Tag Archives: Regeneration

What Do We Mean When We Say ‘The Council’?

After many years of writing about Southwark Council and its policies and plans we thought it might be useful to say what we mean when we say ‘the Council’. That’s because with friends of ours working in the Council and with reports that Southwark Notes is often seen in passing on the computer screens of Southwark administrative workers, when we say ‘the Council’ we know that such a body is made up of more than those who lead and direct it’s regeneration policies.

When we say ‘the Council’ we know there are hundreds of Southwark workers who have nothing to do with making decisions to decant the Heygate or who aren’t making deals with housing associations to demolish the Aylesbury. We know there are hundreds of workers who have no say or part in the decision to approve planning applications for more luxury flats in The Elephant or Peckham or Rotherhithe. We know that all those workers are powerless in most ways to prevent the knock on effects of more and more expensive property as local private and business rents shoot ever skyward.

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Like any workplace, the majority of people are working hard to enable them to pay the rent, to buy food, to buy stuff and to survive each month. They aren’t super well paid for this daily grind. Working for the Council can be stressful, alienating, total pressure as bureaucrats above, managers above, Cabinet members above seek to put into place Council policy and Council responses to what’s happening across the Borough. Part of this is the inevitable top-down bullshit of any workplace. We know enough Council workers in enough departments to know that decisions get passed down from managers that just seem stupid, ill thought through or arbitrary. That’s not to say there’s not excellent managers in the different Council department and services but to recognise that often for many workers they are simply doing the job they are told to do.

So when we write or say ‘the Council’ in regards to the ‘regeneration’ and gentrification of Southwark, we are not referring to some monolithic machine. We know there are loads of workers there who don’t agree with what’s happening in the realms of regeneration and think it’s ridiculous and wrong to pursue such social cleansing. We know there are loads of workers who actually live in either Council homes that could be affected by demolition and displacement or who live locally in private rented homes where the landlords are increasing the rents almost bi-annually. We know there are loads of Council workers who want their own children to be able to afford to rent or buy locally but who know that such an option is becoming more and more unlikely. We even know a few Council workers who moved out of the Borough as their wages could no longer cover local rents in Southwark!

 

TWEEDLEDUM & TWEEDLEDEE

For us Southwark Notes folks, and for all the other local campaigners against the disasters of this ‘regeneration’ regime, well, we have jobs and commitments too. Some of us have families that we care for, both locally and further afield. For the Council big-wigs, It might seem like we have nothing better to do than scrutinise them and try to hold them accountable for what they are and aren’t doing. Well, we are proud to say that very far from being ‘keyboard warriors’, we are active across many local societies and TRA’s, amenity and service groups, community centres as well as having deep and long term connections to where we live in Southwark. We do what we do, day in and day out because we love where we live and we love all those great people we work with. We say it all the time – we are not against change in Southwark out of some bloody mindedness. Our website has clearly stated from day one: ‘We don’t think it’s wrong to demand that a regeneration scheme enhances the quality of our lives. We don’t think it’s wrong to oppose gentrification. In this way it turns out that our negativity is really only a mask for our positive wish for all of us to live our lives free from those who pretend to act in our interests but are only ever about giving even more of what we’ve got away to those who already have too much!

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The local politics we all do is always much more in depth and dynamic than the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Labour and LibDem arguments. We have probably zero faith in any of these political parties, if we ever did in the first place. For Labour, local campaigns are viewed as a pain in the ass that just won’t bow down to some supposed ‘mandate’ they have from an average of 35% turnout in ward elections. If it wasn’t for the Information Commissioners Office, the GLA or Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, they would happily continue to ignore the numerous scandals, outrages and arrogance that all we Southwark campaigns post online week by week.

For LibDems, we have no idea what they want as they have been a useless opposition to Heygate and Aylesbury estate clearances and local luxury property developments. Seeing as one of the most rapidly understood realities by Londoners in the last few years has been how local Council’s love-ins with private housing market has been a disaster for age-old communities, you would think they would be banging on about this a bit more aggressively. But strangely, no!

 

THERE’S NO JUSTICE BUT LUCKILY THERE IS JUST US

As we always say, it’s really up to us. By this we mean the local campaigns, the TRA’s, the local park supporters, the community centres, the volunteer groups, the pensioners groups, the youth clubs and so on to keep defending what we have and what we don’t want to give away to property developers. It’s up to us and we won’t be stopping anytime soon.

