No Platform For Labour Lies

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Sunday’s demonstration, which was organised by the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, began in Lincoln’s Inn Fields – as was reported in the Evening Standard – with Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, telling us she is opposed to the Housing Bill, and ended outside Parliament – as reported in the Independent – with James Murray, Labour Islington Council’s Member for Housing, telling us the same. An A-B march, was the media’s message, by an inarticulate rabble, with a Labour Party spokesperson at each end, there to tell us what it was all about.

As anyone involved in the fight to save London’s council housing knows, the boroughs at the forefront of the social cleansing of our city over the last fifteen years are Labour boroughs. Our main opponent in this fight is not the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill, which is yet to evict a single council resident, but the regeneration programmes implemented by the Labour Councils of Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Haringey, Camden, Islington and Hammersmith & Fulham. A recent estimate is that between 2000-2015, no less than 113 housing estates have been, or are currently undergoing, regeneration in London, with the loss of 47,000 council homes. The vast bulk of these have been implemented by Labour Councils against their own residents. It’s unclear, therefore, in what way the Labour Party can claim to be opposed to the Housing and Planning Bill, whose attack on social housing is a continuation of its own ruthlessly pursued policy of demolishing London’s council estates.

In his Manifesto For All Londoners published this week, Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate for London mayor, declared his commitment to the Tory project of building 50,000 new homes a year in London on what he variously calls ‘other public sector land’ and ‘brownfield land’, on which he promises to build what he calls – in an attempt to distinguish it from the Government’s definition of ‘affordable homes’ as 80 percent of market rate – ‘genuinely affordable housing.’ These promises, for which Sadiq Khan provides no definition of either what constitutes ‘genuinely affordable’ or where this miraculously undeveloped land is to be found, do not differ in any way from those made by his opponent, Zac Goldsmith, who has committed to building the same number of homes on what, unlike Sadiq Khan, he does not shy away from identifying as the newly recategorised ‘brownfield land’ on which existing housing estates are built.

Not only is Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto in complete accord, therefore, with the philosophy and legislation in the Housing and Planning Bill, but it even appears to rely on its planning legislation to ‘unlock’ the land, as the legislation puts it, necessary to implement its building programme. Such large numbers of new homes will not be built on the piecemeal land made available by the enforced sale of council homes under the new legislation in the Housing and Planning Bill, but on the land freed up by what will be mass regeneration programmes, implemented by Labour Councils, to demolish London’s council housing. As laid out in the Manifesto, the conditions under which these estate regeneration schemes are to be implemented – community consultation and support, the exhaustion of all other options, and a ‘fair deal’ for existing residents – are indistinguishable from those we’ve already heard in the mouths of Labour councillors and Tory ministers alike, and will do nothing to contain, mediate or halt this increase in the demolition of London’s council housing. This is hardy surprising, given that both Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith are being advised on housing policy by estate agents Savills, who in a report to Cabinet published this January recommended demolishing the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners.

Despite these building plans, and the regeneration schemes that will clear the way for them currently being implemented across London, at the conclusion of yesterday’s march we were read a text by Jeremy Corbyn in which the Leader of the Opposition urged us to place our trust in the Labour Party, to cast our votes for the Labour Party, and promised that, once elected to the Government of this country, the Labour Party will build the homes we need. However, from Diane Abbott and Sadiq Khan to John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, what we haven’t heard from the Labour Party, either on yesterday’s demonstration or at any other time, is a demand or commitment to stop the social cleansing of London’s communities that is taking place now through the Labour housing policy of estate regeneration, and to which the Tory Housing and Planning Bill is a continuation and extension designed to clear council estates of their residents preparatory to their redevelopment.

All of which raises the following questions:

– Why has the Labour Party, from the leadership down to councillors and rank-and-file party members, taken such pains to declare their opposition to this Bill, to the extent that Lambeth Labour, who currently have plans to demolish six council estates, this week used a photograph of the Cressingham Gardens campaign to save one of those estates in their own newly-launched campaign to ‘Fight the Housing Bill’?

– Why has the Labour Party, through its support for the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, taken such great care that the reports on the demonstration in today’s press and media have been dominated almost exclusively by Labour spokespersons?

– Why have the loud criticisms of the Labour Party by the residents of estates being demolished by Labour Council regeneration schemes found, to my knowledge, not a single mention in the same media and press reports?

From the beginning  of this campaign we argued that calling it ‘Kill the Housing Bill’ was a mistake, since the focus on Pay to Stay, the enforced sale of High Value council housing, the end of Secure Tenancies and the extension of Right to Buy, all of which have dominated the debate on this Bill, ignored its planning component. It seemed at the time that this was partially due to the greater difficulty in understanding and summarising the Bill’s legislation on Planning Permission in Principle, which has been put forward specifically in order to by-pass existing planning practice and requirements, and redevelop the land on which London’s housing estate communities live.

