An Exemplary Regeneration: King’s Crescent Estate

‘It’s a question of never demolishing, never reducing or replacing;
always adding, transforming and reusing.’

– Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton, Jean Philippe Vassal,
PLUS : Large-scale Housing Development (2004)

The regeneration of the King’s Crescent estate in Hackney is an exemplary regeneration. Everyone says so. Philip Glanville, the current Mayor of Hackney and former Cabinet Member for Housing who oversaw its planning application, says so. Karakusevic Carson, the architectural practice that designed it, says so. Higgins Construction, the company that is building it, says so. The Royal Institute of British Architects, on their online page dedicated to estate regeneration, says so. The Greater London Authority, which gave its outline planning consent to the scheme in 2013, said so. Sadiq Khan, who was interviewed on the building site last February on BBC1’s Sunday Politics as part of his mayoral campaign, says so. Even the Duke of Kent, when he visited the site last November – generating the headline ‘Regeneration Fit for Royalty’ – says so. And the Architects’ Journal, which included the estate in its booklet titled ‘Exemplary Housing Estate Regeneration in Europe’, says so. Exemplary: an example to other estate regeneration schemes. Something to include – anonymously, along with the other ‘case studies’ – in the Greater London Authority’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration. Not something like the Heygate estate in Southwark, or the Ferrier estate in Greenwich, or the West Hendon estate in Barnet, or the Woodberry Down estate, also in Hackney – all of which have been object lessons in the social cleansing of estate communities. No, the King’s Crescent estate is exemplary. Everybody says so. So let’s take a look at what example King’s Crescent sets for other local authorities, housing associations, builders, property developers, estate agents, architects and investors looking for a lesson in estate regeneration.

Clissold Quarter

When Kings’ Crescent estate was completed in the late 1960s it provided 632 council homes. Between 1999 and 2012 Hackney Labour council demolished 357 of these homes, beginning with the 19-storey, 114-flat Barkway Court. This tower block was demolished and the land sold in 2002 in order to build 106 private flats, of which 40 were sheltered accommodation. These last were used to house 40 of the households from the 53 sheltered housing flats subsequently demolished in 2005. 9 leaseholders in Barkway Court were bought out, and 1 accepted a shared equity deal on a property in the new development. In total, 4 of the 11 blocks were demolished, including Sandridge Court – which had the same number of flats and storeys as Barkway Court – Westmill Court and Codicote Terrace, plus half of Weston and Lemsford Courts. All the demolished homes were located at the centre of the estate, leaving a large area of land free between the lower-rise blocks on the north and south ends of the estate. Of the remaining 275 council homes that weren’t demolished, 195 are for social rent and 80 are owned by leaseholders.

On 31 July 2013 the Greater London Authority granted Hackney council outline planning permission for the following proposal. The 195 homes for social rent are to be refurbished, and the 80 leaseholder’s homes are to receive external refurbishment. On the land where the demolished 357 council homes stood, 376 flats are to be built for private sale, 115 flats built for shared ownership, and 79 flats will be for social rent as part of the Section 106 agreements. On the hoardings advertising the development, these 79 homes for social rent are described as ‘additional’, and an increase on the existing 195. Nothing is said about the demolished 357, of which 82 were owned by leaseholders. In its planning report the GLA acknowledges that the scheme results in a total loss of 196 homes for social rent.

Perhaps more worryingly, in the report by Higgins Construction – which is, after all, building the new development – they only refer to the 490 private and shared ownership properties as ‘new build’, and the existing 275 council homes as ‘refurbished’. No mention is made of the 79 additional flats for social rent. But then Higgins Construction, the construction arm of the Higgins Group PLC, were also responsible for the regeneration of the Myatts Field North estate in Lambeth, now rebranded the ‘Oval Quarter’, where residents of the new development have made complaints about build quality ranging from mould and noise to infestations of vermin and water shortages, as well as being trapped in 25-40 year contracts with private power company E.ON that has driven many of them into fuel poverty. Despite this less than impressive track record on estate redevelopment, Higgins began construction of the new builds in 2015, and phase 1 of the 5-year masterplan is due for completion in 2017. A sign outside Higgins’ own on-site marketing office proudly reports that 85 per cent of the properties have already been sold – which raises the question: to whom? The sale prices will give us some answer.

According to the Homes & Property section of the London Evening Standard, which ran a feature on the new development on 16 March, prices for the shared ownership flats, which Hackney council will own, start at £98,750 for a 25 per cent share of a 1-bedroom flat costing £395,000, with leaseholders having to pay a monthly rent of £679 plus a service charge of £125; £120,000 for a 25 per cent share in a 2-bedroom flat costing £480,000, with a monthly rent of £825 and service charge of £125; and £160,000 for a 25 per cent share in a 3-bedroom flat costing £640,000, with a monthly rent of £1,100 and a service charge of £175. That’s what the properties start at, and this is only for the 115 flats for shared ownership.

Shared ownership, which is the default excuse for developers building properties no-one can afford to buy, means that until the leaseholder has purchased 100 per cent of the shares in the property they don’t own anything, and their lease amounts only to an assured tenancy. As such, they can face possession proceedings for rent arrears, anti-social behavior or subletting, and any possession order could result in the loss of the property. There is, moreover, no obligation for the landlord, which remains the owner of the property, to repay the purchase price in the event of repossession. Leaseholders – who more accurately are tenants – will be liable for 100 per cent of the service charges for the maintenance of the building, which can be raised at the discretion of the landlord. Finally, as the value of the property increases, so too will the cost of increasing shares in it, and each time more shares are purchased the property will have to be re-valued, with all the corresponding costs of doing so being paid by the leaseholder. Effectively, shared ownership leaseholders are tenants who pay a very expensive down payment to their landlords for an option to buy the whole property at a later date.

So much for shared ownership. What of the bulk of the new development, the 376 flats for private sale at full market price, all of which are owned and will be sold by the Higgins Group? Well, first of all, it’s not King’s Crescent estate anymore. Like Oval Quarter, Higgins Construction’s redevelopment of the Myatts Field North estate, the new development has been rebranded as ‘Clissold Quarter’. As a rule of thumb, ‘estates’ – which politicians and developers after the land they are built on have done so much to equate with poverty, anti-social behaviour and crime – are replaced with ‘quarters’ if the new developments are in the inner city, ‘villages’ if they’re further out. The Evening Standard made no mention of these, but Higgins Homes, the property management arm of the Higgins Group, lists prices for 1, 2 and 3-bedroom apartments ranging from £470,000 to £925,000 – so considerably more than the properties for shared ownership. In actual fact, this is not entirely accurate. The eight penthouses in building 1, closest to the park, have sold for between £1,054,000 and £1,226,000; and the three duplexes in building 2 have sold for between £1,281,000 and £1,313,000. Unsurprisingly at these prices, the homes for private sale are all at the front of Clissold Quarter, with the most expensive being those in a 12-storey tower that will overlook Clissold Park opposite, and which will be topped by the obligatory penthouse suites. A regeneration fit for royalty indeed.

An Exemplary Regeneration

So, how did such a development gain planning permission, let alone come to be described as ‘exemplary’? How did a development that resulted in the loss of 196 homes for social rent be allowed to replace them with 115 flats only the middle classes can afford to buy, even on shared ownership, and with 376 flats that can only have been purchased by property speculators looking to invest their millions in the London property market? How did such a deposit box for foreign investment and the profits of a private construction company receive public funding not only from the Hackney Council estate regeneration programme but also from the Greater London Authority? And how could this example of the social cleansing of a council estate community for the profits of developers, investors and property speculators possibly be described as an answer to the shortage of housing in which Londoners can actually afford to live?

Well, the first thing Hackney council did was argue that the new development of Clissold Quarter, with its 490 homes for private sale and its promise of 79 homes for ‘affordable rent’, is part of the regeneration of the King’s Crescent estate. It’s for this reason – and certainly no other – that the 195 homes that weren’t demolished for this scheme were refurbished. But because they were, the council could argue that on the new scheme the proportion of affordable housing was 274 homes (195 existing plus 79 new), against 490 homes for private sale – around 35 per cent.

Still, that wasn’t good enough for an exemplary estate regeneration receiving public funding from the Greater London Authority. So the next thing they did was decide that since Barkway Court had been demolished and rebuilt in 2002, the loss of its 95 homes for social rent and 13 sheltered housing homes did not count towards the total loss of homes in the redevelopment. So instead of 196 homes for social rent being lost, it now meant that only 101 were lost on the remainder of the scheme.

This still sounds pretty bad. But what isn’t immediately apparent is that the homes for shared ownership constitute part of the scheme’s component of ‘affordable housing’. Perhaps it’s in its usage here that the function of this linguistically meaningless term in estate regeneration is most clearly revealed: that the loss of homes for social rent can be compensated by the building of 2-bedroom flats selling for upwards of £480,000. According to this definition, these 115 flats for shared ownership, added to the 79 new flats for social rent, together with the remaining refurbished 195 homes for social rent, equals 389 ‘affordable’ housing units out of the 765 flats on the entire estate. For the Greater London Authority, this meant that the tenancy proportion of the resulting scheme is 51 per cent ‘affordable’ and 49 per cent market rate, and therefore qualifies for public funding. In fact even this is inaccurate, as the 80 homes owned by leaseholders on King’s Crescent estate have been left out of the equation, but nobody seems to have mentioned this.

What has been mentioned on the hoardings placed around the new development, where Higgins proudly lists the 195 refurbished homes for social rent and the ‘increase’ in their number to 274, is that the 376 properties for private sale have been built ‘to help pay for them’. That is to say, Higgins Construction are claiming that 376 homes for private sale ranging from £470,000 to £1,313,000 have been built to ‘help pay’ for the refurbishment of 195 council homes, rebuild 79 demolished homes for social rent, and presumably help build the 115 flats for shared ownership – although at the prices the latter are selling for one would think they would pay for themselves. Nothing, of course, is said about the undisclosed sums of public funding being spent on 491 homes for private sale.

Without a single additional home or change of tenancy status, therefore, what started out as the loss of 196 homes for social rent was magically transformed, according to the Greater London Authority’s planning report, into the addition of 19 ‘affordable units’. Let’s follow how they calculated these figures. 632 council flats on the original estate, minus the 162 leasehold flats purchased under right to buy, meant there were 470 homes for social rent on the estate. Subtract from these the 95 flats for social rent ‘already’ lost from Barkway Court, meant that only 375 flats for social rent were lost on the estate. Set these against the 389 ‘affordable’ flats that have been built, and by my calculations you get a net gain of 14 ‘affordable units’. That’s not quite the same as the GLA’s calculations, but then no two of these documents ever produce quite the same figures.

Even with the huge difference between social rent and affordable sale, that’s a lot of disruption for a gain that even the Greater London Authority described as ‘modest’. So, finally, Hackney council argued – and the GLA accepted – that the Clissold Quarter development is part of its borough-wide estate regeneration programme, which ‘intends’ to replace 853 ‘existing units’ and provide an additional 275 ‘affordable units’, and so any loss of homes for social rent on King’s Crescent estate – however you calculate it – will be compensated in the future, no doubt using the same methods of calculation – not by new homes for social rent but, under new government legislation and GLA housing policy, by ‘affordable’ housing that includes homes for shared ownership. Besides – as the GLA’s planning report concludes: ‘Given existing problems associated with this mono-tenure estate, it would not be desirable to increase the overall proportion of affordable housing’. What is desirable, rather, is Hackney council’s ‘desire to create a more mixed and balanced community on this site.’

Exemplary, remember, is what this is. Not the disaster of the Heygate estate, where over 1,200 demolished council homes are being replaced with 2,453 properties for private sale and rent, and only 82 flats for social rent. Not the Ferrier estate, where 1,906 demolished council homes – 1,732 of them for social rent – are being replaced with 2,490 properties for private sale, 1,358 for private rent, 550 for shared ownership and not a single flat for social rent. Not even Woodberry Down estate just down the road, where 1,980 demolished council homes are being replaced with 3,292 properties for private sale and 2,265 ‘affordable’ properties, of which 1,088 have been promised for social rent. No, this is King’s Crescent estate, where 357 demolished council homes are being replaced with 115 flats for shared ownership for the middle classes and 376 properties for private sale to real estate investors, property speculators and millionaires. A mixed community indeed.

An Open Letter to Paul Karakusevic

ASH recently made some observations on the role played in the redevelopment of King’s Crescent estate by Karakusevic Carson Architects, which was recently described in the Homes & Property section of the Evening Standard advertising the redevelopment as ‘very much the go-to practice nowadays for estate regeneration’. In return, we received an email from Paul Karakusevic offering to ‘talk you through the tenure split, refurbishment works and new build aspects of the Kings Crescent estate’. Like the Greater London Authority, he, too, was full of excuses. ‘The demolition of the estate was undertaken in the late 90’s under a different Council regime’, he argued. ‘We inherited a 3 hectare gravel field and the retained council buildings that needed some TLC.’ But just in case we weren’t convinced he concluded: ‘I agree with much of what you say on the wider housing issues and the traditional approach to estate regeneration, and it is why we set up the practice to improve things 15+ years ago.’

The last time we spoke to Paul was at a conference held last December by the Architectural League of New York titled Tower, Slab, Superblock: Social Housing Legacies and Futures. The conference aimed to address three questions:

  • What does it mean to reconsider this building stock as an asset, rather than a liability or failure?
  • How can the building stock be re-imagined to better serve current residents and future generations?
  • What roles can architects, designers, and affiliated professionals play in housing crises?

Like these so-called housing ‘crises’, the conference was international in scope, and included speakers from London, Toronto and Paris, including Frédéric Druot, who was very much the guest of honour, and from whose manifesto I’ve taken my epigraph; and every architect and academic present was agreed that housing estates should never be demolished, reduced or replaced, but should only ever be added to, transformed and re-used. The lone exception to this consensus was Paul Karakusevic, whom – if I remember correctly – presented King’s Crescent as a model of estate regeneration – exemplary, even. I can remember his words as he described the project: ‘No loss of social housing. All decanted residents returned to the new development. 490 new homes to tackle London’s housing shortage . . .’

If you’re reading this Paul, perhaps you would accept our invitation to talk you through the lost homes for social rent and the number of evicted residents who never returned. And perhaps you can explain how 376 property investments for international finance address the crisis of affordability in London housing. And while you’re doing it, as the ‘go-to architect on estate regeneration’, perhaps you could supply us with the equivalent figures for the other estate demolition schemes your practice is involved in, such as the Bacton Low Rise estate in Camden (I believe another ‘exemplary’ regeneration), the Leys estate in Barking and Dagenham, the Colville estate in Hackney, the Fenwick estate in Lambeth, the Mansford estate in Tower Hamlets, and the recently awarded contract for the Nightingale estate in Hackney.

Architects are a funny lot. Some, like the Chair of HTA Design Ben Derbyshire, who is quite happy to associate himself with the violation of human rights and neglect of public sector equality duties in Southwark council’s demolition of the Aylesbury estate, seem to enjoy the hatred that comes their way – a little like a Tory politician. Their contempt for the people whose lives they’re ruining is such that they barely seem to notice the protests, and when they do imperiously put it down to the ignorance of residents. Other architects, however, are more like Labour politicians. They’re just as ruthless when it comes to demolishing the homes of the people who voted for them – perhaps even more so – but they want to be liked by the same people for doing so. Perhaps, somewhere where they keep their consciences, they even think they’re doing the right thing. I suspect Paul Karakusevic might be one of these – let’s call them ‘Labour architects’. He’s certainly employed by enough of them – Camden, Lambeth, Hackney and Barking and Dagenham all being run by Labour councils that are at the forefront of London’s estate demolition programme.

So let us be clear about what we’re asking, Paul. On the estate regeneration schemes your practice has been and is currently involved with, we’d like to see the number of council homes that were demolished to clear the land; the number of residents that have been moved off the estate as a consequence; the number of homes for social rent lost to the regeneration scheme; and the tenure split of the new builds – not just between market sale, shared ownership and ‘affordable’, but what constitutes the ‘affordable’ component. Are they, like the 115 flats for shared ownership on King’s Crescent estate, being sold or rented at the ‘affordable’ definition of 80 per cent of market rate? Are homes for social rent in fact being rented at the ‘target rate’ that Southwark council, for instance, has set at 50 per cent of market rate? Or are they available at the London Mayor’s new category of ‘London Living Rent’ as part of his inducement for the middle-classes to get onto London’s lucrative housing ladder? What changes to their tenancy rights have been imposed on residents? What contracts with private power companies have they been obliged to sign up to as a condition of their tenancy? What increases to their service charges have they been compelled to meet? In short, would you provide us with the information that is so glaringly missing from your own website and that of the respective local authority that oversaw the demolition of the council estates on whose land your designs are being built? And when you supply these figures, could you please make them more accurate than those your website carries for the King’s Crescent estate, which lists the tenure split as ‘50 per cent affordable, 50 per cent market sale’? And since you are, as your website confirms, ‘the go-to practice’ for estate demolition in London, could you tell us exactly how much public money, both through the Hackney council estate regeneration programme and the Greater London Authority, was used to subsidise the private development of Clissold Quarter, with its million-pound penthouses and its 12-storey views over Clissold Park? And could you supply us with the names of the buyers and, where appropriate, the off-shore companies that have purchased the market rate properties of your designs, and let us know how many are being rented out for a profit and to whom?

And there’s something else you may be able to clear up. In response to the consultation of residents on King’s Crescent estate, Hackney council reported that it received 80 representations from residents, 69 of which were objections. In addition, two group petitions were received in objection to the application signed, respectively, by 132 and 20 residents. The objections raised by residents included the detrimental impact of the proposed tall buildings on neighbouring Clissold Park; the impact on views out of neighbouring buildings; the impact on the daylight levels of neighbouring properties; the height and scale of the new development; that it was out of character with the neighbouring area; that is does not respect the historical character of the area; the impact it would have on the skyline; the loss of trees from the demolition of the council blocks; the corresponding loss of open space; the lack of desirable commercial, open or community space; that the proposed amount of car-parking space is too low to meet the increased demand; problems with overshadowing; that the application does not comply with the London Housing Design Guide; the increased noise level; the impact of the new development on residential privacy; that social tenants in the new builds will have less desirable views than the market units; that the vehicle and road arrangements will encourage criminal behaviour; that the phasing of development favours new private properties rather than the existing tenants; the level of dust and noise during the construction of the new development; the impact of new commercial space on existing businesses; and, finally, that the consultation period was too short. Residents also raised complaints about the general lack of consultation.

Now, these objections are what are registered in the planning report of the Greater London Authority, and so are a dim echo of what was no doubt the far louder opposition to the scheme from residents and the local community. The most glaring omission from this report – and no doubt the concern at the forefront of residents’ objections – is, of course, concerns about what would happen to the tenants and leaseholders of the 357 council homes demolished to make way for the new development. Lengthy as this list of objections is, of this – the most widespread, pressing and important objection to the consequences of estate demolition – neither Hackney council nor the Greater London Authority say anything. On your website, Paul, you repeat the often-heard mantra of estate demolishers that ‘the current estate is in a bad state of repair and suffers from poor quality, badly overlooked public spaces with the estate feeling inward looking and disconnected from the surrounding townscape’. Could you, therefore, also talk us through how your website’s assertion that you ‘engaged intensively with residents from the start of the process to identify their aspirations for a new neighbourhood’ is compatible with the extensive list of objections to your designs by over 150 of the estate’s residents?

Until these figures and these explanations are forthcoming – and we wont hold our breath waiting for them – it’s surprising what you can learn about an estate when you stop looking at the websites of architects, councils and property developers, and visit the place in person. Last week I went down to King’s Crescent estate and talked to some of the residents. I asked one tenant, a young black guy not engaged in drug dealing, anti-social or criminal behaviour, what happened to the tenants who used to live in the demolished blocks:

– ‘Some were moved into empty homes on the old estate.’
– ‘And the rest?’ I asked.
– He shook his head. ‘I don’t know.’

Neither do I. Perhaps, Paul, you can talk us through where the roughly 1,000 residents that used to live in the 357 demolished council homes are living now.

I also talked to a leaseholder, an Italian man who had lived there for 30 years. He also didn’t know where the evicted 1,000 former tenants of the estate are living now. I asked him about the refurbishments, and he was pleased with them, especially the new balconies. But he also brought up the cost of the new flats.

– ‘Last year’, he said, ‘a 2-bedroom apartment was selling for £750,000. This year it’s £840,000. Why, are you looking to buy?’
– ‘Not me.’ I said, ‘I couldn’t afford that!’
– He looked at me and smiled. ‘You can’t afford it. I can’t afford it. Nobody who lives here can afford it.’
– ‘So who’s buying them?’ I asked.
– He rubbed the tips of his thumb and forefinger together and winked at me. ‘The Chinese, the Russians, the Arab oil millionaires . . .’

At the south-east corner of the estate is a map of the residential blocks, each of which is marked with a letter of the alphabet, beside which is the key. B. Bramfield Court. C. Theobalds Court. D. Datchworth Court. E. Weston Court. G. Lemsford Court. K. Kelshall Court. L. Therfield Court. The demolished blocks, the nameless A. Barkway Court, F. Sandridge Court, H. Westmill Court, and J. Codicote Terrace, plus half of Weston and Lemsford Courts, in which 1,000 former residents of the estate lived in 357 council homes, have been covered over with white tape – both their names and their location on the map, creating a tabula rasa for the new development. This is the ‘3 hectare gravel field’ Paul Karakusevic said his practice ‘inherited’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more explicit image of the social cleansing estate demolition is perpetrating on working-class communities – erased not only physically from their homes, but also from the memory of the estate and the neighbourhood – or heard a more damning description of the architectural profession’s abnegation of social responsibility for its role in this process. An exemplary regeneration indeed.

Architects for Social Housing

The Peasants’ Revolt: Lessons from History

This article, published on the 27th anniversary of the attack by the Metropolitan Police Service on the Poll Tax demonstration in London on 31 March 1990, is dedicated to Ian Bone, class warrior and comrade. The illustrations of the Peasants’ Revolt are by Clifford Harper.

01

When looking back on an historical event it’s useful to compare the social conditions in which it occurred with those of the present day – not, as our history lessons inevitably do, in order to show how much more advanced, just, equal, wealthier and democratic society is under capitalism, but to reveal just how contingent, unjust, exploitative, impoverished and elitist our present economic, political and legal structures are.

In England we are constantly told by foreigners stupefied by our entrenched class structure that it survives because we never had a social revolution – such as they had in North America or France or even Germany, let alone like those in Russia or China – and therefore retain the anachronism of a monarchy, even if under a parliamentary democracy. It’s slightly odd that so many people, and not only from abroad, are unaware that in 1640 England had the first revolution of any Modern nation, nearly 150 years before the French Revolution, that like it was a revolution of the middle classes, and which – following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 – gave birth to our current system of constitutional monarchy. Long before even the English Revolution, however, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was the first large-scale uprising of the English working classes, and therefore the most significant social event in England during the Middle Ages; and in this centenary of the Russian Revolution it’s the conditions from which that revolt arose, rather than those ten days in October 1917, that I’ve been looking at and comparing with the England of the present.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is now the most unequal country in Europe, and one of the most unequal countries in the world, worse even than the United States of America. The wealthiest 1 per cent of our population of 65 million people own nearly 24 per cent of the UK’s total wealth: equivalent to that of the poorest 55 per cent, and more than 20 times the wealth of the poorest 20 per cent. The richest 10 per cent of our population owns 54 per cent of the national wealth, with the poorest 20 per cent owning just 0.8 per cent, and the poorest 40 per cent just 14.6 per cent of wealth – the lowest proportion of any Western country. Just 34 per cent of the population owns the UK’s £9 trillion of private wealth, with the remaining 66 per cent holding no positive financial assets. 21 per cent of the population, 13.4 million people, are living in relative poverty – that is, they earn less than 60 per cent of the median income; and 17 per cent, 4.5 million households, are living in fuel poverty – meaning that to heat their homes they have to fall below the poverty line. Over 1 million provisions of three days’ worth of emergency food were handed out at food banks last year. There has been a 71 per cent increase in hospital admissions for people suffering from malnutrition, with 391 people dying from it in 2015. Cases of scarlet fever have doubled in recent years, and we have the fifth highest infant mortality rate in Europe. Yet as home to 120 billionaires the UK has the most per capita of any country in the world, including the USA. The wealth of our richest 1000 people has doubled in the past decade to £547 billion, more than a third of the annual economic output of the entire UK, and we have the fifth largest economy in the world. It seems useful to ask, therefore, not how far we have come from the England of 1381, but how close we still are to a time that may seem unimaginably backward, corrupt and violent to us today, but to which we are not so much returning, as is often said, but seeking to emulate under the conditions of monopoly capitalism. If we don’t think the vast inequalities, social oppression and political violence of England’s Middle Ages could ever return to these isles, we haven’t been paying attention to history.

That’s hardly surprising, since history isn’t something that happened in the past, but something that’s written, or more accurately different texts competing to become the official version of the past. As George Orwell rightly wrote: ‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.’ It’s not by chance that so few English children have even heard of the Peasants’ Revolt, with history only being compulsory up to year 3 of secondary school. Nor that until fairly recently in our history what accounts there were of it served the ruling class of the past the better to ensure the continuation of their descendants’ rule in the future. That’s changed slightly over the past few decades, but the control of the ruling class over the present has made sure that few of the children of the ruled classes will ever read a history book or take an interest in the repressed history of their oppressed class. In an effort to take back this control of our future, I’ve been looking at the Peasants’ Revolt, its causes, their similarities to today, and what lessons from history we can learn about changing our present from what happened in the south-east of England in the summer of 1381.