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So when we write or say ‘the Council’, we are saying it’s up to Council workers too to be part of this local opposition in whatever way you can. We reserve our contempt for those Cabinet Members, executive officers and Councillors who are the main engine of regeneration as it plays out locally. You know, the kind of Council representatives who seem all nice and caring in public (on the TV or in the newspapers) but when they come to the community they treat them with a contempt they themselves are mostly unable to see. Just ask Ledbury tenants right now for the difference in behaviour from the night of their delegation to the Town Hall when councilors acted like their saviours and how they are actually being treated by councilors and housing managers day to day.

Any road up, we’ve had a few titbits, rumours and the occasional leak* passed our way from Council workers and that’s been helpful. When this happens we are always grateful. But we mean more than just this. We mean that local Council workers in whatever capacity they can act, can be part of opposing phony regeneration schemes and the disastrous social cleansing policies of ‘the Council’. What this looks like on the ground, in Council offices, in Tooley St, on the street, in the unions or local party branches etc we just don’t know. We’re just hoping to reach out and tell you what we mean when we write or say ‘the Council’.

You can contact us at elephantnotes(at)yahoo.co.uk
Follow us on Twitter @SouthwarkNotes


 

 

Concrete Action is a platform to provide support for architecture and planning professionals and communities fighting for housing in London. They say ‘If you have access to information which you believe is being wrongfully withheld from the public, we are here for you. Whistle-blowing has a proud history of helping to create change! By speeding up the availability of information through direct action it creates pressure on the existing system – we are not against development in principle, but we want development for and with all residents of the city. If you have information the public ought to know, please get in touch. Do not send us information which has been obtained by criminal means, personal information about you or anyone else, or any other information which it would not be in the public interest to publish’.

See here for how.

concrete action

 

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LEDBURY ESTATE: Community’s amazing fight for safe homes

Southwark Notes members have been following the rapid-changing news from Ledbury Estate, down on the Old Kent Rd for a while. We were happy to meet some residents back in July after they invited us for a chat. We also attended the residents delegation to the July Council meeting where they put forward their ten demands to Southwark. We wanted to write something about the amazing campaign they all been waging for safe and secure homes but pressing time never allowed us to put pen to paper!

Then, this week, the excellent Radical Housing Network has asked us to host this text about the ongoing  struggle at Ledbury which we are happy to do so. Here at Southwark Notes HQ we don’t have much faith in Labour but appreciate the energies and arguments of all those working with Ledbury residents in their campaign.

This week Ledbury residents demanded that Southwark Council’s Cabinet Member for a Housing and Deputy Leader Stephanie Cryan should resign. You can join that call here!

Support Ledbury residents:
ledburyactiongroup@gmail.com
Ledbury Action Group – @LedburyAction


LEDBURY ESTATE:
Community’s amazing fight for safe homes

Two months after Grenfell, 224 families in Southwark high-rises are preparing to be evacuated. No fire. Just the discovery that their blocks are completely unsafe.

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It was a 12th floor resident, in the wake of Grenfell, who raised the alarm about ‘compartmentation’. She sent pictures of the cracks in her walls direct to the Fire Brigade, sparking a chain of events which overturned the findings of all the council’s previous fire risk assessments and structural surveys. 24-hour fire wardens were put in place until the cracks could be sealed. But residents invited independent experts to continue investigating and this week the council finally confirmed their findings – that gas should never have been installed on the blocks. The independent surveyors also say it’s not possible now to make the structures safe but the council insists it will do so, and have costed this work at 100 million, apparently even before they have their own surveyors final report.

ledbury big cracks

A bombshell letter was delivered to tenants announcing that the blocks were the same as the Ronan Point blocks which collapsed killing 4 people 50 years ago; that the gas was going to be turned off immediately; and everyone moved out within weeks. Residents asked for a meeting with council leaders but they refused. They are on holiday.

For residents who feel angry, betrayed and abandoned it’s not hard to see the similarities with Grenfell. Another estate run down prior to ‘regeneration’. Residents continually reporting problems being fobbed off by contemptuous officials, and cracks literally papered over. Years of poorly managed work by subcontractors. Fire risk assessments that failed to deal with risks. And still the ingrained methods of disrespecting council tenants prevail.

A resident who asks about moving to a hotel is told haughtily that they can apply but they’ shouldn’t expect The Ritz’. Gas workers are instructed to break into people’s homes to cap their gas pipes without giving any notification.

