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)


Déjà lu: Who are Academics For?

On the weekend of 10-11 June ASH attended the Housing Justice conference being held as part of the ‘Small is Beautiful’ festival in Wales, and for something to read we took Anna Minton’s new book, Big Capital: Who is London For? a copy of which, signed by the author and sent to ASH, had arrived earlier that week.

Reading it, however – and particularly the third chapter on ‘Demolitions’ – was a strange experience, like reading a summary of just about everything ASH has written about and published on our blog over the past two years. That’s not surprising, as we met Anna in 2015, and she and Paul Watt had invited us to publish our October 2015 blog article ‘The London Clearances’ in the special feature of City they were editing on housing activism. I remember Anna had been generous in her appraisal, arguing that this text, which was one of the first to identify the threat the IPPR report City Villages represented to council estates, should be more widely published. In fact, in the days when Labourites still read the ASH blog, and following the demonstration we organised in January 2016 against the Housing and Planning Act, this single article was visited over 15,000 times on the ASH blog. Ah, heady days!

Since then we have introduced Anna to some of the estates ASH has worked with, taking time out to show her around Central Hill, and at their invitation we presented our design work on West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates at a conference she and Paul organised at the University of East London.

I never realised, however, just how closely Anna – who almost never posts on our Facebook page – appears to have read our blog articles. Flicking through her book I felt like Michael Douglas in the Bill Hicks sketch about the ‘Goat-boy’ edit of Basic Instinct (the lead actor’s role has been removed and replaced with 3 hours of Sharon Stone ‘eating out’ another chick): ‘I could’ve sworn I was in that film!’ (‘Goat-boy called it like he saw it, Mickey’ . . .)

Here’s Anna writing about Starter Homes supplanting homes for social rent in Section 106 agreements, something we first wrote about in January 2016 in ‘Blitzkrieg! Sink Estates and Starter Homes’, and which I remember Anna announcing, with some surprise, at the UEL conference after sitting through the presentation in which we’d just brought it up.

Here she is observing that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 grants planning permission in principle on ‘brownfield land’, the redefinition of which through accompanying policy to include housing estates ASH was the first to write about in March 2016 in ‘The Doomsday Book: Mapping London’s Housing Crisis’. To my knowledge this aspect of the new legislation was deliberately suppressed (even if the authors were aware of it) in every other article written about the Bill precisely because it implicates Labour councils in the estate demolition programme.

Here she is writing about the dirty tricks employed by the Conservatives to push the Bill through the House of Commons, something ASH reported on our Facebook page over several months in considerable detail, organising a round table discussion to pick apart the Bill’s legislation, speaking to several campaigns from Focus E15 Mothers to Save Cressingham Gardens on what it would mean for them, and culminating in May 2016 in our blog article ‘Resistance Begins at Home: The Housing and Planning Act’.

Here she is with residents of the newly-named Macintosh Court in June 2016, celebrating its stay of demolition at Open Garden Estates, the yearly event organised by ASH, and to which we had invited numerous film makers, campaigners and journalists like her to come and write about the victory over Lambeth Labour council. The point of this event is to link the estates hosting it and their campaigns to save their homes, and by removing the rare victory at Macintosh Court from Open Garden Estates Anna’s book isolates it from this wider struggle.

Here she is on Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and his decision to refuse the compulsory purchase order on leaseholders on the Aylesbury estate on the grounds it infringed their Human Rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and breached the Equality Act 2010, something which – in response to the misinformation and inaccuracies being published in the press and on social media – we picked apart in careful detail and published in September 2016 in our blog article ‘Financial Compensation for Human Rights: The Aylesbury Estate’ the day after the decision was made.

Her she is discussing the London School of Economics report commissioned by the Berkeley Group to promote the Berkeley Homes redevelopment of the demolished Ferrier estate as Kidbrooke Village, something I spoke about at the Resist festival in September 2016 and whose subsequent write-up the following month, ‘The Intellectual Bloodstain: Academia and Social Cleansing’, is to my knowledge the only article exposing this collusion between academia and estate demolition.

The strange thing is, not once through the entire book is either the ASH blog that carries these articles or, in the case of Open Garden Estates, the events ASH organises mentioned, let alone footnoted.

In keeping with academic procedure – which is necessary for it to contribute to the research rating of the department in which Anna is employed ­– there are copious footnotes in the book; but in keeping with academic seclusion, these almost all reference other academic articles; or, at least, not one of the ASH articles on which Anna’s book seems to draw over and over again appears in the footnotes.

Now, I don’t want to appear bitter. Yeah-yeah, I know: ‘If you don’t like it, write your own book!’ It’s sound advice, which we liberally dispense to those who tell us at great length exactly and precisely what they think ASH should be doing. But because of who and what our work threatens – from the politicians promoting estate demolition to the architects and developers getting rich from implementing it – the ASH blog is never going to get anything like the coverage of mainstream news outlets, newspapers, architectural magazines and even academic books.

Because of this, we don’t mind journalists nicking our stuff – and the list of journalists who have done so is as long as Sadiq Khan’s nose. That’s partly the point of publishing these articles on our blog, so that – even if in watered down form – the information we have researched and the arguments we have formulated get disseminated in the wider public sphere.

That’s also how this stuff works as a collective endeavour, and not the work of a single author. In recognition of which, the blog posts ASH publishes draw on the research of many other writers, for instance the work of the 35% Campaign, which I understand Anna herself has drawn on in the past in her report on the revolving door between councilors and developers in the demolition of the Heygate estate. Because of this, ASH always takes care to recognise our sources – not out of conformity to academic procedure, but in a spirit of mutual generosity and recognition that unfortunately is not always apparent in the little fiefdoms, political manipulations, censorship and careerism that are increasingly characterising the struggles within the housing crisis.

We’re flattered, of course, to discover that Anna is such a diligent reader of the ASH blog; but given how much time we have spent taking her around places like Central Hill estate, answering her many questions about individual campaigns, inviting her to events like Macintosh Court, and generally treating her like a colleague – if not quite a comrade – in this wave of shit we’re struggling against, it would have been nice for her to return the compliment. There’s perhaps not a lot journalists and academics in this deeply apolitical country can do to help the work of ASH, but if the ones who draw on our work were more diligent in formally recognising it – either in links to our blog in their articles or in footnotes in their published books – our proposals would perhaps find greater reach in the newspapers and architectural journals that continue to refuse to publish the truth about estate demolition.

This weekend, apropos an excellent article by Richard Godwin in, of all places, the London Evening Standard – in which an interview with ASH is finally quoted accurately and at some length – I couldn’t help making a somewhat sly reference on our Facebook page to the comparative absence of acknowledgement in Big Capital. In response Anna wrote back asking ‘Are you implying I’ve somehow nicked your work? I don’t appreciate that.’ Only Anna can really answer that question, though the fact she’s asking it is perhaps its own answer. She also reminded me that it was she who put the author of the Standard article onto us, which I hadn’t forgotten and for which we are grateful.

But to respond to Anna’s question: what we appreciate is recognition of our work when it’s due – partly out of courtesy and that equally abused term ‘solidarity’ – but far more importantly because of how it can help to spread the truth about the motivations for estate demolition ASH has spent the past two years working to expose and propose alternatives to. In this work – for which we don’t receive a lecturer’s or journalist’s salary or a government research grant – we can do with all the help we can get; and so far – while there have been many generous individuals who have contributed their time and skills and creativity to working with ASH – we’ve had almost no assistance from any institutions, whether architectural, academic or journalistic.

This isn’t to say, however, that ASH doesn’t appear in Anna’s book: we do, three times.

The first is in the opening chapter, where I appear personally as a fire-breathing activist standing outside the London Real Estate Forum last year with Class War and the Revolutionary Communist Group, issuing Lear-like threats against the international property developers within. This is an image of ASH that the architectural establishment appears to be comfortable with. The only time we’ve appeared in the pages of the Architects’ Journal, for example, it’s either as ‘protest group Architects for Social Housing’ or ‘campaign group ASH’ – very much, in other words as we do in Anna’s book. After more than two years’ work, over a hundred articles, and architectural design alternatives to demolition for five estates, ASH still hasn’t been published in a single architectural magazine or newspaper. When we present our work at the numerous conferences we speak at on an almost weekly basis the first thing other architects and housing campaigners say to us is: ‘How come we haven’t heard about this?’ But then why should they have, when the only time we get a mention in articles in magazines like the Architects’ Journal, newspapers like the Guardian and books like Big Capital is as a protest group?

That’s not entirely true. The second time we appear in Anna’s book is on the second last of its 130 pages, where she recalls Geraldine taking her around Central Hill estate – which until recently Anna refused to believe Lambeth Labour Council would demolish – and finally writes something about our designs in this single, somewhat breathless sentence:

‘The ASH plan would raise revenue to repair the homes from existing rents and from the sale of the additional 230 new homes they would build which would not fundamentally change the architectural plan.’

Which – given all we’ve said and done – isn’t much. No reference is made for those who might be interested in our alternative to demolition for Central Hill published on the ASH blog, or to any of our other architectural alternatives we’ve designed for other estates.

And finally, in the list of acknowledgements at the book’s end, our blog article on ‘The London Clearances’ is cited with reference to its publication in the special feature of City of which Anna was co-editor, and which is only accessible online through a paywall. Again, no reference is made to the ASH blog, where the article is freely available, and is linked to all our other work.

Big Capital is a good summary of what’s been written about London’s housing crisis over the past two years. What it lacks – as other commentators have pointed out – is precisely what ASH offers, which is the beginning of a solution to this crisis. No doubt that’s outside the limits of academic discourse, as we’ve discovered when articles we’ve submitted to academic journals about our practical work have been rejected because they ‘don’t reference the academic discourse in the field’. As a former academic I know its back-scratching conferences and its fear of anything that goes on outside its ivory tower, which it either ignores while it’s happening or appropriates when its over. But the housing crisis isn’t the topic of a conference debate; it isn’t archive material for a peer-reviewed book; it isn’t a contribution to a department’s research rating; and it isn’t the subject of government grant-sponsored research into gentrification. It’s a struggle for survival.

