Haringey Leader Claire Kober’s Resignation Ought to Signal an End to Labour’s Frenzy of Council Estate Destruction, But 70 Labour Leaders Disagree

On the left: Claire Kober, the leader of Haringey Council, who announced her resignation on January 30, 2018 after profound grass-roots opposition to her plans to transfer all the council's social housing to a 50:50 development vehicle between the council and rapacious international property developers Lendlease. On the right: a poster by the Stop HDV campaign, which led a brilliant grass-roots campaign against the proposal.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

There was great news on Tuesday, as Claire Kober, the Labour leader of Haringey Council, announced her resignation, explaining that she will not be standing in May’s elections. Kober — and her close associates, like Alan Strickland, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Housing — had imperiously decided to hand over all of Haringey’s social housing to the predatory international developer Lendlease, in what was laughingly described as a 50:50 partnership. Lendlease, however, has all the money, and what was intended to happen, via the £2bn deal for Haringey, was a large-scale version of what Southwark Council arranged for Lendlease at the Heygate Estate in Walworth: the destruction of council estates and their replacement with private developments for sale, or for rent at unaffordable prices.

At the Heygate, as I explained in an article last September, 1,034 homes, housing around 3,000 people, were demolished, most of which were socially rented, costing around 30% of market rents. 2,704 new homes are being built on the Heygate’s replacement, Elephant Park, but only 82 of those will be for social rent, with the rest laughably described as “affordable” in the biggest scam in the developers’ current lexicon. “Affordable” rents were set at 80% of market rents by Boris Johnson, in his miserable tenure as London’s Mayor, but that is actually unaffordable for the majority of hard-working Londoners.

As Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian explained when describing the Haringey proposal, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), in July, “Haringey plans to stuff family homes, school buildings, its biggest library and much more into a giant private fund worth £2bn. It’s the largest scheme of its kind — ‘unprecedented’, in the words of backbench councillors. Together with a property developer, it will tear down whole streets of publicly owned buildings and replace them with a shiny town centre and 6,400 homes.” Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell, Six Months On: The Four Fathers’ New Song Remembering Those Who Lost Their Lives and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

A screenshot from the video of The Four Fathers performing 'Grenfell' - with added titles.Before June 14 this year, anyone reflecting on the skyline of London would think about the Shard, the Gherkin, One Canada Square, the ostentatious towers of the face of modern capitalism; on the morning of June 14, however, a new vision of a tower was seared into the nation’s memory — the charred, still-smoking remains of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey residential tower block in North Kensington, in west London, consumed in an overnight inferno with the loss of 71 lives.

The Grenfell Tower fire was entirely preventable. Designed so that each flat would be able to withstand fire until the emergency services arrived, the tower’s structural integrity was destroyed when it was given new cladding — through holes made in the body of the tower, through the use of flammable cladding to save money, and through the gaps behind the cladding that facilitated the extraordinarily swift spread of the fire. At every level, it seems clear — central government, local government, the devolved management responsible for Kensington & Chelsea’s social housing, and the various contractors involved in maintenance and refurbishment — safety standards were eroded or done away with completely,

When I wrote about the fire just two days later, I was deeply shocked to discover that the disaster had been foretold by residents in the Grenfell Action Group, who had stated in a post in November 2016, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO [Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation], and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.” Read the rest of this entry »

Following the Successful World Premiere of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ at the Cinema Museum, the Next Screening is at Deptford Cinema on Dec. 18

A poster for the launch of 'Concrete Soldiers UK', at the Cinema Museum in Kennington on December 8, 2017.Last Friday a new and timely documentary film that I narrated, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, had its world premiere at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, London SE11, showing to a full house of over 150 people, with pre-screening performances from beatboxer Bellatrix and spoke word artist Potent Whisper. The film was directed by Nikita Woolfe, and is the result of three years’ work. As she says, “Three years ago I was looking at all the new developments in London and was surprised to see how much of the construction happened on old council estate land. I started wondering why the councils wanted to sell off their valuable assets and whether there were alternatives. That’s how ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ began. Three years later and ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ is not only answering my questions but it has also become a film about the fighting spirit that I encountered on the way.”

