Residents’ ballots

An introduction
By Paul Coleman

 

Politicians constantly tell Londoners they live in a 21stCentury city that respects human rights.

But housing is not a human right in London.

Politicians say Londoners live in a modern democracy.

Yet London’s council estate residents do not possess a universal and unconditional right to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to redevelopment schemes that will demolish their homes.

Politicians, of course, tell Londoners these redevelopment schemes are ‘regeneration’. Resident campaigners and housing rights activists decry such schemes as ‘social cleansing’.

 

The Market State

London’s council estate residents continue to campaign and protest against such demolitions but they have effectively little or no decisive say in whether they can stay in their home neighbourhoods.

A powerful ‘Market State’ alliance – local councils, developers, housebuilders and mutant corporate housing associations – use planning processes and compulsory purchase law to covet and then demolish council estates across London. This is all done under the guise of ‘regeneration’.

This ‘Market State’ and its ‘regeneration’ industry allows global private and corporate real estate interests to cheaply acquire publicly owned land and housing for future private housing and profits. A legion of powerful developers, property services firms, and volume housebuilders have since Coe to dominate London.

Players like Barratt, Canary Wharf Group, CBRE, Delancey, Grainger, Grosvenor, Lendlease and Quintain strategise a ‘long game’. They eye up London ‘asset acquisitions’ – public sector land and council estates.

They plan ‘regeneration’ schemes to stream profits decades into the future.

 

Without any vote

Elected politicians and appointed planners grease the rails for these strategic corporate players to facilitate the destruction of working class London communities. In the first two decades of the 21st Century, thousands of Londoners are dispersed and displaced – without any vote or meaningful say – to other parts of London and even to faraway towns.

Resident campaigners say the real estate and ‘regeneration’ complex then cramps and denies life opportunities to millions of other Londoners – both current and future generations.  The complex builds new homes that Londoners simply cannot afford.

This ‘social cleansing’ of working class Londoners by developer-driven, council-backed ‘regeneration’ intensifies between 2008-16. This is the period that the Mayor of London, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a neo-liberal Conservative, dishes out public money to private interests to pursue these council estate demolition schemes.

Eton-educated Johnson publicly plays up a contrived self-image as an oafish eccentric to fool Londoners he is a ‘man of the people’. Behind the scenes Johnson throws his energies into serving up chunks of publicly owned London land and assets to this real estate and ‘regeneration’ industry complex.

“You are the galactico players of one of the most exciting games of Monopoly ever played,” says Johnson, speaking to a gathering of global property developers in June 2013.

 

Bastards

Many local councils, property developers, housebuilders and housing associations parasite on public money to pursue their council estate ‘regeneration’ schemes. They need this public money chiefly to cover the cost of providing ever-decreasing quotients of ‘affordable’ homes for people on average and lower incomes.

They will not get planning permission for their schemes if they do not build these quotients of ‘affordable homes’ – but they do not want the money to pay for them to come off their balance sheets.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) and the Mayor of London provide significant funding to this end. Johnson throws considerable sums of public money to subsidise property developers pursuing council estate demolition schemes.

Johnson’s own Mayoral game ends soon after he trundles off to champion ‘Brexit’ and his personal ambitions to lead the Conservative Party. Jonathan Meades, a renowned social commentator and architectural critic, defines Johnson’s “notable achievement” as, making “London become a city only fit for hedge fund bastards and oligarchs”.

 

Residents’ ballots

Londoners elect the Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan as Mayor in May 2016. Council estate resident campaigners and housing activists across London immediately pressure Mayor Khan to give residents a decisive say in whether their homes are demolished or not.

Khan, a social democrat, self-styles himself as ‘the council house boy’. However, this former council  estate resident only belatedly and reluctantly introduces council estate residents’ ballots in July 2018.

This policy means a council, developer, housebuilder or housing association, seeking GLA money to demolish council homes in order to build new homes, must now secure a positive vote for their scheme via a ballot of council estate residents.

Khan’s 2018 ballot concession comes laden with many conditions. Khan’s belated introduction of ballots also comes too late for many council estate residents whose homes have either been demolished or where GLA funding contracts have already been signed.

Indeed, residents on some estates accuse Khan ‘the council house boy’ of rushing through the signing of such funding contracts before the ballot condition is introduced. Those accusations continue to hang over Khan’s mayoralty.

