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.

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One Year Since the Tidemill Occupation Began, Is the Tide Turning Against the ‘Regeneration’ Industry?

The Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on August 28, 2018, the day before its occupation, to prevent its destruction, officially began (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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One year ago, local residents and activists in Deptford, in south east London — myself included — occupied a community garden, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, to try to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council for a housing project. Strenuous efforts had been made by members of the local community for many years to persuade the council that their plans for the garden — originally part of the Tidemill primary school, which moved out of its premises in 2012 — were environmentally deranged, because the garden miligated the worst effects of the horrendous pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street, but they had refused to listen.

The plans involved not just the garden — a magical space created by pupils, parents and teachers 20 years before — but also Reginald House, a block of 16 structurally sound flats next door, which, cynically, were to be destroyed to make way for the new development, and the old school itself. Campaigners had no fundamental objections to the former school buildings being converted into housing, but the plans for the garden and for Reginald House were so profoundly unacceptable that, when the council approved the development in September 2017, campaigners began to hatch plans for the occupation.

The garden had been kept open by guardians who had been installed in the old school buildings after it closed in 2012, and when that contract was terminated, the local community were given “meanwhile use” of the garden instead. A handful of volunteers had opened it at weekends, but as time went on the numbers of people drawn to it increased, and after Lewisham Council made its decision, ironically, interest in the garden mushroomed. Numerous musical and artistic events took place throughout spring and summer 2018, and when the council called for campaigners to hand the keys back on August 29, the long-mooted plan to occupy the garden instead went into effect.

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The War on Social Housing – on the Centenary of the Addison Act That Launched the Creation of Large-Scale Council Housing

The unnecessary destruction of Robin Hood Gardens Estate in Poplar, in east London, March 2018, to make way for a new private development, Blackwall Reach (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Today, July 31, is the centenary of the first Housing and Town Planning Act (widely known as the Addison Act), which was introduced by the Liberal politician Christopher Addison, as part of David Lloyd George’s coalition government following the First World War, to provide Britain’s first major council housing programme, as John Boughton, the author of Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, explained in an article published yesterday in the Guardian.

Boughton explained how, when Addison “introduced his flagship housing bill to the House of Commons in April 1919”, he spoke of its “utmost importance, from the point of view not only of the physical wellbeing of our people, but of our social stability and industrial content.”

“As we celebrate the centenary of council housing”, Boughton noted, “this sentiment is not lost in the context of the current housing crisis. From the rise in expensive, precarious and often poor-quality private renting to the dwindling dream of home-ownership, it is fuelling discontent. This escalating crisis means that increasing numbers of people are now forced to deal with the painful consequences of the country’s inability to provide such a basic human need — a stable, affordable home.”

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Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo and the Tidemill Campaign on Wandsworth’s Riverside Radio, Also Featuring Songs by The Four Fathers

Andy Worthington at a previous radio appearance, discussing Guantánamo in Northampton, Massachusetts in January 2015.

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On Saturday, I was delighted to be visited by Andy Bungay, from Wandsworth’s Riverside Radio, for an interview broadcast on Andy’s evening show on Sunday, in which we discussed Guantánamo, which I’ve been covering for the last 13 years, and campaigning for its closure, and the housing crisis in London, which I’ve also been involved in challenging for the last few years. I was on Andy’s show back in September, and it was great to have the opportunity to talk again.

The full show is here.

Our interview starts about 1 hours and five minutes into the show, with a discussion of Guantánamo, and, in part, the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose release in October 2015 I campaigned to secure, initially working with the Save Shaker Aamer campaign, and, over the last year of Shaker’s imprisonment, via We Stand With Shaker, a campaign I set up with fellow activist Joanne MacInnes. This involved creating a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, a PR stunt that might have been widely ignored, but that, instead, led to a hundred celebrities and MPs being willing to have their photos taken with the figure, and to call for his release.

At 1:22, Andy played ’Song for Shaker Aamer’, a solo version of The Four Fathers’ song, used as the campaign song for We Stand With Shaker, which was recorded live in Washington, D.C. in January 2016, where I played it at an event calling for Guantánamo’s closure on the evening before the 14th anniversary of its opening, with lyrics amended to reflect Shaker’s release. The part about Shaker being “back in London” got a big cheer from the crowd!

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Deptford’s Tidemill Campaign and the Dawning Environmental Rebellion Against the Dirty Housing ‘Regeneration’ Industry

Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaigners photographed in the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford in November 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Yesterday, May 23, 2019, another phase in the ten-year struggle by the local community in Deptford to prevent environmental destruction, social cleansing, and the creation of new and inappropriate housing came to an end when campaigners with the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign withdrew from a protest camp —  which had existed for the last seven months — on the green next to the contested site of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden.

However, while Lewisham Council and Peabody, the main proposed developer of the site, will be tempted to see this withdrawal as some sort of victory, they should pay attention to the fact that campaigners have also resolutely pledged to continue to resist the plans to build new homes on the site of the garden, and to demolish Reginald House, a block of 16 structurally sound council flats next door.

