversee cuts and don’t fight. We aren’t suggesting this is all easy as pie but if you don’t try, you never find out. The Labour municipal socialists running Red Bermondsey in the 1920s unleashed a wild socialist programme based on well-understood needs and demands of locals. To do this they actually asked around in chapels, churches, settlements, parents unions, trade unions and so on what people wanted and acted accordingly. This wasn’t ‘consultation’. It was a dialogue. It was listening. It was building small socialisms in as much as it could. They also had to fight a Labour government who were keen for them not to expand a socialist alternative to landlords, ill health and so on!

1930’s Red Bermondsey when they weren’t afraid of being against capitalism


But instead of going down the road of conflict with the Tories, we get bullshit. Take the example of Southwark’s critical letter to the government about the ConDem government’s introduction of ‘Affordable Rent’, a tenure that allows for ‘affordable housing’ to be rented out at up to 80% of local private market rents. Despite their letter’s concerns, time and time again Southwark gave planning permissions to developments that included a few social rent homes, but when completed, the social rented units were switched at the completion stage by the developers to ‘Affordable Rent’ units. In 2016, the 35% Campaign referred Southwark to the local government Ombudsman about dozens of examples of this switch. The Ombudsman ruled that Council didn’t know how much social housing it was getting from developers.Despite some Council casework on this, it’s clear from the 35% Campaign’s continued work on this that there is still no actual decent system of checking up on what they had actually agreed to in their Section 106 agreements. Just for the lolz, that literal full bottle of clown sauce Councillor Martin Seaton recently remarked how ‘robust’ he will be as current Chair of the Planning Committee yet is still fine to act surprised that this is happening and then asks locals to point out where ‘affordable rent’ is delivered instead of the agreed ‘social rent’. 35% Campaign have been informing the Council of these switches for years! With a housing waiting list of many 1000s there is a desperate need for social rented homes in the borough. Letting developers switch tenure isn’t even defending the tiny gains you make as a planning authoritywhere via Section 106s you try to grab as much social rented housing as you can. Worth pointing out that a vital part of the expansion of municipalism globally has been to develop accountability for local people by opening up oversight of public office. 35% Campaign’s dogged research work does actual citizen’s scrutiny far better than anything Southwark would ever be willing to implement as ‘municipal socialists’.

Southwark Defend Council Housing protest outside the new Notting Hill Genesis Peckham Place development on  31st October 2020 where over-priced flats have not sold


The of the biggest questions we have for the Council is what happens when the Southwark model of ‘affordable housing’ provision, premised upon being financed by a cross-subsidy from developers who you allow to then build massive private home development, fails because the housing market is a mess or because planning is deregulated further by those in power taking away such planning gains? The Government ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper published in August 2020 signal plans for further deregulation, further privileging of developer’s needs, marginalisation of community groups and a call to replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 payments. So what supposed ‘municipal socialism’ are you left with when you are already a part of that privileging developers but less power, less assets, less land and less control of development in your borough. How is this municipalism? In the last decade Southwark has essentially overseen a massive transfer of public assets into private hands. Literally expanding private wealth at the cost of the public purse and the effects of these polices impacting most heavily on the most marginalised and dispossessed people in Southwark – women and Afro-Caribbean, African and Asian community members. The Council literally have zero understanding of the most basic ideas of how poverty is reinforced and how displacement occurs.


We have little doubt that Southwark’s ‘municipal socialism’ just sounded good in 2018 when they were bandying it around. Seems to be more a reference to older models rather than any of the new style attempts globally at actual citizen-led movements in local democracy. There has been no attempt by Southwark for the redistribution of power, community wealth building, new forms of democratic municipal and citizen ownership or ‘growing local, socially rich economies, with fair wages, cooperative ownership models, more local enterprise, unionisation, greater worker control, and genuine social value and environmental responsibility’***. That they were saying ‘municipal socialism’ at the same time as the Corbyn moment stinks even more as Peter John was never a fan of what actually might have been possible for the Labour movement (as such) if Corbyn had taken power. Even then we would still be facing both a hoovering up of social movements to bolster a Left-ish Labour party in power plus the fact that the Corbyn project would have had very little room to move to actually bring about any real structural change. Parliament might legislate but the power remains with the boss class. The rich and powerful don’t just give their money and power away. You have to take it off of them. Will party politicians ever lead that fight? You already know the answer.

