Focus E15 Still Going Strong

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Focus E15’s use of banners and slogans during their occupation of the Carpenters Estate in 2014 inspired many who followed in their wake.

The Focus E15 campaign was born in September 2013 when a group of young mothers were served eviction notices by East Thames Housing Association after Newham Council cut its funding to the Focus E15 hostel for young homeless people. When they approached the Council for help, the mothers were advised that, due to cuts to housing benefit and the lack of affordable housing in London, they would have accept private rented accommodation as far away as Manchester, Hastings and Birmingham if they wanted rehousing.

This attempt by Newham Council to displace the mothers from London, removing them and their children from their families and local support networks, is just one example of a city-wide process of social cleansing, with low income people being forced to the fringes of London and beyond by soaring rents, benefit cuts, and a shortage of social housing. This prompted the mothers to get organised and demand social housing, not social cleansing!

In the year since its inception, the campaign has gone from strength to strength, with a weekly stall in Stratford, an occupation of Newham Council’s housing office, and a march of several hundred supporters to Newham Town Hall all contributing towards the mothers’ growing national profile. The campaign has been a thorn in the side of unsympathetic Mayor of Newham Robin Wales, whose aggressive behaviour  was the subject of an internal investigation after a complaint was sent to the council about the way he treated Focus E15 campaigners at the Newham Mayor’s Show in July 2014.

On September 21st 2014, the Focus E15 campaign celebrated its first birthday with an occupation of a disused block of flats on the nearly empty Carpenters Estate in Stratford, East London. This action draws attention to the fact that people are being forced out of London due to a lack of affordable housing while thousands of perfectly good social housing units sit empty. The occupied flats were opened to the public and ran as a social centre for two weeks, with an evolving program of daily events, including workshops, meetings, and music and comedy gigs.

The campaign continues to meet weekly in Stratford. More actions are planned. In the words of Jasmin and Sam ‘This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis’.

The words here come from Focus E15’s About page, this is their website: https://focuse15.org/

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Save Aylesbury Estate in Southwark

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Banner protest against the redevelopment of the Aylesbury Estate in South London, spring 2015.

We need funds to ensure that an important victory for residents of council estates across the country is not lost. These are residents whose estates face the threat of regeneration, regenerations that will see their homes lost and demolished.

In September 2016 leaseholders fighting one such regeneration, of the Aylesbury estate, South London, won a landmark decision, when their local authority, Southwark Council, was refused the compulsory purchase order it needed to demolish their homes. However, that decision was quashed after Southwark took High Court action and the leaseholders now face a second gruelling public inquiry.

The original decision was given by Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government, after a seven day public inquiry. Mr Javid held that Southwark had, amongst other things, breached of the leaseholders’ human rights and failed to fulfil its duty towards people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. When Southwark mounted its legal challenge, he pledged to defend it ‘robustly’, but unfortunately he did not do so, preferring to quash his own decision and announcing a second public inquiry, due to begin in October.

The Aylesbury leaseholders and their supporters have raised over £9000 to date, spent supporting the Secretary of State decision and in defence of their own homes. A request to the Secretary of State to reimburse these costs and allow the leaseholders to employ the legal help it needs for the second public inquiry has been refused.

We are therefore now appealing for funds pay to for a barrister to represent the objectors at the second public inquiry and associated legal costs.

By making a contribution you would be helping the fight against the privatisation of council estates and the displacement and destruction of local communities.

The Aylesbury leaseholders’ success in resisting Southwark’s attempts to throw them out of their homes has given hope to many others , both leaseholders and tenants – not just on the Aylesbury but on estates everywhere, who face the threat of regeneration.