What we need, in the immortal words of Elvis Presley, is a little less conversation, a little more action. And – if I might add a line to the verse – a little more generosity in what we are constantly told should be a unified front in a collective struggle. On the title page of the copy of the book she sent Geraldine Anna wrote ‘Thank you for all your help.’

You’re welcome, Anna.

Architects for Social Housing

Jeremy Corbyn and the Haringey Development Vehicle

Across the country, Labour councils are putting Labour values into action in a way that makes a real difference to millions of people. It is a proud Labour record, and each and every Labour councillor deserves our heartfelt thanks for the work they do.

– Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party conference (28 September, 2016)

In the lead up to last night’s decision by Haringey Labour council to go ahead with the transfer of £2 billion of land and assets, including thousands of council homes, into the hands of international property developers Lendlease, Aditya Chakrabortty, who has been following the Haringey Development Vehicle, and who is the best of the journalists writing on housing at the Guardian, published an article highly critical of Haringey and other Labour councils implementing social cleansing through estate privatisation and demolition.

In response he was widely attacked on Twitter by Labourites, whose spluttering objections can be narrowed down to the one that indignantly demanded: ‘How is this helping the Labour Party!’ This conforms to everything we’ve been writing not only about the Labour Party’s antagonism to the truth, but it’s belief that the homes and lives of residents it threatens should be sacrificed to its electoral success. Apparently Chakrabortty was also told that the Haringey council leadership regard him as a ‘one man left wing Daily Mail’ (welcome to our world, Aditya: at least they didn’t denounce you as a Tory, as they have us). However, in his article Chakrabortty couldn’t refrain from absolving the Leader of the Labour Party from his accusations of corruption.

‘However easy it is for pundits to conflate today’s Labour party with Jeremy Corbyn, to do so ignores the daily experience of people under many Labour councils that are his ideological opposite. Such as the zombie Blairites who run Haringey, and who bear as much resemblance to Corbyn’s Labour as Jive Bunny does to Death Metal.’

It’s a strangely dismissive and overstated comment in an otherwise serious and measured article, and suggests the difficulty Chakrabortty has in believing what he asserts. Is Corbyn really the ‘ideological opposite’ of the Leaders of Labour councils? Is Corbyn’s Labour really Jive Bunny to Claire Kober’s Death Metal? And if so, why has Corbyn consistently refused to condemn the actions not only of Haringey council but of every other Labour council engaged in the social cleansing of working-class communities through estate regeneration schemes?

There was a strange phenomenon, which continues to this day among his admirers, that absolved Adolf Hitler from knowledge of and therefore culpability in Nazi atrocities, and even the Final Solution. The cult of Der Führer that the Nazis created around Hitler meant that not only were his decisions unquestioned, but also pure of all culpability in the event of their failure or exposure. Now, I hope it’s clear that I’m not comparing Corbyn to Hitler, but it is increasingly apparent that there is something cultish about the absurd position Corbyn’s idolisers have placed him in of being guiltless – and even ignorant – of what the Party he leads is doing, not only at council level, but even of its housing policies.

A similar sort of reverence surrounds the President of the United States of America. I remember after 9/11 when George Bush was coming out with the line that Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the attack, even though every bit of intelligence pointed to Saudi Arabia as the culprits, and in response to questions to this effect aides replied: ‘This is the President of the United States speaking here, and we need to listen.’ In response to the completely absurd and slightly worrying adulation Corbyn enjoys among his supporters, observers have pointed out that he is already assuming a Presidential air – precisely that Presidential air Tony Blair assumed when he sent us to war in Iraq on a similarly fabricated ‘evidence’.

Now, cults are based on belief, not reason, so I have no expectation or converting those of you who have taken the veil. But anyone looking for evidence that Corbyn lacks neither knowledge of nor culpability in the social cleansing of London communities through estate privatisation and demolition has only to read the Labour Party’s manifesto on housing – which ASH has written about here, and the statements by Corbyn and his Housing Ministers on the actions of the Labour councils about which he is supposedly so ignorant, which you can read about here. If you feel like stopping the chanting for a bit, getting up off your knees and having a rational discussion about what the Leader of the Labour Party is promising to do with our homes – let alone what Labour councils are already doing with his support – have a read.

Architects for Social Housing

Below is the updated list of 170 London housing estates we know of that are under threat of or already condemned to privatisation, demolition and social cleansing by Labour councils.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! The People’s Assembly

Tories Out!

Did I hear right, or was I making it up? As I stood outside the pub having a fag, the crowd shuffled past, branded like an Olympic team with flags and banners and placards bearing the logos of every Labour-affiliated union and other left-wing group, including several I thought no longer existed. I recognised the tune – it was the opening bars from the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army – but what were the words being sung over the top? Was I imagining it, or were they really chanting ‘Oh, Je-re-my Cor-byn! Oh, Je-re-my Cor-byn!’ over and over again? We’d listened to a couple of speeches outside the BBC, where the People’s Assembly demonstration – titled ‘Tories Out!’ – had assembled, but this was too much. We decided right there and then to abandon any idea of joining the blushing throngs.

Later on in the day we joined Class War in the Chandos off Trafalgar Square for an ill-earned pint. A small commando team had gone off to ambush Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament Square, and while waiting for him to arrive confronted Len McCluskey – the General Secretary of Unite the Union, which pretty much funds the Labour Party – with the record of Labour councils socially cleansing working-class communities from London through council estate privatisation and demolition. He simply turned his back on them, showed not the slightest interest in hearing what they had to say, or even in looking at the posters they held up listing just some of the 155 London council estates threatened by Labour councils.

Later on the Messiah himself arrived, and rather like Moses parting the Red Sea the crowd fell back to let him through. Quick as a flash Lisa Mckenzie of Class War ran up behind him and confronted Corbyn with the same question she had asked McCluskey. It’s a simple question, one we’ve been asking the Labour Leader for two years now, so far without receiving an answer: ‘When are you going to stop Labour councils socially cleansing people out of London?’

Corbyn turned briefly to glance at the poster Lisa was holding up, a frown across his face. I guess, when everyone you meet wants to touch the hem of your garment, it must be surprising to see someone actually challenge you on your record rather than the rousing rhetoric and empty promises with which a nation has been deluded. But just like McCluskey, Corbyn turned immediately away and continued walking between the chosen people, who recovered from the shock of finding a heretic among their ranks and quickly closed in around their Saviour. Like McCluskey, Corbyn showed no interest in what Lisa had to say. Rather, like the practiced, professional politician Corbyn is, he immediately recognised that here was someone who hadn’t swallowed his lies, and walked quickly away – as practiced politicians do – and engaged in a far more pressing conversation with yet another Labour-branded functionary.

Class War continued to shout out their question, hold their posters up, and let the people around them know about Labour’s record of estate regeneration – precisely the estate regeneration programme that killed the residents in Grenfell Tower, about which not a single Labour speaker all day could end without saying something typically vague about poverty and austerity. What not a single speaker said was what had killed them.

In response to this intrusion by Class War, the Labourites first asked the watching police to disperse them, and when the constables didn’t oblige formed up in a line in front of them, held up their branded placards in front of the Class War posters, and started chanting the same chant I’d heard in the marching crowd: ‘Oh, Je-re-my Cor-byn! Oh, Je-re-my Cor-byn!’ They too – like Len McCluskey, like Jeremy Corbyn, like Momentum, like the People’s Assembly, like Unite the Union, like the Socialist Workers Party, like the Radical Housing Network, like the increasing number of so-called anarchists who voted for Labour, like, it seems, anyone who believes Corbyn is some kind of socialist and the Labour Party a social movement – had not the slightest interest in hearing about what Labour are doing to the lives and homes of working class people. Similarly, the leaders and speakers and followers who have filled the airwaves with their lamentations and fury over the Grenfell Tower fire have shown not the slightest interest in hearing about the estate regeneration programme that caused it. On the contrary, they are willing to sacrifice everything – the hundreds of thousands of Londoners whose homes and businesses are being demolished by Labour councils and the truth about what killed the people in Grenfell Tower – to the electoral hopes of the Labour Party.

The Cult of Corbyn

Something very strange is happening to the Labour Party. As we know, the neo-liberals that make up its Parliamentary Party loathe Jeremy Corbyn, and even after the election that gave them back their seats they have continued to speak out against his promises of re-nationalisation (though less about his retention of Trident and government cuts to benefits). Because of this, and because of the huge support Corbyn enjoys personally from the party membership, under John McDonnell’s stewardship Labour now calls itself a ‘social movement’. Without anything being said to this effect, this allows the Labour membership to believe that, once their Leader is in power, it will be they, and not Labour’s Members of Parliament, who will dictate policy. ‘Vote us into power’, they tell us, ‘and we will return Labour to its real values’. However imaginary and divorced from history those values have become under the propaganda of, for instance, films like Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45, this belief allows the growing Labour membership to imagine its collective will – embodied in the fast becoming sacred figure of Corbyn – will one day govern the country. The fact the UK is a parliamentary monarchy and Labour a parliamentary political party which, if elected to government, will be subject to the vote not of its membership but of its members of parliament, is conveniently ignored.

That’s not quite accurate: not ignored, but suppressed, silenced. That’s why Class War and ASH and the Focus E15 Mothers and the RCG repeatedly drawing attention to the actions of the Labour Party at council level have met such extraordinary hostility from members of the Labour Party who are otherwise – that is, in Conservative-run boroughs – opposed to estate demolition. In the case of ASH, we know that residents have been told by members of the Radical Housing Network not to work with us because of our criticisms of the Labour Party and its support for the estate demolition schemes of Labour councils. Against the promises of Labour’s manifesto on housing – which is in fact based on these demolition schemes – this is a rude reminder that far from being a social movement Labour is a political party seeking election to power of the government of the UK, and if we want to get an idea of how that government would govern we should look at the actions and attitudes of these councils.

From this inconvenient truth has sprung the mantra, repeated by Momentum et al, that Labour councils are run by ‘Right-wing, Progress, Blairites’ at odds with Corbyn’s housing policies – as if the Labour MPs so many Corbynites voted for at the last election are any different. ASH showing in detailed arguments based on Labour’s own public statements that not only is there no difference between the housing policies of the Labour Party and those of Labour councils but that, on the contrary, the former is based upon the latter, has fallen on ears as deaf to the truth as the crowd of chanting believers in Parliament Square.