The next screening is at Deptford Cinema on Monday December 18, at 7.30pm, followed by a Q&A with me and with representatives of estates and community spaces threatened with destruction in the borough of Lewisham — Old Tidemill Garden and Reginald Road in Deptford, and Achilles Street in New Cross — under the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ umbrella term that I came up with in October, and which has so far spawned a benefit gig and a Facebook page.

Niki and I are planning to take the film on the road next year — primarily around estates threatened with destruction in London, but also beyond, if we can secure funding for our time and our travel. We also hope it will be shown in cinemas, and if you can help at all with any of these proposals, do get in touch. You can email me here, or you can email Niki here or call her on 07413 138909. We’re currently setting up a fundraising page, so if you want to help with that, do let Niki know. Read the rest of this entry »

Just Two Days Until the World Premiere of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, About Community Resistance to the Destruction of Council Estates, Which I Narrate

A promotional poster for 'Concrete Soldiers UK', designed by the Artful Dodger. The film, directed by Nikita Woolfe, is released in December 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

This Friday, December 8, it’s the world premiere of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ at the Cinema Museum, in Kennington, London SE11, and if you’re in London and care about social housing, I do urge you to come and watch it.

I’m the narrator of the film, but I came to it after all the hard work had been done — by the director, Nikita Woolfe, who spent three years working on it between other projects. It focuses on the destruction of council estates, and their replacement with new projects built by private developers, from which, crucially, existing tenants and leaseholders tend to be excluded, a form of social cleansing that is on the verge of becoming an epidemic in London.

Starved of funding by central government, councils have been working with private developers, who have no interest in renovating existing estates, as they know that there are huge profits to be made by demolishing estates instead and building new housing for private sale. To try to avoid claims of social cleansing, some of these new properties are marketed as “affordable”, but because “affordable” rents were set at 80% of market rents under Boris Johnson during his lamentable eight-year tenure as the Mayor of London, they are not actually affordable for most Londoners. Another scam is shared ownership, whereby, for many times more than they were paying previously in social rent, tenants get to nominally own a share of their property (say, 25%), but on what can only objectively be construed as a nominal basis, as it’s not something that can ever actually be sold unless the occupier can eventually afford to buy the entire property, which many can’t. In the meantime, as solicitor Giles Peaker explained in an article in 2013 looking at the case of a woman who had lost her part-owned home through rent arrears, “In practice … shared ownership is just a tenancy, with an expensive downpayment for an option to buy the whole property at a later date.” 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 »

‘Concrete Soldiers UK’: New Documentary Film About Social Cleansing and Council Estate Destruction in London Features Andy Worthington as Narrator

A promotional image for 'Concrete Soldiers', a new documentary film about the threat to social housing in London, directed by Nikita Woolfe, featuring narration by Andy Worthington.

Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

I’m delighted to announce the launch of the website for ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, a new documentary film directed by Nikita Woolfe, for which I’m doing the voiceover. I met Niki at ‘The Truth About Grenfell’, a powerful event the week after the terrible Grenfell Tower fire in June, organised by ASH (Architects for Social Housing), which Niki was filming (and which also features in ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’). The completed film of the event, which has had nearly 15,000 views to date, is here.

Please note that there is also now a Facebook page and a Twitter page. Please like and follow us!

A few months later, Niki asked me if I’d like to narrate the film, and I was honoured to say yes. I live in social housing (which, for foreign readers, is rented housing that is, essentially, run on a not-for-profit basis), and am a passionate defender of it, and it has been thoroughly depressing watching as it has been denigrated by those who seek to destroy it so they can make a profit from its privatisation or its destruction and replacement by new private developments.

Those who want to get rid of social housing have a number of ploys: one is claiming that it should only be for those who are especially poor and desperate, and not, as I think it should be, for anyone who wants to rent rather than own a property, but who wants to do so cheaply, and sees that as a fair trade, as those who rent never end up owning the properties they live in, unlike those who take out mortgages. Read the rest of this entry »

How Architects for Social Housing Took On the Dangerous Neo-Liberal Contempt for Social Housing of Patrik Schumacher and Others at the Barbican

A banner in defence of social housing at the Anarchist Bookfair in Tottenham on October 28, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

On Saturday, while I was meeting up with other social housing campaigners at the Anarchist Bookfair in Tottenham (where there was a screening of the powerful documentaryDispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle,’ housing activist and academic Lisa McKenzie and anti-fascist activist Martin Lux were discussing ‘Taking it to the Streets — the politics of Class Solidarity,’ and the Radical Housing Network was discussing ‘After Grenfell, the struggle for housing justice’), Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing was taking on some of those seeking to justify and celebrate the neo-liberal destruction of social housing at the Battle of Ideas in the Barbican Centre, described as “two days of high-level thought-provoking public debate.”

To be blunt, it is hard to think of a more important topic for those living in the UK right now than the parlous state of housing, and the class war and exploitation of the poor by the rich that is currently underway, and that, if it isn’t stopped, will destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of people over the coming decade.

Those people live in social housing, on estates that are being torn down not because there is fundamentally anything wrong with them structurally, but because those responsible for them — councils and housing associations — starved of funding by central government, have chosen not to fight for their tenants, but to enter into deals with wealthy and rapacious international property developers, who knock down the estates, and replace them with hideously overpriced new apartment blocks and towers, largely for sale to foreign investors.

In contrast, those who used to live on the estates — the tenants and, in the cases of properties formerly owned by councils, the leaseholders — are lied to about the reality of their predicament until, in many cases, they willingly sign their own death warrants regarding their homes. Tenants, in general, do not get to return to the new developments — and if they do, they pay considerably more, for less space, and with no tenancy rights whatsoever — while leaseholders — those who bought into Margaret Thatcher’s promise of home ownership for council tenants — are offered such derisory amounts of money for their homes that they can no longer live in the area.

Simon Elmer and his colleague, Geraldine Dening, set up Architects for Social Housing in 2015 as an alliance of like-minded individuals opposed to this destruction, and their main contribution to this unfolding nightmare — beyond taking a strong moral and ethical point of view in defence of those who live in social housing — has been to demonstrate, over and over, how refurbishment is much cheaper than demolition, and, through detailed planning, how infilling and adding to existing buildings can create extra homes without the need for any destruction.

The councils and developers don’t care, of course, because their mission is not to save existing estates, and provide new housing for genuinely affordable social rents, but to socially cleanse their boroughs of their poorer inhabitants, or those who failed to jump onto the housing ladder the last time it was remotely affordably for people on average incomes, around 15 years ago, and to join in the profiteering of the developers. In some cases, those responsible seem to have nothing but contempt for those in social housing — and as ASH has continually pointed out, the majority of the wrecking crews are Labour councils —but in other cases the ideology also involves old-fashioned corruption, with many councillors and council officials joining developers via generous revolving door policies.

On Saturday, Simon Elmer was not up against councillors but a largely unappealing group of architects and advisers in thrall to neo-liberal supremacist views, and all demonstrating absolute contempt for those poorer than themselves and their destructive and heartless colleagues. The only one I knew of in advance was Patrik Schumacher, who took over from Zaha Hadid as the head of Zaha Hadid Architects after Hadid’s death, and whose contemptuous supremacist views appal everyone who retains a shred of decency.

As the architectural website Dezeen explained last November:

Zaha Hadid‘s closest confidantes have distanced themselves from the speech made by her successor Patrik Schumacher, in which he called for social housing to be scrapped and public space to be privatised.

Rana Hadid, Peter Palumbo and Brian Clarke – the three other trustees of the Zaha Hadid Foundation, and executors of Hadid’s estate – said they “totally disagree” with Schumacher’s views.

They also claimed that Hadid herself would have opposed the speech, which mapped out the architect’s vision for a deregulated and privatised city, with support for foreign investment into property and gentrification.

“The views recently expressed by Patrik Schumacher regarding the closure of art schools, the abandonment of social housing and the building over of Hyde Park are his personal views and are not, in any way, shared by us,” said the trio.

“Knowing Dame Zaha as well as we did, we can state categorically that she would have been totally opposed to these views and would have disassociated herself from them. We personally also totally disagree with these views.”