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Council tenants have come to expect being treated badly. From Thatcher’s Right to Buy to the 2016 Housing & Planning Act, governments have attacked the ‘privilege’ of council housing for working class people and tried to force through privatisation, higher rents and less secure tenancies. Global speculators and developers made billions but for the rest of us, in private as well as public, there’s been rising rents, increased insecurity and homelessness, overcrowding and more substandard housing. A process for which Grenfell tower stands as testament.

The Tories have no interest in reversing this process but could this be a turning point for Labour? Southwark have been responding to some of the residents’ demands. They claim they want the estate to stay council and that leaseholders shouldn’t lose out. But they are also trying to manage residents’ expectations rather than defy the government’s spending or borrowing limits. They say they can’t afford to buy more flats immediately and that if they demolish they can’t afford to rebuild it as council housing. So tenants begin to weigh the risk of staying in dangerous blocks as preferable to moving into properties with vastly higher rents and losing their council tenancies, or moving out of their community altogether.

When the council refuses to guarantee tenants will be rehoused locally in good quality council homes it is creating an atmosphere of fear, setting people in competition with each other, and preying on feelings of powerlessness to make people accept anything for fear of losing everything.

 

ledbury mtg grass

So it comes down to the residents who are organizing themselves. On Sunday, after meeting on the green to draw up their demands, tenants marched to an empty new private development which has only 6% social housing. They do not believe the council cannot buy up these flats for council housing. They do not accept that the Government should not foot the bill. The residents are pointing the way and Labour in Southwark now have the opportunity to deliver.

by Grace Perry, Radical Housing Network

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ledbury west grove

Small and Further Heygate: Demolishing ‘Regeneration’ on Elmington Estate

Elmington Est Diagram New.jpg(Full size PDF of this graphic here)

Small and Further Heygate:
Demolishing ‘Regeneration’ on Elmington Estate, SE5           


346 Council Homes demolished

Seeing as the whole sorry tale of Southwark Council’s 20 year ‘regeneration’ of Elmington Estate is very long, we thought we would make it easier by summarising the most dastardly points in the above picture. Diehards can read the full 6000 words in a separate post here or print out it out as a PDF here. It is worth reading our fully illustrated nuts and bolts telling of the story all the way through as it shows, in detail, once again how long-term regeneration projects premised on demolition are really social cleansing schemes. The decant and re-housing processes are unjust and the Compulsory Purchase Order of leaseholders homes are legally punishing where no crime or wrong doing has been committed by those who were living on Elmington.

elmingtonestate
Elmington Estate ‘regeneration’ Phase One demolitions of the Tower Blocks, 2005

The telling of this story is also interesting in that it’s told almost 100% from the Council’s own consultation and progress documents. If the Council’s own telling of their regeneration scheme shows how appalling it is, it’s saying a lot, no? Yet in the same documents they also insist that everything is good and dandy for all! What’s clear once more, just like on Heygate and Aylesbury Estate, is that such ‘regenerations’ always result in a net loss of much needed local council housing – here 346 homes! They always result in the chucking out from the immediate area of long-term council tenants even though the ‘regeneration’ is supposed to benefit precisely them.

Time and time again we see that such ‘regenerations’ always have long histories of tenants saying repeatedly in protests and meetings with the Council, ‘we want to stay in the local area as council tenants‘. They always receive promises that this will be the case but these are always broken somewhere down the line by the Council despite mealy mouthed public assurances that ‘regeneration’ will benefit all – local communities and incoming private buyers. This is never the case. We have to start viewing regeneration as premised on lies. Regeneration is a big lie and the schemes are impossible to deliver without lies. This has been our experience every time. This is crucial for any new campaign against ‘regeneration’ to grasp at the very beginning.

Nearly As Good As Sherlock Holmes!