 

WE MAY BE STUPID BUT WE ARE NOT THAT…ETC ETC

So, really, it would be silly of us to expect any radical socialist challenge to actual structural inequalities in Southwark’s new found liking for municipalism. Seems more likely to be more glibly inspired by the recent comeback of the term in the last few years even if places like Barcelona or Preston are actually, if messily, putting it into practice some slightly radical actions contesting the excesses of contemporary capitalism. The city governments in an informal global network that produced the ideas and policies in Fearless Cities model are worth examining and, for sure, we have been doing this quite closely. Once again though, we would take some time to look closely at these examples and warn, as many other social movements have, that if these Councils really do ground themselves in what they have learnt from actual grassroots street and city campaigns and movements, there is always the danger that these bottom up movements are then either politically de-clawed by participation with local government or are professionalised into weedy but salaried NGO-style bureaucrats. There are hints right now that Southwark wants to woo local groups and campaigns into supporting weedy petitions to ask the Tories to be nicer to local government and be nicer about excessive land values. There is also talk of Southwark establishing a Council-run Renters Union even though HASL already exist locally and despite the growing London Renters Union! Again, we aren’t critical for the sake of it. We just value the critical and practical autonomy built up in the informal community networks we have been a part of for a decade. For real we would work with any decent local councillors. We’ve just failed to find any, and it needs say loudly, it shouldn’t be like this!


Teach out and assembly, Love The Elephant – Hate Gentrification gathering, April 2019


It’s sad but true that the UK has always lacked the popular movements that we can find in Spain and other countries where local assemblies produce a very local participatory and active way of organising for better housing, against evictions and against rampant speculation in their neighbourhoods. The UK tradition is far more rooted in antiquated organising forms like big unions and local Labour parties. Sure there are good folks in both of these ‘movements’ but the form is always hierarchical and premised on pragmatism and compromise. These forms might have some energy for campaigning but they do not really give space and support for actually autonomously organised movements. We seriously think this is one of the key points all future organising has to look at – that despite long standing labour traditions, the working class have rarely broken with parliamentary party politics or, if they have they’ve then been inevitably stitched up out because the very function of both political parties and big unions is to maintain the social contract between workers and bosses and to keep the peace and let capitalism do its thing. Interestingly, the book Workers City that we quote above has an excellent short article that details a time and a place and a set of ideas where parts of the UK working class did begin to organise from below, against union and party hierarchies and, more critically, against Parliamentary politics and mere representation of their demands and needs.

Radicals have been saying for years that the main problem of municipal socialism is that it always ends up maintaining social peace, forging class conciliation, and thus diverting public attention away from the fundamental questions of the economic system as a whole.We agree with that 100%. Even if we might also prefer a reform or two, here and there, over more violence brought by government onto the head and hearts of working class people and even if we are happy to work with any kind of councilor who you hope might be any good but we’re still in more favour of the creation of groups and federations of working people, coming up with the own ideas and organising practices outside the control of politicians or professional campaigners.

Los Angeles Tenants Union, only five years old and already  built 13 union chapters across LA and still insisting on autonomy from NGO’s and political parties!


Endlessly, we would point people to the amazing principles and success of the Los Angeles Tenants Union since its setting up in 2015. Sadly, inspirations often come too late. We would have loved to have had the energy to set up at The Elephant something along these organising lines to add a spicy take to all the good work being done there by other campaigns. As Southwark Notes, we remain committed to relationship building with others, trying to spread confidence and energy, trying to build mutual support and cooperation, always sharing what we learned, always listening to what others have learned and publicly acknowledging mistakes we made. Of course we are well active against the current government rather than spending all our energies on Labour and letting the Tories off the hook. Imagine if the big unions and Labour were publicly calling workers out and organising nationally and locally en masse against the cuts, against the privitisation of public health, against evictions, redundancies…imagine that?  Sure, there are piecemeal struggles going on but the thinking is never joined up and never mobilised on the basis of our anger.

