Architects for Social Housing (ASH) was set up in March 2015 in order to respond architecturally to London’s housing ‘crisis’. We are a working collective of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, film-makers, photographers, web designers, artists, writers and housing campaigners operating with developing ideas under set principles.

First among these is the conviction that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates, rather than redeveloping them as luxury apartments, is a more sustainable solution to London’s housing needs than the demolition of the city’s social housing during a housing shortage, enabling, as it does, the continued existence of the communities they house.

ASH offers support, advice and expertise to residents who feel their interests and voices are increasingly marginalised by local councils or housing associations during the so-called ‘regeneration’ process. Our primary responsibility is to existing residents – tenants and leaseholders alike; but we are also committed to finding viable alternatives to estate demolition that are in the interests of the wider London community.

ASH operates on three levels of activity: Architecture, Community and Propaganda.

  1. We propose architectural alternatives to council estate demolition through designs for infill, build-over and refurbishment that increase housing capacity on the estates and, by renting or selling a proportion of the new homes on the private market, generate the funds to refurbish the existing council homes, while leaving the communities they currently house intact.
  1. We support estate communities in their resistance to the demolition of their homes by working closely with residents over an extended period of time, offering them information about estate regeneration and housing policy from a reservoir of knowledge and tactics pooled from similar campaigns across London.
  1. We disseminate information that aims to counter negative and incorrect perceptions about social housing in the minds of the public, and raise awareness of the role of relevant interest groups, including local authorities, housing associations, property developers and architectural practices, in the regeneration process. Using a variety of means, including protest, publication and propaganda, we are trying to initiate a wider cultural change within the architectural profession.

Whether you are facing the regeneration of your estate and in need of advice, or whether you want to offer your skills, expertise and time to our many projects, please get in contact.


Twitter: @ASH_Housing

Facebook: ASH (Architects for Social Housing)


The Intellectual Bloodstain: Academia and Social Cleansing

From a talk given outside the London School of Economics and Political Science on Thursday, 29 September 2016, as part of Resist: Festival of Ideas and Actions.


‘All the water in the sea is not enough to wash away one intellectual bloodstain.’

– Isidore Ducasse (1870)

It’s an honour to be speaking here outside an institution of higher learning that counts among its staff such scholarly luminaries as Angelina Jolie, whom I’m looking forward to hearing lecture here in the Autumn term in the MSc on ‘Women, Peace and Security’. I don’t know what pedagogical principles Visiting Professor Jolie will be following, but my own view is that the only point in talking about subjects like resistance in an institution such as the London School of Economics and Political Science is to expose its ideological role in the relations of power against which resistance forms. I’m here today, therefore, not inside the institution but outside the New Academic Building, to talk about the London School of Economics, and about the responsibility and culpability of academics and intellectuals in the violence of London’s housing crisis.

I’m going to talk about a very particular intellectual bloodstain, whose source, if you look carefully, you can see seeping out of the doors behind me, and down the steps you’re sitting on over there. It’s a bloodstain that points specifically to a council estate regeneration project; and if you know anything about such projects you’ll know that ‘regeneration’ means the eviction of residents from their homes, the demolition of the estate they live on, and the redevelopment of the land, supposedly in order to address the chronic housing shortage in London. The particular regeneration I want to focus on is that of the Ferrier Estate in South-East London.

1. The Ferrier Estate

The Ferrier Estate, whose construction was completed in 1972, was located in Kidbrooke, east of Blackheath, in the London Borough of Greenwich. In 1999 the regeneration of the estate was initiated by Greenwich Labour Council, which has held a majority in the borough since 1971, so can pretty much do what it wants. In 2004, following approval by the Central Government of Tony Blair, the Council began to decant residents, 50 per cent of which were from ethnic minorities. In 2006 the Berkeley Group was awarded the redevelopment contract on the £1 billion project. In 2009 planning permission was given by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, and demolition of the estate began in 2010. By then, 1,500 households had been evicted from their homes, and the remaining 400 households were being threatened with court action. The motivation for this timetable was that the second phase of redevelopment had to begin by March 2011 if Greenwich Labour Council was to receive a £21.5 million grant for the scheme from the Coalition Government’s Homes and Communities Agency. It did, and by 2012 the demolition of the Ferrier Estate had been completed.

A total of 1,906 council homes were demolished, of which only 174 were owned by leaseholders, so by far most of the 5,277 residents were council tenants. These demolished homes are being replaced by a new development called Kidbrooke Village, which when finished will contain 4,398 new apartments. Of these, 2,490 will be for private sale, 1,358 for private rent, and 550 for shared ownership; which means that no homes – not a single home out of the 4,398 apartments in Kidbrooke Village – will be for social rent, a net loss of 1,732 homes for social rent from the borough. This raises the question of where the residents of the former Ferrier Estate ended up; and the truth is, all but a handful of the more than 5,000 residents on the Ferrier Estate have been evicted from the area. To put this loss of homes for social rent in context, in July 2014 – and things can only have grown worse since – Greenwich Borough had 14,994 households on its housing waiting list. If you didn’t know better, you would think Greenwich Labour Council would be desperate to hold onto what council homes they have, rather than demolishing 1,732 homes for social rent.

Okay, but you might argue that these homes were run down after decades of no maintenance by a council that nevertheless continued to collect rents from their occupants, so maybe it was better to replace them. So let’s look at what’s been built in Kidbrooke Village.

Since work started on the new development, 1,224 apartments have been completed, the cheapest of which is on sale for £412,500 for a 1-bedroom apartment. A 2-bedroom apartment is going for £540,000, a 3-bedroom apartment for £770,000, and a 4-bedroom townhouse is on sale for £900,000. By comparison, a 70 year-old leaseholder on the former Ferrier Estate – which is to say, someone with no hope of getting a new mortgage, even if he could afford such prices – was offered the grand sum of £94,000 in compensation for his 4-bedroom home, roughly one-tenth of the cost of an equivalent-sized apartment in Kidbrooke Village. Again, to put this in context, buying a £450,000 1-bedroom apartment requires a salary of £77,000 per annum and a deposit of £97,000. That’s the cheapest housing you’ll find in Kidbrooke Village – which, again, raises the question of for whom if has been built and what function it serves. And the only answer we can arrive at from these figures is that in place of the 1,906 council homes demolished by Greenwich Labour Council, the Berkeley Group is supplying housing that only the upper-middle classes, buy-to-let landlords or property speculators could possibly afford to buy, and not for use as homes but as real estate investments. Equally certain, the people who made up the overwhelmingly working-class community that once lived there won’t be buying the apartments on the new development.

This is not the gentrification of an up-and-coming area according to the gradual demands of the market. This is not local authorities trying to build the homes that Londoners need and can afford to live in. This is not property developers injecting the private investment needed to kick-start the regeneration of a run-down neighbourhood. This is the social cleansing of an entire community, over 5,000 people, evicted from their homes and dispersed across the borough of Greenwich and beyond.

In an article published in October 2008, Councillor Peter Brooks, the Deputy Leader of Greenwich Labour Council, when questioned about the role Greenwich Labour Council was playing in this process, responded:

‘Kidbrooke Village could be a key place to live and work in London, so I suspect that a different type of person will want to move in.’

Now, as we know, the middle classes don’t like to use the word ‘class’, as it forces them to confront their own position within its ranks; so instead of saying a different ‘class’ of person they say a different ‘type’ of person. Councillor Brooks continues:

‘I do understand that communities have been torn apart, and I think that’s the part of it that you regret. But what I am trying to do is form a new community.

I suppose it’s nice to know that the man who oversaw the demolition of over 1,900 council homes and the eviction of a community of over 5,000 residents in a borough with 15,000 people on the housing waiting list at least ‘regrets’ it – small consolation though that will be to the old community he destroyed. But let me remind you that, in his role as Deputy Leader of Greenwich Labour Council, this is the ‘type’ of person that has been given the responsibility for solving the housing shortage in London. He goes on:

‘It is unfortunate that we have had to move people to do this. I wouldn’t like it, I suppose, if I lived here. Yes, there has been a lot of scattering of the community. But there’s not much in reality that we can do about that, other than offer them the opportunity to come back.’

This opportunity to ‘come back’ is, in fact, all that residents are offered, whether council tenants or leaseholders. It has subsequently been called the Right to Return, and you’ll find it brandished over and over again by councils implementing the demolition of estates – I always think rather like a rapist waving a condom in his defence. ‘Yes’, the council says, ‘we’ve demolished your homes, evicted you from the estate, broken up your families, scattered the community you built over 40 years – but at least you’ve got the right to come back!’ In fact, the only residents coming back are the kids who, understanding exactly what this right means for them, visit Kidbrooke Village at night to engage in what the State calls ‘anti-social behaviour’.

In July 2014, two years after the Ferrier Estate they called home had been demolished, at a London Assembly investigation into the respective benefits of refurbishing council estates versus demolishing and redeveloping them, Roy Kindle, himself a former member of Greenwich Council, reflected on this Right to Return:

‘Ten years ago residents on the Ferrier Estate were told that they would have the right to come back. What Greenwich Council didn’t mention is that they would need to win the Lottery to do so.’

2. Kidbrooke Village

That’s the reality of estate demolition. But now we come to the reason I’m here on the steps of the London School of Economics. In July this year, the LSE produced a report, not – as one might expect – on the demolition of the Ferrier Estate, denouncing its destruction of a working class community, but on Kidbrooke Village, where a 4-bedroom house costs £900,000. The report is called New London Villages: Creating Community, a title which, before it does anything else, opposes the negative image of ‘estates’ with the positive image of ‘villages’. This is described as an ‘independent report’, produced for the Berkeley Group by the London School of Economics. That is, the LSE produced a report about a housing development built by the Berkeley Group on behalf of the Berkeley Group. The authors of this supposedly independent report are:

  • Kath Scanlon, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at the LSE in the Department of Geography and Environment.
  • Emma Sagor, Research Officer in Public Policy at the LSE.
  • Christine Whitehead, Professor of Housing in the Department of Economics at the LSE.
  • Alessandra Mossa, Research Fellow at the LSE and former architect and urban planner.

I don’t know, but I’d be very surprised if these four academics at the London School of Economics, who have produced a report on behalf of the Berkeley Group about a housing development built by the Berkeley Group, were not also paid to do so by the Berkeley Group. I’ll leave it to you to judge how independent that report is.

New London Villages: Creating Community, also comes with a preface by Anthony William Pidgley, CBE, co-founder and Chairman of the Berkeley Group. To give you an idea of what ‘type’ of person he is, his total annual ‘compensation’ – which is made up of his salary, annual bonus and stock options – is £21,489,000. So I think it’s safe to say he can definitely afford to buy a 4-bedroom home on Kidbrooke Village for £900,000, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s bought one or two for his kids as an investment. The Berkeley Group, which is the seventh largest home builder in the UK, is currently sitting on sites – a practice called land-banking – sufficient for 43,233 homes. We’re constantly being told by developers, councillors and politicians that London is ‘full’, that there’s nowhere to build homes, and so we have to demolish existing estates to build the homes we need. This is a lie. In the UK the top nine house builders are sitting on land sufficient to build 600,000 homes, including Taylor Wimpey (which has land for 184,730 homes), Barratt (142,123 homes), Persimmon (92,404 homes) and the Berkeley Group (43,233 homes). Why do they land-bank? For the same reason someone sits on their gold: the less land there is available for building, the higher the prices they can charge for the homes they build on it. Land, not materials or labour, determines the value of real estate, and the less there is of it the more it costs. For this reason, the Berkeley Group, which has seen fit to demolish 1,906 council homes on the Ferrier Estate alone in order to acquire the land on which they stood, has built a mere 3,355 homes in the UK in 2016. This is why London has some of the most expensive land prices of any major city in the world – more expensive than New York, comparable to Singapore and Hong Kong – and therefore the most expensive house prices in the world: not because of abstract market forces, but because of a property boom driven by international investment in London real estate dressed up as a housing crisis and accommodated by our almost non-existent corporate laws that means half the world’s dirty money runs through the capital. So the next time your councillor tells you they simply have to knock down your housing estate because there’s nowhere to build in London, quote these figures back at them.

In the preface by the Chairman of the Berkeley Group, the company that commissioned this ‘independent’ report from the London School of Economics, Mr. Pidgley says of Kidbrooke Village:

‘There is something for everyone here, for each and every part of society. Everybody has been involved, from all walks of life, regardless of the profession they work in.’

‘Every walk of life’ is another one of those middle-class euphemisms for ‘class’. Earlier we had the Deputy Leader of Greenwich Council describing Kidbrooke Village attracting a ‘different type of person’; next we’ll have the former residents of the Ferrier Estate described as ‘people from humble backgrounds’. I suppose someone who earns £21.5 million a year can’t be expected to have much of an idea of what people can afford to spend, so let me assure Mr. Pidgley that working class people, people of a different ‘type’, people from a ‘walk of life’ he’s never set foot on, people who don’t work in a ‘profession’, cannot afford the properties in Kidbrooke Village.

The report by the four academics at the London School of Economics was commissioned through LSE Consulting, which is part of LSE Enterprise, the global business arm of the London School of Economics. This company draws on what it calls ‘world-class research’ by the LSE to undertake consulting and commercial research for governments, public and private sector organisations. So this is a private company that sells supposedly independent research by the London School of Economics in support of projects by governments, by councils and by property developers like the Berkeley Group – projects like Kidbrooke Village. It is this relationship that I’m here to talk about today, and the academic, scholarly and intellectual integrity of the report that came out of it, which is divided into three chapters.

Chapter 1. Why Villages?