The others on the panel were a compromised academic, Kath Scanlon, Lisa Taylor, the Chief Executive of a think-tank grandiosely called the Future of London, and James Woudhuysen, formerly Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester, and now a visiting professor at London’s South Bank University, who, although reprimanded by Simon below for his thoughts on recycling, has some interesting views on housing, and, in particular, believes, with some merit, that prefabrication is the answer to Britain’s housing crisis — see this article from 2004, and this paper, written with the architect Ian Abley, also in 2004, imagining a prefabricated housing future in 2016, which, of course, never happened. The two had just written a book called Why is construction so backward?, explaining how the UK “construction sector is one of the world’s weakest in innovation.” 

Below I’m cross-posting the text of Simon Elmer’s speech on Saturday, as made available on the ASH website, prefaced by an introduction in which he explained more about his fellow panelists, and provided pertinent links to their work — or their malignant propaganda. This is a rather powerful and concise defence of ASH’s position, which I thoroughly endorse, and a necessary and important rebuke to the dark forces bent on the destruction of all social housing. The links in Simon’s speech, I should note, are my own additions.

Unfortunately, those on the dark side have considerable money and influence, but we are many and they are few, and if we can genuinely work out how to remember what solidarity is, after 30-40 years of its persistent erosion by the neo-liberals who are still trying to wipe us out, then we can take on these disgraceful people, who wage their bitter ideological wars not on traditional battlefields, but though turning our actual homes into battlefields from which we are to be cleansed, resist them en masse, and win this fight!

Be warned, though, if we don’t work out how to fight back effectively, we will be evicted, marginalised and removed to whatever towns can be found that can be made into privately-rented ghettos.

Battle of Ideas: Reform or Revolution in Housing?
ASH, October 28, 2017

On Saturday, 28 October, as part of the Barbican’s Battle of Ideas festival, ASH was part of a panel debate titled Housing: Reform or Revolution? The rest of the panel was composed of Patrik Schumacher, the Principle at Zaha Hadid Architects, who the previous year, at a speech at the World Architecture Festival, had called for estates in Inner London to be demolished to make way for more productive people and their ‘amazing multiplying events’; Kath Scanlon, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at the London School of Economics, who the same year co-authored a report commissioned by the Berkeley Group recommending their estate redevelopment, Kidbrooke Village, as an example of why London’s housing should be taken out of the control of local authorities and placed in the hands of private developers; Lisa Taylor, Chief Executive of [the] Future [of] London, a policy network which the previous year had published a report recommending that demolishing and redeveloping council estates was one of the keys to addressing London’s housing crisis; and James Woudhuysen, Visiting Professor at London’s South Bank University, who in 2006 on the BBC Breakfast Show had argued that recycling was a symptom of an ‘authoritarian state’ and accused the Green Party of being ‘reactionary’ and ‘anti-human’. This is the text of ASH’s presentation.

1. Reform or revolution?

A photo of an advert for hideously overpriced apartments in New Cross, London, used by Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing in his talk at the Battle of Ideas in the Barbican Centre on October 28, 2017.I want to start with title of this event: reform or revolution, and look at what this opposition means in practice through a recent image of a new housing development. The image is an advert for the NX Gate apartments in New Cross. It shows a young woman in what I guess advertising executives would call a state of excitement, over which are written the words: ‘The rental revolution is here! Rent from £300 per week’. Developed by Realstar Living, NX Gate rents 2-bedroom apartments from £1,525 per month, not including the numerous service charges. Just down the road from this new development is the Achilles Street estate, where a 2-bedroom council flat costs £414 per month, nearly a quarter as much. Despite this, Lewisham council has plans to demolish this estate and redevelop it along the same lines as NX Gate, making it just one of over 190 such estates that have recently undergone, are undergoing, or are threatened with redevelopment, privatisation and social cleansing by London’s estate regeneration programme. In case we don’t know at whom this ‘revolution’ is being marketed, the Rightmove advert for NX Gate indicates that the new development is 10 minutes from Cannon Street and 12 minutes from Canary Wharf, with Goldsmiths College just around the corner.

In short, the ‘revolution’ in housing is a marketing gimmick, aimed at young bankers looking to buy and international students looking to rent with the bank of mum and dad. So let’s look at the reality behind this gimmick.

2. There is no such thing as a free market

Last year my fellow panelist Patrik Schumacher famously declared that council tenants were being subsidised by the state to live in parts of London they would not otherwise be able to afford, and that he wanted to demolish their homes to make way for what he called ‘his people’. Now, whatever you may think of this programme for the social cleansing of Inner London, the reality is that the UK’s post-war housing estates paid off their construction costs and debt interest years ago, and are actually making a profit for councils and housing associations. Or at least, they would be if they weren’t demolishing so many of them.

