'London’s housing crisis' by guest speaker Anna Minton
Why are council estates in London being demolished at a time of housing crisis, replaced by luxury flats that most Londoners cannot afford to live in? This question is central to the work of writer Anna Minton.
Anna, whom we were delighted to welcome as guest speaker at our AGM on 9 November, is reader in architecture at the University of East London and the author of the acclaimed study Big Capital: Who Is London For?, published this year by Penguin. Speaking to an audience of Green Party members and supporters at Camberwell Library, Anna gave a powerful presentation, looking at the impact of the huge sums of money from overseas that have washed up in our city since the financial crisis. For these foreign investors, property is the commodity asset of choice, and London is, in effect, their tax haven.
What does this have to do with us in Southwark? Plenty, it turns out – because investors’ appetite for luxury housing is the driving force behind the so-called regeneration that is transforming areas such as Elephant and Castle, the Old Kent Road, and the Aylesbury estate in Walworth. Unfairly branded by politicians and the media as “sink estates”, council housing is being swept away in a state-led gentrification, based on the “rent gap” – the difference between what the land is worth under public ownership and its potential value when sold to private developers.
Councils such as Southwark, Anna explained, have adopted ideas pioneered by the Labour peer and former cabinet minister Lord Adonis, who has called for all London’s council estates to undergo regeneration. “There are particularly large concentrations of council-owned land in inner London,” Adonis noted, “and this is some of the highest-priced land in the world.”
In practice, Southwark Council has not always unlocked this value when selling off its land. The Heygate estate at Elephant and Castle, for example, was sold to Australian developer Lendlease for £50m – roughly ten times less than its market value, and about the same as it cost the council to clear the estate. There were more than 1,000 council homes on the Heygate; today, only 82 out of almost 2,500 new homes are let at council rents.
Even before regeneration, public housing was being eroded by the right-to-buy policy introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s. Right-to-buy – now scrapped in Scotland and Wales but not in England – has left 40% of former council homes in the hands of private landlords. Councils desperately short of homes now lease back the properties they once owned, at rents up to four times higher than council rents, to house homeless residents.
It is hardly surprising, Anna added, that London is “moving towards a third-world scenario”, with tenants in the private sector paying 50% or more of their income in rent, and people on low incomes – many of them key workers – forced to move away from inner-city areas like Southwark.
To get out of this mess, future UK governments will have to curb property speculation and take back control of markets. We have much to learn from other countries, which use measures such as land taxes to recoup value. And building new council homes, not luxury flats, will be a crucial part of any solution. “We need to build housing outside of the market,” Anna concluded, “and end our obsession with home ownership. If the political will is there, we can reform housing.”
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Southwark Greens support the cross-party local campaign for a tube station at the Bricklayer’s Arms.
At a well-supported demonstration on Saturday 4 November, Peter Wright from Living Streets demolished the claim that it would be ‘too close’ to other tube stations – it’s farther to any of the nearby stations than the average distance on the Bakerloo line. Simon Hughes pointed out that the original plans for the Jubilee line didn’t include a stop at Southwark – now a very busy station. Caroline Pidgeon pointed out that major investment and disruption are already proposed for the construction of a ventilation shaft - constructing a station would be a relatively small additional cost. And a tube station need not be a large building, since most of the business happens below ground – Bermondsey tube station is a good example of this.
Eleanor Margolies from Southwark Green Party affirmed the local party’s support for a station at Bricklayer’s Arms and asked for it to be set in the context of local travel needs. She said:
Look around at this roundabout to see just how much space is given over to motorised vehicles here. It’s hostile to people on foot, on bicycle. It’s also toxic – with illegal levels of air pollution. If you or anyone you know suffers from asthma, heart or lung disease, and children – they are being affected right now.
We need transport solutions that work for people living here today, not the promise that stations will be subsidised by new private housing further down the Old Kent Road. The residents who are living here now need healthy infrastructure.
Everyone who uses the Bricklayer’s Arms station is going to get here on foot, or by using a wheelchair, a pushchair, a bus or a bike. The station needs to be linked up to other improvements in this area.
1) protected cycle lanes the whole length of the Old Kent Road
2) Boris bike stations all the way down to New Cross and east of Tower Bridge
3) clean buses
So that people will be able to mix and match their transport, come to Bricklayer’s Arms station on the tube and then hop on a bus or walk home safely with attractive, safe pavements and crossings.’
Check out the current pollution levels on the Old Kent Road here
So far in 2017, the levels of PM10 particulates have exceeded a daily average of 50 microgrammes per metre cubed on more than 19 occasions.
Southwark Green Party at the Greens’ autumn conference in Harrogate, 7 to 10 October 2017
This was an occasion that injected a new spring into the steps of all those who were there, and we left with a fresh sense of purpose. Here is my personal view.
Last week, Green London Assembly member Caroline Russell delivered on our behalf our petition to the Mayor, asking for buses through Camberwell Green to be replaced with electric, hydrogen or hybrid buses. The petition got 525 signatures in total (online and on paper). Thanks to everyone who signed, tweeted and helped collect signatures -
The South London Press also published the results of our nitrogen dioxide monitoring. Out of 20 sites, only two were within the legal limit - and one of these, Camberwell Grove, has no through traffic at the moment.
