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 »

Haringey and the Wholesale Social Cleansing of London: Thousands of Social Tenants to Be Removed Via Estate Regeneration

A Haringey housing protestor in December 2016 (Photo: Polly Hancock).

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I was so busy last week with Guantánamo-related business (on and around US Independence Day) and activities involving my band The Four Fathers that I didn’t have time to devote to a truly scandalous development that took place last Monday — the decision, by councillors in the London borough of Haringey, to go into a 50:50 partnership with a private developer in connection with the future of its properties, including all its social housing, on the explicit understanding that it will demolish huge swathes of that housing and that those kicked out of their homes — their homes, not “units” or properties that don’t count as homes because those living in them don’t own them — will very probably not be able to return to the area, or even to carry on living in London at all.

In a powerful article in the Guardian last Monday, Aditya Chakrabortty captured the full disgrace of this social cleansing, focusing on how those in power treat those whose housing is in their control — with contempt, “[t]he condition of being held worthless,” as he pointed out.

Explaining that “[c]ontempt is the thread that runs through much of the worst barbarism in today’s Britain,” Chakrabortty began, inevitably and appropriately, by discussing the Grenfell Tower inferno on June 14, when a still untold number of people were killed in an entirely preventable disaster, noting that one Grenfell campaigner told the Financial Times, “It was not that we stayed silent, but that they never responded. It was not just that they ignored us, but that they viewed us with contempt.” Read the rest of this entry »

Surprise as Tories Judge that Compulsory Purchases for the Regeneration of Southwark’s Aylesbury Estate Breach Leaseholders’ Human Rights

One of the main blocks on the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, south east London, photographed in November 2012 (Photo: Andy Worthington).It was with some shock that, two weeks ago, I read the following headline in the Guardian: “Government blocks plan to force out London estate residents.”

The article was about the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, south east London, one of the largest estates in western Europe, built between 1967 and 1977. Labour-held Southwark Council is in the process of destroying the estate, replacing it with new, privately-funded housing in which genuinely affordable flats will be almost non-existent, and ensuring that many of the estate’s residents are socially cleansed out of London — or at least have to move to less desirable boroughs than Southwark.

At the Aylesbury, the council is working with Notting Hill Housing, a former social homebuilder that has enthusiastically embraced the drive towards building private housing and offering unhelpful — and not genuinely affordable — part-rent, part-buy options for former social renters that has been prompted by government cuts.

Astonishingly, this is the same Southwark Council that engaged in social cleansing at Walworth’s other huge estate, the Heygate, for which they were soundly criticised. The estate was sold for a pittance to the Australian developers Lendlease, who are currently building a monstrous new private estate, Elephant Park, which features no genuinely affordable social housing. The Heygate’s tenants, meanwhile, have ended up scattered across south east London, Kent and beyond, as the graph below shows. Read the rest of this entry »

London’s Housing Crisis: Please Support the Sweets Way Tenants Facing Eviction in Barnet

Tenants of Sweets Way Estate in Barnet resisting eviction and the demolition of their homes (Photo via Sweets Way Resists).Please sign and share the Sweets Way tenants’ petition calling for their homes to be saved from demolition on Change.org, and see below for their story. Also see the postscript following the court decision on March 30.

London’s housing crisis is something that preoccupies me on a daily basis, although I don’t get to write about it anywhere near as much as I’d like. As a social housing tenant who has lived in London for 30 years, I can say that, since the Tory-led government came to power five years ago, I have never felt as vulnerable or as demeaned, and I have watched aghast as the current housing bubble has driven house prices beyond the reach of most families — and, perhaps more crucially, has also driven rents to levels never seen before.

With rents and mortgages easily reaching £15,000 or £20,000 a year, matching the median income in London, it is understandable why so many hard-working people are now paying out so much for a roof over their heads that they have little left over for their own enjoyment (and crucially, to put into the wider economy), or cannot make ends meet and are obliged to use food banks, or are having to leave London entirely.

In addition, for many social tenants, life is increasingly insecure, as cash-strapped councils claim that they are unable to afford the maintenance on aging estates, and, as a result, sell the land to developers to build new estates, from which existing tenants are priced out, replaced by foreign investors and relatively wealthy British buyers. These developments are supposed to include “affordable” social housing, but more often than not whatever social component exists is actually unaffordable for most workers, because, in September 2013, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, set affordable rents at 80 percent of market rents. 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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