Like so many things taken as fact in debates about how to solve the housing crisis, the truth is the exact opposite of what we are told. It is the private sector that is being subsidised by the state through a myriad of schemes: Right to Buy, which has sold 1.8 million council homes, a quarter of which are now owned by private landlords; Housing Benefit, which pays £20 billion a year to subsidise the growing private rental market that has taken their place; Help to Buy, Rent to Buy and Shared Ownership, which are available to households earning £90,000 a year; and more generally with the billions of pounds of public land and assets that are being sold to private developers at a fraction of their market value. The truth is that there is no private housing scheme that is not based on pocketing huge sums of public money.

3. The public sector doesn’t exist

But just as there is no such thing as a free market, so the public sector also doesn’t exist. Is it any wonder that Parliament refuses to regulate the private rental market when 1 in every 5 MPs is a landlords? In the local authorities implementing the estate demolition programme the conflict of interest is even greater. The prime example here is Southwark council, where 1 in 5 councillors are lobbyists for the building industry, and where 6 of the most senior officers responsible for selling the Heygate estate to property developers Lendlease for one-fifteenth of its market value now either work for or with the company.

And the lobbying is not confined to councillors. Kath Scanlon of the London School of Economics, who sits beside me on this panel, was paid by the Berkeley Group to produce a report on Kidbrooke Village, a development built by them on land cleared of over 1,900 demolished council homes and around 5,000 evicted council tenants. Of the 4,500 properties for private sale being built in their place, only 150 are planned for social rent. Despite this, Professor Scanlon’s report recommended that not only our homes but our communities too be handed over to the design and profits of private developers like the Berkeley Group, whose pre-tax profits have quadrupled in just five years from £136 million in 2011 to £531 million in 2016.

In short, our public housing and public land is in the hands of individuals and institutions that mistake stewardship for ownership, and public service for the opportunity to flog our public assets to the highest bidder.

4. Building more homes is not the answer

It is universally agreed that to solve the housing crisis we need to build more homes. However, the housing crisis is not one of supply but of affordability, with 56 per cent of London homes failing to meet this criterion. Now, while the law of supply and demand describes a capitalist dream of competitive markets responding to human needs, London’s financialised housing market, flooded by global capital, is driven by profit margins. House prices in London have risen by 86 per cent since 2009 to an average price of nearly £491,000 in January 2017, fourteen-and-a-half times the average London salary, and in Inner London to £970,000; while rents in London’s private rental market have gone up by 9.6 per cent in the past two years alone to an average of £2,216 per month for a 2-bedroom home, double the national average. Simply building more high-value properties will only push these prices up.

In transport systems this is called ‘induced demand’, when building more roads actually increases traffic. As an example of which, a decade ago the only baker’s on Hackney’s Kingsland High Street was Greggs, where you could buy a loaf for under a quid. Nowadays the street is lined with artisanal bakeries selling loaves at many times that price – and, just as importantly, as of last year Greggs stopped selling loaves to concentrate on take-away health-food fodder for the influx of Dalston hipsters. Not only has the increased number of bakeries in the area increased prices rather than reducing them, but it has also removed the low-cost loaf for the local working-class population. We all know what this process is called: gentrification, which isn’t driven by consumer choice but by market creation. If we leave London’s housing to the market, all we’ll get is the housing equivalent of more artisanal bakeries.

5. There is no housing crisis

The estimated total value of the housing stock in England in January 2017 was £6.8 trillion, an extraordinary figure that has increased by £1.5 trillion in the last three years alone. Equivalent to 3.7 times the gross domestic product of the entire UK, and nearly 60 per cent of the UK’s entire net wealth, the property market now constitutes an economy in itself. Unsurprisingly, £1.7 trillion of that housing stock is in London. The function of new-build properties in London is not to house the 250,000 London households currently on housing waiting lists, or the 240,000 London households with 320,000 children living in overcrowded accommodation, or the 50,000 London households with 78,000 children that are currently homeless and living in temporary accommodation; it is to satisfy the demand of international capital for investment opportunities.

