Scheming Schemes: A Street View of Social Cleansing

We’re re-blogging this piece from ASH as we feel it will be of interest to the numerous Hammers fans living across the region we cover. It’s a long read but worth the effort as it shows how the gentrifiers have appropriated the football culture of West Ham United, sanitised it and used it as a marketing tool while trashing it at the same time!

architectsforsocialhousing

I’m dreaming dreams, I’m scheming schemes,
I’m building castles high.
They’re born anew, their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
And as the daylight is dawning,
They come again in the morning!

– Jaan Kenbrovin, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (1918)

There’s been a lot in the papers and on social media lately about West Ham football fans and how much they hate their new ground in the London Stadium. This culminated in the recent pitch invasion and protests during the Hammers’ home defeat to Burnley in March, when hundreds of angry fans demanded the removal of the board that oversaw the club’s move in August 2016 after 108 years at Upton Park. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who last year had to take back control of the management of the stadium after it was revealed that the move has cost the public £300 million – the same cost…

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Havering Tories and dog whistle politics

The Tories in Havering have produced a leaflet that has generated a lot of controversy: Labour condemns Tories for racially charged attack on Sadiq Khan. This example of dog whistle politics is so over the top, it almost reads as a parody of itself!

Let’s unpack this leaflet… The first bullet point refers to ‘massive population increases from London’. Havering has been a London borough ever since the creation of Greater London on 1st April 1965. What they fear is movement from inner to outer London. Funny that, because a lot of the housing built in Havering from the start of the 20th century onwards was to facilitate the desire of people to move out from the crowded streets of inner London to the suburbs. This is something that has been going on for over a century! When the Tories talk about ‘massive population increases’, they are dropping a not very subtle hint that some of those moving out may be of a different ethnicity to the white, 50 years plus demographic they’re targeting for votes. This is classic dog whistle politics in action.

The second bullet point talks about vast numbers of high rise blocks. In case the Tories in Havering hadn’t noticed, there’s this transport link called Crossrail running all the way from Reading in the west through to Shenfield in the east and passing right through Romford. There’s this thing called the ‘Crossrail effect’ which is boosting property prices all the way along the route and fuelling the development of clusters of apartment developments aimed at people commuting into London. You would have thought that rising property prices and the potential nest eggs they could provide would be good news for the Baby Boomer demographic the Tories are targeting with this leaflet.

What the leaflet fails to mention is why there’s such pressure to release land for housing development in Havering. Central and inner London has block after block of high end luxury apartments that are nowhere near fully occupied and whose function is to act as investment vehicles for the super rich who buy and sell them for a profit. Developments which were warmly welcomed by none other than the previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. So, it would seem that Havering Tories are railing against developments that are pretty much a direct consequence of the policies of Boris Johnson! When you have housing in central London built to function as an asset instead of providing somewhere for ordinary Londoners to live, it’s not surprising there’s such pressure on locations such as Romford for housing developments where people can actually live.

All the way along the estuary, local authorities are being asked to identify land that can be released for development to meet government designated housing targets. If local authorities fail to come up with a plan to identify land suitable for housing, central government have said they will intervene and undertake the task themselves. In effect, the Tories in Havering are questioning the housing policies of their Tory government – just take some time to think about that one because you couldn’t make this up!

The third bullet point talks about ‘building on our cherished open spaces’. If there were schemes to concrete over spaces such as Raphaels Park, Bedfords Park and the like, it would be understandable if people were getting outraged. If there was any hint of a threat to those spaces, we’d be joining in with the outrage! From what we understand, a lot of the high density apartment blocks scheduled for Romford are going onto brownfield sites. Also, as they’re apartment blocks, by their very nature, they’ll be going upwards and will have a relatively small footprint. Yes, there are issues with infill proposals in some neighbourhoods which are posing a threat to loved and used recreational spaces and residents are rightly opposing those and by and large, we would support their efforts to resist this.

Then there’s ‘Havering ruled by Mayor Khan’. Now, as anarchists and housing activists, we don’t have a lot of time for any mayor of London, regardless of political affiliation, who they are or where they’re from. However, this statement has to be taken apart and shown up for what it is. As we’ve stated before, Havering has been a part of Greater London since 1965. As part of what is now the Greater London Authority, Havering like every other London borough is subject to the policy decisions of the elected mayor which happens to be Sadiq Khan. The Mayor of London has a policy remit that’s more of an overview of Greater London than day to day interference in what goes in in each and every London borough. Okay, it’s obvious what’s going on here…it’s the Tories playing on the fears of a certain section of their target demographic about someone with a ‘foreign sounding’ name having a say in how their lives are run. Even though Sadiq Khan was born and raised in south London. Again, this is classic dog whistle politics…

To be honest, when we saw this leaflet on someone’s Facebook page, our initial reaction was this has to be a spoof as it has so many holes in it. A couple of minutes of checking proved that it wasn’t a spoof and was the real deal. At the start of this piece we jokingly said this leaflet reads as a parody of itself. On a more serious note, this is a real throwback to the kind of reactionary rhetoric we used to see thirty or more years ago. The fact the Tories in Havering feel confident about putting this out is an indication of how reactionary the political and social climate is becoming. We have a lot of work to do to counter this…

Campaigners call for a ‘People’s Newham’ as Robin Wales is voted out.

