Tag Archives: Southwark

FILLING YOU IN! Local resistance to Southwark Council infill development on estates

What follows is another two parter blog post from us lot. The first part looks at the fairly recent upsurge of local estate campaigns critical of Southwark Council’s plan to infill new council homes on estate’s green spaces or estate’s amenity sites. What’s going on is chock full of contradictions and we try to unpack these in a critical and hopefully practical useful way for existing campaigns and future ones. The second part looks into the hopeless way the Council tries to ‘consult’ on these plans and why campaigns are determined to actually have a real say on what goes on in their estates. We also begin to look at how such determination to not lose green space or amenities are being falsely labelled as ‘Nimbyism’ by both the Council and by the strange cult of the emerging Yimby (Yes In My Backyard) movement.

1: WHY DO WE SAY ‘YES TO FAIR REDEVELOPMENT’?

After our long involvement in the large campaigns around the demolition of Heygate and Aylesbury Estates and the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, we are now more loosely involved once again in a new round of housing campaigns in Southwark. We previously wrote a long summary of what we called The Dismal Decade in Southwark where we looked in depth at Southwark’s disastrous housing and planning policies over the last ten years. In many ways, infill on estates is a direct legacy of that godawful period of estate demolition, privatisation of land and council housing and oodles and oodles of pro-private development and unaffordable new builds in North Southwark. Although we hoped a change of leadership of Southwark Council in 2020 might herald a different way of going about things, this has quite quickly been seen to not be the case at all. It was ever thus and so we find ourselves again in great company continuing the endless work of struggle!

The one big change we now find ourselves in is the dreadful position of having to defend some estate green spaces and amenity sites like garages, play areas, sports areas but this time around we are defending some of these sites from new council homes being built on top of them. In one instance, infill plans include demolition of people’s long term homes to satisfy the plans for new council homes!

As we have said many times we support the Council’s intention to build 11,000 new council homes in the borough by 2043. It’s also clear that tenants and residents on estates also support new council homes but not at the cost of loss of amenities, overshadowing, demolition and so on. Everyone involved is aware of the contradiction at the heart of Southwark plans and nothing is undertaken lightly as if we all didn’t have a care in the wind for those needing secure and safe council homes. We will look at this contradiction in detail a bit later on.

So where are we at in August 2021?

So, it’s been a busy last few months as what needed to happen has finally happened where different estates campaigns have talked to each other and made common cause. This has been the hard work of local tenants and residents creating local estate campaigns, Southwark Defend Council Housing, a bit from Southwark Extinction Rebellion, a bit of us and a good handful of supporting individuals who give a shit. None of this comes out of thin air and those networks have been built over the last 20 or more so years. That’s when long term community work pays off!

It useful to make clear right at the start that there are already new council homes going up across the borough as part of the 11,000 new homes scheme. Yesterday, for example, we passed new council homes being built on Commercial Way in Peckham (109 homes – 74 council and 35 ‘affordable’) and then on Sedgmoor Place in Camberwell (13 homes). Commercial Way site was a vacant lot and the Sedgmoor Place site was a small unit of temporary accommodation. New council homes for people who need them and nothing taken away or harmful to local estates.

But other Council plans are not so free and easy. There are numerous plans to use infill development on estates such as the tiny Kingston Estate in Walworth to the larger Bells Gardens in Peckham. But it’s not just estates and infill. There are also plans to build on a large bit of open green space adjacent to Jocelyn St in Peckham that has raised the ire of campaigners too. Alongside these infill plans, there are big excitable noises being made in Southwark Council in support of Roof Top Development (RTD) where new homes are built on existing council housing blocks. Unsurprisingly, this has not been welcomed with open arms by those on intended RTD sites! Infill and RTD sites are extensive through Southwark. A recent Southwark News article did a great service of mapping all the sites for Southwark’s new council homes programme as well as looking at the oppostion on some of these sites.

Last year, we went down to Priory Court Estate in Peckham to talk to campaigners there opposing infill on their small green triangle of land, garages and TRA Hall. People there had a lot of different ideas about what was possible – no infill, some infill, infil on garages but not the green space etc. In the end, the Council back down and Priory Court won that campaign. Brenchley Gardens in Honor Oak had also got the Council to back down on plans there for building on estate green space. They wrote: ‘“Brenchley Gardens is a small estate of 95 flats and houses made of 50/50 social housing residents and leaseholders. We run the estate ourselves and take great pride in the community that thrives here. The proposed infill would have seen our beloved garden gone – where we grow fruit/veg, meet for picnics & BBQs, and host social events for the resident community. It has been a saving grace in lockdown and we’re so happy that the council have revoked the plans to build here. However, we are still fighting the proposed rooftop builds on top of our 4 blocks of flats. More than 70% of Brenchley residents have signed our petition against the build’. Both of these campaigns laid some of the groundwork for what is possible.

Southwark Extinction Rebellion June 6th – well good!

For us, it was only the excellent June 6th Southwark Extinction Rebellion bike ride to different proposed development sites that finally reeled us in to helping out where we could. A small bike cavalcade visited Kingston Estate, Bells Gardens, Jocelyn St /Peckham Green, Benchley Gardens and Green Dale Playing Fields in Dulwich. It was great to meet locals who were just not happy with the plans, listen to their woes and ideas and to feel that a joined up conversation was really getting going. By July, from both the long term relationships between housing campaigners and from the new ones being forged, the coalition Yes To Fair Redevelopment was formed. Some time was spent writing a frame work for campaigns to work from and from this work YRF ended up with an agreed series of 8 demands to Southwark Council:

1: Value council tenants and residents, our homes and our environments

2: Yes to Fair Redevelopment. We want more council homes

3: Genuine tenant and resident involvement – no more fake consultations

4: Protect and improve community facilities

5: Stop unsafe developments

6. Employ direct labour – give workers the power to challenge unsafe building work

7. Act on the Climate Emergency now

8: Stop the demolitions and sell-offs

With no delay, July 14th saw Yes To Fair Redevelopment hold a demonstration outside Southwark’s Tooley St HQ in support of the demands and also to accompany delegations to the Council Assembly meeting from Bells Gardens and Dodson & Amigo Estate in Blackfriars. There were great speeches from Janine from Bells Gardens, Jacquie from Dodson & Amigo, Lewis from Save Peckham Green and Tanya from Southwark DCH who told the crowd we won’t be taking any lessons from Southwark on housing and planning seeing as campaigns have been having to hold the council to account for 20 years or more.

Yes To Fair Redevelopment has also been proactive in leafleting all through August in an attempt to reach out, widen the conversation and make sure tenants and residents on affected estates are part of the decision making process. Their leaflet encourages estates to join the campaign and promotes a protest at Council HQ on Tooley St on Sept 7th. Although each campaign is different, with different issues and different voices and opinions being voiced, this is exactly the kind of strong and well connected local campaign Southwark has needed for years. Working class people having a real and actual say on their estates and thus their lives. The campaign is open to all and everybody who is living on an estate where infill or RTD is planned. It’s also keen to open a space for solidarity from other supporting local groups and campaigners.

Infill, Green Spaces, Roof Top Development and Demolition: Some local examples

GREEN SPACES:

Bells Gardens estate in Peckham is a big place with multiple low-rise blocks containing 545 homes designed around a central series of green spaces and mature trees. There is also a multi-use games area (MUGA) and a playground in the central zone. Southwark’s infill plans for three new blocks will see ‘green space reduced by 40% per household; a new sports area less than half size of original and a nine story block mostly for private sale’. Residents are opposed to using public land to site private homes on the estate as well as loss of their 30+ mature trees on site.

Bells Gardens Estate in Peckham

Campaigns are right when they say that estate amenities are not extra to council housing, they are made to such green and open spaces are designed in by the architects and planners to enhance community cohesion and to provide a sense of well-being from having a very local common space for use or visual relief from dense streets. These green spaces within estates give young children a place to play as well as being places where young people can investigate nature whilst staying very close to home. For example, on inner-city children, the 1998 research paper ‘Growing Up in the Inner City: Green Spaces as Places to Grow’ says of housing estates and greenery, that outdoor spaces close to buildings are used more widely by children resident in those buildings than local parks or playgrounds. This emphasizes that children use, and are often restricted to, spaces very close to where they live. There are literally dozens of studies that show this. Also important is how loss of green spaces affect those already existing in the most poor environments. CABE Space commissioned research, the largest study of its kind in England in 2010, to investigate the inter-relationship between urban green space, inequality, ethnicity, health and wellbeing found that in areas where residents are almost entirely white, there is 11 times more green space than areas where more than 40% of residents are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME). It’s certainly not difficult to see that disparity in Southwark.

Amenities such as ball courts or playgrounds provide a chance for sport and socialising at a time of the users choosing (inside opening hours). The importance of open and green spaces for community and individual well-being has been emphasized repeatedly over the last two decades by both local councils including Southwark, sports bodies, in academic and institutional reports and even the World Heath Organisation (Urban green spaces and health Report, 2016). A 2018 report by environmental group Friends of the Earth stated that Southwark is among the worst parts of the UK for easy access to green space. The survey rates local authorities for the amount of green space within five minutes’ walk for residents. E rated neighbourhoods are those most deprived of green space, including gardens and parks. Southwark is rated E!

