Last October, on the invitation of the residents of Northwold Estate in Hackney, ASH visited an exhibition held in the estate’s community hall by TM Architects, the purpose of which was to help the architects ‘consult’ with residents about the options they had been commissioned to draw up for the future of the estate by the Guinness Partnership. We had been asked to attend by members of Love Northwold – a campaign which had recently been set up by residents worried about their homes – in order to give them architectural feedback on what they were being offered. ASH had met with the campaign a few times previously; and to judge by the reception we received from them it appeared that TM Architects had also heard of us. Architects may be able to endure the demolition of working-class homes to clear the ground for their designs with equanimity; but smelling a threat to their commission TM Architects turned into small yelping dogs who accompanied us around the room, answering all our rather difficult questions with frantic declarations about their good faith mixed with protestations as to just how beneficial all this will be for residents – if only they would open their eyes . . .
On entering the room the first thing we saw was a large plan of the estate on which every block was covered in stickers indicating where residents lived, places they liked, places they didn’t like, and places residents thought could be ‘redeveloped’ – this last category marked by a blue sticker. When I pointed out that every single block had a blue sticker on it, that this map could, therefore, be used as proof that residents were in favour of an option of full demolition, and that perhaps residents should be given some indication of what redevelopment would mean for them before they consigned their homes to demolition, TM Architects responded – as if this were some sort of excuse: ‘Oh, I think some kids got hold of the stickers . . .’
The exhibition began with an ‘Introduction and Update’ board filled with misinformation, half-truths and outright lies about what will happened to tenants and leaseholders in the event of their homes being demolished – all of which seemed a little premature given that residents were supposedly being consulted on what they wanted to happen to their homes. This was followed by what TM Architects – no doubt under the direction of the Guinness Partnership – had already decided were the criteria by which the different levels of development should be judged; but not once, in any of the material displayed, was the argument made why any development on the Northwold Estate at all should take place. Instead the exhibition pushed ahead with the presentation of the three available options: infill development, partial redevelopment and full redevelopment – which is where things really began to take off between ASH and TM Architects.
Having looked at the notice boards plastered with sticker-notes from residents asking for repairs and maintenance of their homes and the long-neglected upkeep of the estate’s communal spaces, the first thing we asked the architects was why there was no refurbishment option. They had no answer to this – quite simply because it wasn’t in their client brief, beyond which they saw no reason to look.
The second thing we asked TM Architects was why their infill option, which had come up with an additional 40-60 homes in an estate of ten times that number, had ignored the largest area of brownfield land available for redevelopment – a disused depot on Rossington Street owned by Hackney Labour Council on which they could easily have found room for a further 40-60 flats. They said the council were only willing to free up the land for regeneration if it involved demolishing the existing homes on the estate. We’ve subsequently been told that the council did in fact offer the land, but that the Guinness Partnership declined it except in the eventuality that they partially or fully demolish the estate. Whatever the truth, either the council or the housing association were interested in drastically reducing the number of homes that could be built through an infill option that would leave the existing homes and community intact.
Perhaps a better indication of how TM Architects infill option might have been arrived at was conveyed to us recently by an architectural assistant from Architectural Workers, a recently-formed group of junior architects unhappy at having to work for large practices on estate demolition schemes. The assistant we spoke to had only graduated the previous year, and yet the practice for which they worked – which to protect the worker’s identity we will not reveal – gave this graduate the responsibility, alone, for drawing up the infill option for an entire estate redevelopment project. And the time the practice gave this recently-graduated junior architect to complete the task? A single day. With such practices endemic in architectural studios given the remit of ruling out infill options in advance, is it any wonder TM Architects could only find space for 40-60 new flats, whereas ASH has consistently found an increase of 40-45 per cent housing on the estate’s we’ve worked with?
Finally, we asked TM Architects – who were really beginning to take a dislike to us – whether they had produced assessments of the social, mental health, financial and environmental impacts – on both residents and the surrounding community – of the partial and full demolition options they were proposing. They hadn’t, of course. So we suggested that doing so should be preparatory to any consultation with residents on these options. To propose these options without them would amount to deliberately deceiving residents into signing up to something whose consequences for them and their families were unknown – either to them or to the architects who, despite the complete absence of these assessments, for some reason presumed to know what was best for this Hackney community.
At this point TM architects were practically in tears, and I had to ask them not to shout at us. Like most architects whose practices we’ve confronted, they seemed to take our questions as personal attacks, rather than as a defence of the residents they threaten. Unused to being cross-examined on their own unexamined convictions, perhaps now TM Architects might know a little more what it’s like for residents who are forced to justify their right to continue to live in their own homes by so-called ‘consultations’ such as this. Except, of course, that residents have their homes to lose, while architects merely have a commission. Still, we have to start somewhere if we’re to cross the yawning gap between the professionals whose claims to know what’s best for residents is founded on their class arrogance and blindness, and the largely working-class residents whose homes their professional opinion threatens. I only wish architects showed such passion for the people whose lives their designs will have such an impact on as they do for their own offended professional sensibilities. With a final spurt of indignation the TM Architects shouted at us: ‘Well, if you think you can do better, why don’t you design an option?’
So we are. This week ASH met with the Love Northwold campaign, and on their instructions we are beginning the process of designing an alternative to the demolition of their estate, one that will increase its housing capacity far more than the ridiculous 40-60 homes TM Architects came up with, leave the existing community intact, and generate the funds to refurbish their homes – as the rents, mortgages and service charges they paid to the Guinness Partnership should have done. We shall be calling on Hackney Labour Council, and in particular its elected Mayor, Philip Glanville, to make the land on which the disused depot sits available for redevelopment. Presumably this is entered on the land registry of brownfield land councils are now compelled to draw up, and therefore, under the Housing and Planning Act, should receive planning permission in principle for any new housing development. And as the only reason the Guinness Partnership has given for consulting on the redevelopment of the Northwold Estate is their declared desire to build more homes to address London’s housing crisis, residents will be approaching the housing association about funding our design work.
Since the Guinness Partnership is a private company and not a local authority, and therefore under no public obligation to solve the housing crisis, it’s unclear from where this civic-minded duty springs – other than the huge profits to be made from manipulating this crisis to their benefit. But we’ll take them at their word – for the moment, and remind them that the housing crisis in London is one of affordability, not supply. Given the rank inadequacy of the infill option put forward by TM Architects, Love Northwold will be asking for the full financial backing of the Guinness Partnership for a design option that does not demolish a single home for social rent in a borough in which such homes are everywhere being demolished by Hackney Council’s estate demolition programme. If the Guinness Partnership’s plans to demolish the Northwold Estate spring from a desire to solve the housing crisis, it should be clear to them that this will best be achieved by refurbishing what few homes for social rent the borough still contains, not demolishing them, while increasing the number of homes in Hackney in which residents can actually afford to live.
There is one final indication of the kind of practice TM Architects is. Since residents were informed last July that their estate is up for ‘regeneration’ they have consistently been told that nothing has been decided, no plans have been made, and that the Guinness Partnership is just ‘consulting’ on the possibilities. While I was taking the photographs in this article, TM Architects must have told me half a dozen times that there was no need to as the display boards would ‘all soon be up on our website’. I thanked them for offering to save me the bother, but told them I’d take the photographs anyway – just in case. Of course they were lying, and the display boards never were put up, either on their website or that of the Guinness Partnership. What they did put up on the TM Architects website, however, is a timeline of their projects, and one entry indicates work starting on an ‘urban design strategy for redevelopment of a large North London estate’. It’s clear from the anonymous ground plan that’s included that it’s the Northwold Estate. And the date the work started? August 2015 – a full year before residents were told their estate was even being considered for regeneration.
Of course, the Guinness Partnership might have their eyes on quite another prize. It’s clear from the urban design strategy of TM Architects in conjunction with Farrer Huxley Associates and BPP Construction Consultants – not to mention the failed attempts by regeneration consultants Newman Francis to lead residents to this option during their own farcical ‘consultations’ – that the partial redevelopment option has been the one the Guinness Partnership has intended to pursue from the start – long before it went through the motions of ‘consulting’ with residents. At first we thought this was a case of them grabbing a little handful now and then filling their boots later, and that living on a building site for the next ten years would encourage tenants and leaseholders not already decanted to take what re-housing offers and compensations packages the Guinness Partnership offered them before the rest of the estate was demolished. But now we’re not so sure.
The Love Northwold campaign has suggested that the real target of the Guinness Partnership is not, in fact, the 7 blocks already identified for demolition on the main estate, but the land that stands to the south-east, on the large square between Northwold and Clapton Roads, and therefore adjacent to the busy and commercially valuable high street. Currently occupied by three blocks, Hendale, Scardale and Whitwell, the phasing strategy of the partial demolition option put forward by TM Architects indicates that these will be the last to be demolished (years 5-8 on the timetable of the redevelopment) and redeveloped (years 8-10), and as such will be emptied of their previous residents. Under the guise of being decanted, those tenants and leaseholders that can afford to will be moved to their new homes on the main estate during demolition, but they won’t return – leaving the no-doubt high-quality, luxury apartments the Guinness Partnership will build on the corner of Northwold and Clapton Roads free for private sale at whatever exorbitant market price they command by then. Judging from the number of estate agents, artisanal bakeries and ethically-sourced coffee shops springing up on Clapton Road, that’s likely to be very high indeed.