Past and Present

02

1. Serfdom

In 1348 the Black Death reached England, killing an estimated 50 per cent of the population, and a far higher percentage among the peasantry. This had the effect of increasing the amount of available land, the rental price of which therefore fell, as well as reducing the amount of labour power, which drove wages up, reducing the profits of the landowning aristocracy. As a result, between 1348 and 1381 wages for agricultural workers increased by around 40 per cent. Yet serfs born into bondage – the villeins who made up around 90 per cent of the peasantry – still couldn’t leave the land they worked on without permission, or even marry without the approval of their lord, and their children were born into the same condition. Women who married outside the manor had to pay her lord compensation for lost labour. In addition to rent on the land and taxes based on his land and holdings, which were usually paid in agricultural produce, serfs had to devote a portion of the week to working the lord’s land held for their own use, which took precedence over his own come harvest time. Hunting and trapping of wild game was forbidden. The family of a serf who died before the age of sixty had to hand over their best beast, whether cow or pig, in compensation to their lord for the amount of military service they owed to the age of sixty, and their next best beast to the church in compensation for the tithes they would have paid until that age. Since no peasant family had more than two beasts these death duties effectively reduced the remaining family to abject poverty.

Today we might find such control over another’s movements antithetical to our sense of freedom, but people on Jobseeker’s Allowance are not permitted to travel without forewarning the Department of Work and Pensions, and unless they can prove they are actively looking for work every day for 35 hours per week and can prove it by turning up to a Job Centre, in some cases every day, but at least once a week, their benefits will be sanctioned, initially for up to 3 months, but in the case of further disobedience up to 3 years. To make a claim, every aspect of your private life, from proof of your expenditures to your married status, residence and citizenship, must be submitted for investigation and approval, and after a mere three months of bondage you will be compelled, again under the punishment of being sanctioned, to attend a work programme for up to 2 years, which you’ll have to attend every day. If you are between 16 and 24, until November 2015 you could be placed in a Mandatory Work Programme for two months of full time work without pay for your £70 per week benefit, a so-called ‘work experience’ programme that was imposed on claimants between May 2011 and November 2015 and taken advantage of by a total of 534 employees and businesses who profited from the free labour. They weren’t the only ones to benefit, however. Around 300,000 claimants were sanctioned and deprived of benefits of around £550 each, saving the Department of Work and Pensions around £130 million.

As for our children being born into bondage, the notion of social mobility, which has been dangled before the noses of the British working class for generations, is a thing of the past. Those born into poverty in the UK in 2017 will overwhelmingly remain in poverty. At the other end of the economic scale, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty commission published in August 2014 showed that the 7 per cent of population educated in private schools provide 20 per cent of our university vice chancellors, 22 per cent of chief constables and FTSE 350 CEOs, 26 per cent of BBC executives, 33 per cent of Members of Parliament, 43 per cent of newspaper columnists, 44 per cent of people in television, film and music, 45 per cent of the chairs of public bodies, 50 per cent of members of the House of Lords, 53 per cent of diplomats, 55 per cent of permanent secretaries, 62 per cent of senior officers in the armed forces, and 71 per cent of senior judges. For the less than 1 per cent of the population that went to Oxbridge the figures are even worse, with the two universities supplying 24 per cent of MPs, 33 per cent of BBC executives, 47 per cent of newspaper columnists, 57 per cent of permanent secretaries, and 75 per cent of senior judges.

2. Fixed Wages

The 1349 Ordinance of Labourers required all labourers under the age of 60 to work, fixed wages at pre-plague levels and prices at levels restricting the ‘excess profit’ of peasants, and made it a crime to give alms to beggars. When these laws were flouted and wages continued to rise, the 1351 Statute of Labourers made it a crime to refuse to work, and imposed punishment on transgressors that including branding and imprisonment. These laws were enforced by Justices of the Peace selected from the local gentry and aided by sheriffs, bailiffs and constables.

Today, zero-hour contracts effectively keep the employee on hold, without any obligation by the employee to give them sufficient work to support themselves financially. And with the rise of the so-called ‘gig-economy’, workers are now designated as self-employed, with their ‘client’ relieved of any of the obligations of an employer. In 1381 serfs who tried to move off their lord’s land were imprisoned and punished, whereas in 2017 workers are simply allowed to lose their means of income and starve, while people without homes who are caught sleeping rough, begging or taking food from supermarket bins are fined £100, effectively criminalising them when they are unable to pay. In response, new ‘working charities’ are now offering the homeless food and board for up to 40 hours’ unpaid work a week in what is a return to the welfare system of the Victorian workhouse.

Current forecasts are that wages in 2022 will be no higher than in 2007, with families missing out on £12,000 of pay growth in the worst decade for 210 years. A single person working full-time on the minimum wage and earning £13,150 will be £380 worse off by 2020; and a double-income couple with two children and combined earnings of £29,020 will be £360 a year poorer. As for the new minimum wage of 7.50 per hour (£7.05 if you’re 21-24 years old, £5.60 if you’re 18-20) to which a UK worker is ‘entitled’, in response to this raise at least 3,700 of the UK’s 1.7 million shop workers on the minimum wage were made redundant from UK chain stores in the first 3 months of 2017 alone, their employers safe in the knowledge that the government has removed the right to seek compensation for unfair dismissal without having to pay upfront court fees of £1,200.

3. Nationalism and Xenophobia

In 1359 new legislation was introduced to deal with migrants, existing conspiracy laws were more widely applied and the 1351 Treason Act was extended to include servants who betrayed their masters. Londoners in particular resented the influx of foreigners, whom they accused of taking their jobs and undermining their wages. Such feelings were promoted by the ruling class, which under the flag of nationalism used it to pursue their wars of acquisition in France with the blood of a suitably patriotic peasantry.

Today, nationalism and xenophobia is relentlessly encouraged and fuelled by the state propaganda of the ruling class in order to provide an explanation and scapegoat for anger over our worsening poverty. At the same time, the rise in so-called ‘hate crimes’ and what we are told is the ever increasing threat of a terrorist attack are used to pass ever more repressive and oppressive laws by the government, with an increasingly intrusive state apparatus justified, at every new erosion of our human rights, by the so-called ‘war on terror’ and our need for protection by the police, secret service and military forces whose ever increasing power over us constitutes the greatest threat to our freedoms.

This seems a long way from when the New Labour government under Tony Blair changed the policy and laws on immigration in this country to allow a huge increase in the number of work permits granted to migrant workers. Following the expansion of the European Union in 2004, UK labour markets were opened to workers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. This was not done out of a sudden conversion to the politics of peace, love and harmony between peoples, but to drive down the rising cost of the labour of the working-class population of the UK. By 2014, ten years later, 43 per cent of workers in elementary process-plant occupations (industrial cleaning and packers, bottlers, canners and fillers), 33.6 per cent of workers in cleaning and housekeeping, and 32 per cent of process workers in the food, drink, tobacco, glass, ceramics, textile, chemical, rubber, plastic and metal industries were foreign-born – the latter up from 8.5 per cent in 2002.

The situation we have today, where a UK worker’s request for unionisation, a living wage or a contract is legal grounds for dismissal, is a direct result of this flooding of the labour market. When outraged protesters ask how it is possible that Sir Phillip Green can buy a third luxury yacht with the pensions of 20,000 ex-BHS workers, or sack any employee who strikes for a wage she can live on, they might want to consider where the employment rights, recourse to industrial action and wage bargaining power of the working class in this country went. Capitalist employers call it ‘competition’, and back it up with eagerly received propaganda in the media and entertainment industries denigrating the British working class as lazy work-shy benefit-scroungers lacking in a work ethic for not accepting the same conditions of employment as Polish construction labourers and Romanian cleaning women. Even these are now standing up and protesting against those conditions. But those same workers who have had the economic value of their labour and skills undermined by the deliberate importing of migrant labour into the UK, who have had their unions made impotent or illegal by successive governments in thrall to the City, and who have seen the social services on which their increasingly impoverished communities rely cut by the politics of austerity, know exactly what it is: the means by which the rich have grown richer beyond avarice and the poor have been driven into greater and more abject poverty.

What the middle-class technocrats of neo-liberal capitalism call ‘multiculturalism’, which has been adopted and propagated as the ideology of our brave new world, is nothing more than the unregulated movement of capital through global markets by multinational corporations that have no country, pay no tax, are bound by no government, concede no rights to their workers, write our laws to legalise their theft, and determine our governments. And the free movement of labour acclaimed by middle-class liberals as the economic realisation of this ideology is nothing more than the means by which the resistance of workers to their impoverishment has been taken away from them by the influx of a surplus labour force.

Despite this, the result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union has been universally interpreted in our private-school and Oxbridge-educated press and media in the same terms that it was pitched by the UKIP-led campaign to leave – as a vote against immigration motivated by racism and xenophobia that is seamlessly equated with the identity of the British working class. ‘Remainers’, in proud contrast, proclaim themselves the defenders of that entirely illusory Britain they have done so much to create, which sees no contradiction in describing itself as built on tolerance, multiculturalism and economic opportunity while presiding over the greatest assault on the living and employment conditions of the working class in this country in a generation. Almost nothing has been said about the economic motivations of the vote to leave: that British workers may be fed up with having their salaries and employment rights undercut by a workforce imported by multinationals to do precisely that; that being treated as a semi-feudal labour and service industry for the financial elite is not their idea of citizenship; and that, like the workers in Greece, they don’t want their pay packets and pensions being set by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

It is a measure less of its supposedly inherent racism and more of the absence of anything resembling an electable political party that has cast more than a condescending glance in its direction for several decades now – if ever – that the working class of the UK had to make this political choice in tandem with the racist right-wing of the Leave campaign (which isn’t to say that the Stay campaign wasn’t just as racist and right-wing). But for the politically-correct middle classes to continue to dismiss that vote as based on racism and xenophobia, and to ignore its actual economic determinations, is to play into the hands of the politicians, bankers, international financiers and media moguls who want to drive this country further to the right, economically, culturally and politically.

The real violence against the UK’s immigrant workforce is being perpetrated not by the white working class but by our government, about whose actions we hear almost nothing in our so-called free press. Now they’re no longer needed, foreign nationals – under the Immigration Act 1971 supplemented by the new UK Border Act 2007 – can be taken from their home or place of work without warning by Immigration Compliance and Enforcement snatch squads, held indefinitely under guard in Immigration Removal Centres, and then flown on secret chartered flights back to their country of birth, no matter what dangers it holds for them. To qualify for such deportation the foreign national must either be someone whom the Secretary of State believes it is in the interest of the public good to deport; a spouse, civil partner or child of a deportee; or someone convicted of a criminal offence that carries a prison sentence. Between 2009 and 2014 an average of 6,000 people every year were arrested in this way in the UK, around a third of whom have been deported. Between 2010 and 2015 there were 19,853 raids in London alone – almost 11 every day. 75 per cent of those targeted were from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, all former colonies of the British Empire; and in case the class basis of their deportation isn’t clear enough, the majority were snatched from the UK’s construction, retail, leisure, entertainment, care home, manufacturing, restaurant and transport industries.

4. Consumption

The 1363 Statute Concerning Diet and Apparel banned labourers earning larger incomes from either wearing clothes or eating foods previously only available to the wealthy, as well as detailing the style of dress that people of each class of English society were allowed to wear.

Today the sheer cost of luxury good prevents their purchase by an increasingly impoverished working class, but when they adopt imitations – such as the Burberry-and-Barbour wearing Essex look, the so-called ‘bling’ jewellery and accessories of Hip-Hop culture, or just working-class kids buying imitations of the designer label clothing brands they cannot afford – it is subject to relentless mockery and denigration in our entertainment industry, while at the same time exploited in the marketing for consumer goods by our retail industries. The focus of the London riots of 2011 on the theft of consumer goods, which was universally condemned in our press and media as proof of the a-political motivations of the uprising, demonstrated just how successful this regulation of consumption is as a means of class signification, manipulation and control.

5. Tax Assessments

The first Poll tax of 1377 was levied at 4 pence on every person in England over 14. The second, levied two years later in 1379, was on a sliding scale between the seven classes in the English social order. But when this failed to raise sufficient funds for the war in France, a third Poll Tax in 1380, payable by everyone over 15, was levied at a flat rate of 1 shilling (12 pence, or 1 twentieth of a pound) per person, an average month’s salary for serf. When this went largely uncollected, with many peasants in the south-east of England refusing to register, the following year commissions of inquiry were dispatched to identify those who hadn’t paid. These inquires were extremely intrusive, and included checking young girl’s vaginas to see if they’d reached puberty and were therefore eligible for taxation. It was this, according to a later, Sixteenth-century account, that caused Wat Tyler to kill an official who tried to conduct such an examination on his daughter.

No doubt we can’t imagine such intrusiveness and abuse being permitted today by a government official, yet for some years now we have allowed the government to subject people in the UK claiming Employment Support Allowance or other disability allowances to the most intrusive, humiliating and unnecessary tests of their disability that have been the cause of enormous stress, and, as they are designed to, the cause of people refusing to participate, and in doing so falling into poverty, homelessness, in some cases starvation and in many more suicide. According to figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions in August 2015, between January 2011 and February 2014 a total of 91,740 people died while claiming incapacity benefits at a rate of 99 deaths per day from December 2011, an increase from 32 deaths per day over the previous 11 months. In the same period, 2,650 people (2,380 on Employment Support Allowance and 270 on Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disability Allowance) died after being found fit for work following disability benefit assessments by Atos Healthcare. A subsidiary of the French IT services corporation, Atos was awarded government contracts with a total value of £1.6 billion by June 2013, on which they paid zero corporation tax in 2012.

Although the Poll Tax has been replaced by an almost unavoidable Council Tax on domestic property paid by its occupant, the UK has the lowest share of public spending of any major capitalist nation, including the USA. The impact of changes to tax and benefits has hit, and will increasingly hit, the poorest harder, with a further 2.3 million people predicted to be living in poverty as a result by 2020. Four fifths of the gains from cuts to income tax go to the wealthiest half of households, while the poorest third will shoulder two-thirds of the government’s cuts to benefits. Despite this, taxes to British households as a percentage of gross domestic profit are due to hit a 40-year high of 37.5 per cent by 2026.

As for violence against women, 86 per cent of the burden of the government’s austerity cuts is born by women, who make up the largest proportion of public sector workers, as well as home care and agency staff. By 2020 Asian women in the poorest families will be poorer by £2,247, black single mothers by £3,996, and the changes to universal credit will cut on average £800 a year from working single parents, 90 per cent of whom are women. Since the overall benefit cap was introduced last year 68,000 families with 200,000 children have had on average £58 per week taken away from them. Meanwhile, the government plans to restrict tax credit entitlement for any new claimants to a maximum of two children, an exception being made for women who conceive a third child because of rape, but only following an examination by a third party that proves they have been raped. When you think of Justices for the Peace under King Richard II sticking their fingers up peasant girls’ vaginas to establish whether they were still virgins, think of our own police, social and health workers outsourced by the DWP to do the same thing to victims of rape in order to establish whether they can legally claim those extra few quid a week.

6. Military Spending

1337 saw the beginning of the Hundred Years War, which cost the peasants enormously in both lost manpower in deaths and in the wealth they alone produced to fund its ruinous waste of resources. The King’s counsellors were pocketing huge sums from these taxes, and in 1380 the Chancellor, who was also the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared a third poll tax to raise £160,000, equivalent to about £62.3 billion in today’s money.

The obvious equivalent today, when the government is seven years into its imposed programme of austerity that has cut every aspect of state support and social care and nearly bankrupted the National Health Service, and which the Royal Society of Medicine estimates is likely to have resulted in 30,000 deaths in England and Wales in 2015 alone, is the Trident nuclear weapons programme that Reuters have estimated will cost the UK taxpayer £167 billion over its 30-year lifespan, or £5.56 billion per year. To put this in context, the entire NHS debt for hospitals in England is £2.45 billion. In 2015 the UK’s £56.2 billion defence budget was the fifth largest in the world, after only the USA, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia, and accounted for 2 per cent of our gross domestic product. And of course, over the past ten years the UK has been the second largest arms dealer in the world, second only to the USA, selling arms to 22 of the 30 countries on the government’s own human rights watch list, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, with £7.7 billion of arms deals approved in 2015 alone.

7. Church and Monarchy

Besides the acquisition of common land and the expropriation of 10 per cent of all the produce or earnings of the peasantry in tithes, the role of the Church in Medieval England was to sanctify the King and therefore the social, economic and political system of which he was the head, preaching forbearance and suffering to his subjects, with the promise of eternal reward for their obedience in the afterlife. To this end the clergy identified serfdom as a consequence of original sin, the inheritance of Cain and ordained by God, rebellion against which, accordingly, was against God’s laws as interpreted by the King’s clergy, administered by the King’s ministers, judged by the King’s judiciary, enforced by the King’s soldiers, and punished by the King’s jailors and executioners.

Little has changed today, when poverty is identified by the government and its right-wing press not as a result of low wages, cuts to benefits, the ever increasing cost of living and housing and the higher and higher concentration of wealth in the hands of a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, but of individual moral failings, with benefit claimants forced to undertake treatment for supposed problems with their mental health or face being sanctioned, with 40,000 benefit claimants forced to take cognitive behaviour therapy. As it continues to tear itself apart over the identity politics of whether women can be priests and gay priests can fuck other men, the Church of England has remained dutifully silent about the class war being perpetrated, with its tacit approval, against the working class of Britain. As in 1381, the Christian doctrine of preaching forbearance and quiet suffering to its ‘flock’ is ideally suited to the government and class that pay its bills.

As for the monarchy, as a 14 year-old boy King Richard II then was much like Queen Elizabeth II now, a figurehead rather than a holder of power. But like then, the monarch plays a crucial role in deflating the anger of the working class, who like the rebellious peasants retain an inexplicable allegiance to the figurehead and guarantor of a class system they otherwise despise, with 76 per cent of the population in favour of retaining our monarchy and 86 per cent preferring a monarch as the head of state rather than an elected president. No wonder the ruling class is so loathe to do away with the anachronistic figure of a monarch, which serves their needs far better than any president could ever hope to. It takes little more than an appeal to patriotism by the right-wing media for every subject of Her Majesty to step in line. If you think the Queen plays nothing more than a symbolic role in or society, you should recall that no Parliamentary Bill becomes an Act until it is granted Royal Assent in a bizarre ceremony carried out by the befrocked Clerk of the Parliaments, who declaims in an appalling accent La Reine le veult – ‘The Queen wills it.’ A legacy of the Norman Conquest, this phrase turns the government’s Bill into the new law of the land, to be implemented by local authorities, enforceable by the courts, the cops and the military, and, since the British Sovereign is head of state, commander-in-chief of our Armed Forces and Supreme Governor of the Anglican Church, authorised by God Himself (as you get closer to heaven the capitals come closer and faster).

More topically and particular to our form of government today, now Theresa May has triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty initiating the two-years of negotiation of the departure of the UK from the European Union, she will introduce a new Bill to Parliament, variously called the Great Repeal Bill or the European Union Bill, that will transfer all European laws into UK law at the end of this period. However, because of the lack of debate it will receive due to the lateness of its introduction, because of its absence of transparency about which of the tens of thousands of laws will be retained, and because it will grant the government discretionary powers to repeal rights contained in EU laws without the permission of Parliament, this Bill will give the Prime Minister so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’. Named after the 1539 Statute of Proclamations that gave King Henry VIII the power to legislate by his word alone, these powers will permit the government to change primary legislation using secondary legislation that passes through Parliament with little or no scrutiny, allowing her ministers to jettison, for example, equality and environmental legislation, and human and employment rights.

8. Contingencies of the Present

As I said at the start of this article, the purpose of making these comparisons between different periods in English history is to show the contingency, rather than historical necessity, of the economic, political, legal and social institutions under which we live, and to try and jolt us out of our familiarity with and unquestioned acceptance of them. Few of us outside the British Establishment would find serfdom, fixed wages, laws on consumption, girls sexually assaulted to establish their tax status, ruinous expenditure on a hundred years of war, the justification for poverty by appeal to the Bible, or a 14 year-old head of state to be acceptable parts of contemporary society; but we are, apparently, quite content to let birth be the overwhelming determinant of our individual wealth or poverty, force the unemployed into a choice between compulsory labour and destitution, be stripped of our employment and human rights, submit to the most intrusive and far reaching surveillance of any nation in the world, watch as our cultural and entertainment industry is turned into a propaganda machine for the ruling class, subject our poorest and most vulnerable citizens to planned destitution in order to reduce the government’s budget deficit, dismantle and privatise our health, transport and other public services while spending tens of billions on the military industrial complex, derive the authority of our laws from the religious books of an Iron Age tribe from the southern Levant, select our governors at every level of society from the very wealthiest percentile of the population, and still – six centuries after King Richard II betrayed the common people – have his nominal descendant as our head of state, church and military.

So, given these similarities between the England of 1381 and the just about United Kingdom of 2017, and without ignoring or trying to reduce the differences between them, what lessons can we learn from history about our present, and more importantly about how to change the future that is being prepared for us by the ruling class?

Lessons from History

03

1. Divided Rulers

In 1381 Londoners resented the authority of the Crown over London, with the royal legal system competing with London authorities for judicial power. There were rumours that the London Mayor was to be replaced by a Crown appointment. This meant the ruling class was divided against itself and slower to respond to the threat to its power by the Peasants’ Revolt. The bulk of the army and its commanders were away in France, and London only contained a few hundred men-at-arms. Local lords failed to act partly out of cowardice, but also because under English law only the King could summon local militias or lawfully execute rebels – and the King and his ministers were weak, indecisive, arrogant and, most importantly, completely underestimated the rebels.

Today London is a city overwhelmingly in the hands of Labour-run councils, which control 20 of the 33 local authorities, and the Greater London Authority has a Labour mayor; yet at the same time London is the seat of the Conservative government, the home of the British Monarchy and – until Brexit kicks in – the financial capital of world capitalism, the City of London. Although both the major political parties share an unshakable allegiance to monopoly capitalism and the politics of neo-liberalism, their hatred of each other has left them blind to the hatred of the class of people they both despise, and who make up the largest and invisible part of the population of the UK, some of the poorest residents of which live in the capital. The chaos that followed the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, when the government lacked a Prime Minister for several weeks and Her Majesty’s loyal opposition saw fit to initiate a challenge to its own leadership, was a comparable time of weakness of authority. Unfortunately, the popular reaction, under the direction of the propaganda of the ruling class, was almost entirely confined to middle-class protests against the referendum, and so failed to see the opportunity this power vacuum presented for working-class uprising.

2. Appeals to Authority

During 1377, protests began to break out in the south-east and south-west of England. Known as the ‘Great Rumour’, rural workers organised themselves into protest groups and refused to work for their lords, arguing that, according to the Domesday Book, which had been compiled to enable William the Conqueror to tax his newly conquered people, they were exempt from requests for feudal labour services. Appeals and petitions were made both to the law courts and to King Richard II, but they were unsuccessful. 4 years later the peasants turned up at the gates of London armed with quarterstaffs, pitchforks, threshing flails, scythes, billhooks, knives, clubs, hammers, wood axes and long bows – all of which were readily available to the peasant class. Now the king was ready to meet them.

Today the Domesday Book has been evoked again, not by protesters but by lawyers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the London Mayor and the London Land Commission, which has produced a land register of all disused land in London, including the council and housing association estates on which around 2 million Londoners live, in preparation for its redevelopment as investment properties for international capital. And once again, protesters and authorities threatened by this so-called ‘Twenty-first Century Domesday Book’ have sent appeals and petitions to the authorities planning to demolish their homes, and like King Richard II and his ministers those authorities have refused to listen. It’s a rule of politics that only an opponent over whom you have some power will listen to your demands; petitions never moved the pitiless to pity, let alone concession.

3. Demands of Authority

Faced with thousands of angry peasants executing his ministers and burning their palaces, Richard II conceded to every one of their demands when he met them on 14 June at Mile End. These included an end to bonded labour, the freedom to sell their produce on the market rather than to a lord, the reduction of land rent across the country to a annual flat rate of 4 pence an acre, and amnesty for the rebels. The peasants weren’t daft, and insisted that royal charters were drawn up and signed by the King. But they were gullible in the extreme to trust the word of a gentleman, let alone a king, and once they had been defeated the boy King went before his Parliament, pleaded that he had signed under duress, and they dutifully repealed every one of his concessions. The first thing the peasants should have done is killed the King, as they did his ministers, bishops and all the other administrators of his kingdom of exploitation. That they didn’t was the ultimate cause of their defeat.

Similarly today, the demands made by protesters to authorities to abolish their authority are self-evidently contradictory. No ruling class in history has ever voluntarily given up its own power, and nor will it ever. By the same token, demands by liberals and social democrats to tinker with capitalism, to soften its harsher effects while retaining their economic causes, betrays a fundamental ignorance of how capitalism works. Capitalism does not work by the production of wealth, as we are constantly told by capitalists, but by the production of the poverty that guarantees a ready surplus of low-paid labour that produces that wealth, the unequal distribution of which – both the labour and the wealth it produces – it is the role of the police and military to maintain and defend. If we want to overthrow this inequality we have to overthrow the source of inequality, starting with its head. Revolutionaries do not demand, they overthrow and create a new world.

4. Direct Action

What distinguished the Great Rumour of 1377 from the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was that the latter began with the attack on the MP and Justice of the Peace John Bampton when he arrived in Brentwood in Essex on May 30 and tried to collect the unpaid Poll Tax from the surrounding villages. Tom Baker, the representative from Fobbing, told him that his village had already paid its taxes and wasn’t going to pay any more (from where the term ‘fobbed off’ comes), and when Bampton ordered Baker arrested the peasants chased him and his sergeants out of town. When they returned the following day with men-at-arms the peasants, who had taken the precaution of arming themselves, attacked and killed several clerks and jurors.