A set of demands we can fully endorse…we’ll be doing our level best to get into Newham when we can to support this campaign:)

Focus E15 Campaign

On Saturday 17 March, Focus E15 campaigners celebrated the news of Robin Wales’ deselection by riding through the streets of  Newham in a open-topped bus. The bus was draped with placards, banners and flags displaying clear political messages about the lack of social housing in the borough. Campaigners sang out the good news that the Mayor had been deselected, chanting in unison ‘Robin Wales has gone -so long so long’ and received many thumbs up and happy waves from Newham residents amazed at the sight of a bus load of campaigners. There were many joyful beeps and hoots from supportive motorists.  Back on board the bus, exhilarating live drumming kept the freezing temperatures at bay as did the constant chanting of ‘Robin Wales is Out’ all set to the sound of popping champagne corks and loud cheering.

This celebratory mood is understandable as the Labour Mayor Robin Wales has been…

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Tragedy

SKIPP press release (23-03-18)

We read with horror in today’s Echo (23rd March) that a man has been found dead in a Southend town centre public toilet. The council, police and press have labelled him as homeless as if he doesn’t matter and is somehow less than human because he had nowhere to shelter apart from a public loo. But he was not just homeless, he was a person, a human being the same as everyone else in our town.

It is to our town’s collective shame that we are seemingly just sitting back and accepting the fact that people in his situation are going to die alone and in squalor in a public bog. This may seem like a harsh statement pointing the figure of blame at the whole town, however, we live in a democracy and it is the people of this town that are responsible for electing and maintaining the current council administration in power. This is the same administration that’s response to the huge homeless situation we face is to spend £75,000 on employing consultants to investigate the situation. Maybe if they were proposing to spend that £75,000 on actually doing something rather than just talking about doing something then it might help to prevent further tragedies.

We are not naive enough to think that a mere £75,000 could solve the homeless problem, however this money could actually be used to help save people’s lives if it was given directly to the homeless shelters, service providers and soup kitchens which are run by people who are actually trying to do something to help, rather than just paying lip service to the problem by “investigating” the situation.

Given the very limited resources that the council are willing to spend to deal with the homeless situation we have to accept that all we can afford is a sticking plaster for the wound rather than a cure for the problem, however, it is no good buying the sticking plaster and then just throwing it in the bin.

Finally please remember, the majority of people living in our town are only a few missed rent or mortgage payments away from being in the same desperate situation as the ever growing number of homeless people in our town.

The SKIPP Committee
Patsy Link
Sheena Walker
Mark Sharp

Wave goodbye to Robin Wales – unpopular Mayor is deselected by Newham Labour!

Good feckin’ riddance to him and his agenda of social cleansing. Focus E15 can rightly chalk this one up as a battle won in the war:)

Focus E15 Campaign

Finally! Robin Wales has been deselected as mayoral candidate for Newham Labour after a tense battle against Rokshana Fiaz, who will now go on to face the electorate in the local elections in May and won by over 350 votes. The news of his deselection was announced on Friday 16 March 2018.  It was Robin Wales, who told the original group of 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel (after cutting the funding to the mother and baby unit) that “if you can’t afford to live in Newham, then you can’t afford to live in Newham”. Robin Wales has been in charge of Newham council for 23 years as he was head of the Council from 1995 and Labour Mayor since 2002. He has been an unpopular and unreachable figure. He spent decades promoting policies that has led to social cleansing, forcing working class people out of the borough whilst leaving…

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Basildon Council couldn’t organise a committee meeting in a theatre…

So…they’re now having to organise the meeting of the Infrastructure, Growth and Development Committee at the Basildon Sporting Village, the largest available venue in the borough – Local Plan meeting will now take place at Basildon Sporting Village. The meeting, whose purpose is to recommend the Local Plan, will take place on Monday March 19th starting at 7pm. A decision on this plan will be made at a full council meeting to be held on Thursday March 22nd starting at 7.30pm. This meeting will also be held at the Basildon Sporting Village.

As we mentioned in our previous post – Interesting developments in Basildon – the council were well and truly caught on the hop on Tuesday March 13th by the sheer number of people who turned up at the Towngate Theatre wanting to hear what the committee was going to decide about the future growth of Basildon. It looks as though the council have taken note of this display of people power and realised that, very late in the day, they need to open up their proceedings to as many of their residents as possible, hence the change of venue to the Basildon Sporting Village.

