Lewisham Council’s Self-Inflicted Woes Increase: Chaos Over Tidemill Eviction Costs, and the Sacking of CEO Ian Thomas

29.11.18

Campaigners with the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign outside Lewisham Council's HQ in Catford on November 28, 2018 (Photo: Bridie Witton).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.

 

What a disgrace Lewisham Council are. With Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaigners and numerous local people putting the council under ever-increasing pressure to explain how much money has been squandered on the eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden a month ago, the subsequent cost of maintaining a security presence 24 hours a day (which we believe, on the advice of Corporate Watch, to be around £1m), and why they are still not interested in an alternative plan for the site that will spare the garden and Reginald House and do something to salvage their increasingly tattered credibility, they responded, as a FOI request revealed that £105,188 had been spent on the eviction alone, by using that as an opportunity to blame campaigners for it.

The council issued a press release (helpfully posted here by the Deptford Dame), in which Cllr. Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing, after complaining about campaigners and members of the Old Tidemill Garden Group occupying the garden, stated, with a cynical use of the Labour Party’s tagline under Jeremy Corbyn (“for the many, not the few”), “Our housebuilding programme is for the many, not the few, and we won’t let the actions of a small number of people stop us providing decent, secure, social housing for those who need it.”

At the same time as issuing the press release, the council also launched a video, ‘No Place Like Home’ (and a page on their website), dealing with homelessness and the council’s alleged dedication to providing new housing, with the tagline, ‘Why Lewisham Council is making social and truly affordable housing a priority.’

Below, I’ll analyse what it actually means when the council talks about “decent, secure, social housing” and “social and truly affordable housing”, but first of all I’d like to also report back on last night’s council meeting at the council’s headquarters in Catford, where the shame and disgrace continued with a heavy-handed security presence, which was a fundamentally hysterical response by the council to a heated protest outside a meeting in New Cross several weeks ago attended by Mayor Damien Egan, and Tidemill councillors Joe Dromey and Brenda Dacres.

The heavy-handed security led, in turn, to numerous Lewisham residents, myself included, being prevented from attending the meeting, while, inside, there was dismay, expressed through booing, from Tidemill campaigners as the Mayor and Cabinet wheeled out their ‘No Place Like Home’ video (as part of their ongoing suggestion that Tidemill campaigners are opposed to new housing), and even more vocal complaining from black residents, seeking answers as to why the council’s new CEO, Ian Thomas, a black man who was appointed to the new job five months ago, has been sacked by Damien Egan. For more details on the council meeting’s descent into chaos, check out this BBC London Live report by Bridie Witton.

Black campaigners were also very vocal at the recent New Cross meeting, at which Damien Egan showed a stunning inability to fulfil the leadership qualities required in a Mayor, and while the council has been as silent on addressing Ian Thomas’s dismissal publicly, as they have about visiting and communicating with anyone living around the Tidemill site, with its often unfriendly bailiffs, permanently barking dogs, floodlights and relentless disruption, Private Eye recently stepped in to provide an explanation, noting, in its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column:

Lewisham Council has lost its well-regarded chief executive, Ian Thomas, after just five months in the job because, say insiders, the borough’s mayor since May, Damien “Ego” Egan, resented the chief exec’s popularity and high profile.

Thomas, one of a handful of senior black local government officers to have run a London borough, was previously at Rotherham, where he helped turn round the children’s services department, on its knees after the town’s child sexual exploitation scandal. “He was a breath of fresh air”, wrote a local blogger. “Gutted”, said one education campaigner, citing Thomas’s “belief in transparency and accountability … it’s a real loss for parents.” But Thomas’s relationship with Egan deteriorated beyond repair. “It was like dicks at dawn”, said one council officer.

Furthermore, on the same day that the council launched its counter-attacks on the Tidemill campaign via its saccharine video extolling its commitment to building new alleged social housing, the News Shopper reported that Sadiq Khan had told Lewisham Council that “an application for 393 flats in Deptford with only 10 per cent affordable housing goes against London-wide planning regulations.” As the News Shopper proceeded to explain:

The proposals would see a five, 26 and 30-storey building with 393 one, two and three-bed apartments, retail and office floorspace, and an extension to the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on the derelict site in Copperas Street.

