Manifesto

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.

E-mail: info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk

Twitter: @ASH_Housing

Facebook: ASH (Architects for Social Housing)

Events: http://www.opengardenestates.com

Ethics of Estate Regeneration: ASH response to the RIBA

SaveCressinghamProtestMarch-17

Dhruv Sookhoo, RIBA Housing Group
RIBA Journal (2 June, 2016)

‘Getting to grips with the ethics of estate regeneration is as pressing as the practical means of achieving it.’

‘The ethical dilemma for architects engaged in estate regeneration is the need to balance the rights of existing residents, who have invested socially and financially in their neighbourhoods, with the unvoiced claims of potential new neighbours desperate for a home.’

The balance between existing residents and their future neighbours isn’t about the rights of the former and the claims of the latter, but about the ability of each to afford the new housing being built on the land currently being occupied by the homes of residents. This isn’t an ethical dilemma for architects but an economic determination of who gets to live in the housing they design. Residents’ right to return to the new development, which has been brandished by everyone from Michael Heseltine and Brandon Lewis to Sadiq Khan, is meaningless if they cannot afford to do so. Nor is it clear for what potential neighbours the new housing is being built when the prices preclude all but the very wealthiest investors.

‘Estate regeneration can be a controversial, complex, bruising business. Architects engaged in it have recently found themselves accused by activists and the media of being complicit in social cleansing, heritage heresy, crimes against sustainability and profiteering. Residents’ ongoing negative experiences of estates resulting from poor construction, maintenance failures or perceived systematic underinvestment may provide a dismal basis for forecasting the new project team’s intent or ability to create socially equitable, liveable neighbourhoods.’

Describing the role of estate regeneration in social cleansing as the accusations of ‘activists’ is inaccurate and dismissive when numerous housing groups, estate resident campaigns, and even the odd architectural practice, have demonstrated the truth of the claim. Equally, systematic underinvestment in council estates isn’t ‘perceived’ but a fact verifiable by council records and the testimony of estate communities and their rejected requests for the refurbishment of their homes. In this context, ‘socially equitable’ and ‘liveable’ are abstract terms that occlude the real source of the managed decline of housing estates by councils preparatory to their demolition and redevelopment.

‘Architects anxious about slotting into a past narrative of social decline may choose to avoid regeneration projects altogether. However, the incoming architect’s decision to accept a regeneration commission should be based on how likely they feel able to positively influence what happens next. Wrestling socially responsible, architecturally worthy projects from years of decline or underinvestment requires our most capable, morally grounded architects. Withdrawing for fear of unjust disapproval or project complexities is an abdication of responsibility for a widely regarded societal challenge: providing more, high quality homes where they are needed most.’

One would hope that the anxiety of architects is of rather less concern to the profession than the uncertainty, threats, intimidation, lies, depression and fear that residents live through during the ten or more years of the regeneration process. ‘Morally grounded’ is, again, a meaningless term, and an inappropriate one for the RIBA to use given its recent election to its Presidency of Ben Derbyshire, who as Managing Partner of HTA Design is overseeing the redevelopment of the Aylesbury Estate, one of the worst examples of architects collaborating in the social cleansing of an estate community. Characterising residents’ disapproval of plans to demolish their homes as ‘unjust’ betrays a set of pre-existing assumptions about the reasons for that rejection incompatible with an ‘ethical’ approach to regeneration. And taking responsibility for a societal challenge means not only designing more and better homes, but above all ensuring that they are homes people who need them can afford to rent or buy, starting with the people whose existing homes are being demolished to make way for them. ‘High quality’ homes, like ‘affordable homes’, has become a euphemism for building up-market investments as part of the social cleansing of a community, and its uncritical use here betrays the author’s complicity in this process, or at best an ignorance of its language.

Consider all options

‘Being passive is not an option. Architects may be reluctant to exceed their brief, but remaining ethically active throughout the regeneration process means embracing a strategic role within the project team. According to Claire Bennie, “Architects are often brought into the regeneration process when the client mindset appears unshakeable. But architects have a vital role in informing the context for decision-making and ensuring all options are considered.”’

Characterising the role of architects in the regeneration process as ‘ethical’ risks reducing their agency to one of individual conscience. This ignores their position as employees within a practice under the direction and in the employment of a company director. Judging by their current role in estate regeneration schemes, relying on the consciences of Steve Tompkins, Alex Mae, Ben Derbyshire, Andy von Bradsky and others is unlikely to result in architects being ‘ethically active’. On the contrary, estate regeneration is a social, not an ethical, issue, and as such should be covered under the RIBA Code of Professional Conduct, in which the current duty of architects to ‘have a proper concern and due regard for the effect that their work may have on the local community’ (paragraph 3.1) falls well short of the strictures that should be observed, much as a doctor does under a Hippocratic oath, prohibiting architects from working on estate regenerations that are a means of social cleansing. By this standard, the collaboration of Haworth Tompkins on the demolition and redevelopment of Robin Hood Gardens, Mae on Knight’s Walk, HTA Design on the Aylesbury Estate, Karakusevic Carson on the Fenwick estate, PRP Architects on Central Hill estate, or RIBA Sterling-Prize nominated dRMM on the Heygate estate – to name just a few practices – would be professionally prohibited.

‘Using the design process as a vehicle to frame, model and test decision-making and assumptions should encourage enlightened clients to be more self-critical about their objectives and how best to achieve them while addressing competing moral claims. Acting ethically is a practical business. For example, it is perfectly reasonable for architects undertaking an initial phasing study to ask how residents will be temporarily housed during regeneration to ensure their work minimises social disruption. It is also sensible to ask about long-term maintenance funding to explore whether design intent can be sustained.’

Relying on ‘enlightened clients’ that are interested only in increasing their profits and reducing their obligations is no answer to the ethics, or more accurately the social responsibilities, of estate regeneration. ‘Moral claims’ have yet to stop a single step in the march of international capital that has transformed people’s homes into commodities on the property market driving the crisis in housing. And while the issue of resident housing during the so-called ‘decanting’ process (so-called because residents rarely return), and the setting aside of funds for the future maintenance of new developments, are both important, more important still is the financial ability, as distinct from the legal right, of existing residents to return to new housing that, under the guise of ‘high quality’, are being built far beyond their economic reach.

‘Being analytical provides clients with the added value expected of an architect by flushing out overlooked practical problems. It may also allay your fears about potential hidden agendas.’

Such ‘agendas’ aren’t hidden, they simply need looking for. As an example of which, when HTA Design, under the direction of newly elected RIBA President Ben Derbyshire, took on the brief for the Aylesbury estate redevelopment, he ignored both the 2001 ballot in which 73 per cent of residents on a 76 per cent turnout voted for refurbishment and against demolition; as well as the 2009 submission by Aylesbury Tenants and Leaseholders First to the Government Inspector on the ‘systematic failings of the Aylesbury Area Action Plan consultation process.’ Despite this, in November 2015 Ben Derbyshire wrote in the Architects’ Journal: ‘Although we were not involved in the process that led to the decision to redevelop Aylesbury, we have absolutely no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the process that gave rise to the Area Action Plan, which was adopted by Southwark and the residents of the estate as the basis for the redevelopment brief. Indeed we believe this enabled HTA Design as masterplanners, and the team of architects, including HTA Design, Hawkins\Brown, Mae, and Duggan Morris, to develop the adopted Area Action Plan proposals into the scheme now approved by the council and supported by the majority of residents.’

‘Unfounded criticism can overshadow regeneration projects, sapping morale within architecture practices, making clients risk averse and potentially inhibiting a full exploration of all options necessary to discover the best possible solution for residents. Promoting a reflective approach to design decision-making within practice, including openly evaluating the veracity of criticism against evidence built through design, may prove a powerful tonic. If, having examined the evidence, you find external criticism justified or your client closed to other, deliverable options, it may be worth considering your involvement.’

Describing such criticism as ‘unfounded’, just as describing resident disapproval as ‘unjust’, betrays, once again, the allegiances, or at best assumptions, of the author. The ‘exploration of all options’, as was demonstrated on the Cressingham Gardens, Knight’s Walk and Central Hill regenerations, is little more than window dressing when those options are consistently, and without consultation with residents, reduced to full demolition when the alternatives are deemed to be financially unviable for the profit margins of the developers and the political motivations of the local authority. Here again, the ethical duties of individual architects are meaningless in the face of the political and financial motivations driving estate demolition. Recent history has shown that, under the obligation of a brief – a duty inscribed in the ARB Standards of Professional Conduct (paragraph 5.1) – architects are the last people to evaluate the veracity of criticism from residents. On the contrary, judging by the present article and similar statements made by leaders in the profession, it is architects, and not the residents they presume to enlighten through their designs, who require the tonic. And where one might hope to read a recommendation to architects to refuse to participate in the shameful collaboration of the profession in the social cleansing of our housing estates, the advice to them to ‘consider your involvement’ is almost laughable in its timidity.

Demolition debate

‘Architects’ self-awareness about their own predispositions is required to honestly challenge pro-demolition and anti-demolition dogma and to make evidence-based recommendations to clients and residents on a case by case basis. It is not inherently unethical to weigh up the long-term benefits to existing and future residents against losing what is perceived by the architectural community as a valuable building, and recommend demolition. Nevertheless architects are reluctant to participate in projects requiring the demolition of buildings that represent historical social progress, receive international acclaim or that have been personally instructive. But where demolition and rebuild allows for a purpose-built project able to benefit existing residents, provide new homes and make better use of resources in the long term, failing to at least consider demolition is potentially short-sighted. Indeed, preserving a building solely for its architectural pedigree or its value to the architecture profession’s past self-concept could be construed as self-serving and stifling our ability to realise socially responsible public projects in the present.’

Recommendations to clients based on evidence are to be welcomed, but given the refusal by architectural practices to consider any evidence except that presented by the client, whether local authority, housing association or property developer, it’s unlikely that they will challenge the dogma of estate demolition propagated by the media, politicians, think tanks, housing commissions, and all the other bodies influencing public opinion in its favour. Nor are the alternatives that require weighing by architects a choice between the long-term benefits to residents and the historical value of the buildings they live in, but between the ability of existing residents to continue to live on the estate and being priced out by the demolition and replacement of their homes by unaffordable replacements. ASH has demonstrated that through infill and build-over it is possible to increase the housing capacity on council estates by 40-50 per cent without demolishing a single existing home, and therefore accommodate the housing needs of future residents. Characterising estate regeneration as a choice between doing nothing and demolition is itself an example of the dogma the evidence of design can challenge, if only architects look outside the brief of clients interested only in the profit margins high-quality developments will accrue for investors.

‘Architects should, however, beware of demolition as a politically expedient, potentially inappropriate means of dealing with so-called sink estates. A growing body of work demonstrates that where finance permits and building fabric is sound, architects can effectively address social stigma and poor energy performance without unnecessary social disruption or loss of heritage. Collective Architecture’s fabric first high-rise refurbishment of Cedar Street, Glasgow is targeting Passivehaus EnerPHit and questioning the tendency to demolish within the city. Ryder’s Bolam Coyne refurbishment brought part of Erskine’s listed Byker Wall, Newcastle back from dereliction to provide new homes and stem urban decay.’

Except in the perceptions of a public that for 30 years has been fed the myth of ‘sink estates’ – a myth that has recently been cynically revived by this Conservative Government for its plans to ‘Blitz’ 100 housing estates across England – it is not the ‘social stigma’ of living on a council estate that needs addressing by financial investment, but the neglected maintenance of the estate by local authorities, sometimes for decades, preparatory to their demolition. And as has been shown by, for instance, the example of Balfron Tower, where the cost of renovation following listing has driven the previous residents out, refurbishment must never become a back door through which the social cleansing of an estate community can be achieved as effectively as through demolition and redevelopment.

‘Mae’s Hillington Square, King’s Lynn, provides a model of how to replan and retrofit a seemingly unlovely, ubiquitous slab block estate: replacing rows of garage doors with extended living space to create an active street, shortening endless deck access to provide residents with places to linger, and redefining the public realm to reconnect the estate to the historic neighbourhoods beyond.’

‘Seemingly unlovely’ is an inappropriate aesthetic judgement for the author to make, without factual basis beyond the stereotypes about council estates, when describing people’s homes, and displays an unreflexive class bias to his opinions about estate living and their largely working-class communities. The denigration of council housing and the communities it houses by politicians has played an influential role in convincing the general public of the necessity of demolishing estates, and the author should be careful of uncritically adding his voice to their propaganda.

‘If a new client is unwilling to frankly discuss or evidence their rationale for demolition or refurbishment, it may be time to reconsider the commission.’

Again, the advice to architects to ‘reconsider the commission’ is a pusillanimously weak conclusion to draw, given the devastating consequences estate demolition has on the lives of the thousands of residents that may live on even a single estate, and falls far short of the measures an article on the ethics of estate regeneration should be expected to recommend.

Participation through design

‘Fostering greater participation through the design process increases architects’ opportunity to mediate between the claims of residents who want change, those resisting change and the needs of potential new neighbours. There are lessons to be learnt from community planning that has long aspired to shift the focus from consultation on preset development options to community participation, as a means of framing development decision-making and establishing a shared vision for regeneration.’