Southwark’s Core Strategy from 2011 states that ‘Southwark open spaces are very important for many reasons. They help make communities healthier by providing space for and encouraging physical activity and relaxing and provide quiet areas. This includes providing space for playing pitches and children’s play. They break up built-up areas and add to the character of places. They are a focus for community gatherings and events. They help control flooding and keep built-up areas cool. They provide habitat and access to nature and space for growing locally produced food. …smaller spaces are particularly important to local people’. Can’t really see that these rationales have changed now that the council want to build on green spaces. Local campaigns against infill on estate green spaces are only saying what the Council has said and in many ways still says in its current Open Spaces policy. The campaign to save the large Peckham Green from being built over consistently has the Council denying that it’s an official open green space. Literally, it’s the wrong kind of green space and so, despite it providing everything the Council states above, it can be destroyed. Dozens of online interviews with locals and passersby at Peckham Green conducted by the campaign all show that no-one had any idea of the plans and no-one wants to lose the green space.

Campaigners gather for the Southwark XR Bike Ride to different infill campaign sites

SPORTS AND PLAY AMENITIES:

On Elim Estate on Long Lane in Bermondsey, Leathermarket JMB has submitted plans for 32 new homes. As part of this infill they want to build on what they say is an under-used ball court and play area. Elim residents have been campaigning against this for months. Once again tenants and residents are not opposed to new council homes but are against a loss of estate resources for young people as well as green space on the estate. In June 2021, the campaign managed to get the Council to push back the planning decision until September. Here, as at numerous other sites, the campaigners say they have not been listened to but also that there has been possible untoward behaviour from Leathermarket with ‘the creation of a hit list of residents so desperate to be rehoused that they could be persuaded to leave favourable comments in support of the Leathermarket planning application’. In a really wild turn of events, in early June, 4 cops turned up at a prominent Elim campaigner’s house and arrested them for ‘hacking’ documents from an alleged secure area of Leathermarket’s website. In fact the documents were all publicly accessible via a Google search. After 5 hours of questioning and keeping the campaigners phone and computer for a month, the cops said there was zero case of hacking to answer for. It’s worrying that Leathermarket would go to such lengths of intimidation against a simple tenants and residents campaign fighting for their own amenities!

Green space infill site on Lomond Grove, Camberwell

Lomond Grove is a street that runs past the various blocks of the large Elmington Estate in Camberwell. By Brisbane House, there is a small walled in site of multiple mature trees with a large canopy of leaves. Originally tenants had access to this site and children would use it as a play and discovery space. Council locked up the site and now speak of it as vacant and unused! Southwark is proposing a new development of 22 council homes. Campaigns are not only concerned about the effect of new homes on their estate but on the environmental folly of removing such natural sites in a time of climate emergency. Southwark Council itself recognised such a ‘Climate Emergency’ in March 2019. Local folks have pointed out that there is sufficient space in front of the green space to build a smaller block of 15 new council homes that wouldn’t need to see the trees cut down. There is also enough Council-owned space for more new homes nearby between the new-ish Camberwell Library and the Magistrates Court which is earmarked for private development. The Magistrates Court developers are keen to get Southwark to flog off some of the pavement to enable a bigger development project. Council should reject this to enable this site as a potential place for new council homes.

Council sign announcing proposals for the green space and trees behind at Lomond Grove, Camberwell

ROOFTOP DEVELOPMENT

Roof Top development is somewhat of a new fangled idea. A bit like all those posh basements rich people are digging under their buildings but in reverse. Called Airspace development, it’s literally premised on having no space build on other than up. There is already a trade body representing for companies who see in Airspace development rich pickings. The Association of Rooftop & Airspace Development (ARAD) was set up as ‘a collaboration between four of the UK’s leading Airspace developers who have come together to promote this new and innovative asset class’. Yeah that’s ‘asset class’, not homes. So far, the main RTD project in Southwark has been working with Housing Association’s to provide a mix of market sale homes that cross-subsidise the development of ‘affordable’ housing. That old cross-subsidy chestnut plus generous funding from the GLA! Apex Airspace, one of the four ARAD members, has built on top of Roderick House and Antony House in Bermondsey, these homes a part of Lambeth & Southwark Housing Association property portfolio. The new Roof Top Homes will provide 30 homes – 24 ‘Affordable Rent’ but only 6 at genuinely affordable Social Rent. Residents have described the construction works going on around and on top of them as ‘a living hell’!

Although this seems like an innovative solution to lack of sites to build new council homes, tenants and residents where such schemes are mooted are concerned that any RTD is too new to be considered a safe and sound bet for plonking down on their estate roofs. Campaigners at Lancaster Estate in Blackfriars have been arguing that RTD is ‘an ill-conceived project…is dangerous, puts our lives and homes at risk, construction would be extremely disruptive and invasive, and would be very expensive. In its essence, the Arup report deems your rooftop homes scheme risky and too costly’. The Arup reference is to a survey conducted by Arup surveyors in August 2020, regarding the rooftop expansion on nine estates around Southwark. The Arup report stated that there was the danger and increased risk of disproportionate collapse in pre-1970 buildings if a single storey was to be added on top. Arup also outlined the very high cost of the project and economic inefficiency: a single storey rooftop extension could cost the council as much as building new three storey block of flats from scratch. Arup also said that rooftop expansion would require significant strengthening of the existing structure, meaning intrusive, invasive and disruptive period for residents during construction. Yet Arup’s report was still used as a basis for a council written report In December 2020 to obtain permission from the Cabinet Member for Housing for continuation of the RTD idea. Fudging the initial concerns Arup reported, this Council report states ‘a Structural Survey has been carried out by ARUPS which sets out the functional principles to which massing assumption have been applied, this low risk approach provides a baseline from which we can extend’. Even though the rationale for RTD makes a kind of sense, you can see why tenants and residents of estates earmarked for potential RTD are extremely nervous and distrusting of the Council.

Chevron Apartments, St James Rd in Bermondsey, plan for four extra storeys

Incidentally, an example of Southwark planning permissions and private RTD: In 2016 the industrial three-storey building ‘Universal House’ at 294 St James Rd in Bermondsey was converted into 34 residential apartments and renamed ‘Chevron Apartments’. A two bed flat will cost you around £660,000. In 2018 airspace developers Skyroom bought the freehold of the site enabling them to build up. In late 2020, Skyroom gained planning permission from Southwark to build 15 new homes over 4 extra rooftop stories even though the development falls short of the Southwark’s housing policy requirements by having too many 1 bedroom flats. Four of the new homes will be classed as ‘affordable’ London Living Rent. 2020 Stats for London Living Rent prices in the Old Kent Road ward are £827 per month for a 1 bed flat, £944 for 2 bed flat. Of course, the site is well within the infamous Old Kent Rd Opportunity Area designation for massive over development. Skyroom write how “One reason this project came to the fore ahead of others currently in works is the readiness of the leadership within Southwark Council to support airspace development. Particular thanks go to Councillor Leo Pollak who is pioneering the rooftop homes programme at Southwark”.

We also wonder if this will turn out to be just another gold rush locally as developers realize they can profit from airspace? In this instance, we wonder how those who already bought homes at Chevron House feel about having 4 extra stories built on top?

DEMOLITION FOR NEW HOMES?:

Little Dodson flats

At Dodson and Amigo Estate in Blackfriars, there stands what locals are calling ‘Little Dodson’ at 49-56 Dodson Street. It’s a small unit of 8 small council homes. Southwark has chosen Little Dodson, green space and some garages as the site for about eleven new council homes. Already plagued with mice and a problem of dirty mains water, the 6 tenants and 1 leaseholder simply don’t want their homes demolished. They want proper maintenance! The Dodson & Amigo Independent Tenants Group sent a letter to Southwark in July 2021 stating that ‘We are the residents of Little Dodson. We are opposed to the demolition of our homes and the removal of our green space. We call on the council to immediately stop planning to demolish our homes. We are part of a community where we feel safe and supported and we do not want to move, temporarily or permanently. Instead we call on the Council to carry out necessary repairs on our homes’.

Elmington Estate and Peveril House: A Tale of Infill on Two Estates and Why?

By Masterman House on Elmington Estate in Camberwell there was an old raised garden space above a set of garages below. It wasn’t particularly well cared for with no active planting and gardening there and very few people used it. In 2013 it was earmarked for demolition and infill as part of the new Council homes initiative. No-one really objected as far as we know and the plans went ahead seeing 15 council homes and 9 private sale homes built by 2016. Apart from endless repairs and rebuilding that had to happen from the absolutely shoddy construction, in the end it seems like it turned out ok and new council homes were added to the existing council stock.

At Peveril House, near Tower Bridge Rd, there is a similar raised garden above garages. Peveril House is another block run by Leathermarket JMB although the land is owned by Southwark. Despite some small pots of Lottery and other funding for the gardens here and there, the gardens were similarly not abundantly used by tenants. Although it’s not up to us to decide how tenants want to see there estate features used, we did think this would be a perfect site for new council homes as its close to Great Dover street with plenty of space away from Peveril House tower block. However, the podium gardens and garages, as part of Southwark’s Great Estates Initiative, has now been split between a very nice and new fancy public gardens above and the former garage space given over to Forma Arts, an arts commissioning agency and production company. Forma will use the space as their headquarters and operate six rented artist studios, a café and ‘a dedicated on-site Community Engagement Curator and a resident-engaged arts and cultural programme’.