This sudden desire by Basildon Council to open up their deliberations on a Local Plan that will have an impact on everyone living and working in the borough will make them look like they have listened to the people but, apart from some hassle in switching venues, it’s not going to cost them. There may be a few tweaks made here and there but we suspect that the Local Plan will end up being rubber stamped before going to the full council meeting on the 22nd. Failure by Basildon Council to approve this plan means that central government could well intervene to impose their targets for housebuilding on the area. Being blunt, what people are now being invited to witness is little more than a rubber stamping exercise on plans that have pretty much been finalised.

Such is the nature of our ‘democracy’. Plans are drawn up with the aid of a few ‘consultation’ exercises along the way where variations of an option are presented for residents to comment on before the process goes to the next stage. Discussions about who the new housing is for, what infrastructure will be put in place to support the extra population and the numerous other legitimate concerns that residents have, are superficial at best. If this process was fully inclusive of the residents, it’s safe to say that there would be a much higher proportion of genuinely affordable homes for the next generation of residents planned than is currently being proposed. At the end of the day, if Basildon Council can’t agree on this plan, then central government will wade in to impose what they deem to be an appropriate target for housebuilding. Democracy in action? We think not…

Yes, we should welcome the decision by Basildon Council to open up their deliberations to residents, even if it is a late in the day token gesture. We welcome it because it shows that even Basildon Council can, with enough pressure, be persuaded to change their minds about how they’re seen to come to make important decisions. However, as mentioned in our previous post, it has to be born in mind that the people who turned up at the Towngate on March 13th and those who will turn up at the Basildon Sporting Village on the 19th and 22nd will have a number of varying agendas.

Obviously, there will be many with legitimate concerns, particularly about provision of the physical and social infrastructure that will be needed to support the extra population. However, there will be a NIMBY element there as well, some with not just parochial but also reactionary assumptions. If this element with their prejudices are allowed to dominate the proceedings on the 19th and 22nd, then an opportunity to exercise some genuine, progressive grassroots pressure will have been lost. We will be following developments closely and hope to have contacts at these meetings to report back and help us comment and reflect on the proceedings and their consequences. Watch this space for future updates…

Interesting developments in Basildon

On the evening of Tuesday 13th March, the Infrastructure, Growth and Development Committee of Basildon Council was due to meet at the Towngate Theatre to discuss the borough’s local plan and potentially approve the plan so it could be presented to the full council on March 22nd. Normally, council committee meetings will only attract a scattering of those willing to spend an evening listening to councillors and officers talking about what may seem to be quite arcane issues. That was not the case on Tuesday 13th March when queues stretched around the Towngate ahead of the meeting with the venue reaching its 200 capacity leaving 350 people standing outside. See here for the full story in the Echo: Vital meeting on Basildon’s housing plan postponed as 350 left out in the cold

Suffice to say the meeting was adjourned and has been rescheduled for the 19th March in what the council think will be a larger venue. Is this surge of interest in the future development of Basildon a positive development? An initial analysis suggests that the answer is yes…and no… Yes because any indication that people care about the future of the town they live in and want a say in how that’s planned is a healthy sign they’re not prepared to leave matters to councillors and council officers any longer and want a genuine say. Yes because Basildon Council got a shock on Tuesday 13th March as they did not expect such a high level of interest in their deliberations and were totally overwhelmed by what happened. Hopefully, this may cause some of them to reflect on how they have failed to fully engage residents in the process and that they need to completely rethink how they go about this. Although to be honest, given the way local governance is structured at the moment, we’re not going to be holding our breath waiting for this to happen…

While more homes are needed, people are rightly asking questions as to who they are for? From what we’ve seen of the plans so far, what has been planned will make scant impact on the waiting list for social housing on Basildon. A waiting list that has been rigged so that the numbers on it have been substantially reduced. Most of what is planned is private housing, a fair chunk of which is being pitched towards those working in London but have been forced to look further afield to buy somewhere as a result of the skewed property market in the capital. Understandably there are concerns about provision of the necessary infrastructure needed to support an increased population. We’re talking about roads, public transport provision, schools, doctors, dentists…the list goes on. It always seems to be the case that the housing gets built first and the infrastructure always struggles to catch up afterwards. While many people recognise there is a housing crisis that needs to be resolved, they’re not at all convinced that local authorities and government have the answers to it.

While we broadly welcome the display of people power that manifested itself at the Towngate on Tuesday March 13th there is a potential downside to this… Namely the NIMBY element who refuse to look at the bigger picture which includes the distortion of the property market in London as a result of the global super rich parking their ill gotten gains in block after block of empty apartments to be flipped for a profit while ordinary Londoners are forced out of the capital. A NIMBY element that so long as developments are banished from their areas, have no qualms about them taking place elsewhere. The talk of a larger number of people from Billericay coming down to the rescheduled meeting on March 19th suggests that the NIMBY element is mobilising to secure their interests without any regard for the bigger picture. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this situation and doing what we can to influence it so it is a genuine display of people power as opposed to a smaller group of NIMBYs.