We don’t doubt that the Guinness Partnership isn’t above turning a tidy profit on converting homes for social rent into ‘affordable’ housing in the 7 blocks identified for demolition north of Northwold Road. After all, according to their own Financial Statements (on page 25), they increased profits on ‘affordable’ rent from £14.6 to £21.1 million last year alone through converting 559 such homes and letting new homes at ‘affordable’ rent. But perhaps it’s here, on the corner of Northwold and Clapton Roads, away from the rest of the estate, that they intend to cash in on Hackney’s rocketing property prices – the highest rising in London. The average house price in Hackney has increased by a barely believable 702 per cent in the past 20 years, from £75,569 in 1996 to £606,269 in 2016. It’s anyone’s guess what it’ll be in 10 years’ time when the luxury apartments the Guinness Partnership wants to build here are put on the market in the newly gentrified neighbourhood of Clapton-on-Lea. Is it any wonder that the infill development produced by TM Architects was so inadequate in finding space for new flats, when such an option would fail to decant the residents of Hendale, Scardale and Whitwell houses from their coveted land?
And with such a golden fleece dangling before their eyes – no matter how high the Guinness Partnership propose building on this block of land, no matter how dense they pack the housing – Hackney Labour Council’s easily-lobbied planning department will have the ready-made excuse that only through selling luxury homes at the highest possible market value can Guinness afford to pay for all that ‘affordable’ housing on the rest of Northwold Estate. Under this new catch-all phrase – which doesn’t bother trying to distinguish between 30 and 80 per cent of market rate, homes for rent, homes for private sale, mixed equity, the scam of shared ownership or the even bigger scam of Starter Homes – no mention of the number of homes for social rent lost is ever made in the viability assessments of property developers. And despite describing itself as a ‘not for profit’ organisation, that is exactly what the Guinness Partnership is.
If this is, indeed, the case, and the real profit motive for the Guinness Partnership’s interest in Northwold Estate, then the blocks they have already proposed for demolition are nothing more than a means for redeveloping the far more commercially valuable land on Clapton Road; and the households whose homes will be demolished and whose lives will be thrown into chaos over the next ten years as they are decanted, relocated and evicted from Northwold Estate are being manipulated and moved around like pawns on a chessboard. And like all pawns, they will be sacrificed when the real prize comes into play. But though the board is laid against us and the game fixed in advance, it’s still our move.
Betiel Mahari was a resident of the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton who paid social rent on her flat. Despite living there for 10 years, Beti was kept on an assured shorthold tenancy by the housing association, who never gave her security of tenure. So when the Guinness Partnership demolished her home in 2015 and moved her into another of their properties in Kennington, they were able to change her tenancy from ‘social’ to ‘affordable’, and raise her rent from £109 per week to £265 per week for a two-bedroom flat – a 240 per cent increase.
As a result of this enforced eviction and relocation of her family, Beti lost her full-time employment as the manager of Brixton’s Art Nouveau restaurant. Although she subsequently found work as a waitress on a zero-hours contract, Beti is now reliant on benefits to pay her increased rent and support herself and her two children on a salary far less than she earned before. To make matters worse, while the Department of Work and Pensions worked out how much of her part-time salary she can keep while claiming benefits, they suspended all their payments to her for three months. Not only that, but because her employment hours change every week, her benefits have to be re-assessed every three months. As a result, Beti has fallen into arrears with her rent, and the Guinness Partnership is now trying to evict her from her home for the second time. Beti is on an agreed instalment plan for the rent arrears, but the Guinness Partnership wants to increase her payments still further. Her court hearing is on 7 March, 2017.
Last September Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, based on the report by the government inspector, Lesley Coffey, refused Southwark Labour Council’s compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the homes of leaseholders on the first development site of the Aylesbury Estate demolition. Some of that decision was based on the leaseholders not being offered enough compensation by the council to buy a new home in the same area, so that doesn’t apply to Beti as a tenant. However, two key reasons for his decision were based on residents’ rights, whether or not they own their home or not, and these rulings by the Secretary of State are applicable to Beti’s situation, and therefore her appeal against the eviction of her family from their home by the Guinness Partnership.
Human Right to Respect for Family Life and Home
The first of these rulings was based on the European Convention on Human Rights, according to which everyone has ‘the right to respect for her private and family life, her home’ (Article 8). This is distinct from Protocol 1, which Sajid Javid also cited, which says that everyone ‘is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of her possessions’, and which is only applicable to leaseholders. A home, however, is a home, whether the resident owns it or not, and Beti’s was taken away from her when Guinness demolished her flat on Loughborough Park Estate and then failed to replace it with one she could afford to live in. It’s quite clear that they failed to do so, as she has fallen into arrears and is now facing eviction by the housing association that raised her rent by 240 per cent.
If Beti had refused this new tenancy, she would have been deemed by Lambeth Labour Council to have made herself ‘intentionally homeless’, at which point, under the 2011 Localism Act, their duty of care to re-house her would have been discharged. The Guinness Partnership, however, would still have a duty to re-house her children, and they have already threatened Beti that under such circumstances, Social Services will take her children from her.
By effectively forcing Beti into this unaffordable tenancy, therefore, the Guinness Partnership has clearly violated Beti’s human right, under British Law, ‘to respect for her private and family life, her home.’ The Guinness Partnership may not be legally obliged to re-house her – as they failed to re-house so many other Loughborough Park Estate tenants whose homes they demolished – but that does not mean they have the right to violate her human rights. In Beti’s case, this means:
1) Respect for her private and family life – which, given that her family is now facing eviction for the second time at their hands, the Guinness Partnership has clearly shown a complete lack of respect for; and
2) Respect for her home – which they first demolished, and are now seeking to evict her from for the second time.
It is the Guinness Partnership, not Beti, that has pushed her family into their present situation: first by demolishing the home in which they lived a financially independent life for ten years; and second by replacing it with an unaffordable home whose increased rent has driven them into benefit dependency and – if the eviction hearing goes against them – homelessness. It is the Guinness Partnership, therefore, that is guilty of violating their human rights.
Public Sector Equality Duty
The second aspect of the Secretary of State’s decision relates to Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, from which a ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ arises. In quoting this duty as a reason for refusing the compulsory purchase order on the Aylesbury Estate, the Secretary of State made particular reference to the ethnicity of the leaseholders and the disproportionately negative effects the CPO would have on residents unable to afford to remain in the area. He found that, under the Equality Act, this discriminated against two protected groups: 1) children forced to move to new schools and the damage this would have on their schooling; and 2) residents from black and ethnic minorities separated from their communities. These considerations made up by far the largest section of the Secretary of State’s letter explaining the grounds for his refusal, and they have the greatest potential application to all residents’ rights, including those of Beti.
By forcing Beti away from her former place of employment – which together with the stress and upheaval of being evicted led to her losing her job – and by re-housing her in a tenancy whose rent she cannot afford to pay, the Guinness Partnership has already discriminated against Beti economically. This will only be compounded if she is evicted from her replacement home and forced into London’s private rental market. However, economic discrimination – strange as this may seem – is not covered under the Equality Act. But it does legislate against discrimination based on age and race.
1) In paragraph 28 of the Secretary of State’s refusal of the CPO on the homes of Aylesbury Estate residents, it says:
‘The impact on children’s schooling may result in adverse impact on the child’s exam performance and their school reports. This is in turn likely to result in a lower level of achievement than otherwise might have been the case, which is likely to result in a lower level of opportunity for the affected child in terms of their ability to apply successfully for jobs (thus adversely affecting equality of opportunity) and – in terms of uprooting them at a vulnerable stage in their development – a negative impact on the affected child’s good relations with their family and extended social contacts (they are likely to go through a period of isolation as a result of being uprooted from the social networks they had established at their previous home).’
Whatever damage and interruption to her children’s education the Guinness Partnership has already caused by demolishing their home of 10 years and forcing their family away from Brixton, that education will undoubtedly be further and far worse disrupted by evicting them a second time from their current premises. If the Guinness Partnership is successful in their eviction, whatever duty they had to re-house Beti will be discharged, and she will be forced into the private rental sector. In order to afford London’s rocketing rents, Beti’s family will have to move many miles away from where they live now, even further away from their Brixton community, to the outer suburbs of London or outside the capital altogether. This will certainly mean her children having to enroll in another school, not to mention the further disruption and mental stress that comes with being evicted for the second time in two years. The very worst scenario is that Beti is unable to find accommodation and the Guinness Partnership is obliged to re-house her children, which will mean them being taken away by Social Services. It’s hard to imagine the devastating and lasting effects this will have on their lives.
2) In paragraph 32 of the same letter it says:
‘If, in practice, the cultural and/or ethnic make-up of those resident at the Estate, who are unlikely to be able to remain there, is pre-dominantly those of one or more particular ethnic/cultural origins, then their cultural life is likely to be disproportionately affected by a decision to confirm the [compulsory purchase] Order. There is also likely to be a negative impact on their ability to retain their cultural ties, undermining their equality of opportunity with other ethnic groups (such as white British) who may not be so disproportionately affected. This is particularly so, in that white British culture is more widely-established across the UK, including at housing sites to which residents may be moved, whereas minority cultural centres are often less widespread, which is likely to make cultural integration harder for those of BME origin who are forced to move than those of a white British origin.’
Forcing Beti and her two children away from their ethnic and cultural community – already partially inflicted when they were moved out of Brixton – will have further negative effects on their already disrupted lives. Beti has already lost her job when she was forced out of her neighbourhood, especially since her running of the café was founded on being a part of the Brixton community. If she is forced into private rental accommodation on the edge of Greater London, Beti will lose all of the support network from friends and family that is so necessary to the survival of a single mother struggling to raise her two children. That will undoubtedly have serious and perhaps irreversible consequences for the likelihood of her finding further employment in the field in which she has worked all her life. All of this, it needs keeping in mind, is because the Guinness Partnership wants its pound of flesh.