The Elmington story is, as yet, little known which is why we’ve spent a long time piecing it together. It starts all rosy with new Council homes built in Phase 1 but by Phase Two and Three, ‘regeneration’ simply means demolition of council housing and any replacement social housing delivered being unaffordable – shared ownership or ‘affordable rent’. The Council on the hand publicly attacks ‘affordable rent’ (rents up to 80% of local private rents) but on the other hand allows Notting Hill Housing Trust to build ‘affordable rent’ homes as the policy compliant ‘affordable homes’ component of Phase Two. Such demolition then means a displacement of tenants to other parts of the Borough and the displacement of leaseholders through both low valuations and a vicious Compulsory Purchase process.

elmington green twoElmington Estate, the name of the game! Elmington Green, mostly private homes built on top of demolished council flats

In the long years since the ‘regeneration’ started, the fact that hundreds of council homes were demolished is brushed under the carpet as the Council reneges or fails to provide a Right of Return for many of the households who signed up to the ‘regeneration’ on the premise of a new Council Homes on site. Despite the staggering initial loss of 369 council homes, the Council ten years later describes the empty land as a ‘brownfield site‘ and hence ripe for flogging off to developers. Those former homes are now magically absent as if they never existed, those tenants moved off to somewhere and non-existent too.

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Although our long study of the highly dubious Elmington ‘regeneration’ sadly does not read as good as Sherlock Homes, there is something of a whodunnit about it. This is why we love to highlight once again this quote from Richard Livingstone, the (then) Southwark Cabinet Member for Housing in April 2015: ‘It is also worth noting that for every estate regeneration that has started since Labour took back control of the council (so this excludes Aylesbury and Heygate where the process started pre-2010) we have either retained the current stock or plan to increase the number of council homes’. This he said as the Phase Three Elmington demolitions and resulting loss of council homes were just about to start. Whodunnit indeed?

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Elmington Estate ‘regeneration’ Phase Three demolitions of the maisonette blocks, 2016

In an exchange on November 22 2016 with Leader of the Council Peter John about the current demolition of council homes, we were surprised as ever by his claims. After, we pointed out that 144 homes were being demolished on Elmington and that no council homes were part of the scheme to re-house those displaced, his answer was the usual ill-informed one: ‘Council tenants prioritised for re-housing in better accommodation. New social housing delivered at Elmington’. We then pointed out that if less non-council social rented homes were built for rehousing folks then it wasn’t much of a priority. If 113 council homes are demolished and only 62 social rented homes are built, that’s a little bit less than 55% replacement. So where is the right of return to the area they agreed to leave for the other 45% of the community? The discussion went cold when we pointed out these facts and asked where people would go. Peter John said he ‘didn’t know and will look into it’. Five months later, we are still waiting for an answer. Whodunnit Peter? Magnifying glass is in the post to you!

Thurlow Lodge Centre, Aylesbury Estate Occupied

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(Pic: Southwark News)

Thurlow Lodge Community Hall on Aylesbury Estate, Walworth is being defended by local users and groups after Southwark Council sought to close the well used space. Locals have began an occupation of the space and a meeting this week issued the following joint statement from Divine Rescue, the Thurlow Lodge occupation committee and Aylesbury new TRA steering group:

Save Divine Rescue and Thurlow Lodge Community Hall
Support the occupation of Thurlow Lodge!

Southwark Council intends to close or privatise Thurlow Lodge Community Hall and it has tried to evict homeless charity and foodbank Divine Rescue from Thurlow Lodge. This is both an attack on the homeless, disabled and poor clients of this charity and an attack on council tenants and residents on the Aylesbury Estate. By demolishing more than 2,000 council homes on the Aylesbury, the Council will create even more homeless people.

Our occupation, determined opposition and the support of trade unions, campaign groups and the wider tenants’ movement has forced the Council to row back on their eviction threats and attempts to close the hall. The Council now claims it never tried to close the hall in the first place! However, it is still considering legal action against Divine Rescue and it has put the prospect of privatisation on the table by saying that the hall will be put out to tender.

This is unacceptable. Tenants and residents on the Aylesbury are in the process of forming a new tenants’ and residents’ association which claims the right to manage this hall in the interests of the community, provide a secure home for Divine Rescue and fight for council housing for all. We are proud to state that the new TRA steering group has been offered the solidarity and assistance of experienced tenant reps in Southwark. We have every confidence that the new TRA will be able to successfully manage the hall and provide a full programme of events and activities. The new TRA is keen to work with the two remaining TRAs on the Aylesbury Estate to provide a genuine democratic voice for Aylesbury tenants and residents.

We demand that the Council recognise the Aylesbury new TRA as soon as it is set up. We demand that the Council lifts all threats of closure and privatisation and accepts that Divine Rescue can remain, on its current rent.   We call on Southwark Council to halt the demolition of the Aylesbury Estate and instead refurbish and properly maintain our council housing.