In passing, we still take inspiration the independent unions United Voices of the World (UVW), the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), the UK’s branches of the Industrial Workers of The World (IWW) and the Cleaners & Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU) and all of their direct action rank and file style organising. Exciting too is the current discussions in London Renters Union and ACORN branches about the scale and difficulties of a rent strike tactic over a rent reductions strategy as well as good tensions being explored around how a movement moves rather than functions as a service for members.  These are great dynamics at work and a sign that such politics are fresh and can win victories. We are also supportive of the slowly expanding Mutual Aid groups and Solidarity Funds network in South London (Rotherhithe, East Dulwich, Peckham, Deptford, Herne Hill etc).

 

STUCK IN A LIFT WITH PETER JOHN

Finally! There’s an infamous story Peter John tells about when he and MP Harriet Harman visited the Aylesbury Estate where allegedly they were in a lift and a man was injecting drugs into his penis. PJ says ‘That’s not a sign of a successful community. That’s not the kind of community we want to see’. Rather than understanding that a drug-injecting user is a human being struggling in life, he uses this individual’s story at that moment to denigrate an entire community. Such a lack of understanding betrays his political values – that instead of asking how a person is failed by society, he weaponises individual trauma to justify the Council demolition and ‘regeneration’ of The Aylesbury. How demolishing 2700 council homes remedies any of these common working class social problems, we don’t know!

Such reactionary narratives are well described by the writers Rob Imrie and Mike Raco: ‘Communities, then, are portrayed as a pathological underclass, entities that inculcate individuals with immoral values, but they are at the same time a source of moral good that is being corroded – something that needs to be rectified through regeneration’. PJ sees a moral failing rather than a failing by society, the same society however which he and other pro-regeneration folk are doing alright by.


Even after ten years though, we aren’t interested in blaming Peter John. We also aren’t interested in personalising this so much. He is what he is. Who cares that much who he is? A not particularly privileged individual who worked hard to become a civil law barrister specialising in ‘all aspects of Contentious Probate, Trusts & Property Litigation’. He made it to Southwark Council Leader for 10 years. A tetchy but bland figure, just one of many such figures in a decade of bland politics. But also none of that bland landscape is by accident but exactly because of people like Peter John. What we are concerned with is the legacy Peter John leaves across Southwark and one in which, for now, we presume will continue under the new leadership of Kieron Williams. How will the next decade be? Well that’s, as always, up to all of us.

At Southwark Notes, we aren’t so much socialists but probably something much worse! Whatever we are, we are working class and hold on to believing that societal change is in our hands if we want it. Class is a relationship and not a thing and, as such, class is continually made and remade over the years by us all. Regardless of our individual tastes and likes as working class people, it is our economic position, our class position, that is the key to deep structural societal change and a change that doesn’t just tinker at the edges. We understand also that our class position and politics can’t just stand alone though and that any class position endlessly intersects with the way we are viewed, categorised and policed by this hierarchical society because of our gender and race, from what part of the world we traveled from and where we put down roots, from what language we speak at home and which we speak outside, and the way our bodies and minds function, from the different cultures we are part of and the different knowledge’s we use and practice and the type of work we have to do and how that’s impacted by institutional conditions, prejudice and stigma. We have been wanting to write something for quite a while on these contemporary complexities of class and community in relation to our organising in Southwark and London and how we need to always understand the definition of working class as including all those different experiences and . We hope we can find the time in the near future.

We wrote to Peter John O.B.E, J.C.B in late December 2018: ‘Peter, as a self-confessed ‘socialist’ you might care to see the Elephant community campaigns for what they are: working class people defending their interests politically. Something like what E P Thompson describes as ‘the working class making itself as much as it is made’. Peter didn’t reply.

E P Thompson describes, in summary, the content of his great book ‘The Making of the English Working Class’ as follows: ‘This book has a clumsy title, but it is one which meets its purpose. Making, because it is a study in an active process, which owes as much to agency as to conditioning. The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making…Class happens when some people, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other people whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs’.

Up The Elephant Campaign Public Meeting, 2018



As Southwark Notes, we’ve been proud to be a determined presence of that great collective making over the last ten years. We would also never accept on O.B.E! Just in case you were worrying about that!




REFERENCES:
* Quote from ‘Using land reform to drive a boom in municipal house building’ by Councillor Leo Pollak – Cabinet Member for Social Regeneration, Great Estates and New Council Homes, London Borough of Southwark in ‘Grounds for Change The case for land reform in modern England’. Shelter (June 2019)

** Quote from ‘Reconstructing Public Housing: Liverpool’s Hidden History of Collective Alternatives’ – Matthew Thompson (2020)

*** Taken from ‘New Municipalism in London’ report from Centre for Local Economic Strategies (April 2019)


Sadly none of these achievements are needed to be a useful Councillor!!


 

Into the Void with Peter John OBE, Leader of Southwark Council

As long-standing critics of some but not all of Southwark Council’s policies towards housing development, we happen to spend some of our free time on Twitter sharing to others our criticisms and using the platform as a small tool in the campaigning we do. We also spend a lot of time researching things, writing them up on this blog and also being active in the streets and estates.

In recent years, we’ve been particularly involved in different ways in campaigning at The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and also on Aylesbury Estate. Southwark Council is very keen for demolition and what they would call ‘regeneration’ of both those sites. Sometimes we have engaged in small Twitter conversations with the Leader of Southwark Council, Peter John O.B.E. Although Twitter can be much of muchness, it is still a public forum and so these conversations are part of the public debate around what the Council does and the effect it has on local communities.

 

Peter John – Gone Fishing?!

In 2016, we wrote up the whole sorry saga of how three rounds of ‘regeneration’ on Elmington Estate in Camberwell had left the estate with 346 less council homes after it’s development by Notting Hill Housing Association and later by private company Bellway Homes. In November we exchanged Tweets with Peter John about his news that Southwark was going to build 11,000 new council homes by 2043. We questioned him about the then demolition of 144 Council homes on Elmington saying thatno council homes replace these for displaced tenants’. He replied Council tenants prioritised for rehousing in better accommodation – new social housing delivered at Elmington’.

We then questioned this: ‘144 council homes gone – replaced by 130 private, 36 shared ownership but only 38 social housing. Some priority!’. Even if there was a Right To Return, which wasn’t certain, we asked ‘Where do all the 113 tenant households displaced by demolition return to then if only 38 new social homes?’. Peter then replied ‘I don’t know but will look into it. Thanks for raising’. Ok, so far, so good – a fairly civil public conversation with an elected politician who makes a promise to look into it. We prompted again in December 2016 and again in February 2017 but we are still waiting for a reply from Peter about it.

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In the long wait, these new Bellway homes on Lomond Grove have been almost completed and people are moving in. The scheme is part underwritten with taxpayer’s money from 2013’s ‘Help To Buy’ subsidy where the Government used £12 billion to guarantee up to £130 billion of new mortgage lending. Much to the relief of the big house builders the scheme has now been extended to 2023 with an estimated extra £20 billion. Almost 40% of the 10,300 homes Bellway sold during 2017-2018 were aided by Help to Buy hence the building companies staggering profits of £640 million in 2018.=

Elmington Help To Buy 2019
Researchers have found that the Help To Buy scheme does not necessarily increase house building but certainly the subsidy means that large volume building companies like Bellway are inflating the sale price of new build homes on the back of the scheme. A small flat that has one bedroom and combined kitchen and living area starts at £379,995. Once again, the profits are privatised and sit in Bellways and their shareholders coffers and the risk is nationalised with taxpayers money*.