In summary, an Equality Impact Assessment of the actions of the Guinness Partnership would find that by making it financially impossible for Beti to remain in the area in which she worked and lived, in interrupting her children’s schooling and development, and in separating her family from their ethnic and cultural community, the Guinness Partnership is guilty of discriminating against them according to the protected groups of age and race, and contrary to the Equalities Act. Although they are not a local authority, as a housing association and registered social landlord responsible for the housing of tenants, the Guinness Partnership have neglected their Public Sector Equality Duty to Beti under Section 149 of this Act.
Appeal to the Guinness Partnership
Beti is not alone. There were 100 assured shorthold tenancies on the demolished Loughborough Park Estate, and the Guinness Partnership has announced its intention to demolish the Northwold Estate in Hackney. What is happening to Beti now will happen to every one of their tenants – even those lucky enough to be re-housed. Between 2010 and 2015, housing associations in Britain made an extra £2.6 billion from tenants claiming housing benefit, which now make up 63 per cent of their 2.86 million households. And in the three years leading up to 2015, the number of housing association properties for ‘affordable’ rent increased from 7,350 to 123,260, with 76,259 of these being converted from homes for social rent. The Guinness Partnership is making millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money from charging tenants like Beti these so-called ‘affordable’ rents – which means anything up to 80 percent of market price.
According to their own Financial Review of 2016, the Guinness Partnership increased their income from ‘affordable’ rents from £14.6 million to £21.1 million through converting 559 homes for social rent to ‘affordable’ rent. Beti’s current rent of £1,149 per month is the maximum she can claim in Housing Benefit for a single mother with two children living in a 2-bedroom flat in Southwark. But every last penny of that money is going straight into the pockets of the Guinness Partnership. In contrast, another tenant from the demolished Loughborough Estate, re-housed in the same block as Beti, is paying £175 per week for the same size flat – the reason being that, although she is allowed to work in the UK, she cannot claim benefits. What this shows is that Beti’s unaffordable rent has nothing to do with the cost of housing her family, but is purely set by how much the Guinness Partnership can take from the public’s pocket.
We call on the Guinness Partnership to cease legal proceedings to have Betiel Mahari and her family evicted from their home, and to give her a secure tenancy for social rent, so that she and her two boys can begin to rebuild the lives their actions have torn apart.
We call on the Guinness Partnership, a housing association with charity status, to stop, immediately, this callous and inhumane persecution of a single mother and her two young boys – which, if pursued further, will have potentially catastrophic consequences for their futures.
We call on the Guinness Partnership to recognise Betiel Mahari’s human right to respect for a family life and home, and to treat her and her children with the justice and equality they deserve under British law.
Campaign for Beti
Beti is a much-loved figure in the Brixton community, and under her management the Art Nouveau restaurant became one of the area’s meeting points. She was one of the main figures in the resident campaign fighting the demolition of the Loughborough Park Estate by the Guinness Partnership. She is also part of the campaign to save the Dexter Road and other adventure playgrounds from closure by Lambeth Labour Council. And even now, when faced with homelessness, she is supporting the campaign by residents to save the Northwold Estate in Hackney from demolition by the Guinness Partnership. Now she needs our help.
What can we do?
1) Please sign Beti’s petition, and share it and this blog post on your Facebook page, Twitter account and other social networks.
2) Support our campaign to stop Beti being made homeless by helping us to publicise what the Guinness Partnership are doing to her and thousands like her.
3) Write to the London Mayor and tell him why his Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, which will turn council and social housing into ‘affordable’ housing, will lead to millions of tenants like Beti being threatened with homelessness.
4) Turn up to our demonstration at Beti’s court hearing at 9.30am on Tuesday, 7 March in Lambeth County Court, Cleaver Street, London, SE11 4DZ.
5) If anyone can give Beti legal advice on how to defend herself, or can legally represent Beti in court, please get in contact with us on the ASH Facebook page.
On Wednesday, 25 January, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians (a squat crew that go by the acronym of ANAL) occupied 102 Belgrave Place, SW1X 8BU, a Grade II listed building on Eaton Square, and invited London’s homeless to find a safe place to sleep under its expansive roof. The £15 million mansion, which faces onto Eaton Square, stands on the UK’s most expensive street, with homes costing on average £17 million. Owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Goncharenko, Chief Executive Officer of Gazprom Invest Yug – a subsidiary of Russia’s third largest gas and oil company – the Belgravia property is one of four the oligarch has purchased in London over the past three years, spending £41 million on a mansion on Lyndhurst Road in Hampstead, £70 million on 50 St. James’s Street in Mayfair, and £120 million on Hanover Lodge in Regent’s Park – the highest amount ever paid for a residential property in the UK.
The Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians announced their intention to turn 102 Belgrave Place into a homeless shelter, and between 30 and 40 people were housed there during the occupation. The building’s numerous small rooms make it an ideal layout for a hostel, giving rough sleepers somewhere safe and warm to stay – something that can mean the difference between life and death during the winter months. The three large reception rooms were turned into a kitchen and dining room, community hall and workshop space. Another room was transformed into a film room, and Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake was one of the films listed for screening. The central location of the new hostel made it easy for people to donate food, clothes and bedding, and visitors were generous in donating all three. Given Westminster Tory Council’s stated practice of forcibly sending its homeless out of London, the squat was also a shelter from the Westminster Police.
The following Saturday the occupation, which had announced itself as an ‘anti-fascist’ squat, was attacked by a group of about 20 fascists who smashed three windows and tried to force entry into the building. An English Defence League march was taking place in Westminster that afternoon, and it’s likely that the attackers, who included the Nazi-saluting Ian MacTaggot, was a breakaway group. There were about 50 squatters and visitors in the building at the time, and once the children were taken upstairs away from the stones, the attackers were fought off with fire-extinguishers. The police, who had sat in squad cars outside the squat all day, conveniently drove off half an hour before the fascists arrived, and returned shortly afterwards. The Metropolitan Police Force still hasn’t come up with an explanation of how a gang of 20 masked-up fascists were able to inflict such damage in broad daylight to a building on the most expensive street in London surrounded by CCTV at a squat that had been reported around the world and was being watched by private security guards – and still walk away without being stopped.
Hearing and Eviction
In response to the occupation of 102 Belgrave Place, the owner’s representative, MCA Shipping Ltd, sought a possession order, and with an alacrity that only a billionaire’s displeasure can command a hearing was scheduled for the following Tuesday. At 10am on 31 January, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians appeared in the County Court at Central London on a charge of trespass. On the one side were the claims of homeless squatters in a city in which over 8,000 people slept rough last year; on the other the possession rights of a Russian billionaire to a building that has stood empty since he purchased it in 2014. District Judge Lightman took until precisely 10.03am to find in favour of Goncharenko, and granted a possession order on 102 Belgrave Place. A costs order for £8,735.86 was made against the two squatters named in the action. ANAL subsequently announced their intention to resist the eviction.
Early the following morning, Wednesday 1 February, High Court bailiffs – assisted by the Metropolitan Police in what is a purely civil matter – turned up at 102 Belgrave Place. After several hours of resistance by the squatters, bailiffs broke through the barricades and the building, which had been occupied for a week, was emptied again – one of more than 20,000 empty properties in London with a total market value of over £12 billion. The 40 or so squatters who had been living there since the previous Wednesday were physically ejected by the bailiffs onto the street. During the eviction, WPS 163 explained to squatters that bailiffs from the Sheriff’s Office, following the High Court sanctioning of the eviction, ‘are legally allowed to remove people in whatever fashion they chose’. Whether this is true or not, it clearly established that for the Metropolitan Police Force property rights come before human rights. In what appears to be Westminster Council’s official housing policy for its homeless, the sergeant asked if any of the now homeless squatters ‘needed a lift to the police station’. The squatters declined the offer.
World Capital of Dirty Deals
From 2008 foreign nationals investing £2 million in the UK were offered a ‘golden visa’, and after 5 years qualified for permanent residency. Out of the 3,048 visas granted under the scheme, 60 per cent were awarded to Chinese and Russian nationals. London has since become home to 77 billionaires, the most of any city in the world, with 120 billionaires in total living in the UK with a combined wealth of £344 billion. Much of that wealth is invested in UK – and particularly London – property purchased through offshore companies. More than 100,000 UK land titles are registered to anonymous companies in British oversees territories like the Virgin Islands, or other secrecy havens like Lichtenstein. Transparency International and Thomson Reuters have been unable to identify the real owners of more than half of the 44,022 land titles registered to oversees companies, but 9 out of 10 of the properties were bought through tax havens. Almost 1,000 of the titles were owned by ‘politically exposed persons’ – powerful individuals identified as having political influence and constituting the greatest risk of corruption.
The International Monetary Fund has assessed that the value of illicit wealth laundered globally per year is between 2 and 5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, which indicates the total laundered through the UK is around £90 billion annually. Given the UK’s tax laws and lack of transparency and the scale of investment in property, it’s likely to be far more. Following the privatisation of national assets in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, billions of pounds were illegally transferred into the UK from the corrupt sale of mining rights, telecommunications contracts and gas and oil concessions. More recently, following the Arab Spring, deposed dictators have siphoned off hundreds of millions of pounds of their countries’ assets, much of it recycled through the UK property market. The City of London is now the world centre for illicit finance and dirty deals. Nearly half the companies named in the Panama Papers were registered in the British Virgin Islands, and 3,500 of the individuals and companies named are probable matches for suspected criminals, including terrorists, cyber-criminals and smugglers.
One of the companies named in the Panama Papers is the Redmount Group, an offshore specialist based in the tax haven of Gibraltar that shares the same address and director as MCA Shipping Ltd. This listed director, Tim Lewis, testified at the London County Court hearing into the occupation of 102 Belgrave Place, whose owner, Andrey Goncharenko, is a shareholder in MCA Shipping.