‘Fostering’ is an oddly paternal term to use of architects who know far less about the realities of estate regeneration than the residents they are being expected to foster. As evidence of which, ASH has found that most residents, faced with the alternatives, welcome change, but in the form of infill and build-over that generate homes for potential new neighbours, and above all the maintenance and refurbishment of their own long neglected homes. Characterising residents who resist the demolition of their homes and the destruction of their community as ‘resisting change’ is inaccurate and dismissive, as anyone who has worked with estate residents would know. The ‘lessons to be learnt’ are those by architects who work with, listen to and represent residents’ views, not by those who try to use their design skills to convince residents of the long-term benefits of demolishing their estate to build new homes they can’t afford either to buy or to rent. As the reference to framing decision-making demonstrates, the author conceives of regeneration exclusively in terms of redevelopment, and the role of architects purely in terms of convincing residents who know better to buy into a vision they don’t share. We have yet to meet an estate community that is in favour of their homes being demolished, being decanted to temporary accommodation for five years, living on a building site for another five years, and then being offered the right to return to homes costing up to four times as much to buy or twice as much to rent, in what are often less well-made homes, with reduced tenancy rights, and often tied into electricity and gas contracts with power companies free to raise their rates whenever they wish. This is the reality of estate redevelopment architects need to learn, and no amount of community participation in designing their own graves is going to make residents happy to get into them.

‘A good first step would be to establish or revitalise a representative residents’ group to inform and test the brief, design decision-making and development assumptions. Persuading clients of the value of evaluating regeneration options transparently with residents may begin to build trust and understanding around a shared project.’

Constituting resident engagement panels, steering groups and other forms of resident representation is already standard practice in estate regeneration. The first step in doing so, though hardly a good one, is to attempt to divide leaseholders from council tenants and play them off against each other with competing offers, although residents are increasingly resisting this tactic. More recently, as in the case of Lambeth Labour Council with the residents of Cressingham Gardens estate, local authorities have introduced the new requirement that these putatively representative groups be composed exclusively of residents in favour of having their homes demolished. The People’s Plan, a 350-page document drawn up by the residents of Cressingham Gardens, was dismissed by Lambeth Labour Council out of hand and its authors, despite having the backing of 82 per cent of residents, have been branded as trouble-makers and bullies unrepresentative of the estate as a whole. On the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates there has been no communication between residents and Hammersmith and Fulham Labour Council for nearly two years. While Waltham Forest Labour Council has never even bothered to ballot residents for their opinion of the plans to reduce the homes for social rent on the Montague Road estate by a third. Tenants and leaseholders alike are beginning to realise that steering committees, resident engagement panels, regeneration surgeries, overview and scrutiny committees, cabinet meetings, and all the other consultation structures supposedly set up by councils to listen to residents’ opinions are in fact there to silence their opposition. In this context, talk of ‘transparency’ and building ‘trust and understanding’ around a ‘shared project’ is so much verbiage that serves only to hide the brutal reality of estate regeneration for residents, and the collusion of the architectural profession in their social cleansing.

‘Perhaps project constraints make co-production proper unattainable. But committing to discuss options frankly with residents, address their concerns through design iterations and challenge ill-founded assumptions will demonstrate a willingness to recognise their lived-experience and perspectives as relevant, alongside professional expertise. Given architects’ ability to interpret technical and qualitative information graphically, they are uniquely placed within the project team to act as facilitator able to interpret, interrogate and integrate the varied forms of evidence produced by residents into the design process.’

‘Ill-founded assumptions’, like ‘unjust disapproval’ and ‘unfounded criticism’, is the third time the author has belittled and dismissed the just and founded concerns of residents and housing campaigners about the regeneration process. ‘Demonstrating’ a willingness to recognise those concerns is not the same as architects responding to them. As community resistance to estate regeneration has grown, councils have stopped even pretending to consult residents. Far from interpreting, interrogating and integrating residents’ perspectives, the role of the profession, as for example with PRP Architects on Central Hill estate, has been reduced to drawing up redevelopment plans that ignore everything residents have said, and as such are poorly attended at exhibitions typically open for a few hours. Across London the consultation process, such as it is, is being reduced to little more than a formal minimum as residents unanimously reject the justifications for the demolition of their homes. By contrast, the exhibition of ASH’s plans for Central Hill estate, as for West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, both of which responded to residents’ overwhelming wishes to save their homes from demolition, were attended by hundreds of residents, and have been put forward by both estates to the councils as viable alternatives to demolition. Few other practices have anything like this democratic backing, for the simple reason that the overwhelming majority of architectural practice take their brief from the client, and not from the residents. This is clearly a dereliction of the professional duty of architects to ‘have a proper concern and due regard for the effect that their work may have on the local community’.

‘Speculatively, future alternative forms of design practice such as community-based charrette or design review panels, consisting of local residents and professional experts, could enable residents and developers to positively challenge one another’s assumptions. In this instance the architect can mediate power differentials between residents, professionals and developers, and facilitate a design process that harnesses both local lay expertise and professional expertise. How the architect might square duties to act for their developer-client with the role of community facilitator raises interesting ethical questions. Is there a supplementary role for a community-based design advisor during regeneration projects and how would it be funded?’

The repeated use of the term ‘assumptions’ with regard to residents’ opinions implies that their all too rapidly acquired knowledge of the regeneration process, and what it will mean for them, is a prejudiced bias that requires dismissing. The challenge here is not between the assumptions of residents and developers, but between their motivations: the resistance to being socially cleansed from their homes by the former, the enormous profit margins of the latter. Talk of mediating ‘power differentials’ between international property developers like Capco and Lend Lease, or Housing Associations like London & Quadrant and Notting Hill Trust, and the residents of homes that are built on the land these companies are after, betrays either a profound ignorance of that differential or a collusion in its propaganda. As we saw at the judicial inquiry into the benefits to the community of issuing compulsory purchase orders on the homes of leaseholders on the Aylesbury Estate, residents had little chance against Southwark Labour Council’s team of expensively employed lawyers. If this raises ‘interesting ethical questions’, they’re about the democratic accountability of local authorities to the constituents who voted them into power and the abuse of that power. As for a community-based design advisor, they already exist in the form of independent resident advisors; but as seen with Central Hill estate, their willingness to challenge the plans of the council that pays their salaries is limited.

‘Meaningful resident participation is already in evidence but it requires investment in training and capacity building. Neil Deely of Metropolitan Workshop says: “Holding back information is counterproductive to building trust. It’s far better for architects working on contentious regeneration projects to invest time with residents and clients, so that both understand the options, provide useful feedback and become a team. Given the right information residents will generally work collaboratively.”’

The only evidence of meaningful resident participation is that provided by the local authorities, property developers and consultation agencies in whose interests alone the consultation process is conducted. We challenge the author to produce a single estate community who thought that the consultation process that led to the demolition of their homes was transparent, took account of their views or could in any way be described as ‘meaningful’. If the regeneration options initially presented to residents, as they were at the Aylesbury, Cressingham Gardens, Knights Walk, Central Hill, Fenwick, Westbury and Montague Road estates, are rapidly reduced to the full demolition of the estate and its redevelopment as luxury homes, no amount of time invested with, or information given to, residents will convince them of the benefits of destroying their community. A look at completed or ongoing redevelopments means residents ‘understand’ only too well what this option means for them – whether at Myatts Field North, where, following regeneration by PFI consortium Regenter Myatts Field North Limited, residents in the newly rebranded ‘Oval Quarter’ are trapped by 40-year contracts with E.ON into living with increased utility bills, but without running water, in what they have described as leaking, noisy, smelly, badly-made homes; or at the Heygate estate, where the 1,200 council homes that housed the local community for forty years have been replaced by 2,535 luxury apartments in which only 79 are earmarked for social rent.

‘Architects can empower residents to become well-informed partners, able to articulate preferences for their neighbourhood by explaining key development issues, e.g. how increasing density relates to project viability and maintenance. This proactive approach informs affordable homes developer Pocket’s offer to directly involve residents in negotiations about the relative financial and social benefits to the community of accepting increased density from minimum to maximum intervention. As Michael Holland, head of regeneration strategy for Pocket, explains: “We aim to add to the community, rather than just add unit numbers. Pocket believes that residents can act as a positive catalyst for estate regeneration, and will welcome it if they are given the opportunity to influence density and share in the respective upsides.” The developer’s preference for achieving viability by combining repair and infill aims to reduce resident disruption and preserve social capital.’

It is no surprise that the increase in the number of homes local authority land can hold has been made the deciding factor in whether or not the council estates currently built on it should be regenerated, when that increase is the measure of the profits their demolition and redevelopment will generate for investors and cash-strapped local authorities. But the argument for the demolition of estates should not rest on the ability of developers and local authorities to increase their housing capacity but on the identity of the residents that will be housed in their replacements. Savills real estate firm, which is advising Central Government, London’s councils, the London Housing Commission and the London Mayor on estate regeneration, in their January 2015 report to Cabinet titled Completing London’s Streets, recommended the demolition of 136,500 council homes, on whose local authority land they claim they can build between between 54,000 and 360,000 additional homes. But the selling point for Savills’ recommendation is their argument that the demolition and redevelopment of housing estates using their ‘Complete Streets’ model not only delivers more housing, but also creates what they call ‘value uplift’. Through the implementation of this model, they write, ‘underperforming, undesirable and low value’ locations will be transformed into ‘actively sought-after, high-performing and higher value’ real estate. Far from involving residents in negotiations about the ‘financial and social benefits to the community’ of increasing density, estate regeneration, as conceived by Savills, is an active means of gentrification, raising house prices across the wider area according to what they call a ‘multiplier effect’. To this end, the new homes built on the demolished council estates must necessarily be ‘high value’ if they are to serve their main function: the social cleansing not only of the community whose homes have been demolished, but also of the local neighbourhoods around the new development. Savills, in any case, have already answered the question of whether the community benefits: ‘We say nothing specific’, they write, ‘as to whom the additional value of the Complete Streets regeneration would accrue.’

We remind the RIBA that there must be other criteria determining estate regeneration than ‘project viability’, which is another term for the profit margins of the developers and local authorities. First among these is the effects on the physical and mental health of residents of being decanted to temporary accommodation for several years, living next to a building site for several more, and the financial pressures of increased rents and service charges when, or if, they return; plus, in addition, the environmental effects of releasing thousand of tons of carbon from demolished concrete buildings into the neighbourhood.

As for the benefits of increasing housing density on existing estates, Pocket Living is a singularly poor example of what such density ‘adds’ to the community. The homes they propose, which fall well short of the Government’s ‘Nationally Described Space Standard’, will add only to the profits which they, like all developers, are making from the inflated house prices in the capital, and which preclude increasing numbers of Londoners from getting on the housing ladder. We remind the author, as we do the Head of Regeneration Strategy for Pocket Homes, that the price of housing is not determined by the cost of its construction, which is the justification for the reduced size of Pocket Living homes, but by the profit margins of the land owner and developer and the commodity market on which it is sold.

Again, we challenge the author to name a single estate community that has ‘welcomed’ the disruption to their lives, the threat to their futures and the demolition of their homes brought about by estate regeneration. And while ASH is actively pursuing the increase in the housing capacity of estates through the infill and repair of estates the author mentions, the profit motives of developers and housing associations, the economic motives of councils and their advisors, and the political motives of central government, mean full demolition and redevelopment, contrary to this assertion, is overwhelmingly the option preferred.

‘Using the design process to more transparently model commercial options connected to density and viability has the potential to engage residents with the needs of those outside the immediate neighbourhood to access a home. The need for commercial confidentially within a competitive market may limit the degree of transparency. But a willingness to share more information has potential to shift the focus from opposing regeneration on the grounds it serves abstract market-demand and profit-generation, to honestly engaging residents with the ethical question: how many new neighbours could benefit from additional housing, and could my neighbourhood be improved through the regeneration process without significantly reducing my own quality of life?’

Were the distinction proposed here, between the homes of existing residents and the potential for building new homes, the key issue in estate regeneration, the question might be an ethical one. But in reality this is a false opposition. The reality is residents being forced from their homes by local authorities and then offered, at best, the right to return in 5-10 years if they can afford rents that have gone up by 25 percent and house prices that have doubled or even quadrupled, all in order to build real estate investments that by no stretch of the definition can be said to be addressing Britain’s housing ‘needs’. As an example of which, on Cressingham Gardens estate, Lambeth Labour Council are proposing to build apartments starting at £435,000 for a 1-bedroom flat, going up to £863,000 for a 4-bedroom flat, while their proposed average buy-out prices for current homeowners is around £250,000 for a 1-bedroom home, going up to around £470,000 for a 4-bedroom home, in effect almost doubling house prices on the estate. While on West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, property developers Capco are building luxury apartments that have been advertised at £800,000 for a 1-bedroom flat, £1,200,000 for a 2-bedroom flat, and £1,700,000 for a 3-bedroom flat. And while owners of a 4-bedroom council flat on the Heygate Estate were offered £190,000 in compensation for their demolished homes, in One The Elephant, the new development by award-winning architects Squire and Partners, 1-bedroom flats are being advertise for £630,000, 2-bedroom flats for £880,000, and 3-bedroom flats for £1,495,000. These aren’t ‘abstract market demands’; they are concrete evidence of the property speculation that is driving the estate demolition programme in London, and which has nothing to do with the ‘ethics’ of providing new homes for Londoners.