Today, marching, demonstrating, protesting, and all the other out-of-date activities of the liberal Left, have become a purely formal, symbolic activity – that is to say, they have become the self-expression of the middle-classes. They have neither constitutional reckoning (which is why our democratically elected leaders really don’t care how many people march against them) 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 do so with no intention or ability to use their numbers as a political force. What was once, a 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.

Historically, successful revolutions have crossed the point of no return as soon as possible. Far from a failure to retain the moral high ground protest occupies in the minds of liberals, who never tire of telling us of the pointlessness of violence, direct action commits protest to its consequences. The rebels of 1381 did in fact have a moral code, and when they entered London they banned looting and themselves punished anyone found doing so; but this didn’t stop them tracking down and beheading anyone connected to the King’s ministers and the administration of their hated laws. Without this willingness to go beyond petitions and demands, and defend themselves against the violence of the state, the revolt of 1381 would have been as ineffectual as the protests of 1377.

5. Communication

On 4 June, 5 days after the revolt began, the rebels held a large gathering in Bocking in Essex, where peasants and community leaders gathered from dozens of villages and formulated their manifesto, declaring they would have no rulers but themselves, and to which end they committed themselves to executing the corrupt lieges of King Richard II. In the peasants’ eyes it was they, and not the King, who were responsible for all their afflictions and who had betrayed England. At the top of their list of traitors was the King’s uncle, John of Gaunt, the 1st Duke of Lancaster and the richest and most hated man in England, who was suspected of stealing large amounts of the Poll Tax and had amassed a fortune equivalent to roughly £90 billion in today’s money. Close behind him was the King’s Lord Chancellor, Simon Sudbury, who was also the Archbishop of Canterbury, in which capacity he had introduced the third Poll Tax. And neck and neck with him was the King’s Lord High Treasurer, Sir Robert Hales, the Grand Prior of the Knights Hospitallers, and who was personally responsible for collecting the Poll Tax. Against such powerful opponents, the rebels took care to organise their revolt using coded messages, which they sent out to Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and London; and from the very first day of the revolt they targeted the manors, abbeys, priories and palaces in which the records of taxes, labour duties and debts were kept, knowing that although the tax collectors could be replaced should the revolt fail, the records could not.

Today, the ability of protesters to communicate with each other using modern technology facilitates the coordination of actions across an even wider area; but we should never forget that our mobile phones are tracking devices, our laptops are personal files for the secret services, and our every move is recorded by the highest density of CCTV coverage in the world. Before it is a means of communication, technology is first of all a means of surveillance, and like the rebels we should always use coded language and pseudonyms, because if things go wrong, the names of protesters attached to communications or identified by traitors will be used to track them down and punish them. The names of 110 Essex rebels who attacked the Cressing Temple of the Knights Hospitaller on 10 June, and over 500 rebels who attacked the Savoy Palace of John of Gaunt three days later, were recorded by the authorities, and they suffered extreme and disproportionate punishment by a vengeful ruling class.

Similarly, the prison sentences handed out to 945 of the 2,770 protesters against the police shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 were nearly four times as long as comparable offences the previous year, and two-thirds were remanded in custody while awaiting trial. Two young men were given four-year jail sentences for nothing more than inciting a riot on social media that never occurred, while another received a 6-month sentence for stealing a bottle of water worth £3.50. If you think the judiciary is exempt from the class war you should think again, and recall that 71 per cent of senior judges went to private school, 75 per cent to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In advocating resistance in any medium that can be produced as evidence in a court of law, therefore, we should take care (as I have done in this article) never to advocate anything that can be used to prosecute, silence or imprison us.

6. Solidarity

As chance would have it, at the same time as the Essex revolt began, a man in Kent called Robert Belling had been arrested by Sir Simon de Burely, the Constable of Dover Castle and one of the most influential men in the court of King Richard II. Burely claimed Belling was a runaway serf from his lands and had him imprisoned in Rochester Castle. Infuriated, the local people gathered in Dartford on 5 June, just as news of the Essex uprising reached them. From there they marched on Maidstone, where they stormed the jail, and reached Rochester Castle the following day. Faced with the angry crowd the constable opened the gates and Belling was freed. Not only that, but many of the local peasants and townsfolk joined the revolt, including the constable of Rochester Castle.

The same thing happened when the Kent rebels reached London Bridge on 12 June and were admitted to the city without resistance; when the Essex rebels, on the same day, were let through Aldgate by the city guards; and when a force of 400 rebels under Johanna Ferrour, one of the leaders of the Kent rebels from Rochester, stormed the Tower of London on 14 June and found its drawbridge down and portcullis raised. Secure behind two lines of walls and the keep itself, part of the reason the guards were so accommodating was that, while the King was conceding to the rebel’s demands at Mile End, his universally hated Chancellor and Treasurer were cowering inside, together with John Legge, a royal sergeant and creator of the Poll Tax and the so-called ‘puberty test’, and William Appleton, John of Gaunt’s physician. All four were taken to Tower Hill and beheaded, and their heads paraded around the city before being stuck – as the heads of so many common people had been before – on the approaches to London Bridge. The rebels also found John of Gaunt’s son, the future King Henry IV from whom the current Duke of Beaufort is descended, and were about to execute him when a royal guard interceded and convinced them to show mercy. Henry IV would fail to return the favour when bloodily suppressing the numerous rebellions against his rule, including the Welsh Revolt for independence between 1400 and 1415.

No matter how small in numbers and resources a rebellion is at its beginning, if it communicates its appeal to the working class that operate the machinery of the state they will support it. The exception, of course, are the police and military, which represent the greatest barrier to a popular uprising and who are retained by the state for precisely this purpose – rather than, as we are constantly told, to protect us from each other or from others. But the ease with which the rebels, without siege equipment or anything more than the most basic arms, took previously impregnable military positions also shows the possibility and importance of taking direct action against unjust laws and the institutions that impose them. There is nothing more encouraging to an oppressed people than to have justice in their own hands, and discover that they, and not their lords and masters, decide the laws under which they chose to live. The widespread hatred and loathing of our former Chancellor and Prime Minister and their Cabinet of aristocrats and hereditary millionaires, who giggled and snorted their way through six years of austerity and privatisation, didn’t result in the same fate as was dealt to their ancestors; but if there’s a lesson to be learned from the mercy the rebels showed to Henry IV, it’s that clemency has no place in the class war against tyranny.

7. Leadership

On 7 June at a gathering of rebels in Maidstone in Kent, Wat Tyler was nominated the overall leader of the rebellion, which until then had many local leaders. Chroniclers suggest Tyler, whose name indicates he was a roof-tiler and tradesmen, had served in France as an archer, and was a charismatic leader whom they held responsible for formulating the political aims of the revolt. The rebels advanced to Canterbury, where once again they entered the walled city and castle without resistance on 10 June. The Archbishop had run away to London, so the rebels deposed him in his absence and executed anyone associated with the Royal Council. The city’s jail was opened and prisoners freed. The following morning Tyler led a march on London with several thousand rebels, while another force closed in from Essex. These forces included numerous village militias who had been imprisoned for refusing to fight in France, and now joined the revolt that had freed them. Although composed overwhelmingly of peasants, the rebels included village and townsfolk, tradesmen, freemen and merchants, and was led by already existing community leaders who had the respect and trust of the people.

Unfortunately, Tyler’s appointment as overall commander of the rebels – which allowed greater coordination of the revolt, with both arms arriving at the gates of London on 12 June – also made it vulnerable to the loss of authority to lead in the event of his death. The King’s ministers, who understood this leadership hierarchy better than the peasants, recognised this; and when Tyler called for further demands from the King, they agreed to meet him at Smithfield on 15 June on the condition that he approached the King alone. Failing to recognise the vulnerability of his own position as the leader of the rebels, or that with the concession of the royal charters most of the Essex rebels had left the city, leaving the rebel forces considerably weaker, Tyler nonetheless made demands that struck at the social and economic foundations of England that still survive to this day. These included the freedom of all men from serfdom; local law courts and police forces to be governed by the communities themselves; the abolition of the senior clergy and the aristocracy – apart from the King; and finally the redistribution of the immense wealth of the lords and bishops among the common people.

This was the cue the King’s household was waiting for. First Sir John Newton insulted Tyler, calling him a thief; then on the command of William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London, men-at-arms attacked Tyler. Although severely wounded, Tyler managed to ride away and took refuge in the Priory of St. Bartholomew, but he was dragged out and beheaded in front of the rebels. For this piece of treachery, conducted under the black flag of truce, Walworth was knighted by the King, and today a statue of the Lord Mayor stands on Holborn Viaduct, near to the place where he ordered the murder of Wat Tyler.

The role of leadership is one of the most questionable issues today, when negative examples are plentiful in our politics. Among organisations on the Left the democratic election of leaders, the subjection of every decision to a democratic vote and the care taken that due process is followed in the meeting room if not on the street – where protesters are policed by their own stewards, leaders obediently followed and order reigns supreme – dominates and appears to exhaust whatever energies the members of that organisation may once have had. With the examples we have at every level of public life of the way the public is manipulated with lies and propaganda to vote for the sociopaths in power, it’s hard to believe that we continue to place so much faith in the democratic process; or that the mediocrities that hold public office, from the interchangeable leaders of Her Majesty’s Governments to the London mayor and leaders of our local authorities, are our real leaders.

Outside these democratic structures, real leaders are not voted for but emerge as a function of the will of the community. Within such a community, a leader may put herself forward for the role, or she may be placed there by her comrades, but she will only retain that function for as long as her abilities and personality fulfills its requirements. By contrast, the person elected to office shares one defining characteristic with his fellow leaders, and that is his will to lead. It’s a truism about the political class that anyone who wants to be a leader should, because of that desire, be disqualified from being one. Anyone who has been a part of a genuine community knows that leaders aren’t elected, and that the heart of the community can often lie elsewhere or with somebody else. One of the definitions and measures of community is that each of its members finds their own role in the community, and everyone takes responsibility for its common actions. This isn’t only about communities being experiments and models from which future social formations may emerge, but also about resisting the trap into which the rebels fell when, having elected an overall leader, they made themselves vulnerable to his removal.

Today’s police know this as well as the men-at-arms under William Walworth. The question they never fail to ask first when policing protests is: ‘Who’s in charge?’ Democratic organisations don’t need to answer, as they invariably informed and asked permission of the police in advance of their protest; and their speeches, listened to by a nodding crowd, are delivered by a pre-selected order of democratically elected leaders safe from arrest. All very amusing. In contrast, those who are identified by the police as leaders by their actions are increasingly being arrested, kept overnight in the cells, charged with fabricated crimes, and subjected to all the harassment, intrusion into their privacy and attempts to destroy their livelihood that the police and legal services can inflict within the bounds of the law, and often outside them. Such tactics serve not only to ground down otherwise active individuals and in doing so reduce their ability to lead, but also to divert the energy of the community from its aim into a defence of their leaders.

After two millennia of Christian dogma the desire for martyrdom is perhaps still deeply ingrained in even the most atheistic of us; but it’s important we don’t allow ourselves to be subject to the snatch squads that are used to turn every demonstration against the authority of the state into a demonstration of its power to arrest and attack us with impunity. Time and again we see protesters sloping off from demonstrations when the fancy takes them, just as the peasants of Essex returned home when they had got their charters off the King, leaving their comrades to be attacked by the police, kettled for hours, their personal details taken by force, their spokespersons and leaders picked off and arrested by cops who had stood off from the larger crowd waiting for this moment of indiscipline. It’s important to our continued ability to protest and act under the ever more restrictive and punitive laws that await us that communities of protest organise themselves far better than they currently are against the police and defend their comrades from arrest. Without that organisation, and the discipline it requires, protesters, no matter what slogans they may chant, are no better than hippies, liberals and social democrats.

8. Neither God nor Masters

When the rebels stormed Maidstone Prison they freed John Ball, a radical Lollard and the former parish priest at St. James Church in Colchester, who had been excommunicated and imprisoned for preaching that all men were created equal. As a lettered man Ball played a crucial role in spreading word of the revolt, and many of his letters to rebel leaders still survive. His sermon to the rebels on Blackheath on 12 June is said to have asked the question: ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman?’ John Ball’s message was intended to do away with serfdom and the hierarchies of the Church that separated the King’s subjects from the King, but not to abolish his sovereignty, whose present incumbent he continued to insist was divinely appointed. ‘With King Richard and the true commons of England!’ was his watchword, to which the rebels compelled everyone they met to swear allegiance. Whatever equality Ball preached to the commons, however, he believed that all subjects except the sovereign were equal beneath God. John Ball would find out exactly how far beneath God the King’s subjects were when, a month later, his divinely appointed sovereign had him hanged, drawn and quartered in the market at St. Albans as a warning to others.

It was the rebels’ fatal allegiance and obedience to the King, for which Ball must bear part of the blame, that held back the fingers of the archers at Smithfield, when their loosed arrow shafts would have killed him and his force of no more than 200 men-at-arms, and laid the ground for turning their revolt into a revolution. Instead the young King, according to the chroniclers, declared himself their leader and led them to Clerkenwell Fields. Once the rebels were outside the city the London militia was raised, and the peasants, leaderless and facing growing armed opposition, retreated back to Essex.

It is not for nothing that Labour Party figures from Morgan Phillips and John Smith to war criminals like Tony Blair have paid lip service to their God, and claim – quite accurately – that their political philosophy owes more to Methodism than it does to Marxism. Today, the Cult of Corbyn, a seemingly anachronistic development under late capitalism, and itself a middle-class rebellion against the decline in its standard of living, has a similarly religious fervour. Blinded by their faith in their saviour to deliver them in the future, Jeremy Corbyn’s followers steadfastly refuse to see his very present betrayal of the working class he claims to represent under the typically middle-class appellation of ‘ordinary people’, and quote his placating speeches in their defence, much like the peasants of Essex waved the royal charters before the swords of the King’s avenging soldiers. Meanwhile, Labour councils, with Corbyn’s backing, demolish our housing estates, sell off public land, criminalise the homeless and pursue a programme of privatisation.

In any popular movement there will always be people who act out of what they think of as Christian charity – whatever that may mean with regard to this most violent and punitive of religions; and the various groups that compose the housing movement, homeless charities and Labour-affiliated activist organisations in London are no different. But we should remember that Christians, or any other believers in a divine source of authority, including – and perhaps most especially – the high priests of the Labour Party, are always ultimately obedient to the interpreters of their faith – which is to say, the authority of the ruling class. We shouldn’t have to refer to the Bible to answer John Ball’s rhetorical question when the lived experience of the working class is all the knowledge we need. ‘Neither God nor masters!’ is our watchword – and we should never forget it.

9. Land Ownership

The revolt had spread rapidly from Essex, and on 13 June, the same day the rebels marched into London, the townsfolk rose in St. Albans in Hertfordshire, where they had long grievances against the power of the abbey. The following day they met with the Abbot, Thomas de la Mare, and demanded their freedom from the rule of the abbey. A group of rebels marched to London to appeal to the King, but met instead with Wat Tyler, who by then was in charge of the capital, and returned inspired to take direct action against the abbey. On 16 June the rebels stormed the abbey, opened its dungeons and freed the prisoners, destroyed its tax records, drained the Abbot’s fish pond, broke down the fences enclosing the common land, killed and ate the game, and divided up the abbey land between them. They then forced the Abbot to sign charters granting the return of their rights of common over the land stolen by the Church, to graze their cattle on its pasture and collect firewood from its woods, and the freedom to fish its rivers and hunt its game. By then, however, Tyler was dead, and the revolt was already being suppressed.

Today, just 0.3 per cent of our population – 160,000 families – still owns two thirds of the land in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, making us second only to Brazil as the country with the most unequal land distribution in the world. This is the real establishment, the people who own Britain: not tenants of a freehold on the property that’s built on it, but the trees, grass, mud and rocks, all the way down to the earth’s core and forever. It’s not for sale at any price, and you can be as rich as God and still not buy it, for the simple reason that it was never purchased in the first place. It was given, in return for political power and the lives of the men that died fighting to take it, by kings.

The families that own the land – the Beauchamps, D’Arcys, FitzWilliams, Harcourts, Lyons, Mandevilles and Percys who inherited it from their fathers and will bequeath it to their sons – are mostly Normans, or at least Anglo-Normans, descendants from the ninety or so families that tied their banners to William the Conqueror’s mast and fought with him at Hastings, then administered the feudal system he introduced when they won. Half the country was placed in the hands of 190 men, a quarter in the hands of a mere 11 men. Today, the Duke of Buccleuch owns 250,000 acres, the Duke of Northumberland 135,000 acres, the Duke of Westminster 133,000 acres, the Earl of Lonsdale 70,000 acres, the Duke of Cornwall 135,000 acres and the Duke of Lancaster 45,500 acres – these last two being better known as the Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II, who also owns a further 70,000 acres on the Balmoral and Sandringham estates.

But in fact, all land in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is formally owned by the Crown, then leased to the Government, the Church of England, Oxford, Cambridge and Eton, the Ministry of Defence, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, the degenerate offspring of a few hundred Norman lords, and several thousand privately-owned corporations. There is no such thing as publically owned land, which in itself is a misnomer. Common land, another misunderstood term, refers to the rights of common over land adjacent to that leased by commoners. We own none of it. We are subjects of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and since her ancestor, William the Conqueror, turned us into a feudal society, we don’t own a square foot of the land we walk, live, work and die on.

A foreign or perhaps alien visitor to the UK today who was shown the political and legal justifications for the distribution of its land and wealth would conclude that the inhabitants of these isles are mad, or stupid, or so lacking in human dignity that we deserve to be the landless serfs we are – and they would be right. The descendants of murderers and thieves who still own the land – whose ancestors were given it by William the Conqueror or some other autocrat in return for power, or who simply stole 7 million acres of it during the land enclosures of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries – will never be compelled to give it up under the existing political and legal system. It is in the face of this enforced expropriation of our putative birthright from 90 per cent of the population of the UK that the tinkering of parliamentary politics is most clearly revealed as the ineffective irrelevance it is. Political and social revolution is the only means to undo the obscene injustice under which our ancestors have lived as far back as history records, and which our descendants will continue to live under until we, as a class, do something to change it.

10. Propaganda

The Peasants’ Revolt placed the hold the ruling class had on England in such jeopardy that their revenge was extended to rewriting its history. Under the direction (and payment) of the King and his Church, the contemporary chroniclers took rebels who had organised a nation-wide revolt, targeted corrupt officials, destroyed legal records, banned looting, produced a programme of revolutionary political demands and nearly overthrew the social order of Medieval England, and set about reducing them to a disorganised mob of criminal rioters bent on personal gain through looting and murder. As late as 1906 Sir Charles William Chadwick Oman, Professor of Modern History at Oxford, would write: ‘It is probable that Tyler was an adventurer of unknown antecedents, and we may well believe the Kentishman who declared that he was a well-known rogue and highwayman.’ The other side of this coin saw contemporary chroniclers attribute the killing of Tyler to the Mayor of London personally, rather than to his men-at-arms; and even today historians claim that the quelling of the rebels was due to the fourteen year-old King’s ‘charisma’ and ‘bravery’, rather than the sanctity that centuries of religious dogma had conferred on the person of the sovereign.

If this all sounds familiar it’s because it is. From the General Transport Strike of 1911, when Winston Churchill, in his position as Home Secretary, ordered the British military to crush the uprising, to Black Friday when, as Secretary of State for War, he ordered British tanks against striking workers in Glasgow in 1919, all the way up to the demonstration against police brutality in Brixton in 1981, the Orgreave picket line attacked by police and army forces in 1984, the Poll Tax demonstration in 1990 attacked by the Metropolitan Police, and the London protest against the police shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 – the government, police and media have dismissed social protests as ‘riots’. As anyone who has ever been in such a ‘riot’ knows, they are the result of police attacks carried out for precisely this reason, in order to produce the propaganda that allows the state ideological apparatus to rewrite their history.

Let’s just remind ourselves who runs this propaganda. 10 of the top 12 British dailies (The Sun, Daily Mail, Metro, London Evening Standard, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, The Times, Daily Star, Daily Express, i, Financial Times and The Guardian) are owned by 7 billionaires, including 1 non-domiciled naturalised-American Australian tax exile (Rupert Murdoch), 1 non-domiciled tax exile (Viscount Rothermere), 2 non-domiciled ex-Thatcherite tax exiles (Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay), 1 Tory pornographer tax exile (Richard Desmond), 1 non-domiciled naturalised-British Russian tax exile (Evgeny Lededev), and 1 Japanese businessman (Tsuneo Kita). Our former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, the heir to the baronetcy of Ballentaylor and Ballylemon, has just been made the new editor of the Evening Standard; and the former editor of the folded News of the World, Andrew Coulson, despite having served a prison sentence for phone-hacking, has just been made public relations advisor to the Telegraph Group

The bulk of our political opinions, however, come from elsewhere. The average UK adult consumes nearly 57 minutes of news and current affairs each day from UK sources: 39 per cent comes from television, 29 per cent from radio, 18 per cent from newspapers and 14 per cent from online news sites. The British Broadcasting Corporation accounts for 75 per cent of television, 85 per cent of radio and 50 per cent of online news and current affairs, with an overall share of 60.6 per cent; and its institutional bias is overwhelmingly for the Conservative government. Andrew Neil, the presenter of Daily Politics and This Week, was the editor of The Sunday Times under Margaret Thatcher’s government; Evan Davis, the presenter of Newsnight, was part of the team at the Institute of Fiscal Studies that devised the Poll Tax; Chris Cook, the policy editor of Newsnight, used to be an adviser to David Willetts, the current Minister of State for Universities and Science; and Nick Robinson, presenter on Today, was once president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. Let’s recall that 26 per cent of BBC executives and 43 per cent of newspaper columnists come from the 7 per cent of the population that were privately educated; and 33 per cent of BBC executives and 47 per cent of newspaper columnists come from the less than 1 per cent of the population that went to Oxbridge.

Nothing really has changed. In 1984 the Secretary of State for Transport, Nicholas Risedale, the architect of the plans to curb the power of the trade unions under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, declared that the miner’s strike was ‘very much in the nature of a peasants’ revolt.’ The son of Viscount Ridley, an old Etonian and graduate of Oxford, and the Cabinet Minister responsible for introducing the Poll Tax in 1990, Ridley was made a life-peer as Baron Ridley of Liddesdale two years later. Nothing will change unless we as a class change it. From the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 to the almost weekly marches, protests, demonstrations and occupations taking place across the UK in 2017, those who control the present will continue to control the past, and those who control the past will continue to control the future. If we want to take back control of what future we have left, we must take back control of our own propaganda during and after protests. If we don’t, the state propaganda of the present will continue to control our future by rewriting our past as surely as it has that of the Peasants’ Revolt and every other working-class uprising since.

11. Revolt and Revolution

The rebels in London beheaded the Lord Chancellor, the Lord High Treasurer, the former Warden of the Mint and current Member of Parliament for Essex Richard Lyons, killed dozens of lawyers and clerks, broke into the Marshalsea, King’s Bench, Newgate, Fleet and Westminster Prisons and released the prisoners, ransacked the Tower of London, burnt down the Savoy Palace of John of Gaunt and threw an estimated £10,000 worth of booty into the River Thames, demolished the Clerkenwell Priory that was the headquarters of Robert Hales and the Knights Hospitallers, burnt the Poll Tax records in the Temple complex, and spread word of their revolt far and wide across England. The Peasants’ Revolt reached Suffolk on the 12th June, Hertfordshire on the 13th, Norfolk on the 14th and Cambridgeshire on the 15th, with further rebellions springing up as far afield as Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Somerset. But when the majority of the Essex rebels left with the royal charters and what they believed were the King’s concessions, including their own amnesty from prosecution, they left the structure of the society against which they had rebelled intact.

The Peasants’ Revolt, therefore, despite its revolutionary demands, was not a revolution; and once the administrators and functionaries of State and Church had been replaced with new members of the aristocracy and clergy, and around 4,000 men-at-arms had been mustered in London, the ruling class was quite capable of enacting bloody revenge – which it did. The revolt in Suffolk was subdued with 500 men-of-arms under the Earl of Suffolk. The King himself rode to Essex, where he oversaw the massacre of 500 rebels in the woods at Billericay. But the main resistance was in Norfolk, where forces under the Bishop of Norwich defeated the rebels at the battle of North Walsham on 25-26 June. To accommodate the suppression a wide range of laws were invoked, from charges of book burning and demolishing houses to general treason, but the majority of captured rebels were executed without trial.

The leaders of the revolt were hunted down, tortured and killed. Jack Straw, one of the leaders of the rebels who had beheaded Sir John Cavendish, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, was tortured and executed in London. John Wrawe, a former chaplain who had led a force of rebels from Essex into Suffolk and helped spread the revolt across East Anglia, was hanged, drawn and quartered on 6 May the following year. William Grindcobbe, the miller who led the revolt at St. Albans, was hanged, drawn and quartered together with John Ball on 15 July. Geoffrey Litster, a cloth dyer crowned ‘King of the Commons’ in Norfolk, was hanged, drawn and quartered in North Walsahm soon after the battle, and the parts of his body sent to Norwich, Yarmouth, Lynn and his own home in Felmingham; his widow was later pursued by the authorities and made to pay her dead husband’s outstanding debts of 33 shillings and 9 pence. And the man who started it all, Tom Baker, was also hanged, drawn and quartered in Chelmsford on 4 July, just over a month after his village had refused to pay the Poll Tax.