The fundraiser is here: https://www.gofundme.com/aylesbury-the-right-to-a-community-2uefgf2s

How Development Creep Works

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Protest at Lendlease Elephant & Castle showroom: “the ruins of the Heygate will come back to haunt you”

Lendlease is certainly not the only developer doing lucrative gentrification deals with city authorities. But not many manage to pull off such breathtaking schemes on opposite sides of the world at once. The Elephant & Castle (London) and Barangaroo (Sydney) developments are both textbook examples of ‘development creep’: in which an initially “public interest” project morphs over time into a private profit goldmine. Here we recap a few key features in both deals:

1) Win people over. This stage involves architects and consultants working with the local authority and carrying out public consultation, to draw up people-friendly proposals including improved public space, social housing and other amenities. Anyone objecting at this point can be made to look paranoid.

In Barangaroo: the original plan launched in 2005 featured over 50% public park including the whole shoreline, and no buildings over 92 metres.

In Elephant: the 2004 masterplan featured 1,200 “social rented” homes to replace the number on the Heygate Estate, as well as a new theatre, museum, library and secondary school.

2) Make gradual changes. Once the developer is appointed, the initial plan is changed to make more money. Changes can be introduced gradually, one ‘creeping’ step at a time. It is near impossible now to get rid of the developer.

In Barangaroo: there have been eight waves of proposed modifications, between them almost doubling the amount of saleable floorspace, dramatically reducing the public space, and adding three luxury residential towers and a skyscraper casino-hotel.

In Elephant: the actual Lendlease scheme now only has 74 social rented flats plus 500 at so-called “affordable” rents. The theatre, museum, library and school are forgotten – but there is a hipster “box park”.

3) Batter down the arguments. There are numerous ways changes can be justified, and whole teams of consultants may be employed writing lengthy reports to do so. For example, changes may be necessary for “financial viability”. Also, developers and authorities may back down on a few of the more outrageous proposals, which makes it seem like resisters have won concessions and developers are being reasonable.

In Barangaroo: Lendlease’s first big shock was proposing a skyscraper hotel built into the bay itself, against public shoreline planes. They backed down on this plan after serious opposition resistance – before introducing the even bigger casino-hotel proposal, albeit away from the shoreline.

In Elephant: the viability assessment, released after a three year legal battle, showed affordable housing cuts were based on the “need” to give Lendlease a 25% profit on the deal.

4) Get the politicians on side. But ultimately, it’s not moaning residents who make the decisions, but their elected leaders. They can even change rules or grant special exemptions if necessary.

In Barangaroo: not only planning and affordable housing policies, but regulations on gambling, smoking and late night drinking, were changed or exempted for the Lendlease scheme.

In Elephant: Southwark council’s rules on 35% affordable housing were repeatedly overidden by council bodies, including allowing zero affordable housing in the “One The Elephant” tower which made Lendlease over £70 million profit.

5) Make friends in every party. The process takes years, and political power can change hands in the meantime, so clever developers may aim to win over politicians from different sides.

In Barangaroo: Australia’s Labour Party lost the New South Wales election in 2011, ceding control to the Liberal Party. Their leader Barry O’Farrell promised a review of the development, which called for some minor amendments but left the planning approvals unchanged. Bridie Jabour, writing in The Guardian, has documented how Lendlease’s casino-mogul partner James Packer of Crown Resorts has employed NSW Labour figures Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib as lobbyists, while appointing former Liberal senator Helen Coonan to the Crown board.

In Elephant: Lendlease was first selected by a Liberal Democrat council under leader Nick Stanton and deputy leader Kim Humphreys – both of whom have since got jobs as property development consultants. Then Labour leader Peter John slammed the deal as “little more than throwing Heygate residents out of their homes and building new luxury housing which they won’t be able to afford.” Then, a few months after Labour took over in 2010, John himself signed off on the Lendlease scheme. He has since faced investigation for accepting an undeclared gift from Lendlease.

Extracted from much longer Corporate Watch article. Read the full piece here: https://corporatewatch.org/lendlease-development-creeps/

Taylor Wimpey Building Disasters: From The Denizen to Eternity!

