Tag Archives: Peter John

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.

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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…

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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.

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

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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!