Because of the enormously inflated exchange value of these new-build properties, their use value as homes for Londoners in need of housing is almost zero. On the contrary, the more council estates are demolished to clear the land for their construction, and the more public land is lost to private companies, so the higher the demand for housing grows, the higher the price of the housing being built in their place is driven up, and the louder the demands to demolish more council estates to make way for higher cost housing in their place.

6. Architects for Social Housing

So what’s the answer? Over the past 3 years Architects for Social Housing has designed alternatives to the demolition of 5 estates, increasing their capacity by up to 45 per cent without demolishing a single existing home. Through renting or selling a percentage of the new builds privately we can generate the funds to refurbish the rest of the estate, which has typically been deprived of maintenance for years as part of its managed decline. If the requirement is to build more homes in which Londoners can afford to live, there is no necessity to demolish the only homes in London to have escaped the speculation in property. Like austerity measures, London’s programme of estate demolition and redevelopment is not an economic necessity but a political choice.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

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 the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for 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).

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, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see 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.

The Crime of Destroying Social Housing in London – and the Significance (Or Not) of Jeremy Corbyn’s Response

A photo of the first stage of demolition on the Heygate Estate in Southwark, south east London, in April 2011 (Photo: Lotte Sheedy for the Architects Journal).This is my 2900th article since I began writing here on a full-time basis in May 2007. If you like what I do, please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

A great crime is taking place in London — the destruction of social housing estates by councils, who, squeezed of cash by central government, and, for decades, prevented from spending money on social housing, have entered into deals with private developers, in which housing — primarily estates — that the councils claim they have no money to refurbish are demolished, and replaced by new developments that offer huge profits for the developers, but that provide no social housing, or a risibly small amount.

In recent years, the purely private developers have been joined by housing associations, the preferred choice of governments, since the time of Margaret Thatcher, for managing social housing. However, with their central funding completely cut by the Tories since 2010, they have also been obliged to embark upon more and more developments featuring a large component of private housing to subsidise their properties for rent.

A further complication is that, in one of the most cynically breathtaking acts of spin in modern British history, the social housing provided is generally what is officially termed “affordable,” but which, in reality, is not affordable at all for most Londoners. Boris Johnson, during his eight destructive years as London’s Mayor, set “affordable” rents at 80% of market rents, and in most of London — if not all — market rents are so out of control that those on the median income in London (the level at which 50% of workers earn more, and 50% earn less) are paying up to 70% of their wages on rent, when the acceptable model — in pre-Thatcher days — used to be that no one should pay more than a third of their income, just as, before the insane bubble that has more or less existed since New Labour took office in 1997, the acceptable cost of a house was no more than three and a half times a worker’s income. 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 »

Video: Architects for Social Housing’s Powerful Public Meeting, ‘The Truth About Grenfell Tower’, and Their Detailed Report

Grenfell Tower, photographed on the afternoon of June 14, 2017, about 12 hours after the inferno began (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

On June 22, a week after the dreadful Grenfell Tower inferno in west London, which I wrote about here and here, Architects for Social Housing (ASH), an organisation set up two years ago to oppose the demolition of housing estates for profit, and for social cleansing, which, instead, can be refurbished, held an open meeting to examine what caused the Grenfell fire, and what lessons can and must be learned from it.

I attended that meeting, in the Residents Centre of Cotton Gardens Estate in Lambeth, which was attended by around a hundred people, including residents, housing campaigners, journalists, lawyers, academics, engineers and architects. It was an articulate and passionate event, and I’m delighted that an edited film of the meeting is now available on YouTube, made by the filmmaker Line Nikita Woolfe (with the assistance of Luc Beloix on camera and additional footage by Dan Davies), produced by her company Woolfe Vision.

The meeting was hosted by Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer of ASH, and a prominent guest was the architect Kate Macintosh, who, at the age of 28, designed the acclaimed Dawson’s Heights estate in Dulwich. Her late husband, George Finch, designed Cotton Gardens, another acclaimed estate, and one whose structural integrity, it became apparent at the meeting, had not been compromised as Grenfell Tower’s had, with its chronically ill-advised refurbishment leading, in no uncertain terms, to the terrible and entirely preventable loss of life on June 14. 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.
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