Forma, as an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation receives an annual grant of £250,000 as well as getting a further £100,000 from Arts Council England’s Small Capital Grants fund to set up it’s HQ and gardens. It also received £18,000 from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. There is no surprise lost that Southwark’s Great Estates Programme launched in 2018 intending to value and invest in estates is also premised on a massive contradiction embedded in its promise to ‘expand and enrich’ estates. The expand side is the infill and Roof Top Homes whilst the enrich is about valuing estate’s green spaces and local growing such as allotments and gardens exactly the kind of amenities that infill tends to reduce. But surely if you expand by adding density, you should also be expanding green space to make up for the increase in homes and people. Also as part of the ‘enrich’ side is the Council’s desire to find “new ways of working with residents to improve the look, feel and lived experience of our estates”. Clearly they need to listen harder as tenants are clearly saying how infill and loss of amenities and green space will impact on tenants day to day lives.

So, back at Peveril, what was once 100% tenants and resident spaces (park and garages) has now been part-privatised in favour of the arts sector with its traditionally poor engagement with local people. Speaking to some tenants from adjoining Tabard Estate, they said, the engagement locally had been very poor and also that they didn’t feel like the kind of thing that Forma was promising was really for the benefit of local people. One Tabard tenant told us “Forma arts invited themselves to one of our community days on the Tabard estate. They were keen to get estate residents to fill in questionnaires about their project, showing us a little model of the rooftop garden and saying how exciting it would be for us. But then that was that, no further engagement or involvement with the local community so we were wondering who is this project really for?

Councilor Helen Dennis said about Peveril Gardens that ‘huge investment is going into both the Elephant and Castle and Old Kent Road neighbourhoods to ensure that they can serve the needs of their communities for generations to come. The arts and creative sector will have a big role to play in this’. Call us naive but we fail to see how such arts organisation bring any benefits to local communities by taking off of them their amenities or by adding an arty frisson to areas that act as marketing for further gentrification. Want to hear something funny too? The garages and podium garden site at Peveril House were identified and listed by Southwark in July 2016 as a site of potential new council homes so what happened in the interim before the site was half given to Forma? Why is it always so blatant that self-involved middle class arty projects projects get valued, while everything else is sidelined and implicitely considered an extra luxury that poorer tenants can do without?

113 council homes demolished on Elmington Estate, 2016. Now Council wants to infill new Council homes!

What is also interesting then is if we compare the new regenerated Forma HQ and gardens with the old Elmington Estate podium gardens and recent ‘regenerations’ there. The effect of three rounds of estate ‘regeneration’ on Elmington saw the estate lose two TRA halls and green spaces in a ‘regeneration’ process where 346 council homes were demolished. In the final phase of ‘regeneration’ in 2016, 113 council homes were replaced by a mixture of shared ownership homes and social rented via Peabody and private flats. So tenants are now put in the position of either having to lose more green space and trees at Lomond Grove and having possible Roof Top Homes because the Council wants to build new council homes where they’ve just demolished a hundred or more! Long term residents says that the Elmington TRA has never recovered since losing Caspian St TRA Hall that was the social hub of the estate. It’s no wonder when such estate community cohesion is undermined that only a handful of people then show up to any Infill consultation. As we’ve said a million times, we have to ask ‘whose regeneration’? – who really benefits when what we see again and again is actual real material losses for estate communities. So when the Council talks about the housing crisis and 1000’s of people on their waiting list and with this local example of 113 council homes demolished, we have to say again that none of this has been caused by any tenant or resident of Elmington estate who may now be opposing loss of green spaces or being against Roof Top Homes!

2: Plans First, Consultation Second & The Church of YIMBY

Council Unable To Listen Properly – Nothing Changes

From our long and weary past experiences of listening and talking with those affected by Council planning changes, we hear the same thing time and time again from tenants. We hear how they don’t feel listened to. How they don’t trust council consultation. How they feel like consultation is often only about persuading local people to accept plans the Council has already decided it wants to go ahead with. How when the Council says “Have Your Say” it is not able to really do the medium term work of sitting with tenants as a group over months to hear what tenants actually think and develop with them sympathetic plans. How for tenants door knocking consultation is unaccountable to the wider collective tenants ideas and opinions. How online consultation does not tackle well the problem of the increasing digital divide between those who can access and understand online surveys and all those who cant. How consultation questions are loaded – ‘Do you think it’s important that we build new homes for people in need of housing?’ – when people obviously say Yes to this specific question, the Council then pretends people are saying Yes to infill or RTD plans! How the Council often misrepresents what support there is on estates for development and how this is often wildly at odds with what campaigns can see as a distinct lack of support through their own consultation and petitions. On Lancaster Estate the campaign reported that ‘We have a petition from all but 3 on our estate, overwhelmingly against the project, but in the literature and “Consultation”#2, they’re still claiming we support it”.

Councillor Martin Seaton refuses to accept Kingston Estate’s Petition against infill on their green and allotment space

It was interesting to read a December 2020 Council document called ‘Addition of Roof Top Home development opportunities to the New Homes Programme’ where close to a dozen estates earmarked for Roof Top Homes were reported on. In the document, where the RTD plans are outlined estate by estate, the same paragraph has been cut and pasted to report on supposed support for the plans on every featured estate: ‘There was an increasingly positive response toward the new homes once the nature and extent of improvements, in particular the wider block and estate benefits that would accompany this level of council investment, was explained to residents’.

YIMBY’s know best and go wild on social media!

In the mess of consultation and pressure from the Council on folks, the numerous Southwark campaigns and individuals have also suffered aggressive and locally ignorant attacks from some folks attached to Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) groups. YIMBY originates in the U.S and is best considered as a complicated pro-development movement in a variety of different, contradictory and often controversial flavours. The UK YIMBY ‘movement’ seems mostly to be about a blind faith in both developers and the big construction companies to build their way out of the crisis which they see as a lack of supply of new homes and not, as we and many others would put it, as a lack of new truly affordable homes. One thing YIMBY’s argue is that increasing housing supply brings down prices making lots of new homes affordable. We would argue that how the current housing market works centres scarcity* and high prices because developers won’t just build build and build because that means they begin to lose the high prices they can charge for new homes. When local house prices go up, and as people are forced to rent locally instead of buying, rents go up to as landlords know they can charge high rents in a crowded market.

If increasing housing supply will magically bring down house prices and local private rents why, after years of new developments in The Elephant, The Borough and Bermondsey, are house prices and rents still going up? GLA data for 2020 shows that a one bed flat in SE1 is £250 pounds a month higher than the London median of £1200 (Southwark median £1350). A three bed room flat for rent in SE1 is £850 higher than the London median of £1750 (Southwark median £2150). If tons of new development brings down rents and house prices then how come all of our non-council tenant friends have left Walworth unable to afford skyrocketing rents or house prices? Somehow it seems that far from prices and rents dropping, the drip drip effect of builders deciding how much they will build to sustain profits has the opposite effect. Weird no? It’s almost as if the capitalists know what they are doing?

We don’t have space to detail those tedious UK YIMBY’s we are talking about although it would make for interesting but grim reading. YIMBY people have connections to unaccountable right-wing thinks tanks keen to see planning even further deregulated but also some have connections to the Labour Party and local Labour Councils who have been pushing massive regeneration agenda that have squarely landed us in this mess after years of seeing our areas socially cleansed. Lots of good articles have been written criticising the US YIMBY movement. In the UK, we should be doing the same and countering their arguments if we think the YIMBY movement will grow.

YIMBY style: calling council tenants campaigners ‘social cancer’

Anyhow, what seems to be the main way of the YIMBY cult is to just be plain aggressive towards anyone who takes a different point of view. The premise of YIMBY is that they are the opposite of the NIMBY who says ‘Not In My Back Yard’ to anything new proposed. Historically people have opposed development for lots of reasons, some times from self-interest but not always. We think in the case of YIMBY attacks on local campaigns concerned about infill it’s a useless opposition to uphold. When people on estates defend their collective homes and green spaces and mistrust a Council with historically very little credibility on consultation, it’s not from some mean spirited hatred for change or a lack of sympathy for the lack of truly affordable homes. But we see over and over again YIMBYs guilt tripping tenants as not caring about those desperate for council homes by replying on our social media with photos of families in overcrowded homes or in temporary accommodation. We see the Council constantly replying to campaigns about how long their waiting list and so on. Yet we bet that everyone in the campaign has a son or daughter who needs a council home, or has plenty of experience of poverty, or has been part of local activism to defend council housing etc. YIMBYs blame us when we are the ones historically who have continually fought for council homes in Southwark for the last 30 years. But YIMBYs love to be ahistorical and go on about how we have to solve the current housing crisis NOW and refuse to look back at years of shit decisions from Southwark like estate demolitions, land sales, council home sales etc. that have landed us in this infill mess in the first place. For YIMBYs any opposition or objection to new buildings is just NIMBYism.

Another Yimboid happy to blame tenants for something not of their own making

So, once again for those at the back, no one is more aware of the horrible position Southwark has put tenants in when we have to fight to not lose our green spaces, TRA halls, garages etc. The blame game of the ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ to new council homes is just over simplified. We get the nuance and we get the difficulty of where to put new homes but we must be able to have a decision on what happens on our estates with out being cussed out by YIMBYS describing campaigners as ‘social cancer’. Remember in February when the campaigns caught out Southwark’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Leo Pollak when he was running an anonymous YIMBY Twitter account attacking Priory Court and Elim Ballcourt campaign. This is the kind of duplicity we put up with. Pollak, in this instance, just joins the many loud, aggressive, self-righteous YIMBY shouty men. It’s also worth pointing out that none of the YIMBY aggressors who attack campaigns online live on any Southwark estates or have the long term everyday knowledge and histories we have about our estates and decisions made by Southwark council. Our research shows that, in the main, they are are often employed in the development industry themselves or have a salaried professional life pushing YIMBY ideas. Quite different from locals here who call the council to account in whatever spare time they have. YIMBY really means Yes In Your Back Yard because actually none of the plans they aggressively push affect where they live at all. So one of the problems with YIMBY attacking campaigns in Southwark is it’s not their back yard they are talking about, it’s usually always someone else’s.