It appears now, however, that this aspect of the Housing and Planning Bill was deliberately omitted from the Kill the Housing Bill campaign precisely because the building plans of the Labour Party to which Jeremy Corbyn has alluded, which Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto outlines, and which have been test-run by Labour Councils across London through their estate demolition programmes, are in accord with the Bill’s planning legislation, and even, in the event of Sadiq Khan’s election, will rely on it to be implemented. It’s clear now, in any case, that Kill the Housing Bill is a Labour Party-orchestrated campaign that has been designed to do two things:

1) To shift the debate about the Housing and Planning Bill away from the actual implementation of its legislation in London through Labour Council-led estate demolition and a Mayoral building programme of high-value housing on Local Authority land;

2) To nullify and appease the anger and opposition from council residents and traditional Labour voters who are being evicted from their homes by Labour Council-implemented regeneration schemes, and derail their efforts to organise resistance to them.

Sunday’s demonstration was supposed to clarify and publicise the message of the campaign against the Housing and Planning Bill in response to the silence and half truths in the mainstream media. But in the light of the orchestration and branding of yesterday’s protest and the resulting domination of today’s press reports by the Labour Party to the exclusion of every other voice, including that of its organisers, the Kill the Housing Bill campaign revealed itself this weekend for what it is – not part of the solution to the housing crisis threatening the homes and lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners, but part of the problem.

Truth, someone once said, is the first casualty of war. To restore the truth about the class war being fought through London’s housing to the strength we need to win it, the first step to recovery is to stop asking the people and institutions that are trying to destroy our homes to provide us with the means to stop them doing so. That means not only this Conservative Government but also the Labour Opposition. Fortunately, through years of fighting the propaganda, lies and bullying of Labour Councils, the residents of the council estates threatened by the Housing and Planning Bill know who and what to trust. With their knowledge and support, and that of other groups not hoodwinked by yesterday’s public relations stunt by the Labour Party, we will continue to initiate our own campaigns against the attacks on London’s council housing and the communities it houses. Please join us.

– Architects for Social Housing

15 thoughts on “No Platform For Labour Lies

  1. Reblogged this on THE SOUTH ESSEX HECKLER and commented:
    This piece may be a bit Londoncentric but as we know only too well, the consequences of gentrification and social cleansing in the capital have a direct impact on us down here on the estuary. This superb piece from ASH, written after the protest against the Housing Bill, rightly points the finger at the active role Labour run councils across London have played in gentrification and social cleansing.

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  2. Thank you ASH for a superb critique. This kind of analysis is a great complement to the on-the-ground work you have been doing at West Kensington/Gibbs Green, Central Hill and so on. It was very good to see you active at the Feb conference of JustSpace.org.uk and talking to some of our students at the Bartlett UCL. Michael Edwards

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  3. There are so many half-baked, wishy-washy elements to the bill. I do not usually read legislation but after reading this I was left with many questions. Apart from the evident interest in “high-value council homes” and, I guess, the land they sit on, there are no clear plans as to alternatives, amount of rents increase, timelines, etc. it is all quite blurry. How can this be even a basis for debate in parliament? Most people, everyday low-income people living in affordable housing (which, according to the various plans, would be replaced with, wait, affordable housing???) marched seeking answers, explanations, reassurance, not silly power struggles between political parties. Policy is driven more by business interests than political party ideals, with only slight variations between major parties. So bored of Labour-slashing, Tory-bashing. Government needs to start working for everyone, not just big business.

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  4. This blog triggered debate on Twitter between Tom Copley AM, @Blah and @SaveCressinghamlate on Tuesday evening 15 March. Tom C very critical of all Labour councils, all “regen”, being lumped together & trashed. He’s right that there are a lot of shades in this, but we stuck to our guns about the main thrust of ASH being right. The blog post is a bit shrill. I went to bed early but @Blah (the artist formerly known as @SingleAspect) carried on. Good exchange. Michael 0205 Wed

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    1. Thank you, Councillor Blackwell, for providing another example of the lies with which Labour councils justify their regeneration projects. In response to which, I include this letter to the Guardian by one of your fellow Camden councillors:

      ‘Oliver Wainwright cites Camden council’s Bacton estate redevelopment as “something of a miracle in a climate when new-build council housing has seemed impossible for so long” (Developing story, G2, 15 March). But a closer look shows it is sadly not so impressive. It’s one thing to replace existing social housing, which Bacton achieves. But Camden is crying out for more affordable housing, and this is where Bacton spectacularly fails. Of its extra 192 flats, 177 will cost full market price. Only 8% of the additional homes will be affordable – a woeful result against the council’s own target of 50% affordable in new housing space.

      ‘Moreover, filling one of London’s more deprived wards with £1m three-bedroom flats – and providing so few affordable homes – effectively banishes the existing community. Many local people describe this as social cleansing. Yes, Camden council faces a hostile government and, yes, it’s not acting as heinously as Tory councils like Barnet. But let’s not pretend it’s helping house its residents. Its community investment programme, which your report praises, will only build 75 new council homes a year over six years, when tens of thousands of people are on Camden’s waiting list. Labour remains hamstrung by its historic failure to repeal right-to-buy or invest in social housing. And if the example of Camden’s Labour council is anything to go by, it’s still trying to spin its way out of a catastrophe it did little to avert.’

