Save Reginald House: Demolition Plans For Flats Next to Former Tidemill Garden Reveal the Broken State of Social Housing Provision in London


2-30a Reginald Road (aka Reginald House), in Deptford, south east London, photographed on June 27, 2022. Despite being structurally sound, the block is being demolished as part of a housing development on the former school grounds next door, and residents are unhappy with how they are being treated by Lewisham Council regarding being moved out and being rehoused (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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In Deptford, in south east London, residents of 2-30a Reginald Road (also known as Reginald House), a block of council flats built in the 1960s by Lewisham Council, have lived with the threat of demolition hanging over them for the last 14 years.

Now, the council is trying to evict them all, in preparation for the block’s intended demolition in January 2023, but those living there — a mixture of long-term tenants, leaseholders and temporary tenants relocated there over the last five years — accuse the council of poor communication, intimidation and a failure to provide them with suitable new homes or alternative accommodation.

The block, consisting of 16 maisonettes, is structurally sound, but has been earmarked for demolition since 2008 as part of a ‘regeneration’ project, with the housing association Peabody, that also involves the old Tidemill primary school and its former grounds, including the much-loved, but now destroyed Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, which was occupied for two months in 2018 to try to prevent its destruction, as well as the destruction of Reginald House. See the Facebook page of the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign for more information, as well as my archive of articles, and please also watch Hat Vickers’ recently released documentary film ’The Battle for Deptford’ if you haven’t seen it.

Residents were first informed of the ‘regeneration’ plans in 2008, when they also included the proposed demolition of two larger blocks of flats on nearby Giffin Street. Mobilising resistance to the plans, residents succeeded in getting the council to drop the plans for Giffin Street, reportedly because a significant number of the flats had been bought by leaseholders, whose exercise of Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy’ policy complicates demolition plans, because leaseholders, compared to tenants, have to agree to sell their homes before demolition can proceed. At 2-30a Reginald House, in contrast, just three of the 16 flats were owned by leaseholders.

The Reginald Road residents had to wait another four years, until 2012, for the school to close, when it moved to new premises in nearby Giffin Square, although it took another five years, until September 2017, for the council to finally approve the plans for the site.

A GLA report in March 2016 established that it was not possible at that time “to determine whether the proposal provide[d] the maximum reasonable contribution to affordable housing, in accordance with [the] London Plan”, and in September 2016 the council’s own planning committee refused to approve it, deferring it “for further consideration and clarification on daylight and sunlight impact to neighbouring properties, whether proposed open spaces would compensate for the loss of the former school garden, justification for the demolition of Reginald House and relocation of residents and the net contribution to affordable housing.”

After the council finally approved the plans in September 2017, they returned to the GLA, who allowed the scheme to proceed in June 2018, noting approvingly that the revised scheme contained “50% affordable housing by habitable room”, which was “a substantial increase from the 19% proposed at consultation stage.”

The GLA’s report did, however, stress that, in accordance with the Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration (GPGER), published in February 2018, “all tenants will be offered a home in the new development of a size to meet their current needs and maintaining their current rent, with the same security of tenure”, and “[l]easeholders will have an opportunity to move to a home in the scheme, their equity will be protected and there will be no rent charged on the difference between the equity and the full value of the property.”

The Mayor also urged Lewisham Council to provide a ballot to the residents of 2-30a Reginald Road concerning the plans for their homes, in line with his proposals “to support resident ballots by making his funding conditional on the proposed scheme winning a ballot”, although he conceded that “the requirement for a ballot cannot be applied retrospectively.”

Lewisham Council ignored his recommendation about a ballot, but apparently took on board the requirements of the GPGER. Their website states that “[e]very single resident living on site [in 2-30a Reginald Road] today will be guaranteed the right to a new home on the [new] site and compensation for the disruption caused. Tenants will get new properties on the same rent levels, and leaseholders will be able to transfer their equity from their current home into a new one, and remain in home ownership.”