The Mayor of London’s report outlined that while redevelopment of the site was supported, the affordable housing offer was unacceptable and did not comply with the London Plan.

“The offer of 10 per cent, made up of 100 per cent shared ownership, is wholly unacceptable,” the report explains.

To correct the lies and spin emanating from the council, I’d like to take this opportunity to confirm that the Tidemill campaign, of which I am a representative, has never opposed building new social housing. On the contrary, although we have sought to save the garden, because of its hugely important role mitigating the horrendous pollution levels in Deptford, and its role as a green community space in an inner-city area desperate in need of a beautiful community space (and not the bits of bland lawn proposed by the developers for the new site), we have also always been committed to saving social housing, beginning with the 16 structurally sound council flats of Reginald House, next to the garden, whose destruction is also part of the council’s plans for the re-development of the Tidemill site, along with the garden and the old Tidemill primary school. 80% of the residents of Reginald House have told the council and the GLA that they don’t want their homes destroyed, but the council isn’t interesting in giving them a ballot even though it has been official Labour Party policy for over a year.

We have, not coincidentally, also always supported the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign in New Cross, which seeks to prevent 87 homes and associated shops on an estate by Fordham Park in New Cross from being destroyed for a cynical new development, as well as supporting Catford Against Social Cleansing, which is fighting proposals to destroy Catford shopping centre and Milford Towers, the estate above it, Heathside and Lethbridge estates, currently almost completely destroyed by Peabody for their Parkside development, and the Excalibur estate of prefabs in Catford, which is also currently being destroyed.

Since the proposals for Tidemill were first mooted ten years ago, campaigners — including some of the long-suffering residents of Reginald House — have worked relentlessly to persuade the council, and its development partners, Family Mosaic, which merged with Peabody last year, and the private company Sherrygreen Homes (whose role remains opaque), to build on the school site but to find another site for the homes proposed for the garden and Reginald House.

What the council and Peabody try never to reveal is that, when the proposals for Tidemill were approved last year, the site was secretly twinned with Amersham Vale, the site of the old Deptford Green school in Deptford, where the construction of 120 new homes has been approved, although 81 of those homes will be for private sale, with just 15 for shared ownership and 24 for rent. This contrasts with Tidemill, where 196 new homes are planned — 51 for private sale, 41 for shared ownership, and 104 for rent.

New homes that cannot — must not — be built on the Tidemill garden and by erasing Reginald House can, if they are not able to be added to the plans for the Tidemill school site, be added to the Amersham Vale plans, or built elsewhere in the borough — at Besson Street, for example, also in New Cross, a long-vacant site where existing social housing was demolished, and where the council, shamefully, is currently entering into a partnership with Grainger plc to build 232 new homes planned for the site, with 65% at market rents, and 35% at ‘London Living Rent’, a new innovation by Sadiq Khan that is 136% higher than current social rents.

The Amersham Vale plans also reveal, quite bluntly, Lewisham Council’s lies when it comes to Tidemill. In the press release issued this week, Paul Bell is quoted as stating that the Council’s housing programme “will deliver over 1,000 new social homes over the next four years with 117 due to be available for social rent at Tidemill. Overall, redevelopment of Tidemill and surrounding areas will provide 209 new homes, 54% of which will be social.”

Where to begin? The 117 new homes are actually 104, because 13 are replacements for the rented flats to be demolished in Reginald House (where there are also three leaseholders), and, moreover, it is simply wrong to claim that “54% of the homes will be social.”

Firstly, the figures don’t add up. 117 out of 209 is 56% or 104 out of 196 is 53%, but much more crucially these are not accurate figures because they fail to take into account the Amersham Vale site, with which Tidemill is twinned. On both sites, the proportion of properties for private sale is 42%, with 18% for shared ownership, and just 40% for rent.

Moreover, while campaigners support the creation of new social housing, Lewisham Council also fails to mention that its alleged support for social housing is not what most people would regard as social housing at all. In all its plans, the total number of new homes at social rent is zero. Yes, you read that right.

When Lewisham Council extols its commitment to building new social homes, it is talking about building homes for ‘London Affordable Rent’, an innovation of London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, which, in Lewisham, according the council’s own figures, is 63% higher than social rent. So these 104 trumpeted new homes that are being used to stealthily subsidise private sales at Amersham Vale, that have led to the violent eviction of the Tidemill garden and, to date, £1m spent in hiring private security guards for the Tidemill school for two years and now another £1.1m for evicting and guarding the garden, are not even social homes at all, but are the stealthy replacement for social rents, which Sadiq Khan and Labour councils all seem to have quietly agreed will be the new lowest rents available, even though an extra £3,000 a year is money that numerous hard-working lower-paid families simply don’t have. For more on this, see Video: I Discuss the Tidemill Eviction, the Broken ‘Regeneration’ Industry and Sadiq Khan’s Stealthy Elimination of Social Rents.

Just last week I published an article, The Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and the Mainstream Media’s Inadequacy in Reporting Stories About “Social Homes” and “Affordable Rents”, urging the mainstream media to pay attention to this disgraceful sleight of hand when it comes to redefining social rents, but in general, I’m sure readers will agree, the mainstream media is useless when it comes to actually analysing what is going on.

The answer to all the chaos discussed above? Well, as ever, Lewisham Council needs to scrap the Tidemill plans, save the garden and Reginald House and go back to the drawing board, working with the local community on new plans that deliver homes at genuine social rents. The council also needs to discuss publicly what happened to Ian Thomas, and it is also becoming increasingly obvious that Damien Egan should resign.

In the longer run, the entire Mayor and Cabinet system should be dissolved, as it is horribly autocratic (as Paul Bell himself recognised when he stood for in the Mayoral election in May), and the council also needs to push for proportional presentation in council elections. A system in which just 20% of the registered electorate votes for a Party (Labour) that ends up with 100% of the councillors is both grotesquely unfair and also, as is increasingly evident, profoundly damaging for any notions of democracy and accountability. Lewisham Council behaves like the worst kind of autocratic one-party state, and this deplorable situation needs to be brought to an end as swiftly as possible.

* * * * *

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. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

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.

15 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, rounding up the latest disasters for Lewisham Council as it tries to justify the unjustifiable costs of the eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, and the ongoing outrageous costs of guarding it, and also tries to quash criticism of the recent dismissal of its well-regarded CEO Ian Thomas, just five months into the job.

    There’s feedback from yesterday’s Mayor and Cabinet meeting, where those in the public gallery – and outside – were treated disdainfully, there’s a reiteration of the Tidemill campaign’s ongoing demand for the garden and Reginald House to be spared, and for the plans to build on the old school site to go back to the drawing board, and there’s also the dawning realisation that this is a truly dysfunctional council, and that it would now make sense for Damien Egan to resign.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a short video from Wednesday’s meeting via East London Lines, including the moment when Cllr. Jacq Paschoud enraged those in the public gallery by saying, “I’m standing up now. When I stand up, everybody sits down and shuts up.”
    See: https://youtu.be/ahS8rwvlsqg

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s Tidemill campaigner Renato Csatich’s 28-minute video of the Lewisham Council meeting on Wednesday evening that ended up being such a PR disaster for the council: https://youtu.be/oITPvt5svhM

  4. Damo says...

    There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home puuuuuuuuke who do they think they are Glinda the good witch of the South… While they destroy and social cleanse the poorest and most vulnerable labour councils it seems are the most guilty of shafting, harming and turning their backs on the vulnerable the most.. They’ve gone for the big money and damm the poor and vulnerable.

  5. Damo says...

    I suspect the guy Thomas was sacked because he outclassed outgunned was more competent more popular liked and respected.. He eclipst the mayor that’s why he was sacked.. Petty politics at its worst the thing that’s so sad at least with the tories we know they hate us we know that they’re in plain sight. It’s the corrupt phoney labour, labour councils ie Lewisham Hackney Ealing Lambeth they’re like snakes in the grass you’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head around them like corrupt banana republics all smoke, mirrors and harmful dodgy dealings

  6. Damo says...

    The thing that’s really sad in all of this is the blatant discrimination the othering you’re too poor too different to live in our new labour.. UTOPIA.. Our gleaming new housing estates.. where you too could purchase… foraged organic foodstuffs and yummy scrummy… Nibbles.. Whilst living the utopian dream.. The old labour the real labour would never have done this.. Ever

