On a recent visit around Clapton, ASH was shown some of the tactics being employed by Hackney Labour Council to prepare Clapton Park Estate, Nye Bevan Estate, Millfields Estate and Marian Court for the social cleansing of their communities, the demolition of their homes, and the redevelopment of the land for a white, wealthy, middle-class clientele of home buyers. The stories recounted here, the history of the area and the account of what’s going on now, were shared with us by someone who wishes to remain anonymous, but who lives in the neighbourhood, knows the residents, and has fought for the community for many years.
The main access road onto Clapton Park Estate from the south, Daubeney Road has been blocked at the corner of Redwald Road with bollards erected by Hackney Council. Ostensibly reducing traffic onto the estate, in effect it forces residents with cars to make long round journeys whenever they wish to enter or leave their homes.
The struggle to control the roads on the estate is one of the forerunners of the battles to come. Introducing restrictions on parking and raising the price of permits is an effective means of pushing residents out of their own community, while turning the estate into a carpark for the influx of home-buyers in the surrounding neighbourhood.
While homes are neglected of needed maintenance, thousands of pounds are spent on gardening carried out by an outside company working to improve the external appearance of the estate for prospective investors. Behind its happy signs, however, Clapton Estate is run by a Tenant Managed Organisation installed by the Labour Council, and which completely ignores the wishes of the residents it claims to represent.
The other three council towers built on this model in the area were demolished by the Labour Council for being unsafe for habitation, and replaced with mid-rise homes built on the City Villages model being exported across Greater London.
While the remaining tower, given the refurbishment it needed, is now gated private accommodation, complete with palms, security guards and ground-floor infill between the pilotis, the council flats it once provided are lost forever for the 15,500 people on Hackney Council’s waiting list for homes.
This estate is not for sale, but situated between the Lea Valley canal and rapidly gentrifying Clapton – whose main thoroughfare, Chatsworth Road, is lined with estate agents – it soon will be.
These residents’ garages, like all those on the estate, have been left to fall into disrepair through lack of maintenance by the Council, while the land opposite was given a £40,000 grant to be turned into a decorative garden and seating area for the local hipsters and middle-class families. The gardening on the estate is done by an outside company that does not employ local labour or consult with residents on what they would like done to their homes.
Fenced and padlocked against residents’ use, this parking space, now disused, is classified as brownfield land, meaning any developer that proposes a housing development on its land will automatically receive planning permission in principle. Once built, even a smallish block of private homes will attract further investors, assured that the Labour Council is docile and accommodating.
More residents’ garages refused maintenance. These too, once closed for health and safety reasons, or when they simply fall into disuse, will become brownfield land. The more areas on the estate classified as such, the easier it is to draw a red line around the whole thing and call it an ‘Opportunity Area’, within which what few planning restrictions remain after the Housing and Planning Act disappear.
The Nye Bevan estate, named after the Health and Housing Minister in the post-war Labour Government that founded the NHS and built over 1 million council homes between 1946 and 1951.
The secular equivalent of the village church, the Community Hall, built in the 1960s, is located at the centre of the two estates, and should be their heart.
Instead it’s this. To kill a community, the first thing councils do is deprive residents of their communal spaces. The Nye Bevan Hall was closed by Hackney Labour Council a year-and-a-half ago, and residents are now forced to travel off the estate to attend meetings with councillors. This effectively rules out attendance by the elderly, those with disabilities or other mobility problems, who return home late from work, who don’t have the travel money to get there, or who have children and other dependents to look after.
Although closed to the community it was built for, the hall can now be booked for commercial rates that are far beyond the reach of residents.
Another after-school venue for children taken away from working mothers.
The surest way to create an estate’s reputation for crime and anti-social behaviour is to close venues and access to activities in which the estate’s youth can find collective identity and security away from the street.
Once a symbol of their local identity, the E5 hall and playground is now locked against use by kids from the estate.
The climbing frames removed for so-called ‘health and safety’ reasons by the same gardening company, this now disused children’s playground becomes brownfield land, on which any housing development proposed on this coveted plot, which faces directly onto leafy Clapton Park, will receive planning permission in principle.
One of the few communal spaces left, and therefore a source of community spirit, organisation and possible resistance, the local allotments are also under threat by Hackney Labour Council, who have already tried once to close them down, but were defeated by strong community opposition.
The community-run boxing club has been refused financial support from Hackney Labour Council, which has moved the facilities that were based in the closed Nye Bevan Hall directly adjacent, and demanded shared use of the land.
Founded in the 1960s, the club raises the funds to keep itself going from charity events in which professional boxers who trained here as kids return to support their community.
With its strong message of support for local kids, and a refuge from the lure of gangs, this is the last kind of initiative Hackney Labour Council want to see thriving in a community they are trying to kill.
Any role for a black kid beside a Jobseeker’s job search, a road sweeper, a Tesco’s security guard or check-out girl is not encouraged by Hackney Labour Council.
Bored kids, by contrast, make good drug dealers, criminals and rioters, confirming the reputation of estates the Labour Council wants to demolish. Beside the land it stands on, this is another reason Hackney Council wants to shut down this haven for the estate’s youth.
The one garage on the estate that has been maintained belongs to the local vicar, whose rectory is twice the size of the homes of his parishioners.
As in every working-class community, the church is the voice of middle-class authority, preaching resignation and obedience to its congregation, and refusing to oppose the Labour Council that pays its salary.
Under threat of demolition, Marian Court has recently been occupied by Sisters Uncut as a protest against cuts to support for mothers trying to raise their children under increased cuts to benefits, or women trapped by domestic violence.
Another playground removed of its climbing frames, another place fenced off to children, another once-used space reclassified as brownfield land.
Though all council estates can now be reclassified as brownfield land, the closing of playgrounds and the managed decline of garages are the forerunners of the Council’s reclaiming of public land for private sale.
The space for estate parking is now closed to the estate’s residents.
And the garages have been run down into a state of disuse. Backing directly onto the similarly closed playground, an Opportunity Area for development has effectively been carved from the land residents are living on, and the building site that will soon be here will drive the majority of them away.
The rail arches alongside the estate have been closed, depriving local kids of the chance for apprenticeships and jobs in the businesses that previously served the local community.
The garages, mechanics and other businesses have been evicted from the premises, their leases torn up, and the venues of a formerly thriving local industry boarded up.
And, directly opposite, under the same set of arches, replaced with this.
Hackney’s share of the London Riot Regeneration Fund has been spent on the so-called Fashion Hub. Home to Mayfair labels like Gieves & Hawkes and Joseph, these upmarket retail outlets are in a different universe to the needs of the local community, being targeted, instead, at luring the white middle-class families that are colonising the area. While in the new Nike shop, consumption of the mass-produced commodity has replaced production within local businesses as the model of aspiration for black working-class youth.
A finger of gentrification, a tool in the social cleansing of Hackney, an image of the future of Brixton Arches.
Five years after the riots, this is the model of class and race relations being promoted by the Labour Council in Hackney, London, 2016.
Architects for Social Housing