Cllr. Matthew Bennett’s Rectory Gardens slurs and errors

Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth during an interview with Spectacle.

Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth.

“We’d all like to live for free in million pound homes in Clapham”, Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth, told Spectacle in a recent interview for our documentary about the eviction of residents from Rectory Gardens housing co-op. Yet, Spectacle’s film reveals that this statement, and numerous others Bennett made, is based on gross inaccuracies, calling into question the evidential basis for Lambeth’s decision to sell off the houses, a decision that Lambeth Labour MP Kate Hoey has told us “will go down in history as one of the worst the borough has made”.

Million pound homes?

In the mid-1970s, Lambeth Council Compulsory Purchase Ordered the L-shaped street of 28 Victorian terraced houses in the heart of Clapham Old Town for as little as £2000 – £4000 each under ‘slum clearance’. Along with numerous other ‘shortlife’ homes CPOd in the borough, the properties were effectively abandoned due to lack of funds to do them up. The only work ever to be carried out by the council since was to deliberately damage many of the interiors in order to prevent occupation. But a few years on, as was common at the time, squatters found a way to move into what had become derelict houses. Realising that this was a way to help them maintain the properties, the council then decided to welcome them as ‘short-life tenants’. Similar events took place across the city. “The Council were even handing out keys. They didn’t seem to care at all that we were there; in fact they seemed happy about it”, said one resident. Forty years later, and Lambeth are one of the last London boroughs to deal with their shortlife portfolio, having dithered about for decades, during which time a whole community and way of life has flourished. But in 2011, in the context an over-inflated London property market and government cuts, the Council decided to sell off what have become people’s long-standing homes at auction to raise cash. Evictions are currently in process.

Yet, if Lambeth are hoping to make one million pounds each on these houses, they must be dreaming. So far they have made £56 million on the sale of around 120 ‘shortlife’ houses. That’s around £466,000 for each one. There are now only around 50 shortlife properties remaining in the borough, and the Council aims to sell off the last remaining homes by the end of 2015. Rectory Gardens represents most of this tail-end stock. But rather than one million, the average sale price for a co-op property at auction is half that. Both houses already sold on Rectory Gardens went for under £500,000. It is unclear how much Lambeth anticipate making on the sale of the remaining houses; Spectacle have requested a figure.

How is this money to be spent? In our interview, Bennett said decisively that the money would be used to “build 1000 new council homes”, yet, a few moments later, he made more general statements about money going into a “pot” to pay for “road refurbishments, new primary school places” and seemingly other unspecified public services. His predecessor, Pete Robbins, said that the money raised from sales of co-op homes would plug a gap in the funding the council received for housing repairs. The money raised seems to be covering a lot of bases that it cannot possibly stretch to. Freedom of Information requests submitted by Lambeth United Housing Co-op (LUHC), (a campaigning group set up to protest similar borough-wide evictions), to find out exactly how the money will be spent have been unanswered. Spectacle has requested information regarding exactly where the new houses will be built, by when, and how much the total build is expected to cost.

Not only are these funds not being ring-fenced for housing, but the current £56 million windfall does not take into account the £1.8m spent so far on staffing and legal costs of eviction, nor the unknown additional sums spent on surveyors, auctioneers, vacant property managers, for which information Lambeth Council recently blocked another freedom of information request by LUHC. Neither does it factor in the added costs of re-housing people, which LUHC have estimated to be between £6 – £13m, nor the unknown long-term social welfare bill of caring for now isolated elderly and disabled residents, who had found support and care within the co-op community on the street, something the council seems keen to support in theory through its health and wellbeing policies and ‘Connected Communities’ project, but clearly not in practice when the community is already in situ.

Living for free?

Furthermore, the Council seems to refuse to acknowledge that it is thanks to the hard work, resources and energy of residents alone that houses that they once abandoned are now lucrative cash cows. Rather than living “for free”, in 1982, the majority of residents who came to settle in the houses formed a self-supporting co-op. Members paid into a pot, from which money was used to purchase materials or support substantial renovation works. These were carried out through a process of skill and labour sharing. Indeed, Labour Councillors Nigel Haselden, Christopher Wellbelove and Helen O’Malley in 2007 campaigning leaflets said: “Some of these homes would not be standing if it was not for the work of the people living in them.” Two of these Councillors, Wellbelove and Haselden, once elected did a complete U-turn on their promise to ‘fight for the rights of residents to stay in their homes’, now supporting the current eviction policy (O’Malley was deselected). Cllr. Bennett claimed no knowledge of this.

