I’m dreaming dreams, I’m scheming schemes,
I’m building castles high.
They’re born anew, their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
And as the daylight is dawning,
They come again in the morning!
– Jaan Kenbrovin, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (1918)
There’s been a lot in the papers and on social media lately about West Ham football fans and how much they hate their new ground in the London Stadium. This culminated in the recent pitch invasion and protests during the Hammers’ home defeat to Burnley in March, when hundreds of angry fans demanded the removal of the board that oversaw the club’s move in August 2016 after 108 years at Upton Park. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who last year had to take back management of the stadium after it was revealed that the move has cost the public £300 million – the same cost as rebuilding a football-specific arena from scratch – called these protests ‘disgraceful’. In response, the club has introduced tighter security measures, including bringing the police into the ground, to patrol the space separating fans from the West Ham board on match days. A protest walk from Upton Park to Stratford planned for February was only called off following back room deals between the club’s vice-chairman and selected supporter groups. Despite Newham council spending £40 million on converting the former Olympic stadium through loans it admits it does not expect to see repaid, West Ham season ticket-holders complain about what a wasteland Stratford is, with none of the Pie & Mash shops and cheap pubs they used to visit on match day, and how much the former Olympic stadium, with its running track for athletes, separates them from the football pitch. This alienating distance, echoing that between working-class fans and the millionaire players and board-members, is the perfect image of the gentrification of English football since the Hillsborough Stadium disaster of 1989, the subsequent imposition of all-seater stands that doubled ticket prices overnight, and the forming of the Premier League stockmarket in 1992, and as such part of the wider marketisation of every aspect of our lives that is socially cleansing the working class from our inner cities.
Running along the east wing of the former Upton Park stadium in East Ham is Priory Road. On his property report website, Phil Spencer, the co-presenter of the Channel 4 property show Location, Location, Location, advises that being armed with the right information can help you with every aspect of property purchase, to which end he sums up the residents of this E6 road as follows:
‘Poorer council tenants including many single parents. The residents of this group typically occupy low quality terraces and small flats in cosmopolitan towns and suburbs. The majority rent social housing from the council or through housing associations, although some are struggling to pay a mortgage. Within these neighbourhoods live poorly paid office and manual workers. Educational attainment is very low and unemployment is the highest in the UK. These are generally family and single areas. They are typically credit hungry, striving to make ends meet and are often unable to meet repayments. These individuals more often than not read the tabloid press.’
If you go onto Google Maps, put the little yellow man on Priory Road at the north-east corner of the former Upton park stadium, and move south between what was the east stand and the Priory Court estate opposite, you can get a street view of gentrification on the hoardings erected around the building site. It’s a sunny day with a blue sky, and Barratt London presents: ‘Upton Gardens’.
Beyond is one of those generic architect’s renderings showing what the new development will look like, followed, a few yards along, by a sign advertising: ‘Landscape Gardens, Fitness Suite, Concierge and Underground Parking’.
Appropriately, given that Newham is a Labour-run council, parked at intervals on the left of the road are three white vans, all with the same sign on the back saying: ‘CORBYN: Groundwork & RC Frame Contractor’.
Opposite is another architect’s image, the third so far. In front of it is a schoolgirl wearing a hijab and walking towards another sign advertising: ‘One, two, three & four bedroom homes’.
And further down, after another image: ‘An exciting new destination with an impressive sporting heritage’.
Then another image, and another sign: ‘Sales and Marketing Suite located on Green Street. Due to Open July 2017’. Ahead, on the left, some local lads give the Google camera the finger.
And then something odd happens. The west stand, with 15,000 seats and a double tier of corporate hospitality boxes the largest in the West Ham ground, was rebuilt in 2001 and successively re-named after the club’s main sponsors as the Dr. Martens Stand (after the British clothing brand), the Alpari Stand (after the global foreign exchange group that went into liquidation in 2015), and finally the Betway Stand (after the global online gambling group). Until now it has accompanied street view down Priory Road, rising high above the hoardings on the far side of the site and framing the diggers and drills; but now, suddenly, it disappears. A construction worker in a hard hat looks out at you from behind a door, and a woman pushing her trolley turns briefly. Her face, like that of the Asian schoolgirl, is erased from the street view photograph.
The light fails on this new day, and the clouds move across the sun. You pass a line of garages, and on a wall on the right, just before the Barking Road where Ercan Fish Bar once sold ‘traditional fish and chips’ to the Upton Park crowd, Nathan’s ‘Pies and Eels’ sold pre-match boxes to Stratford until it was forced to close, and the Boleyn pub made sure the fans were well watered, there’s a wall mural of Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking. Their faces, too, are erased by the camera. However, from from being a remnant of West Ham’s presence in the neighbourhood since 1904, this mural was painted in 2017 as part of Barratt’s conscious exploitation of what they call the club’s ‘legacy’.
A hundred yards or more down the road, at the junction with Green Street, is the famous statue of West Ham’s Bobby Moore, the 1966 World Cup in his hand, raised on the shoulders of his club mate Geoff Hurst and Everton’s Ray Wilson, while a third Hammer, Martin Peters, looks on. Like the ground, and against the wishes of the majority of fans, the West Ham board want to move this memorial of local identity and pride to the London Stadium. Newham council are yet to make a decision.