On Wednesday 1 February, the day they were evicted from Belgrave Place, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians moved into new premises at 4 Grosvenor Gardens, SW1 0DH. Once again they invited London’s homeless to find shelter and safety there, and squatting and other campaign groups to use it as a meeting place. The huge reception on the ground floor was turned into a film screening room, and the room above, which opens out onto the balcony and views of the private garden, was used for music performances and art workshops in T-shirt printing and banner making.
For the past 35 years 4 Grosvenor Gardens has been the London address of Frost & Sullivan, an international market research, growth strategy and corporate training consultancy with offices in over 40 countries. But since the company moved to Chiswick last August the place has sat empty. The property was last purchased in June 1977 on a 93-year leasehold by Rowhurst Ltd, a real estate firm buying, selling and renting property. No financial information on the sale or market value of the property is available from the Land Registry, but with property values in SW1 increasing exponentially through the investment of international finance in London’s property market, Rowhurst Ltd may be content to let this Victorian building sit empty and unused for a further 6 months or even years. Then again, commercial space in Grosvenor Gardens is currently for rent at between £70-90 per square foot per annum; and despite the building being entirely empty, unit 4, 8 Grosvenor Gardens is currently listed as the box office address of Grosvenor Entertainments, a corporate hospitality and entertainment business selling tickets to concert, theatre, sports and corporate events.
What we do know about the finances of 4 Grosvenor Gardens is that the freehold was inherited last year by Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor, the 7th Duke of Grosvenor, who avoided 40 percent inheritance tax on his £9 billion fortune because the estate is held in trust. The Grosvenor Estate began in 1677 with the marriage of Sir Thomas Grosvenor, the 3rd Baronet, to the 12 year-old heiress Mary Davies, who had inherited the manor of Ebury, 500 acres of marshy land north of the Thames and to the west of the City of London. This remained largely untouched by the Grosvenor family until the 1720s when they developed the northern part, now known as Mayfair; and a few generations later, in the 1820s, they drained the land to the south and built what is now Belgravia, named after one of the Duke’s subsidiary titles, Viscount Belgrave. It’s here that this Victorian town house in Grosvenor Gardens was built in 1868. Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, a nineteenth-century army officer, anthropologist, archaeologist and aristocrat lived here between 1880 – when he inherited 32,000 acres in Cranbourne Chase and a fortune founded on the slave trade – and his death in 1900, a fact commemorated on a blue plaque at the front of the building.
Besides its extensive London property, much of the Grosvenor Estate’s investment and development portfolio is based in Britain and Ireland, with 133,100 acres in the UK, 0.22 per cent of its total land, and considerably more than the Queen – whose London address, Buckingham Palace, can be seen from the upper stories of 4 Grosvenor Gardens. Following international expansion in the 1950s the Grosvenor Group, a property corporation operated on behalf of the Duke of Westminster and his family, now has offices in 18 cities across the world, including in the USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden, France, Japan, China and Hong Kong. Despite current total assets of £47.6 billion, the Grosvenor Group paid only £58 million in tax on profits of £527 million in 2015. The father of the current Duke, whose family motto is Virtus Non Stemma (Virtue Not Ancestry), was once asked what advice he’d give to young entrepreneurs keen to emulate his success – to which he replied: ‘Make sure they have an ancestor who was a very close friend of William the Conqueror.’
Homes for Weapons
Shortly after moving into 4 Grosvenor Gardens, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians announced their plans to open the property next door, which also sits empty, as a community centre. Listed for sale on 16 January 2016 with a £24,000,000 guide price, this 18-bedroom freehold terraced house was advertised in Rightmove by marketing agents My Online Estate Agent (which saved the seller around £300,000 in estate agency fees) as follows:
‘We are delighted to offer for sale this superbly appointed property maintained to the highest possible standard. This Grade II Listed building, part of terrace constructed circa 1868, arranged over 7 floors. The property boasts many outstanding features including parquet flooring, original wood panelling, ornately decorated ceilings. The three highly appointed reception rooms all featuring wood panelling and parquet floors. Spacious reception room and dining room situated on the first floor, balcony to the front and terrace to the rear. Fully fitted bespoke kitchen with central island housing oven and hob, all fitted appliances, marble work surfaces, large windows leading to terrace. Laundry room located on the lower ground floor. 18 bedrooms some with en suite, and fitted robes all with parquet flooring. Master bedroom with superbly appointed en suite. 11 bathrooms. Staircases to all floors are of marble construction. The property overlooks beautiful gardens to the front of the property with Buckingham Palace in view. Access to the private Belgrave Square Gardens is available by annual fee charge to Grosvenor Estates for the key access. The property has a flat roof which could easily be converted to a roof top terrace. Private, secure residential parking.’
This property – which although empty is registered as residential and therefore cannot be squatted legally – sold for £322,800 in February 1999, then for £6,150,000 in December 2013 (an increase of 1,805 per cent), and most recently on 22 June 2016 for £16.9 million (a 174 per cent increase). Purchased the day before the European Union Referendum at two-thirds the asking price, the money was paid in full by His Excellency Major General Hamad bin Ali Al Attiyah, since June 2013 Qatar’s State Minister for Defense. In July 2014, His Excellency signed a $11 billion arms deal with US Defense Minister Chuck Hagel just months before the latter was removed from office. And in February 2016 it was revealed that Qatar politicians, among them the General, had showered the UK’s then Defence Procurement Minister, Philip Dunne, with gifts worth more than £33,000 over the past four years, including a £5,000 Concord watch, Chanel perfume, a Montblanc wallet, and an Yves Saint Laurent tie and cufflinks. Since Dunne was appointed Minister in 2012, Britain and Qatar agreed arms deals worth £173 million. In September 2014 Minister Dunne was photographed with General Hamad bin Ali Al Attiyah just days after Qatar was accused of supplying weapons to extreme Islamist groups, including Syrian terrorists linked to Isis.
Since its sale last June, 6 Grosvenor Gardens has subsequently been estimated by Zoopla to have a current value of between £30,539,000 and £35,993,000. Obscene as these escalating figures are, it should be noted that this residential property is single-fronted, with three windows looking onto the private gardens (which Westminster Council sold to property developer Oakvest in 2012); while the commercial property at no. 4 being squatted by the Anarchist Nation of Anarchist Libertarians is double-fronted and nearly twice the size.
Homes for People
ASH visited both squats, and it was clear neither property had been occupied for some time. Indeed, under the criteria being applied by London councils to decide the future of housing estates, 102 Belgrave Place should be demolished. Its peeling paint and blackened exterior has regularly been used by politicians as evidence of a ‘sink estate’; and the signs of water damage to the interior ceilings, according to our Cabinet Members for Housing, are a sign of anti-social behaviour. Commissioned studies have concluded that first-floor balconies like the one looking out onto Eaton Square, without adequate lighting and not overlooked by neighbours, are a breeding ground for crime and drug dealing. And rust, like that seen on the cast-iron veranda, has been interpreted as the external sign of structural failings that justify full demolition. In fact, the building, which used to house a Spanish cultural centre, hasn’t been used since it was purchased by Goncharenko in 2014, and as such – according to legislation in the government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016 – now qualifies as ‘brownfield land’.
Although unoccupied for only 6 months, 4 Grosvenor Square was, if anything, in an even worse state of disrepair. In one room the ceiling has fallen in, probably due to a leaking boiler, but the pile of rubble on the carpet below – if we are to believe our expert Regeneration Officers – is indicative of a failed experiment in this architectural form. By the same token, its damp and worn carpets betray a broken community living forced to live in an unloved property; while large cracks across the walls and ceilings are signs that the building is in danger of imminent collapse. The property has numerous broken windows – doubtless from gang warfare, as it is well known that SW1 is a battleground for rival Russian factions. And the strip lights appear unchanged since the property was last purchased in the 1970s, with electrical fittings and alarm systems a couple of decades out of date – proof, according to some recent academic studies, that the entire building has come to the end of its natural lifespan.
However, while such lack of maintenance – and the spurious interpretations of their causes – are cited by councillors as reasons for demolishing the homes of tens of thousands of council residents, any honest architect or builder will tell you that all these properties need is refurbishment. With the current housing shortage in London, and the rising numbers of homeless and households living in temporary accommodation, leaving either building standing empty for years on end to do nothing more than accumulate capital for their owners is morally and socially unacceptable.
That they have been, however, means that – under the Housing and Panning Act – planning permission in principle must now be granted by Westminster Council to any application for the building’s redevelopment as housing – including social housing – in a borough in which the need for homes for social rent has never been higher. When Westminster council granted Andrey Goncharenko planning permission for changes to 102 Belgrave Place – which included, unsurprisingly, installing a swimming pool in the basement – they concluded that the property was not suitable to include social housing, and agreed to accept a payment in lieu from Goncharenko of £816,000. ASH disagrees with both this conclusion and agreement. With current average waiting times for social housing in Westminster ranging from 10 years for a 2-bedroom flat to up to 25 years for a 4-bedroom house, and with 6 per cent of its accepted homeless being the result of evictions from private rented homes, Westminster Council have an obligation to requisition both disused properties and approve plans to renovate them either as hostels for the homeless or as social housing for the 2,484 households living in temporary accommodation in the borough and 4,500 priority households on the council’s housing waiting list.
If they refuse, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians are showing to the London public that there are plenty of squatting crews in London ready to bring these deposit boxes for offshore investment back into practical use as homes for the people who need them. With the number of people forced to sleep in doorways having doubled since 2010, there is no shortage of homeless people casing London’s thousands of empty properties for potential squats.
This Thursday, 9 February, the County Court will once again order bailiffs from the Sheriff’s Office – once again with the support of the Metropolitan Police Force in what is still a purely civil case – to evict the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians from 4 Grosvenor Gardens, a property which until the previous week has sat empty and unused for the last 6 months. ANAL have already said they will move to another property in a borough in which Westminster Conservative Council consistently refuses to provide figures on how many homes stand empty.
Last Monday, 30 January, on the orders of Sheffield City Council and following a ruling by Sheffield County Court, South Yorkshire Police evicted Tent City from Park Hill, an estate which was sold in 2004 to property developer Urban Splash for £1, and on which 600 homes have stood empty for 14 years. That evening Sheffield Tent City, which had provided shelter and community for around 40 rough-sleepers for 4 months, moved to its new home – a grass island a few hundred yards away in the middle of the Park Square Roundabout.
On Wednesday 25 January, the compulsory purchase order on the football ground, businesses and homes of the working-class community of Millwall, under threat of eviction by Lewisham Labour Council, was withdrawn. The Association of Millwall Supporters subsequently announced its plans to expose the corruption of the council and its links to offshore property developers Renewal, whose directors include the Mayor of Lewisham, Sir Steve Bullock, and the Leader of Southwark Labour Council, Peter John OBE.
On Saturday 7 January, Harrods waiters and chefs, following union representation by United Voices of the World, protested the theft of up to 75 per cent of their tips by the owners, the Qatari Investment Vehicle, which bought the Harrods Group in 2010 for £2 billion. Despite the arrest of eight protesters by the Metropolitan Police Force, including the General Secretary of the union, the following week Harrods conceded to UVW’s demands that workers will receive 100 per cent of their tips.
More and more people across Britain are resisting the arms of our political state, whether government, council, law court or police. More and more they are exposing them as nothing more than instruments of capitalist exploitation, acquisition, inequality and violence. More and more people are taking the direction of their lives into their own hands rather than spending them in the service of their wage-masters, deciding themselves on the rightness of their actions whatever their legality, building communities outside the ideological structures of the state, and opposing the forces of our economic, political and legal subjugation – not with appeals to our corrupt and increasingly repressive state apparatus – but with direct action.
‘A conservative estimate for the embodied carbon of Central Hill Estate would be around 7,000 tonnes of CO2e, similar emissions to those from heating 600 detached homes for a year using electric heating, or the emissions savings made by the London Mayor’s RE:NEW retrofitting scheme in a year and a quarter. Annual domestic emissions per capita in Lambeth are 1.8 tonnes. The emissions associated with the demolition of Central Hill Estate, therefore, equate to the annual emissions of over 4,000 Lambeth residents.’
Report by Model Environments on behalf ofArchitects for Social Housing
In the new year ASH visited Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. We went to look around the estate and see the renovations. Park Hill has often been compared to London’s Robin Hood Gardens, which unlike Park Hill was refused listing by English Heritage, and we wanted to see why one building had been saved for renovation and the other is to be demolished. We also wanted to see what the consequences of that renovation were for residents, both past and present. Above all, though, we wanted to visit Tent City, the homeless camp that had been set up there in October 2016. The first thing we saw, on the site where the tents had originally been pitched, was a Notice to Leave from Sheffield City Council, stapled to a stake in the ground. The deadline was dated a few days previous, but the camp hadn’t gone, just moved around the corner to one of the courtyard lawns between the west and south blocks of the estate. There we met Anthony Cunningham, the organiser of Tent City.
He told us he wants to draw attention to the poor condition of the various homeless shelters in the city. The reason so many people were living in Tent City, he said, is because the hostels were full of drugs and violence, and they felt safer here, in tents on an empty housing estate, than they did either in the shelters or on the streets of Sheffield. Homeless people had walked from as far away as Manchester and Newcastle to come here. He told us even the council’s housing officers were sending people they couldn’t house to Tent City. Anthony also wants to draw attention to the amount of money the homeless charities are receiving from the council and various other grants, and question how it’s being used. ‘If they’re doing the job they’re being paid to do’, he asked, ‘why does Tent City exist?’ It’s a reasonable question, which neither Sheffield City Council nor the homeless charities have yet answered.
While we were talking to Anthony a woman arrived with some hot soup she’d made for the camp. The previous night she’d brought some hot chocolate. She was responding to the videos Anthony releases on social media every day asking for food, water, clothing, blankets, cardboard to stand on, wood for the fire, camping equipment, and everything else you need to survive outdoors through a Sheffield winter. Beside a metal brazier the camp’s Christmas tree was still up, decorated with strands of tinsel. At the entrance to the camp, hung across one of the tents, a bed sheet carried the message: ‘Don’t make our homeless homeless’. On the floor of the food tent a cardboard sign said simply: ‘No more Death.’
We spent the next three hours walking around the estate, photographing the buildings and talking to the people we met. When we got back to London we made contact with Anthony, and over the past month we’ve done our best to publicise his campaign through our networks. This is what we saw and have learned since about what’s happening on Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate.
Park Hill Estate was completed in 1961, providing 995 council homes, 74 garages, 31 shops, 4 pubs, a laundrette, community centre, social club, doctor’s and dental clinic, chemist, infant and primary school, butcher’s, baker’s, newsagent, fish & chips shop and 12 caretakers for a community of around 3,000 estate residents. The four blocks, built on a slope falling northwards, rise from 4-storeys in the south to 13 in the north, maintaining an even roof level across the whole complex. The brick cladding infilling the concrete frame passes through four shades from dark brown at the bottom to pale ochre at the top, reflecting the surrounding architecture on Park Hill. The young architects were Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith, under the supervision of John Lewis Womersley, Sheffield Council’s City Architect. Construction began in 1957, and was completed in four years at a total cost of £2.2 million.
One of Park Hill’s innovations, revolutionary for the time, were the ‘streets in the sky’ that run alongside the flats every three floors, beginning at the first, and facing into the interior courtyards. Designed to imitate the streets of the terraced housing that was demolished to make way for the estate, and even given the old street names for familiarity, they were wide enough for milk floats to deliver their bottles to residents’ front doors, as well as collect their rubbish. And because all but the highest of the three ‘streets’ connected at some point to the ground as they went up the hill, residents were not dependent on lifts to get in and out of their homes. Another, even more important decision, was that neighbours on the old terraces were given flats next door to each other on the new estate, allowing the familial networks that bind a community together to continue. That community was working class, largely employed in Sheffield’s thriving steel industry.
However, under Margaret Thatcher’s government, British Steel lost £1 billion on a £3 billion turnover in 1980-81, and a sixth of Sheffield’s workforce, around 40,000 people, lost their jobs. Unemployment in the city as a whole reached 15 per cent in 1984. The 1977 Housing Act, which provided the first statutory definition of homelessness, meant local councils now had the duty to house the city’s most vulnerable people, and many of them ended up on the Park Hill Estate. From being home to a working-class community, Park Hill Estate became a dumping ground for the victims of Thatcher’s brave new world.
Near the estate’s south block we were approached by a homeless man living in Tent City. He told us openly he was a junkie, but insisted that he always disposed of his needles after use, and helped make the area safe for other users. He was trying to get allocated housing from the council’s rapidly diminishing stock, but they wanted to split him up from his girlfriend and two kids, and wouldn’t give him a home they could live in together. He told us that, after many years of struggle, he was in the mental frame to kick his addiction, but needed a home, and that this was the biggest obstacle to him getting his life and family back together. He didn’t ask us for money.
In 1998 Park Hill was given Grade II listing by English Heritage. The last remaining residents were evicted in 2003, and the following year Sheffield City Council, under Bob Kerslake, transferred the entire estate to property developer Urban Splash for the nominal sum of £1. Following his knighthood two years later, Sir Bob Kerslake went on to become Chief Executive of the government’s Homes and Community Agency in 2008, and Permanent Secretary of the Department of Communities and Local Government in 2010. In 2015, as the newly ennobled Baron Kerslake of Endcliffe in the City of Sheffield, Lord Kerslake became Chair of Peabody housing association, which this month merged with Family Mosaic, and now manages a combined portfolio of 55,000 homes.
In 2006 Sheffield City Council granted planning permission on the land for 634 new homes for private sale, 40 available under a shared ownership scheme, and 200 for rent through Great Places Housing Group, one of the UK’s largest landlords, which owns or manages 18,465 homes. In 2007 the estate’s schools, shops and housing office were demolished, and in 2008 Urban Splash began Phase 1 of the renovation of the north block on a proposal for 257 apartments for private sale, 56 flats for rent, and 12 units for shared ownership, plus 30,000 square feet of commercial space. At the insistence of Urban Splash, the development agreement between them and Sheffield City Council has been withheld from public scrutiny.
Having incurred pre-tax losses of £15.4 million for the year ending 31 March 2012, Urban Splash announced in August 2013 that it had formed a joint venture with property developer Places for People to complete the renovation of the north block. The deal, which followed Urban Splash selling its new partner 654 of its other properties for £77 million, also meant that Places for People, which has assets in excess of £3 billion and manages more than 150,000 homes, is now the purchaser of last resort on Park Hill’s new flats in the event of market failure. The following month Sheffield City Council was accused of having spent £2.8 million of council funds since 2005 to keep the project afloat.
Renovation of the north block of Park Hill Estate was undertaken by architects Hawkins\Brown, with Studio Egret West as urban designer. Despite its listing, the building was gutted, with only the concrete frame remaining. The bricks from the original walls have been removed and replaced with aluminium sheets painted in bright colours, and the interiors of the flats have been stripped back to the raw concrete frame – which was not exposed in the original structure – reflecting the contemporary fetish for Brutalist architecture.
