Narkomfin: Regenerations, Appropriations, Betrayals

Narkomfin building, 1930.

The Narkomfin Building

As a third-rate intellectual nation with the most de-politicised working class in Europe, the UK has spent this 100th anniversary year self-satisfyingly dumping on everything we can about the Russian Revolution, while simultaneously shutting our eyes to the extraordinary creativity to which it gave birth – however short-lived – in poetry, literature, painting, sculpture, music, theatre, textiles, graphic design, photography, photomontage, cinema and architecture, and to which only the Italian Renaissance can be compared in modern times. Writing about Le Corbusier’s famous Marseilles Housing Unit recently led me to a building which – being neither an architect nor a scholar of architecture – I’d never heard of: the apartment block for the People’s Commissariat for Finance (Narkomfin) in Moscow designed by the Constructivist architect Moisei Ginzburg and his student Ignatii Milinis. Le Corbusier took some of his most influential ideas from this building, having first drained them of much of their socialist content; but while the 1952 Marseilles Housing Unit is celebrated in hundreds of books and visited by thousands of architectural students every year, the Narkomfin building, which was completed in 1930 when most British workers were living in terraced Victorian slums, has been left to rot, squatted by Moscow’s homeless, bought up by a property speculator, and now under threat of being ‘regenerated’ as luxury apartments or a hotel in Vladimir Putin’s Brave New Russia.

Continue reading “Narkomfin: Regenerations, Appropriations, Betrayals”

Why I Never Write About the Fucking Tories

Illustration by Clifford Harper
In a nation of 65.5 million people the membership of the Conservative Party is a tiny 134,000, a fraction of the well over half a million current members of the Labour Party. Yet the Conservative Party is one of the most successful political parties in Western democracies. Conservative Prime Ministers led UK governments for 57 years of the 20th Century and for 7 of the 21st. It currently has 8,857 councillors in local government – a extraordinary 1 for every 15 party members – out of a total of 20,830 seats; and, despite implementing the most draconian cuts to government expenditure in living memory while simultaneously presiding over the highest wealth inequality in Europe, has just been voted to the government of the UK for the third time in seven years. So how do they do it?

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New Old Labour: An Introduction for Housing Campaigners

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The Parliamentary Party and the Progress councils fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the unions, both affiliated and unaffiliated, standing before his throne. And the books were opened, including the Electoral Register. And the voters were judged according to how they had voted, as recorded in the Register. The boroughs gave up their constituents, and the wards and the parishes gave up their electorate. And all were judged according to their voting record. Then the non-voters and the ballot-spoilers were deleted from Momentum’s mailing list. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Electoral Register was also deleted from the list.

Then I saw a new Government and a new Party, for the old government and the old party had disappeared. And the Blairites also were gone. And I saw the Holy City, the new London, coming down out of Momentum dressed like a young bride for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying: ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more homelessness or food banks or delays on Network Rail or NHS queues or hard Brexit. All these things are gone forever.’

And the one sitting on the throne said: ‘Behold, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me: ‘Write this down in our Manifesto, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said: ‘It is finished! I am Estate Demolition and Affordable Housing – the Beginning and the End. To all who are poor I will give freely from the ever-so-slightly raised taxes on the rich. All who are victorious will benefit from the Trident nuclear programme, and I will be their God, and they will be my voters. But cowards, critics, doubters, unbelievers, ballot-spoilers, those who practice free thinking, extreme leftists and all who did not vote for us – their fate is in the electoral wilderness!’

Continue reading “New Old Labour: An Introduction for Housing Campaigners”

Resist Guinness Evictions: Campaign for Beti


Last night I met up with Beti, a former tenant of the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton, which was demolished by the Guinness Partnership last year, resulting in the loss of 180 homes for social rent. Having been evicted from her Assured Shorthold Tenancy, which she had held for 10 years, Beti lost her business, a cafe in Brixton, and is now claiming housing benefit to pay the rent in her new place, where she lives with her two boys. Strange as it might seem, though, she was one of the lucky ones. Having been one of the key figures in the campaign of resistance to the demolition, and having fought Guinness housing association to the last, Beti was one of only 11 out of 100 Assured Shorthold Tenancies on the estate rehoused in Southwark, unlike most of her fellow tenants, who were moved to the outer boroughs of London. Beti’s new tenancy, however, is for ‘affordable rent’, meaning her rent has been raised from £109 per week to £265 per week for a two-bedroom flat. Even though the Guinness Partnership demolished her home and re-housed her in another Guinness estate, they have not given Beti a secure tenancy on a social rent in her new place.

You might wonder how the Guinness Partnership arrived at this weekly rate for an ‘affordable’ rent that can be up to 80 per cent of market rate. The answer is that it’s at the upper limit of what she can claim on housing benefit, and therefore the maximum that the Guinness Partnership, which still enjoys charity status and calls itself a social housing provider, can squeeze out of the state. If you’re wondering why councils are so eager to hand over their housing stock to housing associations like Guinness, Peabody, Notting Hill Trust and London & Quadrant, it’s because the housing benefit that residents will be forced to claim on the new, insecure tenancies for ‘affordable’ rent come from Central Government, not from the council. So if you want to know who the real benefit scroungers are, look no further than these housing associations. 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. But from 2012 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.

For the Guinness Partnership, this household of a single mother and her two children struggling to pay their ‘affordable’ rent is nothing more than a conduit through which public money passes into their private purse, and they will do anything to get their hands on it. They’ve already demolished Beti’s home, taken away her ability to support her family financially, increased her rent by 240 per cent, and driven her onto the benefits system. But that’s not all. Wanting to get away from the poverty, humiliation and bullying that is the result of claiming benefits in this country, she recently started working in a coffee shop. As anyone who has claimed benefits will know, this has immediately resulted in all her benefits being suspended as the ponderous wheels of the Department of Work and Pensions re-assesses her claim to work out what portion of her vast new earnings she can keep. While they do so, she has, of course – as the benefit system is designed to make happen – fallen into arrears on her rent. As a consequence of which, Beti has received notice from the Guinness Partnership that they will be evicting her and her children from their home in March.

This is what ASH means when we talk about the realities of estate demolition; and everyone who participates in this process, from the Labour Councils selling the land to the housing associations and property developers turning social housing into unaffordable housing and real estate investments, is responsible for what is happening to Beti and the hundreds of thousands like her across London. If you’re an architect sitting at your desk designing the new builds that facilitate this process, you are as guilty as the Chairman of the Guinness Partnership, and don’t think or pretend otherwise. None of this can happen without every link in the long chain of estate demolition doing its job. You may think you’re only one link in that chain, but as the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link; and at the moment every architectural practice in London is hand in hand, arm in arm, link in link, with the chain of social cleansing.

We’re not going to let this happen, if we can. Beti has decided to fight her eviction, and she needs all the help she can get, from housing campaigners, eviction resistance activists, human rights lawyers, and anyone else who is angry at what the Guinness Partnership is trying to do to her. At their invitation, Beti is going to be speaking at the next public meeting of the Save Northwold Estate campaign, where the Guinness Partnership are trying to do exactly the same thing they did on the Loughborough Park Estate. She’s going to warn the residents of Northwold what will happen to them if they believe the lies Guinness are telling them, and if they don’t fight for their estate and their community. In return, she asks that the Northwold Estate community support her campaign to resist her eviction from her home, and to have a secure tenancy in that home on social rent levels.

We’re hoping to put Beti in contact with a housing lawyer who may be able to help her in her legal claim that, given the Guinness Partnership demolished her former home and moved her to her current one, which they also own, she should have been transferred from one social rent tenancy to another, not driven into an unaffordable rent and the insecurity of housing benefit. But she needs the support of a wider campaign protesting against what the Guinness Partnership is doing to her. Since she is not alone in being treated like this, Beti hopes that this legal case may become a landmark decision that will force housing associations and councils alike to honour their responsibility to rehouse the residents whose homes they demolish on new developments with the same security of tenancy and the same rental rates. Anything else, as Beti’s current predicament demonstrates, is social cleansing designed to drive residents of social housing into an unregulated private rental market, temporary accommodation and homelessness.

