Why We’ve Occupied the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford to Prevent Lewisham Council’s Demolition Plans

31.8.18

Join the Tidemill Occupation: an image I put together featuring a photo from the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford on August 28, 2018, the evening the garden was occupied to prevent Lewisham Council from taking it back the day after, prior to its intended destruction.On Tuesday evening (August 28), campaigners occupied the Old Tidemill Garden on Reginald Road in Deptford, London SE8 to prevent Lewisham Council from taking it back on the Wednesday morning (August 29), and boarding it up prior to its planned destruction as part of the proposed re-development of the site of the old Tidemill Primary School.

The garden is a much-loved community space, and was developed by teachers, parents and pupils from the school 20 years ago. When the school closed, to be replaced by a new academy, the garden was leased to the local community, but now the council wants it back, to destroy it, and the 16 council flats of Reginald House next door, in order to build new housing with the housing association Peabody, some of which be for private sale, with the rest a mixture of Sadiq Khan’s London Affordable Rent (63% higher than social rents in Lewisham) and the scam that is shared ownership.

For many years, campaigners have been working to urge Lewisham Council to re-draw its plans to re-develop the old school site, which, astonishingly, were first proposed ten years ago. The campaigners have relentlessly pointed out that increasing the density of the development on the old school site will allow the council and Peabody to save the garden and Reginald House, but they’re simply not interested in engaging with the local community, or with the residents of Reginald House. 80% of residents do not want to lose their homes but have not been offered a ballot, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s promise last autumn that all proposed demolitions should involve ballots, a position since endorsed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

I first came across the garden in 2013, when guardians were on the old school site, who regularly opened up the gardens during events designed to involve the local community. And while I have always been interested in struggles to save housing and community spaces from developers of all kinds — chronicling, for example, protest movements including the road protest movements of the 1990s in my books Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield — and I care deeply about the destruction of social housing as a social housing resident, I wasn’t actively involved in campaigning until the Grenfell Tower fire happened last year — although regular readers will know that my archive of housing-related issues goes back to 2010.

The entirely preventable Grenfell disaster, in which 72 people died, revealed fundamentally how those with power and authority — and mortgages — treat those in social housing as second-class citizens, and with such contempt that our very lives can be in danger as a result, and in the fallout from the disaster I went to a powerful public meeting held by ASH (Architects for Social Housing), whose work on refurbishment and resistance, as opposed to compliance and estate destruction I came to admire greatly, also meeting filmmaker Nikita Woolfe and becoming the narrator for her documentary ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates and residents’ resistance.

In September last year, I also became aware of the Lewisham struggles, when I attended a screening of ‘Dispossession’ at the New Cross Learning Centre, organised by residents of the Achilles Street estate, which Lewisham Council also wants to destroy. I then met Tidemill campaigner Heather Gilmore while passing by the Old Tidemill Garden on my bike, and, after Lewisham Council officially approved its plans to re-develop the site, I was soon involved in campaigning, setting up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a fighting motto, and a Facebook page to bring together the various Lewisham housing campaigns. I also put on a number of fundraising nights featuring live music, which are ongoing, with the next event being at the Birds Nest in Deptford on Sunday September 16.

This year, the garden has hosted numerous community events — a fun day before the council elections in May, at which we also held a hustings that put the heat on local councillor Joe Dromey, the son of Harriet Harman and a cheerleader for the development, a Summer Solstice party, a Jamaican Independence Day on August 4, and numerous other events that have demonstrated what the council doesn’t want to acknowledge — that the community can create beauty and solidarity in an autonomous community space that deserves far better than being levelled for more housing that will not address local housing needs. Campaigners have also staged numerous protests outside the council’s headquarters in Catford and outside consultations in Deptford.