The first question mark over the integrity of the LSE report is the trope of ‘urban villages’. As I said, the report opposed the positive value of a ‘village’ to the negative value of an ‘estate’; but where does this opposition come from? According to the report, London has always been a ‘city of villages’. To an extent that’s true, as it is of any city which, unlike those in, say, North America, has expanded over centuries, swallowing up the surrounding villages as it has grown in size. But it hardly describes the financial capital of the world and home to 9 million people that London has become today. No doubt in reaction to this, London as a ‘city of villages’ is a very popular characterisation in West and North London, especially among that ‘type’ of person from a ‘walk of life’ that can afford a second home in the Cotswolds. It has less purchase on reality in East and South London, among that class of person that is trying to scrape the money together to pay their rent or resist the demolition of their estate.

One of the sources the report sites for this image of London as a ‘city of villages’ is the Urban Villages Forum, founded in 1993 in response to Prince Charles’ views on architecture. The only other source it sites is a map of London made in 1941 as part of a masterplan of how a post-World War II London would be rebuilt. Of course, one of the reasons the report is looking at a description of London from the 1940s is because the council estates whose demolition it was commissioned to justify were built after the Second World War, when the newly elected Labour Government initiated a program of mass council home building that continued through the next three decades under different political parties, but largely, and certainly in London, in working-class boroughs run by Labour councils. How things have changed.

What the report doesn’t mention in this nostalgic look back to a pre-welfare state England of village pubs, cricket greens and jars of Bovril, is that the trope of London as a collection of city villages has a much more recent provenance. One of these is Policy Exchange, another supposedly independent Conservative Party think tank, which in January 2013 published a report titled Create Streets. Arguing that post-war multi-storey housing estates should be demolished and replaced with low-rise apartments and housing built on the traditional street plan, this report had a considerable influence on the London Plan and its vision of London’s future. One of the other sources for the image of London as a ‘city of villages’ is a report published in March 2015 by the Independent Public Policy Research – a report in fact commissioned by the Peabody housing association – titled City Villages: More Homes Better Communities. This is one of the key sources, referred to by successive Tory Housing Ministers as well as the Labour London Mayor, of the argument that the greatest source of land available for building the homes Londoners need is the land on which existing council estates are built. And a third, but certainly not the final, source of this vision of London’s future, is a report by the real estate firm Savills titled Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents. Delivered directly to Cabinet in January 2016, Savills, which is advising Labour councils across London on their estate demolition programmes, as well as writing housing policy for the London Mayor, recommends demolishing the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners and replacing them with privately built housing developments modelled on the trope of – you guessed it – ‘city villages’.

For reasons we can only speculate on, but on whose results we can certainly pass judgement, none of these reports, published over the past three years, are mentioned in the LSE report as sources for the image of London as a ‘city of villages’. That’s not just bad scholarship – that’s lying. The authors are pretending they have developed what they call their ‘conceptual framework’ for the future of London’s housing needs, when in fact they’ve been handed it by government-sponsored think tanks, housing association-commissioned reports, real estate firms, and the property developer that paid them to produce the report. This isn’t just bad scholarship, this is intellectually fraudulent and morally indefensible, and LSE Research Fellow Kath Scanlon, Research Officer Emma Sagor, Professor Christine Whithead, and Research Fellow Alessandro Mossa should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be considerably more than ashamed, but we’ll return to that later.

Having been given this trope of ‘city villages’, these four academics, in their own supposedly independent report, are now compelled to come up with a definition of what they call the ‘New London Village’, which they have decided are the following:

  • Small and intimate: with the scale of the buildings suitable and the density sustainable.
  • Unique: with a spatial identity and sense of place, with community events in which residents create collective memory.
  • Designed for social interaction: with public spaces and facilities for the community.
  • Locally driven and responsive: with residents managing and determining the future of the community according to a long-term vision.
  • Functional: with residents having access to public and private services.
  • A mixed community: with a range of ages, incomes, tenures and backgrounds.

Chapter 2. Is Kidbrooke a ‘Village’?

For those whose attention spans don’t extend to the report’s forty obsequious pages, the LSE produced a short film that was published not only on the LSE website but in the online pages of The Guardian, where it received much praise by the paper’s resident housing hack and Labour apologist, Dave Hill. In this film, Kath Scanlon, the lead author of the report, says the Ferrier Estate was built in the early 60s, rather than the early 70s. This suits her argument – which is to say, the arguments of the Berkeley Group and Greenwich Labour Council – that the homes were run-down and no longer fit for use. But if that were the case for modern buildings forty years old when they were demolished, the Victorian terrace conversions in which half of London currently lives would have to be torn down too.

Clearly happy to peddle deliberately inaccurate information, the LSE academics – who in their written report devote a single paragraph to the existence of the Ferrier Estate – identify its decline not with its lack of maintenance by Greenwich Labour Council, or with the cuts to the support networks of residents, or with the more general class war that has been waged by successive governments over the past 3o years, but with the ‘uncompromising’ design of the estate, its ‘poor construction quality’, its ‘isolation from the surrounding neighbourhoods’, and, finally, the identity of the residents, for which it finds yet another euphemism, the by-now familiar ‘vulnerable and troubled households’. Before you can say it, that well-worn phrase of land-grabbers is wheeled out, and the Ferrier Estate is branded, without any data to substantiate this claim, as a ‘byword for anti-social behaviour’.

Since the academic authors of this report are salaried researchers in housing, they will presumably be familiar with David Cameron’s campaign to ‘Blitz’ one hundred so-called sink estates for precisely the same unsubstantiated reasons they give here to justify the demolition of the Ferrier Estate. They do not, however, question the use of this emotive and stereotypical language to stigmatise working-class communities and demolish their homes – which, like the trope of ‘city villages’, they have taken directly from government propaganda – but simply repeat it, without basis other than the place-myths about council estates and their communities cultivated by politicians, councillors, property developers, architects, the media and the entertainment industry. To call this scholarship is ridiculous: it is unquestioning, uncritical, willing subservience to paymasters, and its authors should be denounced by the academic community.

I won’t bother, because of this, to summarise their completely predictable deliberations on whether Kibrooke Village meets the criteria provided for them by its developers, but will instead look at what is at stake in these criteria:

1) The idea that post-war council estates were not built on a ‘human scale’ – intimate, walkable, everyone their own front door onto the street – is one we regularly hear used as justification for their demolition. In the judicial inquiry into the compulsory purchase order on the Aylesbury estate held in April, May and October 2015, the legal firm employed by Southwark Labour Council repeatedly used this idea of a ‘human scale’ to denigrate the estate on which 7,500 residents have lived at any one time over the past forty years. The question, of course, is what is meant by ‘human’ in judging a suitable scale. For the socialist architects who designed these estates, the human was collective, and its scale that of the community the estates formed. By contrast, for the capitalist purveyors of city villages, the human is the individual homeowner, and its scale his purchasing power, and anyone who doesn’t fit this consumer model of citizenship is – as we are experiencing – not welcome on this land. To affirm that a buildings are or are not on a ‘human scale’ is the kind of conservative judgements you’d hear passed in the Daily Telegraph, and has no place on a supposedly independent academic report on the success or otherwise of a housing development.

2) The idea of a ‘unique identity’ conjures up all the horrors of the Middle-England villages beloved of West London second home-owners; but having wiped out the collective memory of the socially cleansed community of the Ferrier Estate, however easy it has been for the Berkeley Group to build a luxury housing development in its place, the LSE academics will find it isn’t as easy to create either collective memory or a community out of non-domicile real estate investors and buy-to-let landlords.

3) By the report’s own admission, the only public amenities provided in Kidbrooke Village are the OneSpace community centre – the last remaining building, which is soon to be demolished, from the Ferrier Estate – and the ubiquitous Sainsbury’s supermarket. The latter is, perhaps, the most representative environment for ‘social interaction’ under monopoly capitalism, but even an LSE academic is unlikely to conclude that it will create either a unique identity or a sense of community. As for public spaces, there are none on what is now privately-owned land.

4) ‘Locally driven’ depends on who the locals are. The locals of the previous community have been socially cleansed from the area, except when exercising their nocturnal Right to Return; and to talk of Kidbrooke Village as being ‘locally driven’ is an added insult to the complete disregard with which the wishes of the former community were treated by Greenwich Labour Council and the Berkeley Group. Now, in a move characteristic of estate demolition’s transferral of public responsibilities into private hands, Kidbrooke Village is run by the Berkeley Group, so the only vision of the future is theirs.

5) As we have seen, the ‘function’ the housing in Kidbrooke Village serves is primarily as an exchange-value, either for property speculators, real estate investors or buy-to-let landlords. Their use-value as housing is secondary, and the demographic of the users has been specifically selected to place as little burden on public services as possible.

6) Describing the tenancies on Kidbrooke Village as an equal mix of ‘social/affordable, private rented and owner occupied’ is another lie. Following the Government’s Housing and Planning Act, there no longer exists any provision for building homes for social rent on new housing developments. Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that made this a requirement has now been superseded by the provision of affordable housing at up to 80 per cent of market rate, the quota of which is determined by viability assessments produced by firms such as Savills. But in fact that’s the best concession we can hope for. In reality, in place even of this affordable housing quota, developers can now build Starter Homes – that is, state subsidised housing for private sale – that are expected to make up around 20 per cent of new housing developments. None of this is mentioned in the report by the London School of Economics. Instead the authors find that, with a few reservations, Kidbrooke Village does, in fact, all things considered, meet the criteria of a New London Village. No surprise there.

What they do mention is that Kidbrooke Village, when it is completed, will double the housing density of the Ferrier Estate. But they provide no study of what effects this will have on the local area, or whether the infrastructure of roads, schools, clinics, hospitals, shops, nurseries, public transport and so on has been supplied. The Community Infrastructure Levy that was part of the Section 106 agreements has disappeared with it, so presumably Greenwich Council will be expected to meet the drastically increased demands on support networks. That is, of course, if the increased density of housing brings with it a comparable increase in residents. Although there is no record of how many apartments are being bought by buy-to-let landlords, the report estimates that 65 per cent of the ‘units’ have been sold to occupiers, which means 35 per cent, over a third, were purchased by non-domicile investors in real estate. Perhaps this is what the authors mean when they say Kidbrooke Village is the kind of ‘mixed community’ to which London should aspire. If it is, we’re well on the way to achieving it.

‘Mixed communities’, like ‘human scale’, is a phrase repeatedly used to justify demolishing the homes of the working class. In fact, as anyone who has lived on a council estate knows, these are some of the most – and rapidly becoming the last – mixed communities in London, racially and economically. Certainly no-one who could afford the prices of the Berkeley Group’s luxury replacements lives there, but there is still a mix of working-class and lower middle-class families. Above all, council estates are overwhelmingly home to London’s non-white communities. To speak of the professional, international, middle-class clientele at which Kidbrooke Village has been marketed as a ‘mixed community’ is another of those lies with which estate demolition is polished up and presented to the public. Kidbrooke Village is an instrument for the social cleansing of Greenwich Borough, economically and racially. Indeed, Greenwich Labour Council has never denied that the purpose of its estate demolition programme is to change the demographic of the borough and raise land values. In a document published in 2000 they wrote:

‘There is little doubt that the Ferrier Estate has stigmatised the area. Whilst a rolling programme of piecemeal development seems sensible to facilitate the logistics of decanting a large number of tenants, it simply will not generate the values needed. We believe that a complete demolition of the Ferrier Estate and a new comprehensive quality scheme is essential to remove the stigma of the current estate and its effect on land values.’

Behind Berkeley Homes’ promotional videos of middle-class families and professionals cavorting on the village green lies the invisible sign that everyone can read: no unemployed, no single mothers, nobody on benefits, nobody without private health insurance, no elderly without a pension, nobody who relies on social services, nobody from a poor ‘background’ – as the report refers, yet again euphemistically, to the class of people who most certainly won’t make up the ‘mixed community’ its authors somehow find here. Only the rich need apply. Welcome to Kidbrooke Village.

Chapter 3. What could the village model offer London?

Since the LSE report steadfastly refuses to address the presence of the white elephant standing in the middle of the living room of every one of these luxury apartments – that is, their complete failure to meet the housing needs of the local community – the authors instead focus on the ‘quality’ of the housing in Kidbrooke Village. Now, as a recent report by the charity Shelter has shown, 43 per cent of homes in Britain fail to meet their newly launched ‘living home standard’; and, unsurprisingly, 73 per cent of these are in London. But 56 per cent of London homes fail the living home standard not on the criteria of their condition, the amount of living space, the stability of tenure or the surrounding neighbourhood, but on the fifth criterion – their affordability. We don’t have the figures for London alone, but across Britain the homes of 41 percent of semi-skilled and unskilled workers, and 31 per cent of skilled workers, fail to meet the standard of affordability.

To conceal this failure – which estate demolition schemes, driven by the 20 per cent plus profit margins of developers, completely ignore – central government, local authorities, property developers and architects are united in insisting on the need for ‘high quality’ homes. This, however, is just another euphemism for their unaffordability. Needless to say, the LSE report concludes that Kibrooke Village does, indeed, consist of ‘high quality’ housing; and at the prices the Berkeley Group is charging it would be surprising if it didn’t. Yet once again the authors of the LSE report uncritically adopt this framework, without the slightest interest to question what it may be concealing, whom it may be serving, or who is paying for its acceptance as the orthodoxy on housing. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the report also parroting the property developers’ language of ‘densification’ and ‘placemaking’. To read a critique of these terms it is not to the London School of Economics and Political Science that readers must turn, but to the blog of Architects for Social Housing.