Signed, Thurlow Lodge occupation committee, Divine Rescue and Aylesbury new TRA

What you can do: Send a message of support, invite us to speak at your meeting:
thurlowlodgeoccupation@gmail.com  southwarkdch@gmail.com

For updates go to facebook southwark dch. 

Sign this petition

Join us in our programme of activities in defence of our TRA hall and Divine Rescue

Thurlow Lodge Community Hall
1 Thurlow Street, London, SE17 2US

Saturday 14th January 3pm – Solidarity Tea Party with music and fun. Bring union and campaign banners. Banner making workshop. All welcome including children.

Sunday 15th January 5:30pm – New TRA inaugural meeting. All Aylesbury tenants and residents welcome Followed by 6:30pm – Occupation meeting

 

Press Coverage:

South London Press
https://www.londonnewsonline.co.uk/14905/bailiffs-attempt-another-eviction-foodbank-time-protestors-ready/

Southwark News
http://www.southwarknews.co.uk/news/homeless-charity-divine-rescue-workers-resisting-eviction-home-aylesbury-estate/

 

 

Empowerment for Surrender? A Response from The Artists, People’s Bureau & Our Reply to the People’s Bureau

Empowerment for Surrender? A Response from The Artists to Southwark Notes

 We would like to thank Southwark Notes on three counts:

  1. For their serious engagement with the politics of the People’s Bureau (see our article ‘Empowerment For Surrender: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant’)
  2. For raising a number of significant questions, and
  3. For the opportunity to respond.

We share many of the concerns of the authors. In particular we:

  • Acknowledge the tension between the ‘belief system’ of corporate capital, and the values of social capital and the global commons, which underpin the People’s Bureau.
  • Recognize the risk that in co-operating with a developer such as Delancey (including by receiving funding) we are co-opted to their purposes.
  • Suspect that Delancey is more concerned with creating the appearance of community engagement and consultation, than with its substance.

Indeed it is largely on the basis of such concerns that we have decided against accepting further funding from Delancey.

We agree with the authors that:

“For us this is less an argument about taking developer money for projects but more the thorny question of what you actually critically do and say from that money.”

We hoped that working with Delancey would present opportunities for influence. However, some of their more recent actions have caused us to question that position.

Where we respectfully disagree with the authors is in their depiction of the People’s Bureau as ‘Empowerment for Surrender’. They overlook the subversive content of the project, describing it in terms, which imply it is little more than a trivial distraction and ‘museumisation’:

Operating out of a customised traders’ mobile cart first given to them by Delancey, the artists began by organising fun and playful activities, as well as workshops and skills-exchange sessions (‘…sewing, knitting and crocheting, pedicure, massage, facials, gardening, baking, vegetable fermentation, light workshop, embroidery, dream-catchers making‘, etc). The aim was to collect local E&C knowledge and memories: stories, drawings and photos.

This analysis completely misses the point of the project, People’s Bureau is intended as a rallying cry against the crude and merciless logic of corporate capital. It is intended to distill and to highlight:

1) The role and function of public space and public commons.

2) The capacity of the community to self-organise.

3) Economic alternatives to cycles of consumption and destruction that, through emissions of greenhouse gases, now threaten the future of life on earth.

There is, of course, a battle to be fought for the Elephant & Castle in the here and now. We do not claim that the People’s Bureau is at the front line of that battle. What we hope, however, is that by reminding people of what is at stake and by focusing attention on the oasis of social capital that is under threat, we give others a vision of something worth fighting for.

We are artists and not experts in legal or planning processes. We would, however, welcome a discussion with the authors about how we might work together to promote greater understanding of these processes. If individuals and citizens platforms come together to make their voices heard, co-operating and exchanging skills, we can ensure there is no meek surrender to the forces of blind capital.

 

People’s Bureau,
December 2016

Note: We have worked to try and improve the online representation of our work at Elephant and Castle online by putting together peoplebureau.co.uk.  We hope the project is better evidenced here and clarifies our point of view more clearly.

Also we invite you to a public discussion on February 2 (venue to be confirmed), to converse about this matter and the wider issues around socially engaged arts practice.

 


A Second Response from Southwark Notes to People’s Bureau

Southwark Notes would like to thank People’s Bureau for their response to our recent article ‘Empowerment For Surrender: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant’ and for the recognition that we are ‘raising a number of significant questions’. While we recognise the People’s Bureau’s willingness to engage in an exchange, we think that there are some fundamental issues that still need to be addressed. We’d therefore like to briefly respond in turn.