For a parliamentary democracy whose economic, political and military power through the centuries has remained in the hands of an almost unchanging ruling class, we make a great song and dance about the fact our leaders can only hold office for a limited number of terms and are democratically elected by ‘The People’ (as they like to call us). But what does it matter who sits in office when that office remains the same, and whose overriding purpose is to continue governing us through incremental changes to the same economic system? Over the past 18 months we’ve seen the extraordinary and unrelenting attacks by the press, the media, the City of London, the British military (one of whose generals promised to lead a military coup) and even his own political party to the threat of someone as mild as Jeremy Corbyn, whose programme of nationalisation within a capitalist economy falls well short of either the socialism he promises or the ‘far-left’ demagoguery he is accused of by every news editor across our limited political spectrum. Can we really expect a genuine challenge to the status quo to be allowed to arise within the framework of our 900 year-old parliamentary democracy? The indistinguishable policies of our political parties in response to the increasing economic inequality of the electorate is testimony to the hegemony of the ruling class, but some recent laws give us further indication of just how far our parliament, civil service, police and security forces are willing to go to criminalise any threat to their power.

As part of its 2015 Counter Extremism strategy, the government is trying to pass a Bill that defines non-violent extremism as ‘the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. The Bill hasn’t been published yet, and will be scrutinised by a Joint Select Committee for its compliance with human rights legislation on our freedoms of expression and assembly; but the strategy proposes the use of civil orders – the breach of which is a criminal offence – to clamp down on perceived extremism without having to make a criminal case to the requisite standard of proof. So far, no legal definition of what constitutes ‘British values’ has been forthcoming – although we’ve seen in this article a range of examples of what those might be.

Last November, as a further example, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 became law. The so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’ requires internet service providers and mobile phone companies to keep records of everyone’s browsing histories, including on social media, e-mails, voice calls and mobile phone messaging services for 12 months, and gives the police, security services and a range of government departments unprecedented access to the data (which means they know I’m writing this and you’re reading it). It also gives police and security services new powers to hack into computers and phones to collect communication data in bulk. Despite being one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a self-styled ‘democracy’, the Act was passed with little parliamentary scrutiny or public opposition on 29 November while the UK electorate was being distracted by the debates over the legality of the Brexit referendum and its threats to our human rights.

Today, we live under ever more restrictive and punitive laws enacted by an increasingly militarised and privatised police whose duties and powers are already being outsourced to private security companies. As well-armoured as any Medieval man-at-arms and armed with far deadlier weapons that they use with increasing impunity – from speed-cuffs, weighted batons and CS-gas sprays to tasers, automatic pistols and assault rifles – the police patrol our streets and skies in patrol cars, riot vans and helicopters equipped with the surveillance technology of an army of occupation – which is, of course, precisely what they are. In London, the Metropolitan Police Service is one of the largest police forces in the world, with nearly 50,000 officers and an annual budget of £3.24 billion. Once again, to put this in context, the entire NHS debt for hospitals across the whole of England is £2.45 billion. This February Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, appointed the new Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, a privately-educated graduate of Oxford and Cambridge who oversaw the killing and cover-up of the killing of Jean Charles de Menzes following the 7 July London bombings of 2005. Last August the London Mayor announced a new force of 600 grey-clad, heavily-armed, dubiously-trained, paramilitary so-called ‘anti-terror’ police, who were photographed, like the street gang they are, proudly showing off their array of body armour, handguns, sniper rifles, submachine guns and automatic assault rifles. There are now an estimated 2,800 armed officers in the Metropolitan Police in London. And yet these vast resources of manpower and weapons and equipment and surveillance and technology, and the new laws and erosion of our human rights that enable the government to use them, were not sufficient to stop one man in a van killing 4 people and injuring 50 more last week on Westminster Bridge. We might conclude that the huge sums spent on these policing resources, and all the new anti-terror and anti-extremism laws and our corresponding loss of human rights, are not there to protect us from terrorists and extremists, but to protect the ruling class from us as they subject our class to ever greater poverty and servitude.

I could go on. I haven’t even mentioned the military, our numerous secret services or the surveillance powers of GCHQ, let alone the financial power and corruption of the City of London and the threat of the military-industrial complex of world capitalism under which we all live. But let’s stop here. If we think we face an impossible task opposing the seemingly unstoppable rise of a more dominant, invasive and controlling totalitarianism than any that has existed before, we should think back to those serfs who, six centuries ago, rose up from grinding poverty and violent oppression to challenge the wealth and power of the English King, the Anglo-Norman aristocracy and the Roman Catholic Church – and take heart from their example. More to the point, we have no choice if our class is not to sink into a world that will make Fourteenth-Century England look like an illuminated manuscript of the Apocalypse to come.

An Example to Posterity

04

In the lecture he delivered in 1981 on the 600th anniversary of the Peasants’ Revolt, the journalist and socialist Paul Foot concluded with these words about our inheritance from the uprising of 1381:

‘There’s a tendency among people who think about history, even – perhaps especially – among Marxists who think about history, to divide it into sealed compartments. They say that the peasant comes from a different age, is separate from us, has nothing to do with us, and that history moves by stages, scientific stages, and the peasant is one stage, and the workers are in another. It’s nothing therefore to do with us what happened six hundred years ago, in a quite different sort of economy. We can leave it on one side. We’re not peasants, we’re very advanced people, we’ve been an industrial working class burrowing away for years and we’ve got pretty well nowhere, but we’re terribly important and we’re much more important than any peasant.

‘I think that that is not only reactionary and wrong but paralysing – because the whole idea that history determines things and that everything’s inevitable paralyses us, leaves out the activity which is at the centre of the Peasants’ Revolt. It is also insulting to the people who carried those standards for us all through those years before. What’s most extraordinary about the Peasants’ Revolt is not the differences between us and them, which are obvious and expected, but the similarities. We’re bound together by this relentless struggle between the classes, which persists all the way through their story and all the way through ours.’

Serfdom was finally abolished in 1574 nearly two hundred years after the Peasants’ Revolt; the Statute of Labourers was repealed in 1863; national service took until 1963 to be phased out; and the Poll Tax, which was famously brought back by Margaret Thatcher in the guise of the Community Charge in 1990, was defeated that same year by mass demonstrations and a widespread refusal to pay. So there have been some victories over the past 636 years. But until the head of state and everything that resembles it has been removed in Smithfield, on the same site where King Richard betrayed, ambushed and assassinated Wat Tyler, we’re basically still fighting the same class war.

John of Gaunt was not in London at the time of the Revolt but on the March of Scotland, where on hearing about the uprising he ran from one castle to the next seeking sanctuary, and was finally taken in by King Robert II of Scotland, no doubt for a handsome fee. Unfortunately, therefore, the 1st Duke of Lancaster escaped beheading by the rebels, as Archbishop Simon Sudbury and Sir Robert Hales did not. The Beaufort family, descended in the male line from John of Gaunt, is today represented by its cadet branch the House of Somerset, whose senior representative David Somerset, 11th Duke of Beaufort, was ranked 679th in the Sunday Times Rich List 2015, with an estimated wealth of £145m in land from the Badminton and Swangrove Estates. I’m happy to report, however, that the various Hales Baronetcies, which were created in the Seventeenth Century, are all extinct.

And the serfs? Nine days after signing royal charters in which he swore he would abolish serfdom, repeal the Poll Tax and the Statute of Labourers, return common land to the commoners and grant amnesty to the rebels, King Richard II – who would rescind every one of the charters that July and by November had authorised the execution of between 3,000-7,000 rebels – according to the contemporary chronicler and monk Thomas Walsingham, declared to the peasants of Essex:

‘Serfs you have been and serfs you shall remain in bondage, not as you have hitherto been subjected to, but incomparably harsher. For so long as We live and rule by God’s grace over this kingdom, we shall use our strength, sense and property to treat you such that your slavery may be an example to posterity, and that those who live now and hereafter, who may be like you, may always have before their eyes, as it were in a glass, your misery and reasons for cursing you, and the fear of doing things like those which you have done.’

Over 600 years later, are we still obedient to this example to posterity, as we are to so many others, or have we learned the lessons of history and found the courage to overcome our fear and bring about, finally, what the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 so nearly achieved?

Simon Elmer

05

ASH Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition

Unfortunately it takes longer to unwrap a lie than it does to tie it with a pretty bow and sell it to ‘the People’, and the Greater London Authority’s Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, published in December 2016, is a cellophane-wrapped, ribbon-tied box of untruths. This commentary by Architects for Social Housing, therefore, is considerably longer than the Guide itself, which is a compilation of the myths used to justify London’s estate demolition programme. Of course, as Alexander the Great famously demonstrated, the quickest way to untie a mythical knot is with a sword, and the best response to this draft is the organised resistance of estate communities to its proposals, beginning with their refusal to engage in any consultation with the public institutions and private companies that are intent on demolishing their homes for profit. It’s clear that this draft and the consultation it invites, sent out to every housing estate in London with a Toolkit for Local Meetings, is a precursor to the individual estate consultations which – as any resident who has gone through the process can testify – will be used to justify the demolition of their homes.

What follows is ASH’s commentary on the Greater London Authority’s draft text, to which we have opposed our own Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition. Although we have not commented on every paragraph, for ease of reference we have retained the GLA’s titles and paragraph numbering in red. And in place of its anonymous and highly fanciful case studies of estate regeneration, we have provided real and verifiable examples of estate demolition. We have no illusions that the Greater London Authority, the London Mayor or the Homes for Londoners board he chairs will read or respond to our comments; but we hope that, when local authorities and housing associations refer to the GLA’s Guide in order to justify their plans to demolish an estate, residents new to the language of ‘regeneration’ will be able to use our commentary to challenge them. It shouldn’t be hard, as this is one of the worst written policy documents we’ve ever read. So bad is it, in fact, that rather than responding to its contradictory, inaccurate, misleading and frequently meaningless statements – which render this draft useless as a means of consultation – residents should seek to use this Guide as a weapon with which to defend their homes. It is this that the ASH commentary has been written to provide. A PDF file of this report can be downloaded here:  Homes for Londoners

FOREWORD

It is unclear what connection the Mayor is drawing between the ‘soaring cost of housing’ in London and estate regeneration, although it’s clear that the latter is being proposed as a solution to the former. London’s housing crisis is one of affordability, and until estate regeneration results in more homes Londoners can afford to live in, its proposal as a solution to that crisis is an argument that is yet to be made. So far, estate ‘regeneration’ has, without exception, resulted in a net loss of social housing and the dispersal of the community that lived there.

Contrary to the programme of estate regeneration being aggressively pursued by Labour councils across London, we are happy to see the Mayor state that:

‘We must protect and improve estates owned by councils and housing associations across London. The social housing they provide is a foundation of our mixed city. Indeed, it ensures that Londoners on low incomes have somewhere decent and affordable to live in the capital.’

If that is the case, however, why is the social housing on ‘regenerated’ council and housing association estates being replaced with ‘affordable’ housing – just as the Mayor himself does when, in the very next paragraph, he writes of demolishing these estates ‘to make the most of opportunities for building new and affordable homes’?

As for the Mayor’s desire to see residents ‘closely involved’ in estate regeneration, involvement, no matter how close, does not mean agency over the process. And the need for tenants to be ‘treated fairly’ does not clarify what the criteria for such fairness is. We get a good idea of what the Mayor means, however, when in the very next line he writes: ‘we must protect existing affordable housing throughout.’

As the Mayor should know by now, council housing is not ‘affordable housing’. If this blurring of the distinction between them – coming a mere two paragraphs after a declaration of the importance of social housing to Londoners on low incomes – is an indication of what the Mayor means by ‘treating tenants fairly’, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of this report.

We suggest the ‘trust’ the Mayor wants residents to have in the process of estate regeneration would be better ‘built’ if he didn’t start by deliberately confusing this fundamental difference between social and affordable housing. As the Mayor will know from his own much-publicised childhood on a council estate, the difference between a family paying a social rent and an affordable rent defined as up to 80 per cent of market rate is the difference between being able to afford to live in a flat and being forced out of it.

As a former lawyer used to the subtleties of language in the service of wealth and power, the Mayor will also know that residents ‘shaping the options’ presented to them by councils is not the same as choosing what those options are.

It is unclear to what ‘good practice’ this draft is supposed to be the guide, but judging by this foreword it is a guide to how to deceive residents about:

  • Their influence over London’s programme of estate regeneration;
  • The options presented for their choice;
  • The consequences the demolition of their homes will have on their ability to continue living on their estate.

Given this confusion, phrases about an approach to estate regeneration that ‘puts local people at its heart’ are empty at best – at worst deliberately misleading.

INTRODUCTION

The reason estate ‘regeneration’ has resulted in what this draft calls ‘conflict between residents and local authorities’ is precisely because it does not involve ‘refurbishment’, ‘investment’ or ‘renewal’, but overwhelmingly results in ‘demolition’ and ‘rebuilding’. The Guide would benefit in both clarity and honesty if the Mayor discarded these euphemisms and called the document what it is – a Good Practice Guide to Estate Demolition.

If estate demolition brings ‘many benefits’, why then does it result in this conflict with residents? Are the homes being proposed in fact ‘better quality’ than the ones residents already live in? The cases of Solomon’s Passage in Peckham (built by Wandle Housing, a housing association supported by the Mayor), of Oval Quarter in Brixton, of Orchard Village in Rainham, and of Portobello Square in Notting Hill indicate the contrary. But even if the new flats (they are not ‘homes’: it takes residents to build these) are of better quality, for whom are they built? Certainly not the residents with whom local authorities are in conflict. The question about estate demolition that no council, housing association or developer has yet answered is simple: if estate redevelopment, as the Mayor argues, brings so ‘many benefits’, why are residents so virulently opposed to it?

And what, exactly, does the Mayor mean by ‘better quality neighbourhoods’? The London neighbourhoods with the highest levels of crime, tax avoidance, anti-social behaviour, drug-dealing, money-laundering, empty homes, non-domiciled residents and all the other social ailments by which London is afflicted are not those neighbourhoods in which council and housing association estates are concentrated, but in the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea.

Or does the Mayor mean to hold up the generic, chain-store lined, overwhelmingly white and exclusively middle-class neighbourhoods of somewhere like Paddington Basin, or the corporate hunting grounds of Westfield Stratford City, or the internationalist wasteland of Kidbrooke Village, as models to which the heterogeneous, locally owned, racially mixed, working-class neighbourhoods in which housing estates are found should aspire?

Whatever the Mayor believes, it’s obvious that for estate ‘regeneration’ to be a ‘success’ it must be successful for existing residents. Only then will it receive their ‘support’, rather than the opposition which, despite its dismissal in this draft, is growing and becoming ever more militant as residents see what has happened to other estates. From the four poles of London, the estate names of Heygate, Woodberry Down, West Hendon and Ferrier will not be silenced by the empty promise of a ‘full and transparent consultation’.

Equally as empty, the ‘right to return’, as tenants know, means nothing more than the rights of those with the financial capacity to do so to return to homes if they can afford the more than doubled cost of social rents converted into ‘affordable’ rents. And a ‘fair deal’ to leaseholders is nothing more than the right to shared ownership of a flat they once owned and now rent – at the risk of losing their entire investment – towards a sale price up to four times what they were given in compensation for their demolished home.

Given that this is what both tenants and leaseholders are faced with under the euphemism of ‘estate regeneration’, we welcome the Mayor repeating his already-broken campaign promise that ‘demolition should only be followed where it does not result in a loss of social housing, or where all other options have been exhausted.’ Welcome it, but find it unconvincing, because in every estate demolition carried out so far in London there has been a loss of social housing, and because on Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill, Knight’s Walk, West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, financially viable and socially and environmentally preferable options to demolition have and are being dismissed out of hand by Labour councils.

Nevertheless, while the ‘right to return’ for tenants and a ‘fair deal’ for leaseholders are meaningless as principles, we will hold the London Mayor, its councils and housing associations to the principles that the demolition of estates will only go ahead when:

  • It has resident support;
  • It does not result in a loss of social housing;
  • All other options have been exhausted.

However, we look for stronger definitions of the agency of Londoners – residents and no-residents alike – over estate regeneration than words like ‘shape’, or the meaningless promise that consulting them will be ‘meaningful’.

By indicating that the Guide in which these principles will be set out is only one of the documents councils, housing associations and developers can appeal to when proposing their plans, the Mayor has undermined in advance whatever status this document may have as a binding guide to estate demolition. Are the example documents referred to – the government’s Estate Regeneration National Strategy, whose advisory panel includes CEOs of building companies and housing associations; Altered Estates, a text produced by architectural practices benefiting from the demolition and redevelopment of the Aylesbury estate; the forthcoming document by the privately sponsored business pressure group London First – compatible with the principles outlined above? One can easily imagine a situation in which a council, housing association, developer or architect, seeking approval for an estate demolition scheme, refers to one document over another in order to get what they want.

We remind the Mayor that the government-funded national strategy on estate regeneration headed by Michael Heseltine and Housing Minister Gavin Barwell was announced by David Cameron as a ‘Blitz’ on England’s ‘hundred worst sink estates’. These are hardly the terms of a ‘full’, ‘transparent’ or ‘meaningful’ consultation, and yet the Mayor has not hesitated to align this Guide with its terminology and intentions.

Nor is it enough, as the draft outlines here, to confine the Mayor’s influence to the withholding of GLA funding to demolition programmes that do not meet its principles. Since there is quite enough profit being made by private developers and builders to compensate for any withheld public funding, we call on the Mayor to make a pledge to withhold planning permission for any estate demolition programme that does not meet the three key principles outlined above.

Unfortunately, where we would expect to see such a pledge, without which the entire Guide is nothing more than what the Mayor ‘wants’, we instead get a statement that undermines the principles outlined so far – that ‘the loss of affordable housing should be resisted unless it is replaced at existing or higher densities’.

We remind the Mayor – as it seems necessary to do again and again – that social housing is not ‘affordable’ housing, and that although, under the old Section 106 agreements in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the affordable housing quota on any new development may include a proportion of homes for social rent, on estate redevelopments the difference is the difference between tenants being able to return to the estate and being socially cleansed from their neighbourhood.

Of what worth is the principle to only allow demolition where it ‘does not result in a loss of social housing’ when, at the bottom of the same page, it is contradicted by the statement that the ‘loss of affordable housing’ should be resisted? We remind the Mayor – we guess not for the last time – that there is no affordable housing on council and housing association estates, and to elide the difference between the two is precisely the kind of deception that has been the cause of the ‘conflict’ between residents and local authorities.

Replacing social housing with affordable housing ‘at existing or higher densities’ is exactly what councils and developers have been and are doing, and the prime cause of residents’ resistance. If the Mayor and members of the Greater London Authority don’t know the difference between social and affordable rents, tenants do, just as they know what the replacement of the one with the other will mean for them.

In the light of which, the Mayor’s promise ‘to protect and strengthen his commitment’ is meaningless, unless that commitment is to the social cleansing of London’s estate communities by local authorities, led by Labour councils, and financed by housing associations, developers, builders and every other investor getting rich on London’s programme of estate demolition.

CHAPTER 1

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF ESTATE REGENERATION

Overarching Principles

1 If these principles are to be a guide to estate regeneration in London, landlords should be compelled to do more than just ‘consider’ them; they need to be the binding conditions of planning permission being granted by the London Mayor.

2 The draft Guide lists the three broad categories into which the aims of an estate regeneration project will typically fall as:

  • Maintaining good quality homes;
  • Supporting the supply of new housing;
  • Improving the social, economic and physical environment in which these homes are located.

If ‘maintaining’ good quality homes is the first aim of estate regeneration, then giving the existing homes the refurbishment they have been deliberately deprived of – sometimes for decades – should be the starting point of any scheme. Instead, councils typically use the state of disrepair they have created – either by withholding maintenance or by poor maintenance – as reasons to demolish the estate. To cite just two examples typically used by councils. Poorly fitted new windows without adequate ventilation installed by the council inevitably result in condensation leading to mould that is presented as signs of the poor quality of the homes. It isn’t – it’s a sign of incompetent maintenance. And brick or stone walkways being cleaned with high-powered water jets result in the grouting being washed away and the bricks coming loose, which is then presented by the council as proof of a poor quality public realm. Again, it isn’t – it’s a result of incompetent maintenance.

Such deliberate mismanagement of estates by councils extends to rain gutters not being repaired leading to water damage to homes and gardens, resident-planted roof gardens being dug up, estate trees and ivy-grown trellises being pulled down without prior consultation, and a general refusal to carry out repairs. All these practices, which are common causes of complaints by residents across a wide range of London estates, are designed to make what are already ‘good quality homes’ conform to the overwhelmingly negative and inaccurate public image of estates as badly designed, poorly built, low quality housing. With some exceptions, council and housing association estates are anything but low quality. What they are is badly maintained, poorly repaired housing suffering from a lack of investment, and whose physical deterioration has been managed by councils and housing associations in anticipation of their demolition and redevelopment. Despite this, there are few results of this managed decline that cannot be remedied with careful refurbishment, continued maintenance and financial investment. This should be the first and uppermost objective of the genuine programme of estate regeneration that London’s council and housing association homes need.

Second, the requirement for ‘new housing’ that has consistently been used to justify the demolition of London’s estates is an argument that has yet to be made with any theoretical rigour or empirical evidence. Instead, the rocketing sale and rental price of homes in London has been reduced to a simple equation of supply and demand, with the building of more homes identified as the solution. While this ignores the numerous other factors determining London’s housing bubble – the main ones being the speculation in London’s property market by international investment and the lack of regulation in the private rental market – it does at least identify that the resulting housing crisis is one of affordability, and not merely supply. What the proposed solution hasn’t done is make the argument that building more high-cost housing for investment and speculation will reduce the cost of London properties, when it is precisely that speculation and investment that has created the housing bubble. Nor does it make the argument why estate demolition is the answer to the shortage of housing Londoners can afford to live in, when those estates contain the only housing in London to have escaped the enormous rise in house prices that continues to fuel speculation in London property.

Unless estate regeneration is exclusively carried out in order to increase the number of homes Londoners can afford to live in – rather than property speculators invest in – then far from being a solution to London’s housing crisis estate regeneration will make it infinitely worse: first by demolishing what council homes and homes for social rent London still has; and second by replacing them with more unaffordable housing. As such, this second objective of estate regeneration is both inadequate and inaccurate. What is needed is not a ‘supply of new housing’, but to maintain and increase the supply of homes Londoners can afford to live in. Overwhelmingly this means increasing the number of homes for social rent, not demolishing them.

Finally, although it might be argued that a ‘physical environment’ can be ‘improved’ – though for whom and by what criteria that ‘improvement’ is judged is anything but clear – improving a ‘social’ and ‘economic’ environment is meaningless as an objective of estate regeneration. Is an environment improved ‘economically’ by moving poorer people out of it and wealthier people in? If so, then this is indeed the overarching objective of London’s existing estate demolition programme; but it hardly conforms to the Guide’s principle that estate demolition should only go ahead when it ‘does not result in a loss of social housing’. Yet if an environment is to be ‘improved economically’ by demolishing the homes lower income residents currently live in and replacing them with homes only wealthier resident can afford, isn’t the social cleansing of the existing community the only possible outcome? Even by the brazen standards of apologists for social cleansing, it’s hard to believe that the economic ‘improvement’ of estate environments by moving the economically poorer residents off the estate has been identified here as an objective of estate regeneration.

By the same token, is this what the Guide means by ‘improving the social environment’ – another meaningless phrase, though one with far darker implications for the residents that make up that social environment? It has for some time been apparent that when councils engage in philanthropic talk of ‘tackling’ poverty on council estates, they mean evicting all the people living in poverty off the estate and in some cases out of the borough altogether. As an example of which, the equality impact assessment produced by Haringey Labour council of the negative effects on the local black community of increased housing costs following the demolition of thousands of council homes on Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and Sky City estates, concluded that residents would have to ‘increase their incomes to a sufficient level to afford the new homes on offer’.

Again, even by the arrogant standards of such councils when deciding who can and cannot live in the borough, it’s hard to believe that improving a ‘social environment’ by forcing the existing community from its homes has been identified as an objective of estate regeneration in a ‘guide to good practice’. If there is another meaning to these awkward phrases then it is not clear to us what that may be. In their current form they confirm the accusation that estate regeneration is in practice a tool of social cleansing.

Given which, the Guide’s recommendation that any proposal for estate regeneration should ‘clearly and transparently articulate the rationale, aims and objectives of the project’ is unlikely to meet with support from residents, when those aims and objectives encompass:

  • Their eviction from their homes;
  • The demolition of the only housing in London to have escaped the housing bubble;
  • Its replacement with housing most Londoners are unable to afford;
  • The sale of that housing to investors increasing the price of housing in the capital.

Of course, these aims and objectives will not be ‘clearly and transparently communicated to residents’, but concealed behind the subterfuges and euphemisms in which estate demolition has been cloaked from the beginning, and to which this draft good practice guide is a further addition.

4 Contrary to what the Guide says, we know that residents of estates, far from being ‘engaged early’ in the process, are only informed that their estate is even being considered for regeneration several years after the decision as to what its fate and theirs will be has long ago been decided and set in motion: with real estate firms like Savills having drawn up the criteria by which an estate is selected for demolition; viability assessments having decided what portion of affordable housing the new developments will contain; irreversible financial agreements made with builders; marketing strategies decided with developers; architects and urban planners having been retained to draw up preliminary designs; and a range of consultancies and regeneration ‘experts’ employed to sell the whole things to residents with the line that ‘nothing as yet has been decided’. In truth, everything has been decided. All that remains is to manage whatever resistance the residents put up.