Finally, the authors of the LSE report come to their conclusions. Since the questions they asked about Kidbrooke Village were formulated by the property developer that built the development, and since the Berkeley Group has commissioned the report in order to reach those conclusions, no-one will be surprised to hear that – yes, the London School of Economics and Political Science does indeed find Kidbrooke Village to be exactly and precisely the kind of housing development London needs to solve the housing shortage. In fact, so enthusiastic are they about its potential for London, the authors of the report recommend the following actions:

  1. There are currently 33 sites, each with approval for building 1,000 or more homes, in the London Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment; and they estimate that among these there exists the potential for more than a dozen ‘New City Villages’. They call this ‘having a clear vision’.
  1. Private developers such as the Berkeley Group, rather than local authorities such as Greenwich Labour Council, should lead what they call ‘community development’. Not satisfied merely with building new housing developments, private companies are apparently now qualified to create our communities.
  1. Council estates on public sector land should be demolished and redeveloped as ‘New London Villages’, built on the model of Kidbrooke Village and, presumably, socially cleansed on the model of the Ferrier Estate.

And that’s it. In the forty-page report there is nothing – not one fucking word – about the fate of the existing communities whose homes, with a wave of their hands from the window of their ivory tower, the authors of this report, commissioned by the Berkeley Group and bearing all the cultural legitimacy bestowed by the London School of Economics and Political Science, consign to the bulldozer – their families torn apart, their communities scattered, their lives and futures thrown into the unending nightmare of temporary accommodation and an unregulated private rental market.

3. The Intellectual Bloodstain

This shameful, intellectually fraudulent and morally indefensible report is not the only example of the intellectual bloodstain we are increasingly seeing left by academics involved with housing. In April 2016, at a conference titled ‘London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms’ that was held at the University of East London, the organisers, Dr. Paul Watt and Anna Minton, invited Councillor Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Regeneration in Hackney Labour Council, to speak. He turned up dressed in a red cashmere scarf – perhaps meant to be symbolic of Labour’s commitment to the working class – and swanned back and forth at the front of the stage, declaiming the usual rubbish about Government cuts and the Housing and Planning Bill and how it’s all the fault of the Tories. I had the distinct impression he was talking down to us. But when he started on about how Hackney Labour Council had to demolish the estates in which thousands of Hackney residents live in order to give them better homes I’d heard enough. I reminded him that at last count Hackney Labour Council had overseen the demolition of 18 council estates, including 400 homes on the Colville Estate, over 400 homes on the Haggerston West and Kingsland estates, 503 homes on the Nightingale Estate, and 1,980 homes on the Woodberry Down Estate, so the Housing and Planning Bill had nothing to do with Hackney’s housing shortage. I asked him how former council residents were meant to afford the new developments, why Savills real estate firm are writing the financial model for Hackney’s regeneration programme, whether his membership of the privately-funded right-wing Labour cabal Progress contributed to his eagerness to demolish the homes of the working class, and suggested he had no interest in re-housing Hackney’s residents in better homes but only in getting the land their current homes are built on.

In response to my interruption I was told to ‘shut up’ by a member of Momentum, the pro-Jeremy Corbyn Labour faction; and Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester, said we should ‘behave like adults’. I think she meant me specifically, but then she has published a book called Gentrification, and academics have a habit of withdrawing into codes of behaviour when the things they write about come off the page and into their world. The rest of Councillor Nicholson’s presentation was similarly interrupted by other people in the audience, who, unlike the academics on stage, recognised a liar when they heard one. When it was the turn of the Focus E15 Mothers to speak, they tore into Councillor Nicholson for telling them to support what the Labour Party are doing in London, and asked him where his Party was when the Focus E15 Mothers were being forcibly moved out of Newham borough by the Labour Council and threatened by social services with the confiscation of their children for making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ by refusing temporary accommodation outside London.

One of the Focus E15 Mothers, who has been living with her three children for two years in a single room in Boundary House – the temporary accommodation in Welwyn Garden City to which Newham Labour Council sends homeless mothers from their borough – recognised Councillor Nicholson from the previous week. She’d seen him while protesting outside the Property Developer Awards held at the Grosvenor Hotel in Mayfair – which, given the amount of work he’s put their way, isn’t surprising. What was surprising is that he’d been invited to this conference. Like every Labour cabinet member I’ve ever had the misfortune to be in the same room with, Councillor Nicholson seemed completely indifferent to the strength of feeling against him in the room. But to my asking why a social cleanser like him had been invited to spread his lies on a platform supposedly set up to debate the possible responses of activists to London’s housing crisis, the organisers of the conference responded that they wanted to hear ‘all sides of the conversation’.

Now, this is not a new argument. It has been used by numerous supposedly grass-roots organisations – such as Axe the Housing Act and Defend Council Housing – that are in fact Labour Party fronts, and which because of this regularly invite Labour councillors and MPs to speak at meetings, marches and demonstrations, where they invariably dominate the platforms and, more importantly, the press coverage of the event the next day. And like Councillor Nicholson, their message is always the same – that it’s all the fault of the Tories. I have written elsewhere on this blog about the role of Labour activists in seeking to relieving the Labour Party of all culpability in council estate demolition. But as we have seen with the Ferrier Estate – which is typical in this respect as in many others – estate demolition is a collaboration between Tory Government and Labour Councils. Both political parties support it both in principle and in implementation. Central Government changes the laws and supplies the motivating funds, and local authorities, whether Labour or Tory, do the dirty work.

To characterise this process, as academics invariably do, as a ‘conversation’ is to ignore the respective strengths of the voices on either side of the struggle. I say struggle, and not debate, because debate is what academics do, and this isn’t an academic debate – although academics are getting quite a few papers, conferences and books out of it. Nor is this a conversation, which implies a roughly equal access to speech between two sides. The Conservative and Labour Parties have unlimited access to our State propaganda of media, press and entertainment industries to spread their lies and justify their violence. Local authorities, in contrast, allow residents three minutes to speak at their council meetings, and ignore everything they say. Their so-called community consultations are a sham, and they ignore everything residents say that doesn’t fit in with their wishes, denounce those that oppose their plans as troublemakers, ban them from attending meetings, and finally threaten them with the law. This is not a conversation. This is a struggle by residents fighting for their homes to make their voices heard above the lies of politicians, councillors, property developers, real estate investors, property speculators, builders, estate agents, architects, journalists and academics.

Despite this, later that same month, at a conference titled ‘Can we afford to lose social housing?’ organised by Professor Loretta Lees and Dr. Hannah White at Cambridge House, the organisers again decided to invite a social cleanser to speak, this time by the name of Councillor Richard Livingstone, the Cabinet Member for Housing for Southwark Labour Council. Before accepting our invitation to join him on the podium, ASH complained to the organisers about a demolisher of social housing like Councillor Livingstone being invited to an academic conference to discuss the future of social housing; and we were told, once again, that they wanted to hear ‘all sides of the conversation’.

Though slightly less debonair than his Hackney counterpart, Councillor Richardson similarly argued that the housing crisis is all the fault of the Tories and their cuts to Labour Council budgets, and has nothing at all to do with the numerous estate demolition schemes Southwark Council, under changing political administrations, has been pursuing over the past fourteen years, and which have resulted in the loss of thousands of council homes from the borough, including, most famously, the Heygate Estate, where 1,200 council homes were demolished, and the Aylesbury Estate, where 2,700 homes are under threat. And like his counterpart in Hackney, he didn’t get far in his speech before residents from the Aylesbury Estate started heckling him about his description of their home as a ‘sink estate’, and members of the 35% Campaign reminded him that Peter John, the Leader of Southwark Labour Council, had described council estates as ‘symbols of inner-city neglect, with crime, anti-social behaviour, health inequalities and unemployment the only things that flourished there’. I limited myself to pointing out that the Housing and Planning Bill wasn’t yet law, and therefore couldn’t be blamed for a single one of the thousands of council homes lost to estate demolition schemes in Southwark. I also questioned how he had the cheek to talk about Tory Government cuts when the Labour Council had erected a £140,000 razor-wire topped wall around the first redevelopment site of the Aylesbury Estate, even though families are still living there, and were paying a security firm hundreds of thousand of pounds to guard it.

Councillor Richardson tried to look offended when I called him a social cleanser and a liar, but I don’t think anyone believed him. The trouble with lying for a living is that, to back up a lie you need to tell another one, then another lie to back up that one, and so on until eventually all you can do is lie, over and over again, lie after lie after lie. People who find themselves trapped in this descending well of lies have a certain look etched into their face, and no matter how much they try to smile and grin and even laugh, all that comes through is their lying mug. As anyone unfortunate enough to have met him or who has seen his photograph will know, Councillor Livingstone has just such a face.

As speakers from local authorities always do, Councillor Livingstone turned up to the conference minutes before his talk and tried to leave immediately afterwards; but we pointed out that as a putative representative of the residents of Southwark he had a duty to listen to what they had to say, and demanded he stayed to hear them. He got an ear bollocking for the rest of the afternoon for his troubles, but his suffering didn’t extend to listening to our own presentation at the very end of the day. When asked for his response to ASH’s alternative design proposals to demolition on Knight’s Walk, Central Hill, West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates, Councillor Richard Livingstone, Cabinet Member for Housing in Southwark Labour Council, was found to have slipped quietly and unnoticed from the room.

But the following week we wondered whether we had, in fact, given our presentation. In the report on the conference that was published on the Cambridge House blog, the organisers removed any reference to ASH’s presentation, along with any criticisms of Councillor Livingstone from the floor. Instead, they rewrote the entire discussion in line with his lies, blamed Southwark’s housing shortage on Tory cuts, and refused to mention the Labour Council’s estate demolition programme. So much for hearing ‘all sides of the conversation’. When I wrote to the conference organisers for an explanation for this pack of lies, Dr. White replied, unconvincingly, that the omission of ASH’s presentation was an ‘oversight’, and added, more revealingly, that Cambridge House receives funding from Southwark Labour Council – information, she wrote, which ‘should give you an insight into the line we have to tread’.

It does, and although the blog report was subsequently modified to make a brief mention of our presentation – although still without the slightest criticism of Councillor Richard Livingstone and Southwark Labour Council – this was the last time ASH had anything to do with Cambridge House, Dr. White or Professor Lees, whose undergraduate textbook, published in 2008, is already out of date in its characterisation of the demolition of council estates for land as a process of ‘gentrification’. As Anna Minton remarked during the conference, there are numerous articles debating whether gentrification is a good or a bad thing; whereas no-one who has lived through or actively resisted it, rather than just read about it in a book, can be in any doubt about the negative effects of so-called estate regeneration schemes. It is time academics cut the umbilical cord of gold that binds them to the funders and employers of their voices, found the courage to denounce estate demolition for what it is, and refuse to give a platform to those who excuse, propagate or implement what is not the gentrification of working-class neighbourhoods but the social cleansing of working-class communities from their homes for profit.

There are, of course, honourable exceptions to this widespread collusion of academia with the violence of London’s estate demolition programme; and since I’m indicting those academics who collaborate with and make excuses for social cleansers, I would also like to cite those who don’t. Professor Jane Rendell, Director of Architectural Research at the Bartlett School of Architecture, made a considerable contribution to the Public Inquiry into the Aylesbury Estate Compulsory Purchase Order with her research into the lies peddled about the Aylesbury Estate demolition and the suppression of the report on its possible refurbishment by Southwark Labour Council. Dr. Paul Watt, Reader in Urban Studies at Birkbeck Collage, works with the Focus E15 Mothers campaign and is one of the few academics not to treat invitations to speak on the housing crisis as an opportunity to plug their latest book. His contribution to the recent Royal Academy conference ‘Forgotten Estates’, exceptionally among academic presentations, insisted on the political dimension, economic rewards and social cost of the housing crisis, with a particular indictment of the role of the Labour Party in implementing the estate demolition programme. And finally, and most exceptionally of all, Dr. Lisa Mckenzie, Research Fellow in Sociology at the London School of Economics, Class War activist and all-round pain in the arse to the Establishment, organised the Resist Festival at which I am speaking today, Her work as a working class scholar and activist has helped to bring class back from its suppression by post-Marxist sociology and place it at the centre of debates and actions on the effects of austerity economics on the housing crisis in Britain.

These three, however – and there are of course more – are very much the exception to the silence and acquiescence of our ‘intellectuals’ to what’s happening in Britain today. Academia has an inglorious history of not standing up to power, so let’s go straight to Godwin’s Law for a comparison. Under the Third Reich, German academics and intellectuals were some of the most advanced in the world, yet their historians invented the lost origins of the German people in an Aryan race of blond-haired blue-eyed supermen; their archaeologists searched for the lost site of the defeat of Caesar’s Legions by ancient Germanic tribes in the Teutoburg Forest; their philosophers identified the historical destiny of the German people in the boundaries of a mythical Fatherland; their eugenicists measured the faces of Jews, Gypsies, Negroes and Slavs to justify their subjection and mass extermination; their doctors conducted medical experiments on the mentally disabled and carried out State-funded programmes of enforced euthanasia; their physicists and engineers designed the most advanced weapons the world had ever seen; their artists and critics championed fascist aesthetics and denounced the degenerate art of cultural bolshevism; and their architects designed the masterplan for Germania, the capital of a thousand year Reich, on the demolition of contemporary Berlin.

Let’s fast forward 80 years to Austerity Britain, a time and a place when central Tory government and local Labour authorities are united in identifying the source of crime, anti-social behaviour and rioting in the architecture of post-war council estates, rather than in the poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and cuts to social services of the communities that inhabit them; when property developers justify building real estate investments for the dirty money of Russian oligarchs, Chinese industrialists and Arab oil sheiks by searching for the lost origins of London in a conservative image of ‘city villages’; when estate agents measure the Net Present Value of working class communities to justify their plans to demolish the homes of hundreds of thousands of Londoners; when hereditary heirs and CEOs declare poverty to be a personal failing, homelessness a crime, and unemployment solved through unpaid labour in their private companies; when doctors and nurses collaborate in the sanctioning of benefits for our sick and disabled; when scientists and engineers have made Britain the world’s second largest arms dealer in the world; when artists are the avant-garde of social cleansing dressed up as the accelerated gentrification of working-class neighbourhoods; when architects docilely and obediently collude in the demolition of the last remaining housing the working class can afford to live in and their replacement with luxury apartments no-one but the filthy rich can afford to buy; when journalists, TV programmers and entertainment industry executives queue up to propagate every lie, myth and stereotype about council estates and the working class communities that live in them under the direction of their paymasters; and when academics . . . well, we’ve seen today a fairly representative example of what they’re doing. They’re doing what the so-called ‘intellectuals’ of this country always do – they’re closing their eyes, closing their ears, closing ranks and defending their class position. Besides that, what else can they do? Hold another conference? Write another paper? Publish another book?

