This Saturday will see an important protest over housing and gentrification in London, writes Colin Wilson. If you can, come and join the march.
It won’t be news to people reading this report that council housing is under attack in London. The Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle, in the south of the city, was demolished between 2011 and 2014. The old estate included 1,194 social housing flats – the redeveloped version has 82. Only 20 percent of the new properties are “affordable” – and so-called “affordable” properties are often beyond the budgets of people on low wages. There were reports that residents on the estate were forced out to locations as far away as Slough and St Albans, and Southwark council faced accusations of social cleansing as flats in the “regenerated” Elephant and Castle area sold for over £1 million.
Now the Australian property development firm Lendlease, Southwark Council’s partner in the Elephant and Castle scheme, is the partner of Haringey Council in North London in an even bigger deal, with just the same problems. The right-wing Labour council leadership has created a company owned 50/50 with the developers, the Haringey Development Vehicle or HDV, and will transfer into it homes and commercial property worth £2 billion. Plans include wholesale demolition of council homes – the photo above shows the scale of the demolition on only one estate, Northumberland Park, with blocks earmarked for demolition coloured red.
The Council’s plans for the area talk about local people – but also include a map highlighting the fact that the City of London with its well-paid finance jobs is only 31 minutes away. The same gentrification that took place in Elephant and Castle seems to be coming to Haringey. And, while the Council says they will involve residents in “consultation”, they are clear that tenants won’t get a vote on the future of their estate.
These proposals have met with a lively campaign of resistance. When the Council voted to go ahead with the HDV in July, campaigners marched to the meeting and staged the biggest protest in the borough for some years. Local Labour MPs Catherine West and David Lammy have both been won over to opposing the plans. Writing to the leader of Haringey Council, Lammy has stated that “residents have not been consulted properly, community concerns have not been allayed sufficiently, financial and reputational risks have not been mitigated, the council’s own overview and scrutiny committee has been ignored and it is clear that the HDV has been forced through in the face of serious opposition within the community and within the council itself.” The HDV has become a key issue in the local Labour Party, where it is opposed by the vast majority of members and supported only by a small number of right-wing councillors.
The campaign against the HDV is holding a further march on Saturday. Activists have been leafleting estates, tube stations, mosques and shopping centres, with at least one leafleting session every night this week. A convoy of cars will tour the borough on Friday, and a fundraising social will take place on Saturday night. A legal challenge to the HDV is also underway.
The Grenfell Tower fire highlighted everything that’s wrong with housing in London – a growing divide between working people and the super-rich, with council tenants held in contempt. This Saturday is a chance to start to turn that around. The HDV is now a high-profile and controversial proposal, regularly covered in the mainstream press. Its defeat could mark the beginning of the end for this kind of social cleansing across London. Come and support that fight if you can.
12 noon | Saturday | 21/09/2017
Tottenham Green (Seven Sisters tube/rail)