Under the chants of ‘Oh, Jer-e-my Cor-byn!’ Neil Coyle can be re-elected Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, while his record on the planning committee of Southwark Labour council’s estate regeneration programme is drowned out; Helen Hayes can be re-elected Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, while her collusion in the demolition of the Heygate and Central Hill estates and the eviction of the Brixton Arches is drowned out; Diane Abbott can be re-elected Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, while her record of failing to oppose the demolition of 18 estates by Hackney Labour council is drowned out; David Lammy can be re-elected Labour MP for Tottenham, while his record of standing by as the Haringey Labour council sells off £2 billion of land to property developers Lendlease, including two council estates in his own constituency, is drowned out.

Ideology under capitalism works not by censorship but by noise. Within increasingly reduced limits we can say what we like, but no-one will hear us over the noise of those with access to the media. We’ve seen this principle at work in the reaction of Labour politicians to the Grenfell Tower fire. Beneath the cries for justice and truth repeated again and again by Labour MPs David Lammy and Emma Dent Coad, the actual truth from which justice alone will emerge is being drowned out. Because Labour does not yet have the power to exert control over the media, which has been virulently opposed to Corbyn since his election to the leadership, it must make use of disasters like the Grenfell Tower fire and turn it to its own political ends. Labour, led by Corbyn, has shown absolutely no compunction in cynically using the dead of Grenfell Tower to attack the Tory party, while drowning out the truth about its own role in what killed them. However, since the Labour Party’s surprising electoral returns the media is beginning to change its attitude towards Corbyn.

He still hasn’t got the newspaper barons on side though, as Tony Blair took care to prior to his election as Prime Minister. The primary medium of Corbyn’s propaganda, therefore, is events like yesterday’s. Exactly as Trump – a similar political outsider without the support of his party – did with far greater success, Corbyn and his team have described their political ambitions as a ‘movement’, and have adopted the guise of being outsiders in their own party. This exactly replicates the feelings of those millions of Labour supporters who, reared on 13 years of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have returned to the ranks and ballot box of the Labour Party with the dream that they may, once again, find themselves represented in it. The student radicals, middle-class liberals and elderly members of Momentum are all agreed on one thing: that they do not recognise themselves in the mediocrities that make up the Paliamentary Labour Party or the stony-faced ruthless businessmen and women that sit on Labour councils. So instead – again, very much as the rust-belt proletarians of the US did with New York billionaire Trump – they focus all their attention on the figure of Corbyn, who in their eyes is relieved of all responsibility for the actions of the political party he leads.

The Spectacle of Activism

It’s clear that, against our own predictions, the Labour Party is on the up. Not only are the MPs that twice voted no confidence in Corbyn now opportunistically reconciled to his leadership, but Labour’s strategists seem to have accidentally laid their groping fingers upon the quickening pulse of politics in capitalist democracies. Labour’s electoral team has remarked how much they have learned from Bernie Sanders, members of whose campaign team came over to the UK to instruct Labour activists in the lead up to the General Election. It’s typical of Labour that they chose to be instructed by a campaign that lost; but looking at the spectacle they put on in Parliament Square earlier this year, at which Guardian Owen Jones and Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott spoke out against the election of Donald Trump, and hearing the chanting marchers yesterday, deaf to anything but their own declaration of absolute and unshakeable faith in their Leader, it seems to me that it is to the campaign and tactics of Donald Trump’s electoral team that Labour have been looking. But it’s not merely ironic that in condemning the election of Trump to the Presidency of the United States, Jones and Abbott used exactly the same propaganda tools and tactics that brought him to power.

Like Trump, Labour have adopted the spectacle of street politics – of a social movement, of political protest, of ‘grass-roots’ activism, of the until-now-suppressed and overlooked outsider, of the silenced ‘99 per cent’, of the rhetoric of rebellion and even revolution, of justice ‘for the many, not the few’ – to call for the election to the government of the UK of a social-democratic political party that runs 110 councils and unitary authorities across the UK, have directly elected Mayors in London, Manchester, Liverpool and 11 other local authorities, 13 seats in the European Parliament, 262 in the House of Commons and 202 in the House of Lords of a capitalist country with the sixth largest economy in the world. I can’t remember any other leadership of either the Labour or the Conservative parties holding demonstrations that deliberately imitate the language of street protest, while at the same time having the political clout and financial resources to close down Regent’s Street with a campaign bus on a Saturday afternoon or – as they did in February – hold a rally that erected a temporary stage in Parliament Square in the middle of a Government Security Zone.

Not only is this an appropriation of a form of protest created to oppose power by those who sit in positions of power, but in doing so it subsumes every other protest into its ranks, reducing the multiplicity of campaigns to the simple equation that lent its title to Saturday’s demonstration: ‘Tories out!’ What this simplistic message silences is, of course, what will take their place. Momentum, for one, has been very open about this colonisation of localised campaigns by Labour’s imperial ambitions for power, and it is typical of the naivety of the largely middle-class students who make up its activists that this ambition is accepted at face value. Of course, as marketing companies know, the best salesman is the one who believes in his product; and the first customer of Labour’s sales pitch are the salesmen and women who sell it on the voters’ doorsteps, who organise these demonstrations, who write propaganda about Labour policy, who promote Labour’s ideology in their media outlets, who make nostalgic films about Labour values, who dedicate poems to Corbyn, who invite him onto popular culture platforms, who have elevated him to his current and slightly absurd position as Saviour of the People. Anyone who is critical of this sales pitch or who seeks to challenge its relation to the reality of the product it’s selling is anathematised as an unbeliever – or worse, a Tory – and subject to slanders against them personally and attacks on whatever organisation or group they speak from. As an example of which, for drawing attention to Labour’s complicity in estate demolition ASH has been the subject of repeated attacks from Labour activists individually and collectively almost since we formed over two years ago, and they show no sign of abating.

The evidence that increasing numbers of British voters have fallen and are falling for this illusion of Labour as a social movement is a measure of just how successful it has been as a campaign strategy which. Initially adopted in response to the peculiar circumstances of Corbyn’s enormous popularity within the party membership and equally enormous unpopularity among his fellow MPs, it has subsequently turned a necessity into a virtue and embraced the spectacularisation of politics in which the USA leads and instructs the world, and which was pioneered by the fascist and totalitarian political parties and regimes of the Twentieth Century. Like Trump’s Republicans and Corbyn’s Labour, these regimes understood that what the masses want is faith in a Leader, not detailed explanations of policy; subsuming within a collective identity, not the burden of individual responsibility; the comfort of banal slogans, not questioning of political practice; the illusion of ideology, not the inconvenient truths of reality. Anyone who believes that the 184 Labour MPs who abstained from voting against Tory welfare cuts will, upon forming a government, turn around and vote for Corbyn’s increases to corporation tax, or to re-nationalise the railways, post office, water and energy companies, or to build half a million homes for social rent is living under this illusion.

Class War

In contrast, anyone who is engaged in trying to dispel this illusion knows that Western democracies – which is to say, the world’s declining capitalist economies – are moving towards a new totalitarianism that is once again looking to the lessons of fascism in how to govern an increasingly impoverished, scared and potentially rebellious population. The Conservative government knows this, and over the past decade and more has quietly gone about effecting our transition to a state built on fear, hate and anger, with unmatched powers of surveillance, a press and media run by corporate interests, and a judiciary and parliament colluding in stripping our human rights. Theresa May’s electoral team tried to promote her as the Leader of this brave new world, but fortunately for us they had the worst possible material for the future they wanted to paint, and one who visibly fell apart under the gaze of the media and questions of the press. Corbyn, by contrast, whose team has been in campaign mode since his election to the Leadership of the Labour party two years ago, has emerged from the General Election not as Prime Minister, but as the Populist Leader the state needs and the terrified masses seem to want. If the press is changing its attitude towards him, it’s an indication that the captains of industry and members of the establishment that run this country no matter who is in power are beginning to think so too. The ruling class of the US has for some time now realised that they can run the most powerful nation in the world through an actor, buffoon or game-show host. I’m beginning to think that the ruling class of the UK is beginning to think so too.

Just as Corbyn’s enormous popular appeal among the masses as Leader of the Labor Party has all but silenced any questioning of the role of Labour councils in demolishing our homes and selling off public land to private developers, so Corbyn as Prime Minister may be just the figurehead the corporate leaders of our economy need to silence opposition to the sell-off of every public asset this country owns. In the same way that the Press and City turned to Tony Blair in the 1990s as the free-market Leader the UK economy needed at the moment of its expansion, so Jeremy Corbyn may be the Leader the nation needs at this moment when that economy is collapsing in on itself, and the British people are discovering our masters have sold all the life jackets to foreign investors.

Let me be clear about what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting Corbyn is a fascist, or that he shares the same politics as Trump, or that the UK is a totalitarian state – not yet, anyway, though it is undoubtedly moving towards being one. What I’m pointing to is the increasing spectacularisation of politics in the UK following the US model, in which elections are won or lost on image rather than reality. Of course, politics has always been about image; or rather, politics exists in the gap between image and reality. But just as the gap between the rust-belt workers in the US and the New York property developer they voted for has never been wider, so the gap between the rhetoric of Corbyn and the record of the Labour Party in power – in local authorities, in council town halls, and in the Greater London Authority – has also never been wider. It is essential that the noise of Labour propaganda, of which Saturday’s ‘Tories Out!’ march was an example, does not drown out the reality of the Labour Party’s policies, particularly on housing, and its record in local government.

The belief that the Labour Party will suddenly start representing the working class whose organised resistance to capitalist exploitation it was formed to manage and placate would be laughable if the consequences of that belief weren’t so dire for the millions of people who live on the housing estates Labour councils threaten with demolition, the thousands of small businesses Labour councils are driving out of London, and our continued public ownership of the land Labour councils are selling off to private companies. What is perhaps most worrying about the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn is not only that it is fully supporting this attack on working class homes, businesses and communities, but that under Corbyn’s leadership it refuses even to acknowledge that this is happening. Far from being a politics – as the Labour slogan goes – ‘for the many, not the few’, this is an ideology that deliberately deafens the many to the reality of both its policies and its practices, and tries to silence those who work to expose that reality. As the Leader and embodiment of this ideology, Jeremy Corbyn is complicit in its lies, its deceptions and its social cleansing. He may continue to turn away from us, as he has done for two years now, but we will continue to confront him and his chanting followers with the threat he presents to the working-class communities of Britain.