I have a thesis, which I’d like to submit for my PhD in Housing and Class War at the London School of Economics and Political Science under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Mckenzie. My thesis is this. If there is a point to the utterly pointless existence of academia, it is to speak truth to power, not to fellate it on its slippery passage up the arseholes of the working class.

4. The People’s Court

Since this is supposed to be a festival of actions as well as ideas, I want to end by convening a People’s Court for the indictment of the LSE Four. Let me remind you, for the last time, who they are. The authors of New London Villages: Creating Community, a report commissioned by the Berkeley Group to justify their social cleansing of 5,277 residents from the Ferrier Estate and its replacement with the real estate investment called Kidbrooke Village, are Research Fellow Kath Scanlon, Research Officer Emma Sagor, Professor Christine Whithead, and Research Fellow Alessandro Mossa. I indict all four of these academics at the London School of Economics on the following charges:

  1. Lying about the reality of estate regeneration and perpetuating the myths of sink estates to justify the social cleansing of working-class communities.
  1. Taking the conceptual framework of their research, and specifically the model of ‘city villages’, from the Berkeley Group and passing it off as independently formulated criteria for assessing Kidbrooke Village.
  1. Placing the cultural legitimacy of a London School of Economics report in the service of Tory Government policy, Labour Council lies, and the profits of a property developer.
  1. Accepting financial support for their research from Berkley Homes in order to validate the wished-for conclusions of their financial backers.

If the LSE 4 are found guilty by the People’s Court, in the name of Architects for Social Housing and on behalf of the former residents of the Ferrier Estate, I call for the following punishments:

  1. The immediate sacking of the four authors from their positions at the London School of Economics. It will be instructive to see how they feel about the demolition of council housing when they don’t have a professional salary from one of the UK’s wealthiest academic institutions to pay their mortgages.
  1. A written admission of their culpability on the above charges to be made available for publication. Let’s see how they feel about having their lives and community trashed in the press.
  1. The formal withdrawal of their report from use by the Berkeley Group and the public repudiation of its findings. Perhaps, when they experience what it’s like facing the financial and political muscle of one of the UK’s largest building companies, they’ll discover some sympathy for residents fighting for the homes they recommend demolishing.
  1. The donation of whatever fees they received from the Berkeley Group to a housing support fund available to residents of the former Ferrier Estate, to which we invite the London School of Economics to make further donations.

This concludes the case for the prosecution.

At the conclusion of this indictment witnesses were called for the defence, but none stepped forward. And although invited in advance to appear before the People’s Court, none of the indicted were present, so they were tried in absentia. After a brief deliberation, and by a unanimous jury, a verdict of guilty for all four defendants was returned by the People’s Court. We therefore call on the London School of Economics to execute this judgement.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

With thanks to L.G. for the research on the Ferrier Estate, to Lisa Mckenzie for inviting me to speak at Resist, and to Andrew Cooper for the illustration.

Red Front / Pink Boots

Really? Myself and Cabinet deserve to be drowned and murdered? Now is the time to utterly condemn this disgraceful march . . . Do we have a name? We don’t accept threats or inciting violence in Lambeth . . . Utterly shameful comment – needs to be condemned . . . Horrific, pathetic, dangerous, shameful . . . Demonstrators supported event inciting murderous violence against Labour councillors . . . Utterly disgraceful . . . Your event is giving a platform to revolutionaries who want to murder democratically elected politicians. Happy with that? . . . Surely this should be reported to the police. Threat to kill. Disgraceful . . . Why tweet if you can phone the police? If you dial 101 you can report to the police any threats of violence.

– Lambeth Labour councillors and their supporters in response to a report on Twitter that a speaker at the Stand Up To Lambeth march on 8 October, to much laughter and applause from the crowd, had offered the opinion that the leaders of Lambeth Council ‘belong in the Thames with rocks around their ankles.’ In agreement with this statement, which anyone with a grasp of English and who isn’t a cop knows is neither a threat to murder nor an incitement to violence but an observation on the morality of Lambeth Labour Council, and in condemnation of the Council’s increasing attempts, of which this is the latest, to criminalise those who oppose its plans to socially cleanse the borough through demolishing council estates, evicting local businesses and closing public libraries, we publish this new translation of a poem which, 85 years ago, was similarly indicted by a centre-left French Government that, under comparable circumstances of capitalist crisis and the embrace of fascist and racist ideologies, showed the same absence of humour, the same opposition to free speech, the same allegiance to the inequalities of capitalism, the same recourse to police violence to maintain them, the same indifference to the poverty of the working class, and was every bit as corrupt, opportunist and ineffectual as our own Labour Party. With all its faults – which from the perspective of history are many – this poem still echoes down to our own time.


Something sweet for my dog
A drop of champagne Certainly Madame
We are at Maxim’s the year nineteen
Hundred and thirty
Mats are placed under the bottles
so their aristocratic bottoms
do not come into contact with life’s difficulties
carpets to hide the floor
carpets to smother
the sound of the soles of the waiter’s shoes
Drinks are sucked up through straws
drawn out of a little sanitary envelope
There are cigarette-holders between the cigarette and the man
mufflers on the cars
service stairs for those
carrying the parcels
and tissue paper around the parcels
and paper around the tissue paper
as much paper as you want it costs
nothing neither the tissue paper nor the straws
nor the champagne or next to nothing
neither the acclaimed ashtray nor the acclaimed
blotter nor the acclaimed
calendar nor the acclaimed
lights nor the acclaimed
photographs on the wall nor the acclaimed
furs on Madame the acclaimed
toothpicks the acclaimed
fan and the wind
nothing costs anything for
nothing the living servants hand you leaflets in the street
Take one it’s free
the leaflet and the hand that offers it
Don’t close the door
the Englishman will take care of it Tenderness
Even to the stairs that go up by themselves
in the large department stores
The days are felt-lined
the men of fog Padded world
without collision
You’re not crazy Some Beans My dog
hasn’t been sick yet

O travelling clocks travelling clocks
have you made the betrothed dream enough on the boulevards
and the Louis XVI bed on a year’s credit
In the cemeteries the people of this well-oiled nation
lie down with the propriety of marble
Their little houses like
mantle-piece ornaments

How much do chrysanthemums cost this year

Flowers for the dead flowers for the great artists
Money is also spent on the ideal

And besides charity makes black dresses trail
down the stairs that’s all I’m saying
The princess is really too kind
For all the gratitude it wins you
You’re lucky if they thank you
It’s the example of the Bolsheviks
Unhappy Russia
The USSR or as they say the SSSR
SS what’s that SSS
SSR SSR SSSR oh darling please
Just think SSSR
You have seen
The strikes in the North
I know the beaches of Berck and Paris
But not the strikes SSSR


When the men came down from the suburbs
and in the Place de la République
the black flood congealed like a closing fist
the shops wore their shutters over their eyes
to keep from seeing the passing light
I remember the first of May nineteen hundred and seven
when the terror reigned in the gilded salons
The children were forbidden to attend school
in that western suburb where only dimly
echoed the distant sound of anger
I remember the Ferrer demonstration
when the ink flower of infamy
exploded against the Spanish embassy
Paris it wasn’t so long ago
that you saw the procession for Jaurés
And the Sacco-Vanzetti torrent
Paris your crossroads still twitch their nostrils
Your cobblestones are still ready to leap into the air
Your trees to bar the roads to soldiers
Turn great body summoned
Hey Belleville and you Saint-Denis
where the kings are prisoners of the reds
Ivry Javel and Malakoff
Call them all with their tools
the galloping children bringing the news
the women with heavy buns of hair the men
coming out of their work as though out of a nightmare
feet still unsteady but eyes clear
There are always gunsmiths in the city
cars at the doors of the bourgeoisie
Bend the street-lights like wisps of straw
Send the news-stands flying the benches the Wallace fountains
Kill the cops
Kill the cops
Further further west where
the children of the rich and the first-class prostitutes sleep
Past the Madeleine Proletariat
your fury sweeps the Elysée
You have every right to the Bois de Boulogne in the week
Someday you’ll blow up the Arc de Triomphe
Proletariat learn your strength
Learn your strength and unchain it
It is preparing its hour Learn better how to see
Listen to that murmur coming from the prisons
It awaits its day it awaits its hour
its minute its second
when the delivered blow will be mortal
and the bullet so sure that all the social-fascist doctors
leaning over the body of the victim
extending their searching fingers under the lace nightshirt
listening with precision instruments to the already rotting heart
will not find the usual remedy
and will fall into the hands of the rioters who will push them up against the wall
Fire on Léon Blum
Fire on Boncour Frossard Déat
Fire on the trained bears of social democracy
Fire Fire I hear
death pass by as it throws itself on Garchery Fire I tell you
Under the leadership of the Communist Party
You wait finger on the trigger
but Lenin
the Lenin of the right moment

From Clairvaux rises a voice that nothing can silence
It is the spoken newspaper
the song of the wall
the revolutionary truth on the march
Hail Marty the glorious rebel of the Black Sea
He will be delivered yet that uselessly imprisoned symbol
of the Yen-Bay rebellion
What is that syllable which reminds us that you do not gag
a people that you do not
check them with the executioner’s scimitar
To you yellow brothers this promise
For each drop of your life
the blood of a Varenne supporter will flow

Listen to the cries of the Syrians killed by darts
thrown by the aviators of the Third Republic
Listen to the screams of the Moroccan dead
without mention made of their age or sex

Those who wait with teeth clenched
to take their revenge at last
whistle a tune that speaks
a tune a tune US
SR a tune happy as iron SS
SR a burning tune it is ho-
pe the tune SSSR the song the song of October with its
shining fruit
Whistle whistle SSSR SSSR patience
will have its time SSSR SSSR SSSR


In the crumbling plasterwork
among the faded flowers of old decorations
the last doilies and the last shelves
emphasise the strange life of trinkets
The worm of the bourgeoisie
tries in vain to unite its divided segments
Here a class writhes in agony
the family memories shatter into fragments
Set your heel on these awakening vipers
Shake these houses so that the coffee spoons
fall out with the bedbugs the dust the old men
how sweet it is how sweet it is the sound of groaning coming from the ruins

I am here at the elimination of a useless world
I am here intoxicated at the destruction of the bourgeoisie
Has there ever been a more beautiful hunt than the pursuit
of this parasite crouched in every corner of our cities
I sing the violent dictatorship of the Proletariat over the bourgeoisie
for the annihilation of this bourgeoisie
for the total annihilation of this bourgeoisie

The finest monument that could ever be raised over a square
the most surprising of all possible statues
the most audacious and beautiful of columns
the arch comparable to the very prism of the rain
is not worth this magnificent and chaotic heap
Try it and see
what can easily be done with a church and a little dynamite

The pick makes a hole in the old passivities
The collapsing masonry is a song of a turning sun
Old men and walls fall struck by the same thunderbolt
A discharge of rifles adds to the landscape
It is engineers and doctors they are executing
Death to those who endanger the October conquests
Death to the saboteurs of the Five-Year Plan

Your turn Communist Youth
Sweep away the human debris where there lingers still
the incantatory spider of the sign of the cross
Volunteers of socialist construction
Drive the past before you like a rabid dog
Rise up against your mothers
Abandon the night pestilence and family
You hold in your hands a laughing child
a child such as has never been seen before
He knows before speaking all the songs of the new life
He will run away from you already he is laughing
the stars descend familiarly on earth
The least that they burn on landing
is the black carrion of the selfish

The flowers of stone and cement
the long creepers of iron the blue ribbons of steel
have never dreamed of such a spring
The hills are covered with gigantic primroses
These are the cradles of the kitchens for twenty thousand mouths
houses houses clubs
like sunflowers like four-leaved clovers
The roads form knots like ties
Dawn mounts over the bathrooms
Socialist May is announced by a thousand swallows
In the fields a great battle is joined
the battle of the ants and the wolves
We cannot help ourselves to machine guns as we would like
against routine and stubbornness
But already 80 per cent of this year’s bread
comes from the Marxist wheat of the collective farms . . .
The poppies have become red flags
and new monsters munch the ears of wheat

Unemployment here is no longer known
The sound of the hammer the sound of the sickle
rise from the land is it
the sickle is it is it
the hammer The air is full of crickets
Rattles and caresses
Gunshots Whipcracks Shouts
Of heroic youth
Grainmills SSSR SSSR
The blue eyes of the Revolution
shine with a necessary cruelty


For those who claim this is not a poem
for those who miss the lilies or Palmolive Soap
turn your clouded heads away from me
for the Stop right there the You must be kidding
for the disgusted for the sneerers
for those who will not fail to discover
the sordid intentions of the author the author
Will add these few simple words

The intervention was to begin with the entry into the scene of Romania on the pretext, for example, of a frontier incident, resulting in the official declaration of war by Poland, and the unification of the neighbouring states. This intervention would be joined by Wrangler’s troops, which would have crossed through Romania . . . Upon their return from an energetic conference in London, arriving in the USSR by way of Paris, Ramzine and Laritchev have organized the liason with the Torgprom through the intermediary of Riabouchinski, who was maintaining relations with the French government in the person of Loucheur . . . In the organisation of the intervention, the leading role belongs to France, which has conducted its preparation with the active aid of the British Government . . .