If you’re wondering what the photograph above is of, it’s the security door on another flat in Beti’s block that has stood empty for 7 months. This in a borough with 22,000 households on the housing waiting list. But as Beti pointed out, since everyone else in her block is on social rent, she is effectively paying for her flat and the rent on this one, plus some taxi money for the Chairman of the Guinness Partnership, so why would they give this home to a homeless family on a secure tenancy? Better for them to wait till they have another evicted tenant from another estate they’ve demolished whom they can move in on an ‘affordable’ rent. If they have their way, they won’t have to wait long. According to their own Annual Review and Financial Statements 2015/16, last year 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, and through the letting of new homes for ‘affordable’ rent on developments built on the site of demolished estates. As these figures show, whether through conversion or demolition, the destruction of social housing is big business.

guinness-financial-report2Please support Beti’s campaign by naming, shaming and challenging the Guinness Partnership on social and in print media as the social cleansers and home wreckers that they are; by giving her your active, professional (if applicable) and even financial support as she takes on the Guinness Partnership for her right to a home; and by signing her petition to the Guinness Partnership to call off her eviction on 7 March and give her a tenancy on a social rent.

Architects for Social Housing

Kidbrooke Village: Our Vision for Your Future

A Non-Place in the Making

‘If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place. Supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not themselves anthropological places and which, unlike modernity, do not integrate the earlier places: instead they are listed, classified, promoted to the status of “places of memory”, and assigned to a circumscribed and specific position. Place and non-place are like opposed polarities: the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed; they are like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten. But non-places are the real measure of our time.’

Designed for Life

‘The space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude and similitude. There is no room there for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle, usually in allusive texts. What reigns there is actuality, the urgency of the present moment. Since non-places are there to be passed through, they are measured in units of time. Everything proceeds as if space had been trapped by time, as if there were no history other than the last forty-eight hours of news, as if each individual history were drawing its motives, its words and images from the inexhaustible stock of an unending history in the present.’

Signs & Directions

‘The real non-places of supermodernity – the ones we inhabit when we are driving down the motorway, wandering through the supermarket or sitting in an airport lounge waiting for the next flight – have the peculiarity that they are defined partly by the words and texts they offer us: their “instructions for use”, which may be prescriptive (“Take right-hand lane”), prohibitive (“No parking”) or informative (“You are now entering Kidbrooke Village”). Sometimes these are couched in more or less explicit and codified ideograms (on road signs, maps and tourist guides), sometimes in ordinary language. This establishes the traffic conditions of spaces in which individuals are supposed to interact only with texts, whose proponents are not individuals but “moral entities” or institutions (commercial companies, traffic police, municipal councils); sometimes their presence is explicitly stated (“The council is working to improve your living conditions”), sometimes it is only vaguely discernible behind the injunctions, advice, commentaries and “messages” transmitted by the innumerable “supports” (signboards, screens, posters) that form an integral part of the contemporary landscape.’


‘In the world of supermodernity people are always, and never, at home: the frontier zones no longer open onto totally foreign worlds. Supermodernity naturally finds its full expression in non-places. Words and images in transit through non-places can take root in the still diverse places where people still try to construct part of their daily life. What is seen by the spectator of modernity is the interweaving of old and new. Supermodernity, in contrast, makes the old – makes history – into a specific spectacle, as it does with all exoticism and local particularity. History and exoticism play the same role in it as “quotations” in a written text. In the non-places of supermodernity, there is always a specific position (in the window, on a poster, to the right of the screen, on the left of the motorway) for “curiosities” presented as such.’

Village Hall

‘In the concrete reality of today’s world, places and spaces, places and non-places intertwine and tangle together. The possibility of non-place is never absent from any place. Place becomes a refuge to the user of non-places (who may dream, for example, of owning a second home in the depths of the countryside).’

Roads & Pavements

‘Places and non-places are opposed (or attracted) like the words and notions that enable us to describe them. But the fashionable words – those that did not exist thirty years ago – are associated with non-places. Thus we can contrast the realities of transit (transit camps or passengers in transit) with those of residence or dwelling; the interchange (where nobody crosses anyone else’s path) with the crossroads (where people meet); the passenger (defined by his destination) with the traveller (who strolls along his route); the housing estate, where people do not live together and which is never situated in the centre of anything (big estates characterise the so-called peripheral zones or outskirts), with the monument where people share and commemorate; communication (with its codes, images and strategies) with language (which is spoken).’

1, 2 and 3-Bedroom Luxury Apartments: £412,500, £540,000 and £770,000

‘A world where people are born in a clinic and die in a hospital, where transit points and temporary abodes are proliferating under luxurious or inhuman conditions (hotel chains and squats, holiday clubs and refugee camps, housing estates threatened with demolition or doomed to decaying longevity); where a dense network of means of transport which are also inhabited spaces is developing; where the frequent users of supermarkets, laptop computers and credit cards communicate wordlessly, through gestures, with an abstract, unmediated commerce; a world thereby surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary and ephemeral, offers the anthropologist (and others) a new object.’

4-Bedroom Townhouses: £900,000


‘All consumers of space find themselves caught among the echoes and images of a sort of cosmology which, unlike the ones traditionally studied by ethnologists, is objectively universal, and at the same time familiar and prestigious. This has at least two results. On the one hand, these images tend to make a system; they outline a world of consumption that every individual can make his own because it incessantly buttonholes him. The temptation to narcissism is all the more seductive here in that it seems to express the common law: in order to be yourself – do as others do. On the other hand, like all cosmologies, this new cosmology produces effects of recognition. From which arises a paradox of non-place: a foreigner lost in a country he does not know can feel at home there only in the anonymity of motorways, service stations, large stores or hotel chains.’

Affordable Housing & Car Demographics

‘Alone, but one of many, the user of a non-place is in contractual relations with it (or with the powers that govern it). He is reminded, when necessary, that the contract exists. The contract always relates to the individual identity of the contracting party. The passenger accedes to his anonymity only when he has given proof of his identity; when he has countersigned, so to speak, the contract. In a way, the user of the non-place is always required to prove his innocence. Checks on the contract and the user’s identity, beforehand or afterwards, stamp the space of contemporary consumption with the sign of non-place: it can be entered only by the innocent.’

Entrances & Receptions

‘When individuals come together, they engender the social and organise places. But the space of supermodernity is inhabited by this contradiction: it deals only with individuals (customers, passengers, users, listeners), but they are identified (name, occupation, place of birth, address) only on entering or leaving. It seems that the social game is being played elsewhere than in the forward posts of the contemporary world. Those pursuing new socialisations and localisations can see non-places only as a negation of their ideal. The non-place is the opposite of utopia: it exists, and it cannot attain any organic society.’

‘In one form or another, ranging from the misery of refugee camps to the cosseted luxury of five-star hotels, some experience of non-place is today an essential component of all social existence. Hence the very particular and ultimately paradoxical character of what is sometimes regarded in the West as the fashion for “cocooning”, retreating into the self: never before have individual histories, because of their necessary relations with space, image and consumption, been so deeply entangled with general history, with history pure and simple. In this situation, any individual attitude is conceivable: flight (back home, elsewhere), fear (of the self, of others), but also revolt (against established values).’

– Marc Augé, Non-Places (1992)

Architects for Social Housing

A New David: The Journey to Beauty in Architecture


‘The rarity with which the case for beauty is articulated is explained partly by timidity, and partly by unwillingness to challenge modernist determinism. The aesthetics of our built environment has suffered from the Cult of Ugliness. The overwhelming majority of public architecture built during my lifetime is aesthetically worthless, simply because it is ugly. Be warned! The descendants of the Brutalists still each day design and build new horrors, from huge concrete slabs to out-of-scale, rough-hewn buildings and massive sculptural-shaped structures which bear little or no relationship to their older neighbours. Consider swathes of the worst of our towns and cities, then say that I am wrong. Most of our urban areas are an ill-considered patchwork of buildings old and new. But which buildings, I ask you, will invariably be the shabbiest and neglected, the most disfigured by vandalism or scarred by graffiti? It is usually the relatively modern buildings – those built within my lifetime. We have had enough of the desecration of our towns and cities. Ours can be – must be – an age in which the aesthetic quality of the public realm soars. Let no-one say it can’t be done!’

The Rt Hon John Hayes, MP for South Holland and The Deepings, and Her Majesty’s Minister of State for Transport;

Who is a member of the Conservative Party’s pro-faith, pro-British, pro-family Cornerstone Group;

Who is also a member of the pro-life, anti-abortion, anti-birth control, anti-sex education, anti-same sex marriage, anti-assisted suicide lobby group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children;

Who voted against reducing the age of consent for homosexual sex from eighteen to sixteen; for the ban on the promotion of homosexuality in schools; against allowing same-sex couples to marry; against the hunting ban; for the repeal of the Human Rights Act; to remove the duty on the Commission for Equality and Human Rights to support the development of a society without prejudice or discrimination; against making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste; and against allowing a terminally ill person to obtain assistance in dying;

Who voted against raising benefits in line with inflation; to introduce Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments and to restrict housing benefit for those in social housing deemed to have excess bedrooms; to cap any increase in discretionary working age benefits and tax credits at 1 per cent in 2014-15 and 2015-16; against those who have been ill or disabled since their youth receiving Employment and Support Allowance on the same basis as if they had made sufficient National Insurance contributions to qualify for a contribution based allowance; not to increase the time people can receive contribution based Employment and Support Allowance from one year to at least 730 days; not to make an exception for those with cancer from the 365 day limit on receiving contribution based Employment and Support Allowance; not to set the lower rate of the Universal Credit payment in relation to disabled children and young people at a minimum of two-thirds of the higher rate; to reduce the household benefit cap; to freeze the rate of working-age benefits; to remove the ‘limited capability for work’ element of Universal Credit; against making the removal of the work-related activity component from employment and support allowance conditional on an impact assessment and against requiring Parliament to approve details of implementing the change; to reduce the amount people are paid in tax credits; and to increase the state pension age;

Who voted to raise the income tax free personal allowance; to reduce the main rate of corporation tax from 27 to 26 per cent; not to halt further spending and welfare cuts; not to investigate the impact of austerity measures on the incidence of poverty and inequality; against introducing a tax on bank bonuses to guarantee a job for 100,000 young people and build 25,000 affordable homes; against raising the minimum wage; against reintroducing a 10 per cent starting rate of income tax; against a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million to fund a tax cut for those on middle and low incomes; in favour of reducing the threshold for paying higher rate income tax; against implementing a series of proposals intended to reduce tax avoidance and evasion; against giving the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority duties to combat abusive tax avoidance arrangements; for reducing capital gains tax; to require a 50 per cent turnout in order to make a strike ballot valid; for increased regulation of trade union activity; to require the appointment of a picket supervisor and for them to be identified to, and contactable by, the police;

Who voted to support proposed reforms to the National Health Service, including giving more power to GPs to commission services and cut administration costs by abolishing Primary Care Trusts; to enable more schools in England to gain Academy Status; against requiring new academy schools to be built only in areas where there is a proven need for additional capacity; against requiring state school teachers to have qualified teacher status; to raise the UK’s undergraduate tuition fee cap to £9,000 per year; to allow student loan interest to be charged at market rates; in favour of scrapping the education maintenance allowance; against greater public control of bus services; against slowing the rise in rail fares; against a publicly owned railway system; for the privatisation of the Royal Mail; and against plans to save the steel industry;

Who voted for reducing central government funding of local government; against a more proportional system for electing MPs; against a wholly elected House of Lords; for more restrictions on the activities of campaigners who are not candidates or putting up candidates during elections; against transferring more powers to the Welsh Assembly; against transferring more powers to the Scottish Parliament; and for a veto for MPs from England, Wales and Northern Ireland over laws specifically impacting their part of the UK;

Who voted for the UK to join the US invasion of Iraq; for the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan; for UK airstrikes against ISIL in Syria; in favour of renewing the UK’s £200 billion Trident nuclear weapons system; and against contributing to the resolution of the refugee crisis in Europe;

Who voted for a stricter asylum system; for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities; in favour of requiring those based outside of the UK to comply with warrants to intercept the content of communications; for the mass retention of information on people’s internet usage; in favour of making it a criminal offence for someone to work if their immigration status prohibits it; to make it an offence to rent a home to someone who is disqualified as a result of their immigration status from occupying premises under a residential tenancy agreement; to restrict the support available to failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants; and to restrict the scope of legal aid;

Who voted against setting a decarbonisation target for the UK by December 2016; for selling England’s state owned forests; for culling badgers to tackle bovine tuberculosis; not to ban the exploitation of unconventional petroleum for at least 18 months and not to require that a review of the impact of such exploitation on climate change, the environment, the economy, and health and safety be carried out and published;

Who voted to require households living in social housing and earning over £31,000 in England and £40,000 in London to pay market rents; to extend Right to Buy discounts for housing association tenants; to enable the Secretary of State to require local councils to sell off high value council homes to fund this discount; to phase out secure tenancies and limit new tenancies to 2-5 years; to grant planning permission in principle to all land designated as ‘brownfield’ and require local authorities to identify more land as such; to set the rates of Local Housing Allowance that applies to private rented accommodation; for cuts in housing benefit for recipients in supported housing; and against restrictions on fees charged to tenants by letting agents;

Who in 2004 purchased a three-bedroom apartment in Westminster for £496,050, and until May 2010 claimed back £1,900 per month, and until September 2012 £889 per month, for the interest on the mortgage;

Who from November 2012 rented this apartment out for £3,250 per month until he sold it in June 2014 for £1,387,500;

Who since September 2012 has claimed expenses of £84,005 for renting a one-bedroom apartment in London;

Who has claimed £4,850 above his MP’s annual rent allowance to cover the cost of his two sons staying at his London apartment; 

Who in 2012-13, the year in which he voted for the bedroom tax, claimed a total of £169,474.50 in expenses;

Who since June 2013 has received an unspecified rental income of over £10,000 per year from an undisclosed property in London;

Who since 2015 has employed his wife, Susan Hayes, as an Administrative Manager on an annual salary of between £35,000-£40,000;

Who in the year 2015-16, in addition to his MP’s basic salary of £67,059.96, claimed £9,565.55 in travel expenses, £15,394.22 in office expenses, and £25,545.75 in accommodation expenses;

Who in the past two years has received a £20,000 annual donation from David Brownlow, CEO of the Havisham Group, a privately owned investment portfolio and trading group, and Deputy Chair of Huntswood, a consultancy firm in the UK financial services sector;

Who in his capacity as Minister of State for Transport this week delivered a speech at the Independent Transport Commission on ‘The Journey to Beauty’ in architecture, in which he concluded:

‘Now we have an opportunity to build on these all-too-rare successes, to make aesthetics a matter of public policy. No more soulless ubiquity. No more sub-standard, conceptually flawed buildings. No more excuses, in the guise of ergonomics, for an ignorance of aesthetics. What a statement it will be of the revolt against the Cult of Ugliness, of our new orthodoxy. We can and will turn back the tide. My certain conviction is unwavering: “We will beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly to new elegance, style and beauty.” So be warmed – or warned! – when I speak next I will set out when and how: how we will change what is built and what is saved – roads, rail and beyond. Some who did the damage to our country were crass and careless; but some wrought monstrous havoc knowingly, wilfully. All of them Philistines. Well, now the Philistines have met their David.’

Architects for Social Housing

Sources: TheyWorkForYou, Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

The Intellectual Bloodstain: Academia and Social Cleansing

From a talk given outside the London School of Economics and Political Science on Thursday, 29 September 2016, as part of Resist: Festival of Ideas and Actions.


‘All the water in the sea is not enough to wash away one intellectual bloodstain.’

– Isidore Ducasse (1870)

It’s an honour to be speaking here outside an institution of higher learning that counts among its staff such scholarly luminaries as Angelina Jolie, whom I’m looking forward to hearing lecture here in the Autumn term in the MSc on ‘Women, Peace and Security’. I don’t know what pedagogical principles Visiting Professor Jolie will be following, but my own view is that the only point in talking about subjects like resistance in an institution such as the London School of Economics and Political Science is to expose its ideological role in the relations of power against which resistance forms. I’m here today, therefore, not inside the institution but outside the New Academic Building, to talk about the London School of Economics, and about the responsibility and culpability of academics and intellectuals in the violence of London’s housing crisis.

I’m going to talk about a very particular intellectual bloodstain, whose source, if you look carefully, you can see seeping out of the doors behind me, and down the steps you’re sitting on over there. It’s a bloodstain that points specifically to a council estate regeneration project; and if you know anything about such projects you’ll know that ‘regeneration’ means the eviction of residents from their homes, the demolition of the estate they live on, and the redevelopment of the land, supposedly in order to address the chronic housing shortage in London. The particular regeneration I want to focus on is that of the Ferrier Estate in South-East London.

1. The Ferrier Estate

The Ferrier Estate, whose construction was completed in 1972, was located in Kidbrooke, east of Blackheath, in the London Borough of Greenwich. In 1999 the regeneration of the estate was initiated by Greenwich Labour Council, which has held a majority in the borough since 1971, so can pretty much do what it wants. In 2004, following approval by the Central Government of Tony Blair, the Council began to decant residents, 50 per cent of which were from ethnic minorities. In 2006 the Berkeley Group was awarded the redevelopment contract on the £1 billion project. In 2009 planning permission was given by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, and demolition of the estate began in 2010. By then, 1,500 households had been evicted from their homes, and the remaining 400 households were being threatened with court action. The motivation for this timetable was that the second phase of redevelopment had to begin by March 2011 if Greenwich Labour Council was to receive a £21.5 million grant for the scheme from the Coalition Government’s Homes and Communities Agency. It did, and by 2012 the demolition of the Ferrier Estate had been completed.

A total of 1,906 council homes were demolished, of which only 174 were owned by leaseholders, so by far most of the 5,277 residents were council tenants. These demolished homes are being replaced by a new development called Kidbrooke Village, which when finished will contain 4,398 new apartments. Of these, 2,490 will be for private sale, 1,358 for private rent, and 550 for shared ownership; which means that no homes – not a single home out of the 4,398 apartments in Kidbrooke Village – will be for social rent (with those promised in Berkeley’s planning application being converted into ‘affordable’ rent): a net loss of 1,732 homes for social rent from the borough. This raises the question of where the residents of the former Ferrier Estate ended up; and the answer is that all but a handful of the more than 5,000 residents on the Ferrier Estate have been evicted from the area. To put this loss of homes for social rent in context, in July 2014 – and things can only have grown worse since – Greenwich Borough had 14,994 households on its housing waiting list. If you didn’t know better, you would think Greenwich Labour Council would be desperate to hold onto what council homes they have, rather than demolishing 1,732 homes for social rent.

Okay, but you might argue that these homes were run down after decades of no maintenance by a council that nevertheless continued to collect rents from their occupants, so maybe it was better to replace them. So let’s look at what’s been built in Kidbrooke Village.

Since work started on the new development, 1,224 apartments have been completed, the cheapest of which is on sale for £412,500 for a 1-bedroom apartment. A 2-bedroom apartment is going for £540,000, a 3-bedroom apartment for £770,000, and a 4-bedroom townhouse is on sale for £900,000. By comparison, a 70 year-old leaseholder on the former Ferrier Estate – which is to say, someone with no hope of getting a new mortgage, even if he could afford such prices – was offered the grand sum of £94,000 in compensation for his 4-bedroom home, roughly one-tenth of the cost of an equivalent-sized apartment in Kidbrooke Village. Again, to put this in context, buying a £450,000 1-bedroom apartment requires a salary of £77,000 per annum and a deposit of £97,000. That’s the cheapest housing you’ll find in Kidbrooke Village – which, again, raises the question of for whom if has been built and what function it serves. And the only answer we can arrive at from these figures is that in place of the 1,906 council homes demolished by Greenwich Labour Council, the Berkeley Group is supplying housing that only the upper-middle classes, buy-to-let landlords or property speculators could possibly afford to buy, and not for use as homes but as real estate investments. Equally certain, the people who made up the overwhelmingly working-class community that once lived there won’t be buying the apartments on the new development.

This is not the gentrification of an up-and-coming area according to the gradual demands of the market. This is not local authorities trying to build the homes that Londoners need and can afford to live in. This is not property developers injecting the private investment needed to kick-start the regeneration of a run-down neighbourhood. This is the social cleansing of an entire community, over 5,000 people, evicted from their homes and dispersed across the borough of Greenwich and beyond.

In an article published in October 2008, Councillor Peter Brooks, the Deputy Leader of Greenwich Labour Council, when questioned about the role Greenwich Labour Council was playing in this process, responded:

‘Kidbrooke Village could be a key place to live and work in London, so I suspect that a different type of person will want to move in.’

Now, as we know, the middle classes don’t like to use the word ‘class’, as it forces them to confront their own position within its ranks; so instead of saying a different ‘class’ of person they say a different ‘type’ of person. Councillor Brooks continues:

‘I do understand that communities have been torn apart, and I think that’s the part of it that you regret. But what I am trying to do is form a new community.

I suppose it’s nice to know that the man who oversaw the demolition of over 1,900 council homes and the eviction of a community of over 5,000 residents in a borough with 15,000 people on the housing waiting list at least ‘regrets’ it – small consolation though that will be to the old community he destroyed. But let me remind you that, in his role as Deputy Leader of Greenwich Labour Council, this is the ‘type’ of person that has been given the responsibility for solving the housing shortage in London. He goes on:

‘It is unfortunate that we have had to move people to do this. I wouldn’t like it, I suppose, if I lived here. Yes, there has been a lot of scattering of the community. But there’s not much in reality that we can do about that, other than offer them the opportunity to come back.’

This opportunity to ‘come back’ is, in fact, all that residents are offered, whether council tenants or leaseholders. It has subsequently been called the Right to Return, and you’ll find it brandished over and over again by councils implementing the demolition of estates – I always think rather like a rapist waving a condom in his defence. ‘Yes’, the council says, ‘we’ve demolished your homes, evicted you from the estate, broken up your families, scattered the community you built over 40 years – but at least you’ve got the right to come back!’ In fact, the only residents coming back are the kids who, understanding exactly what this right means for them, visit Kidbrooke Village at night to engage in what the State calls ‘anti-social behaviour’.

In July 2014, two years after the Ferrier Estate they called home had been demolished, at a London Assembly investigation into the respective benefits of refurbishing council estates versus demolishing and redeveloping them, Roy Kindle, himself a former member of Greenwich Council, reflected on this Right to Return:

‘Ten years ago residents on the Ferrier Estate were told that they would have the right to come back. What Greenwich Council didn’t mention is that they would need to win the Lottery to do so.’

2. Kidbrooke Village

That’s the reality of estate demolition. But now we come to the reason I’m here on the steps of the London School of Economics. In July this year, the LSE produced a report, not – as one might expect – on the demolition of the Ferrier Estate, denouncing its destruction of a working class community, but on Kidbrooke Village, where a 4-bedroom house costs £900,000. The report is called New London Villages: Creating Community, a title which, before it does anything else, opposes the negative image of ‘estates’ with the positive image of ‘villages’. This is described as an ‘independent report’, produced for the Berkeley Group by the London School of Economics. That is, the LSE produced a report about a housing development built by the Berkeley Group on behalf of the Berkeley Group. The authors of this supposedly independent report are:

  • Kath Scanlon, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at the LSE in the Department of Geography and Environment.
  • Emma Sagor, Research Officer in Public Policy at the LSE.
  • Christine Whitehead, Professor of Housing in the Department of Economics at the LSE.
  • Alessandra Mossa, Research Fellow at the LSE and former architect and urban planner.

I don’t know, but I’d be very surprised if these four academics at the London School of Economics, who have produced a report on behalf of the Berkeley Group about a housing development built by the Berkeley Group, were not also paid to do so by the Berkeley Group. I’ll leave it to you to judge how independent that report is.

New London Villages: Creating Community, also comes with a preface by Anthony William Pidgley, CBE, co-founder and Chairman of the Berkeley Group. To give you an idea of what ‘type’ of person he is, his total annual ‘compensation’ – which is made up of his salary, annual bonus and stock options – is £21,489,000. So I think it’s safe to say he can definitely afford to buy a 4-bedroom home on Kidbrooke Village for £900,000, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s bought one or two for his kids as an investment. The Berkeley Group, which is the seventh largest home builder in the UK, is currently sitting on sites – a practice called land-banking – sufficient for 43,233 homes. We’re constantly being told by developers, councillors and politicians that London is ‘full’, that there’s nowhere to build homes, and so we have to demolish existing estates to build the homes we need. This is a lie. In the UK the top nine house builders are sitting on land sufficient to build 600,000 homes, including Taylor Wimpey (which has land for 184,730 homes), Barratt (142,123 homes), Persimmon (92,404 homes) and the Berkeley Group (43,233 homes). Why do they land-bank? For the same reason someone sits on their gold: the less land there is available for building, the higher the prices they can charge for the homes they build on it. Land, not materials or labour, determines the value of real estate, and the less there is of it the more it costs. For this reason, the Berkeley Group, which has seen fit to demolish 1,906 council homes on the Ferrier Estate alone in order to acquire the land on which they stood, has built a mere 3,355 homes in the UK in 2016. This is why London has some of the most expensive land prices of any major city in the world – more expensive than New York, comparable to Singapore and Hong Kong – and therefore the most expensive house prices in the world: not because of abstract market forces, but because of a property boom driven by international investment in London real estate dressed up as a housing crisis and accommodated by our almost non-existent corporate laws that means half the world’s dirty money runs through the capital. So the next time your councillor tells you they simply have to knock down your housing estate because there’s nowhere to build in London, quote these figures back at them.