Southwark tenants have years of experience of dealing with people talking over them hence their current excellent mobilisation to make their voices heard. Again and it’s good to labour the point, this isn’t a movement against council housing or against new council homes being built. Pretending it’s some NIMBY personal greed thing is disingenuous from those who support any kind of development, the kind of thing that’s made London a massive site of housing as financial assets. We live in council homes and we know how much our lives are improved and, in the main, made somewhat easier by having secure stable and cheap housing. We do not take any of this lightly. But neither will we be blamed for the housing crisis entirely of others making, be that Southwark Council or any of the property developers promising social rented flats and then not building them. Until Southwark actually monitors these scoundrels and makes sure the social rented homes are delivered, stops selling off land and council homes, admits that it’s estate demolition programme has been a disaster and finally begins to listen to tenants, we won’t be taking any lessons from them.

Our final thought is that we also hope the newly formed Yes To Fair Redevelopment can grow and be the locally-based estate movement that we’ve always needed against continued gentrification of our neighbourhoods.

———————————-

Footnote:

* This is good: Housing supply, investment demand and money creation: A comment on the drivers of London’s housing crisis by N Gallent, D Durrant and N May (2017)

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!!


 

WHERE’S DELANCEY? PROPERTY DEVELOPER DELANCEY AFRAID OF THE ELEPHANT

 

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Occasionally The Elephant and Castle community is visited by those who have the power to destroy it. In this case, the main culprit is the tax-avoiding offshore-registered company Delancey. We remember the hilarious moment a couple of years ago when one of the Delancey minions was presenting planning updates to the local community at one of those Southwark Council-run neighbourhood meetings where the said minion was asked about the fate of Pricebusters. The minion said he didn’t know what Pricebusters was. Well, seeing as Pricebusters is one of the biggest stores in The Elephant Shopping Centre, you could probably start to form some suspicions that the plans to ‘regenerate’ The Elephant weren’t so much aimed at local people and their shops but maybe, only every so slightly, they might actually be aimed at a different clientele! Hmmm? What do you think?

A lo and behold there came that time again this Thursday March 12th at Southwark’s ‘Empowering Communities North West Area Forum’ at Amigo Hall in Lambeth Rd where locals were promised that the meeting will ‘include an update from Delancey on the redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre‘. Now as you may know the excellent community campaign Up The Elephant has been working tirelessly for a few years resisting the social cleansing plans for The Elephant. In that time, the campaign has also secured many improvements to the original proposals submitted by Delancey to Southwark Council in Oct 2016:

  • An increase of social rented housing from 33 units of social rented equivalent, owned and managed by the developer, to 116 proper social rented units, owned and managed by Council or housing association.
  • Provision of affordable retail space for displaced traders in the Shopping Centre
  • Helped to establish a Traders’ Panel for Shopping Centre businesses to put their views and needs across.
  • Secured a temporary traders’ premises on Castle Square.
  • Trader relocation fund of £634,700 and pressured the Council to add a further £200,000 into the pot.
  • Argued for 15-year affordable retail leases (rents to be held at 75% market for Years 6-15)
  • A change to the s106 legal agreement, to better ensure any future increase in social rented housing.

 

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None of this comes without a fight though and Up The Elephant and supporters have been holding both the Council and Delancey to account through protests, public meetings, stalls outside the Shopping Centre, benefit film nights and so on. But it’s crunch time at The Elephant as Delancey has announced a closure date of the Centre for 31st July 2020, a matter of only a few months away. Both Latin Elephant and Up The Elephant have been doing an amazing job mapping which traders are there, how many are being offered any relocation and working with traders to fight their corner for decent compensation and/ or relocation. As we write we know that many traders are simply not being helped by Delancey, shops and stalls are closing down and the increasing uncertainty of whether many of these hand-to-mouth businesses can survive until July. Particularly affected are the traders who run market stalls outside the Shopping Centre. Viewed by Delancey as the least desirable in the shiny new development, they are currently getting the worst of it. You can read a good breakdown of the state of things here.

 

• PROPERTY DEVELOPERS – WORSE THAN ESTATE AGENTS

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

From ‘Glasgow’s Not For Sale’ by Brendan McLaughin (in ‘The Reckoning’ by Workers City, 1990)

For us at Southwark Notes, somewhat long in the tooth but fighting fit most days, we remember the time when working class communities such as ours, viewed the property developer, like the landlord, as a class enemy. What was known was that deep down, despite any promises, the property developer just wasn’t on our side. What ever they brought to the community wouldn’t be any good. What they wanted was to profit and profit big and we were simply in the way. We knew that and communities worked from that intuition.

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As times went by, the story changed. In Southwark, the controlling Labour council is mostly made up of those who still believe in some working class aspirational nonsense they got from Tony Blair’s New Labour project. They also believe in the Blairite project of ‘regeneration’ that seeks to ‘rebalance’ communities by moving many more middle class people into them. To make this happen, Southwark has been demolishing whole estates or estate blocks to allow private developers to then build 1000s of luxury or overpriced flats as well as the mythical ‘affordable’ housing as a small percentage of the overall new houses being constructed. Although this might have a basis in some wacky New Labour urban policies of yore, for developers it’s a green light to come to our communities, displace them, demolish their organic fabric and make loads of profits for themselves and their investors.

The quote above from the excellent Workers City book out of Glasgow speaks directly to our experience of Southwark Council’s extended love-in with developers over the last 10 years. Peter John, the leader of The Council, standing down after a ten year reign this month, sadly won’t be able to have one last junket in Cannes at the annual property development jamboree MIPIM as it has been postponed due to the Corona virus. Shame as that trip was sponsored by:

  • 2020 Capital, developers of two sites in the Old Kent Rd area
    Avanton, owners of several Old Kent Rd sites including the Ruby Triangle and gasworks
    Berkeley, who have plans for a site on Malt Street
    British Land, the council’s Canada Water development partner
    Get Living, the build-to-rent brand which is a partnership between Qatari Diar and clients of Delancey, active at the Elephant & Castle
    Grosvenor, who have just received approval for their Biscuit Factory scheme in SE16
    Hollybrook – Southwark-based developers with several sites in the borough
    Joseph Homes – developers of a tall building in Sylvan Grove off Old Kent Rd.
    London Square – developers of the old Crosse & Blackwell factory in Bermondsey
    Safestore – self-storage firm with an Old Kent Road site
    Shaw Corporation – developers of HSS Hire and BP petrol station on Old Kent Road
    Urban & Provincial – developers of Carpetright site

You see where Workers City and we are going with this!

 

• “HOW ABOUT ‘FUCK DELANCEY’ AS THE SLOGAN?!”

When the Delancey date with the local community was announced a few weeks ago, Up The Elephant decided to in some ways escalate their campaign by hosting an ‘Unwelcoming Delancey’ protest outside the Empowering Communities event and to tell Delancey plainly to their face that we will fight to win this campaign. But fighting to win needs fighting words and so the event was underscored with the idea that the brilliant community of The Elephant will no longer stand deferent to the higher-ups, the powers that be, the developers and the Council and any or all of those who are complicit in the destruction of our neighbourhood. Although the demo would not interfere with those attending who wanted to hear updates from the Council, we would face Delancey down with a less than happy smiley face. The modern political terrain seems to be one where politeness is demanded at all times from we underlings lest those in power don’t get their way. Of course the actual slow violence of destroying our communities can then never be up for any angry questioning. As working class people who have been schooled from day one in deference to our betters, it didn’t take us long to throw that in the bin after many humiliating experiences at the hands of those above us.

Unwelcome Delancey March 12 2020 editUnwelcome Delancey Kick

And so we mobilised as best we could, we spread the word, we went online and did that social media thing, we spoke at events and joined a few UCU strike picket lines to make the connections between the financialisation of the university system and the financialisation of housing. We made the connections with those struggling on low pay and high rents to the plain facts that the social cleansing of London mirrors this austere landscape for most working class people and increasingly for many people traditionally seen as middle class. Sometimes we felt a bit like those old American Wobbly organisers going from struggle to struggle to offer support and make links in solidarity. But nothing wrong with that fine itinerant tradition!

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We went to join the UCU strike picket lines at London College of Communication (LCC) in The Elephant and Central St Martins in Kings Cross, both part of University of The Arts London (UAL). UAL are a development partner with Delancey and we heard about the appalling two-tier employment structure where majority Black and Brown cleaning, security and other maintenance staff are outsourced to aggressive race-to-the-bottom global services companies. We heard about excessive workloads for staff, low pay and the fact that a staggering 2500 UAL staff are on insecure ‘Associate Lecturer’ contracts.

Joining the picket at Goldsmiths we heard about the privatisation of student housing where similar private student housing providers take over formerly University run students housing increasing rents and lowering conditions. We briefly popped into the student occupation at LCC too to offer some support just as the management decided to more or less lock them into the room they were occupying. That didn’t surprise us as LCC management has always both been very aggressive to any support for Up The Elephant by staff or students at the same time as it ignores any attempt to seek accountability from them in relation the Elephant community they pretend they are a proud part of.