In a press release sent out after the occupation took place which I worked on with other campaigners, we pointed out that, as well as legally squatting the site to prevent it being taken back, we have also taken on a solicitor, Richard Buxton, who, the day before the occupation, “filed papers for a Judicial Review of the Council’s September 2017 planning decision. Although the judge declined to give an order to stop the Council taking back the garden today [August 29], the court ‘expects’ the Council to refrain from any action until at least 4th September, when the merits of the case will be considered to determine whether a future court date can be set for the case to be heard.”

We recently reached our target of £10,600 to fund the application for a judicial review, but are trying to raise extra funds, so if you can help out at all, please visit this crowdfunding page and make a donation.

As the press release further explained:

The Save Reginald, Save Tidemill campaign says that Tidemill Wildlife Garden is a vital local green space and an important educational and environmental resource as well as being a venue for culturally diverse events run by the local community.

Demolition means the mature trees and shrubs and the wildlife habitat they provide for birds, bats, insects and amphibians will all be destroyed. The 70+ mature trees on the site have been proved to play an active role in mitigating the worst effects of pollution in nearby Deptford Church Street, a GLA Air Quality Focus Area, where carbon emissions exceed EU limits by over 50%.

Campaigners maintain there is no meaningful mitigation for this destruction of trees and wildlife. The Council’s plans for the site will result in a net loss of green space in the area that will be replaced by a “glorified path” a quarter of the current garden’s size that would be open 24/7, and small private gardens accessible only to new residents.

Supporters of the Save Reginald, Save Tidemill campaign include a cross-party group of GLA members. Len Duvall, GLA Assembly Member for Lewisham & Greenwich (also Leader of the London Assembly Labour Group and Chair of the GLA Labour Party), said: “I am not against building more homes in Lewisham; indeed I am supportive of more social rented housing. What I do take issue with is the cavalier way in which the housing crisis is being used to justify the disposal of open green space in the borough.”

To support the campaign, please come down to Deptford and New Cross tomorrow. A carnival procession will be leaving the garden around 12 noon to snake its way through Deptford Market to Fordham Park in New Cross, where the community festival Party in the Park is taking place, whose focus is on the housing crisis. Or come to the garden anytime, and sign up to take part in the occupation. Any time you can help, in the daytime or by staying overnight, will be very helpful.

The festival features music on several stages (including my band The Four Fathers playing a set of rock and roots reggae protest music about housing from 1.15 to 1.45pm on the Wango Riley Stage), and, from 2 to 6pm, Tent City, an area given over to panel discussions and workshops about housing. I’m chairing the first panel discussion from 2 to 3pm, which looks at struggles against social cleansing in Lewisham and elsewhere, featuring Diann Gerson and Heather Gilmore from Save Reginald Save Tidemill, Martin Williams of the Achilles Stop and Listen Campaign, Anne E. Cooper of the Save Cressingham campaign in Lambeth, Emily Jost of the We Saved Northwold campaign in Clapton, where Guinness’s demolition plans have been successfully resisted, and Paul Watt, professor of urban studies at Birkbeck, and a member of Demolition Watch.

The second panel, at 4.30pm, ‘Tenant Empowerment and what can be achieved via collaboration’, should also be very worthwhile.

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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, explaining why I’m part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford, which has been occupied since Tuesday night to prevent Lewisham Council and housing developers Peabody from reclaiming the much-loved community garden prior to its intended destruction as part of the re-development of the old Tidemill school site.
    The day before the planned eviction, we submitted an application for a judicial review, and are waiting to hear whether that application will be successful, a decision that is expected next Tuesday. We expect the council to hold off until then, but we have no intention of giving up the garden, as we are 100% committed to urging the council and Peabody to go back to the drawing board, and to come up with new plans that spare the garden and, crucially, the 16 council flats of Reginald House next door, 80% of whose residents don’t want their homes destroyed, although, disdainfully, they have never been asked for their opinion by the council.
    In my article I explain how I became aware of the garden in 2013, but didn’t get involved in campaigning until a year ago, after the Grenfell Tower fire, which changed everything, and after I encountered New Cross and Deptford campaigners at a film screening and at the garden itself. I’m proud to have been part of the community ever since, working to make the garden into the most wonderful space in which numerous events have taken place, and which is also an environmental gem, a green cocoon whose many trees also helps mitigate the dreadful effects of pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street.
    I also urge people to come to Deptford tomorrow, to join a carnival procession at noon from the garden to Party in the Park in Fordham Park in New Cross, where there will be music all day (including my band The Four Fathers), and also Tent City, where the housing crisis, which, happily, is the festival’s theme, will be discussed in panel discussions and workshops.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s what Simon Elmer of ASH (Architects for Social Housing) has to say about Lewisham Council:

    To give you some background to what the Labour council and its private development partners are up to in the borough, the borough’s developments include:
    Barratt Homes’ award-winning Renaissance development, designed by Assael Architecture, with 788 new properties, of which 146 are for affordable rent.
    The Lewisham Gateway development, where the 193 new properties on the first phase, following a viability assessment by Douglas Birt Consulting, will include no affordable housing at all.
    The 169 properties on the second phase, which will no doubt follow suit.
    The demolition of 565 homes on the Heathside and Lethbridge estates and their replacement with 1,192 new properties developed by Family Mosaic housing association, 447 of which will be for as yet undefined rent levels, with the rest being for shared ownership or private sale.
    The demolition of the 178 homes on the Excalibur estate, which are being replaced with 143 new properties for private sale, 35 for shared ownership, 15 for shared equity, and 178 for affordable rent.
    The demolition of the 87 council homes on the Achilles Street estate, where the proposed new development, designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects, will contain between 300 and 350 new properties, of which 55 are promised to be ‘social homes’, with the remainder being for London Living Rent, shared ownership and private sale.
    And the demolition of the 16 council homes in Reginald House, which with neighbouring Old Tidemill Garden will be replaced by 209 new properties, with 35 per cent designated ‘affordable’ across this and the 120 new properties on the Amersham Vale site being developed by the property developer Family Mosaic.
    So when the council tells the BBC that they want to ‘talk’ with campaigners, or that they want to build more homes for ‘social rent’, this is what they mean.
    (see the BBC feature here: https://www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham/posts/482195468914671)

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Sounds like a treasure.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s really quite a wonderful space, Tashi, and that’s because it’s a people’s space, not one managed and controlled by either the council or the company, Glendale, that they employ to run their parks.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Wonderful, I bet there are very few such spaces in a city like London. Good luck!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, most of those that there are were community projects established mainly in the 1980s, I would say, Tashi. For 20 years now, the price tag on everywhere has tended to overrule any other concerns. Thanks for wishing us luck in making the garden an exception!

  7. R Davies says...

    Have you tried contacting the Open Spaces Society?
    They may be able to help.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, R. I’ll look into it.

  9. Glenn Meredith says...

    The item in “the NewsLetter”(Oct/Nov 2018) “Things are moving on the Besson Street development site” presents the developments as being welcome while saying nothing at all as to how the site became empty in the first place. It once contained a 1970’s style estate which housed around 250 households. Similar estates existed between Avonley Road and Monson Road, behind the church on New Cross Road, and also between the two railway bridges in Loampit Vale close by Lewisham railway station. Both of these estates were demolished to make way for private developments. In the latter case what has been produced are massive, nondescript tower blocks similar to what local councils were once castigated for having built. Except that councils in the 1970’s built to minimum space requirements which speculative builders like Barratt’s notoriously don’t bother with. My guess is that Lewisham Council used the pretext of expensive maintenance costs to secure the demolition of those properties. What they would have neglected to admit was that those self same costs would have been exacerbated by a historic failure to invest in overall maintenance and that faults existed that may have been caused by the use of cheap construction methods.