In the preface by the Chairman of the Berkeley Group, the company that commissioned this ‘independent’ report from the London School of Economics, Mr. Pidgley says of Kidbrooke Village:

‘There is something for everyone here, for each and every part of society. Everybody has been involved, from all walks of life, regardless of the profession they work in.’

‘Every walk of life’ is another one of those middle-class euphemisms for ‘class’. Earlier we had the Deputy Leader of Greenwich Council describing Kidbrooke Village attracting a ‘different type of person’; next we’ll have the former residents of the Ferrier Estate described as ‘people from humble backgrounds’. I suppose someone who earns £21.5 million a year can’t be expected to have much of an idea of what people can afford to spend, so let me assure Mr. Pidgley that working class people, people of a different ‘type’, people from a ‘walk of life’ he’s never set foot on, people who don’t work in a ‘profession’, cannot afford the properties in Kidbrooke Village.

The report by the four academics at the London School of Economics was commissioned through LSE Consulting, which is part of LSE Enterprise, the global business arm of the London School of Economics. This company draws on what it calls ‘world-class research’ by the LSE to undertake consulting and commercial research for governments, public and private sector organisations. So this is a private company that sells supposedly independent research by the London School of Economics in support of projects by governments, by councils and by property developers like the Berkeley Group – projects like Kidbrooke Village. It is this relationship that I’m here to talk about today, and the academic, scholarly and intellectual integrity of the report that came out of it, which is divided into three chapters.

Chapter 1. Why Villages?

The first question mark over the integrity of the LSE report is the trope of ‘urban villages’. As I said, the report opposed the positive value of a ‘village’ to the negative value of an ‘estate’; but where does this opposition come from? According to the report, London has always been a ‘city of villages’. To an extent that’s true, as it is of any city which, unlike those in, say, North America, has expanded over centuries, swallowing up the surrounding villages as it has grown in size. But it hardly describes the financial capital of the world and home to 9 million people that London has become today. No doubt in reaction to this, London as a ‘city of villages’ is a very popular characterisation in West and North London, especially among that ‘type’ of person from a ‘walk of life’ that can afford a second home in the Cotswolds. It has less purchase on reality in East and South London, among that class of person that is trying to scrape the money together to pay their rent or resist the demolition of their estate.

One of the sources the report sites for this image of London as a ‘city of villages’ is the Urban Villages Forum, founded in 1993 in response to Prince Charles’ views on architecture. The only other source it sites is a map of London made in 1941 as part of a masterplan of how a post-World War II London would be rebuilt. Of course, one of the reasons the report is looking at a description of London from the 1940s is because the council estates whose demolition it was commissioned to justify were built after the Second World War, when the newly elected Labour Government initiated a program of mass council home building that continued through the next three decades under different political parties, but largely, and certainly in London, in working-class boroughs run by Labour councils. How things have changed.

What the report doesn’t mention in this nostalgic look back to a pre-welfare state England of village pubs, cricket greens and jars of Bovril, is that the trope of London as a collection of city villages has a much more recent provenance. One of these is Policy Exchange, another supposedly independent Conservative Party think tank, which in January 2013 published a report titled Create Streets. Arguing that post-war multi-storey housing estates should be demolished and replaced with low-rise apartments and housing built on the traditional street plan, this report had a considerable influence on the London Plan and its vision of London’s future. One of the other sources for the image of London as a ‘city of villages’ is a report published in March 2015 by the Independent Public Policy Research – a report in fact commissioned by the Peabody housing association – titled City Villages: More Homes Better Communities. This is one of the key sources, referred to by successive Tory Housing Ministers as well as the Labour London Mayor, of the argument that the greatest source of land available for building the homes Londoners need is the land on which existing council estates are built. And a third, but certainly not the final, source of this vision of London’s future, is a report by the real estate firm Savills titled Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents. Delivered directly to Cabinet in January 2016, Savills, which is advising Labour councils across London on their estate demolition programmes, as well as writing housing policy for the London Mayor, recommends demolishing the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners and replacing them with privately built housing developments modelled on the trope of – you guessed it – ‘city villages’.

For reasons we can only speculate on, but on whose results we can certainly pass judgement, none of these reports, published over the past three years, are mentioned in the LSE report as sources for the image of London as a ‘city of villages’. That’s not just bad scholarship – that’s lying. The authors are pretending they have developed what they call their ‘conceptual framework’ for the future of London’s housing needs, when in fact they’ve been handed it by government-sponsored think tanks, housing association-commissioned reports, real estate firms, and the property developer that paid them to produce the report. This isn’t just bad scholarship, this is intellectually fraudulent and morally indefensible, and LSE Research Fellow Kath Scanlon, Research Officer Emma Sagor, Professor Christine Whithead, and Research Fellow Alessandro Mossa should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be considerably more than ashamed, but we’ll return to that later.

Having been given this trope of ‘city villages’, these four academics, in their own supposedly independent report, are now compelled to come up with a definition of what they call the ‘New London Village’, which they have decided are the following:

  • Small and intimate: with the scale of the buildings suitable and the density sustainable.
  • Unique: with a spatial identity and sense of place, with community events in which residents create collective memory.
  • Designed for social interaction: with public spaces and facilities for the community.
  • Locally driven and responsive: with residents managing and determining the future of the community according to a long-term vision.
  • Functional: with residents having access to public and private services.
  • A mixed community: with a range of ages, incomes, tenures and backgrounds.

Chapter 2. Is Kidbrooke a ‘Village’?

For those whose attention spans don’t extend to the report’s forty obsequious pages, the LSE produced a short film that was published not only on the LSE website but in the online pages of The Guardian, where it received much praise by the paper’s resident housing hack and Labour apologist, Dave Hill. In this film, Kath Scanlon, the lead author of the report, says the Ferrier Estate was built in the early 60s, rather than the early 70s. This suits her argument – which is to say, the arguments of the Berkeley Group and Greenwich Labour Council – that the homes were run-down and no longer fit for use. But if that were the case for modern buildings forty years old when they were demolished, the Victorian terrace conversions in which half of London currently lives would have to be torn down too.

Clearly happy to peddle deliberately inaccurate information, the LSE academics – who in their written report devote a single paragraph to the existence of the Ferrier Estate – identify its decline not with its lack of maintenance by Greenwich Labour Council, or with the cuts to the support networks of residents, or with the more general class war that has been waged by successive governments over the past 3o years, but with the ‘uncompromising’ design of the estate, its ‘poor construction quality’, its ‘isolation from the surrounding neighbourhoods’, and, finally, the identity of the residents, for which it finds yet another euphemism, the by-now familiar ‘vulnerable and troubled households’. Before you can say it, that well-worn phrase of land-grabbers is wheeled out, and the Ferrier Estate is branded, without any data to substantiate this claim, as a ‘byword for anti-social behaviour’.

Since the academic authors of this report are salaried researchers in housing, they will presumably be familiar with David Cameron’s campaign to ‘Blitz’ one hundred so-called sink estates for precisely the same unsubstantiated reasons they give here to justify the demolition of the Ferrier Estate. They do not, however, question the use of this emotive and stereotypical language to stigmatise working-class communities and demolish their homes – which, like the trope of ‘city villages’, they have taken directly from government propaganda – but simply repeat it, without basis other than the place-myths about council estates and their communities cultivated by politicians, councillors, property developers, architects, the media and the entertainment industry. To call this scholarship is ridiculous: it is unquestioning, uncritical, willing subservience to paymasters, and its authors should be denounced by the academic community.