It’s for this reason that councils consistently dismiss anyone other than residents of the estates they want to demolish as not having a stake, and therefore a say, in what happens to them. By drawing the ubiquitous red line around an estate, the resistance of residents to what happens to it can more easily be managed. But though residents may be, as the Guide says, the ‘primary stakeholders’, the homes lived in by tenants – who make up the overwhelming majority of residents on estates – are not only theirs, but the future homes of future residents. As such, the continued existence of those homes as council estates is something every Londoner has a stake in, and should therefore have a say in their future. The red line councils draw around estates on plans for their demolition is a completely artificial one, which deliberately seeks to silence the effects the demolition of that estate will have on the surrounding community and far beyond.

We repeat: council estates, and to a lesser extent housing association estates, are the only housing to have escaped London’s housing bubble, and should therefore be defended by all Londoners. Not the least effect of estate demolition is the increased pressures of evicted council tenants on London’s unregulated private rental market, which although beneficial to the private landlords that sit on the board of every public body determining housing policy in this country, will drive rental prices in the capital still higher.

Even with this caveat, residents and stakeholders must be given far more than ‘sufficient opportunity’ to ‘engage with and shape’ whatever proposals are made for their homes – a suggestion utterly meaningless in a document supposedly seeking to be a guide to good practice. In practice, residents and stakeholders must be given the right of veto over any proposals that will affect their futures, and if they are not given that right they will take that veto into their own hands. Under the title of ‘People’s Plan’, and with the help of organisations such as Architects for Social Housing, many campaigns are already putting forward their own proposals for their estates, and if the Mayor does not accommodate these into his proposed Guide, and compel local authorities to address them ‘clearly and transparently’, the conflict that already exists between residents and local authorities will only escalate.

The fact the Guide sees residents as only one group of stakeholders among others, and attributes an equal stake to the local authorities, housing associations, developers and landowners that are promoting, implementing and benefitting from estate demolition, both fails to clarify and undermines exactly what say residents will have in the final decision about what happens to their own homes. Thus far that say has been silenced and ignored. But without the power to veto any decision – and recognition by councils that the requirement that estate demolition has ‘resident support’ also means that residents can withdraw support – residents ignored by local authorities and housing associations will grow in resistance and militancy to the threat estate demolition presents to their homes and lives.

Approaches to Physical Regeneration

5 In the absence of a statement in the Guide clarifying what power residents have to decide their own futures beyond the expression of their ‘wishes’, what the draft promises will be the ‘clear and transparent’ presentation of the various factors involved in estate regeneration, and how they are ‘weighed up against each other’, is clearly and transparently impossible.

7 When weighing up the benefits and disadvantages of demolishing an estate, in addition to ‘the disruption to existing tenants’, ‘the financial cost of replacing the housing’, and ‘the environmental costs’, the Guide should include the failure of the existing community to return to the estate because of increased housing costs. Although far more than a ‘disadvantage’, this undeclared social cost of estate demolition is entirely absent from this guide; yet it should be the first and primary consideration in the proposal of any scheme, and one that should under no circumstances be permissible.

Case Studies

In the absence of any identification, these anonymous case studies – although they may be based on actual estate regeneration schemes – cannot be substantiated as anything more than the propaganda that councils, housing authorities, builders, developers, consultancies and architectural practices disseminate on their websites and literature in order to justify their plans, and which invariably vary hugely from the accounts given by residents and campaigns resisting those plans and the facts they present to substantiate their accounts. As such, these case studies have little or no value in this Guide except as propaganda, and we’ll confine our comments on them to their more glaring assumptions.

Case Study 2

In a guide that is supposed to bring clarify and transparency, it is more than regrettable to read a repetition of the entirely unsubstantiated claim that there is a causal relationship between the quality of a built environment and anti-social behaviour. This completely spurious claim – which has no basis beyond the prejudices of a class which has no knowledge of council estates outside the pages of the Telegraph – was the basis of David Cameron’s justification for demolishing 100 so-called ‘sink estates’. And although this Tory propaganda has been repeated by London Labour councils about estates they wish to demolish, we condemn its repetition here by a Labour London Mayor, and demand its withdrawal from this Guide.

Having cited the high quality and density of homes on this anonymous estate as a reason to refurbish rather than demolish them, we question why the Mayor has not stopped the proposed demolition of Cressingham Gardens estate by Lambeth Labour council, whose plans to demolish the more than 300 award-winning, high-quality homes has been justified by the council with the promise that the redevelopment will provide a grand total of 27 additional council homes.

In the list of lessons learned from this case study into ‘mixed refurbishment and rebuild’, it is revealing that the Guide identifies the ‘challenge’ of integrating existing and new residents in old and new blocks, which it says raised issues around what the GLA timidly refers to as ‘socio-economic divides in the local community’. Is the GLA admitting that the new flats were only affordable to the wealthier new residents estate redevelopment benefits, while the old blocks remained inhabited by the occupants on the other side of this ‘socio-economic divide’? Does this not imply that the full demolition of an estate would mean replacing low income and poor residents with wealthier residents able to afford the increased rents and sale prices? If not, why, then, did this ‘socio-economic divide’ arise in this case?

Ensuring no Loss of Affordable Housing

10 We have already referred to the sleight of hand involved in substituting affordable for social housing when drawing up conditions of estate demolition; but here the condition under which this substitution is condoned is expanded further. Where the Introduction to the Guide stated that the loss of affordable housing should be resisted ‘unless it is replaced at existing or higher densities’, here the condition is that lost affordable housing should be ‘replaced with better quality homes at existing or higher densities’. Where the Introduction took the space of a few paragraphs to undermine a commitment to retain social housing, it has taken no more than a few pages to erase even that revision, and replace affordable housing with ‘better-quality homes’.

It’s not clear to us whether this is another example of the underhand manner in which estate demolition escapes legal challenges by residents, or just a result of the slip-shod and legally meaningless prose that characterises this extraordinarily poorly written document; but either way this slippage between social, affordable and high-quality housing needs re-defining. But given the amateurish at best – at worst deliberately deceptive – manner in which this draft has been written, it’s laughable (and consequently concerning) to think of it being used as a model for drawing up a ‘residents’ charter’.

Improving the Local Environment

11 The argument that estates need to be ‘re-integrated with the surrounding area’ has been used to justify their demolition by, for example, lawyers employed by Southwark Labour Council at the public inquiry into the compulsory purchase order on the Aylesbury Estate. This myth about housing estates was refuted then by architects, professors of architecture and engineers, who exposed it for what it is – a product of political propaganda one would expect to see in the pages of the Daily Mail rather than a document produced by the GLA. Unless the Mayor wishes to take the judgement of Southwark councillors – whose financial interests in the building industry is a matter of public record – over housing professionals, this baseless claim has no place in a guide to estate demolition.

12 Equally, the claim that buildings on a ‘traditional street pattern’ relate better ‘in appearance and scale’ to their surroundings is the product of a number of private companies also with a financial interest in estate demolition: including Policy Exchange, a Conservative Party think-tank which in January 2013 published a report titled Create Streets; Peabody Housing Association, which commissioned the Independent Public Policy Research think-tank to produce a report published in March 2015 titled City Villages: More Homes, Better Communities; and Savills real estate firm, which in January 2016 delivered a report directly to Cabinet titled Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents. Despite the Guide’s nostalgic reference to ‘tradition’, these companies are anything but nostalgic about the estates they are intent on demolishing – not in order to improve the ‘appearance and scale’ of London’s housing, but to generate the greatest level of profits for their shareholders. These are all private companies, and their recommendations as to what should be done with London’s housing estates should be subject to public scrutiny of the extent to which their recommendations are of benefit to the public or to themselves.

As for the highly subjective criterion of ‘appearance’, all the evidence so far is that the poorly built, generic architecture of London’s ‘new vernacular’ will go down in architectural history as the greatest blight on London’s appearance. Or it would – if most examples wouldn’t have to be torn down and rebuilt within the decade. Not a single new development can stand comparison with the architectural quality of estates like Central Hill, Dawson’s Heights, Cressingham Gardens or Robin Hood Gardens – all of which are under threat of demolition and redevelopment by architects who are not in the same league as the designers of the estates they are set to replace. Like so much about estate demolition, the claim that it is replacing bad design and build quality with good design and build quality is a lie. It is in fact doing exactly the opposite. A comparison between the above-named estates and the disasters built in Oval Quarter, Solomon’s Passage, Loughborough Park or Kidbrooke Village would go a long way to dispelling this myth.

Monitoring and Review

14 Impact assessments of the social, economic, mental health and environmental effects of estate demolition on residents and stakeholders should not be put in place to ‘monitor’ and ‘review’ the outcomes of the process, but produced before that process begins as part of the deliberations on whether such a scheme should go ahead. The purpose of such impact assessments should not be to cover the responsibility of the council, but to inform residents of what effects the council’s plans will have on them. As such, councils should be compelled to fund the production of impact assessments by independent advisors chosen by the residents, and to respond to their findings. At present, even when such assessments are made, they are produced by the council themselves, and – hardly surprisingly, therefore – corroborate the council’s plans. Even when independent assessments are commissioned, as ASH has with Central Hill estate, they have been ignored by the council. As a guide to the duties of councils and housing associations to monitor the ‘satisfaction, health and well-being’ of residents, this is one of the weakest sections in this consistently weak document.

As for the reference to monitoring ‘those residents who are displaced by the scheme and who do not return to the estate once the project is concluded’: why is this anticipation of social cleansing – which is perhaps the only accurate depiction of the effects of estate demolition in this entire draft – considered acceptable as an outcome? Such an outcome doesn’t need ‘monitoring’: it needs stopping in advance by the kind of binding conditions to estate regeneration this Guide so signally fails to provide.

15 What is the point of landlords ‘seeking to understand’ the impact of demolition on ‘households that have moved from an estate and not returned’? Since the demolition of their homes is self-evidently the cause of them moving away, the understanding of this impact should come before the estate is demolished, not produced afterwards through ‘surveys’. And it should start with the understanding that residents don’t ‘move’ from an estate: they are evicted from their homes by councils and housing associations – and sometimes bailiffs and police – and prohibited from returning by the huge increase in the rent or sale price of their replacements.

16 Resident steering groups, as their name indicates, should be there to allow residents to direct the regeneration process towards their needs. They’re not, of course – exactly the opposite. Steering groups are created so residents can be directed according to the wishes of the council and housing associations – which is why we advise residents never to engage in these council-led structures but to create their own. But they certainly aren’t there, as this Guide suggests, to ‘monitor’ the impact on residents of having their homes demolished and their communities destroyed. But the Mayor need not worry unduly: the campaigns of resistance estate residents are forming across London will be certain to keep both local authorities and the GLA informed of how they feel about this process.

Case Study 3

As we have already argued – and as should be obvious to anyone genuinely concerned with the ‘social impact’ of estate demolition on residents – assessments of that impact should be produced in advance of the process, in order to determine whether demolition should be carried out. Residents are not guinea pigs whose ‘feelings and experiences’ are there to be ‘measured’ by councils, housing associations and developers. If the actions of the latter are anticipated as having a negative consequences for the former they should be stopped, not ‘monitored’.

The term ‘social regeneration’ – used, at it is here, as one of the definitions of a successful ‘estate regeneration’ – is perhaps the closest this draft has come so far to admitting that one of the aims of an estate demolition is the social cleansing of its community, with the objective of building high-value housing on the land so cleared. We will hold the Greater London Authority responsible for both this language and its social consequences, and do everything we can to publicise what it means to residents on every estate threatened with ‘social regeneration’ by this Guide.

Despite attempts by both councils and the GLA to deceive them with the empty promise of a ‘Right to Return’, residents facing the demolition of their homes already know what the ‘re-housing process’ means for them. Drawing on the complementary legislation on ‘Pay More to Stay’ in the government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016, a more accurate description of the re-housing process faced by both tenants and leaseholders whose homes have been demolished would be ‘Pay More to Return’.

If councils and housing associations recognise ‘the value that residents place on their connections with friends and neighbours’ and ‘the need to maintain established neighbourhood connections and support structures’, is the GLA and Mayor admitting that demolishing estates destroys these support structures and connections? Again, why is this considered an acceptable consequence of the estate demolition programme this Guide is promoting? And who, exactly, has accorded themselves the right to break these established structures and neighbourhood connections? Public institutions and their administrators are there to serve the public, not dictate the lives of residents or sit in judgement over their communities. If local authorities don’t respect their existence, they must expect their resistance.

Good practice in resisting the aims and objectives of estate demolition:

  • Residents should seek to understand the hidden aims and objectives of estate demolition clearly in order to expose and oppose them better.
  • Without the right to veto proposals residents should refuse to engage with them and develop their own counter proposals.
  • Residents should always demand the refurbishment and continued maintenance of their homes.
  • Residents should refuse any proposal for the demolition of their estates on the understanding that the redevelopments will replace their current homes and tenancies with unaffordable properties and diminished tenant rights.
  • Residents should celebrate and advertise the designs of their estates and criticise the failings in the designs of their proposed replacements.
  • Residents should demand that assessments of the social, economic, mental health and environmental impacts of estate demolition are carried out by independent advisors paid for by the landlord prior to any proposal being produced or considered.

Finally, we take note of the fact that in its appearance both in the Introduction to this Guide and in this final summary of Chapter 1, the condition that estate demolition should only happen ‘where it does not result in a loss of social housing’ is undermined and therefore rendered meaningless by the insertion of the word ‘or’ between what is presented as a further condition but which can in practice be cited as the exceptional condition – that is, ‘where all other options have been exhausted.’ Presented with the clarity and transparency the Guide makes so much of but is completely lacking, this means that if all other options have been ‘exhausted’ then the loss of social housing can be ignored as a barrier to the demolition of an estate.

Leaving aside – as the Guide does – the criteria by which an alternative to demolition can be defined by landlords as having been ‘exhausted’, what is clear from these conditions is that one of the primary aims in the practice of estate demolition is to ‘exhaust’ all other options. Here, at last, we read words that bear some resemblance to the reality of estate demolition in London. It is to exhaust every option other than demolition, and therefore justify the social cleansing of estate communities from their homes, that this document is a ‘good practice guide’.

To clarify and make transparent a document that is both incompetent and deliberately misleading: according to this Chapter on the aims and objectives of estate regeneration, the condition that an estate can only be demolished ‘where it does not result in a loss of social housing’ has three exceptions:

  • Where it is replaced by affordable housing at existing or higher densities;
  • Where it is replaced with better quality housing at existing or higher densities;
  • Where the local authority has exhausted all other alternatives.

CHAPTER 2

CONSULTATION AND ENGAGEMENT WITH RESIDENTS

17 In reading the principles the Mayor wants to see applied in the consultation and engagement with residents, we look for something more binding than the suggestion that local authorities and housing associations ‘should consider’ some of the ‘key issues’. Is this Guide a legal document or friendly advice? There are many issues councils and housing associations ‘should consider’ in pursuing estate regeneration schemes: so far they have ignored them all. With nothing more than the suggestion from the GLA that they ‘should’, they will continue to ignore them.

Principles for Consultation and Engagement

20 Among the ‘broad range’ of groups the Mayor wants local authorities to engage with, he fails to list groups offering professional skills to residents, whether these are architectural, legal or community based. Councils and housing associations consistently refuse to engage with organisations and structures they have not set up themselves, even when those structures have been set up because of residents’ dissatisfaction with the existing ones. Campaigns to save estate are increasingly turning their back on steering groups, resident engagement panels, regeneration officer surgeries and the like, recognising that they are there to facilitate, not challenge, the demolition of their homes. If the GLA places no obligation on local authorities and housing associations to recognise and respond to resident campaigns, newly-constituted tenant and resident associations, and organisations – such as Architects for Social Housing – developing alternatives to demolition, the Mayor will find those campaigns becoming increasingly militant in their refusal to engage with the consultation processes this chapter is trying to propose.

21 The Mayor’s wish that consultation and engagement should start ‘at the earliest stages of a project’, while welcome, is not current practice in estate demolition. To take just one example, since residents on the Northwold estate in Hackney were informed in July 2016 that their estate is being considered 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. In reality, a visit to the websites of TM Architects, who began drawing up plans for the partial demolition of the estate in August 2015, of landscape designers Farrer Huxley Associates, of BPP Construction Consultants, and of regeneration consultants Newman Francis – all of which have been employed by Guinness to carry out their plans – shows that the decision to partially demolish Northwold estate was decided by the Guinness Partnership many years ago, and long before it went through the motions of ‘consulting’ with residents. Until such practices, which are the rule not the exception, in making decisions that will affect the lives of thousands of residents are stopped and binding conditions put in place – not by the Mayor’s ‘wishes’ but by GLA policy – this Guide’s talk of consultation being ‘transparent’, ‘extensive’, ‘responsive’ and ‘meaningful’ is meaningless at best, deliberately deceptive at worst.

An even greater stumbling block to consultation is the Guide’s wish to ‘empower’ and ‘motivate’ residents to ‘engage with what is being considered’. Leaving aside this patronising, first-year-student terminology, which seems designed to insult and annoy residents, the GLA’s understanding of the process is the wrong way around. It is up to local authorities and housing associations to ‘engage’ with the needs, wishes and plans of residents. As demonstrated by the campaign that residents have formed on Northwold estate in response to their so-called ‘consultation’, residents are quite capable of choosing their own futures, and have no need or interest in being ‘empowered’ and ‘motivated’ by consultants to chose a decision that has already been considered, selected and decided upon by their employees.

Case Study 4

Like ‘affordable housing’, the ‘right to return’ and every other term used to describe resident consultations (‘robust’, ‘transparent’, ‘clear’, etc.) ‘bottom-up’ has lost all meaning in relation to a process that is dictated from above by financial investors, implemented by local authorities and housing associations, and in which residents are merely the tokens of ‘due process’. If consultation was conducted from the ‘bottom up’ and residents’ wishes determined the final decision about their homes, the demolition and social cleansing of the West Hendon, Aylesbury, Robin Hood Gardens and Broadwater Farm estates wouldn’t be happening. As indicated by the recent revelations about the role of PR firm Terrapin Communications in Lendlease’s appointment as developer on the Haringey Development Vehicle, the only thing moving ‘bottom-up’ in estate demolition are the glasses of champagne downed by Cabinet Members for Housing and Regeneration being wined and dined in London hotels and Cannes real estate markets by consultants employed by developers to get their signature on the development contract.

In reality – which is to say, outside the fantasies of this Guide – residents are consulted only insofar as they agree to the demolition of their homes, and all other views are ignored, silenced and – when they constitute opposition – attacked. But perhaps that’s not entirely accurate. What is moving ‘bottom-up’ is the resistance that is growing and spreading across every estate in London as residents learn what the GLA, their local council, and their housing association have planned for them.

What the Guide calls ‘community-led visions’ for estates already exist – not as ‘visions’ but as architecturally designed and financially viable alternatives to demolition. But on Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill and West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, community-led ‘People’s Plans’, far from being consulted and engaged with, have been ignored and denounced by Labour councils that have no interest in exploring alternatives to demolition.

What assurances can the GLA and Mayor give us that councils and housing associations will be compelled and bound to follow the ‘lead’ of these community plans, and in the failure to do so face censure? The GLA can keep its ‘community-led visions’: it’s ‘council-binding policy’ that this Guide should contain.

If ‘access to independent technical advice’ must be ‘ensured’ in order to assist residents in making informed decisions about the ‘costs and benefits’ of the options for estate regeneration, who is to pay for that advice? At present, while hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money is spent by councils on consultancies and regeneration officers on obscene salaries, nothing is provided for residents to employ their own consultants, whether that is for legal advice, producing impact assessments, or designing alternatives to demolition. If the Mayor is verbally committed to ‘bottom-up’ resident involvement, he needs to make a financial commitment to residents in order to facilitate that involvement.

Estate regeneration is something that has been inflicted and imposed upon estate residents, and if it is not to be viewed by them, as it currently is, as a top-down process dictated from above, residents must be given the financial means to engage with the process on their own terms. That means money for independent legal advice, money for producing impact assessments, money for producing architectural alternatives to demolition, money for engineers, quantity surveyors and other professionals not in the employ of the council or housing association that wants to demolish their homes. If such funds are not forthcoming, the Guide’s verbal commitment to ‘bottom-up’ consultation is, once again, meaningless.

22 Local authorities are already taking what the Guide calls ‘different approaches’ to consultation as ‘alternative options are considered by residents’. Having dismissed the ‘People’s Plan’ put forward by the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign, despite it being supported by 80 per cent of residents, as the work of ‘a small faction of politically motivated people who did not have the backing of the majority of residents’, Lambeth Labour council subsequently announced their intention to by-pass Cressingham’s existing, democratically elected Tenants and Residents Association and address themselves only to a Resident Engagement Panel composed exclusively of residents who are willing to engage with the plans to demolish and redevelop their homes.

As another example, having failed to attend ASH’s presentations of the architectural alternative to the demolition of Central Hill estate last year – first to a hall of over 100 residents, then to the Resident Engagement Panel, neither of which was attended by a single councillor, including the Cabinet Member for Housing – Lambeth Labour council went on to dismiss our plans based on fabricated financial figures, withheld freedom of information requests, inaccurate assessments, false claims and deliberate misunderstandings – all supplied by PRP Architects, the practice responsible for designing Orchard Village, which residents are currently demanding be demolished because of its numerous failings, and Oval Quarter, where residents have complained of numerous problems, from mould and noise to infestations of vermin and water shortages, as well as being trapped in 25-40 year contracts with private power company E.ON that has driven many of them into fuel poverty.

Given these practices, which have been repeated by other councils – Labour and Tory alike – across London, it is hard to understand what the GLA means by their statement that local authorities and housing associations ‘should always be open to suggestions from residents’. And if, like Lambeth Labour council, they are not – what then?

23 If rental income is ‘insufficient’ to fund improvements to estates, the ‘therefore’ that should follow is not that ‘market housing is required’, but that the local authorities and housing associations that have pocketed that income should provide an account of where that money has gone. The question overwhelmingly asked by residents told that there is no money for the refurbishment of their homes is: ‘Where have our rents and service charges gone?’ Until councils and housing associations are compelled to answer this question and give a public account of where residents’ money has gone, any consultation with those residents is rendered suspect and open to accusations of corruption.

Of course, a quick look at the salaries being paid to the CEOs of housing associations and councils and the regeneration officers in their employ will provide the only answer residents need. To take just a few examples, Catriona Simons, the CEO of the Guinness Partnership, has a basic salary of £273,242; Mike Cooke, the CEO of Camden Labour Council, has a salary of £163,350; and Sue Foster, Executive Director of Housing and Regeneration for Lambeth Labour Council, is on £178,147. The revelation of such salaries being paid to the administrators of social housing is hardly likely to convince residents of the necessity of demolishing their homes and replacing them with ‘market housing’ – quite the opposite. It is not the consultation of estate residents that needs to be made ‘transparent and clear’; it is the financial practices of the local authorities and housing associations that are intent on demolishing their homes.

It is, nonetheless, the rest of this paragraph that is the most dangerous and badly thought through statement in this chapter so far, which we therefore quote here in full:

‘Local authorities and housing associations should not waste their time, or more importantly that of estate residents, by consulting on options which are not viable or deliverable. Initial engagement should clearly state any non-viable or undeliverable options which have been discounted and why, and these decisions should be open to scrutiny.’

It is nice of the GLA to be concerned about wasting the time of residents whose lives are being turned upside down by London’s estate demolition programme; just as it is instructive to read that the ‘engagement’ with residents, contrary to what paragraph 21 says, does not begin ‘at the earliest stages of a project’, but only after certain options for the future of their homes have been ‘discounted’ as ‘non-viable’ or ‘undeliverable’.

The obvious question, though, is how these options have been so judged if residents have not been consulted on them? Or is the GLA saying that by ‘non-viable’ and ‘undeliverable’ they mean not for the profit of the builders, developers and investors? If they are, this means that the financial viability assessments produced by builders, developers and – in the case of most Labour councils in London – the real estate firm Savills, is the single overriding factor in what is offered as an ‘option’ to residents.

As anyone who follows London’s housing market will know, such financial viability assessments have been responsible for the worst examples of social cleansing through estate demolition. It was Savills that produced the assessment that allowed Southwark Labour council to require a mere 82 of the 1,200 council homes demolished on the Heygate estate to be available for social rent out of the 2,535 luxury apartments that are replacing them. Such figures are not the exception. Out of the remaining 3,524 luxury apartments being built in the Elephant & Castle ‘regeneration’ project, none – not one – will be for social rent. One would hope to see a GLA guide to good practice address and revise the place of viability assessments in estate regeneration, not enshrine them further as the ultimate determinant in what options residents are presented with.

Residents are not obliged to accept any redevelopment of their estate, and if councils and developers cannot come up with financial models that don’t necessitate the demolition of residents’ homes, they should go away and think again. It is putting the cart before the horse to argue that a) since developers can only afford to rebuild residents’ homes b) if they build more homes in their place they c) therefore have to demolish those homes. We have seen this inverted logic used again and again to justify land grabs disguised as estate ‘regeneration’, and residents will refuse to be convinced by or consulted on such arguments.

As to these viability assessments being ‘open to scrutiny’, since June 2016, when Lambeth Labour council publicly announced that the deliverability of our design proposal for Central Hill was ‘financially unviable’, ASH has sent freedom of information requests to the council requesting the figures on which this assessment was made. Far from being open to scrutiny, Lambeth council informed us that ‘the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information until the scheduled publication date’ – which is to say, when the council announces the decision to demolish.