As for the likelihood of commercial confidentiality limiting transparency, this was the get-out clause employed by Savills when producing the series of viability assessments for property developers Lend Lease that allowed them to reduce their initial promise of 500 homes for social rent on the Heygate redevelopment to the existing paltry promise of 79. Waltham Forest Labour Council are similarly withholding Savills’ viability assessment for the demolition and redevelopment of Montague Road estate from the residents who live there. Far from being the exception, this is standard practice in estate regeneration.

‘Clearly, using the design process to support resident negotiations requires straightforward dialogue about contentious issues, acceptance that conflict may arise and commitment by the project team to manage it. For example, without evidencing the need to rehouse residents during construction, they are unlikely to accept disruption as temporary situation and begin planning positively for their return to the estate. The principle merit of engaging residents with the ongoing design process is that it demonstrates and frames legitimate project constraints, enabling residents to make the best possible personal decisions.’

Since the need to re-house residents during the demolition and redevelopment of the estate is not for their benefit, but for that of the builders, developers and investors in the new homes, no amount of evidence is likely to convince residents to accept it as necessary. Nor, as we have seen from the displacement maps of former residents on the Heygate and Ayslebury estates, is that re-housing necessarily going to be temporary, and more likely to be the precursor to their being offered accommodation elsewhere. And whether or not, under the management of the project team, they plan ‘positively’ to return to the estate, they will be unable to do so if, as is planned with the Montague Road estate, the number of homes for social rent has been reduced, or, as with the plans for Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens estates, the rents on what are no longer council estates but are now housing association homes have been increased to a level they cannot afford. Within this context, the only ‘personal decisions’ residents will be in a position to make will be whether – as was recently recommended to residents of Central Hill by Lambeth Labour Council – to claim housing benefit in order to pay their increased rents; whether to take out another mortgage or enter into shared ownership in order to buy a replacement for the demolished home they were previously the sole owners of; or whether to bid for a new council home elsewhere in the borough or in a distant borough where the rents are cheaper. Given these choices, talk of engaging residents in the design process, or demonstrating the constraints of the project, demonstrates at best the author’s complete lack of understanding of the regeneration process, and at worst a cynical collaboration in the disinformation spread to cover its consequences for residents.

As for ‘legitimate project constraints’, the argument for the financial viability of redevelopment over refurbishment, which is consistently used by councils to justify their demolition plans, falls at the first hurdle when one considers that the total cost of emptying and demolishing the Aylesbury estate’s 2,500 council homes was estimated by Southwark Labour Council as £150 million, around £60,000 per home. Compare this with the £20,260 per home the Council has spent bringing 611 homes up to the Decent Homes Standard elsewhere on the estate, and the roughly £10,000 per home spent refurbishing Islington’s Six Acres estate, which was built on the same model and at the same time as the Aylesbury estate. In the event, Southwark Council has already spent an incredible £46.8 million on the Aylesbury regeneration scheme – £32.1 million on acquisition and demolition, and £14.7 million on management and administration (i.e. their own salaries) – in the process regenerating just 112 homes. That’s an average cost of £417,000 per home. Similarly, on Central Hill estate Lambeth Labour Council’s own surveyor has estimated the cost of refurbishment at £18.5 million, around £40,000 per home, whereas replacing the estate’s 456 existing homes has been estimated by one of Lambeth’s own architects, Karakusevic Carson, at £225-240,000 per home. That’s around £120 million before a single new home has been added to the existing ones in a reportedly broke borough supposedly trying to reduce its housing waiting list. The truth is that refurbishment has consistently and repeatedly been shown, by ASH and other housing campaigners, to be the more financially viable option for genuine estate regeneration. The only thing it doesn’t increase is the profits of developers and local authorities.

‘Open, design-led development processes linked to the resources necessary to realise change can achieve what resident resistance aimed at stalling regeneration cannot. It has potential to support sceptical residents to move on to negotiate a realistic settlement, avoids silencing residents in favour of change, and begins a process of investment that recognises the needs of those outside the immediate community. In particular, resident participation in modelling estate intervention in terms of design and financing offers the potential of avoiding adversarial resident-developer relations, while enabling residents to question the function of private investment and level of developer profit necessary to realise a regeneration process that supports long-term benefits for existing residents and new neighbours alike.’

Contrary to the author’s assertion, for which we know of no examples, the only concessions and victories that have been won have been won by residents fighting to save their homes through campaigns of resistance. The reduction of a full demolition scheme to partial demolition on Knight’s Walk was achieved only through the residents’ resistance to Lambeth Labour Council and the full demolition options drawn up by Mae Architects. Similarly, residents of the New Era estate saved their homes, not through negotiating a ‘realistic settlement’, but through fighting the eviction of their community. Once again, the characterisation of residents as resistant to change is an inaccurate one, and the suggestion that those in favour of seeing their homes demolished are being silenced by resident campaigns is a piece of propaganda already being employed by local authorities, such as Southwark and Lambeth Labour Councils, to justify ignoring the overwhelming majority of residents that are resisting their plans on the Aylesbury and Cressingham Gardens estates, to name just two. On the contrary, adversarial relations between residents and developers are not only on the rise, but have been shown to be the only means residents have of making their voices heard over the systematic falsehoods and disinformation spread about estate regeneration, of which the current document is another example.

To answer the question the author rather arrogantly assumes architects can help residents address, the function of private investment is the profit it generates for developers and their shareholders. But the duties of democratically elected local authorities to the residents of council estates must be measured in different terms to those used by a property developer, and so must those of the architects they employ. In articulating what those duties should be, this report fails at every step. Quite apart from its high-handed tone when speaking of the role of architects in convincing estate residents of the benefits of demolition, this text betrays a complete absence of practical knowledge about the political and financial realities of estate regeneration. If we thought the author and the RIBA had any interest in understanding those realities, we would invite them to meet the residents leading the campaigns we have referred to in our comments, and with which ASH has been working closely over the past two years. Contrary to this report’s assumptions, they know far more about the issues this text so glaringly fails to address than its author, and they would be happy to share their knowledge with him. However, it is far more likely, given the limited and misplaced frame through which the author has chosen to view estate regeneration, that this text is simply another example of the architectural profession’s attempts to justify its shameful collaboration in the social cleansing of working class communities from their homes through the Trojan Horse of estate demolition. The fact the author, Dhruv Sookhoo, is a researcher in residence for Metropolitan Workshop, the practice that has been employed by Lambeth Labour Council to produce the feasibility studies for the demolition and redevelopment of Westbury estate, and that is running workshops to ‘train’ residents to explore the design proposal for the demolition and redevelopment of Central Hill estate, does nothing to suggest his neutrality or disinterest in reaching the conclusions he has in this report.

From a similar position, in Altered Estates the RIBA President Ben Derbyshire writes: ‘In our view it is essential that we are clear about the objective of estate regeneration: is it to improve the lives of those who live on and around existing estates, or is it to make more effective use of public land to help solve the “housing crisis” by creating additional homes and widening access to home ownership?’ This statement, which Ben Derbyshire recently drew our attention to in the online edition of the Architects’ Journal as the clarification of where he stands on the issue of estate regeneration, makes it clear that his position is one of allegiance to this Conservative Government’s programme of home ownership, and its recent extension, in the Housing and Planning Act, of the Right to Buy council homes to housing associations. However, we already know that 40 per cent of the council homes bought by residents under the Right to Buy are now owned by professional landlords and are being rented out at market rental levels for their profit, much of it coming from the housing benefit bill that is placing increasing amounts of public money in private hands. Not only that, but under the new legislation, the discounts offered tenants will be recouped by councils being forced to sell council homes that become vacant on the private market, further reducing the stock of homes for social rent. What this statement clarifies is that Ben Derbyshire has no interest in building homes for social rent, which is what Londoners, above all, need. In which case, as an employee of Notting Hill Housing Group on the Aylesbury Estate redevelopment, he’s in good company, as they are systematically substituting affordable rents (i.e. at up to 80 per cent of market price) for social rent on all their estate regeneration schemes, not only the Aylesbury, but also, according to research by the 35% Campaign, on their Bermondsey Spar, Silwood estate and Elmington estate regenerations.

Finally, none of this report takes into account the effects of the Government’s Housing and Planning Act, which has removed the obligation to build any homes for social rent on new housing developments, replacing it with the duty to build State-discounted Starter Homes whose price cap of £450,000 in London and £250,000 across the rest of England is only nominal and may be raised by the Secretary of State for Homes and Local Communities, the newly appointed former board member of Deutsche Bank, Sajid Javid. Nor does it mention the replacement of secure council tenancies by tenancies of 2-5 years on all new housing developments, or the charging of market rates on households earning little more than the minimum wage, both of which will have devastating consequences on the likelihood of current council tenants returning to, or occupying for long, the new homes supposedly being designed by architects for their benefit. Above all, this text fails to address the new planning legislation, written specifically to further estate demolition, which reclassifies the council estates on which hundreds of thousands of households in England still live as ‘brownfield land’, and automatically grants planning permission in principle to any developer that proposes a new housing development in their place. To write about the ethics of estate regeneration without mentioning any of this would be laughable were it not also the most serious dereliction of the social duties of an architect, and we wonder at the readiness of the RIBA to publish this report as the official statement of their position on the most contentious issue facing British architects today.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

Time Out: London’s Best Buildings

ASH nominations for the Time Out guide to the ‘Best Buildings in London’.

Boundary-Estate-1600x900

Boundary Estate, Shoreditch, designed by London County Council, 1900.

The first council housing in Britain was built on the demolished ruins of the Old Nichol slum, but the new homes were priced at rents beyond the reach of 95 per cent of the previous tenants, and instead housed a new population of skilled workers. Under the guise of tackling poverty, this set a model of social cleansing that continues to this day, with poor tenants being evicted from demolished homes and their replacements filled with wealthier residents. Now with Grade II listing status.

Dawson's Heights

Dawson’s Heights, Dulwich, designed by Kate Macintosh, 1964-72.

Speaking of the extraordinary hill-top council estate she began designing at the age of only 26, Kate Macintosh said: ‘Central to all housing design is the balance between the expression of the individual dwelling and the cohesion and integration of the entire group.’ This vision of architecture as social model rather than financial asset is more than ever relevant today, when architects have so readily yielded their agency to property developers, real estate investors and politicians.

11895241_10153591364679571_3720705887414633409_o

Balfron Tower, Poplar, designed by Ernő Goldfinger, 1967.

The inspiration for J. G. Ballard’s High Rise, and part of the Brownfield Estate. Despite being saved from demolition by Historic England, all the previous residents have been forced out by the increased restoration costs for a listed building, and its original quota of 100 per cent social housing has been reduced to zero. Currently being marketed as retro-style luxury apartments for Canary Wharf bankers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Central Hill Estate, Crystal Palace, designed by Rose Stjernstedt, 1966-74.

Ingeniously built into the wooded landscape of Gipsy Hill, the socialist principles of its architecture ensures every home has a view over London and a south-facing balcony. A model of the kind of community living we should be building to address London’s housing shortage, it is instead threatened with demolition by Lambeth Labour Council, who plan to replace it with a private development managed by Savills real estate firm. The design proposals by ASH to increase its current housing capacity by 40 per cent, and generate the funds to refurbish the existing homes, have been rejected by the council as ‘unviable’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cressingham Gardens Estate, Brixton, designed by Ted Hollamby, 1967-79.

This low-rise, high-density estate, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, was a response to criticisms of council-built tower blocks. Despite 82 per cent of residents voting for refurbishment, this too has been slated for demolition by Lambeth Labour Council, contrary to the manifesto promise by Sadiq Khan that all estate regeneration schemes must have the backing of the community. Its proximity to leafy Brockwell Park makes the planned up-market replacements attractive investments in the new socially cleansed Brixton.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cotton Gardens Estate, Kennington, designed by George Finch, 1966-68.

Multiple instances of this model of inner-city social housing can be found around South London, but the dance of these three towers is George Finch’s masterpiece. The accompanying bungalows built for the elderly and disabled were deemed insufficiently dense housing by Lambeth Labour Council, and only alternative proposals by ASH saved half the homes from demolition. Despite this, the Government’s Housing and Planning Act will raise the rents of many of the estate’s council tenants to market levels, freeing up the vacated homes in Elephant and Castle’s coveted Zone 1 to be sold on the private market.

11884993_10153591364599571_4330228830946259071_o

Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, 1972.

Innovative social housing in East London’s docklands, the debate over its failed application for listing focused exclusively on its architectural merits, while the rights of the residents who lived there, and who have now been evicted, were ignored. Shortly to be demolished by Tower Hamlets Labour Council, the designs for its replacement by Haworth Tompkins Architects sets a new low for bland, generic, unaffordable housing in a borough with 19,000 families on the housing waiting list. In contrast, the similar Park Hill estate in Sheffield was refurbished to award-winning standards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Macintosh Court, Streatham, designed by Kate Macintosh, 1975.