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’m glad to see that you weren’t fooled by the video, Damo – pretty typical of the work councils engage in with ‘media consultants’, who inevitably get paid handsomely for their ‘branding exercises.’ I can imagine how special everyone thought they were when they decided that’d just focus on people’s hands, as they told their stories of what it means to be in temporary accommodation. Now I don’t have a problem with that message, of course, but it’s like those lifestyle adverts that are so prevalent these days, where you wonder all along what inappropriate company will be revealed at the end as the sponsor of the advert.
    I really do find it quite extraordinary that the council launched this on the same day that they launched a counter-attack on the Tidemill campaign as though the proposed creation of 104 ‘social homes’ at Tidemill – actually 104 homes that will be owned by Peabody, and that will be rented at ‘London Affordable Rent’ – is the greatest social home building programme in modern history. The fact that it’s Lewisham’s biggest achievement in this field in a generation is actually a pretty damning indictment of how useless they’ve been throughout that time as a housing provider. So as you know, all we were ever demanding was for these homes to be built elsewhere, but whichever way you look at it it’s not an adequate response to the borough’s outstanding housing problems – 2,000 families in temporary accommodation, and 10,000 people on the waiting list. They should have a borough-wide assessment of what land is available, and encourage the public to come up with creative solutions so that all 2,000 families can be housed.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Don’t forget to add Southwark to that list, Damo. The originators of the new era of social cleansing via the destruction of the Heygate Estate and its replacement with the horrible ‘Elephant Park’ development.
    There’s a huge amount of anger in Lewisham amongst black people about the sacking of Ian Thomas, and yet there’s absolutely no transparency about it – nothing meaningful whatsoever from the council, where a coterie of white men are clearly in control of everything. You really would think that the Private Eye article would have prompted a response, wouldn’t you? But no, they’re apparently content to have the Mayor described as Damien ‘Ego’ Egan, and to have ‘Dicks at dawn’ as the council’s motto!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Damo. Everyone’s in the same malignant game of entitlement – of new ‘villages,’ with ‘mixed’ communities that involve private sales, shared ownership and alleged ‘social’ rents. There’s such a vile pecking order involved in it all, which ha infected people’s mentalities, so that those taking out mortgages have successfully been encouraged to think of themselves as superior, while those in the ‘affordable’ rented homes are encouraged to think of themselves as inferior – and subsidised. I recently had a discussion online with someone who’d moved into a new development in North Woolwich and is living in a housing association property, and who stated that the “tenants have been pretty well received [by those with mortgages or, presumably, paying market rent] considering the hugely subsidised package we are paying.” My mind still boggles. Someone in a development where the owners stand to make huge profits calls his housing association flat ‘hugely subsidised’!

  10. Damo says...

    The brutal truth of the matter is Andy they don’t want certain types of people on… THEIR.. Swishy new housing estates and that includes us I forget to mention Hastings borough council who have left those made homeless by universal credit to fend for themselves THEIR concession to the housing crisis is to buy old caravans and house people up the end of the seafront

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    I hadn’t heard about the Hastings story, Damo – despite being there a few weeks ago for a couple of nights, and seeing a fair amount of poverty and homelessness. I had a quick search, and it seems to be that the people in caravans and other vehicles have got the vehicles themselves rather than being housed by the council and are staying on the seafront, and the only reason they haven’t been moved on is because of conflict between two councils. Note that there’s not a shred of empathy from either council regarding the actual peripheral state of existence of these people – instead they’re tarred as engaging in anti-social behaviour:

    Caravans and motorhomes ‘free-for-all’ on St Leonards seafront
    By Huw Oxburgh, Hastings & St Leonards Observer, October 19, 2018

    A ‘free-for-all’ on St Leonards seafront with people living in caravans and motorhomes does not look like being resolved any time soon with two authorities deadlocked over who should take responsibility.

    Hastings Borough Council leader Peter Chowney said it was East Sussex County Council who should be moving on the large group of people currently residing in Sea Road.

    However the county council says it does not believe it would ‘be appropriate’ to use its powers, and says the borough council is responsible as the landowner.

