Fight social cleansing by Manchester City Council

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Labour-controlled Manchester City Council is actively promoting a city-wide policy of social cleansing. Its complicity in allowing developers to shrug off affordable and social housing commitments was recently profiled by The Guardian (‘The 0% city: how Manchester developers dodge affordable housing’, 6 March 2018). The article details how between 2016 and 2017, of 61 housing developments approved by the council – totalling 14,667 flats, apartments and houses – none will contain any social housing or even any units available at the more expensive ‘affordable’ level. Just 62 properties will fall under the ‘shared-ownership’ scheme – but these will be well away from the city centre. Twenty-seven will be in Openshaw – Manchester’s most deprived ward and in the top 1% of deprived areas in England, with others located in Gorton (where the Channel 4 series Shameless was filmed) and Moss Side. Meanwhile, the council itself is developing nearly 700 apartments in partnership with the wealthy Abu Dhabi United Group: all will be for sale or rent at market rates.

These developments break the City Council’s own planning requirement of 20% affordable housing provision in any development of over 16 units. As ever, the developers have used ‘viability assessments’ to argue that affordable housing provision would place unacceptable limits on their profits and – as in other boroughs across the country – Manchester council has been ready to rubber stamp the applications.

Adam Higgins, chief of developers Capital & Centric – which in the last two years received planning permission to create 681 flats in two old mills and part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s campus – said his developments simply would not happen if they had to sell the apartments at ‘affordable’ prices. He argued: ‘Ultimately as a private sector developer the only way you can build it cheaper is to build poorer quality and what everybody is paranoid about doing, including the council, all credit to them, is to start repeating the mistakes of the 1960s. Look at Grenfell Tower and places like that.’

The £1.5m in waiver fees will, the council says, allow them to build more affordable housing elsewhere – but these will be on the fringes of the city and surrounding boroughs, once again displacing Manchester’s working class.

Housing ‘activists’ let Labour council off the hook

There is growing anger in Manchester about this social cleansing of the city, with many eager to challenge the council. Yet the region’s largest housing campaign group, Greater Manchester Housing Action (GMHA), has instead acted to shield Labour councillors from criticism.

At the start of March, GMHA hosted a ‘Manchester Renters’ Forum’, describing it as ‘led by renters for renters’. Comrades from Manchester RCG attended in the hope of helping build a movement capable of putting real demands for housing reform on the council. However the event itself seemed organised mainly to provide a platform for Labour Mayor Andy Burnham to defend the council’s record – despite GMHA billing their event, rather limply, as ‘apolitical’.

When the meeting broke up into multiple ‘working groups’ to brainstorm ideas to be amalgamated into a master document at the end of the session, each group contained as least one Labour councillor, although not all identified themselves as such.

At the end of the session, an RCG member reported back from one group, and used the opportunity not just to list the demands drawn up, but to criticise the role of both the council and the mayor in allowing private developers to profit in the city centre while Manchester’s homeless population has skyrocketed in recent years.

GMHA almost immediately attempted to stifle this ‘dissent’ – hypocritically reiterating that the meeting was ‘apolitical’ (despite being stuffed to the gills with Labour councillors). This was similar to a previous series of meetings held by GMHA in 2016/2017, ostensibly to put together a ‘Manchester Housing Prospectus’ to ‘hold the new mayor to account’. That document seems never to have materialised nor been referred to again.

It is clear that the GMHA has no real intention of holding Labour to account for its appalling housing record – and will attempt to silence those who do. This opportunist stance was mirrored at a meeting in February of the recently formed local ACORN tenants’ union, organised by Plan C – a self-styled ‘autonomous revolutionary’ organisation. There the RCG was subjected to a wholly sectarian, undemocratic and anti-communist ban imposed by an unelected clique. Like GMHA, Plan C wishes to lead housing activists into a close working relationship with the Labour Party. It wants to make sure it does not face any challenge to this political strategy and is therefore vetting those it permits to become active within the ACORN branch. Such opportunist manoeuvres are the kiss of death for any attempt to build a real, fighting working class movement that will have no choice but to challenge and expose the Labour council’s appalling record on housing. Manchester RCG, which has campaigned on ‘Yes to DSS’, Save the Grange in Salford and with Manchester Activist Network to defend the rights of homeless people, will continue to be part of building such a movement.

Alexis Francis

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 263 April/May 2018

 

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