I won’t bother, because of this, to summarise their completely predictable deliberations on whether Kibrooke Village meets the criteria provided for them by its developers, but will instead look at what is at stake in these criteria:

1) The idea that post-war council estates were not built on a ‘human scale’ – intimate, walkable, everyone their own front door onto the street – is one we regularly hear used as justification for their demolition. In the judicial inquiry into the compulsory purchase order on the Aylesbury estate held in April, May and October 2015, the legal firm employed by Southwark Labour Council repeatedly used this idea of a ‘human scale’ to denigrate the estate on which 7,500 residents have lived at any one time over the past forty years. The question, of course, is what is meant by ‘human’ in judging a suitable scale. For the socialist architects who designed these estates, the human was collective, and its scale that of the community the estates formed. By contrast, for the capitalist purveyors of city villages, the human is the individual homeowner, and its scale his purchasing power, and anyone who doesn’t fit this consumer model of citizenship is – as we are experiencing – not welcome on this land. To affirm that a buildings are or are not on a ‘human scale’ is the kind of conservative judgements you’d hear passed in the Daily Telegraph, and has no place on a supposedly independent academic report on the success or otherwise of a housing development.

2) The idea of a ‘unique identity’ conjures up all the horrors of the Middle-England villages beloved of West London second home-owners; but having wiped out the collective memory of the socially cleansed community of the Ferrier Estate, however easy it has been for the Berkeley Group to build a luxury housing development in its place, the LSE academics will find it isn’t as easy to create either collective memory or a community out of non-domicile real estate investors and buy-to-let landlords.

3) By the report’s own admission, the only public amenities provided in Kidbrooke Village are the OneSpace community centre – the last remaining building, which is soon to be demolished, from the Ferrier Estate – and the ubiquitous Sainsbury’s supermarket. The latter is, perhaps, the most representative environment for ‘social interaction’ under monopoly capitalism, but even an LSE academic is unlikely to conclude that it will create either a unique identity or a sense of community. As for public spaces, there are none on what is now privately-owned land.

4) ‘Locally driven’ depends on who the locals are. The locals of the previous community have been socially cleansed from the area, except when exercising their nocturnal Right to Return; and to talk of Kidbrooke Village as being ‘locally driven’ is an added insult to the complete disregard with which the wishes of the former community were treated by Greenwich Labour Council and the Berkeley Group. Now, in a move characteristic of estate demolition’s transferral of public responsibilities into private hands, Kidbrooke Village is run by the Berkeley Group, so the only vision of the future is theirs.

5) As we have seen, the ‘function’ the housing in Kidbrooke Village serves is primarily as an exchange-value, either for property speculators, real estate investors or buy-to-let landlords. Their use-value as housing is secondary, and the demographic of the users has been specifically selected to place as little burden on public services as possible.

6) Describing the tenancies on Kidbrooke Village as an equal mix of ‘social/affordable, private rented and owner occupied’ is another lie. Following the Government’s Housing and Planning Act, there no longer exists any provision for building homes for social rent on new housing developments. Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that made this a requirement has now been superseded by the provision of affordable housing at up to 80 per cent of market rate, the quota of which is determined by viability assessments produced by firms such as Savills. But in fact that’s the best concession we can hope for. In reality, in place even of this affordable housing quota, developers can now build Starter Homes – that is, state subsidised housing for private sale – that are expected to make up around 20 per cent of new housing developments. None of this is mentioned in the report by the London School of Economics. Instead the authors find that, with a few reservations, Kidbrooke Village does, in fact, all things considered, meet the criteria of a New London Village. No surprise there.

What they do mention is that Kidbrooke Village, when it is completed, will double the housing density of the Ferrier Estate. But they provide no study of what effects this will have on the local area, or whether the infrastructure of roads, schools, clinics, hospitals, shops, nurseries, public transport and so on has been supplied. The Community Infrastructure Levy that was part of the Section 106 agreements has disappeared with it, so presumably Greenwich Council will be expected to meet the drastically increased demands on support networks. That is, of course, if the increased density of housing brings with it a comparable increase in residents. Although there is no record of how many apartments are being bought by buy-to-let landlords, the report estimates that 65 per cent of the ‘units’ have been sold to occupiers, which means 35 per cent, over a third, were purchased by non-domicile investors in real estate. Perhaps this is what the authors mean when they say Kidbrooke Village is the kind of ‘mixed community’ to which London should aspire. If it is, we’re well on the way to achieving it.

‘Mixed communities’, like ‘human scale’, is a phrase repeatedly used to justify demolishing the homes of the working class. In fact, as anyone who has lived on a council estate knows, these are some of the most – and rapidly becoming the last – mixed communities in London, racially and economically. Certainly no-one who could afford the prices of the Berkeley Group’s luxury replacements lives there, but there is still a mix of working-class and lower middle-class families. Above all, council estates are overwhelmingly home to London’s non-white communities. To speak of the professional, international, middle-class clientele at which Kidbrooke Village has been marketed as a ‘mixed community’ is another of those lies with which estate demolition is polished up and presented to the public. Kidbrooke Village is an instrument for the social cleansing of Greenwich Borough, economically and racially. Indeed, Greenwich Labour Council has never denied that the purpose of its estate demolition programme is to change the demographic of the borough and raise land values. In a document published in 2000 they wrote:

‘There is little doubt that the Ferrier Estate has stigmatised the area. Whilst a rolling programme of piecemeal development seems sensible to facilitate the logistics of decanting a large number of tenants, it simply will not generate the values needed. We believe that a complete demolition of the Ferrier Estate and a new comprehensive quality scheme is essential to remove the stigma of the current estate and its effect on land values.’

Behind Berkeley Homes’ promotional videos of middle-class families and professionals cavorting on the village green lies the invisible sign that everyone can read: no unemployed, no single mothers, nobody on benefits, nobody without private health insurance, no elderly without a pension, nobody who relies on social services, nobody from a poor ‘background’ – as the report refers, yet again euphemistically, to the class of people who most certainly won’t make up the ‘mixed community’ its authors somehow find here. Only the rich need apply. Welcome to Kidbrooke Village.

Chapter 3. What could the village model offer London?

Since the LSE report steadfastly refuses to address the presence of the white elephant standing in the middle of the living room of every one of these luxury apartments – that is, their complete failure to meet the housing needs of the local community – the authors instead focus on the ‘quality’ of the housing in Kidbrooke Village. Now, as a recent report by the charity Shelter has shown, 43 per cent of homes in Britain fail to meet their newly launched ‘living home standard’; and, unsurprisingly, 73 per cent of these are in London. But 56 per cent of London homes fail the living home standard not on the criteria of their condition, the amount of living space, the stability of tenure or the surrounding neighbourhood, but on the fifth criterion – their affordability. We don’t have the figures for London alone, but across Britain the homes of 41 percent of semi-skilled and unskilled workers, and 31 per cent of skilled workers, fail to meet the standard of affordability.

To conceal this failure – which estate demolition schemes, driven by the 20 per cent plus profit margins of developers, completely ignore – central government, local authorities, property developers and architects are united in insisting on the need for ‘high quality’ homes. This, however, is just another euphemism for their unaffordability. Needless to say, the LSE report concludes that Kibrooke Village does, indeed, consist of ‘high quality’ housing; and at the prices the Berkeley Group is charging it would be surprising if it didn’t. Yet once again the authors of the LSE report uncritically adopt this framework, without the slightest interest to question what it may be concealing, whom it may be serving, or who is paying for its acceptance as the orthodoxy on housing. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the report also parroting the property developers’ language of ‘densification’ and ‘placemaking’. To read a critique of these terms it is not to the London School of Economics and Political Science that readers must turn, but to the blog of Architects for Social Housing.

Finally, the authors of the LSE report come to their conclusions. Since the questions they asked about Kidbrooke Village were formulated by the property developer that built the development, and since the Berkeley Group has commissioned the report in order to reach those conclusions, no-one will be surprised to hear that – yes, the London School of Economics and Political Science does indeed find Kidbrooke Village to be exactly and precisely the kind of housing development London needs to solve the housing shortage. In fact, so enthusiastic are they about its potential for London, the authors of the report recommend the following actions:

  1. There are currently 33 sites, each with approval for building 1,000 or more homes, in the London Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment; and they estimate that among these there exists the potential for more than a dozen ‘New City Villages’. They call this ‘having a clear vision’.
  1. Private developers such as the Berkeley Group, rather than local authorities such as Greenwich Labour Council, should lead what they call ‘community development’. Not satisfied merely with building new housing developments, private companies are apparently now qualified to create our communities.
  1. Council estates on public sector land should be demolished and redeveloped as ‘New London Villages’, built on the model of Kidbrooke Village and, presumably, socially cleansed on the model of the Ferrier Estate.