Photo: John Tyson
We joined Thames 21 for the Big Bottle Count on Saturday 2 September. We picked up and counted plastic bottles, clear bottles for still water, fizzy drinks bottles, and milk bottles. Then we picked up a lot of plastic, mostly brightly coloured broken fragments gleaming against the pebbles and gravel. Here's a list of some of the things we found...
Southwark Green Party has serious concerns about the escalating situation for residents on the Ledbury Estate in Peckham.
Safety issues on the estate were first raised over 30 years ago, and the blocks have since been the subject of reports by industry experts. While we recognise that control of the council has changed over the years, and mistakes made in the past are not the responsibility of the current leadership, it should not have taken the tragedy of Grenfell Tower for Council leaders to acknowledge problems on the Ledbury.
Residents have been without hot water and proper cooking facilities since 10 August. They should not have to heat water on a stove or with kettles to have a bath, or travel to a sports centre to use showers.
Although the gas supply to the flats has been turned off, the fire safety issues raised in the immediate aftermath of Grenfell remain unresolved. Electrical faults started the fire at Grenfell and also at Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009. Compartmentalisation has been breached in the Ledbury flats, and residents continue to live in unsafe conditions.
While the Council has promised to give priority to Ledbury residents who wish to be rehoused, the alternative accommodation on offer has in some instances proved unfit for human habitation. Furthermore, the Council’s pledge is unrealistic. There is a housing crisis in Southwark, with at least 2,000 people already on the waiting list for homes (based on figures from 2013). Council estates have been sold off to private developers, and rents on the new homes that have replaced social housing are unaffordable to local people. Southwark Green Party believes that the borough-wide target for new development to provide a minimum of 35% genuinely affordable housing is much too low, and should be nearer 50%.
We welcome the statement made by Southwark Council leader Peter John at his meeting with Ledbury residents on 23 August that the land on which the Ledbury stands will remain as council housing. However, we believe the council can and must do more to help residents. We have been appalled by the attitudes of some housing officers – which has in certain cases bordered on harassment. This cannot go on. Council employees should have clear instructions from senior management to treat residents with respect, work with them and keep them fully informed of all decisions. The residents are paying for their homes, and deserve to be given a decent level of service. They have organised, coming together as a group, rightly bringing their demands to the Council, and yet are dealt with one by one, effectively undermining the community. Cllr John has been quoted in the media as saying that residents are satisfied with the Council’s treatment, but the residents themselves have confirmed that this is just not the case.
We call on Cllr John and Cllr Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for housing, to confirm that residents who have chosen to move off the Ledbury since 10 August have the right to return to their homes, regardless of whether they have received “home loss” compensation from the Council.
As the Ledbury Action Group points out, Southwark Council is being given an opportunity to prove that it is not like Kensington & Chelsea, the local authority that failed the Grenfell residents so grievously. The 2009 Lakanal fire was, tragically, a warning that went unheeded by Kensington & Chelsea and by central government, but Southwark’s current leadership is in a unique position to show that it has learnt from the mistakes made by its predecessors. It is not too late for it to demonstrate this in its handling of the Ledbury crisis.
Handing in the petition on 22 August (left to right): Dave Lewis, of Sceaux Gardens TRA and a witness of the Lakanal House fire; Sian Berry, Green London Assembly Member; John Tyson (Southwark Green Party), who started the petition.
After the Grenfell fire, Green activist John Tyson started a petition aimed at getting the Department for Communities and Local Government to implement the findings from the Lakanal fire inquest.
Recommendations from the report include:
- use of fire resistant materials
- regular fire assessments
- providing residents with full instructions about what to do in the event of a fire.
The petition has received over 104,000 signatures, from people up and down the UK.
On 22 August, John delivered the petition to the Department for Communities and Local Government, with the support of Green London Assembly member Sian Berry. You can still sign it to keep up the pressure.
On Saturday 1 July, Green Party members from Southwark joined thousands of people from across the UK at a march on Parliament organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity to demand an end to Theresa May’s minority government.
Many of the protesters carried placards calling for justice for victims of Grenfell Tower, and a minute’s silence was held to remember them. Speakers at Westminster included the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack and the Green Party’s Siân Berry, who chairs the London Assembly’s housing committee.
Siân spoke powerfully about the need for councils to listen to their tenants, noting that the “appalling attitude” displayed in the Grenfell disaster was a problem for Labour as well as the Tories. Name-checking the Aylesbury in Southwark, among other estates where council homes are being demolished, she told the crowd: “I want to hear some solid words from Jeremy Corbyn about the conduct of Labour councils.” You can listen to her full speech here.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. … Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. - John Donne, 1624
This is a day of shock and deep sadness. Our hearts go out to all those affected by last night's tragic events. Thank you to Southwark's emergency services, who responded with such speed and bravery, and to the countless Southwark residents who offered shelter and support.
Today we are remembering the seven people killed yesterday at London Bridge, the injured and affected. We also remember Abdirahman Mohamed, a boy of 17 who was fatally stabbed on Southampton Way on Friday night.
We will be meeting at 2pm in Camberwell to have a space to talk. Please feel free to join us there.
At 5pm, we will come together to share a moment of silence for the victims in the Peace Garden outside the Imperial War Museum. This is open to all who wish to attend.
If you are concerned about friends, relatives, or anyone else that may have been affected then please contact the Casualty Bureau on 0800 096 1233 or 020 7158 0197. Any images or videos of events can be sent to the Metropolitan Police.