Part of the mechanism by which Brutalist estates are emptied of their social content as housing for the working class is this fetishisation of form and material. But this sensory fetish, appealing to both sight and touch, is only preserved and revealed for middle-class appreciation at the cost of a fundamental change in the function of the building, whose ‘essence’ the raw concrete is now, supposedly, revealed to be: no longer as the material structure of mass-produced social housing for the working class, but as the object of middle-class aesthetic pleasure for those few who have eyes to see (and can afford to live in the renovated estate). The fetish is always formed as compensation for a lack (in the fetishist) and absence (in the fetishised): for the foot fetishist it’s the woman he daren’t see whole; for the collector of ‘primitive art’ it’s the colonisation of the people it was stolen from; and for the contemporary aesthete of Brutalism it’s the working class community whose eviction from the renovated housing he refuses to see.
Phase 1 of the renovation of 78 flats in the north block at Park Hill Estate was completed in 2012. 26 of these flats were offered to social tenants, with the other 52 going on sale for between £90,000 and £150,000. The entire lower three floors of the block have been rented as commercial space. In 2013 the renovated block was nominated for the Stirling Prize, which is the apotheosis of this fetishism. It’s for this reason that the middle classes have so much invested in such prizes, not only financially but psychically. Social cleansing is conducted through an ideological mechanism that allows the beneficiary not to see what is right in front of their nose, a moral myopia that turns its gaze from the poverty and violence on which those previously denigrated, now suddenly beautiful concrete beams are exposed to their dazzled eyes.
The sales office was closed when we were there, but outside we began talking with a middle-class man, originally from London, who was eager to discuss the estate. He was visiting his daughter, who had recently bought one of the new apartments. We chatted amiably about the renovations, the recasting of the concrete balustrades, and other formal aspects of the block. We asked him if he knew about the tenancy range on the refurbishment, and he said ‘mixed’. Then we asked him whether he was aware of the Tent City for the homeless at the other end of the estate. He was, and said he had ‘every sympathy with their plight’. He was a nice bloke, but saw no correlation between his daughter’s purchase of her new home and the people living in tents surrounded by 600 empty council flats a couple of hundred yards away.
The total number of flats on Park Hill Estate will be reduced from 995 to 874, of which 300 have been earmarked as ‘affordable’. Transform South Yorkshire, the Government’s former Housing Market Renewal Agency (with £13.5 million), the Government’s Homes and Community Agency (£24.8 million) and English Heritage (£0.5 million) have so far committed a total of £38.8 million of public money to the £130-135 million of private money invested in the renovation. In response to a Freedom of Information request, Sheffield City Council have revealed that, as of February 2013, 26 homes for social rent were made available in the renovated north block, with a further 30 homes for social rent promised in the future.
These 56 flats comprise the entire rental component of the block, and raise the question of how many are actually for ‘affordable’ rent. With government subsidies now only available for the latter, housing associations are systematically converting social rents into affordable rents, with 76,259 converted across the UK in the three years between 2012 and 2015. Under the Homes and Communities Agency’s Affordable Homes Guarantee Programme 2013–17, Great Places Housing Group, in their end of year report 2015, boast of bringing 900 homes to start on site over this period. They make no mention of homes for social rent. But whether for social or affordable prices, of the 670 remaining households that were ‘decanted’ from Park Hill Estate, by February 2013 only 18 former residents had returned.
In November 2015 architects Mikhail Riches were awarded the contract for Phase 2 of the renovation, to the northern half of the west block. This will see 200 more homes and 27,000 square feet of commercial space made available to buy and rent. In March 2016, following the award of £1 million of government funding, Artspace announced that it will relocate to a new art complex made up of galleries, studios and workshops, to be housed in the estate’s east block. And in October 2016 a revised contract between council and developer agreed – however unlikely this may be – that the renovation of the estate will finally be completed in 2022, with the remaining three blocks earmarked for 330 housing units for students from Sheffield’s Hallam University, a further 210 private apartments, plus more commercial space.
As part of what property developers call ‘place-making’, a working-class tragedy has been re-branded as middle-class marketing strategy for Park Hill Estate. Against a backdrop of Sheffield’s industrial past, Urban Splash has transformed a line of estate graffiti (first editing out the name of the addressee, Clare Middleton) into a Tracey Eminesque neon sign which they use to promote the regeneration of Park Hill Estate for their middle-class clients. The words ‘Will you marry me?’, written on one of the bridges between the renovated north block and the old west block, becomes an invitation to join the shiny new vision of Sheffield the transformation of Park Hill represents – no longer as the heartland of steel production in the North of England, but as a call centre for foreign-owned companies.
The writer of the graffiti, Jason, who was abandoned by his dad, sexually abused in homes as a child, and whose girlfriend was warned off by social services from marrying him and subsequently died from cancer, now out of work and broke, contacted Urban Splash about their use of his message to his dead girlfriend. ‘You’re making all this money out of my graffiti and I’m homeless. Can you give me a flat?’ Urban Splash didn’t bother to respond. Instead it has been left to an activist from Sheffield, Alice Carder, to start a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to house Jason. On her Just Giving page she writes: ’This could be another sad story of profit over people. Or it could be one of human kindness, love and people power.’ Urban Splash, which last year reported total returns of £14.6 million on a £25.1 million turnover, has not donated to the fund.
In October 2016 Sheffield’s homeless set up Tent City on land at the south end of the estate’s west block. The camp, which initially gave shelter to around 20 people, has received widespread support from the people of Sheffield in response to its social media campaign. Shops and cafes have donated food, drinks and wooden pallets to keep people off the muddy ground, and one company even installed portable toilets in the camp – until Sheffield City Council threatened to fine them if they weren’t removed. They subsequently issued Tent City a ‘Notice to Leave’ the land by 1 January, 2017. According to figures released that month by the Department of Communities and Local Government, the council has 737 local authority-owned homes sitting empty this winter. Since Park Hill Estate technically belongs to Urban Splash, it isn’t clear whether this includes the more than 600 homes on the estate that have sat empty for the past 14 years. Sheffield City Council additionally threatened the as-yet-unidentified defendant with up to £2,000 in legal fees if they did not vacate the land on which the west, south and east blocks of Park Hill Estate have stood empty since 2003.
In response to these threats the camp moved from its original site to a lawn on the courtyard between the west and south blocks, providing better shelter from the icy winds on Park Hill. There are currently around 30 homeless people living on the site. On 13 January the defendant, now identified as Anthony Cunningham, was issued with a ‘Notice of Trespass Hearing’, for which he was fined with a £355 issue fee, and instructed to appear at Sheffield County Court on 25 January, 2017.
The organiser of Tent City, Anthony Cunningham grew up on Park Hill Estate, and has served in the British Armed Forces. He worked for a year doing outreach for the homeless and vulnerable in Sheffield, during which he experienced how ineffectual the city’s hostels were, and now wants to open a night shelter in the city centre. He has started a petition that has so far collected 1,700 signatures out of a target of 2,500, which when reached he will present to the other project leaders at a scheme called L.I.F.E (a new beginning). He’s also spoken of raising funds for a derelict building on Duke Street, which runs along the east boundary of the estate, refurbishing it through the offers of voluntary work he’s received from builders, and turning it into a shelter.
When we met Anthony on Park Hill Estate and listened to him tell us about Tent City and what he hopes to achieve, we noticed how clean and ordered the camp was, with no rubbish in sight. About three hours later, as we were taking some final photos, we ran into him again, walking around the estate on his own as night fell picking up rubbish. He said he didn’t want the press turning up and accusing the homeless of creating a hazard, but he also wanted to make it safe for any users by cleaning up used needles. At ASH we don’t usually focus on individuals in campaigns, but we thought Anthony was a bit special and took this photograph of him.
Cathedral Archer Project
At the other end of our estimation, Tim Renshaw, the CEO of homeless charity Cathedral Archer Project, testified at the hearing in Sheffield County Court on 25 January. In his statement he condemned Sheffield Tent City on the grounds that, while it may be a ‘human response’ to homelessness, ‘human behaviour’, he said, means it isn’t the answer. By this he implied that homelessness isn’t caused by poverty, unemployment, the decimation of Sheffield’s industries, cuts to benefits and public services, or the demolition of housing people can afford to live in, but by the behaviour of the homeless. It didn’t surprise us to learn that Tim Renshaw is a former priest and curate: God being both perfect and omnipotent, the religious have to see suffering as an individual’s moral failing, which is why the government pays them so much to keep telling us homelessness is our own fault. According to Father Renshaw, however, the human behaviour at fault is not that of the government cutting funds for social housing, councils handing public land over to private developers, builders making a fortune on huge profit margins, or investors getting rich selling luxury apartments – it’s ours.
Nor were we surprised to discover that, in addition to its numerous other sources of income, the Cathedral Archer Project, which in 2016 registered a turnover of £661,530 (up £216,440 from the previous year) and declared assets of £327,540, receives a £30,000 grant from Sheffield City Council. As a Christian, Father Renshaw will forgive us for believing that his testimony in condemnation of Tent City was the quid pro quo for his 30 pieces of silver. Follow the money and you’ll find the corruption, and it inevitably leads all the way up to God’s pearly gates.
Helped by the reverend’s testimony, Sheffield County Court has granted Sheffield City Council an interim possession order for ‘Tent City’, giving them power to evict the camp within 24 hours. This means the more than 30 homeless people living there will be asked to leave at the end of a police baton and the camp demolished. This, apparently, is because the Labour council, according to Jayne Dunn, the Cabinet Member for Housing, ‘doesn’t think it is a safe place to stay’. More specifically and to the point, she wants homeless people to ‘get support and accommodation from established services’ – which is to say, from charities like the Cathedral Archer Project, which without the patronage of the homeless wouldn’t be making the large sums of money they do.