    The issue was raised with Cllr Chowney by ward councillor Karl Beaney (Con, West St Leonards) at a meeting on Wednesday (October 17) where he asked what action the council was taking to address the concerns of local residents.

    He said: “Since I was elected back in May we have had several conversations about people living in caravans and motorhomes along Sea Road.

    “Obviously it is an issue that has been going on for a long time and has been allowed to continue. It is particularly worse in the summer months, when it sort of turns into an illegal caravan park. It is a free-for-all with no enforcement.

    “Not only is it illegal but it also, I would say, poses public health risks and there is a lot of anti-social behaviour involved.”

    In response Cllr Chowney (Lab. – Tressell) said: “The problem with [Sea Road] is that while it is Hastings council-owned land it is still a highway, so the statutory responsibility for dealing with obstructions there is not with us but with the highway authority.

    “Now we have had a long to-ing and fro-ing about this scenario with East Sussex County Council, where they wouldn’t accept it was their responsibility and said ‘it’s your land, you’ve got to sort it out’.

    “The process for us sorting it out – which technically we could do – is much more complicated, expensive and long-winded. [East Sussex County Council] has powers under the Highways Act to deal with it much more quickly and easily.

    “Of course we will work with them, through our housing role, to attempt to re-house the people who are in there and are homeless.

    “Hopefully this will happen but we are dependent still on East Sussex County Council getting their act together and using their highways powers as they have now agreed to do.”

    Cllr Chowney also said that the county council had actually agreed to take responsibility for the area after he had written to council leader Keith Glazier about the issue.

    However the county council says this is not the case, and argues that it would not be appropriate to use its powers as they are designed to deal with abandoned vehicles only.

    An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “While we understand residents’ concerns, we also have to bear in mind that these caravans are effectively being used as dwellings by people who have become homeless.

    “Unfortunately these individuals are some of an increasing number of homeless people across East Sussex who are living and sleeping in vehicles and caravans with no other accommodation to go to.

    “Having taken legal advice, our view is that it would not be appropriate to use powers under the Highways Act which are intended to deal with abandoned vehicles to remove caravans that are being lived in.

    “At a recent meeting with the borough council, we advised that the most effective legislation to use in this instance is Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules in order to gain possession of the land.

    “These powers are available to the borough council as landowner, and we have offered to contribute towards any legal costs incurred by the borough council in seeking this order.

    “We are awaiting a response from the borough council on this and will continue to work with them to try and find a solution to this issue.”

    See: https://www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/politics/caravans-and-motorhomes-free-for-all-on-st-leonards-seafront-1-8675852

  12. Damo says...

    God what a disaster where are they supposed to go looks like the great landlord housing benefits boom bonanza down there is over due to universal credit and now it’s a caravan or the street christ what a choice

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I thought East Sussex County Council at least sounded more sympathetic, Damo, recognising that people aren’t living in caravans to be anti-social, or as some sort of sport, but because they’re homeless. It is, however, pretty clear that, as you say, if their caravans weren’t on disputed land, they’d be on the street.
    Back in the summer I started seriously wondering how many people were homeless but not on the radar for homeless figures because they’re living in vehicles, in lock-ups, in tents in woodland, in abandoned buildings, as well as the significant numbers of people who are squatting, and, of course, all those who are staying with people they know (I don’t like the phrase ‘sofa-surfing’), but I couldn’t reach any conclusions, as the main thing about hidden homelessness is exactly that it’s hidden.
    See: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2018/08/17/video-the-battle-of-the-beanfield-free-festivals-and-traveller-history-with-andy-worthington-on-bristol-community-radio/

  14. Damo says...

    Near me in Acton there is a small industrial estate it’s private land last year there were 7 cars and two vans with people living in them one guy I used to see sat in a small car for over a year all through that snow this year back in September the council towed them all so god knows where the people went poor sods

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    We live in such shocking and astonishing times, Damo. Lost and forgotten people everywhere, and few people in positions of power and authority apparently paying any attention whatsoever.
    At least the GLA’s Housing Committee is making some effort to assess the scale of the crisis, even if the Mayor shows no appetite for tackling it. This is their ‘Hidden Homelessness in London’ report from last September: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/london_assembly_-_hidden_homelessness_report.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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