Finally, having requested an independent review of this decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office, we were told that since Homes for Lambeth, the special purpose vehicle set up by Savills and Lambeth council in order to carry out their estate demolition programme, is a ‘commercial enterprise’, the information we requested is classified as ‘commercially sensitive’ and therefore that ‘confidentiality would be adversely affected by disclosure’. While this clarifies whether or not such SPVs are council owned (as we are constantly told) or private companies (as this refusal confirms) it hardly conforms to the Mayor’s desire that such viability assessments are ‘open to scrutiny’.

24 The ‘cost of doing nothing’, as the Guide describes it here, is what residents are paying now on estates left to fall into disrepair through lack of investment. Refurbishing and maintaining estates is not ‘doing nothing’; it’s what local authorities are paid to do by residents’ rents and service charges. If ‘doing something’, by contrast, means demolishing homes for social and council rent and replacing them with poorly-designed, badly made unaffordable housing, the ‘social costs’ and ‘cost to residents’ health’ – as the examples of Orchard Village, Solomon’s Passage and Oval Quarter are showing – will be far higher than the ‘cost of doing nothing’.

Rather than worry about the future ‘cost to the landlord of maintenance’ (which is paid for by residents’ rent and service charges), the Guide should concern itself with the cost of what happens to residents that are evicted from their demolished estate and unable to afford to exercise their ‘right to return’, forced from their neighbourhoods and support networks, forced into housing poverty and benefit dependency on the private rental market, their communities destroyed, their former homes lost forever for future tenants. Refurbishment of existing homes and infill development alleviates the cost of overcrowding, poor quality housing and a shortage of new homes for new residents without any of the consequences of demolition. What is the cost of refurbishment and infill against such a human cost?

25 The assertion that demolition is ‘more cost effective’ than refurbishment over a longer term is based on the completely fallacious argument that council and housing association estates built with concrete and steel are coming to the end of their life-spans or are no longer fit for habitation. If either assertion were true, the brick-built Victorian terraces and Georgian Squares in which most of London lives would have been torn down decades ago, rather than refurbished as they have been.

And if either central government or local authority decent homes standards require the demolition of the homes in which hundreds of thousands of Londoners currently live and their replacement with properties in which they cannot afford to live, then it is those standards, and not the homes, that require demolishing and revising. There is nothing ‘decent’ about socially cleansing entire communities in order to give them wider entrances and a balcony. With a few exceptions, estate residents do not complain about the standards of their homes, but about their lack of maintenance by the council or housing association.

26 The overriding criterion in establishing the benefits of what the Guide calls ‘more and better housing’ is whether residents whose homes are being demolished to make way for such housing can afford to live in them. If they can’t – and it’s very clear that they can’t – the replacement housing is not ‘better’ for them. As we have argued, the assumption that this proposed new housing will be of better quality is not borne out by the evidence. The increasing incidences of new builds so badly designed and built that they have to be demolished are only the most apparent examples of the dubious quality of so-called ‘more and better housing’. The ‘glorified rabbit-hutches’ – to use the phrase of a tenant to describe his new home on the redeveloped Loughborough Park estate in Brixton – we are being asked to embrace fall far short of the size and design and quality of the homes that hundreds of thousands of London’s housing estate residents currently call home.

As for the Guide’s promotion of ‘environmentally sustainable housing’, the environmental cost of demolishing estates is enormous, and offsets any false economy of building more sustainable replacements. In a report commissioned by ASH in 2016, Model Environment concluded: ‘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.’

And at a London Assembly investigation in July 2014 into the respective benefits of refurbishment versus demolition, Chris Jofeh, Director of the engineering company Arup, said: ‘Demolition and rebuild emits a super amount of carbon dioxide, and even if you build super-efficient new homes it could take 30 years before you redress the balance. If we do take carbon targets seriously then refurbishment is an option which is much more likely to achieve those targets’.

Finally, we ask the GLA how the ‘public realm’ will be ‘improved’ by selling public land into private hands and further privatising London’s council housing? As shown by the wastelands of Kidbrooke Village, a housing project built on the demolished Ferrier estate in Greenwich, local infrastructure is being demolished by estate demolition schemes and not rebuilt. All across London, businesses, shops, libraries, schools, parks, public houses, playgrounds, green spaces and public rights of way are being lost, shut down, closed, sold and demolished to make way for nothing more than property investments for international finance that do nothing to meet the housing needs of Londoners.

When Should Consultation Start?

27 The mechanisms and structures local authorities and housing associations already have in place are primarily Tenants and Residents Associations, which are one of the biggest obstacles to resident consultation. TRAs are often headed by figures placed there and supported by the council, loyal to their demands, and acting as a buffer between the wishes of the residents and the lack of response by the council. In some cases TRAs, far from representing residents faced with the demolition of their estates, actively oppose resident campaigns, while acting as the official representation of the handful of residents who still turn up to their meetings. In Labour-run boroughs, in particular, TRAs are nearly always run by members of the Labour Party, and what should be an independent role becomes politicised and controlled by the Labour council.

The GLA is right, though, to say that the threat of demolishing their homes is a catalyst for more intense engagement and interest from estate residents. On Cressingham Gardens, for example, the resident campaign de-selected the incumbent leadership of the TRA, which was nothing more than a mouthpiece for Lambeth Labour council, and elected their own members to its Chair and Secretary. And on the Aylesbury estate residents, in order to defend Thurlow Lodge community hall from privatisation, have recently reformed a TRA previously disbanded by Southwark Labour council.

On Northwold estate, by contrast, where the threat of demolition – although supported by Hackney Labour council – comes from the Guinness Partnership rather than the local authority, the TRA is supporting the resident campaign. What the Guide should ensure is that the TRA always represent the wishes of residents, not those of the council. This means that the leadership of the TRA should always be composed of residents who do not belong to the same political party as the council, as being so means they can be controlled as easily as Labour councillors who step out of line. We have seen this to be the case on Central Hill estate, where the leaders of both the TRA and the resident campaign joined the Labour Party, at which point the campaign became little more than an exercise in doing as it was told by Lambeth Labour council.

28 In considering when the consultation process should begin, the Guide’s statement that ‘in some cases’ it may be appropriate for councils and housing associations to gather information ‘before talking with residents’ undermines the previously stated principle, in paragraph 21, that consultation and engagement ‘should start at the earliest stages of a project’. Which is it? At the start of the process, before any decisions have been made? Or after pre-selecting which options will be ‘offered’ to residents? Residents consistently complain that options for refurbishment and infill that were initially presented are silently removed by councils and housing associations without consultation.

As an example of this, when ASH was invited into the campaign to save Knight’s Walk estate in Kennington, the six options residents were initially shown had been reduced by the council to three – all of which were for full demolition of the estate. Through proposing architectural alternatives to demolition ASH was able to convince Lambeth council to reconsider; and eventually, even though it did not adopt our designs, the local authority decided on a partial demolition option. This is an example from which landlords must learn, rather than entering into the process of estate regeneration with their eyes fixed exclusively and blindly on demolition. Contrary to what the Guide says, there are ‘no cases’ in which options should be dismissed in advance by local authorities and housing associations.

Who Should be Consulted?

29 It’s unclear what the Guide means by consulting ‘those living in temporary accommodation on the estate’. Since practically every estate whose residents are being consulted is being considered for demolition, everyone on that estate is living in temporary accommodation, whether tenants, leaseholders or freeholders. However, special mention should be made of how estate demolition affects residents kept on assured shorthold tenancies – sometimes for over a decade. As we saw with Loughborough Park estate in Brixton, when it came time to demolish the homes of the 100 tenants on assured shorthold tenancies, the Guinness Partnership only re-housed 11 of them, and even those had their social rents converted to affordable rents, which meant increasing them by up to 240 per cent. These were the lucky ones. The remaining 89 were simply forced into the private rental market and effectively forced out of Lambeth.

This common practice is part and parcel of the process of social cleansing. Whatever percentage of flats on an estate is being let out on assured shorthold tenancies when residents are told their estate is being considered for regeneration, the process of consultation – in which tenants are offered re-housing off-site and sometimes out of the borough altogether, and leaseholders offered increased financial compensation for their homes if they leave early – assures that those vacated flats become available for new tenants. These are either boarded up and left empty, or, more often, filled with tenants on assured shorthold tenancies who, when the time comes, can be evicted easily and quickly. More importantly, when the time comes for the final count of how many tenants on secure tenancies have to be re-housed in the new development – although not on secure tenancies: these no longer exist on new developments – that number has been considerably reduced.

Another category of temporary tenant affected by estate demolition that this Guide fails to take account of is property guardians. Installed with no rights, and more easily evicted even than assured shorthold tenants, property guardians are increasingly employed – as they were on the Loughborough Park estate by the Guinness Partnership – to protect empty flats from being squatted, while at the same time saving the housing association or council from re-housing tenants on their housing waiting list on the secure tenancies they deserve. Once again, this ensures that when the time comes to replacing those secure tenancies – even with the new so-called ‘assured lifetime tenancies’ with drastically reduced rights and hugely increased rents – the number of flats being let by tenants with the ‘right to return’ has been systematically reduced.

But the use of property guardians doesn’t end there. On Thamesmead estate in Greenwich, currently under threat of demolition by Peabody housing association, property guardians who helped form the campaign of resistance with other residents were threatened with immediate eviction. The Guide, as it is on so many issues, says nothing about putting in place barriers or punishments to these practices or the responsibility of local authorities and housing associations for the fate of these ‘temporary tenants’.

30 It’s nice to read the Guide expressing concern about the ‘tailoring’ of different approaches to consultation to different residents – particularly elderly residents, those residents for whom English is a foreign or second language, and residents with disabilities. It would be nicer still, therefore, if the GLA introduced policy stopping local authorities from closing or privatising estate community centres, which hugely disadvantages such residents. This practice is almost universal on estates facing demolition, and is designed, first, to make it difficult for residents to attend meetings with the landlord that are often held offsite and at a considerable distance from their homes. As an example of this practice, the meeting by Lambeth Cabinet to announce the decision to demolish Central Hill estate is being held at 5pm on a weekday in a community centre an hour’s journey on public transport from the estate. And second, prohibiting residents’ access to the estate’s community centre – either by making it off-limits to tenants, as Lambeth council have on Central Hill, or by charging prohibitively high fees for tenants to book it, as Hackney council gave tried to on Northwold – is a deliberate barrier to the estate community organising resistance to the demolition of their homes.

This, however, is only the most cynical and active way in which local authorities and housing association do their best to prevent residents from attending consultations. Another is the sheer incompetence in the way the meetings are advertised. A crumpled sheet of A5 paper, stuck to the outside of a single notice board, was all the notice residents of three blocks on the Northwold estate received for their ‘consultation’ with the firm of Newman Francis. But this is only one example of the myriad ways in which landlords actively discourage residents coming together and making their voices heard, which is always a threat to the plans to demolish their homes. Instead, councils, housing associations and consultancies encourage small, one-on-one surgeries designed to pit tenant against leaseholder with false promises of re-housing in new flats to the former and take-it-or-leave-it offers to the latter.

31 As for the Guide’s concern that owners of businesses be consulted, the Brixton Arches is a better example of how consultation is conducted in reality. Despite receiving a petition signed by over 30,000 residents of Brixton, including all the stall and shop owners, and over 1,000 official objections to the Cabinet, Lambeth Labour council has gone ahead with Network Rail’s plans to evict traders, increase their rents, and socially cleanse them from the area. This is only one example, repeated across the street markets of London, of how local authorities consult the local community – their total disregard for which this Guide, once again, does nothing to stop, reverse or punish. The GLA can make long lists of who ‘should’ be consulted, and repeat over and over what landlords ‘should’ do, but until it introduces policy that prohibits the kinds of practices we’ve listed here, this Guide is – in this matter as in all others for which it has similarly failed to legislate – meaningless.

32 The Greater London Authority is right to say that the impact of estate regeneration will last ‘for many decades’. If residents’ homes are demolished, all the evidence indicates that few will ever return to the new developments, and if they do it will be for increased rents, diminished tenants rights, and in the case of leaseholders no longer as home-owners but as renters on mortgages increased on average by 400 per cent, which place their entire deposit in jeopardy should they default, and which can be increased at the discretion of the new owners of what were once leaseholders’ homes.

This will indeed have an impact, as the Guide says, ‘well beyond the length of most tenancies’, and an overwhelmingly negative one. This may be in keeping with London’s rapid transformation into an investment opportunity for international finance that is remodeling the capital into a Parisian image of the city – with a centre for the international rich surrounded by a suburban ring of service industry workers drawn from a largely migrant population with little or no rights – but it is hardly a desirable one for tenants either of council housing or on the private rental market. Over the past year and more we’ve seen how this social contract – geographically and economically mapped onto the Paris Metropolitan Region – is working out, and it would be foolish of the Mayor to think London will be immune from the same social consequences.

Alternatively, if we genuinely ‘take account of the interests of future residents’, as the Guide suggests, it is clear that London’s housing estates must be refurbished and maintained as publicly-owned housing for council or social rent, with all the security of tenancy residents need to form communities that are part of the fabric of London’s diverse and socially mixed population. It is this diversity and mix of classes that the short-term, blinkered thinking about estate demolition contained in this Guide is threatening to destroy, not only for this generation, but forever.

What Form Should Consultation Take?

33 Describing consultation as having ‘many options’ each with their ‘own merits’, and involving ‘a number of different means’, sounds very nice and liberal; but is this Guide a meditation on the joys of consultation or guidance on what local authorities and housing associations must do when consulting residents? Instead of listing the various ways consultation may be conducted, the Guide should address the even more numerous ways in which consultations are being conducted, and failing to represent the wishes of residents. As residents of Northwold estate found during their brief consultation with Newman Francis, consultants aren’t there to answer residents’ questions, but to direct them towards accepting what the local authority or housing association – in this case the Guinness Partnership – has already decided.

Given that these consultations are supposedly being conducted in order to find out what residents think of their homes, the glaring omission from this list of the means landlords should use to communicate with residents is visiting those homes. Such an invite was extended by residents on Northwold estate not only to the representative of the Guinness Partnership on the estate, but to the architectural practice which – without having seen the insides of residents’ homes – had already drawn up plans for their replacements based on their assumed failings. Neither the Guinness Partnership nor TM Architects accepted the invitation – and for good reason. If consultants actually entered residents’ homes they would find they bear little relation to the failed, structurally unsafe, unfit for purpose, un-refurbishable homes for anti-social behavior, drug-dealing and broken families they are so fond of describing, but are in fact in excellent condition, well designed, spacious and much loved by the residents who call them ‘home’, and who are rightly insulted and angry about the slurs and slanders made about their families, communities and homes by consultants who have never had the courtesy to get to know them.

34 Despite the Guide’s welcome reference to regeneration options that are ‘not binary’ – that is to say, either demolition or nothing – in practice everything residents say that can be used to justify the demolition of their homes is used by local authorities and housing associations, and what can’t be used to that end is discarded. On the masterplan drawn up by Kensington and Chelsea Conservative council for the Silchester Estate, the proposed demolition and redevelopment of the estate is justified at every point by reference to resident feedback. Thus the reduced size and changed orientation of the central square, the proposed increase in communal facilities, a different road layout and additional access to the tube station – all of which are have been suggested supposedly in response to residents’ wishes, and all of which could be achieved without demolishing a single home – have in every case been used to justify the demolition of the entire estate. The weak point in the Guide’s concern to ‘retest opinions over time’ is the ability of local authorities and housing associations to pick and choose the feedback they receive from residents to fit their own plans.

35 In the same way, surveys repeated in order to enable a ‘real time’ assessment of residents’ views are open to the abuse they are already accommodating. To take just one example among many, in 2008 Tower Hamlets Labour council claimed their survey showed 75 per cent support from residents of Robin Hood Gardens estate for the demolition of their homes. The following year, a resident of that estate revealed not only that the council’s survey had only asked 94 residents from the estate’s 214 homes, but that his own survey of 140 residents recorded that 80 per cent were in favour of refurbishment. Now, one of these surveys, conducted a year apart, is wrong. Is it that of the council in support of its own plans, or is it that of the residents? In other words, are the residents lying about their own wishes for their homes, or is Tower Hamlets Labour council?

Similarly, a 2001 survey responded to by 76 per cent of residents on the Aylesbury estate in Camberwell recorded that 73 per cent voted against the demolition of the estate and for its refurbishment. Yet just as at Robin Hood Gardens, this has been completely ignored by Southwark Labour council, which claims there is resident support for demolition. Again, who is lying here? And for the purpose of this Guide, what use are surveys when they are open to such manipulation or, when they don’t return the desired response, denial by the local authority? In the absence of any policy from the Mayor, why should residents be expected to participate in such council surveys? Or is it residents’ non-participation that is one of the ‘aims and objectives’ of this Guide?

We suspect that the GLA’s advised caution against turning what it calls ‘a complex set of issues’ into a ‘simple yes or no decision’ has no other end than to reduce the legitimacy of surveys and ballots conducted by residents for whom estate regeneration is a ‘simple yes or no decision’ about whether they want to continue to live on their estate or let their homes be demolished to make way for unaffordable replacements. It is not, as the Guide arrogantly implies, residents’ lack of appreciation of the complexity of the issues facing them, but rather the consequences of the choices they are presented with, that makes this choice so clear cut. As such, we condemn the underhand insinuation that the former is the case, which is already being used by councils to dismiss residents’ decisions, and demand its removal from this Guide.

36 The ‘accessibility’ to residents of regeneration teams based on estates, in this context, means the ability of such teams to manage residents’ resistance to the plans of the local authority or housing association employing that team. As such, we advise residents not to engage with these so-called regeneration teams – which are composed of professionals who move from borough to borough, overseeing the demolition of estates. Sue Foster, who heads up the demolition team for Lambeth Labour Council, was only moved there after she oversaw the demolition of numerous estates in Hackney. A similar exchange of personnel is going on between Newham and Croydon, and across London’s Labour councils.

These regeneration teams are professional experts in demolishing estates, brought in and paid huge salaries by the council or housing association in order to manage residents’ campaigns of resistance and push their employers’ plans through against their wishes. They are not elected public servants, and as such have no rights over residents, who have no obligation, therefore, to consult with them.

Case Study 5

Estate regeneration will succeed only if it succeeds for the residents of the estate. Gaining their ‘support’ depends on what constitutes ‘support’. As we have seen, local authorities have become adept at ignoring and dismissing residents’ ‘priorities’ while producing tokens of ‘support’ from Tenants and Residents Associations installed by them and backed by residents fed false and misleading information, very much as this Guide is doing. The equation of ‘success’ with ‘support’ suggests that the Greater London Authority sees consultation in terms of a public relations exercise rather than what the regeneration it gathers support for does for residents.

Unfortunately, since this ‘case study’, like all the others in the Guide, is anonymous, we cannot challenge either whether this estate regeneration – or more accurately demolition, for it is clear that at least some, if not all, of the council homes were demolished – had resident ‘support’ or was judged by them as a ‘success’. The Greater London Authority can paint what rosy picture it likes of estate demolition, but in the absence of their identification these case studies are nothing more than advertisements.

We note, however, that as with all the other examples of anonymous ‘successful’ estate demolitions, nothing is said about the cost to residents of living in the redevelopments. The replacement homes may have been larger, had separate kitchens, and double aspect views, but what are the new rents, what are the service charges, how many of the former residents returned to the estate, who lives in the new flats now, what are their tenant rights, and who owns the redevelopment? Local authorities refuse to put this information on their website pages on ‘estate regeneration’, and we suspect it’s for the same reason that it isn’t provided in this Guide: because this case study, like all the others, was anything but a ‘success’ for the residents of the demolished estate, who, if they knew what was going to happened to them, would never have given the ‘support’ the consultation process wheedled out of them.

The determining factors in ‘changing perceptions’ about an estate – which is regularly cited by local authorities as a reason for demolishing it – are not whether the new flats are larger, but whether the new development has been privatised – either by selling the land to a property developer for redevelopment or by transferring the ‘council’s stock’ to a housing association – and the income levels of the new residents. And the motivations for doing so are not to provide, as the Guide ridiculously suggests, ‘more space for children to learn’, but to increase the value of the housing stock for investors, force low-income tenants that use council services out, and bring in higher income residents paying a higher level of council tax on the new, larger, more expensive homes.

Given this reality, the idea of a ‘resident-led social regeneration team’ being set up to consider ‘ways to tackle social and economic deprivation’ is a fantasy at best, at worst an insult. It is becoming increasingly apparent to residents threatened with social cleansing from their homes under the guise of ‘changing perceptions’ about their estate and giving their children ‘more space to learn’ that the best way to ‘tackle social and economic deprivation’ is to resist the plans to demolish their council homes, which is fast becoming the greatest cause of housing poverty in London.

Residents should always be extremely sceptical of any ‘broader offer’ made to them by local authorities and housing associations, as such offers are always subject to future viability assessments. As an example of which, on Knight’s Walk in Kennington, a mere two weeks after a public consultation that presented residents with a partial demolition ‘offer’ to make 50 per cent of the new builds council rent, that ‘offer’, when presented to Lambeth Cabinet for approval, had been reduced to 40 per cent. And as the small print clarified for those who read it, even those figures were ‘indicative’ and subject to ‘further detailed analysis’. Such analysis will be undertaken by Savills real estate firm, who are working with most, if not all, of the Labour councils in London, and have shown themselves to be specialists in producing viability assessments that show exactly and precisely why the initial ‘offer’ of so many homes for social rent will have to be reduced to a hugely reduced number of homes for affordable rent.

37 If the Mayor is interested in ‘empowering’ residents, ensuring they have a ‘meaningful’ input into decisions about their own homes, he should stop authorising the meaningless and insulting rubbish written in this report, and instead give them the veto over any proposal that affects their homes, their families and their lives. Residents do indeed need ‘help and support’, but not from professional regeneration teams being paid huge sums to manipulate their ‘support’ for the demolition of their own homes, and not from real estate firms that stand to gain enormously from massaging viability assessments to support a programme of redeveloping demolished estates as homes for private sale. What residents need are the funds to develop their own plans from independent advisors and professionals, not chose what’s on ‘offer’ from a developer or housing association whose bottom line is their profit margin.

Fortunately, residents are not as ignorant and gullible about the financial motivations of London’s property market as this Guide seems to think, and will not be taken in by its obsequious tone and disingenuous declarations of concern for their welfare.

Case Study 6

The question that immediately springs to mind when considering the example of an Independent Tenant and Leaseholder Advisor is how such an advisor can be independent if they are being funded by the local authority. Will that funding, for instance, be withdrawn if the advisor advises against what the local authority is proposing? This Guide understands consultation exclusively as a means of talking residents into accepting the demolition of their estate with the least resistance, not listening to what residents want, which is overwhelmingly the maintenance and refurbishment of their homes. The concern that residents ‘interact fully’ sounds more like an exercise in ticking boxes to satisfy the requirements of ‘due process’ so that local authorities avoid the costly and time-consuming process of being taken to judicial reviews by residents they have ignored.

In the case of residents from Cressingham Gardens estate, Lambeth Labour council has been taken to such a judicial review twice, considerably delaying the demolition of residents’ homes, and costing the council considerable sums in order to show that the same residents who have taken them to court have somehow magically changed their minds and are now in favour of demolition. ASH advises residents to refuse to work with these so-called Independent Tenant and Leaseholder Advisors, who are anything but independent, and are employed by local authorities with the express purpose of circumventing residents’ access to judicial reviews as a means of challenging their demolition plans.

It is not ‘trust’ the local authority wants to gain from residents, it is acquiescence, and the last thing steering groups are set up to do is ‘answer questions’. In the case of Central Hill estate, residents who were first subjected to the consultation process in February 2015 were surprised to be told, at the end of 2016, that Lambeth Labour council would shortly be beginning the consultation process. Nobody is certain for sure how many times the date for the Cabinet meeting to announce the demolition of Central Hill estate has been put back, but it’s somewhere around 15 times. And throughout the 2-year process of ‘consultation’, the so-called independent advisors to the Resident Engagement Panel have done nothing to help the campaign. But then, as employees of Lambeth council that’s hardly surprising.

Far from helping residents in the ‘procurement of architects teams’, those teams were chosen by Lambeth Labour council – with the practice they chose being none other than PRP Architects,  designers of the disastrous Orchard Village development on the land that the Mardyke estate once stood on in Rainham. It is unclear whether Clarion Housing Group, which built the development with £31 million of public money – £18.8 million of which came from the Greater London Authority – will buy back the homes or demolish them, so badly were they built and designed by the same architects appointed by Lambeth Labour council for Central Hill. If the Independent Tenants and Residents Advisors recommended PRP Architects, residents would be entitled to wonder about their judgement or their independency – or both.

The architectural practice the residents in the Save Central Hill Community did appoint – Architects for Social Housing – was ignored by Lambeth Labour council, who refused to provide us with a brief, a housing needs survey, a measured survey of the existing estate, a consultant team, a criteria for deliverables, or any funds to design our alternatives to the demolition of the estate. Not a single member of Lambeth Council, including the Cabinet Member for Housing and Ward Councillor for Crystal Palace, attended ASH’s formal presentations of our proposals: not when we presented to the Central Hill community; nor again when we presented to the Residents Engagement Panel. Instead, with the help of PRP Architects, Lambeth Council publicly dismissed our design proposals even before they were published; and they continue to refuse to answer our Freedom of Information request to see their viability assessments 8 months after it was issued.