An ‘impressive sporting heritage’ indeed, as the Barratt’s sign advertised, bottled, tied with a claret and blue bow and sold to property developers by the club’s corporate owners in collaboration with Newham council. Across the road is McDowalls, the local estate agents that has been in the area since 1880, but it doesn’t have any of the Upton Gardens properties in its window.
Upton Park – or more accurately the Boleyn Ground, since it was built on land once occupied by Boleyn Castle, which appeared on the club’s badge until it moved to the Oylmpic Stadium and was replaced by the word ‘London’ – was sold to the Galliard Group in July 2016 for £40 million. The following month ownership of the site was transferred to Barratt London, a division of Barratt Developments PLC, one of the largest residential property developers in the UK, which last year made a pre-tax profit of £765.1 million, up from just 104.8 million in 2013. The Upton Gardens development, whose high boundary-blocks will form a protective wall for the CCTV-surveilled courtyards onto which they look, will contain 842 properties in 18 buildings between 3 and 13 stories high, from which residents – as Barratt’s photo-gallery takes care to show – can look out over the surrounding council estates and streets of East Ham to where the sun sets behind Canary Wharf and the City.
Of these properties, Newham council has purchased 211, 25 per cent of the total, ostensibly in order to address the housing crisis in the borough, where 1 in every 25 people is homeless. These will form part of the housing stock of the council’s special purpose vehicle, Red Door Ventures, a private residential development and management company owned by the council. ‘Where possible’, the council says on its website, ‘these homes will be offered to Newham residents on a range of different affordable rents’. Under the funding guidance for Sadiq Khan’s Affordable Homes Programme, these will comprise:
- London Affordable Rent, which can be set at anything up to 80 per cent of market rate, but which the Mayor ‘expects’ to be set at £152.73/week for a 2-bedroom flat, significantly more than social rent, which averages £106.67/week for a 2-bedroom flat in Newham.
- London Living Rent, a rent-to-buy product set at a third of the median household income in the area, but which can vary by up to 20 per cent in line with house prices for the ward. These are available to households with an income up to £60,000 per annum, who will be required to purchase the property within 10 years or it will be sold on the shared ownership scheme.
- London Shared Ownership, properties eligible for Help to Buy for households that should have incomes that can support an initial purchase of between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the value of a property, up to a maxium of £90,000 per annum. These will receive a 5-year interest-free government equity loan for up to 40 per cent of the price of a property worth up to £600,000, and will require a mortgage from a commercial lender of at least 25 per cent and a deposit of 5 per cent.
All these affordable rent, loan and mortgage packages will be subject to additional, unspecified and unlimited service charges by Red Door Ventures. To get an idea of what ‘affordable’ means in this context, Barratt London are already advertising 1- and 2-bedroom apartments in Upton Gardens for between £360,000 and £481,000. As a rough yardstick of what that costs, buying a £450,000 property requires a deposit of £97,000 and a salary of £77,000 per annum. The median income in Newham, which is the lowest in London and one of the lowest in the UK, is £15,704. Helpfully, for the buy-to-let landlords and property investors who can afford these prices, Barratt’s have calculated that the gross rental yield on these properties is between 3.5 and 3.6 per cent. They have not yet released the prices or rental yields for the more expensive 3- and 4-bedroom properties, or for the townhouses, duplexes and penthouses.
Even more than these figures, the proof that Labour is a party of the middle classes run by the middle classes for the middle classes – and by ‘middle class’ I mean those households which, despite bringing home between £60,000 and £90,000 a year, are being subsidised by the state to increase even further the profit margins demanded from councils by builders like Barratt London – is that it only understands working-class life as ‘heritage’, as something to put a price on, something to steal and sell into private hands, something to extract the greatest profit from until there’s nothing left of value, no life left to squeeze from its collapsed veins, and the whole of London has been turned into the desert of corporate sponsorship and consumerism that is the Stratford Centre, the Westfield shopping mall and the Olympic ‘legacy’. And because the middle classes have no culture of their own, but can only steal and imitate and reduce working class culture into a glossy, overpriced version of itself that nobody – not even the middle classes – want, the price of that theft, extracted at the point of higher housing costs, deeper cuts to public spending and more punitive laws, is the destruction of everything it touches, from the Turkish chippy we ate in, to the pubs we drank in, to the parks our kids used to play in, to the football grounds we can’t afford to meet in, to the estates fewer and fewer of us are living in.
Following the local elections on Thursday 3 May, 2018, the leadership of Newham council – which has accumulated £563 million of long-term lender option borrower option loans (LOBOs), more than anywhere else in the country, on which it pays annual interest of up to 7.6%, and which because of this has the highest debt per person of any London borough – was held by the Labour Party, which has run the council continuously since 1964. Labour won 74 per cent of all votes cast in Newham, and retained every one of the 60 seats in the 20 wards represented on the council, as it has since 2010. In the ward of Boleyn, where around 3,200 people, or 32 per cent of the electorate of 9,900, voted, 2,554 of them, around 25 per cent of eligible voters but 80 per cent of the votes cast, voted for Labour.
Architects for Social Housing
Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the vast majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work, you can make a donation through PayPal: