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 »

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 »

Memories of Summer: Photos of the Thames Festival on London’s South Bank

The yellow platformThe Southbank Centre's Roof GardenThe roof garden and the houseboatLooking downAcross the Thames to Charing CrossRoyal Festival Hall and the London Eye
Flogging the Olympic VillageBig game huntersE20 map (the East Village)Helter skelterLondon beachBernie Spain Gardens
ZebrasVideo in the Royal Festival HallCanary Wharf from Reeds WharfCanary Wharf from Rotherhithe

Memories of Summer: The Thames Festival on London’s South Bank, a set on Flickr.

Sunday September 9, 2012 was the final day of the weekend-long Thames Festival, established in 1997, and run by the Thames Festival Trust, which regularly attracts tens of thousands of visitors, and did so again this year, even though it was the last day of the Paralympic Games, and had been a summer so saturated with cultural events that it was possible to have thought beforehand that cultural saturation might well have set in.

Instead, the banks of the River Thames were packed, and nowhere more so than along the action-packed shoreline that stretches from Butlers Wharf in the east to Westminster Bridge in the west, via Tower Bridge, City Hall, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge, Gabriels Wharf, the South Bank Centre, the London Eye, and the cluster of largely unappealing corporate attractions in the former County Hall. Read the rest of this entry »

Beside the River Thames: Photos of a Journey from Clink Street to Butler’s Wharf

Under the bridgeStreet art, Clink StreetArch, WagamamaDemolition on Stoney StreetClink Street from Stoney StreetThe Golden Hinde
The Shard and Southwark CathedralReflections of the cathedralMore London PlaceMore London's main axis6 More London PlaceThe Shipwrights Arms
The South Eastern Railway OfficesThe Shoebox buildingThe City of London from City HallShad Thames from the westThe Design MuseumPaolozzi's head
Tower Bridge and the City from Butler's WharfLooking east from Butlers WharfSt. Saviour's Dock at duskTower Bridge and the City from Bermondsey Wall WestClose-up of Tower Bridge and the City from Bermondsey

Beside the River Thames: Clink Street to Butlers Wharf, a set on Flickr.

As part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, and my recent promise to publish a series of photos showing London in autumn, I’m following up on photos of Halloween and of the turning leaves in Hilly Fields, my local park in Brockley, south east London, with two sets of photos recording a bike ride I took with my son Tyler on Sunday October 14, 2012, along the river from Waterloo to Brockley.

This first set of photos — the 53rd photo set in my project — begins at Clink Street, near London Bridge, and records our journey to Bermondsey, just to the east of Tower Bridge and Butlers Wharf, via The Golden Hinde, Southwark Cathedral, Tooley Street and the More London complex, Shad Thames, the Design Museum and the community of barges and boats by Reeds Wharf. 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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