In addition, in an exchange with housing activists ASH (Architects for Social Housing) in November 2018, then-Cllr. Joe Dromey stated, “All the existing residents (13 tenants, 3 leaseholders) will get a new home for life on the site. They won’t have to move off the site even for a day, and they won’t face higher rents. We want them to stay, and we want to provide more social homes for those in desperate need.”

Hollow promises

Sadly, however, Lewisham Council’s fine words have not been matched by their actions. Since these promises were made regarding the residents and leaseholders of 2-30a Reginald Road, no contracts have been presented confirming the offers in a legally binding manner, and, instead, the council has been picking off residents and leaseholders one by one, persuading eight of the tenants to be ‘decanted’ elsewhere, and persuading two of the three leaseholders to sell their properties for undisclosed sums.

This underhand behaviour is, sadly, typical for ‘regeneration’ projects involving the demolition of existing council housing, and has been replicated on numerous occasions across London’s boroughs. However, on every occasion it makes a mockery of councils’ claims to honour commitments to, as Cllr. Dromey put it, ensure that all existing residents “will get a new home for life”; in the case of 2-30a Reginald House, either on the new development, which has been rising up on the destroyed garden and the school grounds since November 2020 — or in its twinned development at Amersham Vale in New Cross, known as ‘The Scene.’

On a visit to residents last month, I was told that, of the eight ‘decanted’ tenants, they knew of only one who had been rehoused in Amersham Vale, and that the rest had been scattered further afield. In addition, although two of the three leaseholders had been persuaded to sell up and move out, it seems almost certain, if the precedent of other ‘regeneration’ schemes is anything to go by, that they will have been offered far less than the cost of buying a replacement home in the area, a situation that thoroughly undermines the Mayor’s requirement for leaseholders to be offered new homes on a basis that specifically doesn’t lead to them losing their equity.

The view from Reginald House (2-30a Reginald Road) towards the former site of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, where the sheer wall of a new housing block is rising up, June 27, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Temporary tenants

Moreover, as secure tenants have left, and leaseholders’ homes have been vacated, Lewisham Council have further complicated the process of emptying the block prior to demolition by moving temporary residents, drawn from the council’s own housing waiting list, into all of the vacated homes.

My visit followed letters issued to the residents just last month, telling them that they had to move out by July 26, which had thrown them all, understandably, into a panic. Although all of them had been given no assurances about how long their temporary residences might last when they moved in, some have now been there for five years, all of them have children (and I met one woman who had just given birth a few months ago), and, astoundingly, the most recent temporary residents were only moved in during the last few months, when the council must have already known that it would be issuing eviction notices in June.

No doubt the council’s decision to house temporary tenants in 2-30a Reginald House reflects the severity of the shortage of suitable housing in the borough, but it is genuinely dispiriting to realise how little the council cares about their plight, and how transient they have become. Aside from the still-sickening reality that these homes are only being demolished so that Peabody can cram a few more units onto the site, the council is proposing to evict the very people that it ought to be rehousing in some of the 104 homes for “affordable” rent that are currently rising up next door, and its only answer, as outlined in its letters, is to encourage those facing imminent homelessness to bid for available housing on the ‘Lewisham Find Your Home’ website, even though, as one tenant told me, she had been bidding for three years, and has consistently been told that there are 700 people in the queue before her.

In addition, it is by no means clear that the council’s proposal to demolish 2-30a Reginald House in January 2023 is feasible. While temporary tenants are being told they must leave almost immediately, efforts by housing officers to deal with the remaining secure tenants seem to have hit something of an impasse. Those I spoke to — some of whom have lived in the block for decades, where they were part of a close community until it began to be dismantled by the council — were either unwilling to move into new build flats in the new development, or were still unclear about what was on offer, and it was impossible not to conclude that the council was entirely to blame, having failed to offer binding contracts spelling out their supposed rights back in 2018.

Furthermore, while the one remaining leaseholder is in place, the entire proposal for the block’s demolition cannot proceed, and, as previous cases have shown — on, for example, the Heygate and Aylesbury Estates in Southwark — significant delays can occur if leaseholders turn down the derisory amounts they are offered for their homes, and insist on fighting for an appropriate amount to be offered instead.