Purpose-built sheltered housing that has served the retirement community for forty years, this too was threatened with demolition and redevelopment as luxury flats by Lambeth Labour Council, but following a campaign by its fifty elderly residents the estate won Grade II listing status. Recently renamed after its much-loved architect, Macintosh Court is a rare victory over the forces of corporate greed being implemented by London’s local authorities.

Architects for Social Housing

Fred Wigg & John Walsh Towers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Located in leafy Leytonstone only a few minutes walk from the Central Line station on the edge of Zone 3, the Montague Road estate consists of two 17-storey towers named (after two local councillors) Fred Wigg and John Walsh. The estate provides 234 homes, 225 of which are council flats for social rent, and 9 leasehold. 160 residents have secure tenancies, 65 residents are homeless families in temporary accommodation, and the remaining 9 are either leaseholders or, as with 40 per cent of Right to Buy properties, private tenants renting from them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having been identified by Waltham Forest Labour Council as a ‘high priority’ estate in 2010, three options were put forward for the Montague Road estate:

Option 1. Refurbishment of the existing estate, costing £10 million;

Option 2. Complete demolition and redevelopment, which was deemed not to be financially viable;

Option 3. Transformational refurbishment, gutting the towers and redeveloping them, costing £44 million.

In November 2014 the Council voted to go ahead with Option 3. The plan is to build a new block, 6 storeys high, containing 40 new flats for social rent, making a total of 274 flats, then strip the 117 homes in each of the existing two towers and refurbish them, with one tower being reserved for homes for social rent for the existing tenants, and the other being turned into luxury apartments for sale on the private market. Two-thirds of the cost of this ‘transformational refurbishment’ are earmarked to be paid through the sale of all the flats in this private tower, 20 per cent of which will be for shared ownership. The rest will be council ― which is to say, public ― money. This Option represents roughly a 30 per cent reduction in homes for social rent on the estate; and at 1000 habitable rooms per acre (HRA), the resulting housing density will be far above the normally allowed figure for a location with a Public Transport Accessibility Level of around 2, which suggest a density of around 300-400 HRA.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, these proportions are all dependent on future viability assessments, and the current viability assessment, which was conducted by real estate firm Savills in 2014, has been kept private from residents. At the moment, leaseholders are being offered the Right to Return, and around 117 of the existing residents on secure tenancies will be re-housed in one of the refurbished towers and the new 6-storey block. The remaining 43 residents on secure tenancies are to be offered new tenancies elsewhere, either in the borough or outside, with many residents having already taken the option to be decanted. However, following legislation in the Housing and Planning Act, these new tenancies are likely to be fixed-term tenancies that are reviewed by the council every 2-5 years. Even more seriously, the 65 homeless residents will be re-housed in temporary accommodation, most likely in hostels, most likely outside the borough. Waltham Forest currently has 2,200 families in temporary accommodation, a number that has increased by 700 in the last two years alone; and nearly half (49 per cent) of homeless families have been rehoused outside the borough, the second worse example of this practice in London.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having vaguely referred to ‘current issues’, although without saying what these are beyond listing them as ‘social and environmental’ and ‘health and safety’, the Council has said that Option 3, for ‘transformational refurbishment’, will improve the condition of the existing tower blocks, although they do not say for whom, as well as the surrounding area, through ‘very high quality’ design (and presumably equally high cost). They specifically refer to the Council’s discussions with Network Rail to improve the quality of the properties and bring in ‘new tenants’ who will achieve what they call a ‘more balanced community’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Council has repeatedly refused to hold a ballot of residents; but in an independent ballot held by Waltham Forest Trades Council in May 2015, on a 60 per cent turnout residents voted 3-1 against Option 3 and in favour of Option 1, for the refurbishment of their long neglected homes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At a resident meeting on 20 July to which ASH was invited, Jonathan Speed, a former surveyor with PRP Architects and member of the Woodberry Down Regeneration Team, and now Waltham Forest Council’s Housing Delivery Programme Manager, spoke for 45 minutes. Even we, however, had trouble understanding him, because of the unnecessarily obscure and technical jargon he employed. What the residents, many of whom have English as a second language, made of his presentation is anyone’s guess, but several walked out in disgust. As anyone who has attended more than a handful of these types of meetings knows, this is a tactic consistently used by Labour Councils in their dealings with residents in order to misinform and demoralise them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When he finished his presentation, such as it was, we asked Jonathan Speed what the estimated price of the new properties is. He said that he didn’t know, but that the Council is committed to building high-quality homes for middle-income buyers. We asked if that meant apartments for around £450,000, and he agreed that was a reasonable estimate. We then asked him where the 2,200 families in temporary accommodation (2,265 when the 65 on Montague Road estate are evicted) came in the Council’s properties. He didn’t respond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jonathan Speed had spoken throughout as if the deal is already done, and Option 3 was going ahead, so we pointed out several times that residents still haven’t been asked for their opinion or balloted, and we suggested they write to Sadiq Khan to remind him that he made resident support a condition of any estate regeneration scheme. Most of our presentation was about the unlikelihood of residents being re-housed in the newly refurbished towers following further viability assessments, and told them about how the same company, Savills, managed to reduce the Heygate estate’s 1,100 council homes to 79 for social rent. We also pointed out that, given the decanting sequence the Council is suggesting ― in which the building of the additional block must precede the decanting and gutting of the first tower, which will then be followed by the decanting and gutting of the second tower ― residents and neighbours will experience at least 10 years of living on or next to a building site that will do untold damage to their health. Given that a children’s playground sits directly opposite the towers, and the playing fields on Wanstead Flats behind are used by local sports groups, we suggested families in the area, not least in the terraced houses on Montague Road, should be alerted to what the Council is proposing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We then indicated that far from exhausting all options in the 3 they have considered, the Council has ignored the most obvious solution. This was that rather than just a 6-storey block, several additional developments on the large amount of estate land currently being used as car parking space (which could be moved underground), would not only increase the housing capacity on the estate, but generate sufficient funds to refurbish the existing towers without reducing the number of homes for social rent or evicting the existing residents. On the contrary, we could increase the number of homes for social rent. In a borough with 2,200 families in temporary accommodation and 20,000 households on the waiting list for housing, we suggested this should be a higher priority for the Council than building ‘high quality’ homes that no-one in the neighbourhood, and certainly no-one on the Montague Road estate, can afford to buy or rent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jonathan Speed admitted that Walthamstow Labour Council had not considered this option. However, he did not stay around to discuss our suggestion afterwards, but got up and quickly left.

Architects for Social Housing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ASH design proposals for West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates

1504_A1_Axo_final-summary-2-e1466091513107

In response to the question addressed to ASH by the Architect’s Journal, there are many ways in ASH’s design proposals for the West Kensington & Gibbs Green People’s Plan are better than Capco’s masterplan, the primary and overriding one being that the residents, many of whom have lived here all their lives, will be able to remain living in their homes, the refurbishment of which can be funded by the provision of up to 250 new homes.

1504_03

ASH’s proposal is an entirely sustainable one, both socially and environmentally, that builds on the existing thriving community and surrounding neighbourhood, rather than wiping them out. A palimpsest of different styles over time is what makes cities dynamic, vibrant and interesting. Cities are places of cumulative memory, not something to be erased and rewritten every forty years like a cheap hard drive. That is cultural vandalism. The estates are well loved, and there is nothing wrong with them architecturally that cannot be addressed with investment and thoughtful and intelligent interventions that not only address any concerns residents may have but simultaneously provide the additional homes the area needs.

1504_04

ASH’s proposals provide a large range of new homes, from bungalows for the elderly and disabled (potentially freeing up some of the larger homes which may be under-occupied) to new townhouses for growing families needing more space.

1504_08c copy

All this can be achieved without residents having to leave the estate, their friends, family and neighbours, all of which are the crucial but ignored foundations of our social structures.

1504_05_Ivatt Place

ASH’s proposal for a new block of flats on Lillie Road has the potential for a mix of uses on the ground floor, creating a new public square and entrance into the estates. This will make a really positive contribution to the public realm, working with the existing streets, not in spite of them.

1504_12_lillie copy

New and improved community facilities such as allotments and a new centralized community centre will support the existing community, which has matured and bonded over the years. The effectiveness of communal space is directly related to the maintenance of the environment and the stability and continuity of the community inhabiting the space. Reinvigorating the environment with new and improved communal facilities will only enhance this stable community’s enjoyment and use of the estate.

1504_06_Franklin_report2

Our proposal also sets out to increase the biodiversity of the existing green open spaces on the estates, which sit along a biodiversity corridor identified in Kensington and Chelsea’s latest Biodiversity Action plan.  As well as increasing the air quality on Lillie road and North End Road and Targarth Road, this will also ensure that it’s a great place for young families and children, and the elderly, which is not a defining characteristic of Capco’s scheme.

No Title

Environmentally our scheme clearly also has the benefit – through retrofit and refurbishment – of retaining the embodied carbon and energy present within the buildings largely concrete and brick structures, which Capco’s full demolition scheme clearly doesn’t. In the Twenty-first Century it is unacceptable to ignore the devastating consequences demolition has on the urban environment when refurbishment is a much more viable and sustainable alternative. French architects Lacation and Vassal have shown how successful this is as a model architectural approach to french post war housing estates.

No Title

In addition the construction could take advantage of recent advances in modern methods of construction using prefabricated elements thus aiming to reduce dust and noise, and with minimal disruption to the life of the estate.

More luxury homes are not what London needs. We don’t have a shortage of luxury homes, the market for which is collapsing. We do, however, have a severe shortage of low cost homes for social and council rent that people can afford. Capco’s plans will only exacerbate this lack of homes that Londoners desperately need and can afford to live in.

Wholesale devastation of longstanding neighbourhoods and communities, which are the direct effect of projects like Capco’s, are simply making things worse, for both the estate residents and the surrounding area. As a result of Capco’s plan, neighbouring communities will in turn suffer from increases in rent and council tax, a further burden on already overstretched public services like health clinics, schools and roads, and be indirectly forced out by stealth. This is an overt strategy discussed in real estate firm Savills’ ‘Complete Streets’ model. The estate demolition programme is destroying London with no regard for anything other than the profits of developers and investors.

1504_01_Gibbs Green
None

Many of the home owners who bought their homes via Right to Buy will – as demonstrated by the Heygate model – most likely have to move out of London altogether. Remaining tenants – if they can afford to return – will pay considerably higher rents, council tax, service charges, etc., forcing many of these families out as well, simply because they can no longer afford to live in their own neighbourhood. The promise of ‘like for like’ is simply a myth. Are they really going to be giving all the residents who currently live in a 3-4 bedroom home with a garden a whole house in the new development when a one bed flat is being advertised for £750,000?

1504_02

There is no evidence that estate regeneration improves the lives of the existing tenants. On the contrary, it is more likely to put residents in a significantly worse off situation economically, and have a significantly detrimental effect. Then there are the effects that the demolition of their homes has on the mental health of residents, many of the older of whom will die unhappily and alone during the course of this process, most likely in temporary housing during the so-called ‘decanting’ stage that drags on for five to ten years.

A house or a flat is not the same as a home. These places are peoples’ homes, and they are being destroyed for profit and political expediency. We know the lengths developers go to minimise what they are obliged to give back to the community through manipulated viability assessments. They have no interest in contributing to the public good of the city, unless it benefits their shareholders in some way. Is this who we want defining the future landscape of London?

1504_14

Michael Heseltine, Chair of the panel set up to look at how to implement the Prime Minister’s so-called Blitz initiative for council estates has said that estate regeneration ‘has to be locally led’, and that he wants to ‘see local communities coming forward with innovative ideas to achieve desirable neighbourhoods that local people can be proud of.’

ASH’s design proposals for the West Ken and Gibbs Green People’s Plan is a model for how estate regeneration should be done. In post-Brexit UK, we believe this is an example of how London should show its respect for its poor and working classes, whose needs have been ignored for so long.

1505_Proposed_final 04

The People’s Plan is also a better deal financially for the local authority, whose deal with Capco was woefully (some would say, criminally) bad. We hope that by seeing what this alternative has to offer, the local Labour Council, London Mayor and the Secretary of State will support the residents’ application for a Right to Transfer the estates into community ownership, with the only genuinely sustainable, financially viable and socially just future for the residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates.

Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

Download the full PDF of ASH’s feasibility report here: WKGG_report_rev3

The article based on our response in the Architects’ Journal can be read here: AJ article 8 August 2016

 

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.

Andrew, Eating

PART 1: INEQUALITY

THE WEALTH OF THE RICHEST 1% OF THE BRITISH POPULATION IS EQUAL TO THE WEALTH OF THE POOREST 55%.

THE 5 RICHEST BRITISH FAMILIES ARE AS WEALTHY AS THE POOREST 20% OF THE BRITISH POPULATION.
* That’s 12.6 million people.