    For some reason the Besson Street site has been vacant for around ten years. It is scandalous that this has happened, but it is a situation that has developed, as indicated above, out of the Labour Party’s willingness, at local and national levels to promote the private over the public, to act as a facililtator of services rather than an actual provider. (see John Boughton’s “Municipal dreams: the rise and fall of council housing”, a book which should be on every councillor’s reading list, if they can be bothered to read anything other than management texts). On the face of it, Lewisham Homes as Lewisham Council’s own housing provider, ought to have had the first call for use of this site. This, it seems, was too simple, because “Lewisham Council selected Grainger… as their partner to deliver a major, ground breaking new rental housing scheme”. This necessitated, by the sound of it, protracted legal negotiation in order “to create the joint venture structure to bring [the Besson Street development] forward.” Prime Minister May recently announced a lift of the cap relating to council house expenditure. Could Lewisham Council not take advantage of this? Such an “in house” route would surely be much cheaper and less convoluted than the road that has been taken.

    In effect, Lewisham Council are taking a back door route to the transfer of their housing stock which has been denied to them in the past. In 2007/2008 the Council attempted to transfer their housing in the New Cross area to Hyde Housing. However, when this proposal was put to tenants in a ballot, a sustantial majority voted against it. In effect, the tenants of New Cross were saying to councillors, “You are paid to do a job. Part of that job description relates to the provision of housing, which, for very good reasons, has historically been one of the core functions of local authorities, so get on and carry out those responsibilities and do not try and off load them”.

    Far from being “ground breaking” the proposals for the Besson Street development have the potential for creating all sorts of problems. For instance, why is it that only 35% of the properties are to be rented at the “London Living Rent”? Is the rent for the other two thirds to be set at what is called “affordable” levels? Given that the concept of “affordability” in this context is an insult to the English language, such a demarcation could well cause conflict between the relatively privileged tenants paying the London Living Rent and those forced to pay so called “affordable” rents. The provision of a health centre and surgery will do nothing to alleviate the general crisis caused by the cuts in NHS expenditure. Thus the Waldron, if not closed, now operates a skeleton service only. Due to budget cuts the Queen’s Road Partnership has been forced to close a building at the corner of Erlanger Road and waiting times for a doctor’s appointment there extends to at least a month. As for a healthy living centre, it is not needed.

    The best route to healthy living, both mentally and physically, that I know is to cycle or walk the footpaths and roads that exist in and around London. Having properly functioning links based on cooperation between civil society and the state at local and national levels is also a necessity. Given the current straitened state of NHS finances it is a moot point as to whether rental income from the GP surgery would be sufficient to “deliver a variety of health and employment focussed activities”. In order to thrive, such projects require direct grants from local or central government. Finally, Besson Street is a poor location for the facilities spoken of. The centres providing them are best sited on a main road or near a railway station for ease of transport and to enable them to “self advertise”. Besson Street meets none of these requirements.

    In conclusion. That we are have a housing crisis is controvertible. However, if that crisis is to be rolled back, then the Labour Party in local government has to acknowledge its role in exacerbating it. As I have indicated a good start would consist of reading commentators like Owen Hatherley and John Boughton. Labour controlled councils have to stop acting as facilitators of private developers and to start building properties built to adequate standards, which are let at genuinely affordable rents based on people’s actual income and with long term conditions of tenure attached. They also have to have the powers to enforce such standards within the private rented sector, without existing tenants suffering any detriment. If, as is likely, the “Daily Mail” lobby starts screaming “shock horror” then councillors have to have the political courage and legal authority to face it down. There are votes to be had here, after all.

    To do this requires a partnership between local authorities and central government based on the former acting with legal and fiscal powers devolved from the latter. It is time that English local authorities started demanding devolution for themselves and stopped viewing this as an artefact solely applicable to the nationalisms of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I have to accept that I am dreaming. Councillors in the Borough of Lewisham, for instance, show no signs of displaying the political imagination that would lead them to organise in such a lobby.

