Lewisham Council Narrowly Avoids Defeat of Its Tidemill Plans by the Constituency Labour Party


'Criminal damage': graffiti on the hoarding erected around the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford after its violent eviction on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Ruby Radburn).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.


On December 18, Lewisham Council narrowly avoided a humiliating defeat regarding its bitterly contested plans for the Tidemill development site in Deptford, when the Constituency Labour Party General Committee almost passed a powerful motion tabled by member Bill Jefferies. The final vote was 24:24 with the Chair casting the vote that lost it.

Bill Jefferies’ ‘Motion on the Tidemill Gardens Security Operation’ called on Lewisham Council to immediately take four actions in relation to the Tidemill development site:

1) To put a halt on the Tidemill scheme while new plans are developed that meet the needs of residents and people in need of council housing
2) To honour its commitment to ballot council house residents affected by the Tidemill scheme
3) To immediately sever all links with County Enforcement
4) To end the occupation by bailiffs of the Tidemill site now

The Tidemill site consists of the old Tidemill primary school, which closed in 2012, the 16 council flats of Reginald House, which the council wants to destroy, and the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, formerly part of the school, which the council also wants to destroy.

The proposals to destroy the garden and the flats have been bitterly contested. The garden was an autonomous community space for six years prior to its occupation, for two months in September and October, which ended with its violent eviction on October 29, by bailiffs with the notorious County Enforcement firm.

The occupation, by members of the local community and supporters from further afield, was undertaken to prevent the council from destroying the garden, and also to highlight the community’s implacable opposition to the proposals to destroy Reginald House. Most of the block’s residents don’t want their homes to be destroyed, but they haven’t been given a ballot by the council.

For six years, the garden’s users and Reginald House residents tried to get councillors to change their minds regarding the Tidemill site, pointing out how vital a green space is in this part of Deptford, how the garden’s canopy mitigates the worst effects of the horrendous pollution in the area, how wrong it is to demolish structurally sound council flats, and how easy it would be to re-draw plans for the site, where 209 homes are planned, either by building homes at greater density on the old school site, or by building some of the proposed homes on a second site, which the council secretly twinned with Tidemill — Amersham Vale in New Cross, where the old Deptford Green secondary school used to stand. The changes are perfectly viable, but the council doesn’t want to know.

It’s also worth noting that another viable site is Besson Street in New Cross, where, astonishingly, the council is proposing to build new homes for market rent with a private developer.

Unfortunately for the council, in the two months since the eviction, opposition to their plans has not gone away. Campaigners have been winning hearts and minds, exposing the unnecessary violence of the eviction, the alienating presence of bailiffs 24 hours a day, the disturbing presence of dogs and the use of floodlights at night, and the extraordinary cost of the eviction and the bailiffs’ presence.

As Bill Jefferies’ motion, noting “the eviction of protestors from Tidemill Garden from the 29th October onwards by ‘County Enforcement’ working on behalf of Lewisham Council”, stated, “According to Corporate Watch a ‘rough but conservative’ estimate of the cost of this scheme is ‘£35,000 per day’ or £245,000 per week or over £1 million per month. This is a wholly inappropriate waste of council resources for a controversial scheme that should be halted immediately.”

As the motion also stated:

This eviction is in order to enact a controversial housing development that promises some new social housing units, but against the wishes of existing tenants, the local community, Len Duvall, head of London Region, Lewisham Deptford CLP. Furthermore it directly contradicts [Lewisham Mayor] Damien Egan’s manifesto pledge to “introduce ballots on any estate regeneration scheme that includes replacing existing homes and back this up with a Residents’ Charter that guarantees all residents the right to remain on their estate, and which guarantees an increase in genuinely affordable housing.”

No such ballot has been held in this instance. It is claimed that this is because agreements had already been made with Peabody. No such agreement can override the expressed democratic wishes of party bodies, members and the electorate. No such agreement can [involve an] open ended commitment of millions of pounds in security payments.

Furthermore County Enforcement is a wholly inappropriate organisation for Lewisham Council to deal with. The founder of County Enforcement, Peter Mooney, is a union buster who, according to the company website, “personally served Arthur Scargill and his fellow union representatives with the injunction that froze the assets of the union and ended the miners’ strike. He also served the union representatives in the disputed move from Fleet `street to Wapping by the Sun newspaper group with the injunction that seized the assets of the Unions that ended the dispute.”

As 2018 ends, the council, deservedly, must be feeling the weight of hostility and dissatisfaction with their recent actions. In response to campaigners’ relentless criticism, Paul Bell, the council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, recently promised to sack County Enforcement and to replace them with another firm, but although the number of bailiffs currently protecting the fenced-off garden from the community has been reduced from its height, when many dozens oa bailiffs were present 24 hours a day, those who are still there are still representatives of County Enforcement.