Moreover, the council and Peabody also need be aware that the contested Tidemill site is part of a much bigger picture — involving a critical awareness of  environmental destruction and of the need for major systemic change to mitigate the worst effects of an already unfolding global environmental crisis — that has generated considerable awareness and support both globally and locally in recent months via the direct action embraced by the campaigning group Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes inspired by the 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg

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Lewisham Council Still Mired in Controversy Six Months After the Violent Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford

A photo taken during the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Harriet Vickers).

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Exactly six months ago, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, a beautiful community space and environmental asset, which had been occupied for two months by members of the local community (the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign) to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council for a housing scheme, was violently evicted by bailiffs working for the notoriously aggressive — and, historically, union-busting — company County Enforcement.

The garden was part of the old Tidemill primary school, which closed in 2012 and moved to a new site nearby, and the council’s plans are to hand over the site to the housing association Peabody to build new housing for sale on the old school site, and housing for rent or shared ownership where the garden stood, and where Reginald House, a block of 16 council flats, still stands. 

The garden, sadly, was completely destroyed two months ago, by SDL Services, a tree services company from Gloucestershire — in the same week that the council, with no sense of shame or irony, declared a climate emergency! — but building work has still not begun, and campaigners are still calling for the scheme to be scrapped, and for a new plan to be created with the local community, which reinstates the garden and saves Reginald House.

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Violent and Unforgivable: The Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford

The destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on February 27, 2019 (photo by David Aylward).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.




 

Today is my birthday, and I find myself in a reflective place, looking, at one side, on death and destruction, and, on the other, at life and love and solidarity.

Perhaps this is appropriate at the age of 56, when I am neither young nor truly old — and, believe me, I reflect on aging, and mortality, and what it means, with some regularity, as my restless brain refuses to settle, endlessly asking questions and seeking new perspectives and insights into the human condition. But that is not why I’m in this reflective place today.

Yesterday, in the hallucinatory light and heat of one of the hottest February days in London’s history, I stood on a small triangle of grass by the horrendously polluted Deptford Church Street in south east London, and watched as a small group of tree-killers, SDL Solutions, brought in from Gloucestershire, tore down almost all the trees in a beautiful community garden, the Old Tidemill Garden, whose tree canopy, which would imminently have returned as spring arrives, had, over 20 years, become an increasingly efficient absorber of that horrendous pollution. Read the rest of this entry »

As Lewisham Council Spend £1m Guarding the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden from the People of Deptford, Who Will Be Their Tree-Killers?

'Stunning apartments': a reclaimed sign brought to the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden prior to its violent eviction on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington). 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.




 

A week last Friday, the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign — which I’m part of, and which is trying to save a community garden and a block of council flats in Deptford, in south east London from the wrecking ball of the cynical ‘regeneration’ industry — received some unwelcome, but not entirely unexpected news.

In the High Court, the court of appeals upheld an earlier decision not to accept a judicial review of the ‘regeneration’ plans, which centred on issues relating to the right to light of tenants in a block of flats next to the proposed building site.

In a statement for the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign, I responded by saying, “This is a disappointment, of course, but it doesn’t affect the campaign against the proposed destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and Reginald House. We continue to insist that the garden is too important as a barrier to pollution, and as a communal green space, to be destroyed, and that there is no acceptable reason for a structurally sound block of council flats to be knocked down for new housing that purports to be ‘social housing’ but will actually be at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, in Lewisham, is 63% higher than social rents.” Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Lewisham Council’s Self-Inflicted Woes Increase: Chaos Over Tidemill Eviction Costs, and the Sacking of CEO Ian Thomas

Campaigners with the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign outside Lewisham Council's HQ in Catford on November 28, 2018 (Photo: Bridie Witton).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.




 

What a disgrace Lewisham Council are. With Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaigners and numerous local people putting the council under ever-increasing pressure to explain how much money has been squandered on the eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden a month ago, the subsequent cost of maintaining a security presence 24 hours a day (which we believe, on the advice of Corporate Watch, to be around £1m), and why they are still not interested in an alternative plan for the site that will spare the garden and Reginald House and do something to salvage their increasingly tattered credibility, they responded, as a FOI request revealed that £105,188 had been spent on the eviction alone, by using that as an opportunity to blame campaigners for it.

The council issued a press release (helpfully posted here by the Deptford Dame), in which Cllr. Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing, after complaining about campaigners and members of the Old Tidemill Garden Group occupying the garden, stated, with a cynical use of the Labour Party’s tagline under Jeremy Corbyn (“for the many, not the few”), “Our housebuilding programme is for the many, not the few, and we won’t let the actions of a small number of people stop us providing decent, secure, social housing for those who need it.”

At the same time as issuing the press release, the council also launched a video, ‘No Place Like Home’ (and a page on their website), dealing with homelessness and the council’s alleged dedication to providing new housing, with the tagline, ‘Why Lewisham Council is making social and truly affordable housing a priority.’ 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 (The State of London).
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