 

• WHERE’S DELANCEY WHEN YOU DON’T NEED THEM!?

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Anyhow what happened on the night of the big showdown? Simply this. We got together a good solid crew of locals and supporters, we put our banners out, we leafleted the folks going into the meeting and we waited. Well we didn’t wait so long as a little bird had told us that Delancey had cancelled coming to the meeting. Chickenshits or what? In the end they merely sent along a series of slides and asked the Council to present them to the meeting as the Shopping Centre update! We are hearing that this didn’t exactly go down well at a Council-run meeting designed to empower communities. Even the Council wasn’t that impressed. But hey, what’s the expression? – ‘Lay down with dogs and…’

(We apologise to all dogs! And chickens!)

To add an insult to an injury, Delancey then had the cheek to say that they were concerned about the Corona Virus and hence decided not to come in person! You really couldn’t make this shit up. This is their level of outright contempt. Our feeling is that they simply didn’t feel up to meeting hostile community critics and decided to remain at home at their offshore-registered British Virgin Islands tax haven for the night. For we mere local mortals who are seeing our neighbourhood mangled and destroyed, we don’t have the luxury or privilege to stay at home!

 

• A FEW WORDS ON THE FUTURE

It’s very desperate times. Government plans for housing and urban questions will see more and more of our communities under threat of social cleansing. Our material conditions will be further eroded. We will either turn again to each other or we will turn on each other. We have to think more about what actually organising our communities across intersecting struggles looks like. Sure we can mobilise protests and things but can we actually organise politically and in unity to resist attacks but also to improve our lives and conditions? By organising we mean calling on the deep roots we have with many people and groups where we live. We mean doing basic work of creating infrastructures of survival where we live. We can see some of these initiatives happening now with places like South Norwood Community Kitchen or Cooperation Town network. We can see this at places like food banks where with just a little more support and organising we can turn this into places of community sharing and gathering into food kitchens, advice centres and places to organise from, going beyond the helping hand of charity and running our own spaces of care and support and solidarity for all. We are a very long way from winning but everyday we win a little bit more if keep hope in each other and build confidence.

golsmiths up elephant-

When we changed the language of the Up The Elephant campaign to be a bit more angry and hopefully more of a piss-taking non-deferential mode, we did that to try and build up our energies and the energies of all anti-social cleansing campaigns and organising in London. There have been dozen of meetings and encounters in the last few years between these campaigns. These have been slow, slow work of meeting each other and swapping tactics and practical resources but they are always refreshing. Let’s step up to that work a bit more this year and centralise ourselves in our own community struggles as the people who actually know what we want and know what we need to do to get it. Fuck Delancey! Stay feisty everyone!

 


* Up The Elephant Campaign Traders demands:

  1. Commit Delancey to an increase of the relocation fund.
  2. Provide transparency and parity between the rent and service charge costs of the relocation options to bring them into line with each other.
  3. Amend the definition of “local independent operator” in the Section 106 agreement so it clearly includes the tenants subletting in Arch 7 and those in the Shopping Centre red line.
  4. Ensure fair treatment of the market traders and a commitment that all traders still within the red line will get a benefit of rent reductions until the Shopping Centre closes.
  5. Ensure that the independent business adviser, Tree Shepherd, applies the agreed criteria for the allocation of relocation spaces in a fair and transparent way.
  6. Ensure that the database of opportunities reflects what was agreed on the approval of planning permission.
  7. Prevent closure of the Shopping Centre until the traders have been relocated or have accessed a suitable level of compensation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHICKENS NOT VULTURES

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

PETER JOHN strata.gif

The Curious Case of The Heygate Estate, Hej Coffee And A Hey Presto!

As ‘people who sit in the dark typing things by themselves’, we are happy to shine a light on the real and marvelous history of The Curious Case of Hej Coffee and The Heygate Photo.

At the start of August we received our usual public relations updates from multinational property developer, profiteer and demolisher of the Heygate Estate, Lend Lease, with exciting ongoing news about their new development Elephant Park. This time there was an Elephant Park video promoting the new Hej Coffee shop on Rodney Rd. Hej Coffee is part of the new blocks where the old Wingrave blocks of Heygate Estate had been. Ok, but that’s how it works? – Lend Lease promote a new café to advertise their new development and the café promo talks about the new development to promote Lend Lease and their cafe. They are joined at the hip. Ok, that’s not sinister. It’s just business doing its thing. Marketing, selling, profiting or hoping to profit. However…

 

WHITEWASHING?

The video is fronted by Joanna, a black barista working at Hej Coffee (pronounced Hey! as in Hey-gate!). At the time we commented that although we had ‘massive respect to Joanna as a local worker’, it was ‘utterly tragic the actual disconnect between the words and the pictures in the promo video and the actual reality of the social cleansing of The Elephant’. By disconnect we meant that the script of the video talks about the customers being ‘diverse’, ‘variety’, ‘all sorts of people’, ‘everyone’s different’ but actually everyone in the video wasn’t different or diverse but were all white 20-somethings. So it’s a typical whitewashing of a local London area that is a massively mixed and great community. In Heygate’s hey day it even had about 3000 working class people living around where the Hej Cafe stands.

Cafe Manor Place Holal

This isn’t the first time this goes on locally and probably won’t be the last. In fact, this week Notting Hill Housing who are developing the Manor Place depot site put up hoardings with very much more of the same – a barren but stylishly chic café with only white people in it and yet bearing the text ‘Hola!’ and three spicy chillis! You could argue that these regeneration images are just identikit nonsense, badly thought through or you could argue that’s it’s deliberate. We edge towards the latter.

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(Customers from the Hej Coffee promo video)

 

Of course, it’s not our argument that we want a more inclusive gentrification! Gentrification will only ever be exclusive along class and race lines – that’s how it works. Black people rarely get ‘included’ in these ‘indicative CGI’ pictures of forthcoming developments because images of smug white coffee slurpers are used to sell the new-builds to exactly those smug white coffee slurpers. Creating a terrain of whiteness means that these hoardings are like all those other unsubtle codes that racialise everyday life – white people indicate safety, white people indicate networking and getting on, upward mobility, white people indicate taste and style, beauty and desirability. To be honest, it’s sickening. So, this was our first criticism directed at Hej Coffee.

 

Hej Orignal Photo

ARTWASHING?

A few days later we heard that Hej Coffee had put on its wall a large artistic photo of the Heygate Estate as part of the décor. It’s a pretty photo, carefully taken in 2010, a symmetrical presentation of an empty estate. Hej Coffee was very proud of the photo and Tweeted out its installation in the café by the picture’s taker Simon Kennedy, an architectural photographer and lecturer at University College of London’s Bartlett school.

As people who were heavily involved in the last years of the struggles against the demolition of Heygate we wondered what it meant for a new café, an intimate part of the gentrification of the area, to want to display a photo of the Heygate albeit one especially chosen for its abstracted sense of the estate blocks. So we dropped some lines to Hej Coffee about this saying things like ‘don’t think many customers understand the long messy and scandalous history of the demolition of the Heygate. It’s certainly not a good look for the Hej cafe. Bit insensitive given that the Heygate scandal has not gone away for many local people’ and posting up photos we took in 2011 of the old Wingrave blocks.

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(Photos – From Heygate Estate to Hej Coffee 2008 – 2018)

 

Hej Coffee replies were never on the subject of the criticism and only about coming in for a coffee to chat about it. In fact the more we and then other people commented the more they made invites (with cute emojis) – ‘We need more people to come in to drink more coffee and know more things…not to be sitting in the dark typing things by themselves’. Nice one!

Hej Heygate Text on PhotoHej Text Heygate

Eventually they made a move and placed next to the Heygate photo two texts to try and give the photo some context and some rationale. These were a bit rich really and seemed to us as manly guff and wishful thinking – ‘Reverence for history is paramount at Hej, consequently we are open and honest about Heygate’s past. With your co-operation we would like to facilitate discussion and debate to benefit our community’. They also posted out a link to an article ‘Heygate Abstracted’ about Simon Kennedy’s Heygate photos where various ideas are mooted about what Kennedy’s images mean in relation to social housing and the scandal of the demolition – ‘Kennedy’s photographs emphasise the consequences of the painfully protracted if not perpetual contemporary ‘regeneration’ process which has left homes and shops conspicuously vacant for years on end’. Hej Coffee wrote ‘This should help everyone understand the context of the art we proudly display at our roastery’. (Here, we could be pedantic and ask: is the scandal really that those homes and shops were vacant for a long time, or is it rather that the diverse community that lived and worked there for 35 years were forced to vacate them, for no other reason than desire to sell-off the land and encourage privatised profit and a whiter, richer image for the area?)

HEJ FLYER

Anyhow, then it all becomes a bit confusing. Either Hej Coffee or someone else made a leaflet for a discussion night at Hej Coffee on Friday 7th September about Hej and the Heygate. This then caused another round of online back and forth. Hej Coffee said they hadn’t made the flyer but were happy for a discussion to go ahead.

 

AND THEN AS IF BY MAGIC – HEY PRESTO!

