Last night I gave another presentation of the findings in the ASH report on The Costs of Estate Regeneration. This time it was to the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party, one of whose members had invited me to come and talk. He told me that, while the previous Chair had always refused any debate on Lambeth council’s estate regeneration programme, the new Chair was more amenable.
I didn’t know quite what to expect, but as we were waiting for everyone to arrive a woman walked in, sat apart from everyone else in the room, and gave me a look that would have curdled milk. The chair addressed her as ‘Mary’, and suddenly it dawned on me who she was: Mary Atkins, Councillor of the Tulse Hill ward. Under the pretext of carrying out repairs to the estate, it was Councillor Atkins who had initiated the regeneration of Cressingham Gardens that turned into the excuse for its demolition. The last time I’d been in a meeting with her was back in May 2016 at Lambeth Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting to review the Cabinet decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens estate. In an extraordinary statement for which she produced no proof beyond her own accusations, and which the Committee accepted without question, Councillor Atkins declared that there was a ‘climate of fear’ on the estate, that the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign is ‘intimidating’, that tenants on the estate are ‘scared to get involved’, and that they ‘do not want to see such tactics rewarded.’
I wasn’t the only member of the public to challenge this characterisation of the single mothers, elderly couples, families with young children and other residents who have fought so long and with such bravery to save their homes against such underhand tactics. But displaying the lack of interest in residents’ views that has characterised Lambeth council’s consultations, Councillor Atkins then went on to what quickly became apparent was her main point. ‘I want residents’, Atkins said, ‘to adhere to a code of behaviour during consultation.’ This move – first to slander and denigrate residents who form a campaign of resistance, then to ban them from opposing the council’s plans – was taken up on cue by the Chair of the Committee, Councillor Edward Davie, seconded by Councillor Matthew Bennett, then Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, and unanimously carried by the rest of the Committee.
Following this decision, residents of Cressingham Gardens were sent a report from Lambeth council announcing their intention to bypass the existing, democratically elected Tenants and Residents Association and replace it with a Resident Engagement Panel composed exclusively of residents who were willing to engage with the plans to demolish and redevelop their homes. It became clear that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which had ostensibly met to review the Cabinet decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens estate, had chosen this opportunity to set in motion Lambeth council’s plans to silence opposition to their estate demolition programme.
That was two-and-a-half years ago, and since then little has changed. The meeting last night began with a number of questions from the floor asking Councillor Atkins to provide the financial figures for the relative costs of demolishing and redeveloping Cressingham Gardens estate versus refurbishing it. She replied with two lies. First, she said that she would give them the figures as far as she could, but that all the available information was already in the public domain on Lambeth council’s website. Then, when further challenged, she responded more confidently that the figures had not been produced yet because nothing had been decided.