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29 October 2014

Southwark Labour demolishes homes

Bill Mullins, Southwark TUSC

No-one would oppose building more council houses. But is Southwark council really going to deliver on its latest promise of "11,000 new council homes over the next 30 years"? Where will they be, will they really be publicly owned, and what will happen to existing tenants?

The Southwark Group of Tenants' Organisations (SGTO) recently organised a meeting on the plans. Over 100 people from across the south London borough heard angry speeches against Labour proposals to break up long established communities.

Southwark is supposed to have the third biggest stock of council homes in the country - and still there are 18,000 on the waiting list. Council plans amount to 367 new builds a year, which hardly scratches the surface of the problem.

The meeting was sceptical of Labour's promise, given its record. Southwark recently demolished an entire estate, Heygate, and is due to knock down a second, Aylesbury. Both were near Elephant and Castle - a prime development area for private landlords.

Property fair

In fact, Southwark advertised its 11,000 new homes at an international property fair as a mixture of public and private. Community campaigners and housing workers organised in Unite campaigned against the fair in London. In some cases they successfully challenged councils not to attend, and closed it down a few weeks ago.

The Heygate redevelopment includes only 79 'social' homes - none of which are actually council homes, which means higher rents and charges. Council tenants were displaced across the borough. Leaseholders were offered sums they had no hope of buying replacements with - and told they could move to Kent for new homes.

On the Aylesbury, 500 social homes are being built - but that means an overall loss of 900 social homes compared to now. Estate residents rejected plans by 73% on a turnout of 75% - but the council is still going ahead!

Steve, an estate resident in the next door borough of Lambeth, related what happened when his Labour council demolished his estate and handed it over to private developers.

"We were promised 300 social housing units by the new developers. But because we were no longer under council democratic control, the problems got worse. The whole scheme was built under PFI. The new company gave electric cookers to the tenants in the new built homes, but would not allow any gas cookers - which meant more expenses, and acted against those who required big pots to cook in. When the cookers broke down the company said residents should be grateful and it was not the company's problem."


For the previous council leaseholders, the problems were even worse. Some still has 50,000 or more to pay on their mortgages, but the banks refused to accept the new build homes as collateral - and foreclosed on them. The council offered such low compensation that they were forced to leave the area.

Trade unionists and TUSC supporters at the meeting challenged Richard Livingstone, the council's cabinet member for housing, on Labour's policies. He had no answers other than flat contradictions and blatant denials of the facts.

TUSC proposed tenants make an electoral challenge against Labour as well as campaigning in the community. They would be welcome to stand under the TUSC umbrella with other community and housing campaigns fighting the cuts consensus.

SGTO plans to lobby the council on 18 November with a six point programme in response to the council's plans. The group is also supporting a demonstration in Southwark on 31 January.

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