    The latest edition of the Morning Star (20/21 October) contains an article on the Tidemill campaign which is illuminating. As you may know, Lewisham Council, in partnership with the Peabody Housing Assocation, is seeking to destroy the existing wildlife garden and housing in order to “redevelop” the site, a project which is being vehemently opposed by local residents. Peabody Housing is the body responsible for a development on Pomeroy Street, which when finished, will consist of a series of box like structures set to contain two floors of commercial accomodation as well as 65 units of housing. Quite apart from the nondescript archtectural aesthetics of these buildings, I cannot see how, given the space available for them, those 65 units can be anything other than like rabbit hutches for the people living in them. (For background see two reports at http://www.architecture.com. Space standards for homes, 15th May 2017, and Rebecca Roberts-Hughes, The case for space (2011)).

    Dan Hind, in, “The magic kingdom: property, monarchy and the maximum republic” (2014) comments “Developers build tiny homes for their customers, so that they can afford mansions for themselves” (p.41). In doing so shows a far greater apprecation of the problem than the grey people who run Lewisham Council.

    Andy Worthington, an organisor of the Tidemill campaign, is cited as being very critical of Lewisham’s and Peabody’s distinction between “social” (ie Council) and the new “affordable” homes which is also relevant to the Besson Street development.

    “Local council figures demonstrate that new homes built across London won’t be [let at] a social rent but [at a] ‘London affordable rent’ created by Sadiq Khan. It will mean that hard-working families are looking at 3,000 pounds more rent costs a year”

    As he says, “Lewisham Council and Peabody are trying to assure residents a like-for-like deal by guaranteeing the same rent”. But this begs the question, “Why knock the existing housing down in the first place? … across the country, council housing is being knocked down as a way of [eradicating properties let at] social rent. [This is being done without] seeing any financial benefits for the councils”.

    This is the nub of the problem. Local councilors have become complicit in destroying services which they should be protecting. Until this basic political problem is resolved the provision of all kinds of services is going to go backwards. They should be putting people’s needs first, not addressing these needs through the prism of plans prepared by private developers.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Glenn. Very good to hear from you, and thanks for the historical background you provided and your cogent analysis of the the failures involving home-building, in which Labour councils, content to asset-strip themselves, and hand all home-building decisions to private developers, have lazily abdicated their own role as housing providers.
    Regarding Besson Street, the true horror of that situation, as I have explained in a subsequent article, ‘A Radical Proposal to Save the Old Tidemill Garden and Reginald House in Deptford: Use Besson Street, an Empty Site in New Cross‘, is that the only proposals for the site are rental properties either at market rent of at ‘London Living Rent.’ Here’s the relevant section:

    In December, the council announced its intention to enter into a partnership with Grainger plc, a Newcastle-based firm that, as the council trumpeted in a press release at the time, “has been recognised as the market leader in the emergence of a professional private rented sector in the UK.”

    Yes, you read that right. Lewisham Council is proud to be entering into a development vehicle with a company that will make it a developer of private homes for rent, a scheme that has been on the cards for some time, as a report from November 2016, reflecting community opposition at the time, shows.

    And it gets worse. Of the 232 homes planned for the site, none will be at social rent or at ’London Affordable Rent.’ 65% will be at market rents (a minimum of £323.08 a week for a two-bedroom flat, while 35% will be let at ‘London Living Rent’, another inadequate innovation by Sadiq Khan. While ‘London Affordable Rent’ is intended to be a stealthy destroyer of social rent, ‘London Living Rent’ is an absurd admission that the market is out of control. Aimed at those with a household income of up to £60,000 a year, who, of course, can no longer afford to buy anywhere in London, it would be set in Lewisham at £225.46 a week for a two-bedroom flat, £100 less than the median private rent, but more than double existing social rents, which average £95.54 a week for a two-bedroom flat. In addition, of course, hidden costs include potentially unfettered service charges.

    If you’re local, I hope to see you down at the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden sometime soon. It’d be good to meet.

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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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