The dogs the dogs the dogs are conspiring
and just as the pale bacterium escapes the microscope
Poincaré flatters himself he is a filtering virus
The race of dancers of daggers of Tsarist pimps
the grand duke mannequins in the newly opened casinos
The informers at 25 francs a letter
the great decay of emigration
slowly crystallizes in the French bidet
The Polish snot and the Romanian dribble
the vomit of the entire world
gathers on every horizon of the country where socialism is being constructed
and the tadpoles rejoice
already imagining themselves toads
deputies who know ministers
Dirty water hold back your scum
Dirty water you are not the deluge
Dirty water you will flow back into the western mire
Dirty water you will not cover the plains where
the pure wheat of the future grows
Dirty water Dirty water you will not rot the sorrel of the future
You will not soil the path of collectivisation
You will die on the burning threshold of the dialectic
of the dialectic with its hundred towers ringed with scarlet flames
its hundred thousand towers spitting fire from thousands and thousands of
The universe must hear
a voice shouting the glory of the materialist dialectic
marching on its feet on its millions of feet
shod in military boots
on its feet magnificent as violence
holding out its host of armed hands
toward the image of victorious Communism
Glory to the materialist dialectic
and glory to its incarnation
the Red
Glory to
the Red
A star is born of earth
A star today leads towards a burning pyre
the soldiers of Boudenny
You are the armed conscience of the Proletariat
You know in bearing death
towards what admirable life you are marching
Each of your bodies is a falling diamond
Each of your steps a purifying fire
The flash of your rifles routs the ordure
France at its head
Spare nothing soldiers of Boudenny
Each of your cries carries the glowing Breath
of the universal Revolution
With each word you spread
Marx and Lenin in the sky
You are red like the dawn
red like anger
red like blood
You avenge Babeuf and Liebknecht
Proletarians of the world unite
Voices Call them prepare the
way for these liberators who will join with yours
their Proletarian weapons of the world

Here the catastrophe is tamed
Here at last the leaping panther bound
History led on a leash by the Third International
The red train starts up and nothing will stop it
No one will remain behind
waving handkerchiefs Everyone is marching
Oppositional unconscious
No brakes on this machine
A choked shout but the wind sings
The damned of the earth standing
The past dies nothing engages
The wheels propel forward the rails heat up SSSR
The train races towards tomorrow
SSSR still faster now SSSR
In four years the Five-Year Plan
SSSR down with the exploitation of man by man
SSSR down with the old servitude down with capital
down with imperialism down

What swells like a cry in the mountains
When the stricken eagle suddenly loosens its talons
The song of man and his laughter
The train of the red star
burning the stations the signals the tunes
SSSR October October the express
October through the Universe SS

– Louis Aragon (1931)


Stand Up To Labour: The Denials of Momentum

And Peter remembered the words of Jesus, who said unto him: ‘Before the
cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.’ And he went out, and wept bitterly.

– Matthew, 26: 75

On 28 September, at the Labour Party Conference 2016, Jeremy Corbyn, the twice elected and now undisputed Leader of the Labour Party, declared to his audience in Liverpool:

‘Across the country, Labour councils are putting Labour values into action in a way that makes a real difference to millions of people, despite cynical government funding cuts that have hit Labour councils five times as hard as Tory-run areas. It is a proud Labour record, and each and every Labour councillor deserves our heartfelt thanks for the work they do.’

However disappointing this was to hear for residents fighting the demolition of their estates by Labour Councils across England, and however unlikely given that in June over 600 Labour councillors had called for Corbyn’s resignation in the lead-up to the failed coup by the Parliamentary Labour Party, it was not surprising. On the eve of the subsequent Labour Party leadership election in September, when it was apparent Corbyn would emerge as the winner, Andy Burnham, Corbyn’s former challenger for the leadership of the Labour Party and now its candidate for Mayor of Manchester, was reported in The Guardian as saying:

‘MPs should serve on Corbyn’s front bench and do so in the right spirit. The quid pro quo should be for Corbyn to stamp out all talk of de-selections of MPs or councillors by any supporters.’

By ‘supporters’ Burnham clearly meant Corbyn’s supporters in Momentum, who have been pursuing a policy of de-selection for some months, if not from their foundation. This tactic had been successfully used in December last year when Anita Ward, a Labour councillor in Birmingham, was de-selected by other Labour members and supporters of Corbyn. Equally clearly, however, Corbyn had now accepted the quid pro quo, and exchanged the call for de-selection of Progress councillors and Blairite MPs for a Parliamentary Party. Without the latter he has, quite clearly, been unable to rule even his own Party this past year, let alone aspire to rule the country; but without the former, his dream of turning the Labour Party into a pro-union, pro-nationalisation, anti-austerity political party will remain precisely that – a dream.

This olive branch, offered to MPS and councillors who despise him, was readily taken up by the interim Labour Shadow Housing Minister, Teresa Pearce, who gushed:

‘I want to say to Labour councillors up and down the country: thank you. In Labour-run councils you are making a difference, and I am proud of the ingenuity you have shown in the face of difficult choices, finding new solutions, demonstrating just what Labour can do in power. Our Councils are a vital source of Labour representation, and an increasing inspiration on policy. Innovating, forward looking, credible policy: that is Labour in power in local government.’

If Corbyn’s ingratiating appeal to Labour Councils hadn’t been enough, this was the final nail in the coffin of council residents’ hopes that – despite repeatedly refusing to condemn estate demolition for the entire year since his election to the leadership – Corbyn would now, finally, magically, speak out against its implementation by Labour Councils. And didn’t the Councils know it! Lib Peck, the Leader of Lambeth Labour Council, was quick to note Corbyn’s praise on Twitter that same day, saying she was ‘glad’ to hear it. Since ten days later the six Lambeth estates her council threatens with demolition, backed by campaigns against Lambeth library closures and the eviction of the Brixton Arches, were leading a march called Stand Up To Lambeth, this was all the ammunition she needed to call in the wagons around the Labour camp.

Responding on cue, Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North, in response to Lambeth Momentum’s Tweet (subsequently deleted) inviting people to ‘Join us on 8th October to protest the destruction of services, homes, jobs and the rights of residents in Lambeth’, responded: ‘Genuinely thought the message of this week was unity against a Tory Government, not ‘mobilise against Labour councils. Puzzled.’ When the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign replied that ‘Lambeth Council is grossly mismanaged’, MP Buck stuck to her guns. ‘Really not the point I’m making, though. It’s that Labour shouldn’t campaign against itself.’ To which the despairing Cressingham Gardens asked: ‘Confused then. How does the Labour Party hold Lambeth Council to account for failings?’

How indeed? Such questions, however, do not concern the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. Their leader had spoken, and the very next day, 29 September, Lambeth Momentum, which until then had put their support behind the Stand Up To Lambeth campaign, and who had been responsible, at the first organising meeting, for putting forward the call to deselect Lambeth Labour Cabinet, issued the following statement:

‘A leaflet produced this week for the Stand up to Lambeth Council demonstration with our name amongst the listed supporters does not represent Lambeth Momentum policy. Although we support the demonstration and continue to support campaigns by residents to defend local services and prevent council estate demolitions we have not, as this leaflet suggests, called upon the cabinet to resign.’

But he denied it, saying: ‘I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest.’

– Mark, 14: 68

To anyone who has observed Lambeth Momentum’s complete absence of support for the six estates threatened with demolition by Lambeth Labour Council, this renunciation would come as no surprise. It has been Lambeth Momentum’s policy not to condemn any action by the Labour Council, no matter how repellant, no matter how many homes and businesses it threatened. In an e-mail leaked from the Kill the Housing Bill campaign in May 2016, Joan Twelves, herself a former Leader of Lambeth Labour Council and now one of the leaders of Lambeth Momentum, made clear Momentum’s policy with regard to the call from some quarters for Labour councils not to implement the Tory Government’s Housing and Planning Act:

‘Since there are no councils which will refuse to implement the Housing and Planning Bill, as to do so would be to act illegally, this is a totally unrealistic demand and seems to me to be being proposed solely as propaganda so that Labour councillors can be denounced by another political party, rather than to assist in the building of a mass campaign (which must include Labour councillors, the Labour leadership, Labour Party members and Labour affiliated trade unions if it is to have any hope of happening) of continued opposition to the measures contained in the Act. I recognise that the actions of some Labour councils (I do live in Lambeth after all!) are not making building a united mass campaign easy. But that doesn’t change the principle.’

Such high principles, however, didn’t stop members of Lambeth Momentum from being present at the organising meetings for Stand Up To Lambeth. Indeed, under their influence, the initial aim of the march, which was called by residents of Central Hill estate in order to draw wider attention to the estate demolition programme being pursued by Lambeth Labour Council, was suppressed for the louder call for the de-selection of the Labour Cabinet and, presumably, their replacement with members of Lambeth Momentum. In an excitable article published in The Observer in September, Joe Todd, a volunteer for Momentum revealed:

‘The idea is to take all these grassroots groups and position them as part of a broader movement. All of these local campaigns have been going on but now they’re part of something so much bigger.’

Unfortunately for them, the bigness of Momentum’s aims has been drastically shrunk by their saviour’s unctuous gratitude to ‘each and every Labour councillor’, and on the morning of 8 October, before the marchers for Stand Up To Lambeth had even assembled at midday, Lambeth Momentum’s Twitter account carried a message that is only too familiar to any resident whose homes are on Lambeth Labour Council’s demolition list:

‘It is Tory cuts to Lambeth Council budget that is forcing gentrification and desperation locally. Let’s stand up to Tory government!’

And after a little while another saw him, and said: ‘Thou art also of them!’
And Peter said: ‘Man, I am not not.’

– Luke, 22: 58

Finally, as the marchers gathered in Windrush Square in Brixton, the cock the Labour Party had been waiting for finally crowed. A speaker for the Revolutionary Communist Party, a group that has lent its support to both the Save Central Hill and Save Cressingham Gardens campaigns, was reported on Twitter as saying the Lambeth leadership ‘belong in the Thames with rocks around their ankles’. Ignoring the fact that Labour MPs had called for far worse to be done to Jeremy Corbyn over the year of his contested leadership, Labourites great and small, from the former Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls to Lambeth Labour Councillors Alex Bigham, Jane Edbrooke, Ed Davie, Pete Bowyer, Chief Whip Paul Gadsby and Press Officer Michael Stringer, began a concerted attack against the Stand Up To Lambeth march. Displaying the humourless humour of the political class, Labourites and Progress councillors queued up to call on Lambeth Momentum to ‘denounce’ the statement, to ‘distance’ themselves from communists and revolutionaries who wanted to ‘murder democratically elected politicians’, to feel ashamed and disgusted for ‘associating with such people’, to reveal the name of the speaker, and to report him to the police. We don’t know how they responded to the last two demands, which are certainly in line with Lambeth Labour Council’s procedure for dealing with residents who stand up to them at council meetings, but Lambeth Momentum fell over themselves in shame and disgust, denounced the statement, immediately distanced themselves from the published aims of the march, and renounced their opposition to the Labour council, repeatedly referring their critics to their conveniently handy leaflet of 29 September. ‘Not our event!’, they finally pleaded.

By that afternoon Lambeth Momentum were hurriedly deleting their previous tweets supporting the Stand Up To Lambeth campaign over the past few weeks, which were then gleefully reproduced by Labour supporters. Sensing a sinking ship, Unite the Union – whose logo, following standard union branding practice, dominated the official Stand Up To Lambeth placards and posters for the march – now fell over themselves denouncing the call for the resignation of Lambeth Cabinet. Alex Flynn, Head of media and campaigns at Unite, angrily declared:

‘Unite does not support these calls for resignations and is angered over the unauthorised use of our logo on the flyer.’

Unknown to the other protesters, it now turned out that just after 11 o’clock that morning, as marchers were on their way to the rallying point, Lambeth Momentum had issued the following statement on Twitter:

‘Neither Unite nor Lambeth Momentum were asked to be on Stand Up To Lambeth publicity. We want to unite with Lambeth Labour to fight Tory cuts.’

In a 180˚ turn that is certainly a characteristic, and perhaps the defining, movement of Labour Party policy, a campaign to ‘Stand up to Lambeth Council’ had now been turned into a desire to ‘Unite with Lambeth Labour’.

Again Peter denied it: and immediately the cock crowed.

– John, 18: 27

When the official poster for the Stand Up To Lambeth campaign (below), designed by a member of the Revolutionary Communist Group, was first printed, contrary to RCG practice the identification of the council to which people were being encouraged to stand up was missing. Lambeth Council is an administrative body, like the Government of the UK or the Mayorship of London; but nothing in the campaign’s literature called for its dissolution as the local authority for the borough of Lambeth. What was being opposed was the policies of its current administration and the decisions of its executive committee. Of its 63 current members, Lambeth currently has 1 Green Party councillor, 3 Conservative Party councillors, and 59 Labour Party councillors. At least 7 members of its Labour Cabinet, including the Council Leader Lib Peck, the Member for Housing Matthew Bennett, the Chair of the Overview Committee Ed Davie, the Chief Whip Paul Gadsby, the Member for Schools Jane Edbrooke, and the Member for Regeneration and Business Jack Hopkins, are members of Progress, the privately-funded right-wing Labour cabal whose council leaders are driving Labour Council estate demolition schemes in London. The Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and a succession of Labour Shadow Ministers for Housing, have all refused to condemn their Party’s estate demolition programme. And yet the one word missing from the ‘Stand Up To Lambeth’ poster was the word ‘Labour’.

