Shame on Peabody: Calling on the Former Philanthropic Social Housing Provider to Abandon Its Plans to Destroy the Old Tidemill Garden and Social Housing in Deptford

2.10.18

'Shame on Peabody': a banner held by campaigners in the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, which has been occupied since August 29, 2018 to prevent Lewisham Council and Peabody from destroying it - and 16 structurally sound council flats next door - as part of a housing project (Photo: Andy Worthington).Since the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford began, on August 29th, we’ve been so busy focusing on Lewisham Council’s shameful role as the would-be destroyers of a crucially important environmental and community green space, and the wilful destruction of 16 structurally sound council flats next door, in Reginald House, for a new housing development, that we’ve failed to shine a light on their development partners, Peabody.

This is unfair, because, although Lewisham Council owns the land, Peabody are fully implicated in the plans to destroy the garden and almost all of the 74 trees in the garden and on the wider development site, and to demolish the 16 flats of Reginald House and to replace them with a new form of social housing that is not the same as what they’re proposing to destroy.

Of the 16 flats in Reginald House, three are leasehold, meaning that tenants bought them via the ‘Right to Buy’ introduced by Margaret Thatcher, while the other 13 are council flats let at social rents, which in Lewisham, are, on average, £95.54 for a two-bedroom flat. In the proposals for the site, these homes will be replaced with new flats that will be let at ‘London Affordable Rent’, initiated by London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, which, in Lewisham, are 63% higher at £152.73 a week. That difference, of course, is huge for lower-earning families who are already struggling to make ends meet, and yet the shift to ‘London Affordable Rent’ is fully endorsed by the council and Peabody, leading to the unerring conclusion that both organisations are actually committed to destroying the entire system of social rents, and establishing ‘London Affordable Rent’ as the lowest rents that will be available in future.

Figures produced by Lewisham Council showing different rental rates in the borough, and revealing how 'London Affordable Rent', for a 2-bed flat, is 63% higher than social rent (thanks to Sue Lawes for finding this important information).

Click on the image to enlarge: Figures produced by Lewisham Council showing different rental rates in the borough, and revealing how ‘London Affordable Rent’, for a 2-bed flat, is 63% higher than social rent.

Moreover, both the council and Peabody are so obsessed with doing away with existing social housing that, when confronted by Reginald House tenants who are angry about the proposals to demolish their homes and move them to new properties with more expensive rents, they have resorted to making desperate promises (although never in the form of a binding contract) to guarantee them “like for like” rent deals for life on the new properties.

Given that 80% of the tenants don’t want their homes destroyed (although the council won’t give them a ballot), and the block is structurally sound (although repairs have been deliberately neglected in recent years, in an effort to persuade tenants to move out), the only reason the council — and, by extension, Peabody — can have for not simply refurbishing Reginald House and letting tenants stay is ideological, with both organisations committed to replacing socially rented properties with the far more expensive ‘London Affordable Rent’ option (and, along the way, also reducing tenants’ rights).

To the casual observer, Peabody, established as a philanthropic social housing provider in the 1860s, is a benevolent organisation that is still committed to providing genuinely affordable social housing. However, since the Tories came to power in 2010 and almost immediately cut subsidies for the construction of new social housing by 60%, while simultaneously introducing so-called “affordable” rents at 80% of market rents, they, like all the big housing associations, have become, first and foremost, private developers, with their social housing obligations relegated to a secondary position.

Although ostensibly using profits from private sales to subsidise the social housing components of developments, everything about the arrangement stinks. A search for Peabody, for example, brings up Peabody Sales as the primary website, with a prominent page for investors, where, under the heading, ‘Buy to let investments with Peabody’, the organisation boasts, “At Peabody, we want to nurture great relationships with investors looking at buy to let investments. Whether you are just starting out as a private landlord or manage an extensive property portfolio, we offer a wide selection of buy to let investments and help you the entire way making the process as simple and straight forward as possible. We develop in high valued areas close to transport links and local amenities, which make our properties attractive to potential tenants delivering fantastic rental yields.”

George Peabody, who set up Peabody to provide housing of a decent quality for the ‘artisans and labouring poor of London’ — or to “ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness” —must surely be turning in his grave, his philanthropic ideal now irrevocably lost. On its Wikipedia page, Peabody today is described as an “urban regeneration agency, a developer with a focus on regeneration.”

In addition, as is readily understandable from the Tidemill proposals, the notion of social rent — the only genuinely affordable rent level for poorer households, and, in its ideological prime, for anyone who wanted a guaranteed home for life at an affordable rent — no longer even exists. Of the 209 properties planned for Tidemill, 51 are for private sale, 41 are for shared ownership (a notorious scam that shouldn’t even be allowed to exist), while the other 117 homes (a figure that conveniently excludes the 13 social homes to be destroyed in Reginald House) are to be rented out at ‘London Affordable Rent.’

No wonder we say ‘Shame on Peabody’ and urge the self-described ‘Property Developer in London’ to remember its roots, and to reverse its transformation into a tool of an ideologically malignant government that is dedicated to the steady destruction of secure homes for life at social rents. At Tidemill, Peabody can also add environmental destruction to its crimes of complicity, and we call on the organisation, along with the council, to tear up their existing plans and to go back to the drawing board, sparing the garden and Reginald House, and working with the community on a new plan that puts new homes at social rents back on the agenda.

Further information

The Tidemill site is not Peabody’s only presence in the London Borough of Lewisham. The council quietly twinned it with the Amersham Vale development, on the site of the former Deptford Green secondary school in New Cross, labelling both sites as Deptford Southern Housing Sites. On this site, however, the provision of new homes mistakenly identified as being at “social rent” is much lower — just 24 units out of 120 in total, with a whopping 81 being for private sale, and 15 for shared ownership. 

In a Labour Group briefing paper in June 2018, Cllr. Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing, conceded that the council can legally withdraw from the deal with Peabody, but warned that “it would be considered highly likely” that Peabody and Sherrygreen Homes, a private developer whose role in the proposed development is, to be blunt, opaque, “will still seek to claim back some sunk-costs against the Council. They have spent an estimated £3m and will understandably attempt to claw this back irrespective of what we consider to be a strong legal position.” The £3m referred to consists of £1m for Charlottenburg Park, a landscaped open space next to the Amersham Vale site, whose price tag is frankly astronomical, and “approximately £2m in design and planning costs.” Tellingly, Cllr. Bell also mentioned that one reason for not scrapping the scheme was to maintain “Wider partnership relationships and goodwill [with Peabody], which we need on current and future strategic sites.”

One of those sites is Heathside and Lethbridge, on the border with Greenwich, where two council estates (a 1950s estate, and a striking 1960s Brutalist estate) are being demolished to create ‘Parkside’, a project that will not be complete until 2022, and which Peabody describes, in a booklet for investors, (p. 12) as “a six-phase estate regeneration project, which will transform the existing local authority estates of Heathside and Lethbridge in Lewisham, into a sustainable, mixed tenure community”, adding, “The regeneration involves replacing the existing 565 properties with 1,192 modern apartments in a mix of rented (447), shared ownership (129) and private sale (616) homes.” 

A 2016 briefing paper for the g15 (see p. 48), the dangerously powerful umbrella organisation for the 15 largest housing associations, including Peabody, sub-divided the “rented” properties into “social rent” (199, or 17%) and “affordable rent” (248, or 21%), but these definitions, of course, have shifted in the last two years, with Peabody only recently agreeing to stop charging “affordable” rents set at 80% of market rents by Boris Johnson, and, as discussed above, with “social rents” now being shorthand for ‘London Affordable Rent.’ If anyone has further information about the tenures on ‘Parkside’, please get in touch.