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An online search will turn up a lot of unhappy Taylor Wimpey customers complaining about major building botches and serious snags in their newly constructed ‘homes’. There are even social media groups dedicated to the subject, and we’d urge ghost home investors who’ve bought off-plan into Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen project in Golden Lane to actually visit their buy to leave properties if they’re ever built, because they may well need to join these virtual protest communities. Having said that, we do realise that many investors aren’t very interested in the bricks and mortar they own; it’s said that 40% of those who purchased safe deposit boxes in the sky in The Heron AKA Milton Court, a short walk from Golden Lane, never picked up the keys for their apartments! Moving on, perhaps the Taylor Wimpey botch story to gain the most traction in in recent months is the driveway too small for a car, this one is from well outside London:

This is an actual parking space (see photo above) – even though the homeowners can’t physically get out of their car once in it.

A building cock-up at an estate in Great Barr has left a frustrated couple with this extremely tight driveway, that they simply cannot use.

Zena and Paul Jones first registered a complaint 145 days ago when they moved into their new home on the Fore Meadows estate and have since set up a Twitter account, showing how the drive is even a squeeze for their Ford Fiesta.

The couple claim that the £90,000 new-build disaster has made life a daily struggle as the couple are forced to park their car in the road right by a junction and cannot have visitors without having to ask neighbours’ to move their cars – just to fit a single car in.

Zena said the constant battle of trying to resolve the issue with developers, Taylor Wimpey was ‘frustrating and stressful’ and claimed they are no further forward months down the line.

She told the Mail: “It’s just as if we’re banging our heads up against a brick wall, everything they say to us is the same, ‘yes we’re looking into it’ ,’yes there’s a problem’ – I don’t think they know how to fix it.

“They’ve come out three times to it so far, two of the contractors and one from Taylor Wimpey and basically scratched their heads and walked a way. Nobody communicates with us.”

The couple claimed that when a site manager from Taylor Wimpey did speak with the couple, he admitted that the drive should have measured 2.4 metres instead of 2.2 metres.

“The response is they’re looking into it, won’t let us go any further than customer service, won’t let us go any higher so we can get some sense out of them.”

The couple have even measured other drives on the new build estate and found a parking space 110 inches wide – compared to their mere 86 inches – just next door.

Zena said: “The solution is to take away the wall at the side, but the problem is next door’s electric box is attached to the wall and goes down into the ground.”

The contractors arrived two weeks ago at the Great Barr home to dig up the wall, but said it couldn’t be done due to the the electrics not going down far enough.

“If they took down the top part of the wall, we could actually get a car on there.

“One of the guys when they were digging it up, said ‘I worked on this house when it was being built and I told them then the drive wasn’t wide enough.’ They must have just thought ‘oh well, no one will notice.’

Zena and Paul say they’ve not heard anything since the contractors came and added: “They’ve written to our next door neighbours to let them know they’ll be doing work, but not had the courtesy to let us know. It’s like playing with Billy Smart’s circus here.

“I just wish they’d talk to us. Nobody has the balls to come and talk to us.”

New home parking disaster – couple can’t even get out of car! The Great Barr couple are forced to park dangerously on the road due to a major error with their drive by Ashley Preece & Stephanie Balloo, Birmingham Mail, 15 August 2017.

Read the full story here: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/new-home-parking-disaster-couple-13478078

Paul and Zena Jones were savvy enough to start a social media campaign about the problem with their Taylor Wimpey new build; it was an absurd story with a good visual angle, so they gained lots of local coverage and the story was even reported by the BBC. After a lot of hard work the Jones’s were able to get the builder to fix the problem by knocking down a wall, but many of those purchasing new builds have less luck getting firms like Taylor Wimpey to resolve snags and botches. Buyer beware! Purchasing a Denizen luxury apartment will haunt you forever!

“A spectre is haunting the cynical overdevelopment that characterises London’s buy to leave property boom, the spectre of modernism!” #savegoldenlane