Information on Central Hill estate has never been shared with the steering group or resident engagement panel, members of which have consistently been shown hard copies of the council’s plans that are subsequently retained by regeneration officers, without being given the means to share these electronically or in reproduction with other residents on the estate. Indeed, members of the steering group, far from acting as a conduit to the residents they are supposedly there to represent, have been compelled to sign non-disclosure agreements, with the implied threat of being dropped down the re-housing hierarchy hanging over their heads.

As for the laughable idea that advisors paid by the local authority are there to support ‘residents resistant to the proposed changes’, at Lambeth Labour Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting into the Cabinet’s decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens estate, the ward councilor – in an extraordinary statement for which she produced no proof beyond her own accusations but which the Committee accepted without question – declared that there was a ‘climate of fear’ on the estate, that the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign is ‘intimidating’, and that tenants on the estate are ‘scared to get involved’. This was a strange and slanderous description of the families, single mothers, children and pensioners who have fought to save their homes for over seven years now, but it does give an indication of the kind of people they are up against.

If advisors, as the Guide suggests, can be ‘helpful during the compulsory purchase process’, it is indicative that, in the Guide’s estimation, they are there ‘to prove that all residents had been engaged’. If all residents were engaged, why was there the need for the compulsory purchase of leaseholders’ homes? This is the clearest indication yet that the role of advisors in estate demolition is to ensure a legal requirement is met, not to listen to residents that this Guide arrogantly goes on to describe as ‘hard to reach’. In this context, the description of these advisors as ‘extra pairs of eyes and ears on the ground’ should be sufficient to convince residents of just how ‘independent’ they are. They are spies for the council – nothing more or less – and residents should treat them as such.

The ‘willing resident participants’ the Guide identifies as the key to ‘the procurement processes’ are already familiar to us: middle class leaseholders with the finances to buy the more expensive replace flats, and members of the Labour Party placed at the head of Tenants and Residents Associations by council-funded campaigns. On Central Hill estate, the former Chair of the TRA actually recommended the estate for demolition, for which betrayal she was voted out by the other residents. Undeterred, at the recent bi-election for ward councillor she was vocal in supporting Lambeth Labour council’s chosen candidate, who was, of course, in favour of demolishing the estate. And on Marion Court in Hackney, an estate condemned for demolition has miraculously acquired a new middle-class resident who has been elected to the Chair of the newly constituted TRA, speaks the jargon of a Labour councillor, supports the demolition of the estate by the Labour council, and has quite clearly been installed to manage whatever resistance the other residents present to being socially cleansed from the borough.

If this sounds unlikely and conspiratorial, residents should remind themselves of the vast financial rewards to be had from gaining planning rights over large tracts of London’s land, which is some of the most valuable in the world, and of the revolving door that exists between the building industry and councillors, many of whom work in or are lobbyists for private companies in that industry.

If the Greater London Authority genuinely wanted to ‘empower’ residents – a word it uses with the frequency of a 1990s girl band – it would give residents the power to veto the plans to demolish their homes, require local authorities and housing associations to be bound by that veto, and provide estate campaigns with the funds to develop their own alternatives to demolition. The last thing residents need or want is more so-called ‘independent’ advisors engaging them in more consultations in more council-led structures designed to exhaust, frustrate, distract from and co-opt whatever resistance they put up. This, presumably, is why the Guide has gone into such detail about how these advisors can be used by councils. Reading this section of the Greater London Authority’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Demolition, it’s clear that its real target is not the residents it is ostensibly consulting, but the local authorities and housing associations it is advising.

38 As one of the ‘independent third parties’ that offers residents ‘advice on their rights’ and supports them in ‘negotiating with landlords’, Architects for Social Housing is pleased to read that the Mayor wishes to see residents ‘supported to the fullest possible extent’, and that ‘all options for achieving this are explored’. ASH has already designed options for infill and refurbishment on Knight’s Walk, Central Hill, West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, and is currently beginning similar alternatives to demolition for the Northwold and Patmore estates. We invite the Mayor to ‘explore’ these options at his earliest possible convenience, and we look forward to the ‘fullest possible support’ from the Greater London Authority in developing these options, which are part of the respective estates’ campaigns, not only with the funds required to bring them up to the development stage, but by ensuring the councils of Lambeth, Hackney, Wandsworth and Hammersmith and Fulham, as well as the Guinness housing association, give these options their full consideration.

Given the Mayor’s stated commitment to supporting residents, we hope these considerations are overseen by genuinely independent third parties of the kind ASH has commissioned on, for instance, Central Hill estate to produce an impact assessment of the environmental cost of demolition against the benefits of refurbishing residents’ homes and increasing the estate’s housing capacity through infill development.

Interim Offers

Despite the Guide’s description of ‘interim offers’ as one of the ‘benefits of estate regeneration’ that should be delivered to residents throughout the ‘long process’, we know from previous and ongoing estate demolitions that such offers have two functions, which are anything but beneficial to residents. First, leaseholders are offered compensation for their demolished homes at a level conditional upon their early departure from the estate, ensuring the financial burden and uncertainty of compulsory purchase orders are avoided by the local authority or housing association. And second, tenants are offered preferential access to re-housing off-site, and sometime out of the borough altogether, if they take the early offers made by the landlord, and which they are assured will not be repeated at a later date. If such lures don’t work, the experience of living on a building site for the ten-year plus duration of the demolition process, not to mention the stress of living with the threat of eviction for years on end, goes a long way to encouraging tenants and leaseholders alike to accept such ‘interim offers’.

Their purpose, however, is not to ‘deliver the benefits of regeneration’ to residents, but to ensure that when the time comes to add up how many leaseholders or secure tenants the redevelopment is compelled to offer at least the ‘right to return’ to homes costing twice as much in rent and service charges and up to four times as much to buy, that number has been drastically reduced from the number of leaseholders and secure tenants resident on the estate at the start of the process. Far from benefiting residents, ‘interim offers’ are one of the means by which the ‘long process’ of estate demolition becomes a tool for social cleansing, by encouraging residents to leave their homes years before they are demolished.

As we are seeing on the Aylesbury estate, however, while re-housed tenants have been moved out of the neighbourhood and in some cases the borough, and leaseholders accepting compensation have been forced out of Inner London and in some cases the capital, the leaseholders who refused the inadequate compensation offered to them by Southwark Labour council have managed not only to stop the compulsory purchase order of their homes on the first redevelopment site, but to force the developer, Notting Hill Housing, to increase their offers to the point where the entire demolition scheme may yet be halted. Despite being a registered social landlord enjoying charity tax status, Notting Hill Housing is not involved in the Aylesbury redevelopment in order to build new and better homes for current residents but to turn a profit on the new development, and the best way for residents to defend their homes is to threaten their profit margins.

In her introduction to a Centre for Social Justice report written in 2008, Chief Executive of Notting Hill Housing Trust, Kate Davies, who last year had a salary of £226,138, wrote that ‘council estates are ghettos of needy people’ and that ‘council homes are subsidised by the taxpayer’. She neglected to add that the housing association she heads receives millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to build so-called ‘affordable’ homes. She went on to write that council tenants ‘often pay little or no rent, and get their home maintained in good order for free’; that ‘living on an estate can affect your health, your ability to work, the type of education your children will get and your life chances’; that ‘social housing is not a desirable destination’ and that ‘private ownership is preferable to state provided solutions’. Residents should bear these comments in mind, which are typical of the kind of lies, myths, misinformation and slander used by housing associations and local authorities alike to justify their profit margins, when considering the actual motivations of estate demolition.

ASH strongly advises that both tenants and leaseholders resist these ‘interim offers’ as the bribes they are. Past demolitions have shown that, once residents leave their homes, they lose all the bargaining power they once had through occupation of the premises and the collective resistance of a community. A look at what the Labour councils of Newham and Waltham Forest do to individual tenants – who are shipped out to hostels in Welwyn Garden City and left in single rooms with their children for years on end – or what Southwark Labour council did to the former residents of the Heygate and Aylesbury estates – who have been scattered across South-East London and, in the case of leaseholders, as far as Peterborough, Birmingham, Bristol and Wales – should convince resident communities of the vital importance of remaining in their homes and part of the estate community if they want to resist being socially cleansed not only from their neighbourhood, but from London itself.

Good practice in consultation and engagement with landlords:

  • Residents should collectively refuse to participate in steering groups, residents engagement panels, surgeries, consultations, workshops, surveys and every other means of managing them proposed by professional teams of consultants or regeneration officers;
  • Residents should resist all attempts to divide them into tenants and leaseholders, and instead set up their own structures of community consultation, representation, organisation and action for all residents;
  • Residents should conduct their own consultation of the wishes not only of estate residents but of the surrounding community, based not on this misleading Guide but on the facts of estate demolition we have presented in this commentary;
  • With the help of independent advisors and professionals, residents should develop their own plans for the refurbishment and maintenance of their estate, including, where possible and with the support of the community, infill development that will provide more homes;
  • Residents should organise themselves in support of these plans, produce their own survey backing its implementation, raise funds through crowd-funding, donations from local businesses and grant applications, and build a campaign to save the estate from demolition or managed decline;
  • Residents should refuse to engage with the local authority or housing association until it recognises their campaign, their plans and their ballot as the wishes of the majority of the residents on the estate.
  • Residents should refuse all interim offers from the landlord – whether compensation for leaseholders or re-housing for tenants – remain in occupation of their homes, remain united in their resistance, and remain strong.

CHAPTER 3

A FAIR DEAL FOR TENANTS AND LEASEHOLDERS

40 In considering the effects of estate regeneration on tenants and leaseholders, it’s suggestive that this chapter begins with two issues – ‘re-housing’ and ‘compensation’, both of which are only applicable to estate demolition. What about offers to refurbish and maintain residents’ homes, neither of which requires their re-housing or compensation? Or has the Greater London Authority already abandoned the pretence that ‘regeneration’ means anything other than ‘demolition’?

41 When considering the housing needs of residents, the ‘expectations’ of the Mayor and the ‘sensitivity’ of social landlords are completely inadequate as guidelines to the decisions of local authorities and housing associations and the effects they will have on the homes of hundred of thousands of Londoners living on housing estates. Given the conduct of estate demolition schemes and the lack of principles in this Guide, to speak of local authorities being ‘sensitive’ is at best a bad joke, at worst an insult to the residents whose homes are threatened by this document’s lack of guidance.

42 It is revealing that the options the Guide believes residents on estates ‘being considered for regeneration’ should be aware of include ‘alternative housing’ and the duties of local authorities under ‘homelessness legislation’. This clearly implies that leaseholders forced off their demolished estate will be unable to afford to exercise their ‘right to return’, and that tenants will be evicted.

43 If the Guide expects residents to be ‘more likely to move willingly’ if they feel that ‘every reasonable effort’ has been made to re-house them, does the GLA anticipate residents being moved unwillingly, either through compulsory purchase orders on leaseholders’ homes or by eviction of tenants by bailiffs and police? If estate demolition, as this chapter claims to ensure, is a ‘fair deal’, why should this be the case?

As for ‘reasonable compensation’, we know that leaseholders on demolished estates are offered as low as 25 per cent of the market value of the new builds. On West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, for example, where 80 percent of residents have consistently voted against demolition, property developers Capco have promised that an ‘independent evaluator’ will decide the market value of leaseholders’ homes. What that market value will be on an estate condemned for demolition is indicated by the fact that leaseholders will only be required to provide 25 per cent equity on the new developments, which are already being advertised at £800,000 for a 1-bedroom apartment, £1,200,000 for a 2-bedroom, and £1,700,000 for a 3-bedroom.

Of course, the London Mayor will know all about this disparity between compensation for demolished homes and the cost of buying their replacements, since as part of his mayoral campaign he promised to review Capco’s scheme, about which he expressed ‘serious reservations’. Unfortunately, like so much in his housing manifesto, this was a promise that, once elected to office, the Mayor has failed to keep.

44 It is inaccurate and misleading for the Guide to speak of ‘building social housing’ through estate demolition, either to re-house tenants ‘whose homes are being demolished’ or for additional tenants. Nothing in the government’s Housing and Planning Act, the Mayor’s own Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance, or in this Guide itself, requires or provides for the building of social housing on new developments, and to pretend otherwise is deliberately to mislead tenants in social housing whose demolition – we remind those residents – this Guide permits:

  • Where it is replaced by affordable housing at existing or higher densities;
  • Where it is replaced with better quality housing at existing or higher densities;
  • Where the local authority has exhausted all other alternatives.

45 Support and assistance to ‘vulnerable households’ living on estates ‘regardless of their tenure’ is the very last thing that is offered by local authorities and housing associations. On the Loughborough Park estate in Brixton only 11 of the 100 tenants kept by the Guinness Partnership on assured shorthold tenancies were offered re-housing, and that on so-called ‘affordable’ rents increased, in one case, from £109 per week to £265 per week, and whose tenant, a single mother with two young children, Guinness is seeking a re-possession order against for falling into arrears on a rent they themselves set at the highest rate they could. Even in the double-speak of estate demolition this can hardly be described as ‘support and assistance’ – although that hasn’t stopped the Guinness Partnership from claiming this was ‘the correct thing to do’. In reality, their only motivation in re-housing this tenant was the housing benefit she was required to claim in order to pay her rent, and which Guinness have pocketed in full.

It’s in this context that we should understand the Guide’s statement that ‘in some cases’ tenants may ‘want to move out of London’ or ‘into specialist accommodation’. Tenants who have lived their entire lives in their London neighbourhood, whose jobs depends on them living in the borough, who – because they are elderly or have disabilities or are single mothers – often rely on a support network of friends on the estate and in the local community, do not ‘want to move out of London’: they are forced out through the process of estate demolition. And the ‘special accommodation’ they are forced into is increasingly that provided by homeless hostels, which are, like so much consequent upon estate demolition, an increasingly profitable business opportunity in London.

To take just one example, Ivy House, a private hostel for homeless families in Hackney, stands directly opposite the former Woodberry Down Estate, where 1,980 council homes were demolished in the name of ‘estate regeneration’. The mostly women tenants in Ivy House live in single bedsits with their children, and although the hostel 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 on the premises, and are prohibited from using their own bed sheets. CCTV is fitted throughout, and there are regular room inspections by staff. Their entire housing benefit goes to the hostel, which is privately owned and run by Rooms & Studios London.

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. £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 the borough. But Hackney Council isn’t alone. London Labour Councils, which are leading London’s estate demolition programme, also 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. Behind its fake concern for ‘vulnerable households’, this is what the Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration means by moving tenants made homeless by estate demolition into ‘special accommodation’.

Even then the Guide says local authorities and housing associations should only try to meet tenants housing needs ‘as much as possible’. Does this mean if they can be bothered to, or – as is increasingly the case – Savills tells them they can afford to? It beggars belief, even in a document as cavalier as this Guide, that ‘special accommodation’ and the encouragement to ‘move out of London’ is the sum total of the Greater London Authority’s response to what it clearly and accurately anticipates will be the huge numbers of residents being made homeless by the estate demolition programme it supports.

Social Tenants

46 If landlords are under ‘statutory requirements’ to meet tenants’ ‘legal rights’, what does the Guide’s recommendation that they ‘should’ see these as a ‘minimum’ add to these requirements? If the Greater London Authority is as concerned as it wishes to be seen to be about how tenants are ‘affected’ by having their homes demolished, they should write policies that prohibit this from happening, rather than indulging in an endless list of what it thinks ‘should’ be done. As demonstrated by Lambeth Labour council’s recourse to High Court bailiffs in order to evict elderly and disabled tenants from the co-operative homes they had lived in for more than thirty years in order to demolish and redevelop the site, their statutory requirements towards tenants are the ‘maximum’ that local authorities ever follow, and nothing more.

47 The ‘reasonableness’ of alternative accommodation for tenants evicted from estates is not determined by its size and ‘individual requirements’, but by its cost and location, which should be back on the new development, on the same tenancy, with the same tenancy rights, on the same rent, and with the same service charges. Anything else is social cleansing through estate demolition. It is indicative that none of this is stated here, in what is supposedly this Guide’s ‘fair deal’ for tenants.

If tenants do not have to be re-housed back on the new development, does this mean that their ‘alternative accommodation’ has to be in the same neighbourhood? If not, does it have to be in the same borough? If not, does it have to be in Inner London? If not, does it have to be in Greater London? Or does this lack of policy mean, as we have seen from the displacement maps for the Aylesbury and Heygate estates, that tenants can be offered ‘alternative accommodation’ anywhere in England and Wales? Why does the Guide not mention that, following the Localism Act 2011, this accommodation does not have to be social housing, but can be in the private rental market? And why does it not clarify that, under the same legislation, if the tenant refuses this ‘alternative accommodation’, local authorities will deem them to be ‘intentionally homeless’ and their duty of care to them discharged?

Between October 2013 and January 2015, 2,128 families were forced into accommodation in the private rental sector under the Localism Act, over 1000 of them moved out of their borough, and nearly 500 out of London altogether. Part of the reason for this large number – which came to 133 families per month, and which has only increased in severity since then – is that mothers who are deemed to have made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ by refusing this ‘alternative accommodation’ are threatened by social services with having their children taken away from them. Even in a Guide as duplicitous as this one, in what way can this possibly be described as a ‘fair deal’ for tenants?

Rights to Return

49 The best way to ensure that the disruption of estate regeneration is ‘kept to a minimum’, and the one overwhelmingly favoured by tenants, is to refurbish their homes. In contrast, the best way to ensure that households move ‘no more than once’, and the one favoured by local authorities, is to decant tenants off the estate, demolish their homes, then leave them in their new ‘alternative accommodation’. Phasing, whereby secure tenants move once into newly built homes, leaving their former ones to be demolished and redeveloped, only works when they can afford to live in the new homes and on the same tenancies. In practice, this never happens. Rather, as happened at Balfron Tower, tenants told by Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association that they were being decanted, and who left with an unclear right to return, were subsequently informed that their refurbished homes were now being sold.

50 We have already exposed the meaningless of the ‘right to return’ when that right is dependent upon the hugely increased cost of exercising that right. A right that is dependent on income is no right at all. In the case of Haringey Labour council, not even that right has been guaranteed to tenants; and as we have seen in the impact assessment of the effects this will have on tenants in the demolished estates of Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and Sky City, the council concluded that residents would have to ‘increase their incomes to a sufficient level to afford the new homes on offer’. Given which, what does it matter what the Mayor ‘believes’ local authorities should do if he continues to allow them to use estate demolition as a means of social cleansing?

As for the observation – if that is what it is – that tenants ‘should’ be offered a flat ‘at the same or similar rent’ and ‘the same level of security’, not only is this quite clearly not offered, but there are no requirements to do so. As the Guide itself points out in footnote no. 6 to this paragraph (which instead of being in small print should be highlighted in red), under Schedules 4 and 5 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016:

  • Local authorities will only grant secure tenancies for between 2 and 5 years to new social housing tenants, after which they will have to reapply;
  • Children or dependants of tenants who have died, and are currently living in existing secure tenancies, will not automatically succeed to the tenancy but will be required to reapply to live in their own homes.

The question this legislation raises is whether tenants ‘decanted’ from homes that have been demolished will continue the terms of their secure tenancy when (or rather if) they are re-housed on the new developments; or whether, as seems more likely, their new tenancy will be subject to the same limitations of 2-5 years. As the Guide’s brief footnote admits, the government has ‘not confirmed that tenants moving due to estate regeneration (sic) will be protected’. If they aren’t, then estate demolition can add the elimination of secure tenancies to its already long list of sins.

In the case of housing associations, although tenants can be on secure tenancies if these began before 15 January 1989, after that date housing associations will only offer new tenants assured tenancies. So when the Guinness Partnership, for example, tells secure tenants on the Northwold estate in Hackney that they will be re-housed on the same tenancies in the new development, that depends on whether, having demolished their homes, Guinness will consider their tenancies to have been transferred, or whether, as they did with tenants on Loughborough Park estate, they tell them they are starting a new tenancy, and that it is now an assured shorthold tenancy. Given that the Guinness Partnership, according to its own Annual Review and Financial Statements of 2016, increased its income from ‘affordable’ rents from £14.6 million to £21.1 million through converting 559 homes for social rent to ‘affordable’ rent, and through the letting of new homes for ‘affordable’ rent on developments built on the site of demolished estates, we suspect it may be the latter.

Finally, the worst part of this factually inaccurate, dissembling and misleading paragraph is its reference to the ‘criteria’ to which even these empty promises to tenants of a ‘right to return’ are subject, which the Guide, one again, tries to hide in a footnote, and which we therefore quote here in red:

‘Landlords may decide to exclude some tenants from eligibility for the right of return for some reasons, for example where there is a history of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour.’

It is unclear, and it is not cited, what the legislation is to which this ‘exclusion’ refers, or whether this is a suggestion of the Greater London Authority; but it is clear what can constitute ‘anti-social behavior’. Under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, anti-social behaviour is defined as:

  • Conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person;
  • Conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person’s occupation of residential premises;
  • Conduct capable of causing housing-related nuisance or annoyance to any person.

Since this legal definition of anti-social behaviour embraces pretty much anything any human being is likely to do at any time to anyone, its citation in this Guide as a reason for denying tenants the ‘right to return’ to their estate means it can be used to bully, silence and intimidate residents who resist the demolition of their homes. This has already been the case on Cressingham Gardens estate, where resident campaigners have been accused by Lambeth Labour council of ‘creating a climate of fear’ and ‘intimidating other residents’.

ASH is familiar with the kind of bullying and intimidation employed by local authorities and housing associations to silence and frighten tenants into compliance, and the accusation of ‘anti-social behaviour’ is one regularly leveled at estate communities to justify the demolition of their homes for profit; but this footnote is, perhaps, the most disgusting line in this Guide, to which we draw the attention of all residents involved in building campaigns to save their homes and communities from social cleansing. We encourage them not to be daunted by its threat or dissuaded from standing up to those who try to employ it against them; and we hope you will join us in demanding its removal from the Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration.

51 The issue of overcrowded or under-occupied housing is often used as an argument to justify its demolition, but it is based on an inadequate understanding of the possibilities of infill development. On West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, for example, ASH has shown that, with an accurate survey of housing needs, the provision of some smaller homes for those households that are currently in under-occupied homes will free up some of the larger homes. Our infill proposals, accordingly, provide a large range of new homes, from bungalows for the elderly and disabled – potentially freeing up some of the larger homes that may be under-occupied – to new townhouses for growing families needing more space. As demonstrated by the number of people being forced to pay the government’s punitive bedroom tax, there is a shortage of one-bedroom homes on London’s housing estates; and combined with the infill addition of some larger homes for overcrowded households, the housing needs of all the residents can be satisfied without the need to demolish any of the existing homes on the estate.

52 If ‘not all tenants’ take up the offer of a right to return, it isn’t because they ‘prefer’ to stay in the homes they have moved to – often under the threat of not being re-housed – before their former homes have been demolished, but because they cannot afford to return to their replacements. It is disingenuous of the Guide to suggest that tenants’ preferences have anything to do with them accepting early re-housing, often outside the borough or even outside London altogether, as a way of escaping the mental stress and damage to their health of living on an estate condemned for demolition; and we condemn the GLA for advising local authorities and housing associations on how to use the threat of demolition as a way to socially cleanse residents from their estates.

53 With regard to landlords changing the mix of flats in the new developments, it is true that the young, middle-class, professional, double-income households that are able to afford to rent the replacement flats off the real estate investors that purchase them will have less need for multiple bedrooms than the multi-generational, working-class, single income families whose homes have been demolished to make way for them. But if this Guide is a model of the ‘sensitive discussion’ in which tenants are offered ‘alternative accommodation’, landlords will have their work cut out for them. We advise tenants to refuse either to engage in these discussions or to accept these offers, but to stay and fight for their homes and their rights.

Case Study 8

If 80 per cent of tenants moved off this estate rather than returning to the replacement flats, and none of the leaseholders bought the new builds in place of their demolished homes, it was not because they ‘chose’ to, but because tenants could not afford the increased rents and service charges on the new development, and leaseholders offered insufficient compensation for their demolished homes could not afford the cost of the new builds, and did not want to enter into shared equity or shared ownership schemes that would reduce their rights to the level of assured tenants. And if new residents did not take up tenancies on the new flats, it was because the cost of doing so was prohibitive; or because their design and build, as the case study suggests, were of poor quality; or because they did not want to move onto a building site. The question this case study raises is not only why such a demolition was permitted to go ahead but, more to the point, why the GLA’s Guide to Good Practice in Estate Demolition contains nothing to stop such a case being repeated across London, as it already has been and undoubtedly will be again and again.

It is indicative of the real aims and objectives of estate demolition that the Guide lists the ‘disproportionate’ number of flats on the new development going to ‘homeless households’ as a negative outcome of the redevelopment, as if homes for the homeless were a failure of policy – which of course it is when that policy is homes for profit. Just as it is indicative of this profit motive that, rather than reducing the cost of renting or buying the new homes, the Guide’s solution to this perceived negative outcome is ‘better marketing’. It’s instructive to read that the Greater London Authority’s guide to delivering a ‘fair deal’ for tenants and leaseholders subscribes to the time-honoured rule of the used-car salesman, that if you can’t improve the product, get a bigger sale sign. But then what else would one expect from what we were promised would be ‘London’s most business-friendly Mayor ever’? Nevertheless, we still find it incredible that this case study, the only one included in Chapter 3, should be presented as a lesson from which local authorities and housing associations should learn in coming up with a ‘fair deal’ for the residents whose homes they have demolished.