On my asking the designer why, he said the reason was that the organisers, which now included representatives from Lambeth Momentum, didn’t want the event to be what they called ‘political’. But how can a struggle against a Labour Council implementing Labour Party housing policy that is socially cleansing the working class from their homes not be a political struggle? How can an event not be political when one of its organising bodies, with 17,000 members, is an arm of the Labour Party? At ASH we believe the point of community campaigns is to politicise residents to resist the attacks on their homes by both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, not to subsume their resistance into an internal struggle for the soul of a political organisation that is run by and for the middle classes, and whose primary function in British politics, as history has repeatedly shown, is to turn working class political action into the irrelevance of Parliamentary politicking. Even before this march happened, and all the subsequent betrayals, denunciations and distancing that would ensue, the first effect of Lambeth Momentum’s presence at the organising meetings was to censor its publicity campaign from identifying who and what it is that threatens the six Lambeth council estates and the homes of the thousands of residents that live on them.

I have previously written at length about the failings of the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, and warned against the consequences of Labour activists belatedly turning their attention to estate campaigns. From our own attendance and that of comrades from the RCG and Class War, we know that from the first organising meetings of Stand Up To Lambeth, members of Lambeth Momentum tried to use the march to call for the de-selection of the current Lambeth Cabinet and its replacement with members of Momentum. This changing of the Labour guard, and not saving the council homes of the residents, is the motivation for Lambeth Momentum’s sudden interest in the six estates they have ignored for so long. They weren’t there to oppose Lambeth Labour Council’s decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens in March 2016, when they were too busy discussing whether to defend Brixton Ward Councillor Florence Eshalomi from criticism of her support for the eviction of traders from the Brixton Arches. They weren’t there at the subsequent Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting in May that upheld the Cabinet’s decision. And they didn’t lift a finger to support Central Hill over the past year-and-a-half in which ASH, against every conceivable opposition from Lambeth Labour Council, has worked to design an alternative proposal to the demolition of the estate.

The Labour Party has a long and dark history of colonising genuine community resistance and turning it to their political advantage. Under the guise of Kill the Housing Bill they managed to disperse the popular resistance to the Housing and Planning Bill in less than seven months with their useless and divisive marches to Parliament to listen to Labour Party politicians telling residents whose homes are being demolished by Labour Councils to vote Labour. And their presence on the Tenant and Resident Associations of council estates across London is one of the greatest barriers residents face to opposing the Labour Councils trying to demolish their homes.

Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of Germany, once warned: ‘If you like sausages and politics, never ask how they are made.’ But because of the decision by the organisers of Stand Up To Lambeth to invite Lambeth Momentum and Unite the Union to join the march against their own Party, and because for daring to ask how that decision was made we were deleted from the event page, ASH withdrew from formally taking part in the march, which we played no part in organising, although our name was initially included on some of the literature, and a member of ASH attended meetings and joined the march, though not under our banner. We only hope that everyone who did so now knows how Momentum activists and the Labour factory make their Party’s sausages.

As I feared would happen when the organisers of Stand Up To Lambeth first invited Lambeth Momentum to join them, the media response to the march has been dominated by the seemingly endless internal squabbling within the Labour Party, and the issue of Lambeth Labour Council’s programme of estate demolition, which had already been sidelined by Momentum’s subsequently dropped policy of de-selecting Lambeth Cabinet, has been almost entirely ignored. London SE1, which had initiated Momentum’s denials by reporting the comment by the member of the RCG, confined their report exclusively to the contrasting views of Labour Council Leader Pick Peck and Labour MP Kate Hoey. Brixton Blog led with an exaggerated report of a Central Hill campaigner ‘violently dismantling’ a Labour Party stall, repeated the comment by the RCG member without a hint of irony, and concluded with the statement sent by MP Kate Hoey. And the London Evening Standard, true to its commitment to cutting-edge journalism, focused exclusively on the disruption to traffic when the march blocked a main road near Clapham Common. Apart from the usual plethora of photographs posted on social media, that was it. It was left to the RCG to produce the only informative report on the march; so far, nothing has been released by Stand Up To Lambeth.

It’s an old Latin motto that if you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas, and two thousand years later nothing’s changed. If you invite Labour into your campaign, your campaign becomes about Labour, and nothing else. Until residents whose homes are threatened by Labour councils refuse to have anything to do with the Labour Party, its supposedly grass-roots activists and the organisations that have infiltrated their campaigns, the fight to save their homes will not even begin, let alone be won. A battle cannot start until the lines are drawn, and at the moment residents and campaigners alike have invited the enemy into their ranks. The fiasco of the Labour Party’s involvement in Saturday’s march against a Labour Council, like the seven months of marching with the Labour activists of Kill the Housing Bill to hear Labour politicians tell us to vote Labour, has to be learned from. We cannot go on repeating these farces and pretending they constitute a campaign of resistance, rather than another ridiculous sideshow to Labour’s ridiculous year.

As the Stand Up To Lambeth march has demonstrated, the Labour Party, from its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, through its welfare cuts-voting MPs, its Progress-membership Council Leaders, its estate-demolishing Cabinet Members for Housing and its Corbyn-backing unions, all the way down to its activists in Momentum, Axe the Housing Act, and all the other Labour fronts, are liars and traitors who have abandoned and betrayed the council residents of England for a sniff of Parliamentary power.

You don’t work with your enemy. You don’t form an umbrella campaign with your enemy. You don’t build a united front with your enemy. You don’t put aside your differences with your enemy. You don’t try to make friends with your enemy. The only thing you do with your enemy is get stabbed in the back. And the Labour Party – as I hope this weekend has shown beyond all doubt – is our enemy. Stand Up To Labour!

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

14352116_10154599188409571_7973254247172407837_oPoster by Andrew Cooper

Stirling Prize Protest 2016


‘This year’s Stirling Prize list is safe. There is nothing that is going to upset anyone on there and it’s unlikely we’ll see protesters gathering outside Portland Place like last year, when Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ NEO Bankside made the list.’

– Laura Mark, The Architects’ Journal

It’s that time of year again, when Britain’s most prestigious architectural prize is awarded, and the Royal Institute of British Architects has a chance to promote the values it wants to see guiding British architecture. The Stirling Prize is awarded for the building in the UK that has made ‘the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year’. The short-list of 6 buildings was announced in July by the panel of 5 judges, one of whom, Michael Hussey, is a Director at Taylor Wimpey, the largest house-building company in the UK, which is sitting on enough land to build 184,730 homes, nearly a third of the 600,000 plots currently being land-banked by builders. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, but contrary to the predictions of The Architects’ Journal, Architects for Social Housing is once again calling a demonstration to protest against the RIBA’s nomination of dRMM Architects’ Trafalgar Place, the first development to be completed on the land where the demolished Heygate Estate once stood.

For the forty years of it existence, the Heygate Estate provided 1,200 council homes for more than 3,000 working-class residents in the London Borough of Southwark. Yet in 2002 the Liberal Democrat/Conservative Coalition Council announced the estate would be demolished. Demolition costs alone were estimated at £15 million, while a further £44m was spent on emptying the estate of residents, and £21.5 million spent on planning its redevelopment – a total of £80.5 million in a supposedly broke borough. In July 2010, multinational property developers Lend Lease were awarded the redevelopment contract by the newly elected Labour Council, and the 22-acre site in central London was sold for an astonishing £50 million, a total loss of £30.5 million to the Council. In comparison, a year later a neighbouring 1.5 acre site, one-fifteenth the size, sold for £40 million. In 2013, the last resident of the Heygate Estate was evicted from their home by Compulsory Purchase Order issued by Southwark Labour Council. It will surprise no-one who understands how these things work that the key councillors involved in the redevelopment deal are now working for Lend Lease.

According to Lend Lease’s masterplan, the 1,200 council homes on the former Heygate Estate will be replaced by 2,535 luxury homes, with the promise from Southwark Labour Council that 25 per cent will be ‘affordable’. Following a viability assessment by the real estate firm Savills, which is advising Labour Councils across London on their estate demolition programmes, a mere 82 homes have been promised for social rent in a borough with 18,000 people on the housing waiting list.

This isn’t gentrification of an up-and-coming inner-city neighbourhood in need of private investment. This isn’t cash-trapped Labour Councils trying to find real solutions to the housing crisis under cuts to their budgets by Central Government. This isn’t developers cutting through red tape to build the homes that Londoners need. This is social cleansing for profit, and no architectural practice should have any part in it, let alone be awarded a prize for doing so.

Unfortunately, despite last year’s protest by ASH and the debate it initiated, it appears the RIBA has still not understood the duties of the architectural profession and the stance it should be taking on the social cleansing of London through the Trojan Horse of estate demolition schemes. The recent RIBA publication on the Ethics of Estate Regeneration, while a welcome attempt to engage with these issues, failed to grasp the social consequences of this shameful episode in the history of British architecture. That the RIBA has chosen to nominate a development on the former Heygate Estate – perhaps the worst example to date of estate demolition in London, a bi-word for social cleansing, council corruption and private profiteering – shows just how distant their ivory tower is from the harsh reality of housing in the UK today.

Built on the ruins of the demolished council estate, Trafalgar Place, the first phase of Lend Lease’s £1.5 billion Elephant & Castle redevelopment, comprises 235 so-called ‘high-quality’ homes, 52 of which are so-called ‘affordable housing’, which means for sale or rent at 80 per cent of market rate. To get an idea of what market rate is for ‘high-quality’ homes in Southwark, in today’s Zoopla a 2-bedroom flat in Trafalgar Place is on sale for £725,000. In contrast, owners of a 4-bedroom council flat on the former Heygate Estate were offered £190,000 in compensation for their demolished home. A disgraceful 8 homes in Trafalgar Place have been allocated for social rent. The site on which this property speculator’s investment opportunity is built, and which is being advertised on Asian real estate markets, was previously occupied by the demolished Wyngrave House, which provided 104 council homes for the local community.

In recognition of which – of both the social violence that is Trafalgar Place and of the social dereliction of its nomination by the Royal Institute for British Architects – Architects for Social Housing is delighted to announce that this year’s O. J. Simpson Prize, awarded for ‘Getting Away With Murder’, has been won by dRMM Architects for Trafalgar Place.

ASH will be awarding the O. J. Simpson prize to dRMM Architects at this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize Ceremony, outside 66 Portland Place, on Thursday, 6 October, 2016. Reception begins at 6pm, with the award announced between 7 and 8pm, so arrive early if you don’t want to miss the guests paying £235 (+VAT) for a ticket on the way in. Please join us.


Dear Tom

As Southwark Council’s lead officer responsible for the procurement of Lend Lease as regeneration partner on the Heygate Estate, and who authored the report to Cabinet recommending the signing of the regeneration agreement in July 2010, how do you account for the £30.5 million loss the council made on the deal?

Why did Southwark Labour Council sell the 22-acre site on which the Heygate Estate was built to Lend Lease for £50 million, when a neighbouring 1.5 acre, one-fifteenth of the size, sold for £40 million a year later?

Do you consider the fact that you left Southwark Labour Council in January 2011 to work for Lend Lease, where until May 2016 you were Development Manager for the Elephant & Castle project, evidence of a conflict of interest that should be investigated by the Fraud Squad?

Do you think that Trafalgar Place, the first completed phase of the Elephant & Castle Project, where a 2-bedroom apartment is selling for £725,000, is providing solutions or contributing to London’s housing crisis?

Yours sincerely

Architects for Social Housing

P.S. Wish you were here

Dear Mark

As Cabinet Member for Regeneration and New Homes in Southwark Labour Council, you called the Secretary of State’s recent decision to reject the compulsory purchase order on the Aylesbury Estate on the grounds it violated residents’ human rights, ‘extremely disappointing’. Are you disappointed not to violate residents’ human rights?

Do you consider that challenging this decision by a Tory Minister in the High Court in order to demolish the homes of the tenants whose rents pay your salaries is an ethical use of funds by Southwark Labour Council?

Why was the report commissioned by Southwark Labour Council into the cost of refurbishment of the Aylesbury Estate not submitted to the Executive Committee in September 2005, and why do you continue to assert that the estate’s refurbishment is not affordable when that report found it to be 58 per cent of the cost of demolition and redevelopment?

Do you acknowledge a conflict of interest in the fact that, in addition to being responsible for signing off the demolition of council estates in Southwark and the social cleansing of their residents from the borough, you are also a Senior Associate at Regis Homes, a private company that specialises in land acquisition and real estate developments in London?

Yours sincerely

Architects for Social Housing

P.S. Wish you were here

G’day Dan

As Chief Executive Officer of International Operations at Lend Lease with an annual salary of £2.5 million, how did you get real estate firm Savills to convince Southwark Labour Council that out of the 2,535 luxury apartments your company is building in the £1.5 billion redevelopment of the Heygate Estate, you could only afford to build 82 for social rent?

Does the fact that Tom Branton, Southwark Council’s lead officer responsible for the procurement of Lend Lease as regeneration partner in July 2010, left the Council in January 2011 to work for Lend Lease as Development Manager for the Elephant & Castle project;

And the fact that Kura Perkins, Southwark Council’s Communications Manager on the Elephant & Castle project, left in 2006 to work for Lend Lease as its Communications Manager;

And the fact that Paul Dimoldenberg, Senior Research Officer at Southwark Council, left to set up a company that deals with Lend Lease’s public relations on all its major developments;

And the fact that Julie Greer, Southwark Council’s Design Manager for the Elephant & Castle masterplan, left in 2007 to work on Lend Lease’s Olympic Village development;

And the fact that Chris Horn, the lead council officer who advised on Lend Lease’s selection as development partner, now works for a company that advised on Lend Lease’s Greenwich Peninsula development;

And the fact that Peter John, the current Leader of Southwark Labour Council, who signed the Elephant & Castle deal with Lend Lease in July 2010, accepted £3,200 worth of tickets to the Olympic opening ceremony and an all-expenses-paid £1,250 trip to the MIPIM property fair in Cannes from Lend Lease;

Did any of these facts contribute to the fact that in July 2010, Southwark Labour Council sold the land the Heygate Estate stood on to Lend Lease for £50 million, roughly one-twelfth of its market value?