 

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Peter John – Gone Fishing Some More?!

Jump to December 2018 where the Up The Elephant campaign was a couple of years into fighting for the Elephant community. The campaign has been fighting the dismal plans of Delancey to replace the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre with close to 1000 new homes. As part of that long campaign, Up The Elephant had managed to pressure Delancey to increase the number of social rented units from 33 to 116. Without that pressure, the pitifully low number of actually-affordable homes would have stayed at 33. The Council planning officers had no qualms about recommending the Delancey plan for approval in July 2018.

PJ Housing Elephant None

In a somewhat aggressive Twitter argument with some other people questioning the Council’s wisdom on this scheme, Peter John wrote ‘And those who have bizarrely opposed the development of the shopping centre – where no housing currently exists – and have therefore opposed the delivery of new social and affordable housing need to explain themselves. I can’t’.

As this was not true, we jumped in and asked him: ‘Can you show which of the campaigns have opposed new housing? The community campaigns pressured both Council and Delancey to up the social rented housing from 33 to 116. In July 2018 the Council recommended the 33 homes plan for passing’. Once again, no answer was forthcoming from the Leader despite a few nudges and prompts

Thinking that maybe Twitter is not a personal enough mode of communication to resolve these questions of Peter’s assertions, we decided to send our questions direct to the Leader and so we emailed Peter a polite email to his official Council account on 10th January 2019:

Dear Peter John
We write to you from the group Southwark Notes who you may know from various campaigns about housing in the North Southwark area. We have been involved in the Up The Elephant campaign hoping to seek better benefits from the Delancey scheme for local people. We noticed on Twitter on 29th December in a exchange about housing and The Elephant you said ‘And those who have bizarrely opposed the development of the shopping centre – where no housing currently exists – and have therefore opposed the delivery of new social and affordable housing need to explain themselves.’

We wonder if you have any proof of this? Or is it actually not true?

As far as we can see the various and numerous campaigns against parts of the Delancey scheme have only ever publicly campaigned for more genuinely affordable housing in the scheme. In fact, despite the Council recommending to pass the scheme earlier in the year with only 33 social rented homes, pressure on Delancey from campaigns resulted in them seeking GLA finance to increase this figure to a possible 116 social rented homes. Not only this but there has been some indications that Delancey may consider offering these homes to Southwark to run as council homes. That would be welcome if this could happen. You may be able to see why campaigns get frustrated when there is no actual recognition of the work they do for free in their spare time which actually increased benefits to local people at The Elephant. That campaign work is exactly the sort of pressure the Council should be putting itself on developers because there are benefits to taking a harder line especially where this is backed up by a strong local campaign such as Up The Elephant.

Surely, we could now get to the truth of this matter and so we waited for a reply. Then we waited some more. Then we prompted again and then….You know the rest…

TalkToTheHand copy

 

What Does Public Accountability Look Like To A Community?

Peter is not a big Twitter user and each to their own. But there is something to be said that if you reply on a thread to Southwark Notes, you are also replying to every one of our 4896 followers and so that makes any conversation a public moment. Not only that but many of those followers are local people or local campaigns who take an interest in both what the Council is doing and what it is saying to justify those actions. It takes a special sort of behaviour to decide to call out campaigns like us and Up The Elephant in public but then not remain in anyway accountable to those statements when the local campaigns say to you ‘ Hey! Wait a moment. That’s just not true!!’.

But hey, that’s politicians for you, no? It’s a special way of being. As we have said before here, when we say The Council we know it is made up of both a workforce as well as a bunch of executive officers and councilors. But Peter John, as Council Leader, wields a special political power in a way that many council officers and workers don’t. His own political ideas and beliefs go a long way in making things happen in the borough especially in the realm of housing and regeneration. A large task of his job is also then to be accountable to local people who make questions on these political ideas and actions.

