My New Article for Novara Media: The Achilles Street Estate in New Cross Needs Refurbishment Not A Ballot for Demolition

Posters on the Achilles Street estate in New Cross urging residents to vote no in the ballot regarding the proposed demolition of their homes by Lewisham Council (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Many thanks to Novara Media for publishing my article Refurbishment Is the Dirty Word We Should Be Using, Just Look at the Achilles Street Estate, about the contentious — and, to date, little-discussed — system of ballots for council estates facing destruction, with specific reference to the ballot that has just started on the Achilles Street estate in New Cross and that runs through to November 11. 

I hope you have time to read it, and that you’ll share it if you find it informative.

Ballots preceding any proposed estate demolition were introduced by Jeremy Corbyn, as the Labour Party leader, two years ago, and were made part of GLA policy by London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, last summer. Corbyn’s intention was clearly to allow residents the opportunity to challenge otherwise high-handed decisions taken by councils with only the most cursory nods to ‘consultation.’

In reality, however, because the ballots take place at the very start of the process, councils are free to make all manner of grand-sounding promises that they won’t necessarily be able to keep, and are also able to fund expensive campaigns, involving consultations, door-knocking and the production of lavish booklets laying out their promises, so that the entire process is a distinctly un-level playing field, with residents opposed to the plans having little or no resources of their own, with no funding provided for them, and with no objective outside advice provided by the council.

Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Irony: Peabody Launches ‘The Muse’ at Amersham Vale in New Cross, Profiting from the Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden

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In the London Borough of Lewisham, ground works have started on a long-empty site at Amersham Vale in New Cross, which was formerly occupied by Deptford Green secondary school. What most people don’t know — because Lewisham Council and the developers, the aggressively huge housing association Peabody and the private developer Sherrygreen Homes, worked assiduously to hide the information — is that the Amersham Vale site was stealthily twinned at the planning stage with another, highly-contested site in Deptford, containing the old Tidemill primary school, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and the 16 structurally sound council flats of Reginald House, with the two sites blandly identified as ‘Deptford Southern Housing.’ 

At Tidemill, campaigners — myself included — spent many years trying to persuade the council and the developers to drop the Tidemill garden from their plans, because it is — or was — a magical, autonomous green space in a heavily urban environment, and also because it mitigated the worst effects of pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street, where particulate levels have been recorded that are six times the recommended limits set by the World Health Organisation. We were also fighting to save Reginald House from cynical destruction as part of the plans, but although we secured significant media attention by occupying the garden for two months last year, we ended up being violently evicted, and the garden was destroyed in February, although building works have not yet begun.

Instead, at Amersham Vale, the arrival of the ground works team has coincided with Peabody launching a page on their ‘Peabody Sales’ website advertising homes for sale on the site, which they are calling, without any apparent trace of irony, ‘The Muse’ — the muse in question being, presumably, that of gentrification and the lure of filthy lucre.

Read the rest of this entry »

One Year Since the Tidemill Occupation Began, Is the Tide Turning Against the ‘Regeneration’ Industry?

The Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on August 28, 2018, the day before its occupation, to prevent its destruction, officially began (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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One year ago, local residents and activists in Deptford, in south east London — myself included — occupied a community garden, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, to try to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council for a housing project. Strenuous efforts had been made by members of the local community for many years to persuade the council that their plans for the garden — originally part of the Tidemill primary school, which moved out of its premises in 2012 — were environmentally deranged, because the garden miligated the worst effects of the horrendous pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street, but they had refused to listen.

The plans involved not just the garden — a magical space created by pupils, parents and teachers 20 years before — but also Reginald House, a block of 16 structurally sound flats next door, which, cynically, were to be destroyed to make way for the new development, and the old school itself. Campaigners had no fundamental objections to the former school buildings being converted into housing, but the plans for the garden and for Reginald House were so profoundly unacceptable that, when the council approved the development in September 2017, campaigners began to hatch plans for the occupation.

The garden had been kept open by guardians who had been installed in the old school buildings after it closed in 2012, and when that contract was terminated, the local community were given “meanwhile use” of the garden instead. A handful of volunteers had opened it at weekends, but as time went on the numbers of people drawn to it increased, and after Lewisham Council made its decision, ironically, interest in the garden mushroomed. Numerous musical and artistic events took place throughout spring and summer 2018, and when the council called for campaigners to hand the keys back on August 29, the long-mooted plan to occupy the garden instead went into effect.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Party in the Park, New Cross and Deptford 2018: Sun, Solidarity and the Struggle Against Social Cleansing

The arrival of a carnival procession of campaigners from the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford to Party in the Park, a community festival in New Cross on September 1, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Welcome to Party in the Park 2018, in Fordham Park, New Cross. No fences, no huge metal walls, no entrance fee, no security checks — and no trouble. This was the community in solidarity, proving triumphantly that an open festival is infinitely preferable to the securitised fortresses that play such a divisive role in so many of London’s parks these days (see the big money festivals that, behind their soaring metal walls, take over much of London’s parkland every summer, and the debacle of the recent Lambeth Country Show, for example).

