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London won't be cleansed

Yesterday, Professor Loretta Lees and Dr Hannah White hosted a conference called 'Can we afford to lose council housing?'

Cambridge House in Camberwell yesterday opened its doors to academics, barristers, journalists, architects, politicians and other Londoners for a day of discussions about council housing, gentrification and the Housing Bill.

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The agenda was quite ambitious, combining research from London's council estates being 'regenerated' (eg the Aylesbury, Woodberry Down), legal take on the Housing Bill, alternatives to the sell-off and demolition of council estates etc.

Jamie Burton, of Doughty Street Chambers, spoke about the Housing Bill as it is at present - the proposed bill has very little detail, detail is meant to be developed at a later stage, which would in turn mean that, as it wouldn't be primary legislation, it would not get as much scrutiny as needed; the 'redefining' of council estates as 'brownfield' (usually used for land which would need to be decontaminated before it can be used again; implication of extending 'brownfield' to include people living on the estates says it all); if the Bill is passed, this could mean a loss of some 88,000 council homes by 2020; adding, at some point, how children would not be able to inherit their parents' homes which made us think of poor Charles and Andrew and Edward etc*.

Cllr Richard Livingstone, Southwark's Cabinet Member for Housing, was given an opportunity to speak with the people present; what he did instead was attempted to peddle the usual fluff about the 11,000 council homes Southwark was building, the evil Tory government which is making them do bad things etc. He didn't get very far, and was challenged throughout his 'party political broadcast'. He was challenged about the Savills' assessment of Southwark's council stock (part 1 and part 2) and got to publicly declare Southwark was not going to demolish the 4,000 homes which have negative Net Present Value. Considering Southwark councillors will say whatever whenever, this too has to be taken with a pinch of salt. The fact that Southwark has, to date, built the whole of 152 new council homes (out of the 11,000), did not impress anyone much, not in the context of, say, 1,200 council homes demolished on former Heygate which are to be replaced with the whole of 79 social housing homes etc.

The not so curious case of Peter John

One of the residents read out a couple of quotes from an article by Cllr Peter John OBE (leader of Southwark Council), in which 'our glorious leader' agrees with David Cameron PM's (of the evil Tory government which is making Southwark 'Labour' council do bad things) assessment of 'sink estates': “The prime minister’s description of the problems confronting many of those living on the brutalist estates built in the 1960s and 1970s is accurate. Some estates became and remain symbols of inner-city neglect, with crime, antisocial behaviour, health inequalities and unemployment the only things that flourished there. Quite often the most brutal estates do not make the best use of the land they occupy...The reasons for each of the regeneration programmes are similar, and echo Cameron’s diagnosis. Both were brutal system-built postwar estates which had fallen into disrepair, both had become hard to let to council tenants, and reinforced poverty, crime and inequality. Basic design failures led to lengthy and costly failures of the district heating systems they relied upon, and created isolation rather than community.” A few days ago, on twitter, Cllr John had a go at Anna Minton, author of this article, accusing her of 'lazy journalism' (which has become Cllr John's shorthand for 'any one article in the Guardian not praising Southwark Labour for their 'regeneration' achievements)

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Cllr John, incidentally, lives in a luxury block owned by an off-shore company.

The afternoon sessions included presentations by the fantastic Architects4Social Housing and Professor Jane Rendell. Some of the issues raised in the open discussion were communication (many people are still not aware of the scale of what's happening); suggestion that social cleansing and transferral of public assets into private hands pre-empts the current government's recent onslaught, creating/promoting dialogue (impossible with 'crumb-givers'?), the local authority incompetencies, lack of transparency, which mean residents have to dig and dig and dig to get to the detailed information needed; how we are defining what's happening, ie whether 'gentrification' was worse/different than 'social cleansing'; support Cambridge House could provide to residents and housing campaigners (Cambridge House will be publishing the podcast of the event as well as links to the reports presented as soon as practical), etc.

Although the answer to the 'Can we afford to lose council housing' was clearly 'No', many other questions continue to demand further thoughts and actions.

See also:

Resisting evictions across Europe

Cambridge House hosts urgent conference on housing crisis

* not really

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