Architects for Social Housing

Estates of Memory: The Excalibur Estate

Between 1946 and 1948, in response to the loss of housing during the Blitz and the return of demobilised servicemen and women, 156,623 pre-fabricated homes were built across the UK. Excalibur estate in Catford, comprised of 178 bungalow homes, is one of these. Located in what is now Lewisham, the borough had suffered some of the highest loss of housing from bombs, and these quickly erected homes were initially anticipated to be temporary housing, to be replaced later by council estates. Many of them were, but some have survived into the Twenty-first Century, and contain communities that have lived together since the end of the Second World War. Now they are under attack by councils, housing associations and developers, eager to cash in on the rocketing value of London land.

In 2002 Lewisham Labour council met with residents to propose the stock transfer of their homes to a housing association. In 2004 Savills estate agent, which is advising councils on estate regeneration schemes across London, produced a report saying that none of the existing homes were up to the Decent Homes Standard. In 2005 Lewisham council estimated the cost of refurbishment at £65,000 per home, and argued that it would be too expensive to bring the homes up to this standard. Residents were indignant at the council’s description of their homes as ‘indecent’, and began a campaign to save the estate from privatisation.

Initially 93 per cent of residents voted for the conservation of the estate, and they were supported in this by both the Twentieth-century Society and Historic England. However, they were only able to get 6 buildings on the estate listed. Even this was described by the Mayor of Lewisham, Sir Steve Bullock, as ‘perverse’. The estate had been managed by a Tenant Management Co-operative since 1990, but when it continued to oppose the proposals it was dissolved by the council and replaced. In 2010 the Housing and Communities Agency said that it would not provide funding for a stock transfer, and Lewisham council announced the ‘regeneration’ of the estate as the only financially viable option.

It recently emerged that Steve Bullock, Lewisham’s elected Mayor, is one of the directors of the company Surrey Canal Sports Foundation, which had lied about the funding for the Millwall FC stadium Compulsory Purchase Order issued by Lewisham Labour Council on behalf of the off-shore property developer Renewal (which funds the Foundation). Another director, who subsequently resigned when his involvement was exposed, is the Leader of Southwark Labour Council, Peter John, OBE. Among its many incidents of malfeasance, the Foundation wracked up a £1 million debt renting a hall of ping-pong tables from Renewal (which is to say, itself), while making zero income for the past three years.

In 2007 Lewisham Labour council entered into partnership with London and Quadrant housing association, which has its head office in the borough. L&Q is the largest landlord in London, with a turnover of £720 million in 2016, when it merged with the East Thames Housing Group. This February L&Q bought the private land company Gallagher Estates for £505 million. David Montague, the Chief Executive, had a salary of over £355,000 last year. As a registered social landlord L&Q not only enjoys tax breaks but receives funding from the government’s Homes and Communities agency to build affordable housing.

In 2010, following a concerted campaign by Lewisham Labour council and London and Quadrant housing association, which told residents the estate would be demolished and redeveloped and they would be invited to return to new homes, a ballot was held on the question: ‘Are you in favour of the regeneration of the Excalibur estate as proposed by L&Q?’ 56 per cent of residents voted in favour of this proposal. The council started ‘decanting’ residents that year. Since then, 39 homes have been demolished, and their residents moved to places like Rochester, Ashford and Gillingham in Kent. Leaseholders, of which there are 27 on the estate, have been offered £140,000 compensation for their demolished homes, and those who have refused this offer have had their homes purchased by Compulsory Purchase Order issued by the Mayor of Lewisham. Residents have complained that since the regeneration began Lewisham council has run the estate down, withholding maintenance from their homes and refusing to remove fly-tipped rubbish around the estate.

In 2011 Lewisham Labour council granted planning permission for 371 new properties on the cleared land of Excalibur estate, a more than 100 per cent increase in housing density. Their argument for this is that such a large plot of land, covered as it currently is with single-story homes, is insufficiently dense to meet the housing needs of the borough as specified in the London Plan. In the planning application, 143 of these new properties will be for private sale, 35 for shared ownership, 15 for shared equity, and 178 for affordable rent. Secure tenancies in the affordable properties will not succeed to children or partners, so any resident that does return will be the last generation to have a secure tenancy, housing associations by law only able to offer assured tenancies.

Throughout the 2011 planning application ‘affordable rent’ (up to 80 per cent of market rate) and ‘social rent’ (around 30 per cent of market rate) are used interchangeably. However, in the subsequent March 2015 Report on Phase 3 of the Regeneration of Excalibur Estate, the ‘affordable’ component is only once described as being for ‘social rent’ (paragraph 6.4), and this is the only place where it is referred to as such; every other reference is to ‘affordable’ housing. Moreover, under the government’s Shared Ownership and Affordable Housing Programme, L&Q have received public funds from the Homes and Community Agency for the Excalibur estate redevelopment, and none of that funding is for homes for social rent. Under this programme, £4.1 billion of the £4.7 billion allocated for the UK between 2016-21 is for properties for shared ownership, £329 million for Rent to Buy, and the remaining £235 million allocated for sheltered housing. L&Q have refused to answer a Freedom of Information request from the 35% Campaign about their record of converting ‘affordable’ rents into ‘social’ rents.

The architects for the new development are Hunters, who also won the contract for the demolition and redevelopment of the Bermondsey Spa estate in Southwark, where the Labour council, under Steve Bullock’s off-shore developer co-partner and council leader Peter John, is similarly and systematically converting ‘affordable’ into ‘social’ housing. And no wonder. Hunters Architects’ vision of the future shows white, middle-class, professional families sitting suited and booted in their new gardens, oblivious of the working class community that once lived on the land on which their new properties have been built.

On the billboards erected around the estate by Lewisham council and London and Quadrant it says: ‘This development will provide high quality new homes for affordable rent, shared ownership and private sale, and will improve the area for the local community.’ In the Greater London Authority’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, a draft of which was published last December and sent out to estate residents for consultation, the London Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, removed the loss of social housing as a condition under which estate demolition would not go ahead, allowing it to be replaced first with ‘affordable’ housing at existing or higher densities, then with ‘better quality’ housing at existing or higher densities.

Keepmoat builders won the £10.8 million contract for the first phase of the development last year. On the Project Information Board for the development on the land cleared of 39 prefab homes, in the box marked ‘Project Scope’, they write that 57 new properties are being built, 18 for private sale, 5 for shared equity, with 34 marked simply ‘affordable’. The box marked ‘Community Involvement’ is blank.

On the edge of the estate is the Moving Prefab Museum and Archive, which was set up in December 2014 by Elisabeth Blanchet and Jane Hearn. Fortunately, since it is built on land owned by the Church of England, it is not part of the council’s demolition plans. On Saturday, 24 June the museum hosted an open event at which they showed films by Lucia Tambini and Elisabeth Blanchet that told the history of the estate and the campaign by residents to resist its demolition. Elisabeth had previously got in contact with ASH, and the organisers made the event part of this year’s Open Garden Estates, which we’ve been organising for the past three years. As we have in previous years, we advertised Open Garden Estates as part of the London Festival of Architecture under the title ‘Estates of Memory’. The online architectural magazine Dezeen listed Excalibur estate as one of its ‘top ten picks’ of the Festival, and every ticket on the Eventbrite invitation was taken. A map allowed visitors to take a self-guided tour around the estate, and after the films residents and organisers answered questions about the history of the prefabs and the campaign to save their homes.

The current Moving Prefab Museum replaced a previous version, which was founded in March 2014 in an original prefab as a temporary show-house that visitors could enter and get a sense of what life in a prefab home is like. The museum attracted hundreds of visitors from across London, the UK and the world, who came to get a last look at these unique and vanishing homes. This became a cause of concern for Lewisham council, as the museum became a source of information about how the residents had been tricked into voting for ‘regeneration’, and the house itself contradicted the council’s publicity about the ‘indecent’ state of the homes. The council-elected Chair of the Residents Association started to send Elisabeth threatening letters, windows were broken and objects stolen from the museum. Then in October 2014 the show-house burned down. The fire had been set on a retro record player with an accelerant, and declared by the police to be an arson attack. Even though the door to the house was double-locked – about as strong an indication of the identity of the perpetrator as you could ask for – the police didn’t investigate further.

One of the legal challenges to the redevelopment by campaigners is that the land on which the Excalibur estate is built was donated by Lord Foster, then the Governor-General of Australia, to the London County Council. In 1946 the LCC promised to return the land to parkland once what was then conceived of as temporary housing was demolished. However, the two records of this covenant on the land, one of which was deposited with Lewisham council, the other at the London Metropolitan archives, have both disappeared.

Architects for Social Housing

Sustainable Estates: Central Hill, West Kensington, Gibbs Green and Patmore

Part 2 of ASH’s presentation at the conference on Housing Justice, held at the Centre for Alternative Technology as part of the Small is Beautiful festival in Machynlleth, Wales, 8-11 June, 2017.

‘Economics’, meaning the management of a community’s resources, including those of the household, and ‘ecology’, the study of the relationships between organisms and their physical environment, are both derived from the Greek word oikos, meaning ‘household’. Rather than worship at the altar of regeneration, where communities are sacrificed to the demands of profit, we need to realign our understanding of economics with the notion of sustainability – at the centre of which is the household. Sustainability is the interrelationship of the economy, our communities and the environment.

Contrary to what we are constantly told, housing estates are neither inherently flawed in their design and construction, nor come to the end of their natural lifespan. Rather, through the process of managed decline, estates such as Central Hill in Crystal Palace have been deliberately run down by the local authority, in this case Lambeth Labour council. The resulting state of disrepair is then cited by those same authorities to support their argument that there is no alternative to demolition and redevelopment. The subsequent demonisation of council housing by the media as places of crime and anti-social behavior leads to the wider cultural acceptance of the estate demolition programme by the general public.