Short Term/Temporary Tenancies

54 Though it may not be ‘reasonable’ to grant new tenants ‘long-term’ tenancies for empty flats on estate’s condemned to be demolished, there is absolutely no reason why new tenants should not be granted secure tenancies on empty flats that can be transferred to the replacement flats when the estate is demolished. The fact the Guide does not even consider this is another indication that tenants on existing secure tenancies will not be re-housed on the same secure tenancies – as they are constantly told they will be by local authorities and housing associations – but offered assured tenancies on reduced rights and increased rents and service charges by a private landlord – whether the developer, the housing association or the special purpose vehicles being created for this purpose by London’s Labour councils.

55 Despite this option, even when empty homes are not left empty, temporary tenants are only ever offered assured shorthold tenancies at best, property guardianships at worst, both of which not only make those tenants easier to evict when the time comes to demolish their homes, but absolves the landlord of having to re-house them. This is not ‘reasonable’: this is the cynical manipulation of the threat of estate demolition to reduce the responsibility of registered social landlords to house their tenants.

In the case of the Carpenter’s estate in Newham, around 600 flats in mint condition have stood empty for over 7 years in anticipation of the demolition of the estate while Newham Labour council tried to find a developer to buy the land. Following a long campaign by the Focus E15 Mothers that drew attention to this fact while they and other households were being accommodated for years in homeless hostels or forcibly evicted from the borough by the threat of being deemed to have made themselves intentionally homeless, the council reluctantly agreed to fill some of the flats. However, despite the fact that Newham has 24,000 households on its housing waiting list, the council filled about 100 of the vacant flats with residents from outside the borough and even from outside London, many of whom had mental health and drug problems. This cynical manipulation of the situation, which had the expected negative impact on existing residents on the Carpenters estate, effectively corroborated everything the Labour council had been saying about council estates being breeding grounds for drug dealing and anti-social behavior in order to justify their plans to demolish the estate, as well as driving a wedge between the Focus E15 Campaign and the original residents.

Needless to say, Architects for Social Housing condemns the advocacy of such underhand practices, and the corresponding failure to offer tenants secure, transferable and long-term tenancies in empty council flats, in a Guide to good practice in estate regeneration.

Leaseholders

56 Since there is in every case a large discrepancy between the market value of a property on an estate condemned to be demolished and the purchase price of the property built to replace it but not necessarily for the previous resident, the legislation on compensation under the Land Compensation Act 1961 (as amended 1973) is completely inadequate and unfair to leaseholders. Worse, since under the banner of ‘high quality’ the replacement properties are being built for buyers with a far higher purchasing power – and which in many cases are only within the reach of property speculators – landlords are manipulating the inadequacy of the offered compensation to prevent leaseholders from exercising their ‘right to return’.

On the Heygate estate, for example, owners of a 4-bedroom council flat were offered £190,000 in compensation for their demolished home, while on Trafalgar Place, the first phase of the redevelopment which contains 235 ‘high-quality’ homes, a 2-bedroom flat is on sale for £725,000. As a consequence, the displacement map of former leaseholders on the Heygate estate shows that the majority have been forced to relocate to the outer boroughs of South-East London, with some now living as far away as Snodland, Grays, Romford, Cheshunt, St. Albans, Wembley and Slough. This isn’t compensation: this is the social cleansing from Inner London of residents who haven’t a hope of buying back anything equivalent to their former homes on the new development.

It isn’t surprising, therefore, that Trafalgar Place is being advertised on Asian real estate markets. This is the rule, not the exception, in London estate redevelopment. From an assessment of 14 new London residential developments, Transparency International has revealed that less than a quarter of the properties have been bought by buyers based in the UK, and that 4 in 10 of these properties have been sold to investors from high corruption risk countries or those hiding behind anonymous companies. The abnormally low level of electricity use in these properties suggests that many are rarely used as homes. Such investment, which is being facilitated by estate demolition and the land it frees up for ‘high quality’ housing developments, is only driving up the prices of London property, and with it the profits of the estate agents, developers and builders getting rich from the demolition of London’s council and social housing.

For the Guide to endorse and accommodate these practices in the name of a ‘fair deal’ for leaseholders shows to what extent the Greater London Authority and the London Mayor are in the pockets of London’s enormously lucrative building industry.

57 Contrary to what the Mayor ‘believes’, Architects for Social Housing believes that if you destroy a person’s property, you pay them back the price of its replacement, not what it cost them to buy it. To call the market price of a property condemned for demolition on an estate that will be a building site for the next ten years an offer ‘in good faith’ is a cynical definition of the term – and leaseholders know it. Rather than except such inadequate compensation from the demolishers of their homes and extorters of their life’s savings, we advise leaseholders to take heart from and follow the example of leaseholders on the Aylesbury estate, refuse the offered compensation or any other ‘incentives’, and challenge the compulsory purchase order on their homes in the courts. Not only will this potentially compel the local authority to offer a greater sum, but the delay in the process and the higher compensation that may have to be awarded may convince the relevant developer that they will not, after all, be able to turn a quick profit, and therefore to reconsider their financial backing for the entire scheme.

58 As for what the Mayor considers to be ‘good practice’ to offer to leaseholders, whatever ‘independence’ the evaluator of the market value of a leaseholder’s home may have, homes are valued based on their insurance evaluation, and this is determined by its rebuild cost in the event of – for instance – fire or flood damage, not by its sale price or market value.

With regard to the various means leaseholders are offered in order to exercise their right to return to properties they cannot otherwise afford, as a result of legislation introduced by the Consumer Credit Act 2006 and which came into force in April 2008, shared equity is now defined as a financial product, like a mortgage or a loan, which only financial service organisations are able to offer. Local authorities, therefore, or the special propose vehicles they are creating in order to allow them to turn council estates into housing association estates, cannot offer such services, and to do so is an offence.

It is unclear, moreover, what percentage of the total cost of the new development the leaseholder will have to pay in order to qualify for this arrangement, and it is misleading of the Guide to suggest that the value of the leaseholder’s demolished property – which varies hugely from home to home, estate to estate, and independent evaluator to council-paid evaluator – will be sufficient to meet the even more variable costs of the flats built in their place. Such an arrangement, which would lie entirely at the discretion of the developer or builder, and which fails to clarify where the outstanding balance on the new property will come from, has neither legal nor financial basis, and it’s inclusion in the Guide can only deceive leaseholders about their ability to exercise their right to return to the new development.

Finally, even if leaseholders have sufficient equity to own a portion of the new property, they would still be wholly responsible for servicing and maintenance on the whole property, for which – although they would still benefit from its increase in value if they sold it – they would only recoup the proportion they own. In effect, they pay for the servicing and maintenance of the landlord’s home.

The other option, shared ownership – which for the above reasons is the deal more widely offered by housing associations to leaseholders – is little more than a scam. Until the leaseholder has purchased 100 per cent of the shares in the property, they don’t own anything, and their lease amounts only to an assured tenancy. This means they can face possession proceedings for rent arrears, anti-social behavior or subletting, and any possession order could result in the loss of the property. There is, moreover, no obligation for the housing association, which remains the owner of the property, to repay the purchase price.

Just as with shared equity, leaseholders – who more accurately are tenants – will be liable for 100 per cent of the service charges for the maintenance of the building, which can be raised at the discretion of the landlord. And unless the housing association owns the entire block – which if it is leasing a number of flats from a developer is unlikely – they are not responsible for carrying out maintenance and repairs.

Finally, as the value of the property increases, so too will the cost of increasing shares in it, and each time more shares are purchased the property will have to be re-valued, with all the corresponding costs of doing so being paid by the leaseholder. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the cases of leaseholders with shared ownership acquiring full ownership of their property are rare. Effectively, the offer of shared ownership means leaseholders who once owned their own homes will become tenants who pay a very expensive down-payment to their new landlords for an option to buy the whole property at a later date.

In the 2007 case of Richardson v. Midland Heart, the leaseholder had purchased a 50 per cent share in the ownership of a property with Midland Heart housing association in 1995 for £29,950, paying rent on the remaining 50 per cent. When she fell into arrears on the rent, Midland Heart brought possession proceedings against her under the Housing Act 1988. The court found that for the 99 years of her lease Richardson effectively had an assured tenancy, but ruled that since she did not own the whole of the property it could not be protected, and therefore that she had no right to the return of the £29,950 she had paid – all of which she lost.

For the Mayor to describe either shared equity or shared ownership as an example of ‘good practice’ is a warning of just how suspicious leaseholders should be of the Guide to which he has put his name.

59 The Greater London Authority’s ‘encouragement’ of ‘innovative ways’ to ‘enhance the speed’ of the ‘regeneration process’ and move leaseholders into ‘alternative accommodation’ is beneath contempt and unworthy of comment, except as an indicator of the true ‘aims and objectives’ of estate demolition.

60 Since the majority of non-resident leaseholders are drawn from the private landlords who own 40 per cent of the former council flats sold under the Right to Buy and who are now renting them out for a profit on the private market – in many cases back to local authorities struggling to accommodate the tenants that should have been housed in the council flats they sold – we’ll leave it to the Greater London Authority to sort out adequate compensation for this disgraceful abuse of legislation designed to invite and reward that abuse.

Good Practice in refusing deals and incentives offered by landlords in exchange for residents’ homes and rights:

  • We remind all residents that, although its larger political motivations are accommodated by legislation from Central Government and the Greater London Authority and implemented by London’s local authorities, estate demolition is driven by the profit margins of the housing associations, developers and building companies that build ‘high value’ properties on the cleared land; so while the political motivations and social consequences of estate demolition must be exposed and challenged, the most effective means of resisting estate demolition is to place those profit margins in jeopardy.
  • Every judicial inquiry, every High Court hearing, every challenged compulsory purchase order, every new legal fee for the council, every architectural masterplan sent back to the drawing board, every consultation process that has to be repeated, every alternative to demolition put forward by residents, every People’s Plan for refurbishment and infill, every delayed cabinet decision, every re-evaluated contract with the developer, every drop in the market for luxury housing in London, costs the companies hoping to profit from the demolition of residents’ homes and estates money.
  • It is because of this that so much of the Greater London Authority Guide is concerned with how local authorities and housing associations can circumvent these delaying tactics, which have been pioneered by past and current estate campaigns resisting the demolition of their homes; in pursuing these tactics, therefore, and in inventing new ones unanticipated by the GLA’s Guide, leaseholders and freeholders, because of their property rights, have a crucial role to play in defending not just their homes but the whole estate.
  • It is because of the difficulty of circumventing these property rights that landlords begin consultations with residents by trying to separate leaseholders from tenants; we strongly advise, therefore, that residents stay united, and that leaseholders and tenants support each other in fighting for their rights to stay in their homes.
  • Under Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, leaseholders are ‘entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions’; and in considering the compulsory purchase order on the first development site of the Aylesbury estate, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government found that the demolition of a leaseholder’s home that would force them out of the area is in violation of this right. It is vital, therefore, that leaseholders use this ruling to challenge compulsory purchase orders on their own homes.
  • Under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, all residents – both leaseholders and tenants – have ‘the right to respect for their private and family life, their home’; and again, the Secretary of State found that the interference with these rights is neither necessary nor proportionate if it ‘forces many of those concerned out of the area’. It is up to tenants to make the argument that, even though they do not own the property, a tenant’s council flat is their home, and therefore that being forced out of the area by its demolition is an infringement of these rights.
  • Under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, the Secretary of State also found that estate demolition has a negative impact on protected groups 1) if elderly residents are forced out of the area because they are unable to get a new or sufficient mortgage to remain in the area; 2) if children are forced out of the area and their schooling and upbringing is consequently negatively impacted; and 3) if residents from black and ethnic minority groups unable to afford to return to the area are forced away from their cultural and ethnic communities. If residents can show that they are disproportionately negatively affected by estate demolition because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy, maternity, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation – all of which are protected against discrimination by the Equality Act – the local authorities and housing associations demolishing their homes are in abrogation of their Public Sector Equality Duty, and this should be used to challenge, delay, increase the cost of, and reduce the profits being made from, the demolition of London’s housing estates.

In addition to building a barrier to the rising profit margins of those getting rich from demolishing London’s housing estates, residents should use the time this wins them to shine an illuminating light on the Plato’s cave of illusions in which the public is imprisoned by the media and its deliberately inaccurate representation of what is happening to council and social housing in this country. If every resident on every estate in London challenges the lies they are presented with in documents such as this Guide, then the Conservative Government, Greater London Authority, local authorities, housing associations, estate agents, building companies, property developers and real estate investors feeding at the London housing table might start to think again about whether estate demolition and redevelopment really is the easiest route to a quick profit and high returns. Residents should never forget that there is no housing crisis except the one being driven by the boom in the London property market, and they need to make it both financially and politically unviable for the businessmen and politicians running London to realise their plans to build investment opportunities for international capital on the land our homes stand on.

Residents should also not forget that when the gestures of consultation contained in this Guide have been enacted and the offers it makes to leave peacefully have been rejected, local authorities and housing associations, with the backing of the Greater London Authority, the Labour Mayor and the Conservative Government, will seek possession orders from the High Court and instruct bailiffs to evict them from their homes. As we have seen from the footage of the thousands of evictions in London over the past few years, the Metropolitan police will arrest and charge anyone who resists eviction from their home, and councils and housing associations will try to isolate, slander and punish residents forming campaigns of resistance. But we need to test their political will to evict entire communities in which the general public, despite the blanket denigration of working class lives in our national media and entertainment industry, can still recognise themselves and their own struggle for housing, security and dignity. To this end we need to build a community of resistance to the attack on council and social housing that links every estate in London threatened with demolition. Only then can we think about how to set in motion a wider political movement to start reclaiming the public realm that is being sold from under our feet, and whose privatisation will leave our children wage slaves to private landlords.

APPENDIX

EXISTING PLANNING POLICY

The appendix to the Guide is concerned with policy in the London Plan and Housing Supplementary Planning Guidance drawn up under the previous (Conservative) London Mayor, and the extent to which the Greater London Authority and current Mayor are bound by its application to estate regeneration. However, residents should not be deceived by this concern into thinking that the GLA Guide contradicts, in any way, the government’s Estate Regeneration National Strategy, which was published last December, or the GLA’s own Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance, on which consultation has just closed. On the contrary, all the policy documents relevant to estate demolition, including the government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016, and the recently published white paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, are complementary to the Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration and directed to the same end: demolishing London’s council and housing association estates. That’s not surprising, since the same CEOs of the same building companies and housing associations, the same researchers for the same real estate firms, the same directors of the same public policy research think-tanks, wrote all these documents; just as the same council leaders and mayors implementing London’s estate demolition programme are sitting on the Mayor’s Homes for Londoners board that will respond to the consultation on this Guide. This is not just a cross-Party assault on council and social housing; estate demolition has the financial backing and interest of some of the most powerful private institutions in the City of London.

That said, the single greatest barrier to building a community of resistance to the programme of estate demolition in London is undoubtedly the Labour Party. As this Guide issued by the Labour Mayor of London demonstrates; as the hundreds of communities being socially cleansed from their homes by Labour councils in Hackney, Southwark, Lambeth, Croydon, Lewisham, Greenwich, Newham, Waltham Forest, Haringey, Islington, Camden and Hammersmith & Fulham will testify; and as the support of the Leader of the Labour Party and its Members of Parliament for these schemes confirms – the London estate demolition programme is led and implemented by the Labour Party. Undoubtedly richer bank accounts and sharper minds than any Labour politician possesses have devised this programme, but London’s councils are overwhelmingly run by Labour administrations with the support of a Labour Mayor. That this programme should be targeted against its own voting base in the overwhelmingly Labour-voting population that lives on London’s council estates is not the least of this Party’s betrayals of the working class of Britain.

We have lived in a two-party state for so long that residents told by Labour councils that estate demolition is a Tory policy to which cuts to their budgets force them to comply instinctively believe them. Unlike Conservative councils, which account for a fraction of the schemes being pursued in London, Labour councils depend on this residual allegiance to their Party to push its programme of privatisation through. Hopefully our commentary on the GLA Guide will convince residents that this narrative of ‘austerity’, which Labour councils have eagerly adopted from the Conservative government, is not the reason for London’s estate demolition programme; and if it doesn’t, we hope that residents will refer to the numerous other articles we have published on estate demolition demonstrating that this economic justification is a political choice. The cynicism of Labour councils in presenting themselves as opposed to the Conservative government’s attack on council and social housing in the Housing and Planning Act while simultaneously demolishing the estates those homes are built on shows them to be worthy allies of the Tories in the class war that is being waged through housing in this city. Residents who place their hopes in the Labour Party place their futures in jeopardy.

Architects for Social Housing

Illustration by Clifford Harper

Entente Cordiale: An anal probe into London’s housing crisis

Anal Probe

London’s a cesspit. Wherever you stick your probe, it comes out stinking of corruption.

Last Tuesday, 21 February, over two weeks after a possession order was granted on the land (but not the property) at 18 Grosvenor Gardens, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians moved to new premises, their third in Belgravia in recent weeks.

Their new address is 19 Buckingham Gate, SW1E 6LB, a property that sits opposite Wellington Barracks, home of the Foot Guards battalions on service at Buckingham Palace. It’s a commercial property that has served as an office for the Communications Group, a PR consultancy. Their lease expires this June, but it seems they’ve got out early.

In June 2015 Westminster Council granted planning permission for the demolition of the properties at both 18 and 19 Buckingham Gate and their redevelopment as 14 residential flats, all with car-parking access in a proposed newly-dug basements car park. The redevelopment is being funded by GSP Real Estate, which their website describes as specialising in ‘entrepreneurial property investments with high growth potential’.

In considering the planning application, Westminster Council decided that 18 Buckingham Gate, a 1960s office building, makes a negative contribution to the conservation of the area, while no. 19, which was rebuilt in 1953 following war damage, is neutral at best because it was re-modelled in the 1980s.

Westminster Council also came to the convenient decision that affordable housing would not be appropriate on site, so accepted payment in lieu of £600,000, an increase on the original offer of £430,000, which GSP originally claimed was all they could afford. The Tory council acknowledged this sum was lower than would normally be required by policy, but bowed to the greater knowledge of the assessor, PNP Paribas, one of the largest banks in the world, and what they call its ‘rigorous independent viability assessment’.

To put this in context, the average price of a flat on Buckingham Gate is currently £1,787,012, meaning the Section 106 agreement, which requires 25 per cent of residential floor space to be provided as affordable housing, has generated the equivalent of about one third of a flat.

Despite this, Westminster Council concluded that since 5 of the 14 proposed new luxury apartments were for 3-bedroom units and 1 for a 4-bedroom unit, the plans met with Policy H5 of the Unitary Development Plan to provide more homes for families in the borough.

State Visit

Last Friday, 24 February, despite a petition signed by (at last count) 1,861,457 people protesting that it would be an insult to Her Majesty the Queen, Architects for Social Housing paid a state visit to the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians at their new Embassy on Buckingham Gate. We’re pleased to relate that ASH’s work is known to ANAL, and we were greeted by diplomats of many nations, including the Kingdom of Bohemia, the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the future Republic of Scotland.

As part of our itinerary ASH was shown footage of the discovery by ANAL, in the offices of their new premises, documents signed by Mikhail Gorbachev, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, relating to the ‘The Global Millenium Project’. Although apparently too sensitive to be published by the press outlets to which this information has been leaked, ASH (in a world exclusive) can reveal that among the companies enlisted for this project were Exxon Mobil.

As a memento of our visit ASH was presented with the court papers relating to the ANAL eviction hearing that had taken place that day in the High Court of Justice. As part of our commitment to the London Mayors call for greater clarity and transparency in the capitals housing market, ASH can reveal that the self-titled squatting collective known as ANAL were identified as constituting a substantial risk of public disturbance. The reason given was that ANALs occupation of 19 Buckingham Gate gave them access to the roof of no. 18, and from there to no. 17, from which, apparently, they could overlook the Queens private gardens in Buckingham Palace.

Indeed, in his witness statement Archibald Riby-Williams, the director of 18-19 Buckingham Gate Ltd – the company that purchased no. 19 in December 2015 for £13,796,000 – argued that this access to the Queens more private moments was, in fact, the defendants objective in occupying the premises. As proof of this, Mr. Riby-Williams – who in his statement estimated there were ‘at least 120 squatters in possession’ – cited the announcement on ANALs website that they wanted to relocate AS CLOSE TO THE QUEENS BEDROOM AS POSSIBLE.

Because of this, throughout their occupation of 19 Buckingham Gate, snipers were stationed on the roof of Wellington Barracks opposite and armed police were positioned in the basement of no. 17 Buckingham Gate. As a result, we are unable to confirm the rumour that a secret passage led from no. 17 directly to the Queens privy chamber. But we trust Her Majestys security forces and judiciary apply the same level of risk of public disturbance to the future residents of 18-19 Buckingham Gate, who will presumably have the same view of the Queen as she strolls through her private gardens, performing who knows what acts incompatible with her position as Head of State, Church and Commonwealth, and unsuitable to be seen by our commoners eyes.

However, it was not only for the privacy of Her Majesty the Queen that witnesses in the High Court were concerned. Marc Peter Mooney, Head of Enforcement at County Enforcement Group in Kent, who had been called in by Mr. Riby-Williams to assess the situation, testified that the squatters – one of whom he accused of having assaulted him in April 2015 with a large piece of wood – were, in his expert opinion, a direct risk to public safety and to the safety of the squatters themselves.

Following the presentation of these witness statement to the High Court that morning, we are happy to report that, from this day forth till the end of time, the name of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor (née Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) shall forever be linked with that of ANAL.

We regret to report, however, that at 4.30 the following morning the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians was evicted from its Embassy by High Court bailiffs working on behalf of the leaseholder of 18-19 Buckingham Gate, Mr. Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Jami, Managing Director of Global Banking Corporation and Chairman of the Board of Global Real Estate Development Company.

Despite this unprovoked act of aggression by Her Majestys security forces on behalf of a foreign national of the Kingdom of Bahrain against representatives of nations still welcome in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we hope that our state visit will foster further cordial relations between ASH and ANAL.

In token of which, we are proud to publish their manifesto – commissioned and then rejected by the Guardian newspaper – here.

Anal Manifesto

Tongue in cheek, crow bar in hand, we wave our magic wand and teleport ourselves into the next new plush gaff.

Currently at 4 Grosvenor Gardens, tomorrow at 4 Grosvenor Gardens, probably until next week as the overlords will evict us again. Thereafter, to the Palace! Perhaps. But why?

According to the elite, buildings are for drafts and cobwebs, whereas freezing cold pavements, laced with spikes, are for people. Small, damp, lightless boxes are for babies, children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and their lesbian lovers, and five-hundred-room castles are for a single old-age pensioner, that is cleaned by slaves, and paid for by slaves.

However, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians (ANAL), see things a little differently.

ANAL was founded by Foxy Mr Fox’s pitbull, Zeus, and Thomas Palmer, A.K.A Jenny Rimjob. Tom, our brother, has been described as a sex-god visionary, an anarcho-gonzo journalist, a rock star, a counter-surveillance activist and, modestly, as a genius poet-philosopher.

Riding on dog-back, Tom reckoned that the wretched of the earth (capitalist cunts) should be evicted and die; they are, as Orwell thought, parasitic. Zeus agreed.

Conversely, those who have been left to rot in the gutter should be compensated for all their toil and turmoil, with big, warm buildings, preferably with free booze inside. As devout anarchists, we bow to their superior wisdom. And who wouldn’t, given the injustice?

The rising homeless and starving population is a direct, deliberate result of the ever-expanding wealth and waistline of the elite.

We say fuck that!

There is no justification for the stark concentrated accumulation of wealth in the manicured hands of the few.

It is not that the overlords have worked hard for their fat pockets and fatter bellies – the beasts – it’s that they, with the help of the security industry, have bent the waves of space and time to such a degree that the assets have rolled into their banks. Those without such powers are left, deformed, diagnosed and drugged up.

People, do you not yet realise? It doesn’t matter how hard you work!

Stop!

Those white men are not rich because they worked hard. And you are not dying in destitution and isolation because you didn’t or because your soul committed some felony in a past life.

It’s a con.

You have been tricked.

Strike! Squat!

We have enough homes: we just need to shuffle people around a bit.

We have enough goods: we just need to share.

We need food: grow it by all means.

But all this other business – fashion, make-up, job-center, doctors, blah-blah. It’s not worth a life in servitude.

We need to take it back. We don’t have time to try to traverse through the stressful paperwork to try get a council shack. Nor do we want one.

It’s not worth speaking to the civil servants who sound like they have had their souls sucked out of their eyeballs in some sick, sick illuminati ritual.

We want our souls, and our benefits.

We can no longer destroy ourselves trying to enter into some plea bargain where we work our way ‘up’ and try and change the system from within. There are no jobs for angels in hell. Look around you. You’re all dying, inside and outside, literally. Come back to life. They have already killed so many . . . They killed Tom Palmer. Rise up. Join hands that are moderately dirty. Get out your crowbars and teleport yourselves into palaces. Open the doors and let yourselves in. For it is cold outside. No man or woman deserves to live more then you. Do not be compliant in the destruction of humanity. Eat the rich and feed the poor, God damn it! What is wrong with you all?

ASH regrets to report that at 8am this morning, Tuesday 28 February, the squatters and members of ANAL still in occupation at 4 Grosvenor Gardens were evicted and, under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, issued with a dispersal order banning them from returning to Belgravia for 48 hours, the breach of which is a criminal offence.

Architects for Social Housing

The Consultation Game: TM Architects on Northwold Estate

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.

guinness-financial-report2

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.

Architects for Social Housing

Campaign for Beti: Equality Duties of the Guinness Partnership and the Human Rights of their Tenants

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.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Architects for Social Housing

Squat Belgravia: The Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians

First Occupation

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.

Second Occupation

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.

Direct Action

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.

Architects for Social Housing