This was the fourth Party in the Park, after events in 2013, 2014 and 2016, but it wasn’t just the brilliant sunshine that made it such a great day, or the music from dozens of great performers (and with my band The Four Fathers honoured to take part). It was that thing I mentioned above. Solidarity.

The theme of the festival was housing, and housing is at the heart of the problems we face on all fronts in the never-ending “age of austerity” imposed by the Tories since 2010, with ongoing cuts to all the services that are essential for a civil society to flourish, and with a relentless onslaught of greed on a key essential of life — housing. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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. Read the rest of this entry »

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham: Please Join the New Campaign!

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham! The logo for the new campaign, designed by Lilah Francis of the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign.Please visit and like the No Social Cleansing in Lewisham Facebook page!

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Back in October, after being hit by a number of pieces of bad news regarding the state of social housing in Lewisham, I rather impetuously came up with a name for a campaign and a rallying cry — No Social Cleansing in Lewisham — and emailed Deptford’s legendary live venue, the Birds Nest, to ask if they would host a night of music, consciousness-raising and and solidarity, to which they said yes.

I had been encouraged to think that a gig in defence of social housing — essentially, not-for-profit rented housing, typically available for no more than a third of what unregulated private rents cost — was possible because, contrary to popular notions that politics has no place in music, which is assiduously promoted by the corporate media, my own band, The Four Fathers, refused the imperative to be bland and non-confrontational, and I had been meeting appropriate performers over the previous year — the acclaimed spoken word artist Potent Whisper, whose work is relentlessly political, the Commie Faggots, who play theatrical singalong political songs, and Asher Baker, a singer-songwriter and rapper from Southwark.

Potent Whisper and I had got to know each other online, and had then both played at a benefit for housing campaigners in Haringey in September, which was a particularly inspirational evening. I’d seen the Commie Faggots play at an open mic event in New Cross, and had then put on an event with them for the Telegraph Hill Festival, and Asher and I had met when we were both on the bill for an evening at the New Cross Inn. I then added people I met recently — the fabulous all-women Ukadelix, and local spoken word artist Agman Gora — and, with the last-minute addition of the Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir, had a powerful evening of protest music lined up for a great night of conscious partying. Read the rest of this entry »

‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’: After Success of Gig in Deptford on Nov. 12, Campaigners Plan to Stage Events in Other Boroughs

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham! A logo for the campaign made by Lilah Francis of the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.





 

It was hard to move in the legendary music pub The Birds Nest in Deptford on Sunday night. I’d arranged a benefit gig there — also intended as a consciousness-raising event, and an opportunity for all kinds of different campaigners to meet — under the umbrella heading, ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’, and it had proved to be so popular that the place was rammed, with sets from the acclaimed spoken word artist Potent Whisper, my band The Four Fathers, playing punky political rock and roots reggae, the theatrical singalong politics of the Commie Faggots, the talented Southwark-based rapper Asher Baker, Deptford spoken word artist Agman Gora passionately tackling current crises, the massed voices of the Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir, and the ukulele-wielding women of Ukadelix, with their wonderful vocal harmonies. Check out all my photos here.

I organised the event because I’d become aware that the plague of modern London — social cleansing by, predominantly, Labour boroughs — was starting to make its baleful presence felt in the borough of Lewisham, where I live, in south east London. This is not to say that Lewisham had previously been impervious to this greedy, class-based curse. The monstrous Lewisham Gateway development in the heart of the borough had begun with the destruction of a council estate, the Sundermead Estate, and the council is also currently involved in the long-running destruction of two estates on the border with Greenwich, Heathside and the wonderfully Brutalist Lethbridge Estate (which I’ll need to write about soon, as I can find absolutely no criticism of the estate’s destruction online, and very few photos), as well as demolishing the extraordinary Excalibur Estate of post-war prefabs high in the back streets of Catford.