Your Central Hill Estate

Above left is a photograph tweeted by the local ward councillor and former Lambeth Cabinet Member for Housing, claiming that mould is one of the reasons Central Hill estate must be demolished. While to the right is a photograph tweeted by PRP, Lambeth’s chosen architectural practice, accompanied with the question: ‘Would you walk down this alleyway?’ In response to this concerted campaign of denigration, here is ASH’s alternative narrative confronting the propaganda of estate demolition with an alternate narrative of estate living:

These last two slides were taken on Central Hill estate at a yearly event ASH organises called Open Garden Estates, which a dozen estates across London hosted last year. Open Garden Estates is designed to challenge the negative propaganda around council estates by inviting the public to visit, walk around and meet the resident communities. It’s also an opportunity for residents to organise and promote their campaigns of resistance to demolition, as well as make contact with other estate communities facing the same threat to their homes.

Case Study 1: Central Hill Estate

To explore what a sustainable future for our housing estates might look like, ASH has spent the last two years working with residents on estates, investigating the social, economic and environmental consequences of estate regeneration, and proposing design alternatives to demolition. Ultimately, we propose ways of improving the homes, landscape and community facilities on the existing estate by providing options for building additional housing on the land without demolishing a single home or evicting a single resident. The plans we produce are put forward by the residents as part of their campaigns to save their homes. We call this model ‘Resistance by Design’.

Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace, south London, was designed by Ted Hollamby and Rosemary Stjernstedt in the 1960s around the existing trees and steep landscape. It is made up of pedestrian ‘ways’ off which pairs of stacked maisonettes are arranged across the hillside, with every home having a view of London to the north, and a courtyard to the south. The estate was therefore designed in relationship both to the landscape and to the environment. The estate, which achieves a high density of housing unusual for such a low-rise estate, is very popular with the residents, who enjoy the variety of private and outdoor spaces. Central Hill contains 472 homes, ranging from 1-bedroom studios to 6-bedroom houses, all of which have been condemned for demolition by Lambeth Labour council. In opposition to this decision, ASH’s proposal retains and refurbishes all the existing homes, keeps as many of the existing trees as possible, while making necessary improvements to the landscape and community facilities, all paid for by the rent or sale of a proportion of the new homes.

ASH’s proposal identifies the potential for between 200 and 240 new homes on Central Hill estate, roughly 40 per cent of the existing estate. In the aerial view above, infill housing (in yellow) is built on unused and derelict sites. Roof extensions (in pink) consist of one or two additional lightweight, pre-fabricated floors on top of some of the existing flats. These are situated around the edges of the estate, where their additional heights will not obscure residents’ views. Any issues that residents may have with the layout or the design of the estate can also be addressed through refurbishment and other design interventions.

The chimneys of the long-abandoned boiler house in the north-eastern corner of the estate are retained, providing a new entry to the estate that celebrates the past as well as looking to the future. The existing concrete structure could be sustainably refurbished to accommodate low-cost workspace on the ground floors, and a new building above could provide up to 28 wheelchair-accessible flats without any negative impact on the neighbouring buildings.

New housing around the edge of the estate is designed to provide up to 50 new homes, improving access into the estate from the main road up to Crystal Palace. A relatively traditional terrace of houses along the road will formally link the estate into the surrounding street pattern.

Light-weight pre-fabricated roof extensions will respond sensitively to the qualities of the existing architecture, estate layout and landscape. At our request, Arups, the engineers for the original estate, provided some preliminary desktop analysis of the existing building structures, and established that it is quite possible to install one or two stories on top of many of the existing buildings. The flat roofs on the remaining homes would have new green roofs.

ASH commissioned Model Environments, a firm of environmental engineers, to produce a report estimating how much embodied carbon is locked into the buildings of Central Hill estate as well as the emissions associated with the energy required for their demolition. They concluded that ‘demolishing a housing estate of some 450 homes will exact a high carbon price on the environment and detracts greatly from London Borough of Lambeth’s contribution to tackling climate change. This report shows that a conservative estimate for the embodied carbon of Central Hill estate would be around 7000 tonnes of CO2 e. Those are similar emissions to those from heating 600 detached homes for a year using electric heating, or the emissions savings made by the London Mayor’s RE:NEW retro-fitting scheme in a year and a quarter.’

ASH also commissioned quantity surveyors Robert Martell and Partners to cost our proposals, who calculated that the construction of 242 new homes and the proposed community facilities, plus the refurbishment of the existing homes and landscape, would amount to around £75 million. If we assume a similar construction cost of around £250,000 per home, the notional cost of rebuilding the 472 existing homes Lambeth council wants to demolish comes to nearly £120 million. That’s before a single new home has been built. And this doesn’t take account of the highly complex site conditions which necessitated one of the most expensive estate projects of its time when originally built, or the significant costs of demolition, which as far back as 2003 the government estimated at £50,000 per home.

Case Study 2: West Kensington & Gibbs Green Estates

There is a direct relationship between who writes the briefs, who designs the master-plans, and the future of our estates. ASH believes the most sustainable approach to the future of our estates is addressed by those who live there and have a direct stake in its future. The brief written by residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in west London made explicit the social, economic and environmental conditions they wished to see in the design for their estate. This placed sustainability at the heart of their People’s Plan.

Residents from West Ken and Gibbs Green have been fighting for 8 years against the demolition of their homes by developer Capco, which has included the estates within their £1.2 billion Earls Court development. In September 2015, ASH was approached by the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Community Homes – a Community Land Trust set up by the residents – to produce a feasibility study for additional homes and community facilities, as well as refurbishment and improvements to the existing homes and landscape. This feasibility study is the basis of the residents’ current application for the Right to Transfer the estates from Hammersmith and Fulham Labour council into their own ownership and management.

West Kensington and Gibbs Green are two neighbouring estates of around 760 homes for around 2000 residents. Architecturally, they are composed of a diverse range of building types, from 4-bedroom family houses with gardens to medium-rise, 2-storey maisonettes around communal courtyards and 1- and 2-bed flats in 10-12-storey towers.

One of the first things ASH did was to organise walks around the estate led by the residents, inviting them to show how they used the estate and tell us about the area.

During these walks we were invited inside residents’ homes to get an understanding of each of the typical layouts and how they worked. It was also an opportunity to hear the residents talk about what their homes and the estate meant to them. This revealed one of the key issues at the heart of the current problem: namely, that these are people’s homes that are being destroyed – not simply units for sale or investment, not just commodities to be exchanged, but well-loved places of use, experience and memory.

Over the following months ASH conducted six design workshops that were attended by around 200 residents in total. These allowed us to get to know the residents and to hear what they wanted to see happen to the estate, with the first event specifically discussing what ‘home’ means for them. As we progressed, these workshops allowed us to use a diverse range of media to draw and test ideas with the residents. We also communicated issues like planning and other constraints, as well as our own design ideas, so that residents could get an understanding of the process and a true picture of the options available to them.

ASH took all the information obtained during the course of these workshops and located the comments on a large map. This map grew in size and detail as our knowledge increased and the project unfolded, with green indicating things residents liked about the estate, red for things they didn’t like, and blue for opportunities and solutions.

We also asked residents to draw their routes through the estate, onto which we overlaid views and access boundaries and finally a map, which located all the places which the residents and ASH had identified as locations for improvements, infill or roof extensions.

In response to the residents’ needs and wishes, which we had gathered over the course of around 3 months of workshops, ASH produced specific designs for each identified site, then exhibited these at an event attended by over 60 residents, who were responsible for both presenting and commenting upon the proposals.

ASH’s final design proposes around 250-330 new homes for the estate – an increase of around 40 per cent on the existing homes. These proposals include roof extensions (indicated in pink) and infill housing (shown in yellow), whose interventions were also able to address concerns residents had with the layout of the existing estate.

Refurbishments to the existing blocks included winter gardens and roof extensions to the tower blocks, roof gardens to the existing lower maisonettes, as well as improved insulation, ventilation and passive renewable energy strategies. In addition to a renovated playground, ASH proposed new single-storey housing for elderly and disabled residents, or those who are downsizing due to the bedroom-tax – among other reasons – or in need of supported accommodation. This should in turn free up the larger homes for families that are currently living in overcrowded accommodation elsewhere on the estate. We also proposed converting some of the currently underused garages into workshops, providing income for the estate, as well as low-cost workspaces for residents, also improving the social qualities of this outdoor space. And a new infill block adjacent to an existing tower would provide a new community space on the ground floor, which could open onto Franklin Square for community events.

ASH’s proposals have been costed and a viability assessment produced, and we are confident that the rent or sale of a number of the 250-330 new homes would enable all the remaining homes to be refurbished and all the proposed improvements to the landscape to be paid for. ASH’s model of our design proposals now remains with the residents, who use it to describe the project to visitors – in the photograph above to Green Party candidate for London Mayor, Siân Berry, who as a member of the Greater London Authority has been very supportive of the project.

Case Study 3: Patmore Estate

Adding additional homes to estates, which as these two proposals demonstrate allows an estate to grow in size in a more sustainable way than full demolition and redevelopment, is clearly a long-term project. However, it’s important that the short-term conditions of life on an estate are also addressed and improved where necessary. Severe under-investment, poor management and managed decline all contribute to an increased negative perception of estates both among the residents and in the wider area, facilitating the arguments for their demolition.

To address these issues on the Patmore Estate in Wandsworth, south-west London, ASH is working with the residents to come up with proposals for the refurbishment, re-use and re-appropriation of existing but under-used spaces around the estate. In doing so we hope to come up with a vision for the future of Patmore that helps put it proudly back on the map as the historical heart of the area.

The Patmore Estate is a council estate of around 860 homes owned by Wandswoth Conservative council and managed by the Patmore Cooperative. It currently sits in the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea Opportunity Area, the largest development site in London and, sitting across the Thames from Pimlico, on some of the most valuable land in the world.

Having returned an overwhelmingly positive response to a resident survey a few years ago, the estate is not immediately threatened with demolition. But given its location 100 yards or so from Battersea power station, which is being redeveloped into luxury properties, the estate is in a very vulnerable position. Despite Wandsworth council’s false claims to the contrary, most of the homes are still waiting for the upgrade of their kitchens and bathrooms to the Decent Homes Standard, the roofs are leaking, and all the estate’s community halls have been closed down or privatised over a number of years, depriving the community of both facilities and self-esteem. All of which begs the question: whose opportunity is the opportunity area serving?

Patmore estate is composed of 28 buildings of 3-6 stories arranged around well-designed and maintained courtyards containing children’s playgrounds and landscaped communal gardens. The buildings fall into 11 building types, ranging from terraces of maisonettes to larger L shaped blocks, and are distinguished by their use of materials and balconies.

We started by doing a survey of the existing buildings, meeting residents who showed us around their homes and hearing what they liked about living there as well as the things they thought could be improved. For each building type we identified both refurbishment issues that need to be addressed and heritage architectural elements to be celebrated. The checkerboard balconies are a strong motif that is repeated across the whole estate, and the entrance canopies are a unique and eclectic use of stone and steel.

It became clear that on top of the need for refurbishment of the existing buildings, there was also a need to address a more strategic and infrastructural lack of communal facilities, which currently prevents the estate residents from making the most of the estate, and in particular from coming together collectively. The removal of such facilities is a common tactic used by local authorities to shut communities down in preparation for the demolition of their homes. During the course of our meetings with the residents, residents have identified a whole range of communal activities and facilities they would like to see reinstated or which they are keen to initiate on the estate.

These spaces are already serviced, so could accommodate cooking facilities for the local food bank (which currently distributes on the street); provide a place where people could teach, learn, cook and eat; workshop facilities, dog grooming, recycling, children’s after school clubs, and simply meeting rooms for hire or events. These potential DIY spaces generally extend out from the front of the buildings, around the side in some cases and into the communal gardens, providing excellent opportunities for children to be play overseen, or areas for other outdoor activities. We believe that – more than the production of a report that will make the argument for proper investment in Patmore estate – it is through residents taking control of the future of their homes that the resistance to their demolition and the social cleansing of the community from the area will be most effective.

Over the past few years ASH has explored a number of different strategies for creating possible futures for our social and council housing in this country, and fought for it to be acknowledged as part of a sustainable city that people can afford and want to live in. Collectively, we must continue to argue that it is the sustainability of their communities that is critical to our cities, and that architecture is always political.

Architects for Social Housing

11 Myths about London’s Housing Crisis

Part 1 of ASH’s presentation at the conference on Housing Justice, held at the Centre for Alternative Technology as part of the Small is Beautiful festival in Machynlleth, Wales, 8-11 June, 2017.

One of the biggest obstacles to coming up with sustainable solutions to the housing crisis is that almost everything said about the crisis by the people charged with solving it – knowingly or otherwise – is wrong. On Friday night one of the performers sang a folk song about the poverty of weavers, and I was reminded that I’d recently read that by the early Twentieth Century the English cotton industry produced enough cloth to make a suit of clothes for every man, woman and child on the planet – yet England itself didn’t grow cotton. The raw material came from plantations in the United States of America – a legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade – was woven into cloth by Lancashire weavers, then exported across the world to colonial markets. Yet the only people to make a profit from the cotton’s circulation in what was already a global economy were the British capitalists – the one link in this chain that did none of the labour to produce it. And against the use-value of the clothes as a product, the scale of its production meant its exchange-value as a commodity allowed British capital to undercut and ultimately destroy thousands of local textile industries across the globe. This is an example of the genius of monopoly capitalism, which today has become almost universally accepted as a universal good. It should remind us that capitalism does not only produce markets and goods, it also produces myths about itself. In proposing solutions to the housing crisis, therefore, it’s important to understand and dispel its myths, which as products of our neo-liberal ideology are not deviations from the truth, not misunderstandings of the truth, but deliberate productions of the opposite of the truth. Here are eleven myths about London’s housing crisis.

MYTH 1. London has a housing crisis

There is no housing crisis, if by ‘crisis’ we mean something that is out of our control. The shortage of housing and the corresponding boom in UK house prices and rents has been carefully prepared and legislated over a number of years to serve the interests and fill the pockets of those who have the most to gain from it, both politically and economically. Part of a wider discourse of crisis by which we are paralysed – including the financial crisis, the deficit crisis, the benefits crisis, the NHS crisis, the education crisis, the population crisis and (the mother of all crises) the environmental crisis – there is in actuality, rather than in the ideology of our society, a class war being waged through housing, and so far it is all going to plan. Far from being out of control, the so-called ‘housing crisis’ is well in hand.

FACTS. The estimated total value of the housing stock in England in January 2017 was £6.8 trillion, having increased by £1.5 trillion in the last three years alone. Equivalent to 3.7 times the gross domestic product of the UK, and nearly 60 per cent of the UK’s entire net wealth, the housing market now constitutes an economy in itself. £1.7 trillion of that housing stock is in London. According to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 26 of the 100 wealthiest people in the UK listed property as a major source of their wealth; while among the richest 1000 people in the UK there are 164 property moguls with a combined wealth of £143.7 billion. More than 100,000 UK land titles are registered to anonymous companies in British oversees territories like the Virgin Islands. Transparency International has been unable to identify the real owners of more than half of the more than 44,000 land titles registered to oversees companies, but 9 out of 10 of the properties were bought through tax havens. As an example of which, in 1 St. George (above), part of the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea opportunity area, 131 of the 210 apartments are owned by foreign investors, with a quarter held through offshore companies based in tax havens. Nobody is registered to vote in 184 of the properties.

MYTH 2. We need to build more homes to meet housing demand

The housing shortage is a crisis not of supply but of affordability. 56 per cent of London homes failing to meet this criterion in Shelter’s new Living Home Standard. In a survey published in the Guardian in February 2014, it is the high cost of housing, the lack of council housing and the excessive rents charged by private landlords that are the three biggest concerns for residents.

FACTS. London house prices have risen by 86 per cent since 2009, and at an average price of nearly £491,000 in January 2017 now cost fourteen-and-a-half times the average London salary of £33,720. In Inner London that price rises to £970,000. Home ownership in the UK peaked at 71 per cent in 2003 and has been declining ever since, with only 40 per cent of Londoners predicted to own their own home by 2025. Rents on London’s private market have risen by 9.6 per cent in the past two years alone to an average of £2,216 per month for a 2-bedroom home, double the national average. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have predicted that over the next quarter of a century rents will rise at twice the rate of incomes, and renters will be twice as likely to live in poverty. As of September 2016, a total of 73,000 households in England, including 115,000 children, were living in temporary accommodation. In London alone, 250,000 households are currently on housing waiting lists, 240,000 households with 320,000 children are living in overcrowded accommodation, and 53,000 households with 78,000 children are homeless and living in temporary accommodation.

MYTH 3. Building more homes will push prices down

Building more homes does not push house and rental prices down. In May 2016 a study of US cities that increased their housing density showed that, rather than reducing demand and with it prices, it actually increased both. While the law of supply and demand describes competitive markets responding to human needs, London’s financialised housing market, flooded by global capital, is driven by profit margins. Building more properties for home ownership, Buy to Let and capital investment will only push house and rental prices up. Despite this, all the major political parties are agreed that a massive increase in house building is the solution to the housing crisis, with both the Conservative and Labour parties outbidding each other in their promises to build 1 million new homes over the next five years.

FACTS. According to the British Property Federation, 61 per cent of all new homes sold in London in 2013 were bought solely as an investment. Estimates by real estate firm Savills of London’s housing forecast over the next five years shows that for lower-prime properties (£1,320,000) there is a demand for 4,000 units and a supply of 6,500; for upper mainstream properties (£850,000) there is a demand for 7,000 and a supply of 9,000; for mid-mainstream properties (£490,000) there is a demand for 14,500 and a supply of 13,250; for lower mainstream properties (£315,000) there is a demand for 17,000 and a supply of just 100; and for sub-market rent properties there is a demand for 20,000 and a supply of 5,700, a shortfall of 14,300.

MYTH 4. There is a lack of land on which to build new homes

Far from there being a lack of land to build on, in December 2016 the top ten house builders in the UK were sitting on land with planning permission sufficient to build over 404,000 new properties, and held option agreements with landowners on enough land to build at least another 480,000. Land, not materials or labour, determines the value of property, and the less there is of it the more it costs, and the higher the price of the properties built on it.

FACTS. Contrary to what we’re constantly told, the UK is anything but crowded. 10 per cent of England’s land is classified as urban; just 2.27 per cent of that land is built upon, and only 1.1 per cent is used for homes. Twice as much land, nearly 2 per cent of England, is taken up by golf courses as by housing. Persimmon Homes, currently sitting on land for 92,400 homes, built just 5,171 new properties in 2016, yet its pre-tax profits have risen from £144 million in 2011 to £774.8 million in 2016. Taylor Wimpey, sitting on land for 77,805 homes, built 14,112 properties last year, and its pre-tax profits have risen from just £89.9 million in 2011 to £732.9 million in 2016. The Barratt Group, sitting on land for 71,351 homes, built just 7,180 properties in 2016, yet its pre-tax profits have risen from £42.7 million in 2011 to £565 million in 2016. And the Berkeley Group, sitting on land for 42,125 homes, built a mere 3,350 properties in 2016, yet its pre-tax profits have risen from £136.2 million in 2011 to £530.9 million in 2016. In total, the pre-tax profits of the four largest builders in the UK – who are also the four largest land-bankers – were over £2.6 billion in 2016, a more than six-fold increase in just five years; yet between them they built less than 30,000 homes in the UK last year.

MYTH 5. Council estates are breeding grounds for crime

There is no causal relationship between the architecture of post-war council estates and anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, crime or rioting, as both central government and local authorities claim as justification for their demolition and redevelopment. Housing poverty, cuts to benefits, lack of maintenance, closure of amenities, aggressive and racist policing and stereotypes propagated by our press and media are the cause of social problems on estates – not architecture.