Correcting Bennett further on the matter of paying rent, he asked Spectacle to whom and how much were people paying. He then said “I heard it was no more than £1 a week. That’s almost nothing”, adding, as a different tack, “they’ve paid nothing to the Council”. First, the council never actually allowed any rent to be paid (more of which later), second, the actual membership fee was set at £5 a week (though rates varied across all co-ops), to reflect the low-income of those in the homes, all of whom were already on the council housing waiting list. This small fee was also designed to encourage residents to work on their own properties, which, contrary to Bennett’s claim that “people have not shown any willingness to spend the money necessary to bring [the houses] up to a decent condition”, they did, adding their own energy and labour. This included re-roofing, plastering, re-wiring, building new chimneys, installing windows and doors where there were none, putting new boilers into every house, building staircases, installing gas, and much more. Yet Bennett claims that “at least five properties are completely derelict” and that others have “fallen into disrepair” and “not been maintained”. He is clearly unaware, as he himself admitted during the interview, of the condition of the properties when they were initially purchased in the 1970s. Spectacle has sent him the below photographs to demonstrate the actual situation.

RGDNs

“Million pound” homes? The derelict condition of CPOd houses on Rectory Gardens in the 1970s before the co-op took over renovations.

In addition, Spectacle pointed out that since the residents have been paying council tax for years, according to the Valuation Office for England and Wales this legally qualifies them as ‘dwellings’ suitable for habitation, hence they could not possibly be “derelict”. A spate of recent articles concerning one property on the street said to have a tree growing through an illegal extension with dangerous electric wiring, rented out to sub-letters, is not a house that is part of the co-operative, yet it is being used to tarnish the community. Filming in a number of co-op homes, Spectacle found them to be comfortable, homely and safe. Having referred to a couple of other incidents with some houses in the street during his interview, Spectacle made the point to Bennett that crime is a social problem, not the fault of one set of people, neither should the actions of one mar the whole community, be that Rectory Gardens or ‘shortlife’ co-ops in Lambeth generally. He was unable to comment further.

Moreover, the idea that we should measure people’s contribution to society based on ‘how much they pay’ in monetary terms – (to the Council, in this case) – implied by Bennett’s statement, demonstrates an indefensible attitude of income-based prejudice. Looked at in entirely different way, the residents of Rectory Gardens have collectively done as much, if not more, to contribute to their community as many other rent-paying citizens do to theirs, and have a stable community that is not reflected by some of the highly transient ‘neighbourhoods’ that surround the street where occupants regularly move on and private rentals stay empty for long periods. The self-proclaimed ‘cooperative council’ should be falling over itself to recognise and reward those who voluntarily invest into making their ‘patch’ a positive place. Residents of Rectory Gardens have been behind numerous artistic and community-based initiatives in the area over the years, such as Cafe on the Common, the Tea Rooms, Studio Voltaire, and even the skate park on Clapham Common, activities which no doubt contributed hugely to making the area a now-desirable postcode, propping up the very market prices that Lambeth seek to capitalise on today.

There Is No Alternative?

Adding further insult to injury, despite the accusation of ‘living for free’, paying rent to the council was never given as an option. At no point since the establishment of the housing co-op have Lambeth Council sought any financial arrangements with residents. Bennett’s version of history is that “Other co-operatives took the opportunity to charge social rents and take a regularised position… Rectory Gardens did not go down the route [of] becoming a proper cooperative… We’ve spoken with the housing co-op on many, many occasions about ways in which they might want to finance taking their over as a co-op on their own, they haven’t been able to work with the money.” In fact, Rectory Gardens was not allowed to go down this route of ‘rationalisation’ and the council has never seemed to want to make them tenants – something that Tulse Hill Labour Councillor Mary Atkins said should have happened years ago. The Council has had opportunities of resolving the situation numerous times over the years, but has stopped deals going through, deciding not to come to a resolution and consistently using the threat of legal action as a first port of call. For example, the community embarked on years of without-prejudice negotiations with housing association Metropolitan Housing Trust and the Council, involving a lot of time, effort and money for the deal to evaporate because the council revalued the site.