Do you think it is right that an international property developer based in Sydney, Australia, has evicted over 3,000 residents from their homes in London, England, in order to build luxury apartments priced at £725,000 for a 2-bedroom apartment in Trafalgar Place, and £1,495,000 for a 3-bedroom apartment in One The Elephant, while leaseholders on the Heygate Estate were offered £190,000 for a 4-bedroom flat, and have consequently been forced to the outer boroughs of their city, for the profits of Lend Lease and its shareholders, which in August 2016 announced revenue growth of 13.6 per cent to £11.83 billion, with net profits rising by nearly 13 per cent to £547 million?

Yours sincerely

Architects for Social Housing

P.S. Wish you were here

Dear Ben

What is your response to the Secretary of State’s judgement that, under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Aylesbury Estate regeneration on which your company, HTA Design, is the lead architectural practice violates residents’ ‘right to respect for their home’?

Do you consider the Secretary of State’s ruling that, under the Equality Act 2010, the demolition and redevelopment of the Aylesbury Estate discriminates against residents according to their age and race, sufficient to discontinue your so far unshakeable support for this scheme?

In November 2015 you wrote:

‘Although HTA Design was not involved in the process that led to the decision to redevelop the Aylesbury Estate, we have absolutely no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the process that gave rise to the Area Action Plan, which was adopted by Southwark Council and the residents of the estate as the basis for the redevelopment brief.’

Given that, in 2001, 73 per cent of residents on a 76 per cent turn out voted against the demolition of the Aylesbury Estate and for its refurbishment;

And given the revelations at the Public Inquiry last year that in 2005 Southwark Labour Council deliberately suppressed the report on the option to refurbish the Aylesbury Estate because it concluded that it was 58 per cent the cost of redevelopment, and then artificially raised the cost of doing so by £148.9 million for external works that were costed at £24.8 million;

And given that in 2009 Aylesbury Tenants and Leaseholders First made a submission to the Government Inspector on the ‘systematic failings of the Aylesbury Area Action Plan consultation process’;

Do you now have sufficient reasons to doubt?

Do you intend to honour your existing contract with Southwark Labour Council and Notting Hill Housing Trust and continue to discriminate against, violate the human rights and ignore the wishes of residents on the Aylesbury Estate?

And do you think it right that the Royal Institute of British Architects, of which you are the President Elect, has nominated Trafalgar Place, the first completed site on the adjoining Heygate Estate regeneration, for the 2016 Stirling Prize for violating the same human rights, discriminating against on the same basis, and ignoring the wishes of the 3,000 residents that once lived there?

Yours sincerely

Architects for Social Housing

P.S. Wish you were here

Dear Alex, Sadie and Philip

On your website you write: ‘dRMM Architects’ strength has been our ability to reflect on the bigger picture, discovering through local consultation what residents want’. Do you consider the demolition of the 1,200 council homes of the Heygate Estate to be part of ‘the bigger picture’ and believe the eviction of its 3,000 residents from the borough to be ‘what they want’?

You also write: ‘As London seeks to cope with its chronic housing shortage and improve inner-city living, we believe that an awareness of the effects of the built environment at a local level should be paramount.’ Do you think the demolition of the 104 council homes of the former Wyngrave House and their replacement with 235 luxury apartments selling at £725,000 for a 2-bedroom unit is reducing the housing shortage in London and improving inner-city living for those who cannot afford such prices?

In nominating your practice for this year’s Stirling Prize, the RIBA described Trafalgar Place as ‘an outstanding site-plan which connects the development to the local community.’ How do on-site security guards, gated access, anti-homeless spikes and CCTV cameras connect Trafalgar Place to a local community that cannot afford to buy or rent its luxury housing?

Standard no. 5 of the ARB Architects Standards of Professional Conduct and Practice says: ‘As an architect you are expected to consider the wider impact of your work’. In addition to the evicted residents and demolished council housing on the site of Trafalgar Place, what impact do you think your work will have on the social cleansing of the Elephant & Castle area by Southwark Labour Council?

Yours sincerely

Architects for Social Housing

P.S. Wish you were here

Ben Derbyshire Foot in Mouth Award

ASH is pleased to announce this inaugural award for the most arrogant, misinformed and dismissive comment by the President elect of the RIBA, which will be decided by democratic vote this evening as part of the Stirling Prize protest.

And the nominations are:

1. ‘It is essential that we are clear about the objective of estate regeneration: is it to improve the lives of those who live on and around existing estates, or is it to make more effective use of public land to help solve the housing crisis by creating additional homes and widening access to home ownership?’

Altered Estates: How to reconcile competing interests in estate regeneration (2016)

2. ‘Although HTA Design was not involved in the process that led to the decision to redevelop the Aylesbury Estate, we have absolutely no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the process that gave rise to the Area Action Plan, which was adopted by Southwark Council and the residents of the estate as the basis for the redevelopment brief.’

 – The Architects’ Journal (November, 2015)

3. ‘Whilst many (me included) are concerned that current housing and planning policies do not serve the ambition to create mixed neighbourhoods particularly well, not everyone believes that public money should be used to subsidise families to live in areas they could not otherwise afford to.’

The Architects’ Journal (September, 2016)

4. ‘The one key issue facing the profession at the moment is the extent to which we are valued by society in terms of our social, cultural and economic value.’

The Architects’ Journal (June 2016)

5. ‘Well, thank you very much for your point of view. Would you be so kind as to leave now?’

– Response to Fight for Aylesbury occupation of the Camden offices of HTA Design during a meeting with Mae, Hawkins\Brown and Duggan Morris Architects (May 2015)

By an overwhelming majority on the night, quote number 3 was voted the Winner of the 2016 Ben Derbyshire Foot in Mouth Award. The often repeated lie that council housing is subsidised by public money is a myth propagated by the property developers and councils that want the land they are built on, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of the RIBA as an institution to hear it repeated from the mouth of its future President. What stops the families Ben Derbyshire so loftily dismisses from their neighbourhoods from being able to afford to live there is precisely the demolition of the council estates they have called home for decades and their replacement with the luxury apartments the RIBA has seen fit to nominate for this year’s Stirling Prize.


Press Reactions

‘Should ethical and political considerations affect judgements on architecture? Architecture is by its nature political, so these questions deserve to be asked. But should they really affect the jury’s deliberations? Judges are tasked only with weighing up questions of design quality, rather than considering tricky issues about where a building’s funding has come from, or what effect a project might have on an area’s existing community.’

– Will Hurst, editor, The Architects’ Journal (29 September, 2016)

‘Architects for Social Housing have long opposed the multi-million-pound redevelopment of the Heygate Estate in Walworth. As Architects for Social Housing highlight, someone is making gigantic profits through these schemes, in a crass transfer of public property to private interests.’

– Inside Croydon, Architects plan protest against ‘social cleansing for profit’ (3 October, 2016)

‘Ben Derbyshire warns his colleagues against the “mistake of attempting to stretch beyond their political legitimacy and reach” and that the RIBA “is neither the House of Commons nor the United Nations”. We take this to mean that considerations such as the demolition of council estates and the forced removal of estate residents should play no part in the award’s deliberations. This is hopelessly naïve, to put it kindly. The Stirling nomination of Trafalgar Places casts estate regenerations generally in a good light and it invests the Heygate redevelopment in particular with prestige, a prestige that will no doubt translate into higher sales prices, should it actually win the prize.’

35% Campaign (4 October, 2016)

‘If the RIBA considers dRMM and Lendlease’s emblem of professional compromise and social violence to be “an example for future housing developments”, it is time to respond combatively. To fight back but also forwards. How much more evacuated of meaning – never mind justice – can such a model of “place-making” be? It is astonishing that the architectural profession is happy to serve global corporate developers while ignoring their responsibility for what existed beforehand and the processes which delivered up a convenient tabula rasa.’

– Guy Mannes-Abbott, The Architectural Review (5 October, 2016)

‘The obliteration of the Modernist social project fundamentally calls into question what kind of city we want and whether the power still exists to make it viable. Slipping through unremarked, London’s hollowing-out and banlieuisation is a pernicious, anti-social reductivism that sees the price of everything and the value of nothing.’

– Catherine Slessor, The Architects’ Journal (6 October, 2016)

‘Piers Corbyn, the brother of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, was among the activists who gathered in central London this week to protest at the Royal Institute for British Architects’ Stirling Prize awards dinner, over the organisation’s support for schemes which have seen the transfer of billions of pounds of public land and assets to private interests.’

Inside Croydon (9 October, 2016)

‘The Stirling Prize party itself was a stranger-than-fiction affair. There were speeches, canapés and genuine enthusiasm for Caruso St John as a worthy winner, but also security brawls, with protesters shouting about social cleansing and gentrification. On several occasions demonstrators breached the perimeter, running towards the Jarvis Hall in balaclavas or climbing onto the rooftop outside the reception to press a sign up against a window. The fracas was greeted with discomfited bemusement and grim acceptance that the estate regeneration programme has meant architects are increasingly engaged in socio-politically loaded projects – architects who work in this sector must be prepared to take the heat.’

– Christine Murray, The Architects’ Journal (11 October, 2016)

‘Architecture’s great problem is the gap between the visionary and the grubby compromise of reality. The architect’s trajectory is disappointment. But there is also activism, a halfway house that manages to blend idealism with realism, and a position that ought to be the default setting of the profession.’

– Edwin Heathcote, Icon (13 October, 2016)

– Owen Sheppard, Southwark News (13 October, 2016)

‘The protesters returned last week, provoked by the Stirling Prize nomination of dRMM’s Trafalgar Place – the first phase of the contentious regeneration of the Heygate Estate in London. Armed with masks of incoming president Ben Derbyshire (who also heads up HTA, masterplanner of the controversial Aylesbury Estate overhaul) as well as placards, megaphones and a catchy chant, the campaigners took their remonstrations to new levels.’

The Architects’ Journal (14 October, 2016)

‘Anyone implicated in social cleansing like dRMM or HTA Architects will not be allowed to rest easy behind police and security protection. Why? Because these are our homes and our communities they are playing with!’

– Southwark Notes, That’s How Grateful We Are: Heygate, Aylesbury, and the RIBA Stirling Prize 2016 (14 October, 2016)

Architects for Social Housing


The Working Class Strikes Back

These photographs, documenting three years of protests, marches, demonstrations and occupations in London, were exhibited as part of Resist: A Festival of Ideas and Action, held at the London School of Economics and Political Science from 28-30 September, 2016.




June 2015, protesters gate-crash the first open day of Lend Lease’s Elephant Park Experience Suite, which they scatter with remains of the Heygate Estate, demolished by Southwark Labour Council and its land sold to the multinational property developers.


January 2015, following the 3,000-strong March for Homes, which converged on Town Hall from marches in East and South London, squatters make a political occupation of the Aylesbury Estate, where they remain for two months until evicted by court order on 2 April, 2015.


February 2016, on the instructions of Southwark Labour Council, hundreds of riot police from the MET’s Territorial Support Group violently evict the squatters from Chartridge House; but in anticipation of this move the occupiers escape to Chiltern House, another block on the Aylesbury Estate.


April 2016, having been fenced in for a month by Southwark Labour Council-employed security guards, Metropolitan police, razor wire, CCTV and dogs, the March for the Aylesbury concludes with protesters pulling down the Aylesbury Wall.


September 2015, on the second anniversary of the Focus E15 Mothers campaign, during the March Against Evictions in Stratford, protesters occupy estate agents Foxtons.

April 2015, demonstrators at Reclaim Brixton break the window of Foxtons in protest against the role of the estate agents in the social cleansing of Brixton.


On the orders of Lambeth Labour Council, riot police from the MET’s Territorial Support Group, called in to protect the corporate retail outlets on Brixton High Street, spray protesters with CS Gas.


Aysen Dennis of Fight for Aylesbury, and Jasmin Stone of Focus E15 Mothers.

January 2016, demonstrators march on Downing Street to protest against the Conservative Government’s Housing and Planning Bill.


Click on thumbnails below for larger images.


The Housing Question


The so-called housing shortage, which plays such a main role in the media nowadays, does not consist of the fact that the working class generally lives in bad, overcrowded and unhealthy dwellings. This general shortage in housing is not something particular to the present moment; it is not even one of the sufferings particular to the modern city worker as distinct from all earlier oppressed classes. On the contrary, all oppressed classes in all historical periods have suffered fairly uniformly from this shortage. No, what is meant today by the housing shortage is the particular intensification of the bad housing conditions of workers as a result of the sudden increase in the population of large cities, the colossal increase in rents, the still greater congestion in individual homes, and, for some, the impossibility of finding a place in which to live at all. And this particular housing shortage gets discussed at such great length and so widely only because it is not confined to the working class, but has affected the middle classes as well.


The expansion of large modern cities gives the land in certain sections of them – and particularly in those sections that are centrally located – an artificial and often enormously increasing value. But the buildings that already occupy these areas depress this value instead of increasing it, because they no longer correspond to the changed economic circumstances; and, as a consequence, they are demolished and replaced by others. This occurs above all with workers’ homes in central locations, the rents for which, even with the greatest overcrowding, can never, or only very slowly, increase above a certain maximum level. The result of this is that workers are forced out of the centre of cities and towards their outskirts, and workers’ homes – and cheap homes in general – become rare and expensive and often altogether unattainable. For under these circumstances the building industry, which is offered a far better field for speculation by more expensive homes, builds homes for workers only in exceptional circumstances. How, then, is the housing question to be settled?