 

Genuine or pseudo-democratic?

Nevertheless, council estate residents’ ballots are a reality. But what do they really signify?

Are estate residents’ ballots a genuine and permanent democratic advance for working class Londoners living on council estates?

Or, are residents’ ballots a calculated concession offered by politicians keen to serve powerful corporate property interests?

Will ballots give a veil of pseudo-democratic legitimacy to the systematic demolition of London’s council estates pursued by developers for profit under the guise of ‘regeneration’?

Answers to these questions begin to take shape thick and fast in late 2018.

 

Westhorpe Gardens & Mills Grove

It’s October 2018.

Seventy-one residents in Barnet in north London cast a vote in a ballot on plans by a housing association plan to demolish and redevelop their socially rented homes. Of these 71 residents, 53 vote in favour of Metropolitan Thames Valley’s plan to demolish 108 homes at Westhorpe Gardens and on the Mills Grove Estate.

Eighteen vote ‘no’. The remaining 37 eligible households do not vote.

The ballot is one of the earliest to be held under new ballot rules introduced by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in July 2018.

Metropolitan Thames Valley wants the GLA to give it public money so it can build 250 new homes. The housing association says 102 of these 250 new homes will be for ‘social rent’.

The remainder will be for ‘affordable rent’, shared ownership and retirement living. The housing association says the majority of residents will stay in their current homes whilst their new homes are built.

“We have secured not only residents’ consent, but their input, too, following extensive consultation,” says Geeta Nanda, chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley.

 

Canterbury Close, Geoffrey Close & York Close

Scroll to December 2018.

The Riverside housing association started with 15 homes in Liverpool in 1928. Ninety years later, the GLA allocates £9.5 million to Riverside to fund the building of new ‘social’ homes on Canterbury CloseGeoffrey Close and York Close, the three parts of a south London estate.

87% of residents cast their votes in one of the first such ballots under Mayor Khan’s new ballot rules. Of these residents, 67% vote in favour of Riverside’s plan to demolish 135 rented homes with 400 new mixed-tenure homes.

Electoral Reform Services verify the vote.

Of those 400 homes, Riverside promises at least 135 homes will be for ‘social rent’. The housing association – with a £346m turnover in 2018 – can now begin to draw on the £9.5m of taxpayers’ money held by the GLA.

“This decision means we will be able to provide overcrowded families new homes that meet their needs, improve tenants’ living conditions, whilst at the same time keeping the existing community together,” says Riverside chief executive Carol Matthews.

 

High Lane

At the same time, 90% of residents on the High Lane Estate in Hanwell in west London vote in favour of a plan to demolish and replace their homes with a new ‘mixed tenure’ development. Only 57% of eligible residents take part in the ballot held by Ealing Council.

The Council says all existing tenants are ‘guaranteed’ a new home on the newly developed site. Current leaseholders will also be offered equity stakes in a new home.

 

St Raphael’s

Residents elsewhere in London greet ballots with scepticism. The north-west London borough of Brent wants to ‘regenerate the St Raphael’s Estate.

Bordering Stonebridge and Neasden, the estate is currently home to over 1,000 households. Many residents feel a ballot on the future of their homes will not help them.

Politicians and planners have put three options before tenants and leaseholders. They include refurbishment and building around the existing homes – an option that would not need a ballot.

Demolition and redevelopment would need a vote. ‘Do nothing’ is a third possibility.

“Some people don’t want anything done to the estate,” says Mary Rands, 79, a former civil servant. “If the council are determined to knock down the estate, they will,” says Rands. “I still think it’s a done deal. If residents say no in the vote, they (the council) will let the estate run down.”

 

Love Lane Estate

One of the most contentious ballots could be held in north London later in 2019. The global property developer, Lendlease, and Haringey Council have signed a development agreement to demolish 297 council homes on the Love Lane Estate in Tottenham.

The controversial ‘regeneration’ scheme seeks GLA funding. Council tenants, leaseholders and temporary residents – and established small businesses on the adjacent Peacock Industrial Estate – face an uncertain future.

Will a ballot provide residents with genuine leverage over the powerful interests that covet their Love Lane Estate homes?

 

 

Further reading:

The ‘council house boy and his very British ballots http://www.londonintelligence.co.uk/a-very-british-ballot/

 

 

 

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2019

 

 

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