THE WEALTH OF THE RICHEST 1000 PEOPLE IN BRITAIN HAS DOUBLED IN THE PAST TEN YEARS TO £547 BILLION.
* More than a third of the annual economic output of the entire U.K.

BRITAIN HAS 117 BILLIONAIRES, THE MOST PER CAPITA OF ANY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.
* That’s one for every 547,000 people, more per head of population than any other nation in the G20.

LONDON’S 80 BILLIONAIRES IS THE MOST OF ANY CITY IN THE WORLD.
* With a total wealth of £325 billion, more than the GDP of Ireland or South Africa.

THE £9 TRILLION OF PRIVATE WEALTH IN BRITAIN IS HELD BY JUST 34% OF THE POPULATION.*
* The remaining 66% holds no positive financial assets at all.

THE GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR IN BRITAIN IS THE LARGEST IN THE WEST.
* The poorest 40% of the British population share a lower proportion of the national wealth, only 14.6%, than in any other Western country.

THE INCOMES OF THE RICHEST 20% OF THE BRITISH POPULATION IS 105 TIMES HIGHER THAN THE POOREST 20%.

JUST 0.3 PER CENT OF THE BRITISH POPULATION – 160,000 FAMILIES – OWN TWO THIRDS OF THE LAND.
* Making Britain second only to Brazil as the country with the most unequal land distribution in the world.

OVER 1,000,000 PROVISIONS OF THREE DAYS’ EMERGENCY FOOD WERE HANDED OUT AT FOOD BANKS IN BRITAIN OVER THE PAST YEAR.
* Including 415,866 to children.

391 PEOPLE IN THE UK DIED OF MALNUTRITION IN 2015.

THERE HAS BEEN A 71% INCREASE IN HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS FOR PATIENTS SUFFERING FROM MALNUTRITION.
* From 3,900 admissions in 2009-10 to 6,690 admissions in 2013-14.

IN 2013-14 MORE THAN 86,000 HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS INVOLVED PATIENTS DIAGNOSED WITH GOUT CAUSED BY A LACK OF VITAMIN C.
* An increase of 78% in five years.

CASES OF SCARLET FEVER ADMITTED TO HOSPITAL DOUBLED LAST YEAR FROM 403 TO 845.
* With a rise in other illnesses such as scurvy, cholera and whooping cough caused by malnutrition.

BRITAIN HAS THE FIFTH LARGEST ECONOMY IN THE WORLD.

PART 2: HOUSING

THE AVERAGE PRICE OF A HOME IN GREATER LONDON IS NOW OVER HALF A MILLION POUNDS.
* Currently nearly £600,000, and over £970,000 in Central London.

20% OF NEW-BUILD HOMES IN CENTRAL LONDON IN 2014 WERE BOUGHT BY NON-U.K. RESIDENT OWNERS.

61% OF NEW-BUILD HOMES IN GREATER LONDON ARE BOUGHT AS AN INVESTMENT.

50 OVERSEAS INSTITUTIONS WITH £26 BILLION IN FUNDS ARE CURRENTLY LOOKING FOR RESIDENTIAL INVESTMENT IN LONDON AND THE U.K.

PROPERTY WEALTH IN BRITAIN HAS INCREASED BY NEARLY £400 BILLION IN THE TWO YEARS UP TO DECEMBER 2015.
* And the wealth of the richest 10% of UK households has increased by 21%.

THE 80% MARKET RATE ON SO-CALLED ‘AFFORDABLE HOMES’ IN LONDON’S NEW-BUILD HOMES REQUIRES A SALARY OF £44,500.
*The median household income in London is £30,500.

IN 2015, 5,300 TWO-BEDROOM HOMES WERE SOLD IN LONDON FOR BETWEEN £650,000 AND £1 MILLION.
* Compared with only 2,000 for less than £300,000.

THE RATIO BETWEEN HOUSE PRICES AND PERSONAL DISPOSABLE INCOME IN LONDON IS THE HIGHEST IT HAS EVER BEEN.
* Surpassing levels before the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007, and on schedule to form a housing bubble by 2017.

PART 3: RENTING

LESS THAN 10,000 HOMES FOR SOCIAL RENT WERE BUILT IN ENGLAND IN 2014-15.
* The lowest number since records began in 1991-92.

THE AVERAGE PRIVATE SECTOR RENTS IN LONDON ARE MORE THAN DOUBLE THE NATIONAL AVERAGE.
* £2,216 per month for a two-bedroom home.

PRIVATE RENTS IN BRITAIN HAVE RISEN TO DOUBLE THE COST OF COUNCIL PROPERTIES.

A QUARTER OF PEOPLE RENTING IN BRITAIN RELY ON HOUSING BENEFIT TO MEET THE COST OF ACCOMODATION.

IN THE PAST TWO YEARS, ALMOST 59,000 HOUSEHOLDS HAVE HAD THEIR BENEFITS CAPPED TO A MAXIMUM OF £26,000 PER YEAR.
* Nearly half of those households were in London.

A THIRD OF HOMES IN THE PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR DO NOT MEET THE GOVERNMENT’S DECENT HOMES STANDARDS FOR HEALTH, SAFETY AND HABITABILITY.

A THIRD OF PEOPLE LIVING IN POVERTY IN ENGLAND AND WALES LIVE IN PRIVATE RENTED ACCOMODATION.
* Up a fifth from a decade ago.

OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS, THE NUMBER OF RENTED HOUSEHOLDS IN ENGLAND AND WALES THAT WERE EVICTED HAS MORE THAN TREBLED.
* To 18,000 households evicted in 2014/15.

OVER THE NEXT QUARTER OF A CENTURY RENTS ARE PREDICTED TO RISE AT TWICE THE RATE OF INCOMES.
* And renters will be twice as likely to live in poverty (i.e. living in a household with less than 60% the median UK income).

40,000 HOMES WERE BUILT IN BRITAIN BY HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS IN 2014-15.
* 5,464 were for social rent, 5,205 were for private sale, and 8,797 were for ‘affordable’ rent, up to 80% of market price.

IN 2015-16, GOVERNMENT FUNDING THROUGH THE HOMES AND COMMUNITIES AGENCY BUILT 602 HOMES FOR SOCIAL RENT.
* In 2009-10 it provided 28,859.

BETWEEN 2012 AND 2015, THE NUMBER OF HOUSING ASSOCIATION HOMES FOR SO-CALLED ‘AFFORDABLE’ RENT ROSE FROM 7,354 TO 123,264.
* With 76,259 converted from homes for social rent.

PART 4: EVICTIONS

THERE WERE 37,839 COURT-ORDERED EVICTIONS IN ENGLAND AND WALES IN 2014/15.
* Four times the 8,034 mortgage repossessions. 19,539 of these evictions were by social landlords.

THERE WERE UP TO 200,000 REVENGE EVICTIONS IN BRITAIN IN 2013.
* In response to tenants complaining about housing standards.

NEARLY 42,000 FAMILIES WERE EVICTED FROM RENTAL ACCOMMODATION IN 2014.*
* The highest number since records began in 2000.

42,226 REPOSSESSION CLAIMS WERE MADE BY LANDLORDS IN THE FIRST THREE MONTHS OF 2015, UP 10% ON THE PREVIOUS QUARTER.*
* 64% of claims were made by social landlords.

A TOTAL OF 42,728 HOUSEHOLDS IN RENTED ACCOMMODATION IN ENGLAND AND WALES WERE EVICTED BY BAILIFFS IN 2015.
*The highest number since records began in 2000, and a 53% increase from five years ago.

IN THE FIRST THREE MONTHS OF 2015, COUNTY COURT BAILIFFS IN ENGLAND AND WALES EVICTED 11,300 FAMILIES.*
* An increase of 8% on the same period last year, and 51% higher than five years ago.

16,500 HOMES WERE REPOSSESSED IN LONDON IN 2014.
* 94% were rented properties repossessed by social or private landlords.

EVICTIONS FOR RENT ARREARS FROM HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS IN BRITAIN INCREASED FROM 7,535 IN 2010 TO 9,425 IN 2015.

IN THE THREE YEARS UP TO APRIL 2015, MORE THAN 50,000 FAMILIES WERE FORCIBLY MOVED OUT OF THEIR LONDON BOROUGH.

PART 5: HOMELESSNESS

1.9 MILLION HOUSEHOLDS ARE CURRENTLY ON HOUSING WAITING LISTS IN BRITAIN.

IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS, THE NUMBER OF HOUSEHOLDS PLACED IN TEMPORARY ACCOMODATION IN BRITAIN HAS RISEN BY A QUARTER to 61,000.
* Including nearly 88,000 children.

THE NUMBER OF FAMILIES LIVING IN BED AND BREAKFASTS IN BRITAIN HAS MORE THAN TRIPLED IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS.
* From 630 in 2010 to 2,040 in 2015.

280,000 HOUSEHOLDS IN BRITAIN ARE CURRENTLY AT RISK OF HOMELESSNESS.

250,000 HOUSEHOLDS IN LONDON ARE ON HOUSING WAITING LISTS.

240,000 HOUSEHOLDS, WITH 320,000 CHILDREN, ARE LIVING IN OVERCROWDED ACCOMMODATION.

50,000 LONDON HOUSEHOLDS, WITH 78,000 CHILDREN, ARE HOMELESS AND LIVING IN TEMPORARY ACCOMODATION.
* An 8% annual increase, and 75% of the national total.

592,000 CHILDREN IN LONDON ARE LIVING BELOW THE POVERTY LINE.
* 37 per cent of all children in the capital.

THERE WERE 36,540 BED SPACES FOR SINGLE HOMELESS PEOPLE IN ENGLAND IN 2015.
* 7,115 fewer than in 2010.

THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE SLEEPING ROUGH IN ENGLAND INCREASED BY 30% IN THE LAST YEAR TO AN ESTIMATED 3,569 PEOPLE.
* A 55% increase since 2010.

AS OF FEBRUARY 2016, 22,000 HOMES IN LONDON HAVE BEEN LEFT EMPTY FOR MORE THAN SIX MONTHS.*
* More than a third, 8,560, have been empty for over two years; and 1,150 homes have been empty for over a decade (not including the City of Westminster, which withheld figures).

PART 6: HOUSE PRICES

AVERAGE HOUSE PRICE IN LONDON BY BOROUGH
* In November 2015

Kensington & Chelsea: £1,658,563
City of Westminister : £1,385,797
Camden: £1,049,673
Hammersmith and Fulham: £951,328
City of London: £804,600
Wandsworth: £789,115
Richmond upon Thames: £773,433
Islington: £700,625
Southwark: £637,274
Merton: £633,739
Haringey: £613,292
Barnet: £611,318
Ealing: £606,001
Hackney: £589,164
Lambeth: £559,716
Brent: £543,277
Tower Hamlets: £515,588
Kingston upon Thames: £513,695
Hounslow: £504,562
Harrow: £489,725
Bromley: £456,810
Greenwich: £447,187
Lewisham: £431,060
Hillingdon: £422,290
Enfield: £416,049
Redbridge: £415,639
Waltham Forest: £411,215
Sutton: £376,388
Croydon: £362,518
Havering: £342,354
Newham: £340,670
Bexley: £311,097
Barking and Dagenham: £258,631

THE AVERAGE HOUSE PRICE IN GREATER LONDON IS £597,860.

THE AVERAGE HOUSE PRICE IN CENTRAL LONDON IS £970,892.

PART 7: THE HOUSING AND PLANNING ACT

A £450,000 ‘STARTER HOME’ IN LONDON REQUIRES A SALARY OF £77,000.
* And a deposit of £97,000.

‘STARTER HOMES’ ARE UNAFFORDABLE IN 98% OF THE COUNTRY FOR PEOPLE ON LOW INCOMES.
* And in 58% of the country for those on middle incomes.

40% OF EX-COUNCIL FLATS SOLD THROUGH ‘RIGHT TO BUY’ ARE NOW BEING RENTED OUT MORE EXPENSIVELY BY PRIVATE LANDLORDS.

214,000 HOUSEHOLDS WILL BE AFFECTED BY ‘PAY TO STAY’ ACROSS ENGLAND.
* And in London, most of the 27,000 households affected will be unable either to afford to rent privately or to buy in the same area.

ALMOST 113,000 COUNCIL HOMES IN ENGLAND WILL BE FORCIBLY SOLD AS ‘HIGH VALUE’ HOUSING.
* 78,778 of these homes will be lost from the 20 most affected local authorities, with half of these in Central London.

THE PROPOSED VALUES OVER WHICH ‘HIGH VALUE’ HOMES IN LONDON WILL BE SOLD IS:
* 1-bedroom: £340,000; 2-bedroom: £400,000; 3-bedroom: £490,000; 4-bedroom: £790,000; 5+ bedroom: £1,205,000.

THE PERCENTAGE OF HOMES OVER ‘HIGH VALUE’ THRESHOLDS IN CENTRAL LONDON IS:
* Kensington & Chelsea: 97.1%; Westminster: 76.2%; Hammersmith & Fulham: 50.3%; Camden: 49.8%; Islington: 24%; Southwark: 9.5%; Lambeth: 9.4%.

