Check Out My Novara Media Article About the Occupation of the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford, Plus Updates About the Campaign

19.9.18

A photo of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, which campaigners have occupied to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council and Peabody, photographed on September 16, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Last week I was delighted to get the opportunity to write an article for Novara Media, an online news organisation established in 2011, about the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council and the housing association Peabody, as part of their plans for the re-development of the old Tidemill school site — plans that also involve the destruction of 16 structurally sound council flats in Reginald House, a block next to the garden.

The article, The Battle for Deptford and Beyond, provides a helpful introduction to the struggle, and I hope that, if you haven’t already been alerted to it via social media, where we’ve been promoting it, you’ll check it out now, share it if you find it useful, and even print off copies to let other people know about the campaign.

I’ve been so busy since its publication that this is my first opportunity to promote it via my website — in part because I’ve been playing some gigs and doing other media (including a Wandsworth Radio show on Saturday night, and a No Social Cleansing in Lewisham gig at the Birds Nest on Sunday night, to raise money for the campaign), but also because of my ongoing involvement in the occupation.

On Saturday lunchtime, campaigners from the garden set up a stall in Giffin Square, in the heart of Deptford, to continue with our mission of winning the hearts and minds of the local community. All year — long before the occupation began — campaigners have maintained a presence in Deptford’s vibrant street market on Saturdays, where it has been abundantly clear that Lewisham Council doesn’t have the trust of local people, who see new developments rising up that are not for local people (like Tinderbox House, the block that towers over the market, where a two-bedroom flat is currently on sale for £500,000), and who know, if they live in council housing, that the council persistently fails to spend its rent receipts on repairs and maintenance.

On Saturday, we’d just received information, via a Freedom of Information request, that, in the last two years, Reginald House’s tenants have paid £106,051 and £100,942 in rent, plus service charges of £5,749 and £7,016, and yet the council has spent just £2,907 and £3,265 on repairs in that same period — around 3% of the rental receipts. In the case of Reginald House, this is because the council has been actively engaged in a process of “managed decline,” but elsewhere it is clear that the council is subsidising other aspects of its business through council rents, while failing to look after those properties adequately. When we visited the council blocks on Giffin Street recently, to hand out a newsletter explaining the reasons for the occupation, everyone we spoke to had similar complaints.

This suggests to us that Lewisham Council is failing to explain to its tenants that it is so strapped for cash by central government that it is having to use council rents to subsidise its other operations. Not only does this show weakness when it comes to challenging the Tory government, but, in the case of Reginald House, it has led to the absurd and unjust situation whereby the council wants to destroy 16 flats — and the rents form them — to replace them with new flats owned and run by Peabody, who will be the primary beneficiaries of the new income streams.

What is also clear is that the council doesn’t want to defend existing social housing, because it has no interest in maintaining social rents and secure tenancies. Instead, the flats for rent in the new development, whose construction the council is subsidising, will be at London Affordable Rent, Sadiq Khan’s cynical effort to do away with social rents altogether (which are generally set at around 30% of market rents), whereas, in Lewisham, London Affordable Rents will be 63% higher. In addition, the new flats will be smaller, and tenants will have less rights.

The Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaigners have always made it clear that they are committed to saving both Reginald House and the garden from destruction, but while the proposed destruction of Reginald House is a powerful indictment of how housing policies are intended to do away with council housing at social rents, the defence of the garden also highlights the council’s lack of concern for environmental issues, and for the importance of green space in the heart of Deptford. 

As I explained in my Novara Media article, “In 2016-17, data compiled by Citizen Sense, a science research project at Goldsmith’s, showed that the garden’s large canopy of trees had significantly reduced the levels of carbon emissions that are prevalent in nearby Deptford Church Street, where, on multiple occasions, the levels of carbon emissions have been up to six times higher than World Health Organisation guidelines.”

Now all you have to do is imagine how much worse the pollution will be with four years of building work on the site of the garden and Reginald House — not to mention the pollution involved in other planned developments, with a whole new set of private tower blocks proposed for Creekside, on the opposite side of Deptford Church Street.

Lewisham Council acknowledges that its plans for Tidemill are a betrayal of their environmental requirements, and that they have chosen, in this case, to prioritise their housing targets instead, but we’re not satisfied with that explanation. Simply put, the garden’s ability to combat pollution makes it too important to be destroyed, and the council and Peabody should go back to the drawing board, spare the garden and Reginald House in their plans for the old school site, and, if necessary, cut down the number of properties accordingly. Of the 209 homes planned, perhaps the 52 for private sale ought to be axed, and the profits — or profiteering — from the project adjusted.

Not only is the environmental cost of the garden’s destruction too high to put a price on, but the council’s cavalier disregard for its importance also fails to take into account its social function. Created 20 years ago, and designed by parents, pupils and teachers at the old Tidemill school, it was used by local children from 1998 until the school closed in 2012, moving to a new academy in Giffin Square. However, the guardians installed in the old school opened it up as a community garden, and when they were moved out, so that the council could squander huge amounts of money on security guards instead, the council gave the community a “meanwhile use” lease on the garden, furthering its role as a magical space for children to play in, a healing space for local people to relax in, and a community space for gardening and arts events that has been a powerful example of what the community can achieve in an autonomous green community space.

Until August 29 this year, when the council terminated the lease and the occupation began, with a judicial review underway to keep the council at bay, the garden was generally only open on weekends, but its supporters have long dreamed of maintaining it as an autonomous space, and securing funding to open it up much more frequently, and the occupation has provided extraordinary encouragement for our dreams — discussions about how helpful it would be to have vegetable gardens and an orchard, for example, and a permanent, environmentally pioneering structure as a reception space, information point and gallery.  

