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.

As Peabody state in their breathless PR talk, “This stylish development of thoughtfully designed homes sits beside the newly landscaped Charlottenburg Park, and will boast modern interiors and high quality finishes throughout. From conveniently modern 1-bed apartments with stylish specifications to spacious 4-bedroom townhouses with private landscaped gardens, homes at The Muse are the ideal backdrop to London-living in an exciting and inspiring part of south-east London.”

They add, “And within minutes of New Cross and Deptford rail station with direct links to London Bridge and Charing Cross, The Muse is set to welcome a new community into the heart of an established neighbourhood renowned for its connection to the creative. Make every day a work of art at The Muse, Amersham Vale — and register your interest in the scheme to be amongst the first to find out more about the development.”

Misleading figures

When we were fighting to save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and Reginald House from destruction, we were regularly obliged to challenge misleading figures presented by the council, who still have the effrontery to claim, on their website, that 76% of the intended 209 homes on the Tidemill site will be “affordable.”

On the Tidemill site, 51 homes are planned for private sale, 38 for shared ownership (a notorious scam whereby those purchasing a share of the property are only assured tenants until they have paid for 100% of the property, and stand to lose everything if they fall into arrears), and 117 for rent, but 13 of those are replacements for tenants in Reginald House, so the true figure of what could be termed new and ‘affordable’ is actually 104 properties, or 49.7% of the total. 

Moreover, it is disingenuous of the council to describe these new homes for rent as ‘affordable’, when they will be at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, for two-bedroom flats, is 63% higher than truly affordable rents — the social rents that existing, long-term council and housing association tenants enjoy.

Lewisham Council’s own assessment of the differences between the various rental models in the borough. ‘Lewisham Stock’ referee to council rents (social rents), which, for a 2-bedroom flat, is £95.54 a week, while ‘London Affordable Rent’ is £152.73 a week.

Just as significantly, however, the council continues to ignore the fact that, at Amersham Vale, where 120 properties are planned, in what the architects, Pollard Thomas Edwards, describe as “a new mews street of much needed family houses”, just 24 of those properties are for rent, with 16 for shared ownership and a whopping 80 for private sale (interestingly, Sherrygreen Homes claim that there will be “86 private houses and apartments” on the site). So overall, the proportion of housing on both sites that could conceivably be described as ‘affordable’ is actually just 38.9% — and bear in mind that none of those 128 homes for rent will be at social rent levels.

And as for the 13 replacement flats for tenants in Reginald House, the council is promising to offer them like for like rents for life in the new properties, but refuses to provide legally binding contracts, a deception that was brilliantly exposed by the comedian Geoff Norcott in his recent BBC2 documentary, ‘How the Middle Class Ruined Britain’, in which, after Lewisham Council demanded a right to reply to the campaigners, myself included, who were being filmed for the programme, the councillors’ dissembling was exposed in an exchange between Geoff and Cllr. Joe Dromey. 

As I described it in a recent article, marking the first anniversary of the start of campaigners’ two-month occupation of the Tidemill garden, “when Geoff asked Joe Dromey what he had to say about Reginald House residents’ concerns about there being no guarantees about them getting new homes at social rents, and not facing rent hikes further down the line, he wasn’t reassured by Dromey telling him that residents had received a ‘written guarantee’ that they wouldn’t pay more. ‘Is it legally binding?’ Geoff asked, repeatedly, to silence from Dromey, who ended up, at Geoff’s prompting, claiming that he would resign if the ‘promise’ was broken.”

Achilles Street

Similar evasiveness is happening just up the road from Amersham Vale, at Achilles Street, an estate of 87 homes and associated business on New Cross Road. Achilles Street is a structurally sound estate, although it has been subjected to ‘managed decline’ by Lewisham Council for many years, and the council now wants to destroy it to build a new development of 450 homes, half of which will be for private sale.

As I explained in a Facebook post last week, “Because of new rules regarding estate demolitions, instigated by Jeremy Corbyn and since adopted by the GLA, residents of estates earmarked for demolition have to be balloted about the proposals before they can be approved, but in an effort to prevent a ballot from interfering with their plans, Lewisham Council has hired Studio Raw, a Deptford-based PR, branding and place making company, who have previously worked with Lendlease (the destroyers of the Heygate Estate at the Elephant and Castle), and Cathedral, who built housing in Deptford High Street with no homes for social rent, to sweet talk residents into voting for the destruction of their homes, via drop-in sessions in a refurbished flat on the estate, which has been open every Wednesday afternoon since mid-June.”