The Four Fathers playing at 'No Social Cleansing in Lewisham' at the Birds Nest pub in Deptford on November 12, 2017.However, compared to its rapacious neighbour, Southwark, Lewisham is not yet a fully paid-up member of the Premier League of social cleansers. Lewisham’s biggest imminent project is the redevelopment of Convoys Wharf, a historically significant wharf on Deptford’s shoreline. This insulting effort to recreate Dubai at the end of Deptford High Street on the site of Henry VIII’s great dockyard is profoundly disappointing, but it doesn’t involve the destruction of people’s homes, whereas Southwark Council, at the Heygate Estate, working with the Australian-based international property developer Lendlease, has destroyed an estate of 1,034 socially rented homes, replacing them with 2,704 new homes, but with only 82 for social rent, and is currently undertaking similar destruction on the Aylesbury Estate, one of Europe’s biggest council estates, with Notting Hill Homes, a former social housing provider that has eagerly responded to government cuts by becoming an enthusiastic private developer. Read the rest of this entry »

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham! Fundraiser for Tidemill and Achilles Street Campaigns with Potent Whisper, The Four Fathers, Commie Faggots at the Birds Nest, Nov. 12

The poster for 'No Social Cleansing in Lewisham' at the Birds Nest in Deptford on November 12, 2017.

Check out the Facebook event page here — for ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham!’ at the Birds Nest, in Deptford, London SE8, on Sunday November 12 from 6-11pm, with Potent Whisper, the Four Fathers, the Commie Faggots, Asher Baker, The Wiz-RD and Ukadelix.

Followers of London’s housing crisis — and, particularly, the destruction of social housing estates and their replacement with new, private developments — will know, from the experiences of residents and leaseholders on the Heygate Estate in Walworth, in the London Borough of Southwark, that councils and developers talk sweetly about the right to return for tenants, and about adequately compensating leaseholders, but that in the end both groups are socially cleansed out of their homes, and often out of their boroughs, and even out of London completely, as they are excluded from the new properties built to profit the developers, and to appeal to investors (and largely, it seems, to foreign investors).

The biggest culprit to date has been Southwark Council, which is currently engaged in another huge act of social cleansing on the Aylesbury Estate, also in Walworth, but there have been other notorious examples — the West Hendon Estate, for example, Woodberry Down in Hackney and Robin Hood Gardens in Tower Hamlets — and other councils are queuing up to engage in their own social cleansing. Lambeth Council plans to demolish two well-regarded estates, Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill, and Haringey Council is currently trying to enter into a 50/50 partnership with the rapacious international property developer Lendlease (the butchers of the Heygate Estate) in a £2bn deal that will see the council handing over control of all its social housing, with plans for the destruction of several estates.

Until recently, Lewisham has not figured prominently in this story, having largely bypassed social cleansing issues by working with developers on brownfield sites. But at the end of September, Lewisham councillors approved the destruction of Old Tidemill Garden and a block of social housing on Reginald Road, in Deptford, and the council is also intending to demolish blocks of flats and shops on and around Achilles Street in New Cross. See the Tidemill Facebook page, the Achilles Street Facebook page, and also see my article, Social Cleansing and the Destruction of Council Estates Exposed at Screening of ‘Dispossession’ by Endangered New Cross Residents. Read the rest of this entry »

Social Cleansing and the Destruction of Council Estates Exposed at Screening of ‘Dispossession’ by Endangered New Cross Residents

The Achilles fanzine, put together by resident Lilah Francis, from the area threatened with demolition by Lewisham Council, and some campaign badges (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.





 

On Saturday, I went to the New Cross Learning Centre — a community-run former library in New Cross — for a screening of ‘Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle’, a new documentary about Britain’s housing crisis directed by Paul Sng, who is from New Cross (and is the director of ‘Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain’). The screening was organised by the residents of the Achilles Street area, whose homes are threatened by Lewisham Council, which wants to knock them all down, and build shiny new replacements. The area affected runs between New Cross Road and Fordham Park (from south to north), and between Clifton Rise and Pagnell Street (from west to east), and there are 87 homes (with 33 leaseholders), and around 20 businesses (along New Cross Road and down Clifton Rise).

Lewisham Council claims, in its most recent consultation document, from February this year, that “[a]ll current council tenants who wish to stay in the new development will be able to do so with the same rent levels and tenancy conditions that they have today,” and that “[a]ny resident leaseholder who wishes to will be able to remain in home ownership on the new development.”

This sounds reassuring, but the recent history of regeneration projects — both in London and elsewhere in the country — is that councils and developers lie to tenants and leaseholders, to get them to agree to regeneration under terms that are not then honoured. Instead, tenants are evicted and their homes demolished, and they never get to return, and leaseholders are offered derisory amounts for the homes that, ironically, they bought under Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy, which is insufficient for them to buy a replacement property in the area, leading to their exodus in addition to that of the former tenants. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 (The State of London).
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