For us lot, although Simon Kennedy’s picture shows an empty estate and might therefore represent some kind of symbolic commentary on the political processes around the ‘regeneration’ and demolition of the Heygate buildings and community, we thought that there’s something less than sincere in the representation and in its display in a café that is only situated where it is because of that social cleansing process. Despite its neat portrayal of vacancy, at the time the photo was taken in 2010 there were still many households living on the estate and there was a huge range of people doing stuff in the estate’s public spaces to highlight it. We were there too being a part of the allotments, the film screenings, the public exhibitions on the scandal of the decant, the chicken keeping, hosting visits for school kids and students, leading anti-gentrification walks and supporting all the remaining residents in their struggle for decent rehousing or fair compensation.

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(Activities on Heygate Estate right up to the final eviction of the last resident, 2013)

 

So when Hej wants to contextualise their use of the image as a respectful memory we would question whether such an image devoid of the actual real tenants and residents functions in any such way but more appears as a done and dusted and historical artefact removed from any actual painful and still very real context. One Tweeter described Heygate as ‘still an open wound’ which is something we agree with and continue to do the work we do on this basis. We replied to Hej Coffee – ‘your Heygate photograph describes ‘a process that disassociates these buildings from their contentious histories, and any sense of domestic life’ yet when he took those photos residents were still living there and all sorts of public life was still going on for 3 more years. The community never gave up on the public and social side of the estate until the final eviction and enclosure. In fact that enclosure was resisted til the end. The Heygate photo you proudly display is both an abstraction and aestheticised erasure of that long community struggle. It would make more sense if you were genuinely concerned to remember the social housing of the Heygate by framing these displacement maps of where residents went. Displaced so Lend Lease could demolish their homes, build Elephant Park & you could rent a space for your coffee shop’. We also posted a photographs of their site that show the actual material history of what demolition and displacement looks like and how it’s experienced by many locals. Other critics were also piping up. Our friends at Vile Arrogance wrote ‘When posh coffee shops come to your neighbourhood and wanna debate ‘context’ about poor decisions of displaying an arty photo of the council estate they were built on top of…

Hej Heygate Gone

Any road up, were were umming and arrrghing about whether to go the event or not. We do not relish liberal dialogues in gentrified spaces where any anger or pointed criticism gets washed out by scene and setting. But on the day of the event, Hej Coffee took down the Heygate photo and wrote ‘whilst we never intended any offence or insensitivity by displaying art, we have listened to your comments and have taken the photo down’. It wasn’t any old ‘art’ that was seen as offensive and serving the politics of gentrification, but Hej Coffee could not at this point seem to bear to name it. Whatever! The Heygate photo was gone, decanted to some other unmapped place.

 

FINAL HEAVY HEAVY CONTEXT OF OUR OWN

By way of a small finale, we want to add some things in about gentrification, community and coffee shops. It would be a kind of foolishness to equate expensive coffee shops with some kind of enemy. Hej Coffee, like others appearing in the neighbourhood, are the product of gentrification and not the cause. Although we don’t particularly like the kind of expense, vibe and disposition of such places, it would be stupid to centre our entire political life on opposing them. Campaigns against ‘yuppies’ in the 80’s and against ‘hipsters’ now rarely have any potential for actual community organising and they seemingly don’t have much longevity! In the same weeks that this mini-soap opera was playing out with us, Hej Coffee and others, we were more usefully spending our time being part of the local campaigns against the demolition of the Shopping Centre and of the Aylesbury estate, because opposing these is opposing the much larger forces at play – that’s national and local government-supported gentrification dressed up as ‘regeneration’.

 

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(Latin@s from Boyle Heights protesting the Weird Wave Coffee Shop, 2017)

 

Having said this, there are many communities in the world who are militantly against the arrival of gentrifying businesses as they are part of the signal that it’s okay for developers and speculators to colonise ever greater chunks of our cities for their bloody-minded profit-seeking schemes, while low-income residents get stomped over or cast aside. In Boyle Heights in L.A, a Latin@ neighbourhood with a decades long struggle for public housing and against the social and ethnic cleansing of their area, parts of that community are targeting new business such as cafes or art galleries that are a sign of the violent gentrification of their area. Those struggles are enacted by a community that recognises itself as such – as poor and as Latin@ – and who are fighting from the basis of that self-identification.

We would say that in London the debate and action around these questions has not been so clear. Of course, it’s London and not L.A and each anti-gentrification struggle is different but it would be good to see some discussion here about how to think and link different parts of the ‘regeneration’ process – global development and real estate, investment and construction, demolition and displacement with the ‘uplifting’ of areas, luxury flats and more expensive shops, lifestyle values and displays. But let’s not mistake one for the other. White coffee slurpers have little power over any of this, the same as the rest of us. We need to be clear also that many (but not all) people living in gentrifying areas are likely to be as precarious in their housing situation (low wages and expensive rents), even in new developments like Elephant Park. Then of course, there are the rich folks buying into the area and so what role do they play? So far, locally, they do not really organise as a lobby to boost more ‘regeneration’ although London is seeing a rise of Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) groups who are dubious in their support for more and more new gentrifying developments.

Elephant Crowd 2108

In The Elephant, the community campaigns have not been making clear demands to new more upscale businesses partly because this probably reflects it being an unresolved issue within London’s wider anti-gentrification campaigns. Partly, locally, this is out of sheer tiredness with keeping up with everything going on in the area. Maybe it’s because the carrot of a Labour government dulls a bit the fact that we actually want a whole lot more than just percentage peanuts of social rented homes? Partly again there is still over politeness to politicians, be they councilors or The Mayor. There have been attempts to make a Neighbourhood Plan of our area and that would enable us to make decisions about what kind of things we want to keep and what kind of things we want to see invested in around The Elephant. All good stuff but its slow work! One thing for sure though is that without thinking through and being clear on the above and if we aren’t clear about how to take on gentrifying businesses head on in line with our vision for the area, we will wake up in a whitewashed bland-o-rama!

 


LOLZ…

Hej Blocked

more LOLZ…on the old Heygate site…and that is why we keep going on about it!!

Heygate House Price Aug 2018

IT’S NOT TOO LATE – The Aylesbury continues to resist. Support the Resisters!

Lots has been happening behind the scenes on the Aylesbury Estate since last time we wrote about it. The Aylesbury Leaseholder Action Group and their supporters have been working tirelessly preparing the objectors’ case to present at the second Public Inquiry on the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) of a number of flats on the First Development Site (a section of the Aylesbury Estate), which will open next week, on Tuesday 9th January. 

As you might remember, in a landmark ruling the Secretary of State Sajid Javid had not confirmed the Compulsory Purchase Order for the First Development Site after the first public inquiry held in 2015. He wrote that a compelling case for the CPO had not been made by Southwark Council, on the grounds that the compulsory purchase would negatively impact protected groups such as the elderly, children and BME communities, and that the Council had failed on their Public Sector Equality Duty; and on the grounds that Southwark Council had not made enough efforts to negotiate with the leaseholders. Southwark Council contested the decision through, and after some to-ing and fro-ing within and outside the courts, it agreed to drop its judicial review if the Secretary of State held another inquiry, and so it was that a new public inquiry was ordered. It promises to be epic: starting on 9 January, it will run from Tuesday to Friday for three weeks.

As we said, a group of dedicated and determined objectors have been working day and night to put together a killer case against the order. A crowdfunding campaign was launched to pay for legal representation and this has allowed to pay for the help of a barrister to put the case together. It is not too late to contribute, and more funds are still needed: https://www.gofundme. com/aylesbury-the-right-to-a- community-2uefgf2s

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The whole collection of documents put together by the objectors has been made available publicly here (http://ouraylesbury.org/cpo/) . It’s a lot of documents, and many of them are very technical: the Objector’s Statement is a long summary (http://ouraylesbury.org/cpo/ objectorsstatementofcaseNOV201 7.pdf) and David Bailey’s statement is a powerful testimony from a leaseholder and his family that sums up all the issues that the leaseholders are facing (http://ouraylesbury.org/cpo/ dbailey.pdf). The bundle also contains statements from academics and professional people, including that of a surveyor who has developed a refurbishment plan for the site: (http://ouraylesbury.org/cpo/ simonmorrowproof.pdf).

AYLESBURY CPO FIRST pic

The public inquiry is open to the public and anyone can attend. Come along to show your support to the leaseholders – the proceedings can be dry, but the impact of a full public gallery on the inspector will be much greater than rows of empty seats. Let’s show them we are watching them closely!

From Tuesday 9 – 26 January (but not on Mondays), 9:30 – 17:30, Southwark Council Offices in 160 Tooley Street, London Bridge SE1.

WHAT A JOKE! 979 NEW HOMES – 33 AFFORDABLE!! THIS IS SOCIAL CLEANSING!!

January Tuesday 16th 2018
SOUTHWARK COUNCIL 160 TOOLEY ST, LONDON SE1 2HZ

PROTEST FROM 4.30PM / MEETING STARTS 6PM going til late

• Object online here: Up The Elephant
• Sign petition here: Elephant Is A Castle

The demolition of The Elephant & Castle story concerns everyone in London who doesn’t want London to be crap.

Do you want the relentless weeding out of the small ways of getting by and the removal of those communal spaces and ties that make up all of our areas? In fact, is anyone actually seriously asking you what you want as your friends, your neighbours, shops, estates, open spaces disappear overnight, priced out or close down? In London right now it’s like new build flats go up as if by magic? But it’s certainly not magic.