FACTS. Crime rates on council estates are consistently lower than in the surrounding area. Since its regeneration after the 1985 riots, Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham has had one of the lowest crime rates of any urban area in the UK. In a survey of the estate’s residents in 2003, only 2 per cent said they considered the area unsafe, the lowest percentage for any area in London. The estate also has the lowest rent arrears of any part of the borough of Haringey. As the Indices of Deprivation 2015 interactive map shows (above), crime rates on the estate are in fact far lower than in surrounding areas where terraced housing predominates. Not only are estates not ‘breeding grounds’ for anti-social behaviour, crime and drug-dealing, but the close-knit communities that form within them significantly reduce crime rates. Yet Broadwater Farm has been targeted for demolition in the government’s Estate Regeneration National Strategy because of its proximity to the 2011 riots, and together with the Northumberland Park and Sky City estates it is to be redeveloped as part of the £2 billion ‘regeneration’ deal Haringey Labour council has made with international property developer Lendlease.

MYTH 6. Social housing is subsidised by the state

Far from being subsidised by the state, the rents on most post-war estates paid off the cost of their construction and debt interest years ago, and are in fact making a profit for councils and housing associations. It is the Right to Buy council homes, the Help to Buy shared ownership properties, the Housing Benefit paid to private landlords, the Homes and Community Agency and Greater London Authority grants for housing associations to build so-called affordable housing, the local authority funding for estate regeneration schemes, and the transfer of public land into private ownership that is being subsidised by public money – not council estates.

FACTS. 25 per cent of the nearly 2 million council homes purchased under the Right to Buy are now being rented out for significantly higher rents by private landlords. A report released in January 2013 revealed that in London 36 per cent of such homes were being rented back from private landlords by local authorities trying to house their ever increasing numbers of homeless constituents. A quarter of the people renting in the UK now rely on housing benefit to meet the cost of their accommodation, and in the year 2015-16 £20.9 billion of public money was spent on housing benefit in England alone. But with 20 per cent of homes now being privately rented compared to just 17 per cent social rented, and with private rents now double social rents in Britain, the bulk of that money goes straight into the pockets of private landlords. Meanwhile, over the next five years the Homes and Communities Agency has promised £4.1 billion for the Help to Buy 135,000 shared ownership homes on estate redevelopments like Woodberry Down (above). These subsidies are available to any household with an income up to £90,000 in London, or £80,000 in the rest of the UK. A further £350 million has been allocated for Rent to Buy. Nothing is available for homes for social rent.

MYTH 7. We need to build more affordable housing

So-called ‘affordable housing’ is unaffordable to the estate residents whose homes for social rent, at around 30 per cent of market rate, are being demolished to make way for it. Yet the election manifestos of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties are all agreed that ‘affordable’ housing is the solution to the housing crisis. Not one manifesto mentions either building housing for social rent or stopping the loss of homes for social rent through estate demolition.

FACTS. Targeted by the London Mayor at 35 per cent of new developments, affordable housing now includes 25 per cent shared ownership on properties which in Inner London are selling for around £700,000 for a 2-bedroom home; rent at up to 80 per cent of market rate; and London Living rent at a third of the borough’s average household income with the additional obligation to save for a mortgage. This Living Rent equates to £680 per month per person in the borough of Haringey, £770 in Hackney, £895 in Lambeth, £950 in Southwark, and £1,170 in Tower Hamlets. Even then, not a single London borough met its affordable housing quotas in 2015, with just 13 per cent of new homes approved as such – a 24-year low – largely due to builders and developers claiming anything higher was ‘financially unviable’. In the year ending March 2016, just 6,550 homes for social rent were built in the whole of England.

MYTH 8. New-build developments are better quality

Far from being high quality, new developments are increasingly of significantly poorer quality than the estates demolished to make way for them. And rather than improving their living standards, studies show that estate redevelopment consistently has a negative effect on the mental, physical and economic well being of residents, with housing costs dramatically increased for those who are re-housed, and communities increasingly socially cleansed from developments they cannot afford either to rent or buy.

FACTS. Solomon’s Passage in Peckham, built by Wandle, a housing association supported by the London Mayor, is being pulled down after only six years due to water damage. Orchard Village in Rainham, still being built on the demolished Mardyke estate by the Clarion Housing Group, is already facing demands by residents to be demolished because of its numerous failings. Portobello Square in Notting Hill is facing the same. And Oval Quarter in Brixton (above), where 503 properties for private sale and shared ownership were built on 305 demolished council homes on the Myatts Field North estate, has had residents complaining of numerous problems, including noise pollution, rodent infestation, faulty wiring, water leaks, a lack of hot water, a lack of internet and phone access, a lack of servicing that has been contracted out to private providers, a lack of facilities for residents with disabilities, numerous breaches of health and safety regulations, as well as being locked into 45 year contracts with private power company E.ON that has driven many of them into fuel poverty. While leaseholders offered on average £144,500 for their demolished homes have been unable to return to the new development, this month a 2-bedroom apartment in Oval Quarter was being advertised for £595,000.

MYTH 9. Estate refurbishment is financially unviable

Far from being financially unviable, the refurbishment of estates has repeatedly been demonstrated to cost a fraction of their redevelopment, with none of the damage to the environment caused by their demolition. Local authorities have not been forced to demolish estates because cuts to their budgets by central government mean they can’t afford to maintain them. Like austerity, London’s programme of estate demolition is a political choice, not an economic necessity.

FACTS. In the report commissioned by Southwark Labour council but not presented to the Cabinet in 2005, Levitt Bernstein Architects showed that, at around £186 million, the cost of refurbishing the Aylesbury estate in Camberwell up to the Decent Homes Standard was between 41 and 58 per cent that of the estimated cost of its demolition and redevelopment (above). Since then Southwark council has spent £46.8 million to acquire, demolish and redevelop a mere 112 of the estate’s 2,700 homes at a cost of £417,000 per home. This compares with the £20,260 per home the council has spent refurbishing 611 homes up to the Decent Homes Standard elsewhere on the estate.

MYTH 10. Estate regeneration is the solution to the housing crisis

Estate regeneration is not a solution to the housing crisis, it is producing that crisis. The motivation for demolishing and redeveloping estates is not the housing of London’s rising population at higher densities in more and better homes, but to provide investment opportunities for global capital and the enormous profits to be made from building high-value properties on some of the most valuable land in the world. Not only is there no housing crisis, but it’s not about housing.

FACTS. On the Silwood, Bermondsey Spa, Elmington, Wood Dene, Heygate, North Peckham and Aylesbury estates a net loss of 4,275 homes for social rent has resulted from Southwark Labour council’s regeneration programme. However, the 3,168 demolished homes for social rent it has promised to rebuild are in the process of being turned into ‘affordable’ rent, bringing the actual loss of homes for social rent to 7,442. In addition, the Greater London Authority has estimated that Southwark will lose an additional 2,051 homes for social rent as a direct result of regeneration schemes the council is currently proposing on the Old Kent Road opportunity area, making the loss of homes for social rent closer to 9,500. That’s in just one London borough. According to our own research, as of June 2017 there are 155 London housing estates that are under threat of demolition, privatisation or social cleansing by Labour councils alone (above).

MYTH 11. To increase their housing capacity estates must be demolished

Estates do not have to be demolished to increase their housing capacity. Through our design alternatives for infill and roof extensions on Knight’s Walk, West Kensington, Gibbs Green, Northwold and Central Hill estates, Architects for Social Housing has shown that we can increase their housing capacity by up to 45 per cent without demolishing a single existing home or evicting a single resident, while at the same time generating the funds from the rent or sale of new builds to pay for the neglected refurbishment of the estate.

FACTS. Details of some of ASH’s design alternatives to demolition are discussed in the second part of our presentation, ‘Sustainable Estates’.

Architects for Social Housing

Clusterfuck! Labour’s Shameless Council Estate Rip-off

A version of this article by long-time ASH member Lolly Oii was first published in the new release of Class War, the most dangerous tabloid in Britain and the only paper that speaks to the working class about working-class struggle. We liked it so much we asked the author if we could publish it on the ASH blog and she said yes. This is one of the best summaries we’ve read about estate demolition, what it’s doing to our communities and who is responsible.

Well, where do we begin to untangle this clusterfuck of an issue? Yes, we know there’s a lot to blame Maggie for – introducing the ‘right to buy’ and blocking any cash generated by sales from being used to build new homes; but under carefully hidden layers there’s a lot more blame that actually falls directly at Labour’s feet. In 1997 Tony Blair and his asset-stripping cartel quietly started dismantling council housing using a two-part mechanism that was carried on by Gordon Brown and is continued to this day by Labour-run town halls.

A few hours after winning the 1997 election, Blair turned up at the Heygate Estate near Elephant and Castle to make his inaugural speech (packed full of lies) promising to help the so-called ‘forgotten people’ living on council estates. The only people Blair actually helped were the banks, property developers, housing associations and Oxbridge graduates who dominate council-estate and housing-trust management and policy papers. This privileged elite have asset-stripped our council housing and displaced the working class while making obscene personal fortunes in the process.

On 15 April, 2011, the lies of Blair’s inaugural speech unravel as the demolition of the Heygate Estate gets started. 1,212 council homes are destroyed, including those of 189 short-changed leaseholders, scattering a working-class community of over 3,000 to the four winds. Southwark Labour council’s leader, Peter John, sold the 25-acre estate to the notorious global property developers Lendlease for a paltry £50 million. It cost Southwark council £51.44m just to get rid of residents and demolish the buildings! Lendlease will generously be providing a total of 79 homes for social rent. Meanwhile, we suspect the total number of private homes built on the ruins of the Heygate will be quietly nudged up from the currently stated figure of 2,535 to create bigger profits.

So much for Blair’s ‘forgotten people’ speech. What happened at the Heygate was the mass social cleansing of a working-class community by a Labour council. This is being repeated all over London and beyond: handing over publicly-owned land and building homes for the rich to create huge profits for offshore property speculators, the middle class and the wealthy.

Labour’s Two-part Mechanism

Part One: A multi-billion-pound property giveaway

A council will deliberately withhold repairs and maintenance on an estate – called ‘managed decline’ – to create a reason to push through the ‘stock transfer’ of that estate to a housing association or trust, without any caveats safeguarding tenants or publicly owned land. These housing associations have successfully lobbied the government to let them morph into hardcore predatory property developers, demolishing estates and displacing communities to rebuild mainly private housing, while reducing the level of social housing in the new developments. And it’s much easier for a housing trust to evict tenants than it is for a council.