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In relation to our little Bellway homes tale above, it’s clear that government policies favour both massive profits for house builders and landlords, the knock-on effect of high houses prices being that buy-to-let landlords can pick and choose tenants and increase rents every six months because most people can’t afford to buy a new home and have to rent. Peter John insists that, and we quote verbatim, ‘in a housing crisis the way to solve a housing crisis is to build new homes‘, misunderstanding that the real crisis is of a lack of affordable homes and not the myth of lack of available homes.

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But this doesn’t doesn’t surprise us. We’ve long thought that Peter John has no real grasp of the wider and long-term bad effects of the Council’s current ‘regeneration’ policies and in some ways we try our best to put things to him that bring what we see as his confusions to the fore. Well, lets say in our more generous moments we try that but we are also not liberals who think the powers that be must do right by us at some point after seeing the error of their ways. We are far too long in the tooth and battled-scared after the scandal of the Heygate Estate, and everything else, for that. Although we battle the council we try to not be defined by that battle as mere subjects of the Council and that political system. Our battles are also fought outside of the liberal regime of local ‘democratic’ politics where random people (councillors etc) are supposed to stand in for us and fight our corner. But they are not even anywhere near our corner. Hence there remains a vital and dynamic conflict that we take part in, shape and carry out and we aren’t scared of an argument or a political fight. If Peter doesn’t want to answer, it’s no skin of our noses. Contempt breeds contempt. We will keep on doing what are doing and be happy to remain accountable to all those we work with in the community campaigns and the wider community. Up The Elephant! The fight goes on…

Delancey In Streets Poster JUly 2018


* There is a useful summary of the Help To Buy scam in Chapter One of Danny Dorling’s readable book ‘All That Is Solid: How the Great Housing Disaster Defines Our Times, and What We Can Do About It‘.
>>> All-that-is-solid-the-great-housing-disaster

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Regeneration Rip Off @ The Elephant Sat 19th July: Walk, Sound, Films

SNAG walk JULY 2014 NEW

SATURDAY 19th JULY: All day Regeneration Rip-Off at The Elephant

ANTI-GENTRIFICATION WALK: 1pm at 56a Infoshop,
56 Crampton St, Walworth SE17. Leaves 1.30pm

• This will be another one of our local walks round the area looking at different sites, developments and characters around the local ‘regeneration’ of the area. We decided not to go over old ground too much (Strata, Heygate etc) but to focus the walk on the new sites – Shopping Centre, One The Elephant, Artworks Box Park, The Signal Building, Eileen House, Newington Causeway Peabody sites and many many more.

In this walk we will ask ‘who benefits?’. With this in mind, we will talk about that very issue – if the local community is not benefiting as promised, which companies and which individuals are benefiting. We will also be looking at how regeneration attempts to place itself on top of people’s local life and history and pretend it was never there.

Intended as a community conversation rather than just us lot going on about it all, please bring your stories, experiences, knowledge, gossip etc and share as we walk, stop and talk.

‘ELEPHANT ENDANGERED’: Outside 56a Infoshop,
56 Crampton St, Walworth SE17 from 4 -6pm

• “Elephant Endangered is a sonic investigation into community and gentrification in the London neighbourhood of Walworth.  The area has been subject to several contentious ‘regeneration’ schemes that have already caused the loss of 1100 socially rented homes of the Heygate Estate.  Elephant Endangered is made up of the many  sounds of the area which are overlaid with conversations had with neighbours, friends, and longstanding residents.  The work is set to continue with new sounds and voices being added through continued dialogues, events, and activities in the community”.

PUBLIC HOUSING UNDER THREAT FILMS:
56a Infoshop, 56 Crampton St, Walworth SE17 from 7pm

• We are pleased to be showing locally a stones throw from Heygate site, the excellent new film ‘Concrete Heart Land:
“Concrete Heart Land exposes the social cleansing of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, South London. It marks the moment that the estate was finally lost as social housing to make way for an unjust ‘regeneration’ scheme. Assembled from 12 years of archive materials the film charts the struggles of the local community to keep their homes, stay living in the area, and maintain communal benefits in the face of the advance of this now notorious ‘urban redevelopment programme’. Throughout the film we hear the community engaging in some of the crucial battles with elected officials, planners, and barristers in municipal planning meetings, public enquiries, and interviews”.