The demolition of the Heygate Estate (1000 council homes lost) wasn’t the first in the disaster of regenerations that are being pushed onto us but it was certainly a mega-blueprint for continued social cleansing at the hands of Councils, developers, housing associations etc. And so today, there are certain frontlines of regeneration these days and these battles simply can’t be lost less we want to lose the great and messy communities that has so far made London a pretty decent place to live (despite it all!) The frontlines are places like Aylesbury Estate, Cressingham Gardens, Wards Corner, Haringey HDV. It’s crucial we win these fights and it feels like we can win them.

SHOPPING CENTRE DEMO Jan 2018

We call upon anyone who doesn’t want London to become ever more bland and boring to see them selves as one vital part of the struggle to say ‘No!’ to these changes, here and now. The fight against regeneration, gentrification and displacement of locals and local businesses doesn’t need to only be a local fight done only by those immediately under threat. Increasingly the successful regeneration of one area just means that any adjacent area will be next in line for social cleansing treatment. Come and support us in The Elephant as we support you in Brixton, Dalston or Tottenham or wherever. We can all be here there and everywhere offering support and solidarity whether we are affected directly or not.

PRIVATE HOMES MAXED OUT – THEY’RE HAVING A LAUGH!

A year ago when we wrote our long read ‘The Murder of The Elephant’, the plans to demolish the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre were bad. We were also cynical enough to expect them to get worse. Guess what? They did. Much worse! We won’t just repeat what we wrote back then but do read it as it sets out the whole sorry background to the current Masterplan of big time social cleansing of The Elephant. We will just update you here on the ever-shady deal between the Council and tax-avoiding offshore developers Delancey.

The number of new homes planned keeps getting higher and higher as the developer’s eyes water at the money to made at The Elephant. In 2013 the Council were refusing St Modwen’s proposed 500 homes on the Shopping Centre site as too many. Yet they are all set to now recommend Delancey’s scheme of nearly double that.

Of a planned 979 private homes, only 33 will be social rent affordable to the majority of people who live in the neighbourhood. That’s a staggering 3.3% of the total homes Delancey wants to build. Of the rest 96 flats will be ‘London Living Rent’ estimated at £250 a week for a two bedroom place). Then there is the 213 ‘Intermediate Rent’ flats for households earning between £50k to £90k. Finally the bulk of the development will be 637 Market rent flats – who knows how much these rents will be? We also have to add that all these homes are rental flats (i.e none for sale) where Delancey remains the landlord. The initial tenancy is only 3 years then you have to renew or move on. How does this add cohesion and stability to the area?

This is pure and simple Heygate Mk Two! It’s a land grab worse than the Wild West. It’s sad to think that University of The Arts London / London College of Communication‘s partnership with Delancey makes them a cynical part of this shameful social cleansing of the area they have long been part of.

The closure of homeless hostels through regeneration and the massive increase in street homeless people at Elephant is ongoing. We don’t like the term ‘housing crisis’ much as this seems to suggest that there is something wrong that the system can correct rather than the actuality that the crisis of finding some cheap and decent to live is exactly how the system maintain profits before people. 33 genuinely affordable flats out of 979. This is just taking the piss. Gotta say NO!

Elephant Stinks

TRADERS CHUCKED OUT – THEY’RE HAVING A LAUGH!

On the topic of the treatment of the numerous local traders at the Shopping Centre, there are still only poor intentions about making sure there are robust and genuine offers of relocation in the area. Delancey seeks to throw money at this problem by offering a pissy £250,000 ‘towards a relocation fund’ but it’s not clear how many of the 70 or so businesses there will get this help. It doesn’t add up to much really. They are also seeking to get out of policy compliance by offering £750,000 to relocate them into a proposed bunker-like mall in the disused garages at Perronet House or at disused railway arches in Arch St. Unsurprisingly, knowing their businesses and their customers very well, none of the traders think these are great ideas. Out of sight, out of mind no doubt! The Council has no idea how stressful and precarious any small business relocation is. They have been listening sort of to traders for years but listening and acting on what they hear isn’t their strong point. The traders are part of the essential fabric of The Elephant. Relocation plans have to be realistic and well financed and part of any new development, not shoved off-site into existing Council-owned places. The first promises to traders were for new ‘affordable retail units’ in Delancey’s development on Elephant Rd? What happened to this promised 7 units? Like the planned new market for current market stalls at the Shopping Centre, they seem now to have disappeared from the plans.

BINGO ELE
ECONOMIC GROWTH = SOCIAL LOSSES

As we wrote last year, ‘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…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’.

So-called ‘regeneration’ based on property development might economically increase a bit of council tax into the Council coffers but socially they actually increase poverty, isolation, ill health, anxiety and so on. For the hundreds of the elderly community who visit Palace Bingo 2 or 3 times a week, how will it feel to no longer be able to do this? For those who visit the Centre to catch up with friends in Jenny’s or Sundial, get their haircut in Lucy’s or sit in Café Nova and chat, where will they go when the area is filled with a more expensive and socially bland Costa or Café Nero? None of these informal lifelines or survival networks will survive in a landscape of luxury towers with chain shops and eateries at the bottom. Regeneration is just the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The Council pretends 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. They want to permit the murdering of an amazing community so that an offshore non-taxing paying investment vehicle can make more money for those with already loads of money.

elephant-crushed-delancey

ON GROVELLING

To be honest, after years of fighting for the basic Southwark Council’s policy-compliant 35% ‘affordable’ homes in big developments, we’ve reached a point where this scheme is so blatantly about screwing over the area that we are sick of grovelling for percentage peanuts. We oppose the Elephant & Castle ‘regeneration’ because we remain impolitely bloody-minded about the area where we live. These days what even is a victory for any local community – a minimum of affordable homes, some re-jigged open space? We are not against those things, but we know the violence of regeneration casts a shadow over those crumbs from the High Table of property development.

We reiterate what we said last year, only this time this crappy regeneration plan makes us even more determined to say NO!

‘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!’

See you at The Town Hall!

TUESDAY 16th JANUARY 2018
SOUTHWARK COUNCIL H.Q
160 TOOLEY ST, LONDON SE1 2HZ


 

 

 

 

THIS WAS THE OLD LEAFLET FOR THE CANCELLED DEMO FROM LAST YEAR:

Leaflet PDF for printing and circulating about the plans and the demo here:
SHOPPING CENTRE DEMO LEAFLET DEC 18TH

SHOPPING CENTRE DEMO LEAFLET DEC 18TH

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

ledbury lux flats visit.jpg

ledbury west grove

Keys Now for Aylesbury Residents Trapped Behind Regeneration Fences

Hopefully you know by now that the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth is being ‘regenerated’ by Southwark Council. It’s a very big deal because the Aylesbury’s 2700 flats are currently home to an estimated 7500 residents. The plan is to demolish the existing estate and, in partnership with mega-Housing Association Notting Hill Housing (NHH), to build nearly 4000 new homes. In reality (just like Heygate Estateregeneration’ before) the regeneration and demolition of the Estate will result in thousands being displaced not only from their current homes but also from the local area all altogether.

creation trust displacement map 2017

Nearly 400 households were decanted in Phase 2 and only 34% of them were able to find existing council homes in the local area. Aylesbury Estate council tenants have limited rights to return to the area and none will be returning as council tenants to any of the new homes being built. Council stats show that decanted tenants are moving to existing council homes right across the Borough. Some of those people might choose to return to the area to the NHH new homes but under what conditions – higher rents, less secure tenancies? We don’t see that this is a particular beneficial option for 100% of those decanted in the name of ‘regenerating‘ their estate.

A percentage of ‘affordable homes‘ will be built on site, 50% closer to cheap council rents and 50% shared ownership homes. We don’t need to rehearse the arguments about the latter being entirely un-affordable to local people. Whether the social housing units provided by Notting Hill Housing will be close to existing council rents or more likely be the NHH-preferred ‘affordable rent’, well, we aren’t holding our breath. ‘Affordable rent’ means such rents being charged up to 80% of local private rents which, of course as the local area gentrifies faster and faster, means such ‘affordable rents’ are rocketing year by year.

 

FENCED IN – ‘TO MAKE US SAFE OR TO MAKE US INTIMIDATED’?

Unlike the Heygate, the demolition of the Aylesbury has been taking place in phases. L&Q Housing Association in partnership with the Council had already demolished the Wolverton blocks at East St and ‘regenerated’ them – 147 new homes, 49 of them affordable rent at 50% of local private rents. The next phases though are all Notting Hill Housing with the First Development Site (FDS) comprising of four Aylesbury blocks, two high towers and two low rise ones. The Council’s own timeline indicated that demolition would take place in summer 2015 with the first new homes available in autumn 2017. Things have however gone very differently. The Council failed to gain possession of all the flats in the area of the FDS. Leaseholders who own their homes on Aylesbury have been facing a nightmare. Faced with the Compulsory Purchase of their homes, the compensation they have been offered by the Council does not enable them to buy anything equivalent locally. And so our tale begins.

bev and agnes Aylesbury-Estate-2-1

One Aylesbury Estate resident has lived in her home for 27 years and loves it. She is maintaining an amazingly strong and dignified fight to receive adequate compensation to stay local to the area she also loves. But of course it’s not easy to stand firm and the fight comes with tons of stress and aggravation.

In November 2014, Leaseholders in the FDS had a meeting with the Council to discuss security issues around the emptied out blocks and how they might deal with safety and anti-social issues. In January 2015 housing campaigners occupied the empty Chartridge low-rise and maintained a successful protest against the social cleansing of this regeneration programme for a couple of months. This was the Council’s worse nightmare as it brought a ton of publicity to the many arguments for refurbishing and saving the Aylesbury.

