Housing in briefs - FRFI 262 February/March 2018

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Elephant & Castle: the fight against social cleansing

On 16 January, community organisers, traders and residents of Elephant & Castle in south London won a signficant victory as Southwark council’s planning committee voted 4-3 against accepting redevelopment plans that included demolishing the shopping centre and London College of Communications campus. The vote came after a seven-hour debate late into the night, as more than 200 objections to the application by offshore developer Delancey were put forward; outside the meeting, protesters who had marched to the town hall from the Elephant occupied the foyer making their opposition to the plans equally clear.

Those proposals would have seen small traders forced out, the popular bingo hall demolished with no alternative community facilities provided for pensioners and the large Latin American community displaced. Of 937 new privately-rented flats, just 33 would be offered at social rents. These would not be council-run, but rather something described as ‘social rent equivalent’ – starting at £160pw, and only available to ‘economically active’ households, potentially excluding pensioners, disabled people and the unemployed. There is currently no basis for this kind of tenure in council regulations. It is privatisation of social housing by the back door. 60% of the overall affordable housing is intended for households with incomes of over £60,000pa. Delancey argued that it could not afford to provide any more housing at social rents as it was already operating ‘at the very margins of viability’ – despite estimated profits from the redevelopment of £154m.

Southwark Labour leader Peter John boasted that the Delancey proposal would turn Elephant & Castle roundabout into a ‘Piccadilly Circus of the south’. At a community council meeting in early January, he argued that councils could now only deliver on housing targets through the private sector. But a whole community mobilised against his anti-working class vision: groups like Up the Elephant, Latin Elephant and traders’ organisations and community activists as well as political organisations including the Green Party, SWP and the RCG; students at LCC and UAL have staged occupations against Delancey’s plans. There has been enough pressure on a handful of local Labour councillors to encourage them to resist the bullying of council officials and stand up for their electorate.

But the council and the developers have not given up yet. Southwark will discuss the planning application again on 30 January. Delancey has written individual letters to local residents urging them not to let this ‘once in a lifetime’ redevelopment opportunity slip through their fingers. Organisers are calling for a mass protest to demand Southwark Council respect the vote and reject the plan.

Aylesbury CPO battle

On 9 January, a new public inquiry into Southwark council’s plans to force a group of leaseholders off the Aylesbury Estate began. The leaseholders are fighting against the council’s compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) for their flats which stand in the way of the council’s demolition plans. The Aylesbury Estate was once one of Europe’s largest council estates, with 2,700 homes. The new development will have 3,500 homes, of which only 780 will be classed as ‘affordable’. The price of the new homes for sale will make it impossible for existing leaseholders to return; one was offered just £225,000, when an equivalent flat in Phase 1 of the new building would cost £602,000.

The leaseholders won a temporary respite in 2016 when the then Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid ruled that the CPOs breached their human rights. But the council was given leave to appeal. The inquiry is considering the CPOs against four leaseholders affected in Phase 1 of the ‘regeneration’, but its ruling will affect at least 250 more in Phase 2 and has huge implications for council estates across the country.1

Raining on Newham council’s parade

On 11 January comrades from the RCG joined Focus E15 campaigners at Newham Labour council’s first meeting of the year, smuggling in protest materials in the form of slogans painted on umbrellas. At the Mayoral Proceedings, we heckled Mayor Robin Wales as he boasted of the ‘fairness’ of the borough in a speech about free school meals for all primary school pupils. How can Newham be described as ‘fair’ when it has the highest levels of homelessness in London, at one in 25 residents – 13,607 people? Meanwhile 400 homes remain empty on the increasingly dilapidated Carpenters Estate, while elsewhere in the Olympic borough, luxury developments spring up, are bought as investments, and remain empty. We also attended the fire safety section of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which seemed satisfied that rather than the removal of dangerous cladding from Ferrier Point (which was renovated by Rydon, the same company that installed cladding on Grenfell Tower), residents would be safe enough with a fire marshal posted at the entrance instead.

No room for health workers as NHS sells off land

Like many other public bodies, the cash-strapped NHS has been selling off land it considers ‘surplus’ – disused hospital sites, community centres and the like. But as a new report from the New Economics Foundation2 shows, the hundreds of homes springing up on such sites as they are greedily snatched up by developers are, in the main, completely unaffordable for those actually working in the health service. The report points out that only one in 10 of the homes built on sold-off NHS land will be for genuinely affordable social rent. The average expected sale price for these new homes is £315,279 – 10 times the annual salary of a nurse. In London, across all sites, no homes for sale will be affordable to NHS key workers, including nurses and midwives. Across the 59 sites sold off, just 20% of the homes for rent are classed as ‘affordable’ – but only half of those at social rent. The report found that of the remainder – at 80% of market rent – 80% were unaffordable for nurses and ambulance staff, 78% for midwives and 91% for clinical staff.

1. Help crowdfund the case being fought by the Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group and 35%.org at www.gofundme.com/aylesbury-the-right-to-a-community-2uefgf2s/

2. ‘How NHS land is being sold off to build unaffordable homes’, New Economics Foundation, 9 January 2018.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 262 February/March 2018

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