We will also be showing the new film about residents struggles to save their homes at Cressingham Gardens, “Homes under the Sledgehammer:
“The film is directed by Sanda Kolar and includes several of the estate’s residents speaking about their experiences of life on the estate. The overwhelming  feeling the film projects is that of community spirit amongst the residents. Nicholas Greaves, Cressingham Gardens Residents’ Chair, said: “It seemed like a jewel in Lambeth’s crown of estates, so it seemed crazy to me that you would want to demolish it.”

Also up is ‘9 Stories In Brixton‘:
“9 Stories in Brixton is a tale about nine residents who live in and around The Guinness Trust estate in heart of Brixton. Earmarked for redevelopment for a number of years, the landlords are now proposing to demolish the estate and rebuild the blocks nine stories high, thereby increasing the capacity of the estate by 30%.  A group of concerned tenants, held meetings to discuss estate issues, and have subsequently endured attempts by the landlords to set up a rival tenants association”.

Plus other short films on housing and other topics that take our fancy. If you have any short films pertinent to the night’s screenings, please bring on USB stick!

See you there on the 19th!

LABOURING PETER JOHN

Regular readers of Southwark Notes will know that when we want to labour a point, we will do! In our previous post we pointed out that when Leader of The Council Peter John blames the silent poster protest at the Heygate Masterplan Planning Permission Meeting on those ‘not from The Elephant & Castle’, we wondered both how he might have known this and would it even matter if they were. We also said that pretending it was outsiders who came along to disrupt the event was ‘one of the oldest and slimiest political tricks in the book

peter john tweet

When we asked him via Twitter how he knew it was people from outside The Elephant his reply made us sense that maybe he then wondered if it had been such a good idea to hastily and publicly blame it on outsiders. So switching to the perhaps the second ‘oldest and slimiest political tricks in the book‘, the tactic of divide and rule, he replied that that was what he was told by ‘residents who were from E&C at the meeting & have been involved in consultation. Take it up with them‘. We would point out this:

1) Peter believes so much in the consultation process as the most amazing winner of hearts and minds locally but forgets that despite members of Elephant Amenity Network, Wansey St and Garland Court TRA and Heygate Leaseholders Group all being some part of the consultation, they were the ones at the meeting objecting to the Masterplan and being quizzed on those objections by councillors for nearly two hours. Elephant Amenity Network had even sent a public letter to both Soundings Consultation agency and to Sarah Gaventa as Chair of the Lend Lease-created Regeneration Forum criticising the consultation process. The letter was signed by 28 local people or those working locally. So it’s not as if those who chose to take part in the consultations wouldn’t have something to protest about nor support the protest which is what many of those there on the night did. The objections and the signs in the protest were saying the same things.

In addition when we recently published our lengthy analysis of Soundings and the consultation: Listening To No End, we had had lots of emails of support and thanks from local people who were part of the consultation and agreed with our dire judgement of it all. We suspect it would be a hard task indeed to find many people who thought that the hours and hours we all spent in consultation had actually achieved anything substantial in the Outline Masterplan. Simply put it hasn’t and that is why objections to the plan took two hours!

2) Telling us to ‘Take it up with them‘ is a classic switching of gears and maneuvering himself away from any responsibility for what he had said. Now it can be spun as a case of it was the good objectors who had been consulted who told him it was bad outsiders so it wasn’t his fault if they had been wrong! Well, the most obvious point to make again is – in a public meeting open to all, how would anyone know where everyone had come from? But this is somewhat by the by really! We were in the room and we certainly recognised quite a few of them and the local Elephant campaigns they are part of because there has been such a slow but building resentment of this regeneration scheme as more and more promises are broken that you do get to know a few people along the way!