It was during this occupation and definitely in response to it, that the Council suddenly began fencing in the blocks in the First Development Site. Southwark claimed that the fencing in was needed for the ‘safety of residents’ because of the protests. The resident told us in February 2015 as we looked down from her flat: ‘As you can see downstairs, they are boarding us up. They are boarding up the circumference of the building. I don’t know whether that is to make us safe or to make us feel intimidated. Because this really shouldn’t be taking place until after they have sought possession”.

ayles fence cost1

By March 2015, the fencing in of the site was completed at a cost of £140,000. On March 11th the Council wrote to remaining residents now living behind the fence telling them that in two days time:

‘Access to these blocks will be via the pedestrian and vehicular gate in Westmoreland Rd. The entrance is for use by all residents, visitors, deliveries etc and once operational your only means of entrance to your home will be via these gates. This entrance will have 24 hour security personnel presence in position to ensure that your access to the estate is not impeded’.

ayles-residents-fences-lettersml

And so began the life behind the fence where leaving your house forces you to walk a whole lot further each time to access the one gate and where you don’t know how long it will take to get back in again.

 

ENOUGH MISERY! FENCES MUST GO!

It was with local support and outrage at what people were called the ‘Alcatraz fence’ and the ‘Berlin Wall’ that the new fence became its own infamous image of what everyday violence regeneration happily dumps on people’s heads. It seems so entirely symbolic in the sense of the Council’s urgent desire to get residents off the estate that they could leave through the gates using the door handle but couldn’t get back in without having to ask! You can go and please don’t come back!

 

ayles occ pcard

The fence became a perfect site for slogans and posters in both chalk and paint against the regeneration of the Aylesbury. There was even a protest on 2nd April where 300 people marched around the fence and parts of the crowd pulled down three large sections of the fence in anger. But, as we wrote at the time, as good as that direct action was, the struggle against social cleansing continues every day in small and minute moments of organising against it. The day after the fence was pulled it was rebuilt and remains almost two and a bit years later both the impediment to normal life that it is for residents and the material reality of how awfully the Council can treat people in the name of the local benefits for all from regeneration.

The Aylesbury resident later reflected on this with us once more:
‘A few weeks later we were still walking throughout the estate with just the fencing up, they hadn’t put any gates in. Then, all of a sudden, one day I saw them putting gates in. Maybe about three weeks after they started to put the fencing up they started putting these gates still thought well, they are putting gates in clearly they are going to be giving us keys to access to come and go cause we live here, this is our home. And then all of a sudden we was told we couldn’t access the building at certain points and after 27 years of coming in the estate whenever I wanted to at whichever point I wanted to, if I came in on Albany road, her, obviously that’s the nearest bus stop to me, with shopping and stuff which makes it easier, more accessible’.

They have many tales of not being able to get into the Estate, waiting for security guards, being stuck outside late at night etc. This has been an entirely unnecessary regime imposed upon the residents. Postal services have been a constant battle to maintain delivery of vital letters as well as general disrepair in the blocks. In March 2016, the main lights in the blocks were broken for four weeks leaving the residents in darkness in the public areas. In December 2016 they were trapped in the lift for an hour when it broke down. The lift has broken down due to a water leak that they had reported a month before to the Council.

 

TWO YEARS LATER: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

The need for a secure fence is not controversial. It’s normal practice for guarding development sites and having one is not the argument we are making. What FDS residents have been asking for for ages now is easier access such as the gate having a lock and key, a numerical keypad and code or a swipe card lock. None of these things are costly or difficult to install and would give residents the autonomy they should have had from day one to come and go on their own terms. In March 2015, Mark Williams, Southwark Cabinet Member for Regeneration told South London Press: ‘We will continue to review these arrangements to make sure they work for the residents and that we respond to any feedback we receive‘. These ‘arrangements‘ have clearly not worked for residents since day one so what’s the point of continuing to make residents suffer in this way?

A Freedom of Information request to Southwark Council about the costs of the fence so far revealed the following:

Q1) What has been the total cost from March 2015 to present day that the Council has paid to
the security company who guards the fence. Information up to the last paid invoice or date is
acceptable?

A1) £705,000 

Q2) Can you send a monetary figure that is a estimation of how much is currently being spent by
the Council per month for the security company. eg over the last six months.

A2) £24,000

Being forced to lived behind the fence because you are unwilling to move out of the area and are demanding proper compensation for you home becomes somewhat spiteful when the Council has spent close to £900,000+ so far on this over the top security.

With the current demolition of the Bradenham, Arklow, Chartridge blocks happening under residents noses within the First Development Site, we are asking of the Council that residents are now given some form of self-managed entry and exit from their homes. The next round of the Public Inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase of leaseholders homes is not until October so it’s time now for the Council to sort this for residents!

We don’t believe the security regime is mostly about security. We believe this disgusting treatment of residents who are putting up a fight for housing justice is entirely because of that fight. We agree with residents – this is just intimidation and an attempted war of attrition. Enough is enough.

keys for residents

KEYS FOR RESIDENTS – WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Keys for residents and the other residents now:

If you support this demand, please spread this article far and wide via your social networks and social media (#keysforResidents)

Please contact the following Councillors with your respectful demand for keys for Aylesbury FDS residents:

Peter John, Leader of The Council: peter.john@southwark.gov.uk / @peterjohn6

Stephanie Cryan, Cabinet Member for Housing: stephanie.cryan@southwark.gov.uk / @steviecryan

Mark Williams, Cabinet Member for Regeneration: mark.williams@southwark.gov.uk / @markwilliams84

Creation Trust is a ‘charity dedicated to residents on the Aylesbury estate and ensuring they receive the benefits of the regeneration of the area’.

Charlotte Benstead, Chief Executive of Creation Trust: charlotte@creationtrust.org / @creationSE17

Elephant Shopping Centre: The Time Is Now! Meeting Tues 28th Feb

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE ELEPHANT & CASTLE SHOPPING CENTRE?

The Shopping Centre is owned by property developer Delancey. It wants to demolish the Centre and build new shops and 900+ new homes in its place. But before Delancey can demolish the Centre it must get planning permission from the local council, Southwark. It must also get Southwark Council’s permission for any new buildings it wants to build.

Delancey gave Southwark its plans for the new shops and homes before Christmas. Delancey’s plans raise two big questions;

Will there be new shops for local traders?
Will there be new homes for local people?

Southwark Council is now asking what local traders and local residents think of Delancey’s plans and we must make our voices heard.

The Elephant Amenity Network is a group of local people that campaigns for a better deal from the Elephant’s regeneration. In this public meeting we invite all local people to discuss Delancey’s plans for the Shopping Centre – what we think of them and how we want them changed. We are being supported by the Southwark Green Party and other groups and campaigns.

The meeting will on Tuesday February 28th at 7pm

Venue: Tesco’s First Floor unit (above Tescos shop)

All are welcome – come and join us!

vision

Delancey’s plans for the shopping centre can be seen above. You can make comments here on our online form. It’s simple to use:

http://commentform.herokuapp.com/

ec-objection-form

Already there are detailed responses to Delancey’s plans most focusing on the plight of local traders in the Centre and market who are not being well looked after. Re-location strategies have not been forthcoming and only vague promises are being made (if at all), something we have seen across the entire Elephant regeneration project. Worth reading these objections from Southwark Green Party & Latin Elephant. They may give you some fine details to work with for your objections.

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The meeting has been organised by the Elephant Amenity Network’s 35% Campaign – http://35percent.org/

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¿QUE ESTARA PASANDO CON EL CENTRO COMERCIAL DE ELEPHANT & CASTLE?

El centro comercial es propiedad de los desarrolladores Delancey, quienes proponen demoler el centro y construir nuevas tiendas y residencias en su lugar.

Pero antes de la demolición del centro ellos deben obtener permiso de gobierno local de Southwark. También debe obtener de Southwark Council permiso para la construcción de nuevos edificios.

Delancey entregó sus planes para nuevas tiendas y residencias antes de Navidad. Los planes de Delancey resaltan dos preguntas importantes:

  • ¿Habrá nuevas tiendas para comerciantes locales?

  • ¿Habrá nuevas residencias para la gente local?

Southwark Council está preguntándole a comerciantes y residentes locales qué piensan sobre los planes de Delancey y debemos dejarles saber nuestro sentir, que nuestras voces se escuchen.

Elephant Amenity Network es un grupo de personas locales que llevan una campaña para obtener un mejor resultado de la regeneración de Elephant. En nuestra próxima reunión discutiremos los planes que Delancey tiene para el centro comercial – Qué pensamos y qué queremos cambiar. Nos apoya el partido ambientalista de Southwark (Southwark Green Party).

La reunión será a las Martes 28th febrero, 7pm

¿dónde? – TESCO Unidad de primer piso

Todos bienvenidos – les esperamos!

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Los planes de Delancey estan disponibles en

http://planbuild.southwark.gov.uk:8190/online-applications/simpleSearchResults.do;jsessionid=02EFEEFD01FBEF127FA1974DAC930F47?action=firstPage

Esta reunión organizada por Elephant Amenity Network’s 35% Campaign – http://35percent.org/


We Southwark Notes folks have written extensively about the fate of the Shopping Centre. Our most recent and top piece here: The Murder of The Elephant