And as the nights grow cold, it’s also apparent that the tents that were the first wave of the occupation need to be replaced with warmer solutions, promoting us to work on the brick buildings and sheds on site, and to look into low-cost, environmentally friendly solutions — options that might also suggest how a responsible council should be looking into innovative self-build options far more than they are currently, as a solution to the housing problem, instead of simply caving in to developers, and continuing to endorse a mix of private sales and expensive social housing as any sort of constructive way forward. 

The occupation, which starts its fourth week today, also continues to attract people interested in discussing alternatives to the shoddy, over-priced reality of the housing market, and feeble efforts to address the extent of the housing crisis. We’ve had visitors from the long-established camp at Grow Heathrow, visitors from other countries, and visitors from some of the other housing struggles across London that I mentioned in my Novara Media article, and that I have been researching and writing about over the last few years, along with handful of other committed campaigning journalists and researchers (Architects for Social Housing, for example, and Southwark Notes and the 35 Percent campaign).

Do come and check us out — and join in the fascinating discussions we’re having, as we resist the proposed destruction of this priceless space and the well-established homes next door in Reginald House, and dare to imagine other futures that do more than provide profits for the few, and housing solutions that lack vision. We’ve set up an Alternative Open House London this weekend, gatecrashing the official Open House London, in which over 800 properties are open to the public, and on Saturday we’re also holding a debate on the potential of community-led regeneration, something that clearly doesn’t interest Lewisham Council (or, it should be noted, councils in general). And next weekend (September 29-20) we’re taking part in the internationally acclaimed Deptford X arts festival. We look forward to seeing you!

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.

8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When i posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, linking to ‘The Battle for Deptford and Beyond’, an article I wrote for Novara Media last week about the occupation of the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Today is the start of the fourth week of the occupation, an it’s an inspiring example of a local community taking on a council and a developer who have got their priorities completely wrong, and who conspicuously don’t have have the support of the local community.

    I also provide updates about the campaign – about how the occupation is deepening campaigners’ conviction that the garden is too environmentally and socially important to be destroyed for a housing project, and how we have also found out that, when it comes to Reginald House, the block of 16 council flats next door that the council also wants to destroy, Lewisham has been taking, on average, £100,000 a year in rents over the last two years, but spending only £3,000 a year on repairs, a cynical process of “managed decline” designed to encourage tenants and leaseholders to accept the re-development plans.

    Please support us! Come down to the garden, come to the events we have lined up over the next two weekends, and feel free to donate to support the costs of a judicial review that we’ve launched, to try and stop the council through the courts: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-reginald-save-tidemill/

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Joe Dromey, Labour councillor for New Cross ward, where Tidemill is located, wrote:

    You say the Council has it’s priorities wrong. Our number one priority is building social housing for those in desperate need. The Tidemill Estate will provide an additional 104 social homes.

    And you say we don’t have the support of the community. I have been clear throughout that I support building more social homes at Tidemill. We were clear on this at the local elections in June. Our opposition ran on a single issue campaign – stopping the Tidemill development. We were re-elected. We have a mandate to build the homes that our community needs. That’s what we will do.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    You really have to be kidding, Joe. 20% of the registered electorate voted Labour in the local elections, while 67% of the registered electorate didn’t turn up to vote at all. Under no circumstances can that be regarded as a mandate. You might want to ask yourself why, if you’re so popular, you can only get 1 in 5 of the people of Lewisham to actually vote for you.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Joe Dromey wrote:

    Andy, if you want to put it like that, 23.3% of residents in New Cross voted for Brenda, the first Labour candidate on the ballot. Slightly more would’ve voted for one of the three Labour Cllrs. Using your same methodology, just 8.0% of the registered electorate voted for the candidate who stood on an anti-Tidemill platform.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    We could perhaps have a fruitful conversation some time about the problems with FPTP compared to a more representative PR system, Joe. Labour in Lewisham got voted in by 20% of the registered electorate, but took 100% of the seats. How is that supposed to be fair? But the fact remains that, when you were elected by only 20% of the registered electorate, you have no right whatsoever to claim that as any kind of mandate for anything that you do.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Joe Dromey wrote:

    Andy, I think she need a proportional representation system, and I voted to support this the last time it was discussed at Lewisham Council. But the fact remains, if you want to look at the % of all the electorate who supported us, in New Cross, we got 23%. The opponents of the Tidemill development got 8%. They tried to make the election a single issue campaign locally. We put our case very clearly. We were endorsed, and we have a mandate to build the homes we need.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    No you don’t, Joe. You need the support of a majority of the people for that, and presuming that the silent, non-voting majority somehow tacitly supports you is disingenuous.
    I’m glad to hear you say that you support PR, because it would make for a much more representative democratic process, and would encourage people to vote for other parties in a way that, honestly, FPTP doesn’t, because people tend to view votes for anyone outside of the two (or three) main parties as a wasted vote. It would also, undoubtedly, increase voter turnout, helping to do away with the problems outlined above, whereby the biggest component of registered voters in council elections are those who don’t engage with the process at all.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    But back to Tidemill, Joe, as we’re drifting off the point:
    1) The garden is too valuable environmentally to be destroyed – it needs to preserved as it is.
    2) Reginald House is structurally sound and there is no valid argument for its destruction.
    3) Go back to the drawing board and come up with new plans that spare the garden and Reginald House. We aren’t opposing development per se. You and Peabody can obviously do what you want with the old school site, but you have to accept that destroying the garden and Reginald House is unacceptable.

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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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