Delay ballots, demolish homes

 

By Paul Coleman

 

‘Regeneration’ of dozens of London’s public housing estates delivers a net loss of thousands of council homes.

The net loss of council homes through ‘regeneration’ is one of the defining characteristics of early 21st Century London  – a form of economic, social and cultural violence perpetrated by locally elected politicians and corporate real estate players against working class Londoners.

Redeveloped estates offer higher densities of new homes but only a small proportion of these homes are offered as ‘social housing’ with subsidised rents and secure tenancies. The vast majority of newly built homes are for private market sale and rent.

Rents on these new homes are incomparably higher than former council rents. New shorthold tenancies do not offer the security of former secure council tenancies.

Small quotients of ‘affordable homes’ in these developments are offered as ‘shared ownership’, Help to Buy and ‘Affordable Rent’. Former council estate residents on average and lower incomes simply cannot afford these ‘affordable’ homes.

‘Regeneration’ displaces tenants and leaseholders to outer London and even to towns outside of London – a process resident campaigners decry as ‘social cleansing’.

Replacing socially beneficial homes with higher densities of profitable private housing simply adds to 21st Century London’s housing boom for a few and housing crisis for the many.

 

Little say, no power

‘Regeneration’ also does not allow existing council estate residents any decisive and meaningful say about the demolition and replacement of their homes. Residents have little or no power to lever better offers of replacement homes from developers and councils. They have no say and no power even over publicly funded ‘regeneration’ schemes that will negatively impact on their future lives.

The first notorious example of these early 21st Century council estate ‘regenerations’ destroys the Heygate Estate in the south London borough of Southwark. Some 3,000 people – mainly council tenants and some leaseholders – lived in 1,194 homes on the Heygate in Walworth close to the Elephant and Castle. ‘Regeneration’ decants, disperses and displaces them all to other parts of Southwark and even to other towns outside of London.

Developer Lendlease and Southwark Council – as ‘regeneration’ development partners – promise to ‘deliver’ just 82 replacement social rented homes in the new ‘Elephant Park’ scheme. The demolition of the Heygate Estate represents one of the worst net losses of council or social rented homes in London – and sets a worrying precedent for thousands of other residents living on hundreds of other council estates across London.

Residents have little or no say in what happens to them and to their homes throughout the entire Heygate ‘regeneration’ of the Heygate. People lose their homes, family life, neighbours and their entire neighbourhoods.

The Heygate Estate ‘regeneration’ – and its replacement with Lendlease’s ‘Elephant Park’ private development – surgically delivers a loss of valuable public land and other assets – and shreds the carefully woven and priceless social fabric of a long-established working class community.

 

‘Regeneration’ model

Council estate ‘regeneration’ typically begins with heroic poetic promises by politicians and developers to improve the quality of life for everyone. But, as the Heygate shows, ‘regeneration’ ends with the coercive removal of working class families from the estates and neighbourhoods where their families have lived for generations.

Developers rapidly spread this ‘regeneration’ model to virtually every working class area of London. Local politicians serve developers’ interests rather than those of their electors by facilitating these schemes. However, resident campaigners and council housing activists resist individual ‘regeneration’ schemes in the council chambers, courts and on the streets.

Resident campaigners pressure London Mayor Sadiq Khan – ever since he was elected in May 2016 – to agree that the granting of millions of pounds of Greater London Authority public funds for estate ‘regeneration’ schemes must be conditional on a residents’ ballot. They decry Khan’s constant plodding over whether to include residents’ ballots in the final version of his much-delayed Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration.

 

Delays

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn makes a major speech to the national Labour Party conference in Brighton on 29 September 2017 – over a year into Khan’s mayoralty.  Corbyn says a future Labour government will provide existing council estate residents with a ballot on the ‘regeneration’ of their homes.

The Labour leader yields to years of pressure on the party from estate resident campaigners and housing activists. This pressure filters up through Labour’s rank and file membership.

Labour Party conference delegates vote on a motion submitted to its 2017 annual conference that calls on the party to adopt a policy to ‘support full binding ballot rights for tenants in any ongoing and future regeneration projects’. The motion, proposed by the Tottenham Labour Party, also states councils should retain ‘ownership and control of available public land’ and ‘cease disposing of or transferring public land, council estates and commercial property for the benefit of private sector housing and investment opportunities for the few.’

Conference delegates unanimously back the motion that originates from resident campaigners and housing activists who are also members of the local Tottenham Labour Party. Corbyn, who strongly believes the national conference should determine party policy, finds himself compelled to back ballots in his speech.

 

Further delays

Not so Sadiq Khan. Labour’s self-styled ‘council house boy’ Mayor of London might have been expected to use his power to impose ballots on developers and council pursuing imminent ‘regeneration’ schemes that need GLA funding.

However, it is not until February 2018 that London Mayor Sadiq Khan finally accepts that council estate residents must be balloted before the Greater London Authority will release funds to developers, councils and housing associations embarking on council estate ‘regeneration’ schemes. Khan, a former council estate resident, has taken almost two years to propose a ballot funding condition.

Worse still, in February 2018, rather than introducing the ballot condition immediately, Khan further delays the introduction of such ballots by inviting views on how ballots might work in practice.

 

Rush through

Khan closes that ‘consultation’ process in April and only formally announces the introduction of the policy in July 2018. Resident campaigners and housing activists say Khan’s dithering on the introduction of council estate residents’ ballots is deliberate as it has allowed the Mayor and the GLA to rush through many London council estate ‘regeneration’ projects against the wishes of their residents.

In March 2018, Sian Berry, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, accuses Khan of ‘allowing councils and housing associations to dodge the new policy’ of estate residents’ ballots. Berry claims Khan has ‘recently rushed through funding for dozens of controversial schemes’.