People’s Bureau: ‘we suspect that Delancey is more concerned with creating the appearance of community engagement and consultation, than with its substance’.

1.    Delancey DV4 is an aggressive multi-billion pound real estate investment company registered in a tax haven. Ourselves, many investigative journalists and local groups have been pointing this out for years:

35% Campaign on Delancey developments at Elephant
35% Campaign on Delancey Shopping Centre proposals
Private Eye on Delancey
Southwark Notes on Delancey and Shopping Centre
Gunnersbury Park Campaign on Delancey

Delancey, by nature of their business, are interested in one bottom line: how big a profit they can wring from the Shopping Centre redevelopment through the construction of private homes on the site. They have been set on demolition and displacement of local shops and community since they bought the Shopping Centre in December 2013. Two months later in February 2014, they announced ‘The first thing is that we are looking to demolish the centre and redevelop it’. People’s Bureau were then part of Delancey first public consultation in July 2015 where demolition was clearly signaled.

People’s Bureau state that they have moved from a position of thinking that they could accept Delancey’s money and have ‘opportunities for influence’ with them, to one of disillusionment with Delancey’s intentions. They state now that ‘some of their more recent actions have caused us to question that position’. Although we feel that trust in Delancey was always somewhat naïve for critical artists to have, we recognise the role of learning from experiences and criticism and we welcome People’s Bureau new-found realisation. We presume as demolition looms ever nearer that Delancey is now winding down it’s funding of local artists and other groups. What interests us now is: How has the Bureau communicated this let down to Delancey and how has their formal relationship changed? Making the details of their break with Delancey public would be very interesting not only for local campaigners but also to others in the artistic and creative community who might be faced with the same contradictions People’s Bureau have moved through.

So a vital question for us is how People’s Bureau will now use the special relationship they developed over the years with Delancey, to point out the phony nature of their consultation process? As Delancey’s Elephant Shopping Centre application has just been made public, this is a perfect moment to delegitimise the faux ‘community consultation’ and push for real and tangible community benefits alongside local campaigns.

2.    Our critique of People’s Bureau’s work comes from both an early engagement with a few of their events and a close observation of their later activities. Whilst we have not directly engaged with the workshops offered more recently around the People’s Bureau cart, we believe our participation and observation gives us enough understanding to analyse, reflect and comment upon their art practice.

We again question the use of some terms used to describe People’s Bureau’s practice. We fail to see how People’s Bureau’s work engages with debates about ‘the commons’. The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is a privately-owned commercial space, and doing workshops that are open to the public does not necessarily equate much with facilitating a deeper and practical reflection on the use of public space. It is a further leap to say the Bureau is visioning and working towards a ‘commons’ as if one stems from the other (assumed public space to commons). We fail to see how their work ‘highlights…the capacity of the community to self-organise’ when there is little evidence of such a constituency being built by them in a way that other local groups have been engaged in for years.

We understand community self-organisation as being an independent, non-commercial, critical and oppositional coming together in resistance to attacks on that community. The use of such terms seems to be more buzzwords rather than having a solid grounding in practice. They say that our criticisms are reductive of People’s Bureau work that is ‘intended as a rallying cry against the crude and merciless logic of corporate capital’ but, as we have said in our original text, we saw no evidence of any public disavowal of Delancey’s corporate plans for the Shopping Centre. Noting People’s Bureau self-description of the ‘subversive content of the project’, we would be interested in People’s Bureau further elaborating this subversion from within in relation to the engagement and organising they are claiming.

3.    What follows on from this would be that People’s Bureau up their critical stance and supports local self-organisation against Delancey’s plans by continuing to work as artists with the skills, knowledges and continuing desire for participation that they can input into opposition to Delancey and the Council’s plans. Opposition is the stance that many groups, community organisations and individuals have been taking at The Elephant for upwards of 15 years. Listening and learning from them is critical. Supporting them with time, energy, contacts and resources is now crucial.

It’s important to us that we respond to the notion that People’s Bureau ‘are artists and not experts in legal or planning processes’. Being ‘an artist’ does not absolve one of any responsibility or accountability nor provide some presumed neutrality for cover for all of one’s activities. Most of the people opposing Delancey (and other urban ‘regeneration’ projects in London and beyond) are not experts in law and planning and have had to learn fast as they go along. A fundamental part of this work is then to find, produce and share knowledge and demystify the smokescreen of legalistic lingo that developers and local authorities use to sugar-coat promises of ‘regeneration’ that are in fact gentrification and social cleansing.