Is Paul Bell going to resolve this, and, if he does, what does the council propose to do in the new year when, for its wretched and pig-headed plans to proceed, it must cut down all the trees in the garden? In November, Artemis Tree Services, hired by the council to begin chopping down trees, withdrew after just two days when they learned of how politically contentious the plans were — and how campaigners were, and still are pursuing a legal challenge to the council’s plans in the courts.

The council will be hoping that the legal challenge will fail in the new year, but even if it does, any effort by the council to hire a new tree services company looks doomed to fail, and even if a firm of compliant tree-butchers can be found, the uproar and resistance will be immense, with the likelihood not only of further damaging media coverage, but also of renewed opposition from the Constituency Labour Party that, next time around, will, in all probability, not be able to swing the vote the council’s way via the Chair.

It’s time for Lewisham Council to pledge a truly worthy New Year’s resolution — to stop working against the wishes of the local community, and, as Bill Jefferies’ motion proposed, to come up with new plans for Tidemill “that meet the needs of residents and people in need of council housing” and to ballot the residents on Reginald House, as well as getting rid of County Enforcement and immediately ending any bailiff presence at the garden.

Note: Check out my full archive of articles about the Tidemill occupation and eviction here and here.

* * * * *

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.

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11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Two months since the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford (which was occupied, for two months, by campaigners, myself included, to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council for an ill-advised housing project), my latest article looks at how, just before Christmas, the council narrowly avoided – by just one vote – a motion put before the Lewisham Constituency Labour Party General Committee that was extremely critical of the Tidemill plans.

    The motion called for the council to 1) “put a halt on the Tidemill scheme while new plans are developed that meet the needs of residents and people in need of council housing”, 2) ballot the residents of Reginald House regarding the proposed destruction of their homes, 3) “immediately sever all links with County Enforcement”, the bailiffs guarding the site, and 4) immediately bring to an end bailiffs’ occupation of the site.

    Cabinet member for Housing Paul Bell promised to sack County Enforcement a month ago – although that still hasn’t happened – plus bailiffs are still on site, a ballot is still not on the cards, and there’s still no sign that the council recognises that its current plans are unworkable. 2019 looks like being an interesting year for Lewisham Council. How, for example, do they propose to hire a tree services company to cut down all the trees in the garden, when the company they employed in November quit after just two days when they learned how bitterly contested the garden is?

    It’s time for the council (and Peabody) to abandon their current plans, to spare the garden and Reginald House, and to gather around a new drawing board with members of the local community!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert Robertson wrote:

    It’s a complicated picture if you don’t know the CLP well. Some delegates including ones from New Cross that previously brought a motion against the development a year ago have done a volte face and voted for it for their own reasons that have nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of the arguments presented. They present themselves as left wing but have their own narrow aims. It’s difficult to explain here. The rest of the left voted for the motion but the old right of the party who are essentially bureaucrats voted against. It was a shameful outcome but we certainly won’t leave it there. If you live in New Cross you should join the party. Now is the best opportunity to change it and a credible path to winning this campaign and future campaigns that are in the offing.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks very much for your comments, Bob, and your encouragement for people who live in New Cross to join the Labour Party and to get involved in changing the political situation.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Davis St Marthe wrote:

    At the General Committee 5 abstained. It was that close.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Now that’s very interesting, Davis. Thanks. Any additional information anyone can provide would be very helpful!

  6. Paul Burnham says...

    Well done, Andy, this campaign is having an increasing impact. Keep up the good work.

    At Defend Council Housing, we have picked up on the fact that the GLA planning report on Tidemill specifically commented that:

    “The reprovision of social rented units with London Affordable Rent (LAR) units is acceptable. As such the proposal is compliant with Draft London Plan Policy H10 and the GPGER [Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration].”

    It is that blatant.

    We say that London Affordable Rent is on average more than £52 pw higher than average Council rents in London. That’s 50% higher. This is an issue that must be raised with Labour Party colleagues. This issue must be on the agenda of the Labour Party regional conference in London on the 2nd and 3rd of March 2019.

    Let’s raise awareness about what is going so wrong in London’s housing policy, everybody can help by speaking out and saying that it is time for a rethink

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Paul. In Lewisham, the council’s own figures demonstrate that ‘London Affordable Rent’ is 63% higher than social rents, and we’re doing our best to raise it as an issue as widely as possible. But clearly we need to get the message out across all of London’s boroughs, and get it on the agenda of the conference you’ve mentioned.
    Happy to talk some more about this if that works for you.

  8. toby says...

    Hi Andy,

    Do you know where I can access the notes for that meeting? Do you have a copy you could send?



  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Sorry, I don’t have a copy of the notes, Toby. I was sent the motion and told about the outcome. Can I ask what your interest in it is?

  10. t says...

    I’m writing an essay urban politics and am using Tidemill as an example for how any meaningful debate is ‘foreclosed’ on decisions in the city. Your website has been very helpful.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Toby. That’s good to hear. Let me see if I can find out if anyone can locate the minutes.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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