Berry says she asked the Mayor’s team for list of ‘regeneration’ schemes with GLA funding contracts. Other housing campaigners have posed similar questions to the Mayor using Freedom of Information Act requests. They say the Mayor’s office responds tardily and vaguely.

Eventually, City Hall provides a list of estate ‘regeneration’ schemes with ‘signed off’ funding contracts. They include plans to demolish and redevelop Cressingham Gardens and Knights Walk, two estates in Lambeth where residents have campaigned bitterly over recent years to save their homes.

 

29 denied ballots

As of 9 March 2018, 29 estate ‘regeneration’ schemes, with either outline or full planning permission, are named in GLA funding contracts signed after Sadiq Khan is elected Mayor of London – according to  Berry.

All existing residents impacted by such schemes could have been eligible for a vote in ballots if Khan had implemented such a policy soon after he was elected in May 2016.

Notably, Berry says twenty-six of these 29 estate ‘regeneration’ projects with GLA funding contracts are signed – on Khan’s mayoral watch – on the actual day or in the weeks and months after Corbyn issues the Labour Party’s estate residents’ ballots promise during his September 2017 speech.

These estate ‘regeneration’ projects are listed below along with their precise date of signing (where stated):

  • Aberfeldy Estate in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets signed with Poplar HARCA on 18 October 2017.
  • Alma Estate (in LB of Enfield) signed with Newlon and Countryside on 15 November 2017.
  • Arthur Street (Bexley) with Orbit Group Limited on 22 December 2017.
  • Aylesbury Estate (Southwark) with Notting Hill Housing Trust on 25 October 2017.
  • Blackwall Reach (Tower Hamlets) with Swan Housing Association
  • Cambridge Road  with Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames on 10 October 2017.
  • Chrisp Street Market (Tower Hamlets) with Poplar HARCA on 18 October 2017.
  • Connaught, Morris Walk and Maryon (Greenwich) with PA Housing on 15 January 2018.
  • Cressingham with London Borough of Lambeth on 1 December 2017.
  • Elmington Estate (Southwark) with Peabody Trust on 22 January 2018.
  • Exmouth Estate (Tower Hamlets) with Swan Housing Association
  • Fenwick Estate with London Borough of Lambeth on 1 December 2017.
  • Frankham Street (Lewisham) with Peabody on 22 January 2018.
  • Friary Park (Ealing) with Catalyst Housing on 8 January 2018.
  • Gascoigne West (Barking Town Centre) with London Borough of Barking & Dagenham
  • Grahame Park (Phase B, Plots 10,11 & 12) (Barnet) with Genesis on 24 November 2017.
  • Green Man Lane (Ealing) with A2 Dominion Homes with Rydon/FABRICA on 7 November 2017.
  • Ham Close (Richmond upon Thames) with Richmond Housing Partnership on 17 November 2017.
  • Havelock Estate (Ealing) with Catalyst Housing on 8 January 2018.
  • Heathside and Lethbridge (Lewisham) with Peabody Trust on 22 January 2018.
  • High Path, Eastfields, Ravenbury (Merton) with Housing Group on 21 December 2017.
  • Knights Walk with London Borough of Lambeth on 29 September 2017.
  • Napier House and New Plymouth House with London Borough of Havering on 31 January 2018.
  • Orchard Estate formerly Mardyke (Havering) with Clarion on 21 December 2017.
  • South Acton (Ealing) with L&Q on 7 November 2017.
  • South Kilburn Estate (Brent) with Notting Hill Housing Trust, Network Homes, L&Q, and Catalyst on 23 October 2017.
  • South Lambeth with London Borough of Lambeth on 29 September 2017.
  • William Sutton Estate (Kensington & Chelsea) with Clarion on 21 December 2017.
  • Wornington Green (Kensington & Chelsea) with Catalyst on 8 January 2018.

 

Sharp slap

Berry says the above projects “shows Sadiq Khan signing off at least over 9,000 home demolitions, leaving around 3,000 homes we can count in schemes that will be subject to ballots”.

Berry accuses Khan of signing off funding for 16 schemes in total since 1 December 2017 when “the Mayor and his team were finalising the new policy and gearing up to announce it”. Berry says this information “paints a sorry picture”, adding: “It is a sharp slap in the face to many residents on estates under threat who – thanks to his actions – will be denied a ballot at the last moment before his new policy (of ballots) comes in.

“I am appalled by this behaviour, and with the delaying tactics involved in trying not to admit he was rushing through major schemes like this.”

Khan denies Berry’s accusation but – interestingly, in March 2018 – he suspends the signing of new contracts until the consultation ends.

 

‘Clear say’

Finally, in July 2018, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan – ‘the council house boy’ – Khan publishes the finalised version of his long overdue Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration. Khan decrees any landlord, developer, housing association, council or partnership seeking Greater London Authority funds for a ‘strategic’ council estate ‘regeneration’ project must show they have secured residents’ support through a ballot.

Residents on estates like Love Lane in Tottenham (top), faced with demolition and displacement, now have some leverage over decisions made about their lives by having a right to a ballot.

Khan says he wants to make sure the ‘regeneration’ of London’s council housing estates “happens with residents’ support and engagement”.

“This is to make sure that GLA funding only supports estate regeneration projects if residents have had a clear say in plans and support them going ahead,” says Khan.

However, Khan’s two-year delay in introducing ballots suggests that London’s ‘regeneration’ industry of councillors and developers have successfully manipulated their respective ‘regeneration’ scenarios behind-the-scenes to suit their political and profit-making interests. 

The belated introduction of ballots gives residents some say over the future of their homes and futures – but ultimately will such ballots prove to be a cynically timed and restricted concession?

 

 

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, London 2019

 

 

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