In our present-day society, it is settled the way every other question is settled: by the gradual economic equalising of supply to demand. However, this is a settlement that merely reposes the question, again and again, and is, therefore, no settlement at all. How a social revolution would settle this question, on the other hand, not only depends on the circumstances in each particular situation, but also on its connection with more far-reaching questions, one of the most fundamental of which is the abolition of the antithesis between city and country. As it is not our job to create utopian systems for the organisation of a future society, it would be pointless to go into this question here. One thing, however, is certain: there are already a sufficient number of homes in the larger cities to remedy, immediately, all real ‘housing shortage’, provided those homes are distributed fairly. Naturally, this can only occur through the expropriation of the present owners by installing in their houses both homeless workers and workers currently living in overcrowded conditions. As soon as the urban worker has won political power, such a measure – which is motivated by concern for the common good rather than individual rights – will be just as easy to put into action as are other expropriations by the State today. But from where did the housing shortage come, and how did it arise?

The good capitalist is not supposed to understand that it is a necessary product of the capitalist social order; that it cannot fail to be present in a society in which the labouring masses are exclusively dependent upon wages (that is to say, upon the means of subsistence necessary for the existence and reproduction of their kind); in which improvements in technology continuously throw large numbers of workers out of a job; in which violent and regularly recurring industrial fluctuations determine, on the one hand, the existence of a large reserve army of unemployed workers, and, on the other, periodically drive the mass of workers on to the streets unemployed; in which workers are crowded together in masses in large cities at a quicker rate than homes are built to house them; in which, as a consequence, there must always be tenants, even for the most infamous slums; and in which, finally, the home-owner, in his capacity as a capitalist, has not only the right but – because of competition on the market – to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much as he possibly can out of his property in home rent.


In such a society the housing shortage is no accident: it is a necessary institution and can only be abolished – together with all its ill effects on health and so on – only if the whole social order from which it derives is fundamentally refashioned. That, however, the capitalist dare not understand. He dare not explain the housing shortage as arising from existing conditions; so he has no other recourse than to explain the housing shortage in moral terms – arguing that it is the result of the greed of man, of moral failings, and so on. Whoever declares that capitalism – which produces the ‘iron laws’ of contemporary society – is inviolable, and yet at the same time would like to abolish its unpleasant but necessary consequences, has no other recourse than to deliver moral sermons to capitalists – sermons whose emotional effects, however, immediately vanish under the influence of private interest and competition.

Yet, from the point of view of capitalists, building homes for workers is also profitable, even when not every law of health and safety is trampled underfoot. That has never been denied. Any investment of capital that satisfies an existing need is profitable if conducted rationally. The question, however, is precisely why the housing shortage continues to exist despite this; why, despite this potential for profit, the capitalists do not provide a sufficient number of well-made homes for workers. And the real answer to this question is that capital does not want to abolish the housing shortage, even if it could. By now it should be perfectly clear that the State, in the form it exists today, is neither able nor willing to do anything to remedy the housing crisis. The State is nothing more than the organised collective power of the possessing classes (that is to say, the landowners and the capitalists) against the exploited classes (the urban and agricultural workers). And what the individual capitalists do not want (and in this instance it is only a question of this class, since in the housing crisis the landowner acts primarily in his capacity as a capitalist) their State also does not want. If, therefore, individual capitalists denounce the housing shortage but do not lift a finger to alleviate – even superficially – its most violent consequences, then the collective capitalist – which is to say, the State – can hardly be expected to do more. At most it will see to it that the usual measure of token assistance is carried out generally and uniformly.

In recent British Acts of Parliament, which gave London building authorities the right of compulsory purchase for the purpose of constructing new streets, a certain amount of consideration was given to the workers evicted from their homes. A provision has been inserted that the new buildings that will be erected on the sites of their demolished homes must be suitable for housing those classes of the population previously living there. As a consequence, large five- or six-storey housing blocks have been erected for the workers on the least valuable sites, and in this way the letter of the law is complied with. At most, however, these buildings will provide new homes for barely a quarter of the best workers evicted by the new housing developments.


In reality, capitalists have only one method of settling the housing question: after their fashion – which is to say, by settling it in such a way that the solution continually reposes the question. By this I do not mean merely the specific practice of bulldozing long, broad streets through densely-built working-class neighbourhoods and then lining them on both sides with large and luxurious buildings whose purpose is, on the one hand, to develop an urban working class in the building trades that is dependent on the Government, and, on the other, to turn the city into a place of luxury, pure and simple. I also mean the practice, which has now become widespread, of making inroads into the working-class neighbourhoods of large cities, particularly into those that are located centrally – irrespective of whether this practice is accompanied by considerations for public health or aesthetic improvement, or by the demand for large, centrally-located business premises, or for new traffic requirements.


No matter how various the reasons may be, the result is everywhere the same: the most run-down alleyways and streets disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-congratulations by the capitalists delighted with their enormous success; but they immediately appear again somewhere else. The run-down dives and slums in which capitalism confines its workers night after night are not abolished; they are merely moved elsewhere, where the same economic conditions that produced them in the first place reproduces them again in the next. As long as capitalism continues to exist it is naïve to hope for a separate solution to the housing question, or of any other question relating to the conditions of workers. The only solution lies in the abolition of capitalism and the appropriation of all means of subsistence and production by the working class itself.

– Friedrich Engels (1872-1873)

Reflections on the Outcome of the Public Inquiry into the Aylesbury Estate Compulsory Purchase Order


Refurbishment versus Demolition and Rebuild

As an independent academic witness at the Public Inquiry into the Aylesbury Estate Compulsory Purchase Order (held on 28 April-1 May, 12 May, and 13–14 October, 2015), a key aspect of the evidence I gave was based on a study of the documents circulated to the meeting of the Executive Committee of Southwark Council on 27 September 2005, at which the decision to demolish and rebuild rather than to refurbish the Aylesbury Estate was made. I argued that the information provided to the Executive Committee for that meeting was inadequate and unbalanced, and key designed costings had not been included. Some of these documents can be viewed on Southwark Council’s website page.

Extraordinarily, the information for the option to demolish and rebuild the Aylesbury Estate consisted of a one-page ‘Indicative Cashflow Forecast’ (Annex C). For reasons we can only speculate on, access to this particular option is now blocked on the Council’s website, but it can be viewed here. This forecast included figures for ‘estimated land value’, ‘income from development’, ‘leaseholders CPO’ and ‘tenants decant’, but there were no figures given for design or construction. There were also figures for ‘delivery team fees’ and ‘master plan’, but no master plan was attached, nor were there any designs or information on construction. To make matters worse, Annex C contained no code to allow the reader to decipher the abbreviated terms, so it was not possible to understand the costs to which some of the figures referred. I concluded, therefore, that this one-page cash-flow report did not constitute sufficient evidence on which to base a decision to demolish and rebuild the Aylesbury Estate.

Even more astonishingly, the information for the refurbishment option, which stretched to a one-and-a-half page summary document titled ‘Costs of Refurbishment’ (Annex A), estimated the total cost of refurbishment to Decent Homes Plus as £314.6 million. And although Southwark Council had commissioned substantial research, designs and costings for the refurbishment option – specifically, a large design package (up to RIBA Stage E, and in some cases F and G) provided by Levitt Bernstein Architects, an accompanying 71-page report by Frost Associates and a 20-page report by BTPW Partnership – none of this detailed information was provided to the Executive Committee. As can be seen, however, in accounting for this enormous sum, Annex A included a figure of £148.9 million for External Works, nearly half the total estimated cost of refurbishment; yet I have been unable to correlate this figure with the calculations in the Frost and the BPTW reports. The BPTW report gave a total figure for external works for the whole estate as £24.8 million, less than a quarter of the Council’s total; and although the Frost report did not give a total figure, even by adding up all the figures given for the external works for each relevant block on the estate I could only reach a total of £20.7 million. So when faced with such a high figure for the refurbishment costs and no background details to justify it, it is perhaps understandable why the Executive Committee decided to reject the option to refurbish the Aylesbury Estate.

The work undertaken by Levitt Bernstein Architects for the south-west corner of the Aylesbury Estate – which was presented to Southwark Council in November 2004, nearly a year before the meeting of the Executive Meeting on 27 September 2005 – also included the only designed and costed comparison between the refurbishment and demolition-rebuild options that I could find. This comparison, which consisted of 3 options for refurbishment and 2 options for demolition-rebuild, showed that – taking as an example a 5-storey block such as 1-68 Chartridge House – the cost of Option 3 for refurbishment to Decent Homes Standard, plus gas removal and structural strengthening, was £3.54 million; whereas the cost of Option 4, for demolishing the block and constructing a new block with the same number of dwellings, was £9.45 million. Even if one estimated the cost of refurbishment at Decent Homes Plus (that is, including new kitchens and bathrooms), then refurbishment remained at 58 per cent of the demolition-rebuild cost, or 41 per cent in the case of those blocks which did not require removal of gas and structural strengthening. For the record, these were the 4-storey blocks (of which there were 17), and the blocks of 7-storeys and above (of which there were 8); it was only the 5-storey (of which there were 20) and 6-storey (only 1) blocks that required structural strengthening, as confirmed by the analysis in the Conisbee Report of March 2005.

Finally, a further document not circulated to the Executive Committee was Option 5, for demolishing and rebuilding the blocks with the addition of new dwellings. These designs show that a block could be rebuilt to provide the same number of replacement dwellings (68), plus additional dwellings (40), on the same footprint. If the aim of regeneration is to increase the housing density of the site, then why was this option not explored to see if the receipts from the sale of the new dwellings could cover the costs of refurbishing – rather than demolishing – the existing homes?

Fast forward a decade, and the Government Inspector’s CPO Report to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, published on 29 January 2016, stated that: ‘The figures put to the Executive Committee are more than 10 years old, and there is no submitted evidence which would allow me to compare them with the costs of the scheme for the Order Land.’ She adds that a refurbishment scheme ‘would be unlikely to deliver a comparable increase in the number of dwellings’.

The Inspector is quite right to say that there is no submitted evidence on which to make a comparison, because a costed scheme for demolition and rebuild on the Order Land did not exist at the time the decision to demolish the Aylesbury Estate was taken on 27 September 2005. And in fact, it is still not possible to make such a comparison today, or to claim that the new scheme is viable, because key aspects of the financial arrangements between Notting Hill Housing Trust and Southwark Labour Council have been redacted and are not available for public scrutiny.

What we do know, however, from the only designed and costed comparison between demolition-rebuild and refurbishment that exists – which is to say, the one commissioned by Southwark Council and provided by Levitt Bernstein in 2004–05 in their scheme for the south-west corner of the Aylesbury Estate – is that:

  1. Refurbishment of the estate was the cheaper option;
  2. New dwellings could have been added while retaining the existing footprint of the estate.

However, not only was this information not put before the Executive Committee in 2005, but it appears not to have been taken seriously by the Public Inquiry into the Aylesbury Estate CPO in 2015.

Architects and Estate Regeneration

So what does all this mean for the architectural community – in professional practice and academia?

  • First, I would like to see architects involved in estate regeneration taking into account the effects of demolition on the lives of estate residents – tenants and leaseholders alike – and availing themselves of current research showing the numbers of residents who have had to leave their neighbourhoods and London as a result of the demolition of their homes.
  • Second, I would advise architects not to take at face value the claims of councils regarding the provisions they have made for leaseholders to remain through provision of ‘like for like’ (or now ‘equivalent’) accommodation, or tenants’ ‘right to return’, but to look at the evidence, as Professor Loretta Lees has done in her report on the Aylesbury Estate.
  • Third, for economic, social and environmental reasons – and in some cases for reasons concerning architectural heritage – it would be great if architects used their design expertise to explore options that prioritise refurbishment. There are many excellent refurbishment examples, nationally and internationally, that can be drawn on. And if the data is being withheld, then we need to collaborate to obtain the relevant information.

The case of Islington’s Six Acres Estate, for example, which consisted of the refurbishment of an estate built using the same construction system and at roughly the same time as the Aylesbury Estate, could have provided the Public Inquiry with an excellent comparison. Instead the Inspector described the information on the scheme that we provided to the Inquiry as ‘limited and largely anecdotal’. The difficulty for us was that Islington Council declined an invitation to provide detailed evidence – which I can only imagine was for political reasons, since Islington, like Southwark, is a Labour council.

In the case of the Aylesbury Estate, I have enormous respect for the work that Levitt Bernstein Architects did, and I believe that Southwark Council should have shared the detail of that work with the Executive Committee when making the decision on the future of the estate. Instead, despite the fact that the Second Stage Tender documents were due to go out on 31 May 2005, the Levitt Bernstein Executive Summary of their work states that ‘On 1 April 2005 the Client gave notice to Levitt Bernstein to stop work pending resolution of structural strengthening and other funding matters and to provide a RIBA Stage E Report on work to date.’ In actual fact, however, resolution of the structural strengthening issues had already been provided in the second Conisbee Report, dated 10 March 2005, which noted that structural strengthening was not required for the 4-storey blocks (of which there were 17) or the 7-, 8- and 14-storey blocks (of which there were 8), only for the 5-storey blocks (of which there were 20) and single 6-storey block.

Levitt Bernstein subsequently declined an invitation to give evidence at the Public Inquiry into the Aylesbury Estate CPO – I assume because of their professional relationship with Southwark Council. Following their design and costing comparison for the south-west corner of the Aylesbury Estate, the Council employed them for its demolition and redevelopment, a project that was completed in 2012, three years before the Inquiry.

It is understandable that architects need to make a living, so perhaps this is where academics can come in to help with this research. I’d like to see us working together more to access key information to inform decisions around estate regeneration that are more just. Because of the invaluable design service that architects provide for their clients – councils, housing associations and property developers – they are in a strong position to help these clients choose options for housing that benefit existing residents. It’s not too late to return and re-examine the proposals drawn up by Levitt Bernstein Architects, which provide options that, unlike Southwark Council’s current plans, would not result in residents of the Aylesbury Estate losing their homes.

Professor Jane Rendell
Director of Architectural Research at the Bartlett School of Architecture
University College London