In addition to the £30,000 grant from the council, the charity received £388,842 from the Big Lottery Fund in 2010, £30,000 from Lloyds Bank in 2010, a further £60,000 in 2015, £15,000 from the South Yorkshire Police in 2014, and £75,000 from the Henry Smith Charity in 2015. Just as with the evicted residents whose homes Labour councils are demolishing up and down England, the homeless of Tent City are a lucrative source of income for the charities that claim these considerable sums in their name; and their eviction from Tent City not only makes them homeless again, but allows property developers Urban Splash to continue to keep over 600 council homes empty, as they have done for the past 14 years, while they work out how to make the greatest returns on its renovation. Council, developer, charity, law court, police: every link in the chain of social cleansing doing its job – including, of course, the architects.
Visions and Revisions
One of the most intractable problems ASH faces is convincing residents facing the regeneration of their estate – whether through renovation or demolition – that the new homes promised by the council are not being built for their benefit but for an entirely new clientelle of mostly private buyers and renters. We know the council is lying; the council know they’re lying; but persuading residents that local authorities – and Labour councils no less – are deliberately trying to make them homeless means challenging everything they’ve ever believed about the public sector and, for many of them, the Labour Party.
What makes Park Hill Estate so important as a case study is that we can follow its history from its beginning in the great council housing schemes of the 1960s; see the reasons for its decline in the 1980s – not, as we are constantly told by politicians, because of its architecture, but because of lack of maintenance and the changes to its use and resident demographic; look at the economic and political forces behind the decision to transfer its housing stock to a private developer; reveal the role of both housing association and central government in converting what is left of its social housing into affordable rents; place its renovation and re-branding for a middle-class clientelle in the context of the wider regeneration of Sheffield from an industrial into a service economy; expose the collusion of council, law court and charity in keeping its hundreds of empty homes free of the city’s homeless for over a decade; all the way through – if not to its end – then to a pretty accurate idea of what’s coming next. As supporting cast in this history, the role of architects in dressing up the social cleansing of a community of 3,000 residents as a purely formal exercise in building renovation has nevertheless been key to its acceptance by the public. It’s not for nothing that architects have been called ‘the funeral directors of the working class’. If you want to know about the visions and revisions of estate regeneration, look at Park Hill.
And where ASH has so far designed alternative proposals for estates threatened with demolition, Park Hill also demonstrates that listing estates is no solution for the communities that live on them. On the contrary, while residents threatened with the demolition of their homes are more likely to put up resistance, the renovation of their homes up to the high standards required of a listed estate is an effective means of decanting them. So while London’s Robin Hood Gardens, designed by Jack Lynn’s former colleagues Alison and Peter Smithson, was not listed, and is to be demolished and replaced with another generic example of the new London vernacular designed by architects Haworth Tompkins, its neighbour, Balfron Tower, was listed by Historic England, and is now being renovated by Poplar HARCA housing association to standards that no former resident can afford to pay – either as leaseholders unable to afford the cost of renovation (estimated at £137,000 per flat), or as tenants unable to afford the hugely increased rents, with no social housing provided. As both Balfron Tower and Park Hill show, listing an estate is merely another means of socially cleansing the resident community and freeing up the renovated building for a new, middle-class clientele of buyers and renters.
These lyrics by Morrissey, scribbled on a wall of the estate, were originally about a cemetery, but they serve just as well as an epitaph for the evicted community of Park Hill, whose history and memory the renovated and fetishised Brutalism of the new luxury apartments serves to erase.
Justice for Tent City
Architects for Social Housing calls for justice for Tent City in Sheffield County Court on Friday, 3 February on the charge of trespass for giving the city’s homeless a safe place to sleep in the middle of a Sheffield winter. The hearing, in which the council will seek a permanent possession order, is being held in The Law Courts, 50 West Bar, Sheffield, S3 8PH. If you live in Sheffield, please go down and show your solidarity with Anthony Cunningham, protest against the eviction of Tent City, and demand that Sheffield City Council opens the more than 600 homes sitting empty on Park Hill Estate to the homeless of Sheffield, and then refurbished – not for those who can afford to buy homes, as the billboards say, ‘from £100,000’ – but for the 29,444 households that are currently on the city’s housing waiting list.
How much rental revenue has Sheffield City Council lost from allowing more than 600 council flats to stand empty for 14 years? How much from the 995 flats on the original estate? Since Park Hill was handed over to Urban Splash in 2003, the council, which claimed it didn’t have the funds to refurbish the buildings, has lost over 724,000 weekly rents on 1, 2 and 3 bedroom homes. Current rents on the few remaining flats for social rent on the north block are £73.27 per week for a 1-bedroom flat, £89.66 for a 2-bedroom flat, and £103.00 for a 3-bedroom flat. Taking an average weekly rent of £89 per week (based on 1 x 1-bedroom flat, 2 x 2-bedroom flats and 1 x 3-bedroom flat in each 3-storey module) that’s around £65 million of lost revenue. With the £39 million of public money that’s been given to the private development, the council could have had £104 million, around £104,000 per flat – enough to refurbish the estate, and keep Park Hill as council housing. These figures are, of course, rough estimates and have many variables like changing rents, servicing and what little maintenance the council carried out between 1980 and 2003, plus the cost of decanting tenants during refurbishment; but they point to the revenues lost when Sheffield City Council put public housing into private hands, and the financial viability of refurbishing estates when the political will to do so is there. The social cleansing of Park Hill estate is not a financial necessity but a political choice.
It’s impossible to know exactly how much has been spent on the renovation of the north block of Park Hill Estate. The total cost of £40 million listed in the project data in 2010 only covered making the external envelope watertight, with the construction and interior fittings of flats dependent on market sales. And that’s before Places for People were cut into a new financial deal in 2013. As the ‘commercially sensitive’ information of private companies, none of this is available for public scrutiny, even on the renovation of formerly public housing. When the council gave Urban Splash the keys to Park Hill they also gave away their right to scrutinise the financial arrangements that would determine how many of the new homes would be available for private sale, shared ownership, joint equity, affordable or social rent – what Mark Latham, the development manager at Urban Splash, has called ‘remixing the tenures’.
However, taking the figures provided by Sheffield City Council in February 2013 – before Places for People came on board that August – £170 million of private and public money had been allocated to the renovation of the entire estate. With planning permission for 874 units divided between residential and commercial space, that comes to £194,500 per unit. According to the latest prices, the homes are selling for between £100,000 for a 1-bedroom and £150,000 for a 3-bedroom flat – considerably less, in other words, than the cost of refurbishing them. So whatever profit Urban Splash is making out of the project must be coming from the £39 million of public money invested by the various government bodies. It’s not surprising that the thirteen-year project has constantly stalled for lack of funds, or that it has been forced into partnership with a wealthier developer.
The motivations for the renovation of Park Hill Estate are different in degree, therefore, if not in kind, to what’s happening in London, where council estates – whether demolished like Robin Hood Gardens or renovated like Balfron Tower – are being replaced with flats only the very wealthy can afford to purchase. The cost of materials and labour does not increase five times between Sheffield and London, yet the flats on Park Hill Estate, at this level of renovation, would be on sale for between £500,000 and £750,000 in the capital. It’s this mark-up, and not the burden of so-called ‘affordable’ housing quotas, that accounts for the unprecedented profit margins being made by developers and builders. How many homes for social rent could be built with such sums is a question that can only be answered if there is the political will to ask it, but that will is entirely lacking in British politics today.
Ultimately, the blame for what’s happening at Park Hill Estate lies with the withdrawal of funds for council housing by successive governments, both Tory and Labour. But Sheffield City Council’s decision to offload the estate to a private developer, rather than refurbish it for existing residents, can only be explained by an account of where the revenue from the estate’s rents in the 42 years between 1961 and 2003 went. Contrary to the widely-peddled lie that council housing is subsidised by the tax-payer, the £2.2 million cost of building Park Hill Estate, which was low even for 1961, would have been paid off decades ago. But whether because of mismanagement or corruption, the council’s decision has directly resulted in the social cleansing of 3,000 residents from their former homes, the transferal of 1,000 council homes into private hands, and the expenditure of nearly £40 million pounds of public money on private investments. Indirectly, but no less consequently, it has resulted in the obscene sight of a camp of 30 homeless people sleeping in tents through the winter of 2016-17 against a backdrop of 600 empty council homes.
As we publish this article, news has come that at 11am this morning, Monday 30 January – four days before the time agreed at the hearing in Sheffield County Court – South Yorkshire Police, acting on the orders of Sheffield City Council, evicted Tent City from Park Hill Estate. It’s roughly 30 occupants are now homeless again.
I know almost nothing of anarchist theory, but of what little I know there seems to be a problem with what happens afterwards. A little like Jane Eyre’s famous concluding line — ‘Reader, I married him’ — it’s the unwritten bit that follows that will determine whether the love affair was real or just infatuation. But whether the idea is to destroy the power of the state (and refuse to get married) or take power (and abolish marriage as an institution), I don’t understand how that is meant to be done or maintained against the power of the military-industrial complex backed by the wealth of international capitalism. Communism, by contrast, came up with a pretty clear image of the future once their fabled Revolution was brought about, even though so far things haven’t quite gone according to plan — quite the contrary. However, the hope and faith in the Revolution has induced a sort of idealism in communists, who tend to act as if it was always just around the corner, capitalism always in crisis and just about to fall — as it has been, it seems, practically since it reared its ugly head. I have always felt that the contradictions of capitalism are more often to be found in the hope and faith of those predicting its imminent demise than in the economic, political and ideological system that has colonised the entire world.