      Sian Berry
      Camden councillor and Green party candidate for mayor of London

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Again, you, Sian Berry and your clique of sectarian friends are wrong and I’d strongly caution you not to call people liars. The scheme is a housing replacement scheme on the site of some old council offices because the previous stock was in such poor condition. Under CIP every council tenant who wants a home in the new development gets one, there is no ‘social cleansing’.

        The scheme is funded by private leasehold sales on land which remains under council freehold ownership. Berry talks about units, but we are also interested in floorspace to ease overcrowding for low income families – there is often a trade-off between the two.

        This scheme has done a good job at that and people are really happy. Most importantly it was enthusiastically endorsed by local tenants and the only people moaning about it are comfortably-off middle class homeowning architects and their chums in the SWP or the Green Party. Ideally there would be more council homes if, for example, we’d been allowed to borrow more – but we couldn’t – so the alternative was either to get a 50% development, or do nothing.

        Rather than join your skinny latte ‘stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off’ critique of everything I’d prefer to get on a do things: if we’d taken your or Sian’s advice nothing would have been built.

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  5. On the contrary Councillor Blackman, if you take a look through our blog, you will see that we have actually spent the last year working with residents on estates threatened with demolition to come up with designs for alternatives to demolition which significantly increase the numbers of additional council homes on the estates. Considerable research shows that as opposed to demolition, refurbishment and infill is more economically viable, and environmentally and socially sustainable.

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  6. Thank you, Councillor Blackwell, for providing yet another example of the arrogance with which Labour Councils dismiss anyone who questions their authority or refutes their lies. I will ignore your childish insults, and instead remind you that our article was about the culpability of Labour Councils across London boroughs in the social cleansing of this city through their implementation of regeneration projects. You can defend an individual regeneration, but you conveniently say nothing about what is happening across London.

    Typically for Labour Councils, your website does not provide figures of how many council homes were demolished by the Bacton estate or any other regeneration project by Camden Council. You do not provide information on the tenancy status of the new homes, but as we know from other Labour regeneration schemes, secure tenancies are easily turned into assured tenancies. You do not say what the increase in rents are, but as we know from other Labour regeneration schemes, social rent is easily turned into affordable rent. You do not say how much the new homes for leaseholders cost against the compensation you paid them, but as we know from other Labour regeneration schemes, it’s typically less than 50% the value of the new homes. You do not say what happened to residents on unsecured tenancies, but as we know from other Labour regeneration schemes, you show no compulsion in evicting families and sending them into temporary accommodation or outside the borough altogether. And you do not say how many of the former residents currently live in the new homes, but as we know, the right to return you brandish like a badge of honour is no right when the cost of buying the new home or paying the new rents is prohibitive. And yet you have the temerity to banter figures with us.

    If you’re not lying, Councillor Blackwell, provide us with those figures, not only for Bacton estate but for every other regeneration project in Camden. If you have nothing to hide, publish these figures. They, and not your arrogance assertions, are the measure of how successful or not your regeneration programme is. Until you do, you’ll forgive us if we believe you as little as we do the lies of Lambeth Council, the lies of Southwark Council, the lies of Newham Council, the lies of Hackney Council, the lies of Tower Hamlets Council. And I strongly caution you, Councillor Blackman, about lying to us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The figures are publicly available http://www.camden.gov.uk/cip and always have been – in fact I’m surprised that you haven’t come across it given you say you’re an expert and have passed judgement on all these schemes in London. Tenants who had council homes are given new ones in the development on these estates, I don’t see what so hard to understand by that. I can’t speak for all regeneration schemes in London as clearly some people do it differently.

      The facts are all set out there so I’m sorry they don’t fit your critique, but that’s an occupational hazard when you approach subject like you have.

      By purely focusing on infill you wouldn’t come near to affording new schemes and also questions of poor quality original design are not addressed – a strange omission by you.

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      1. There are none of the figures I’ve asked for on the Camden Council regeneration website and never have been. The Gospel Oak regeneration lists the estates to be demolished, but says nothing about what will replace them. That’s what’s ‘so hard to understand’, as you condescendingly put it, about your repeated assertions that tenants who had council homes are given new ones in the redevelopments. You should check your lies, Councillor Blackwell, before going public with them.

        I see Camden Council have recently proposed removing any provision for affordable housing on new developments south of Euston Road. Can you speak for that decision, Councillor Blackwell?

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Robert Pert (from Linkedin)
    Associate Director – Housing Development & Regeneration, Savills
    April 2014 – Present (2 years 5 months)
    Providing development consultancy and management services for clients delivering housing across London.
    Regeneration & Development Team Leader
    London Borough of Camden
    November 2009 – March 2014 (4 years 5 months)
    Led a team delivering mixed-tenure housing development as part on LB Camden owned land across the borough.

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