On three occasions between 2012 and 2013, Lambeth United Housing Co-operative proposed to the council that residents begin to pay rent and become social housing tenants as a solution. They also came up with the idea of the ‘Super Co-op’, a proposal backed by housing experts that would see ex-council stock being recycled and refurbished by a borough-wide umbrella co-op while simultaneously skilling up local people. These solutions were rejected without being fully discussed. The Council even refused payment of their own legal charge, developed in-house; a so-called ‘use and occupation’ back fee seemingly designed to coerce people from the properties. A judge suggested a defendant pay in installments but Lambeth promptly declined this, presumably worrying that accepting payment could mean a case for tenancy rights in court.

As part of the eviction process, residents have been offered priority re-housing via the council’s Choice-Based Lettings system. Yet some of those that have accepted and found re-housing have reported damp, mould and asbestos, among other problems, not to mention the psychological difficulty of being forcibly displaced away from their community. Residents wish to remain in their homes, where they have raised families and built a robust community, and would be happy to pay council rents rather than needlessly displacing others on an already overburdened council housing waiting list. Yet Bennett argues that selling off this rare social housing stock will help the “21,000 people on our housing waiting list, the 1800 families in temporary accommodation and the 1300 living in severely overcrowded homes” because it is “not affordable” to spend money refurbishing them, money that could go towards new homes, or road refurbs, or primary school places… New council homes are of course welcomed, but should this be at the expense of existing council stock?

To top this off, at no point have residents asked the Council to spend money on the homes; rather they have proposed that they would take this on themselves via the Super Co-op. Bennett adds “It costs five times as much (£60 – £70,000) to refurbish a house on Rectory Gardens as it does to refurbish an existing council home.” Uncertain where these figures have come from, Spectacle have asked for the data used to make this claim. We have also written to Bennett to suggest that there are other options. The Super Co-op was one, but housing expert, and Director of Self-Help Housing, Jon Fitzmaurice has also told us he “continually comes up against large organisations who say it is uneconomic to do up houses but it is erroneous to take that view, as communities and small charities can make things happen for much less.” In Liverpool, a recent case he came across, saw a commercial builder estimate that a property would cost £30,000 to refurbish. It was finally done by a community group for £6,000, with the labour provided by co-op members and the only costs those of materials, a surveyor and building supervisor. Surely, as a ‘co-operative council’, Lambeth is aware that the co-operative way is often one of the most affordable and socially productive around. A bit more imagination, a bit less short-termism, might work wonders.

Pursuing the eviction policy, one of the worst outcomes would be, as housing expert Jon Fitzmaurice told us, that properties are ‘flipped’ and the council end up renting the properties back off a private landlord for social housing, which would be expensive, wasteful and self-destructive, as the eviction policy is already proving to be. Over in Southwark, campaigners have found that similar council promises to build ‘new’ ‘council’ homes, on closer inspection, have resulted in the selling off of public assets to purchase private land and build houses that are only partially available for social rents, the remainder being offered for private sale or shared ownership. Without a firm and open statement from the Council on exactly where the money is going, it is difficult to hold such promises to account.

Meanwhile, residents of Rectory Gardens are on the move, or in court, with some spending maybe one last Christmas in their self-created homes.

To read more of our blogs about Rectory Gardens, click here.

Spectacle homepage
Like Spectacle Documentaries on Facebook
Follow SpectacleMedia on Twitter

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

Vivienne Westwood speaks out about destruction of Rectory Gardens housing co-op

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood speaks to Spectacle from her south London studio

Vivienne Westwood is known for her outspoken attitude, both in her fashion and activism. Sticking to trend, today she spoke out about the destruction of long-standing housing co-ops in her home borough of Lambeth, lending her support to the documentary Spectacle are making about the fate of Rectory Gardens and its residents who currently face eviction by the council.
 
This sort of short-termist policy is “incredibly stupid, shocking and horrible. It’s terrible to put people through that distress” and will simply add to the “growing list of people waiting for housing”, said Vivienne. In 2011, Lambeth recalled the properties it previously handed over to the self-forming housing co-op back in the 1970s as a response to cuts, spurred on by the now-booming London market. Vivienne spoke with warmth and enthusiasm about Rectory Gardens: “There is no traffic, so children can actually play together and knock on each others’ doors. People are all working together, it’s absolutely great.” The enforced break-up of such a community is “disgusting”, she added.
 
Vivienne moved to Clapham in the 1960s, when she recalls that London was a “dilapidated” yet “creative” and “living” city. Echoing the words of artist Maggi Hambling, who Spectacle interviewed two weeks ago, “There was always something to discover. It was full of craftspeople and artists”. Now, she says, London has been “cleaned up” and priced out through short-sighted government policy that is “killing the actual reason why people want to live here in the first place.”
 
