My Band The Four Fathers Launch A Year of Political Gigs in Walthamstow This Saturday, In A Protest Against Another Divisive Private Development

19.2.18

The poster for the occupation of Walthamstow Town Square on February 24, 2018 at which The Four Fathers are playing.Check out all The Four Fathers’ studio recordings here, and the video of our song ‘Grenfell’ here.

Kicking off a year of varied gigs — involving a healthy dose of political events and community festivals — Lewisham-based band The Four Fathers are heading to Walthamstow this Saturday, February 24, to play a few songs (including ‘London’ and ‘Fighting Injustice’) at an occupation of Walthamstow Town Square by campaigners resisting plans to redevelop the square, primarily because of their opposition to the lack of genuinely affordable housing in the planned new development, but also because of concerns about the size of the towers that are proposed for the site, and the loss of public land in the centre of the town.

Please note that I’m also attending a screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK‘, the new documentary film about the housing crisis, directed by Nikita Woolfe, and for which I’m the narrator, at Harmony Hall in Walthamstow at 6pm, and also staying on afterwards what I hope will be a lively post-screening Q&A session. Further details here.

The Observer picked up on the story this weekend, in large part because of Walthamstow’s proximity to Haringey, where, last month, council leader Claire Kober announced her resignation, after an extraordinary grass-roots campaign to stop the council from entering into a unprecedented £2bn deal with the international property developer Lendlease, which would have seen much of Haringey’s social housing, and other assets, put into a 50:50 development project with Lendlease, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV).

This would have led to the destruction of council estates, and, it is reasonable to assume, the social cleansing from the borough of many former council tenants and leaseholders, and the campaign against the HDV not only secured the support of the local Labour MPs, but also led to a situation in which councillors who supported the development plans were either deselected, or deselected themselves, in the run-up to May’s council elections, turning a majority in support of the HDV into a unworkable minority. I’m delighted to note that The Four Fathers played a very small part in the campaign by playing at a benefit gig in Tottenham in September.

In Walthamstow, the row involves the proposed redevelopment of the town’s central shopping mall by Capital & Regional, described by the Observer as “one of Britain’s biggest shopping centre and retail park groups.” The plan, as the Observer explained, “involves building more than 500 new homes, just 20% of which will be classed as affordable.”

Opposition has come from another grass-roots campaign group, Save Walthamstow’s Town Centre, who point out that the proposals involve “grab[bing] a third of our Square — which is publicly owned”, “construct[ing] huge towers along the side — one of which, at 29 stories, is higher than Centre Point”, “chop[ping] down the mature trees in and around the Square (around 80)”, and “mov[ing] the Children’s Playground nearer to the fumes of the bus station.” As they also state, very few, if any of the new homes currently built by developers “go to those on housing waiting lists; and to buy or rent you have to be on up to £90k [a year]. ‘Affordable’ means ‘unaffordable’ for most people in this borough. These developments are aimed purely at making big profits for shareholders.”

Nevertheless, the plans were approved by Waltham Forest Council in December. On its website, the council explained that “[f]ull planning permission was granted for expansion of the shopping centre to create new retail and restaurant outlets overlooking a refurbished and fully accessible town square with a new children’s play area plus 42 new homes,” while “[o]utline permission was granted for up to 460 more homes to be constructed above the shopping centre in four residential buildings of between 12 and 29 storeys.”

The development therefore “has the potential to provide as many as 502 new homes, 20 per cent of which will be affordable and available through shared ownership”, the council added, also stating, “Although this is below the 50 per cent minimum guideline set out by the Mayor of London’s London Plan, the council accepted the difficulties of building above both an operational shopping centre and the Victoria Line tunnels would incur much higher than normal development and construction costs.”

Campaigners, as noted above, query the extent to which “affordable” actually means “affordable”, and this is a key concern of mine, as it appears to constitute a dangerous rewriting of the very meaning of words. It was, after all, Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor, who set the “affordable” rate at 80% of market rents, thereby making it unaffordable for most people, and yet it continues to be used in all discussions about housing without, in general, any elaboration. Usually overlooked is social rent, in contrast to “affordable” rent, which tends to be set at around 30% of market rent, and which is actually what the average Londoner requires. Also under-discussed is the problem with shared ownership, which is a particularly dubious development, being little more than a huge increase in outlay for a nominal suggestion of part-ownership.

To proceed, the proposals will have to be approved by London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, with the Observer noting that “[t]he application to build four tower blocks is expected to land on his desk imminently.”