Part Two: Regeneration

Again, a council practices ‘managed decline’ and then promises residents it will replace the run-down estate with much better shiny new homes. But these new developments built on council ruins consist mainly of private and unaffordable housing. The paltry token amount of social housing will be badly built and shoe box-sized, and comes with further problems, such as the loss of a secure lifetime tenancy, rent increases of over 35 per cent, much higher (uncapped) service charges and, thanks to locked-in contracts with suppliers, expensive energy bills. These conditions have driven those few tenants who actually manage to return to their estate after regeneration deeper into debt.

Regeneration is Social Cleansing

London’s inter-generational working-class communities and small businesses – be they white, black, brown or other – are being eviscerated to build homes for the rich and retail units for corporations. And what has been going on in London is spreading across the UK. Don’t be fooled by councils’ ‘regeneration’ promises (they’re a pack of lies). Don’t believe the offers of more homes (they’ll be unaffordable) and jobs (on minimum wage and zero-hour contracts). Never forget that ‘regeneration’ is totally ring fenced upwards to benefit the banks, developers, elites, estate agents and the middle classes.

Let’s debunk these lies spouted by council regeneration officers. As Architects for Social Housing have demonstrated with their design alternatives to demolition, it’s actually much cheaper to refurbish existing homes and build additional ‘infill’ housing. And on a social level good housing improves people’s well being, creates less damage to the environment than demolition, and allows councils to retain their assets for future generations as well as generating additional revenue. Preserving existing communities is imperative. This means that developers need to be ‘educated’ by us – by any means necessary – to fit in around us, as opposed to being enabled by councils to displace working-class communities hundreds of miles away from our neighbourhoods, only to then slap crappy light-blocking towers of concrete and glass with badly built, overpriced shoe-box flats as and where they fancy. Who the hell needs or wants ‘Poor Doors’ and the social apartheid that comes with them? Don’t forget that many MPs are private landlords – and they won’t act against their vested interests in increasing the housing crisis with this multi-billion pound, council-home destroying, asset stripping Ponzi scheme who’s name is ‘regeneration’.

Now here’s the thing. When property developers – many of whom are also offshore tax-dodgers – build private luxury homes on the ruins of council estates, they get government subsidies and incentives. And the rich and middle class who buy these properties also get government support through the ‘help to buy’ scheme. Yet it’s the same two groups who look down their noses and sneer at us living in council housing as if we’re ‘scroungers’ living in ‘subsidised’ housing. The reality is exactly the opposite!

From Hackney to Haringey and Lambeth to Croydon, in London it’s Labour-run councils that are proving to be the most enthusiastic social cleansers. In September 2016 help for estate residents came from an unexpected quarter when the Tory Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, refused to allow Southwark Labour Council’s compulsory purchase orders that would pave the way for the demolition of 2,400 homes on the Aylesbury estate. And guess what? Southwark Labour council chose to challenge Javid’s decision in the High Court, paying its legal fees with the council tax of Southwark residents. The case was due to be heard on 9 May, but on 28 April Javid, a former Board Member of Deutsche Bank International with an annual salary of £3 million, quietly dropped his objections.

Labour is Lying

Where the fuck is Saint Corbyn of Corduroy in all of this? If you think the Labour leader will save you, you’re in for a bitter surprise. Jeremy Corbyn has remained totally silent on the subject of estate demolition, refusing to support or engage with London’s estate communities. Worse still, he has openly supported and posed for photos with London Labour councils’ villainous Cabinet Members for Regeneration, who in reality are lackeys for developers neatly embedded within council departments.

You might have been fooled into thinking there’d be a little help from the Labour Mayor of London, a former human rights lawyer whose dad was a bus driver and who boasts about growing up in a council home to get votes. But unbeknown to the general public, Sadiq Khan’s housing policies have been written by elite think-tank the Institute of Public Policy Research and toff estate agents Savills – both of who have called for the demolition of every council estate in London. In the run-up to his election in May 2016, Khan made repeated promises to ‘fix the housing crisis’, while his campaign was quietly being bankrolled to the tune of £92,000 by property developers and private slumlords. He promised estate communities that estate regeneration would only take place with resident support demonstrated by full and transparent consultation, and that demolition could only then go ahead if it did not result in a net loss of social housing or where all other options have been exhausted, with full rights to return for displaced tenants and a fair deal for leaseholders. But he was offering false hope. Fast-forward to December 2016, when the Mayor released his Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, and hey presto! – the promises are nowhere to be seen.

Khan’s actions since taking office clearly demonstrate that he will not defend working-class Londoners’ homes from demolition; or thousands of working-class workplaces and businesses built from nothing (like Eric & Leigh Miller at Gallions Point Marina at the Albert Dock in Newham); or the thousands of highly productive skilled trades and small businesses located in London’s railway arches (like those evicted in Hackney for a pretentious empty Fashion Hub paid for by riot funding money); or Brixton Arches traders fighting eviction by Lambeth Labour council for regeneration by Network Rail, which is shoving small independent businesses out and moving corporate businesses in; or the Black Cab Drivers directly under threat by the non tax-paying Uber Corporation and the City Of London. Khan – or, as many Londoner’s now call him because of the devastation he’s creating, Khanage – is in cahoots with big business, banks and developers.

Austerity is Class War

At the same time that they’re trying to knock our estates down, we’re faced with reforms in the name of ‘austerity’ and multilayered lies spouted by the Tory government – lies that are then parroted and joyfully executed by Labour MPs, mayors and councillors, and reinforced by TV and national and local press mainly owned by five tax-dodging media barons. The purpose is to brainwash, distract and divide the nation by laying the blame on the poorest in this country while keeping the heat off the guilty who actually created this entire toxic situation – the politicians, who’ve got off scott-free, and who continue to steal and carpetbag our homes, money, NHS, etc, for their mates in the banks and private corporations.

In April 2017 a new wave of deliberately cruel welfare legislation came into force. It abolished housing benefit for 18-21 year-olds, limited child-tax credits to two children, slashed bereavement allowance, scrapped the ‘eldest child premium’, reduced Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments for claimants in the work-related activity group, requires women who have conceived a child due to rape to fill in an eight-page ‘rape assessment’ form to stop their tax credits being withdrawn, and rolled out the disastrous Universal Credit. What we are witnessing is an active joint-enterprise class war from the Tory and Labour elites designed to push the working class out of London by removing estate homes and destroying our work spaces. If it’s not stopped, this active joint enterprise between the Tory and Labour elites to push the working class out of London by demolishing our council homes and work spaces will leave us deeper in debt and trapped in minimum-wage, zero-hour contract jobs, effectively making the working class modern-day slaves to banks, rent and corporations.

There is zero political opposition ready to right any of the eight years of heinous wrongs unleashed on us in the wake of the financial crash of 2008, including the state-backed mass euthanasia of the disabled, poor and vulnerable. The removal of legal aid now allows the powerful to screw us even harder with impunity. So fuck the Tories! And fuck fucking Labour too! Both are elites with their snouts buried so deep in the trough of the lucrative public gravy train that they’ll lie, maim, destroy and kill to keep hold of the power and financial privileges that come with being in public office.

Remember, there’s only a year to go till the next round of local elections. A great time to kick the political elite’s arses – and have some fun! Did you know there is only one Labour-run council in the entire UK that has not imposed cuts to local services? It’s in Scotland, where Labour only have one MP left. Ayrshire Labour Council has been forced to ring-fence services, cut councillors’ vanity projects and focus instead on doing right by the people of Ayrshire.

All this is very different from those parts of the UK where Labour dominate local and other regional councils and treat working-class constituents with total disdain, imposing barbaric cuts and then having the barefaced cheek to swan off in packs to swanky property fairs – like MIPIM in Cannes or the London Real Estate Forum in Berkeley Square – and shameless town-hall champagne jollies at our expense, where they sell off council estates, parks, libraries, schools, community spaces and our future generations’ community assets to international, tax-dodging, speculating, property developers. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the billions that councils waste on vanity projects fawning and pandering to the middle class, while the most vulnerable in our communities are denied essential services to pay for this rubbish.

Everybody Out

Just imagine if people in London and other Labour strongholds started to organise strategically and rebel constructively against the party’s tyrannical cuts to public services, asset-stripping, gross malfeasance, and the social cleansing being inflicted on working-class communities by London’s Labour-dominated town halls. It’s time to remind these council members and mayors what they are: public servants. Time to make them sweat. Time to make them nervous. Time to get the piss-taking Oxbridge and PPE elite piss-taking toffs that have taken over our fucking town halls sacked and give them a good long taste of our reality: zero-hours contract jobs on minimum wage or off to the job centre for a life on unemployment benefit and state-backed DWP abuse!

There’s a long, hot summer coming. So get off the sofa, switch off the lobotomising TV propaganda and get out on the street. If you’re going to a housing demo – or any demo – make sure you bring your own personal placard or banner with what you want to say. Do not, under any circumstances, accept or hold any placards branded by the Socialist Workers Party, Defend Council Housing, Axe the Housing Act, Radical Housing Network, Momentum, Radical Assembly, Unite the Union or any other Labour-affiliated organisation. There are lots of dodgy predatory political distraction merchants out there, and they’re part of the reason we’ve seen no real change in politics over the past 35 years, only growing inequality.

Remember, if you live on a council estate the rich and the middle class want you out of your home so they can demolish it and piss all over your manor. So keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs. It always starts with an invasion of hipsters and artists, overpriced craft beer and poncey coffee shops. Then your local market is destroyed and replaced with some bullshit ‘farmer’s market’. These moves are usually funded by the council to serve their gentrifying agenda. And before you know it – hey presto! Your estate is up for ‘regeneration’. Ain’t nothing wrong with change, but not if it excludes the local community. Fight for what’s yours by any means necessary – and do not allow yourselves to be excluded from your own neighbourhood!

Get angry. Don’t be afraid to find your voice and shout and curse the Tory government, bent Labour councils and politicians. Get out there and make some noise, have a laugh and take the piss out of them. For too long the political elite, mayors and town hall dictators have been laughing at us and robbing us blind in the process. The only way out of this political sea of shit and the ongoing daily misery is to do things ourselves. The only way forward is class solidarity, mutual aid and self-determination.

Lolly Oii
Architects for Social Housing