In ignoring the Mayor’s requirements, as laid out in the Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, and in shamefully shredding their own promises to secure tenants and leaseholders, the council and Peabody deserve no sympathy whatsoever, and when it comes to the plight of the temporary tenants, consigned to a life of seemingly endless transience, it is not enough for councillors and council officers to behave as though this situation is out of their control.

As the News Shopper reported in March, throughout the borough of Lewisham, 1,454 residential properties were empty, with 445 of those properties “vacant for more than 24 months”, and 1,009 “empty for between six months and two years.” Shamefully, however, Fenella Beckman, the director of housing services, who revealed the figures, conceded that “she didn’t know the share of empty homes that were owned by Lewisham Council”, and blamed “staff shortages” for the council’s “inability to cut the numbers.”

On the basis of what is happening at 2-30a Reginald House, I’d say that the bigger problem is that the council simply doesn’t care enough about its own properties, and doesn’t care enough about making the availability of secure housing for those in need into what it surely should be: its number one priority.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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 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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the 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 struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — 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.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the plight of residents in 2-30a Reginald Road (also known as Reginald House), a block of structurally sound 1960s maisonettes next to the former Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, which Lewisham Council is planning to demolish in January 2023 as part of the ongoing redevelopment of the old Tidemill primary school and its grounds — including, notoriously, its garden, which was occupied by campaigners for two months in 2018 to try to prevent its destruction.

    The garden’s occupants were evicted in October 2018, and the garden’s trees were all torn down in February 2019, although building work didn’t begin until November 2020. In the meantime, the residents of 2-30a Reginald Road (13 secure tenants and three leaseholders), who were all promised new homes in the development, have been picked off one by one. Two of the three leaseholders have sold up, and eight of the tenants have been persuaded to move elsewhere.

    Complicating matters further, the council has moved temporary tenants into all of the empty properties — some in just the last few months — but has now issued them all with notices to quit by July 26, despite them having nowhere else to go.

    On every level, those living in 2-30a Reginald Road — whether secure tenants, leaseholders or temporary tenants — have all been failed by the council and by Peabody, who are responsible for the new development. Their plight is typical of those displaced by ‘regeneration’ projects across the capital, but this is no excuse for Lewisham Council having managed, at 2-30a Reginald Road, to create a microcosm of all the problems affecting social housing provision in London.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Paul Rooke wrote:

    The sorry tale just gets worse! Unbelievable …

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul. Good hear from you. And while this is the latest sad episode in the whole sorry Tidemill saga, it’s important to remember that what’s happening at 2-30a Reginald House is being replicated across the capital at numerous other ‘regeneration’ sites – secure tenants and leaseholders promised new homes, but then persuaded to move elsewhere (or to sell up, in the case of leaseholders) before those homes are completed, and temporary tenants, with no rights, moved into empty properties prior to the demolition of any housing that inconveniently stands on the way of developers’ wishes.

    The only supposed progress made in recent years involves balloting residents prior to ‘regeneration’, which was made obligatory by Sadiq Khan for projects involving GLA funding, but that’s just added another layer of deceit and manipulation, as was recently made clear in a GLA report by Sian Berry, Green Party member of the London Assembly:

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Patrick Lyons wrote:

    The corruption runs deep.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And across the whole of the capital, Patrick – and across the country a whole. Elected officials willingly in thrall to the demands of private developers, and of housing associations that have become largely indistinguishable from private developers.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Dez Mundie wrote:

    Christ, I thought Peabody were supposed to be a decent organisation.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    The big housing associations, Dez, which in London are known as the g15 (although there are now only 12 of them, following various mergers and takeovers), all like to present themselves as benevolent organisations, with many highlighting their charitable status, but although they don’t make profits in the same way as private companies, they create vast surpluses, have very well-paid executives, and, most crucially, are thoroughly enmeshed in the world of trans-national predatory capital.

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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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