It is not yet known what Khan will have to say about the proposals’ affordable housing element being “below the 50 per cent minimum guideline set out by the Mayor of London’s London Plan”, but the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell recently got involved, attending a meeting called by Waltham Forest Trades Council, specifically to discuss PFI (the horrendous Private Finance Initiative), at which he heard from campaigners opposing the town square development, where, as the Observer described it, he “warned councils to abandon schemes that depend on the private sector and referred to the situation in Haringey.” The Evening Standard reported that he said, “I would just say to any local councillor anywhere, the most important thing on these developments is listen to people, and take people with you, rather than impose anything.”

McDonnell surely had a point, as, in the Observer’s words, “Labour councillors signed off on the plans despite nearly 1,000 letters expressing concerns ranging from the lack of affordable housing to the loss of a large chunk of the only public space in the town centre.” However, Waltham Forest Council’s leader, Clare Coghill, responded to McDonnell’s comments by stating, “Why is Labour energy not being spent exclusively on winning places like Wandsworth, and querying Waltham Forest instead? Isn’t energy better spent going to places the Tories control and highlighting their failings?”

Currently standing outside the fray is the local Labour MP Stella Creasy, who, as the Observer noted, is “considered to be at risk from leftwingers’ plans for mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates.”

Nancy Taaffe, chair of the Waltham Forest Save Our Square campaign, who “has waged a guerrilla campaign against the council and Creasy on the pages of community Facebook groups,” as the Observer described it, spelled out her position, and that of other activists, telling the Observer, “This is about opposing the taking of the public land and a model that has become turbocharged because councils are in a panic about their grants from government being cut.”

She “derided Waltham Forest councillors as being ‘loyal to the ideas of Tony Blair’ and pointed out that their leader, Clare Coghill, had joined other local authority chiefs to sign a letter criticising a call by Labour’s national executive committee for Haringey to rethink its public-private initiative” — a letter signed by 70 council chiefs across the country, but with notable exceptions in London, especially in Haringey’s other neighbours, Camden, Hackney and Islington.

The Observer also noted that Stella Creasy and Clare Coghill were “unavailable for comment,” but that a spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council said that the plans “would bring £200m of private investment and 8,000 square metres of additional retail space”, and claimed, “A new and expanded Mall would give a significant boost to the local economy, giving our residents the opportunity to shop in the borough, rather than going further afield, which has a detrimental effect on the local economy.” Even that latter point is subject to dispute, as often new retail developments have a detrimental knock-on effect on the local businesses, leading to the closures of many other shops.

The Four Fathers’ other gigs over the next three months are listed below. Further details will be provided soon:

Friday March 16: The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby, London SE14, with the Commie Faggots, as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival

Saturday April 7: Protestival, Eastbourne

Sunday April 29: Old Tidemill Garden, Deptford, London SE8, a day of music and films in the community garden approved for destruction by Lewisham Council, as part of the New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival

Saturday May 12: Hither Green Festival opening day, The Clocktower, Des Vignes Drive, London SE13

Sunday May 13: No Social Cleansing in Lewisham, New Cross Inn, London SE14, with the Commie Faggots, Ukadelix, Asher Baker, The Wiz-RD, and many other acts to be confirmed

Friday May 25: The Royal Sovereign, Clapton, London E5, with the Commie Faggots

Saturday May 26: Arts Cafe, Manor Park, Lewisham, London SE13, as part of the Hither Green Festival

To keep informed about gigs and any other relevant information (new music releases, for example), please email us and ask to join our mailing list. We hope to see you soon!

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, promoting my band The Four Fathers’ appearance at a protest against the planned development of Walthamstow Town Square this Saturday, which, if it goes ahead, will involve the loss of publicly-owned land and the creation of new housing, very little of which will be genuinely affordable. I look at the history of the proposals, and note how they are particularly under scrutiny because of Walthamstow’s proximity to Haringey, where campaigners mounted an extraordinary campaign to derail plans to hand over much of the borough’s council housing to a partnership with the rapacious international property developer Lendlease. I also mention other forthcoming gigs – both at political events, and at community festivals – by The Four Fathers, from March to May, for which I’ll be providing further details soon.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Check out ‘London’ by The Four Fathers here: https://thefourfathers.bandcamp.com/track/london-2

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Brian Wilkes wrote:

    Great stuff Andy, I look forward to seeing and hearing you play in Eastbourne.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    We’ll do our best, Brian – just sorry it’s only two of us, and not the whole band.

  5. Tom says...

    Carry on the great work.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Your support is greatly appreciated!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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