We leave this labouring the point with an amazing email we received after the Planning Meeting and our report on it. It puts the case much more eloquently and brilliantly than we might be able to:

“Dear Southwark Notes,
I think that the objectors and protesters at the Planning Committee last Tuesday were an amazing evidence of what could only be called a process of collective self-education about planning and urban regeneration policies in the Elephant. The depth and ingenuity of the objectors’ arguments was only schematically reflected in the protestors’ references to planning regulations and policies. But it was all there because years ago many local residents embarked on a process of learning and disseminating information about the changes proposed and taking place, putting up or attending visioning events, holding regular open monthly meetings to discuss changes in the proposed plans, seeking the advice and knowledge of urban experts, writing concerned and informed letters and emails to local Councillors, to MPs, to planning experts, architects, newspapers; making and watching documentaries about the area; organising and visiting photographic exhibitions of local communities, interviewing and being interviewed…

The objections and the protesters are only a small testimony of this large, engaged and enraged community of concerned citizens and residents that know the area as the back of their hands, having spent years poring over badly written and incongruous plans and contradictory policies, and evenings and days formulating the right questions to ask at ‘consultation’ meetings and open events… this is a participatory, varied and democratic public – one that understands constrains and not only critiques but also proposes (see EAN Visioning Event repart and EAN Interim uses report), that has always tried to engage and never to simply reject urban change…

The accusation that they are not ‘local residents’ is baffling: only an act of love for the neighbourhood and the area would have made all those people remain in a stiflingly hot and stuffy room for over 6 hours listening to planning jargon, poring over 200 pages documents, attentive, furiously taking notes, knowing what was being said, why the developers’ speech was full of euphemisms and fuzzy sales pitches, because none of what they say is grounded in the reality of the area, because what they are proposing is just another anonymous and alienating cut and paste from their repertoire of ‘global solutions'”


Normal Southwark Notes service will now be resumed after this unnecessary hiatus concerning The Leader of The Council.

LEADER OF THE COUNCIL PETER JOHN: PROBABLY MAKING IT UP

crowd signs1

Leader of the Council, Peter John tweeted during the protest at the Planning Meeting on Tuesday  that there was an ‘Unnecessary hiatus in meeting as protesters not from E&C cause disruption – protesters entry requested by Simon Hughes!‘.

Of course three points come to our minds on this amazing piece of Twit news:

1) how could Peter John know possibly know where those people came from? Did he ask them all in person or does he have telepathic super powers? Well, he is Leader of the Council no less. So it could be true. Or…

Was he making it up?

Answers on a postcard please!

Was Peter implying that no-one locally could possibly want to have any objections that they may wish to present in a more interesting and critical manner than in the useless 5 minutes of objection time allowed?

2) Attempting to discredit the local silent protest by saying categorically that they are outsiders is one of the oldest and slimiest political tricks in the book. So well done Peter for pulling this one on Southwark residents.

Needless to say we also have to ask if there is an exclusion zone in Peter’s mind when it comes to who has a right to object and protest anything that concerns The Elephant. Not only does the regeneration of The Elephant affect local people but it also affects those in Blackfriars, Bermondsey, Walworth, Peckham. Development and planning is not separate. It is intimately connected and he knows it. By this logic we should be demanding that no-one who doesn’t live in the area should have anything to do with regenerating it. Where does Peter John live by the way?

3) He then also has the cheek to play the party politics card and blame Simon Hughes for getting them in.

In reality, Simon Hughes was about to walk through the line of security and into the meeting when the excluded crowd said something akin to ‘well, if he’s going in then so are we‘. This was enough the make Hughes stop in his tracks, probably not happy to be seen leading a rabble of local folks in, and turn to talk to those people outside, something that Peter John would never do.  This was then how Simon Hughes decided to ask that these people could come in.

To us it matters more not what Simon Hughes had in mind getting people in but more so that Peter John was obviously happy to just leave the public outside the meeting.

All Hail All Powerful, All Knowing Leader of The Council!