And that’s it. In the forty-page report there is nothing – not one fucking word – about the fate of the existing communities whose homes, with a wave of their hands from the window of their ivory tower, the authors of this report, commissioned by the Berkeley Group and bearing all the cultural legitimacy bestowed by the London School of Economics and Political Science, consign to the bulldozer – their families torn apart, their communities scattered, their lives and futures thrown into the unending nightmare of temporary accommodation and an unregulated private rental market.

3. The Intellectual Bloodstain

This shameful, intellectually fraudulent and morally indefensible report is not the only example of the intellectual bloodstain we are increasingly seeing left by academics involved with housing. In April 2016, at a conference titled ‘London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms’ that was held at the University of East London, the organisers, Dr. Paul Watt and Anna Minton, invited Councillor Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Regeneration in Hackney Labour Council, to speak. He turned up dressed in a red cashmere scarf – perhaps meant to be symbolic of Labour’s commitment to the working class – and swanned back and forth at the front of the stage, declaiming the usual rubbish about Government cuts and the Housing and Planning Bill and how it’s all the fault of the Tories. I had the distinct impression he was talking down to us. But when he started on about how Hackney Labour Council had to demolish the estates in which thousands of Hackney residents live in order to give them better homes I’d heard enough. I reminded him that at last count Hackney Labour Council had overseen the demolition of 18 council estates, including 400 homes on the Colville Estate, over 400 homes on the Haggerston West and Kingsland estates, 503 homes on the Nightingale Estate, and 1,980 homes on the Woodberry Down Estate, so the Housing and Planning Bill had nothing to do with Hackney’s housing shortage. I asked him how former council residents were meant to afford the new developments, why Savills real estate firm are writing the financial model for Hackney’s regeneration programme, whether his membership of the privately-funded right-wing Labour cabal Progress contributed to his eagerness to demolish the homes of the working class, and suggested he had no interest in re-housing Hackney’s residents in better homes but only in getting the land their current homes are built on.

In response to my interruption I was told to ‘shut up’ by a member of Momentum, the pro-Jeremy Corbyn Labour faction; and Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester, said we should ‘behave like adults’. I think she meant me specifically, but then she has published a book called Gentrification, and academics have a habit of withdrawing into codes of behaviour when the things they write about come off the page and into their world. The rest of Councillor Nicholson’s presentation was similarly interrupted by other people in the audience, who, unlike the academics on stage, recognised a liar when they heard one. When it was the turn of the Focus E15 Mothers to speak, they tore into Councillor Nicholson for telling them to support what the Labour Party are doing in London, and asked him where his Party was when the Focus E15 Mothers were being forcibly moved out of Newham borough by the Labour Council and threatened by social services with the confiscation of their children for making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ by refusing temporary accommodation outside London.

One of the Focus E15 Mothers, who has been living with her three children for two years in a single room in Boundary House – the temporary accommodation in Welwyn Garden City to which Newham Labour Council sends homeless mothers from their borough – recognised Councillor Nicholson from the previous week. She’d seen him while protesting outside the Property Developer Awards held at the Grosvenor Hotel in Mayfair – which, given the amount of work he’s put their way, isn’t surprising. What was surprising is that he’d been invited to this conference. Like every Labour cabinet member I’ve ever had the misfortune to be in the same room with, Councillor Nicholson seemed completely indifferent to the strength of feeling against him in the room. But to my asking why a social cleanser like him had been invited to spread his lies on a platform supposedly set up to debate the possible responses of activists to London’s housing crisis, the organisers of the conference responded that they wanted to hear ‘all sides of the conversation’.

Now, this is not a new argument. It has been used by numerous supposedly grass-roots organisations – such as Axe the Housing Act and Defend Council Housing – that are in fact Labour Party fronts, and which because of this regularly invite Labour councillors and MPs to speak at meetings, marches and demonstrations, where they invariably dominate the platforms and, more importantly, the press coverage of the event the next day. And like Councillor Nicholson, their message is always the same – that it’s all the fault of the Tories. I have written elsewhere on this blog about the role of Labour activists in seeking to relieve the Labour Party of all culpability in council estate demolition. But as we have seen with the Ferrier Estate – which is typical in this respect as in many others – estate demolition is a collaboration between Tory Government and Labour Councils. Both political parties support it both in principle and in implementation. Central Government changes the laws and supplies the motivating funds, and local authorities, whether Labour or Tory, do the dirty work.

To characterise this process, as academics invariably do, as a ‘conversation’ is to ignore the respective strengths of the voices on either side of the struggle. I say struggle, and not debate, because debate is what academics do, and this isn’t an academic debate – although academics are getting quite a few papers, conferences and books out of it. Nor is this a conversation, which implies a roughly equal access to speech between two sides. The Conservative and Labour Parties have unlimited access to our State propaganda of media, press and entertainment industries to spread their lies and justify their violence. Local authorities, in contrast, allow residents three minutes to speak at their council meetings, and ignore everything they say. Their so-called community consultations are a sham, and they ignore everything residents say that doesn’t fit in with their wishes, denounce those that oppose their plans as troublemakers, ban them from attending meetings, and finally threaten them with the law. This is not a conversation. This is a struggle by residents fighting for their homes to make their voices heard above the lies of politicians, councillors, property developers, real estate investors, property speculators, builders, estate agents, architects, journalists and academics.

Despite this, later that same month, at a conference titled ‘Can we afford to lose social housing?’ organised by Professor Loretta Lees and Dr. Hannah White at Cambridge House, the organisers again decided to invite a social cleanser to speak, this time by the name of Councillor Richard Livingstone, the Cabinet Member for Housing for Southwark Labour Council. Before accepting our invitation to join him on the podium, ASH complained to the organisers about a demolisher of social housing like Councillor Livingstone being invited to an academic conference to discuss the future of social housing; and we were told, once again, that they wanted to hear ‘all sides of the conversation’.

Though slightly less debonair than his Hackney counterpart, Councillor Livingstone similarly argued that the housing crisis is all the fault of the Tories and their cuts to Labour Council budgets and their Housing and Planning Bill, and has nothing at all to do with the numerous estate demolition schemes Southwark Council, under changing political administrations, has been pursuing over the past fourteen years, and which have resulted in the loss of thousands of council homes from the borough, including, most famously, the Heygate Estate, where 1,200 council homes were demolished, and the Aylesbury Estate, where 2,700 homes are under threat. And like his counterpart in Hackney, he didn’t get far in his speech before residents from the Aylesbury Estate started heckling him about his description of their home as a ‘sink estate’, and members of the 35% Campaign reminded him that Peter John, the Leader of Southwark Labour Council, had described council estates as ‘symbols of inner-city neglect, with crime, anti-social behaviour, health inequalities and unemployment the only things that flourished there’. I limited myself to pointing out that the Housing and Planning Bill wasn’t yet law, and therefore couldn’t be blamed for a single one of the thousands of council homes lost to estate demolition schemes in Southwark. I also questioned how he had the cheek to talk about Tory Government cuts when the Labour Council had erected a £140,000 razor-wire topped wall around the first redevelopment site of the Aylesbury Estate, even though families are still living there, and were paying a security firm hundreds of thousand of pounds to guard it.

Councillor Livingstone tried to look offended when I called him a social cleanser and a liar, but I don’t think anyone believed him. The trouble with lying for a living is that, to back up a lie you need to tell another one, then another lie to back up that one, and so on until eventually all you can do is lie, over and over again, lie after lie after lie. People who find themselves trapped in this descending well of lies have a certain look etched into their face, and no matter how much they try to smile and grin and even laugh, all that comes through is their lying mug. As anyone unfortunate enough to have met him or who has seen his photograph will know, Councillor Livingstone has just such a face.

As speakers from local authorities always do, Councillor Livingstone turned up to the conference minutes before his talk and tried to leave immediately afterwards; but we pointed out that as a putative representative of the residents of Southwark he had a duty to listen to what they had to say, and demanded he stayed to hear them. He got an ear bollocking for the rest of the afternoon for his troubles, but his suffering didn’t extend to listening to our own presentation at the very end of the day. When asked for his response to ASH’s alternative design proposals to demolition on Knight’s Walk, Central Hill, West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates, Councillor Richard Livingstone, Cabinet Member for Housing in Southwark Labour Council, was found to have slipped quietly and unnoticed from the room.