We don’t much want this to turn into an online to-and-from between Southwark Notes and the Bureau although again we welcome a detailed reply. Outside of this exchange on ideas, the Bureau continues to be accountable to the local community (as is the work and actions of Southwark Notes). That community will be their final judges and critics, and they will base this on the Bureau’s actions, rather than their words.

SNAG
New Year’s Day, 2017

Southwark Notes continues to be written by local people opposed to the regeneration of the North Southwark area.  This exchange with People’s Bureau contains the thoughts and ideas of five of us!  *-)

Letter To Evening Standard re: Aylesbury CPO rejection

‘In Monday’s article (regarding the secretary of state allowing Aylesbury Estate residents the right to remain in their homes in the face of Southwark Council’s and Notting Hill Housing Trust’s socially unjust ‘regeneration’ scheme) important points were missed. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid’s rejection of the compulsory purchase order should shame Southwark. Aylesbury Estate has a large Black and Minority Ethnic population. Javid’s report was clear that the redevelopment scheme will affect these most vulnerable local residents and noted Southwark’s failure to uphold its public sector Equality Duty in this respect.

The article also gave the impression that the leaseholders involved in this case are the last ones left on the estate. In fact, this recent Public Inquiry only relates to the “First Development Site”, a small part of the 60 acre estate. There are still hundreds of residents in the rest of the Aylesbury, watching this case with great interest because their homes are due to be affected by Phases 2, 3 and 4. The scheme if it goes ahead will result in a minimum net loss of 800 affordable council homes further impacting available housing for locals on the housing waiting list. After Heygate Estate’s demolition and replacement by mostly private sale homes, residents are fearful of Aylesbury becoming another Heygate, campaign groups in Southwark are calling for a moratorium on estate regeneration schemes that are premised on demolition and decanting of residents.

Finally, the statement by Southwark’s head of regeneration states that the regeneration is “supported by the vast majority of residents”. This is not true – the only ballot of residents to date (in 2001) rejected redevelopment with a 73% majority on a 76% turnout. Southwark Council and Notting Hill Housing Trust must now rethink this entire regeneration model and listen to the residents’ needs and desires’.

Aylesbury Tenants and Residents First
35 Percent Campaign
Elephant Amenity Network
Fight For the Aylesbury
People’s Republic of Southwark
Southwark Notes
Saving Southwark
Southwark Green Party
Southwark Defend Council Housing

 


PDF of this letter here for printing and circulation: letter-to-evening-standard-re

The Murder of The Elephant

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

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

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

We aren’t out here to tell tales of simple folks doing simple things as this is just patronising rubbish and there are plenty of people already painting this picture. The Shopping Centre is as complex as all the people’s lives are who use it: stressed, joyful, skint, getting by, on their uppers, begging, coping, living large, whatever and it’s within those complexities that lies the Elephant’s care of its community. But we have to say it’s a cheap and cheerful place with no apology required. It’s not a fancy place. It’s not an expensive place unless you need a wee. It’s not a place for coming to for a Next or H&M or Wagamama or Giraffe or EE or Waitrose.

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

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

 

 

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BEHOLD THE USUAL SUSPECTS

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

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

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

Here’s how complicated the financing is:

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

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

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

 

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DO YOU WANT SOME OF THIS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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DISPLACEMENT, DATPLACEMENT, NO GOOD BLUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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REGENERATION = DEATH

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

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

When we say that The Elephant is being murdered we refer to the area and to the killing of a long-term home-grown neighbourhood with special characteristics, peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses. When we say murder though we also mean it very specifically in that regeneration in this cynical fashion that seeks to replace deep bonds of community togetherness (with all its problems too!) with an alienating and sterile landscape of chain shops and pseudo-public places will result in a few local deaths from the removal of the heart of the area and the familiarities and connections it brings. Such community networks, developed and grown over years, provide people with support from neighbours in addition to, or instead of, the help from family. These informal support networks give people a level of emotional resilience derived from the sense of safety and well-being that comes from knowing and trusting people in the immediate locality. But the Council or Delancey won’t ever be consulting us on loneliness, or stress, or depression or isolation. For them the plans are all shiny wonders of progress that we should all be in awe of. For us these plans are deadly!

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elephnt fuck off