As with Reginald House, however, “Residents have no guarantees that what they’re being lavishly promised — like for like rents for life in the new properties — will actually happen, as no legally binding contracts are being issued, and they are only being offered two options — demolition or continued ‘managed decline.’” 

As I also explained, “Given that tenants and the associated businesses on New Cross Road (also earmarked for demolition, but without them being offered a ballot) have dutifully paid millions of pounds in rents (over £2.6m between 2011 and 2017), but have had less than £240,000 spent on repairs and maintenance in that same period, I join with campaigners in asserting that the council has an obligation to refurbish the properties rather than demolishing them, as otherwise their behaviour is that of the worst sort of slum landlord, running down properties and then using that neglect as an excuse for demolition.”

I added, “I know that no funding for refurbishment is provided by central government or the GLA, but that is no excuse for councils not to demand a way out of this predicament. We need London-wide funding for refurbishment NOW!”

In conclusion, I added that “it is extraordinarily hypocritical of the council, who declared a ‘climate emergency’ in February, to contribute significantly to environmental pollution by knocking down a structurally sound estate and turning New Cross into a building site for several years.” The council’s hypocrisy regarding its ‘climate emergency’ was highlighted as soon as it took place, because, astonishingly, it coincided with the destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden.

Social rents – and no more estate demolitions

If the council is serious about tackling the ‘climate emergency’, there must be no more environmentally ruinous estate demolitions. The proposed destruction of Achilles Street should be called off, and, at the Tidemill site, Reginald House should be removed from the building plans, the Tidemill garden should be reinstated, and all the properties to be built on the old Tidemill school site and at Amersham Vale should be at genuine social rents. 

Just imagine if all 120 homes at Amersham Vale and the 51 planned private homes at Tidemill were to be at social rents. That would be 171 new council homes — far better than the 128 new homes currently planned, all at ‘London Affordable Rent.’ Perhaps if everyone involved wasn’t so obsessed with sating The Muse — of profit and gentrification — we might actually get what the hard-working people of Lewisham really need: more homes at social rent. 

Note: Please see below, via YouTube, the Achilles Street campaign video, and please see here for details of the Mayor and Cabinet meeting on Wednesday September 18, at which the ballot for ‘regeneration’ is expected to be approved. Campaigners are asking for the support of local people opposed to the plans, and the post also contains details of how to object in writing.

* * * * *

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 seven 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, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, 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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2 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at how Peabody Sales, the private sales arm of the giant housing association Peabody, has just launched a new development, called — wait for it — ‘The Muse’, at Amersham Vale in New Cross, with the private firm Sherrygreen Homes and Lewisham Council.

    The former site of Deptford Green secondary school, Amersham Vale was stealthily twinned by Lewisham Council with the bitterly-contested Tidemill site in Deptford, where campaigners — myself included — occupied a community garden, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, last year to try to prevent its destruction, and that of Reginald House, a structurally sound block of council flats next door.

    Throughout that struggle, the council made a point of trumpeting how many ‘social homes’ would be on the Tidemill site, failing to point out that the new flats for rent would be at ‘London Affordable rent’, which is 63% higher than social rents for a 2-bedroom flat, and also failing to mention that at Amersham Vale the majority of the proposed new homes would be for private sale.

    This skewed the statistics for ‘affordable’ properties over both sites, where just 38.9% of the properties will be at what can be described as ‘affordable’ rent, while 39.8% will be for private sale, with the rest for shared ownership, a notorious scam whereby those who buy a share of a property are only assured tenants until they have bought it outright, and can lose everything if they fall into financial difficulties. And bear in mind that none of these new homes will be at social rents.

    The article also looks at the proposals for Achilles Street in New Cross, where the council wants to demolish an estate of 87 homes, and where residents will soon be balloted over the future of their homes. The council, and consultants hired by them to sweet talk residents, are making elaborate promises about what residents can expect, but as with Reginald House, where similar promises have been made, no legally binding contracts have been offered to any of the residents.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    URGENT: Tomorrow (Wednesday September 18), Lewisham Council’s Mayor and Cabinet are meeting to decide whether to approve the ballot for Achilles Street residents (from which the associated shops and businesses are excluded). Please come along if you’re in Lewisham, and please feel free to also object to the proposals by emailing councillors. Would you vote yes to demolition when the promises you’re being made for new replacement housing aren’t legally binding, and could change drastically between now and when the development goes ahead?

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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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