But the following week we wondered whether we had, in fact, given our presentation. In the report on the conference that was published on the Cambridge House blog, the organisers removed any reference to ASH’s presentation, along with any criticisms of Councillor Livingstone from the floor. Instead, they rewrote the entire discussion in line with his lies, blamed Southwark’s housing shortage on Tory cuts, and refused to mention the Labour Council’s estate demolition programme. So much for hearing ‘all sides of the conversation’. When I wrote to the conference organisers for an explanation for this pack of lies, Dr. White replied, unconvincingly, that the omission of ASH’s presentation was an ‘oversight’, and added, more revealingly, that Cambridge House receives funding from Southwark Labour Council – information, she wrote, which ‘should give you an insight into the line we have to tread’.

It does, and although the blog report was subsequently modified to make a brief mention of our presentation – although still without the slightest criticism of Councillor Richard Livingstone and Southwark Labour Council – this was the last time ASH had anything to do with Cambridge House, Dr. White or Professor Lees, whose undergraduate textbook, published in 2008, is already out of date in its characterisation of the demolition of council estates for land as a process of ‘gentrification’. As Anna Minton remarked during the conference, there are numerous articles debating whether gentrification is a good or a bad thing; whereas no-one who has lived through or actively resisted it, rather than just read about it in a book, can be in any doubt about the negative effects of so-called estate regeneration schemes. It is time academics cut the umbilical cord of gold that binds them to the funders and employers of their voices, found the courage to denounce estate demolition for what it is, and refuse to give a platform to those who excuse, propagate or implement what is not the gentrification of working-class neighbourhoods but the social cleansing of working-class communities from their homes for profit.

There are, of course, honourable exceptions to this widespread collusion of academia with the violence of London’s estate demolition programme; and since I’m indicting those academics who collaborate with and make excuses for social cleansers, I would also like to cite those who don’t. Professor Jane Rendell, Director of Architectural Research at the Bartlett School of Architecture, made a considerable contribution to the Public Inquiry into the Aylesbury Estate Compulsory Purchase Order with her research into the lies peddled about the Aylesbury Estate demolition and the suppression of the report on its possible refurbishment by Southwark Labour Council. Dr. Paul Watt, Reader in Urban Studies at Birkbeck Collage, works with the Focus E15 Mothers campaign and is one of the few academics not to treat invitations to speak on the housing crisis as an opportunity to plug their latest book. His contribution to the recent Royal Academy conference ‘Forgotten Estates’, exceptionally among academic presentations, insisted on the political dimension, economic rewards and social cost of the housing crisis, with a particular indictment of the role of the Labour Party in implementing the estate demolition programme. And finally, and most exceptionally of all, Dr. Lisa Mckenzie, Research Fellow in Sociology at the London School of Economics, Class War activist and all-round pain in the arse to the Establishment, organised the Resist Festival at which I am speaking today, Her work as a working class scholar and activist has helped to bring class back from its suppression by post-Marxist sociology and place it at the centre of debates and actions on the effects of austerity economics on the housing crisis in Britain.

These three, however – and there are of course more – are very much the exception to the silence and acquiescence of our ‘intellectuals’ to what’s happening in Britain today. Academia has an inglorious history of not standing up to power, so let’s go straight to Godwin’s Law for a comparison. Under the Third Reich, German academics and intellectuals were some of the most advanced in the world, yet their historians invented the lost origins of the German people in an Aryan race of blond-haired blue-eyed supermen; their archaeologists searched for the lost site of the defeat of Caesar’s Legions by ancient Germanic tribes in the Teutoburg Forest; their philosophers identified the historical destiny of the German people in the boundaries of a mythical Fatherland; their eugenicists measured the faces of Jews, Gypsies, Negroes and Slavs to justify their subjection and mass extermination; their doctors conducted medical experiments on the mentally disabled and carried out State-funded programmes of enforced euthanasia; their physicists and engineers designed the most advanced weapons the world had ever seen; their artists and critics championed fascist aesthetics and denounced the degenerate art of cultural bolshevism; and their architects designed the masterplan for Germania, the capital of a thousand year Reich, on the demolition of contemporary Berlin.

Let’s fast forward 80 years to Austerity Britain, a time and a place when central Tory government and local Labour authorities are united in identifying the source of crime, anti-social behaviour and rioting in the architecture of post-war council estates, rather than in the poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and cuts to social services of the communities that inhabit them; when property developers justify building real estate investments for the dirty money of Russian oligarchs, Chinese industrialists and Arab oil sheiks by searching for the lost origins of London in a conservative image of ‘city villages’; when estate agents measure the Net Present Value of working class communities to justify their plans to demolish the homes of hundreds of thousands of Londoners; when hereditary millionaires and CEOs declare poverty to be a personal failing, homelessness a crime, and unemployment solved through unpaid labour in their private companies; when doctors and nurses collaborate in the sanctioning of benefits for our sick and disabled; when scientists and engineers have made Britain the world’s second largest arms dealer in the world; when artists are the avant-garde of social cleansing dressed up as the accelerated gentrification of working-class neighbourhoods; when architects docilely and obediently collude in the demolition of the last remaining housing the working class can afford to live in and their replacement with luxury apartments no-one but the filthy rich can afford to buy; when journalists, TV programmers and entertainment industry executives queue up to propagate every lie, myth and stereotype about council estates and the working class communities that live in them under the direction of their paymasters; and when academics . . . well, we’ve seen today a fairly representative example of what they’re doing. They’re doing what the so-called ‘intellectuals’ of this country always do – they’re closing their eyes, closing their ears, closing ranks and defending their class position. Besides that, what else can they do? Hold another conference? Write another paper? Publish another book?

I have a thesis, which I’d like to submit for my PhD in Housing and Class War at the London School of Economics and Political Science under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Mckenzie. My thesis is this. If there is a point to the utterly pointless existence of academia, it is to speak truth to power, not to fellate it on its slippery passage up the arseholes of the working class.

4. The People’s Court

Since this is supposed to be a festival of actions as well as ideas, I want to end by convening a People’s Court for the indictment of the LSE Four. Let me remind you, for the last time, who they are. The authors of New London Villages: Creating Community, a report commissioned by the Berkeley Group to justify their social cleansing of 5,277 residents from the Ferrier Estate and its replacement with the real estate investment called Kidbrooke Village, are Research Fellow Kath Scanlon, Research Officer Emma Sagor, Professor Christine Whithead, and Research Fellow Alessandro Mossa. I indict all four of these academics at the London School of Economics on the following charges:

  1. Lying about the reality of estate regeneration and perpetuating the myths of sink estates to justify the social cleansing of working-class communities.
  1. Taking the conceptual framework of their research, and specifically the model of ‘city villages’, from the Berkeley Group and passing it off as independently formulated criteria for assessing Kidbrooke Village.
  1. Placing the cultural legitimacy of a London School of Economics report in the service of Tory Government policy, Labour Council lies, and the profits of a property developer.
  1. Accepting financial support for their research from Berkley Homes in order to validate the wished-for conclusions of their financial backers.

If the LSE 4 are found guilty by the People’s Court, in the name of Architects for Social Housing and on behalf of the former residents of the Ferrier Estate, I call for the following punishments:

  1. The immediate sacking of the four authors from their positions at the London School of Economics. It will be instructive to see how they feel about the demolition of council housing when they don’t have a professional salary from one of the UK’s wealthiest academic institutions to pay their mortgages.
  1. A written admission of their culpability on the above charges to be made available for publication. Let’s see how they feel about having their lives and community trashed in the press.
  1. The formal withdrawal of their report from use by the Berkeley Group and the public repudiation of its findings. Perhaps, when they experience what it’s like facing the financial and political muscle of one of the UK’s largest building companies, they’ll discover some sympathy for residents fighting for the homes they recommend demolishing.
  1. The donation of whatever fees they received from the Berkeley Group to a housing support fund available to residents of the former Ferrier Estate, to which we invite the London School of Economics to make further donations.

This concludes the case for the prosecution.

At the conclusion of this indictment witnesses were called for the defence, but none stepped forward. And although invited in advance to appear before the People’s Court, none of the indicted were present, so they were tried in absentia. After a brief deliberation, and by a unanimous jury, a verdict of guilty for all four defendants was returned by the People’s Court. We therefore call on the London School of Economics to execute this judgement.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

With thanks to L.G. for the research on the Ferrier Estate, to Lisa Mckenzie for inviting me to speak at Resist, and to Andrew Cooper for the illustration.