THE TOTAL NUMBER OF HOMES IN CENTRAL LONDON ABOVE THE ‘HIGH VALUE’ THRESHOLD IS:
* Camden: 7,494; Westminster: 5,830; Kensington & Chelsea: 4,369; Hammersmith & Fulham: 3,951; Southwark: 3,755; Islington: 3,711; Lambeth: 2,337.

IN THE 20 BOROUGHS LIKELY TO BE HARDEST HIT, 159,014 PEOPLE ARE ON COUNCIL HOUSING WAITING LISTS.
* With 22,371 children living in temporary accommodation.

PART 8: WHAT CRISIS?

THERE WAS NO FINANCIAL CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged by the rich.

THERE IS NO HOUSING CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged through housing.

THERE IS NO DEFICIT CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against the poor.

THERE IS NO BENEFITS CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged on the vulnerable.

THERE IS NO ECONOMIC CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against workers.

THERE IS NO N.H.S. CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against the sick.

THERE IS NO EDUCATION CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against students.

THERE IS NO POPULATION CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against immigrants.

THERE IS NO URBAN DENSITY CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against the inner cities.

THERE IS NO ELECTORAL CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged politically.

THERE IS NO SOCIAL CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged across society.

And we need to win it . . .

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

Illustration by Andrew Cooper

NOTE. I’ve been compiling these statistics over the past year-and-a-half, and I try to keep them updated as often as possible as things grow rapidly worse, but any corrections will be investigated, and any new additions that can be substantiated are welcome. The conclusions I draw from them are my own, but will hopefully be shared, one day, by the millions of people whose homes and lives they describe.

Marzahn: The Place Myths of Social Housing

‘East of Lichtenberg is Marzahn-Hellesdorf, a late-1970s satellite town and perhaps Berlin’s least obvious sightseeing destination. Silo-like apartment blocks and soulless shopping precincts stretch for miles out towards the edge of the city in what has to be one of the most desolate of the city’s boroughs. However, this is Berlin for tens of thousands of Berliners, and worth a look for this reason alone.

‘To see the most enduring legacy of East Berlin, it’s probably best to go by day and not look too much like a tourist, as the area has a reputation for violence. It’s in places like this, all across the former GDR, that people are bearing the economic brunt of reunification – unemployment – and where you’ll see the worst effects caused by the collapse of a state that, for all its faults, ensured a certain level of social security for its citizens. Ironically, Marzahn was one of the GDR’s model new towns of the late-1970s – part of Honecker’s efforts to solve this country’s endemic housing shortage by providing modern apartments in purpose-built blocks with shopping facilities and social amenities to hand. The result here was several kilometres of high-rise developments housing 250,000 people, where, like similar developments in the West, things never quite worked according to plan, with the usual crime and drugs surfacing.’

The Rough Guide to Berlin (2011)

 

Architects for Social Housing

Brexit Diary

Andrew, Brexit (line)

22 June

DEMOCRACY

Is there something important happening tomorrow? Everyone seems to be getting very upset about which group of bureaucrats they want to rule over us. The point, I seem to remember Marx saying, is to change the world, not choose your preferred master. The servility of the people dressed up in their democratic best. Dance, dance, like a dancing bear, screech like a parrot, chatter like an ape, cry like a red-nosed clown, pink bows on our shoes, a ruff around our neck. But the eye of an ass watches us from behind.

24 June

APRÈS NOUS, LE DÉLUGE

Suddenly, everyone is so political. But where were you when Ian Duncan Smith was killing the disabled in their thousands? Where were you when George Osborne cut £12 billion to welfare? Where were you when Jeremy Hunt sold the NHS into private hands? Where were you when Brandon Lewis abolished social housing? Where were you when Teresa May turned Britain into a police state? Where were you when David Cameron sold the land we stand on to the highest bidder and turned this country into a knocking shop for foreign investors?

But they mess with our travel plans and suddenly everyone’s up in arms. Not that I expect anyone to get up and do something about it. Maybe a candle-lit vigil in Trafalgar Square, and, of course, a wave of hatred in the press against the racist, politically manipulated, white working class we’ve been happily shitting on for decades; but then it’s back to naked restaurants in the Elephant & Castle, a new i-Phone app that wipes our arses for us, and screwing our fellow man over for a living.

Someone once said that every nation gets the government it deserves, and we definitely deserve what we’re going to get.

STEREOTYPES

I just got off the phone with my mate. She was telling me about a foreign businessman who was welcomed with open arms by the Hackney community in which she lives, but who has never employed locals, and instead uses foreign workers on crap pay with no employment rights in his now thriving business. I presume that now makes her a racist, even if she herself is mixed race.

Then I went to the shops and had a chat with the Indian woman behind the counter about how the price of the Guardian has gone up yet again. Then had a joke in the shop next door with the Turkish guy, who said he’d have to start charging me for plastic bags now we’ve left the European Union. On the way back I passed a team of Polish workers digging up the road to lay more bloody cable. And at the top of my street I waved hello to the Pakistani guy I always chat with when I go to his takeaway.

Everything’s fine here. No random acts of racism in the street or sudden descent into barbarism. Perhaps the middle classes should stop projecting their class stereotypes and fears onto the working class they’re so fond of patronising – white, black and brown. Read the Guardian, that’ll cheer you up. Buy an EU ribbon and stick it in your lapel so everyone knows how un-racist you are. Or go on a march and talk to each other about Britain First. Anything – except think about the capitalist gang-bang of Britain’s poor you’ve been doing so well out of this past decade and more.

AND IN OTHER NEWS: THE REFERENDUM

I’ve been too busy lately to follow the whole EU referendum spectacle, and in the limited time I had to devote to it I didn’t find a single thing to read that wasn’t a hysterical version of ‘But surely you can see I’m right!’ As a consequence, I didn’t vote yesterday. But having followed what is being done to Greece and visited the country last year, I struggle to see the European Union as a force for good. It’s an uncomfortable fact that each of the 10.7 million Greek nationals’ share of the country’s €376 billion debt is 35,000 Euros, payable by every man, woman, child, infant, grandmother, grandfather, disabled, sick, unemployed and bankrupt member of the European Union that was supposed to make them so wealthy. Nor do I see the past ten years in Europe as a model of democratic accountability, workers rights and free croissants, which apparently we’re all going to lose now. On the other hand, I don’t want to see my friends who would otherwise have the right to live here struggle to justify their presence in this country according to whatever new laws we come up with.

However, I am a little surprised by the mass hysteria that has followed the vote to leave the European Union. As far as I can make out, we can still import goods from other countries, so the croissants will still be available; and while I sympathise with the plight of nationals from other countries in the European Union, my friends from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and other nations also not in the EU have had to overcome the same obstacles and managed to do so. I also note that the London middle classes haven’t been up in arms about the treatment of immigrants to this country not from the EU. I’ve yet to see them resisting the racist snatch squads on the streets of Camberwell, or marching to demand the release of the refugees from non-EU countries imprisoned at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. So you’ll excuse me if their sudden appeal to the right to live here in the name of civilisation, democracy and the fight against racism sounds just a little selfish.

As for the slightly less lofty claims that leaving the European Union has already knocked billions off the value of the pound and will drive foreign investment and businesses out of the UK (or more accurately out of the City of London), I never noticed that the past ten years of austerity politics imposed on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society were ever lessened by a Britain with the fifth strongest economy in the world being in the European Union. Nor has it been glaringly apparent to me that London being the financial capital of the world has sent a stream of riches ‘trickling down’ – I believe the complex economic theory goes – into the outstretched hands of the undeserving poor.

Finally, I do not recognise the champion of human and workers rights in the European Union that stood by and nodded in approval as the Tories and their collaborators, Liberal Democrats and Labour alike, presided over the dismantling of our welfare state and the erosion of our civil liberties these past ten years. Nor did it stop David Cameron, the lead campaigner for staying in Europe, introducing a new British Bill of Rights for the current session of Parliament, the proposal of which, once again, drew no response from those now so offended by this curb on their own freedom of movement within the European Union.

What I have noticed, though, and that almost universally, is that the vote to Leave has been uncritically claimed as being motivated by racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, lack of education, lack of a work ethic, and political manipulation by the tabloids – in short, by all the usual stereotypes about the working class that are so central to the sense of entitlement that is at the heart of middle-class identity and its never-ending struggle to exonerate itself of culpability in the more obscene inequalities and injustices of capitalism.

With one or two exceptions, everyone has been united in dismissing, without question, the possibility that the working classes they seem so sure voted for the UK’s exit from the European Union are fed up having their salaries and employment rights undercut by a workforce imported to do precisely that; that being treated as a semi-feudal labour and service industry for the financial elite is not their idea of citizenship; and that, like the workers in Greece, they don’t want their pay packets and pensions being set by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

As I said, I have not looked into the choices this referendum presented closely enough to have voted either way; but please, dear bourgeois, save your sanctimonious outrage and your barely disguised class hatred for Islington’s dinner parties, when you can sit around and talk about how ghastly England is becoming these days and discuss what part of the world you’re thinking of moving to. The rest of us, who can’t afford a second home and monthly trips to the continent, have to live here.

And some of us, as you’ll see if you look up from photographing your elegantly arranged dinner plate, are fighting for this rotten stinking country that you’ve sat on your arses and watched turn into an offshore tax haven for the filthy rich without lifting your pinkies off your decaf lattes – not with little ticks in boxes every four years, but on the street, and for the homes and lives and culture of the people who have been under attack by the government of an EU Britain for decades.

So please, dear disgusted of North London, put up, or shut up, because your bitching is slightly pathetic, and just as self-centred, class-driven and politically manipulated as the motives being attributed to those nasty, racist, uneducated, ignorant, violent, lazy, work-shy hooligans you’ve never met but seem to know so much about.

I’m in. Are you?

IMMIGRANTS, REFUGEES AND BREXIT

Figures for UK immigration in the year ending December 2015 were:

British immigrants: 83,000
British emigrants: 123,000
Net migration: –39,000

EU immigrants: 270,000
EU emigrants: 85,000
Net migration: 184,000

Non-EU immigrants: 277,000
Non-EU emigrants: 89,000
Net migration: 188,000

Total immigrants: 630,000
Total emigrants: 297,000
Net migration: 333,000

Which means slightly more than half of all non-British immigrants into the UK last year were from non-EU countries; raising the question of to what extent the UK leaving the EU will stop people emigrating here.

In 2015, a total of 1,321,560 immigrants and refugees claimed asylum in Europe, including in non-EU member countries Norway and Switzerland. About 360,000 of these came from Syria, 180,000 from Afghanistan, 120,000 from Iraq, 70,000 from Kosovo, 60,000 from Albania, 45,000 from Pakistan, 40,000 from Eritrea, and the rest from Nigeria, Iran and Ukraine.

A total of 292,540 of these were accepted into the EU, of which 13,905 came to the UK in 2015, while it was still a member of the European Union. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain when it was in the EU, agreed to accept a grand total of 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years.

In other words, there is no connection between the UK leaving the EU and our feeble response to the refugee crisis. That lies with the right-wing governments we have repeatedly elected to power, and whose military interventions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa we have consistently given a mandate to with that democratic vote we’re so proud of.

None of this fits into the narrative being written by the supporters of the same European Union that has backed and financed the wars that caused the refugee crisis, and whose aggressive neo-liberal economic policies are one of the key causes of immigration to the UK by EU nationals, the vast majority of which are not, as they like to think, Italian performance artists working as cappuccino waiters in Soho, but rather Romanian cleaners, Spanish nannies and Polish construction workers labouring on zero-hour contracts to clean up our mess, look after our kids and build our homes for half what we should be paying them.

25 June

THE VOTE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME

Statistics on the referendum are emerging, with the votes for remaining and leaving the European Union divided by everything from age to education to ethnicity to religion to region to nation. But what there are no figures for – in this, the most socially divided country in Europe – is how voting was determined by class.

In place of which we are fed the following conclusion to console us in our time of grief. The provincial working classes voted out because they are stupid and racist (cue interview with Northerner telling us from between his fag that he hates the bloody Romanians); and the urban middle classes voted in because they are heroic defenders of multiculturalism (cue interview with French student in London telling us between tears that we all have to learn to live together).

No hint of class interests here, no economic determination of ideology, no thought of the middle classes voting to feather their already well-bolstered beds, no suspicion of the working classes voting in protest at the destruction of their world, and definitely no class analysis from our independent, middle-class and very pissed-off press.

And how the middle classes eat it up!

MULTICULTURALISM, CLASS AND BREXIT

Under the New Labour government of Tony Blair the policy and laws on immigration in this country were changed to allow an enormous rise in the number of work permits granted to migrant workers. With the expansion of the European Union in 2004, UK labour markets were opened to workers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. This was not done out of a sudden conversion to the politics of peace, love and harmony between peoples, but to drive down the rising cost of the labour of the working-class population of the UK. By 2014, ten years later, 43 per cent of workers in elementary process-plant occupations (industrial cleaning and packers, bottlers, canners and fillers), 33.6 per cent of workers in cleaning and housekeeping, and 32 per cent of process workers in the food, drink, tobacco, glass, ceramics, textile, chemical, rubber, plastic and metal industries were foreign-born. The increase in the share of migrant labour has been greatest among process workers, up from 8.5 per cent in 2002 to 32.0 per cent in 2014.

The situation we have today, where a UK worker’s request for unionisation, a living wage or a contract is legal grounds for dismissal, is a direct result of this flooding of the labour market. When outraged protesters ask how it is possible that Phillip Green can buy a third luxury yacht with the pensions of 20,000 ex-BHS workers, or sack any employee who strikes for a wage she can live on, they might want to consider where the employment rights, recourse to industrial action and wage bargaining power of the working class in this country went.

Capitalist employers call it ‘competition’, and back it up with eagerly received propaganda in the media and entertainment industries denigrating the British working class as lazy, making a choice to live on benefits, and lacking in a work ethic for not accepting the same conditions of employment as Polish construction labourers and Romanian cleaning women. Even these are now standing up and protesting against those conditions. But those same workers who have had the economic value of their labour and skills undermined by the deliberate importing of migrant labour into the UK, who have had their unions made impotent or illegal by successive governments in thrall to the City, and who have seen the social services on which their increasingly impoverished communities rely cut by the politics of austerity, know exactly what it is: the means by which the rich have grown richer beyond avarice and the poor have been driven into greater and more abject poverty.

What the middle-class technocrats of neo-liberal capitalism call ‘multiculturalism’, which has been adopted and propagated as the ideology of our brave new world, is nothing more than the unregulated movement of capital through global markets by multinational corporations that have no country, pay no tax, are bound by no government, concede no rights to their workers, demolish our homes for profit, write our laws to legalise their theft, and determine our governments. And the free movement of labour acclaimed by middle-class liberals as the economic realisation of this ideology is nothing more than the means by which the resistance of workers to their impoverishment has been taken away from them by the influx of a surplus labour force.

In response to all this, which has seen the working class of this country reduced to political and economic impotence and servitude, we now have the lamentations of the European middle classes complaining bitterly about ‘not feeling welcome anymore’ in the UK and proclaiming themselves the defenders of that entirely illusory Britain they have done so much to create, which sees no contradiction in describing itself as built on tolerance, multiculturalism and economic opportunity, while presiding over the greatest assault on the living and employment conditions of the working class in this country in a generation.

It is unfortunate that the working class have had to make this political choice in tandem with the racist right-wing of the Leave campaign – which isn’t to say that the Stay campaign wasn’t just as racist and right-wing; but it’s not as if they’ve been offered anything resembling an electable political party that has cast more than a condescending glance in their direction for several decades now – if ever. But for the politically-correct middle classes to continue to dismiss that vote as based on racism and xenophobia, and to ignore its actual economic determinations, is to play into the hands of the politicians, bankers, international financiers and media moguls who want to drive this country further to the right, both economically and culturally. More than that, it is a continuation of the political betrayal and economic exploitation of the working class, and the unquestioning embrace of monopoly capitalism, that has been the defining quality of Britain’s London-centric, multicultural middle classes this past decade and more.

28 June

WHITE-VAN MAN & MIDDLE-CLASS RACISM

I was walking along Old Street today when two Home Office Immigration Enforcement vans pulled up on the other side of the road. Ahead of me I noticed a black African (not black British) man moved carefully to put the bus shelter between him and them, while watching the vans nervously through the glass partition. I could see through the windows of the vans that the immigration officers were a mix of white, black and brown. I was giving them the finger when another white van pulled up between me and them, and the two white men inside shouted out: ‘Go on, lads, lock ’em up!’

Another example, one might think, worthy of the Guardian’s website, of the racism released by Brexit. But these vans and their snatch squads have been patrolling our streets since April 2012, pursuing not Eastern Europeans but immigrants from outside the European Union. They have come up against community resistance in Shadwell, Camberwell, Deptford and many other places with communities that have refused to be intimidated by their tactics. But I can’t say I’ve noticed the European middle classes that are so outraged by Brexit’s threat to their freedom of movement among them. In fact, I haven’t noticed London’s middle classes look up from their decaf lattes and artisanal burgers long enough to notice any of the attacks on our civil and human rights this right-wing Tory government has instigated over the past six years.

So please, if you’re going to splutter and rage at whatever new laws on immigration Brexit may bring, at least be honest about why, and don’t dress it up in a suddenly discovered love for the community of man. Perhaps, if our British bankers, French restauranteurs and Qatari property developers had paid their Polish builders, Romanian cleaners and Spanish nannies a living wage, gave them a contract, and allowed them to join a union, the racists in those vans – on both sides of the street – wouldn’t be roaming our streets now.

THE NEW PLEBISCITE AND THE LIMITS OF PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY

The Labour Party has 229 democratically elected Members of Parliament. 172 of those have just voted to support a motion of no-confidence in their democratically Party leader, 40 voted against the motion, and 17 abstained or were absent. Despite this, Jeremy Corbyn still has the backing of the unions that finance the Labour Party and of its membership, which under the new rules that elected him 9 months ago with 59.5 per cent of a 76.3 per cent turnout – over 251,000 members – determines the Party leadership on a one member-one vote electoral system. Never before in the history of the Labour Party, which has seen more than its share of farces, has there been such a divide between the membership of the Party, which currently fluctuates around 388,000, and its representatives in Parliament.

I believe we are about to see the limits of our Parliamentary democracy exposed – not, as some entertained, in the Tory Government’s refusal to trigger Article 50 that will initiate the UK’s exit from the European Union; nor in the fact that the next Prime Minister of the UK and its 64 million subjects will be elected by the less than 150,000 members of the Conservative Party; but in the refusal of the parliamentary wing of the Labour Party to permit its members to chose their own leader. How anyone who has any commitment to social change in this country can still continue to support the Labour Party, or have faith in the Parliamentary system to bring that change about, beggars belief; but it will be interesting watching their illusions vanish, and seeing what straws they will clutch at in their wake. Anything – anything! – but face the political truths of our times.

A THOROUGHLY UNEXPECTED AND UNPLANNED SITUATION

On Channel 4 News this evening, Jon Snow was interviewing some Labour politicians on a platform outside the Houses of Parliament when a crowd of mostly young, mostly white protesters came marching down the street and into the Old Palace Yard. I wonder who decided to let them through? If we’d tried to get anywhere near that side of the yard, which lies behind concrete barriers within a restricted security area, we’d have been aggressively stopped by the police. So somebody wanted them there.

When we were organising the demonstration against the Housing and Planning Bill in January I looked into the security arrangements in this area, and legally you can’t pass wind without a copper’s permission. You definitely can’t pass into the east side of Old Palace Yard, as this march did; you’re not allowed to use megaphones, as they were; and you’re not allowed to march, as opposed to a standing protest, without prior permission from the Mayor of London, which they didn’t have. So the idea of this being a spontaneous march from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall, past Downing Street, through Parliament Square and onto Old Palace Yard opposite the Houses of Parliament is very suspicious. The whole route lies within the Government Security Zone, where the MET has free reign to arrest and otherwise beat the crap out of you on the mere suspicion that you’re about to do something anti-social, let alone illegal. The last time I marched with a crowd of kids like this, on the anti-Tory demonstration last May after Cameron got in, the riot police first baton charged then kettled us for three hours outside the Ministry of Defence. Here, there was barely a MET officer in site, and when they did arrive they filed politely down the side. If this bunch of middle-class protesters got this far, it’s because someone in power wanted them and their pro-EU chants on national TV. ‘A thoroughly unexpected and unplanned situation’, as Jon Snow helpfully told us, it wasn’t.

29 June

REDUCTIO AD HITLERUM

13558729_10154361992239571_1982975720810315820_o

Yesterday, during Nigel Farage’s farewell speech to the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgium Prime Minister and current MEP, compared UKIP’s already infamous poster of Syrian refugees along the Slovenian border to the propaganda of the Nazis. This is known as Godwin’s law, after the US attorney Mike Godwin, who argued that ‘as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches’.

Adolf Hitler, who was born on the border between Germany and what was then Austria-Hungary, had a Lower Bavarian accent that appears to have given him, in the ears of North Germans, an impression of sincerity rather than provincial uncouthness. Though I don’t like to admit it, I experienced a similar impression recently when listening to Susan Williams, otherwise known as Baroness Williams of Trafford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, during the debates in the House of Lords, where she led the Conservative peers in their support for the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill. An attractive woman of 49, born in Cork, educated in Huddersfield and a politician in Greater Manchester since 1998, it was difficult to reconcile her warm Northern accent with the vilification of and attacks on the working-class that came out of her lying mouth.

I haven’t heard Nigel Farage speak often, but listening to him yesterday I was suddenly struck by his accent, which beneath the stock-broker’s patter sounds a lot like an uncle of mine. Uncle Den was the spitting image of Eric Morecambe, had a similar sense of humour and a flair for draftsmanship, and worked for a graphic designer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he voted for Farage; and although my own family, as my Welsh grandmother once declared, ‘is like the United Nations’, I’d bet he voted to leave the European Union.

That said, the irony of a member of an organisation that is stripping Greece of its land, property, assets and self determination, which has politically and financially backed every war pursued by the US and EU nations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa over the past few decades, and which has sat on its bank balance while thousands of refugees from those wars drown in the Mediterranean or are herded into concentration camps – the irony of a member of such an organisation using a Reductio ad Hitlerum to champion the civilising benefits of the European Union would not have been lost on old Uncle Den.

30 June

CULTURAL VEGANISM IN THE COACH & HORSES

By mistake I was out in Soho last night, a place I usually avoid like the plague. After a few pints I dropped into the Coach & Horses with a mate. I never liked this place, was never a proper regular, but went once or twice a week in the 90s. Norman, the self-styled rudest landlord in London, was a miserable bastard who treated his staff like shit, and the place was full of bitter old queens who looked askance at us youngsters when we leaned against their particular two feet of bar. But it was, at least, a pub, full of sound and fury, with its own divisions and revisions. I haven’t been there for a long time, but had no illusions about what awaited us as we walked though the doors. Norman’s long gone, of course, though they still use his name on the menu. The sign reading ‘Sandwiches £1’ that was so prominent in the stage play of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell has gone too. And I think I can safely say that no-one like Jeff would be seen dead in the place.

I ordered two pints of the only ale they had on tap, and as I always do asked that it be poured in a mug. The boy behind the counter looked confused at my request, and waved a lager glass at me. He was of indeterminate nationality, just another of the bored as fuck Euro-trash clones that have taken the place of our barmaids. But I don’t blame him. Employment by a corporate owner who can fire you on a whim from a zero-hour contract at £6.50 an hour doesn’t inspire either humour or duty. Loathing and fear of getting the sack was all I recognised in his eyes. I could see, behind his blank stare, the seconds ticking down before he could run off to G-A-Y, or more likely take two night buses home to his bedsit in Deptford. I knew he had no idea what our national pub-snack was, but asked him anyway if he had any pork scratchings. I think he thought I was taking the piss, which I wasn’t; but when he turned away with a shake of his head a punter next to me handed me a menu and told me it was a vegan pub.

Now it was my turn to be confused. Like a man blindly thrashing his way through his own nightmare I held the menu up to my eyes. He was right. Norman’s Coach and Horses: London’s First Vegetarian & Vegan Pub:

  • Sauteed Wild Mushrooms on Toast (V.O): £6.95
  • Beetroot salad (VO, NFO,GF): £10.95
  • Portobello Mushroom Burger (VO,NF): £11.75
  • Celeriac, Chestnut and Parsnip Sausages (V,MF): £11.75
  • Chard Leaf Curry (NF): £11.50

I was just digesting this information, and trying to work out what VO, NFO, NF and MO meant, when I suddenly became aware that a troupe of cockney performers was standing around an upright piano in the corner of the bar, banging on pan lids with wooden spoons, and generally doing their best Dick van Dyke impression of what the clientele of West End yuppies, European hipsters and confused American tourists think London’s working class look, sound and act like. They played the usual songs we know and love from a hundred Hollywood movies, including my all-time most hated Maybe it’s Because I’m a Londoner, with many a ‘knees up mother brown’, ‘lawks, misses, is that an ankle I spy?’, and ‘spare us a penny, guv’nor.’

I began to think they barman had slipped something into my drink, and waving the menu in the face of the nearest cockney performer spluttered out: ‘It’s a fucking vegetarian pub!’ as if this would find some outraged response, or at least a roll of his eyes. But he just looked at me and said: ‘Aren’t you a vegetarian?’ I’d paid for the pint, so sat down with my mate and drank it, but when the same performer went round with a glass mug (no doubt they’d brought their own) asking for some change, I couldn’t let the matter drop and asked him if he was a vegetarian. He told me no, but that his son was.

That was enough for me. I downed my pint and left. Outside, where the sound of the cockney band starting up again met the sounds of the street, a row of people sat at the chunky wooden tables and stools so beloved of their class. The men were dressed in dark business suits, the women in the same. There wasn’t even a hipster to spit at. In front of them stood discreet halves of continental lager, large glasses of bad Chianti, and heavy china plates adorned with dishes I didn’t recognise or could afford.

When people say they want their country back, I would guess they mean from something like this. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say they want their culture back: back from this generic, global, corporate, monolithic, homogeneous, middle-class imitation of culture; back from the exploitative relations of production behind its facade of inclusiveness and equal opportunity; back from the stupidity, blandness and banality into which we have willingly sunk for nothing more than the promise of a vegetarian burger that costs two hours’ labour on the minimum wage for the workers who make it.

The consumers and class for whom this ersatz culture has been made, who have grown rich from the economic relations of its production, who are employed to propagate its ideals in our media, press, and entertainment industries, and who are refashioning our cities, countries and identities in its likeness, call it ‘multiculturalism’, and attack anyone who doesn’t dutifully take their place within its cultural logic as a racist. And I can see why. What confuses me, however, is why everybody else can’t.

Can I get some marinated tofu with that?

1 July

THIS CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE PROTEST!

The country is in turmoil. Nobody, it seems, wants to lead it. The Prime Minister has fallen on the bloody sword he has wielded over our heads for six long years. Boris Johnson, who shirked no ignominy that might have brought him closer to the crown, has just renounced his life-long ambition to place it on his head. The most likely pretenders to the throne are nobodies with the charisma of a fired geography teacher. Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, not to be outdone in idiocy, is tearing itself apart, deaf to the voices that voted for it. The most popular leader in Labour’s history is under attack from his own parliamentary wing, which directs all its energies to a self-immolation worthy of the Party’s Methodist credo. Yet they, too, cannot muster an alternative candidate not tarnished by the history of their shameful support for whatever lie might have brought them to power. The vultures that have straddled our sodden isles, one foot planted firmly on the Continent, have lost billions on the back of a vote by the working class they despise and exploit. Trillion pound trade deals that would have consigned us to obedient serfdom have collapsed in a day. And the political union that is one of the greatest instruments of neo-liberal economics looks on in terror as the fabric of its police state tears along the Brexit seam.

Faced with all this, with every political and economic institution against which it has railed the past decade standing on the edge of a cliff we thought we’d passed long ago, when the supposedly irresistible absolutes on which monopoly capitalism rests have never appeared so shaky and open to change – what does the so-called Radical Left do? It organises a march to demand that workers from counties obedient to the European Union be allowed to work in the UK under the same exploitative relations of production as the rest of us . . .

In a few weeks this will all be wrapped up. The Tory Government will have a new Prime Minister. The Labour Opposition will have a new leader. The bankers will be back in the driving seat. And the Brexit disaster of 2016, like the financial crisis of 2008, will be just another excuse for further austerity measures, an increase in police powers, and the herding of more sheep into the corrals of neo-liberalism. Plus, of course, an opportunity for our middle-class intellectuals to write their next book or make their next film about the imminent downfall of capitalism.

We weren’t ready, and we never will be until we build the revolutionary working-class movement that alone is capable of overthrowing capitalism and bringing a new world into existence. The rest – the holier-than-thou Puritanism of identity politics, the anarchists who want to be ruled by Brussels, the earnest debates on post-capitalism in university halls, the getting very excited about the Second Coming of Jeremy Corbyn, the rise of Saturday protesting as the new clubbing, the empowered and empowering discourses of the other policed by middle-class students, the networked individuals who are gonna change the world one click at a time, the endless petitions to some benevolent god out there in our collective imagination – is bullshit.

2 July

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING

Brexit map

On the left: how post-Brexit UK is being depicted in our press and media. Let’s call it the Guardian view of the world: a once United Kingdom divided now by region; multicultural London, the cosmopolitan Scots and the loyal Irish alone in a sea of Little-England isolationism, xenophobic racists, pheasant-eating fox hunters and benefit-scrounging council tenants.

On the right: something closer to how the UK actually voted. A referendum is not a general election, and the votes are not counted by geographic constituency. So Scotland didn’t vote to stay in the European Union, and Wales didn’t vote to leave. Right across the UK the electorate voted both to stay and to leave, with no more than a 60-40 split either way in most regions. But in the largest turnout in British electoral history, 17.4 million people, 52 per cent of voters in a 72 per cent turnout, chose to leave. Leaving aside the fox-hunters, the Paki-bashers and the Telegraph-readers, that’s still a huge number of people who made a decision to vote against the trajectory the UK economy has been taking for many years now, and which they associate, rightly or wrongly, with our membership of the EU. Our two-Party Parliament and our first past the post electoral system has constitutionally prohibited anything approaching this level of democracy before. And for the first time in a very long time, the working class have had an opportunity to make their voices heard, with each individual vote directly counting towards the result of the referendum.

For the middle-classes of London, which is to say, the British establishment in Parliament, in the City, in the press and in the media, to dismiss this vote as the deluded, manipulated expression of racist oiks, to call for a second referendum, to feverishly consider the legal and constitutional loopholes to triggering Article 50, and all the other ways they have spent this week trying to turn back the clock on their worst nightmare, is perhaps the clearest demonstration yet of the utter contempt in which that establishment holds the working class of this country and its complete indifference to their impoverishment under this Government. No surprise there. But that the so-called Radical Left have uncritically and without hesitation added their hysterical voices to this middle-class outrage has shown very clearly where they stand in the class war, and no amount of marching and bleating about refugees and immigration and racism will hide their loyalty to their class, their Party and the economic relations about which, as usual, they have nothing to say.

3 July

THE MIDDLE CLASSES STRIKE BACK

Hipsters for the EU! Snotty-nosed middle-class students for the EU! You won’t fool the children of the revolution for the EU! Radical Left People’s Assembly for the EU! Young upwardly mobile professionals for the EU! Young hooded anarchists for the EU! Sons and daughters of the urban middle-classes for the EU! People with enough money to spend their weekends in Barcelona for the EU! Non-binary poly-sexual cis-gendered women’s caucus performance artists with a gallery in Marylebone for the EU! Home-owners who’ve just seen the value of their homes plummet for the EU! Decaf latte with vegan burger and celeriac side-salad for the EU! Very pissed off middle-class twats who didn’t realise there were any working class people left in this god-awful country for the EU! Terribly busy people from Islington worried about who’s going to clean their £1 million homes for £6.50 an hour now for the EU! Oh what a bore do I really have to apply for a work permit like the rest of the world for the EU! Acolytes of the Cult of Jeremy Corbyn for the EU! Signatories to the Tony Blair isn’t a war criminal fan club for the EU! David Cameron wasn’t such a bad guy after all historical revisionists for the EU! This is our first ever protest and gosh isn’t it fun for the EU! Here’s another amusing pun on EU/YOU from an 80s pop-song for the EU! All cops are bastards but these ones seem really nice for some reason for the EU! I’ve sat on my arse and done fuck all while the working class have been ground into poverty but don’t mess with my travel plans for the EU! Londoners for immigrants as long as they all live in Bradford for the EU! All Brexiters are white racist benefit-scrounging hooligans I mean poor deluded victims of the Daily Mail wot don’t know their own minds for the EU! At the end of the day Greece needs to pay its way in the world Deutschland über alles for the EU! Smug bastards on the side of the bankers but at least we’re not racists for the EU!

Etc . . .

8 July

JEDERMANN SEIN EIGENER FUSSBALL

I watched the semi-final of the Euros between Germany and France last night. It was one of the strangest footballing experiences I’ve ever had, not only because Germany actually lost a football match, but because I watched them lose with a bunch of Germans, having arrived in Berlin on the 5th. We’d walked north from the S-Bahn at Ostkreuz, and this was easily the biggest crowd with the best atmosphere we’d encountered, though that isn’t saying much. I know Friedrichshain isn’t exactly Football Central, but the behaviour of the crowd still took me by surprise. There were at least as many women watching as men; except for one black man, everyone was white; except for the barmaids and a squatter who’d wandered by from Rigaer Straße, everyone was middle-class. Lots of German team shirts, long wooden tables, tall glasses of beer, etc. And within a minute of turning up, even though the match had already started, a smiling German waitress came up and asked us what we’d like to drink.

But the crowd’s reaction to the game was the strangest thing. I know reaching the semi-final of the European or World Cup is a bi-annual event for the Germans, but the atmosphere was more like a group of parents watching their children play an egg-and-spoon race at the school fundraiser. No shouting, no swearing, no real cheering, no tension (I guess because they all expected to win), and very little excitement. As opposed to the straining faces of Englishmen, who stare like Dante’s damned at the role-call of their own judgement, the Germans sat around and chatted politely about the rise of the Deutschmark and the price of Lederhosen, occasionally turning to catch a few completed passes before nodding soberly in approval and returning to their beer. What got the most reaction was a well-timed tackle, of which there were many. These received not the full-throated roar of an English crowd mingled with cries of ‘KILL HIM!’, ‘BREAK HIS LEG!’, etc, but a polite round of applause, the kind you hear at the Opera when a middling soprano makes his entrance. Even when Schweinsteiger gave away the contentious penalty that gave the dastardly French the lead, I honestly think I was the only person in or outside the entire bar debating whether it was ball to hand or hand to ball.

At half time, when English TV typically dissects every missed pass (of which there are many), bungled shot (ditto) and referee decision against them (cause we woz robbed!), German TV switches ― I shit you not ― to the latest in politics from the European Union (Brexit) and a weather report (cloudy). I can’t imagine a single TV screen in a single pub in England surviving this.

Midway through the second half, when it began to look like Germany were in ein bisschen die Mühe, the table to my left broke out into song. ‘Ah! I thought, now we’ll see some German Angst! Not so cool, calm and collected when they’re losing, are they?’ Alas, in response to me asking my German friend what mildly Francophobe football song they were chanting, she replied that it was a birthday song for one of their party, who stood up on cue and took a bow, blocking the view of the screen for half the bar. Frankly, if this didn’t result in his immediate glassing in an English pub I’d do it myself.

As the last five minutes were signalled and France were still 2-0 up, and even the German players appeared to have a bead or two of sweat on their quizzical brows, the one black man present stood up and politely waved his hand at the screen in exasperation. The final seconds ticked down. Were they really that confident about scoring not one but two late goals? Maybe I’d read the clock wrong and there was still half an hour to go. Germany were about to go out of the semi-final of the European Cup, a stage England last reached twenty years ago and has only achieved twice in major finals since 1966, and not a voice was raised, not a swear word was shouted at the referee, not an umlaut was dropped. I saw grown men weep into urinals when England were knocked out of the quarter finals of the 1998 World Cup by Argentina. I’ve seen crowds of English supporters look more distraught by England losing yet another penalty shootout than if you’d told them China had dropped a neutron bomb on the US. But here . . . nothing. No anger, no despair, no blame, no conspiracy theories, no interrogation of the national character, no drowning the collective sorrow in Jägermeister bombs and a quick shag in the girls’ toilets. Just an acceptance that ― although Germany were clearly the better team ― France had nicked the game, more on the back of German mistakes than by their own skill.

To the waitress’s polite enquiry, the crowd soberly decided they had an early start the next day doing whatever it is Berliners do for a living, and declined a third pint of Pils. Within five minutes of the final whistle the bar was empty. The chairs were neatly stacked. One glass had been broken, not in anger or violence, but knocked over by a moved chair. ‘Alles gut!’ they smiled. ‘We’ll win next time!’ And I have absolutely no doubt they will.

The question arising, of course, is this. Is the German nation so accustomed to success in football that both supporters and players never lose their cool and presence of mind, on or off the pitch, while the English, fans and players alike, run around like headless chickens in an agony of repeatedly crushed hopes? Or is it because they keep their cool ― and don’t really see what all the fuss is about a game they just happen to be extremely good at but fall short of seeing as the embodiment of their national character ― that the Germans are so good at football; whereas the English ― who run around like headless chickens in an agony of renewed despair ― try desperately to find the dubious glory of their long-lost Empire, a stiff upper lip in the face of disaster, and all the other cliches of their former national character in their current abject ineptitude at all sports, but in this one above all others?

As a nation, a people, a culture, a gene pool, Germany is so clearly superior to us in everything they do that it’s slightly embarrassing. The average girl on the street has the figure of an athlete. The kids are polite and speak seventeen languages. In Berlin, at least, nobody seems to work, everybody drinks in moderation, and even the punks say ‘bitte’ and ‘danke’. It’s no surprise that even after 2 World Wars, 1 Holocaust, and 39 years of the Stasi, they’re still running Europe. Where the Panzer failed the Euro has conquered. Like the British in India, the Germans have learnt that you don’t need to invade a country when you can strip it of every asset and reduce its citizens to penury and servitude with a Central Bank and a bunch of bureaucrats. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is what Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, not to mention Jean-Claude Juncker and the rest of the European Commission, want us to be. And if it’s a choice between 4 World and 3 European Cups versus a packet of pork scratchings, a pint of warm ale and a pub full of screaming, swearing, fighting, pissed-up, one-eyed cockneys weeping into their urine at full time, I’m slightly ashamed to say I’ll take the latter.

Everyman his own football.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

Illustration by Andrew Cooper