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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?:
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?
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”.
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.
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.
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.
* 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)