This hope and faith — terms more appropriate to messianic religious nutters than materialist revolutionaries — leads communists to act in ways that are purely formal approximations of political activity. The latest example was last week’s communist protest outside a Glasgow bar, apparently against Bacardi for being ‘an enemy of Cuba’. If you can’t see the ridiculousness of this you belong in Stalin’s politburo — or worse, on Tariq Ali’s picnic guest list. Quite apart from the Borg-like behaviour of its adherents towards those who don’t toe the Party Line, it’s because of such absurdities that communism has never managed to appeal to the British working class sufficiently to make it a political force in the UK, as it has been, at times, in Germany, Italy and France. As much as communism gains a certain authority from its international scope, and notwithstanding the importance of its critique of capitalism as a global system of exploitation and violence, the British working class, faced with homelessness, unemployment and poverty, and without an apparent alternative to the corruption and capitalism of the Labour Party, are not going to be lured by communists banging on about Palestine, Cuba and Venezuela and thrusting one hundred year-old texts by Lenin in their faces. The failure of communism to increase its followers — even now when there is such a need for a political alternative — is, if not proof, then a strong argument for the truth of this accusation, no matter how unpalatable it may be. The working class of Britain want to be spoken to about solutions to their own sufferings, which however much they pale besides those of the people of Palestine, Yemen or Syria, are theirs, getting worse, and to which no political movement in this country is presenting a solution.
It’s for this reason that anarchists alone, it seems to me, are grabbing the attention of the despised of Britain, the ‘left behind’, the ‘just about coping’, and other euphemisms of capitalism’s victims. Marching, demonstrating, protesting, and all the other out-of-date activities of the Left have become a purely formal, symbolic activity. That is to say, they have become the playthings of the middle-classes. They have neither constitutional reckoning (which is why President Trump really doesn’t give a fuck how many people march against him) nor political threat — not only because of the growing power of the police, army and other security forces, but because, with a few exceptions, the mass of people who march, whether in Washington or London, do so with no intention or ability to use their numbers as a political force. What was once — a long, long time ago — a demonstration of working-class power, has for some time now become little more than a show of disapproval. And politicians with armies at their disposal don’t care about disapproval.
In contrast, the occupation of an oligarch’s empty mansion in Eaton Square last week by the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians is real, not symbolic. The courts, acting with a swiftness that only a billionaire’s displeasure can buy, will have them out of there at the end of the riot police’s batons, but they have pushed back against the occupying force of capital that presides over every aspect of this servile country, and in doing so opened a chink in its armour — a chink we and others may chose to help force open. They haven’t made demands of the corrupt, they haven’t asked someone else to do something about the problem, they haven’t stood around waving flags demanding that a politician in a faraway country who has never heard of them does something he wouldn’t do in a million years and pretended they’re making a difference. They’ve taken direct action — a term that is much used but little understood. Marching, demonstrating, protesting, demanding, petitioning isn’t direct action. Whatever affectivity people might kid themselves into thinking it may have is always mediated through the recipients of their pleas, who really and truly do not give a fuck. If you don’t know and face this, your protest is not only ineffectual bullshit, it is contributing to the spectacle of democracy by which the mass of people in this and every capitalist country are kept politically passive. We are not the 99 percent — they are well in hand, watching TV, playing with their phones, discussing politics online, voting every five years; we are the 1 percent, and acting otherwise is to play your allotted role in the State’s stage management of our protest.
Anarchism may not have a plan for what happens when our three-volume romantic novel is closed and we all walk off into the sunset with Mr. Rochester, but we’re no way near crossing that line. Quite the opposite. And pretending we are is the surest way to turn our Bildungsroman into a Gothic horror. Perhaps anarchism is best understood — it’s how I understand it through watching and participating in the actions of my anarchist comrades — as political action under the yoke of capitalism — which is to say, in the horror story of our present reality.
Finally, anarchists, whether chasing fascist architect Patrik Schumacher down the street, occupying the Aylesbury Estate, smashing the Cereal Cafe, taking Tower Bridge, hanging anarchist and anti-fascist flags over Eaton Square, or setting up a homeless shelter in an oligarch’s empty mansion, really know how to produce an image that captures the imagination of anyone in Britain who may be thinking of throwing off the shackles of capitalism and the blindfold of parliamentary democracy and joining the fight. And under the blanket propaganda that keeps the British electorate in a state of consumerist complacency rising, when required, to xenophobic hatred, this is one of the most important tasks of direct action. I’d suggest that, if communists ever want to turn their Revolution into reality, they should start learning from the anarchists.
After victory for Harrods’ workers organised by United Voices of the World, and the halt to the compulsory purchase order on Millwall Football ground and the surrounding estates and businesses by the campaign of local resistance, the occupation of 102 Belgrave Place, which has been reported around the world, is our third victory in London in 2017. And we’re still in January.
Ivy House, a private hostel for homeless families by Manor House tube station, stands directly opposite the former Woodberry Down Estate, where 1,980 council homes were demolished when the current Hackney Mayor, Philip Glanville, was Cabinet Member for Housing. According to the Woodberry Down masterplan, which was granted planning permission by Hackney Labour Council in February 2014, these are being replaced with 3,292 luxury apartments for private sale, and 2,265 so-called ‘affordable’ units – that is, up to 80 per cent of market rate – of which a mere 1,088 have been promised for social rent. These proposed tenancies, however, are dependent upon future viability assessments – which means the profit margins of the developers.
Woodberry Down is being redeveloped by property developers Berkeley Homes and Genesis housing association, which according to Hackney Labour Council is responsible for delivering over 1,900 homes for social rent and shared ownership. However, in July 2015 Neil Hadden, the chief executive of Genesis, declared: ‘We are not able, or being asked, to provide affordable and social rented accommodation to people who should be looking to the market to solve their own problems.’ The Berkeley Group, which has the highest profit margins of any builder in the UK, recorded a 34 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £392.7 million in the six months to the end of October 2016, up from £293.3 million over the same period the previous year. The Chairman of the Berkeley Group, Anthony William Pidgley, CBE, has a total annual compensation, made up of his salary, annual bonus and stock options, of £21.489 million.
Former council tenants on Woodberry Down estate who moved into the Genesis homes have complained that they have fewer rights as housing association tenants, receive worse service and pay much higher bills. And there are reports – particularly from pensioners and low-income families – of tenants having to go into debt just to afford the heating, or of moving out altogether because they cannot afford their increased rent, service charges and utility bills.
The women in the hostel across the road live in single bedsits with their children, and although Ivy House is categorised as temporary accommodation some families have been there for more than two years. They are allowed no visitors at any time, day or night, are not permitted to eat in their room, cannot smoke anywhere in the hostel, and are prohibited from using their own bed sheets. CCTV is fitted throughout, and there are regular room inspections by staff. One interviewed mother said: ‘I feel like I’m in a prison.’ Their entire Housing Benefit goes to the privately-owned hostel.
Ivy House, which has 97 bedsits over 2 floors, is owned by Rooms & Studios London, a company set up by business operations expert Danny Edgar and structural engineer and technocrat Zamir Haim. They have 1,500 units for rent across London, and describe the accommodation as being for ‘professionals, students and hostel seekers’. In the three decades they have operated in London the two entrepreneurs have bought, built, refurbished and sold assets worth over £200 million.
Hackney Labour Council currently houses 793 homeless families in hostels like Ivy House, the highest number of any London borough, where a total of 2,733 households, around 8,000 people, live in temporary accommodation, the sixth highest in London. £35 million per year in Housing Benefit is being paid to private landlords like Rooms & Studios London in order to house homeless families in temporary accommodation in Hackney – but it’s being paid by Central Government, not Hackney Council. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the Hackney Mayor recently stated he was ‘pleased’ he kept the borough’s hostels open.
Hackney Council isn’t alone. London Labour Councils lead the way in the number of homeless households they place in temporary accommodation, making up 10 of the 13 worst councils and accounting for 37,661 households out of a total of 53,343. That’s upwards of 150,000 people, including 90,000 children, living in temporary housing, bed and breakfasts, hostels and other private accommodation across London. Yet the programme of estate demolition – also led by London Labour Councils – continues.
According to figures released this month by the Department of Communities and Local Government compiled from the 2015-16 data returns of Local Authority Housing Statistics, 5,098 dwellings owned by London Labour Councils (out of a total of 6,139 across the capital) are sitting empty this winter. But in reality, given the number of council estates having their housing stock transferred to private developers and housing associations and then emptied – and left empty for years on end – in preparation for their demolition, these figures are only the tip of the iceberg.
In the face of this housing crisis, Hackney Labour Council has recently announced the extension of its demolition programme to 19 council estates across the borough. This doesn’t include its collaboration with the Guinness Partnership in its plans to demolish Northwold Estate, whose council housing stock was transferred to the housing association. In place of the 19 demolished council estates, Hackney Council has said that it’s going to build 2,760 new homes: 1,360 for private sale, 500 for shared ownership or joint equity – about whose dangers residents are kept in the dark – with 900 homes promised for social rent.
What Hackney Labour Council doesn’t say, however, is how many council homes it will demolish across the 19 estates, how many residents will be made homeless by the demolition of their homes, how many will be able to afford to take up the council’s ‘Right to Return’ to the new developments, how many will be housed in privately-owned temporary accommodation for how many years within the borough, how many will be moved out of the borough under the threat of being declared to have made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ (at which point, following the 2011 Localism Act, the council’s duty of care is now discharged), how many net homes for social rent will be lost to the estate demolition programme, or what guarantees it gives that the 900 homes for social rent it has promised will actually be built now that, with the changes to planning legislation under the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, there are no longer any obligations to do so. And you can understand why.