This won’t be my last word on Peabody, as I haven’t discussed the organisation’s many dubious activities elsewhere in the capital, but I’ll leave you with just one current campaign taking place in Westminster, where the council recently decided to proceed with the destruction of Ebury Bridge Estate in Pimlico. As the BBC reported last month (and featured in an Inside Out programme on the housing crisis), Westminster Council, working with Peabody, “plans to flatten 300 homes at the Ebury Bridge estate in Pimlico to make way for 750 new properties, the majority of which will be sold on the private market.

* * * * *

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.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, taking aim at Peabody for their complicity, with Lewisham Council, in the intended destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a genuinely irreplaceable environmental asset and community space in Deptford, along with Reginald House, a structurally sound block of 16 council flats next door, to make way for a new housing project.
    I point out how the Peabody of today – primarily a private developer, with its social housing obligations relegated to a secondary position – is unrecognisable from the organisation set up by the philanthropist George Peabody in the 1860s, and condemn both Peabody and Lewisham Council for wilfully intending to destroy people’s homes in Reginald House – where some residents have lived for 30 years or more – rather than refurbishing them, which would be a much cheaper option.
    I also condemn both Peabody and Lewisham Council (and, by extension, other developers and councils) for so enthusiastically embracing London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan’s creation of a new baseline for so-called “social rents” – ‘London Affordable Rent’, which in Lewisham is 63% higher than existing social rents – and note how Peabody are implementing, or planning to implement their disgraceful demolition and regeneration racket across the capital (working with numerous councils), a process that, in the end, will eradicate social rents by knocking down every estate and housing block where tenants are still paying social rents.
    Tens of thousands of people – primarily living in council estates – are, to be blunt, at risk. Councils and developers only see tenants as an inconvenient obstacle to the huge profits to be gained (almost solely by the building firms and the developers) in a process that, as a secondary objective, also changes the demographic of an area to one that is regarded as more “aspirational”, by exiling the working class – of all backgrounds and origins.
    As I explain in my conclusion, when it comes to the Tidemill proposals, it’s time for Peabody, along with the council, “to tear up their existing plans and to go back to the drawing board, sparing the garden and Reginald House, and working with the community on a new plan that puts new homes at social rents back on the agenda.” It’s a David v. Goliath struggle down in Deptford, but when it comes to the destruction of homes at social rent, this is a war taking place everywhere.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Paul Burnham wrote:

    Andy, you write ‘London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan’s creation of a new baseline for so-called “social rents” – ‘London Affordable Rent’, which in Lewisham is 63% higher than existing social rents’, Yes this is a a huge problem that needs to be exposed, however LAR is Not ‘social rent’ and I think we need to kick up a big fuss about this. Social rent setting has a very specific formula, and LAR is something else, a form of Affordable rent as introduced by the Con Dems in 2011 – and until now not widely used by Councils.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Paul. We need to constantly expose the fact that what is described as “social rent” is no such thing, but it’s such an uphill struggle, as councils and developers persistently lie about what they’re building. For Tidemill, for example, Lewisham Council claims that its proposed development consists of “74% affordable homes”, but that includes shared ownership, and the council sidesteps having to explain what the rents are on the LAR properties by describing them as “​Equivalent to social rent.” What I’m hoping to do is create an analysis of all Lewisham’s new builds, listing properties by type (private, LLR, LAR etc), with a box for “social rent” that is persistently zero to make it clear that Sadiq Khan’s new regime spells extinction for social rents.

  4. Jacqueline Gowie says...

    My question is this: Is the peabody trust listed as a charity? If yes, what are the implications of this with regard to tax etc? Is this an avenue worth exploring?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Jacqueline,
    I wish I knew an easy answer to your question, but I don’t.
    This is from a FAQ section on their website: “Peabody is a charitable housing organisation that helps to tackle poverty by providing affordable housing in London to those who need it. Our not-for-profit status means that the money from sales of new developments in London can be reinvested, helping us to fund the social housing and community services we provide.”
    See: https://www.peabodysales.co.uk/get-in-touch/faqs/
    And here’s a bit of legal analysis – ‘Are Housing Associations public or private?’: https://cornerstonebarristers.com/cmsAdmin/uploads/are-housing-associations-public-or-private-car.pdf

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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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