With a deep love of London’s theatres and cultural centres, such as the National Gallery, Barbican, and particularly the Battersea Arts Centre, Vivienne argued that these sorts of enterprises tend to emerge from the ground up, through artistic communities that are allowed to grow organically, like Rectory Gardens itself. “These sorts of communities are so important to what makes London such a buzzing, active, cultural place”. But in a world dominated by concern for “profit” alone, in which “people are just treated as commodities”, she fears that all such creativity is “being obliterated and swamped”.
 

Vivienne highlighted the fact that the government is currently planning to build over 200 high-rise luxury flats in the City; an action she deemed “an absolute scandal”, since, at the same time, “the housing list is growing while council houses are being pulled down and housing co-ops are being evicted. Where are people going to live?” Arriving in London almost 50 years ago as a school teacher, Vivienne said that even at that time it was very difficult to find a flat. With her then boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren, they found a place that had been squatted by “hippies” and painted entirely red on the inside – “it looked like the inside of a phonebox! It was great!”. This was the only way they were able to secure a home. “I don’t know how people manage today. It’s dreadful.”

Referring to the soaring prices of London property, Vivienne spoke of the case of Maritza Tschepp who is being threatened by eviction from her ‘short-life’ house in Stockwell to the potential tune of around £700,000 for the Council at auction. Not a penny of that would go the former resident, despite the fact that it is her invested energy and money alone that has maintained and increased the property’s market value over the 33 years she has lived in it. At those prices, suggested Vivienne, who earlier this year attended a demonstration outside another boarded-up co-op house on Lillieshall Rd to protest its sale, it’s likely only to be speculators or those after second homes that can afford to move in.
 
“The government is doing only what’s good for business and profit – they’re not thinking about people. This is bad economics and is storing up trouble for the future”, argued Vivienne fervently. A long-standing Lambeth resident, she understood that the council was facing enormous pressure from its budget being slashed in half by government austerity measures. But argued that they should be resisting and raising the alarm about the scale of cuts, rather than backing the Government in “trying to work a system that is a short-term disaster for people and a longer-term, unimaginable disaster for the planet”. She urged that people should “stick together” to protest against the “false economy” of austerity.
 
Reflecting her broad activist perspective, Vivienne was keen to stress that the story of Rectory Gardens should be seen as part of a bigger systemic problem of greedy capitalist profiteering resulting in the destruction of communities and the environment, “happening everywhere”. “We need a green economy based on collaboration, respect for people, fair distribution of money, community. A green economy is a people’s economy – it is urgent and necessary. If you protest against the acquisition of these co-op houses, you are protesting against everything that is ruining the planet.” In her own true-to-form, outspoken words, that is: “a world in which politicians’ only care is to syphon off all profit for the super rich”. 
Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

Local artist Maggi Hambling condemns Lambeth Council’s ‘Jack the Ripper policy’ towards urban development

Maggi Hambling deplores Lambeth’s destruction of housing co-ops in an interview from her Clapham studio

Painter, sculptor and Clapham resident, Maggi Hambling, told Spectacle that ‘Lambeth Council, rather like Jack the Ripper, seems to be ripping its way through the whole feel and importance of this area’ through its short-termist policy of selling off cooperative housing, such as that of Rectory Gardens, just round the corner from Maggi’s sunlit studio.

‘What I think is most extraordinary is that Lambeth calls itself the ‘Cooperative Council‘ when it has destroyed and is still destroying every cooperative around me. It’s terrible, to put it mildly’, she says. In an interview for Spectacle’s documentary about the breaking up of Rectory Gardens Housing Co-op, Maggi describes Lambeth’s ‘money-grabbing, short-sighted, and morally criminal’ behaviour towards Co-ops in the borough. In nearby Lillieshall Road, only two of 15 houses remain, while residents of Rectory Gardens are currently in the process of being evicted.

‘The creative community, as I have known it over all these years, has changed from an enormous mix of different people living together and caring about each other into this gentrified place where money, money, money, rather than any kind of feel for the community, rules. Every bit of creative spirit is being exterminated with a very heavy hand. Nothing but destruction is coming from above.’

Maggi moved to the area in the 1960s and remembers the wide variety of people who once made this their home, including artists and craftspeople. The systematic eradication of co-ops, she fears, is the product of a policy of greed that will ultimately destroy what makes this place special to live in.

‘Clapham and places around here will just become dormitories for people in the city who can afford the extortionate amounts of money they’re paying for their little bit of castle. This area is trying to turn itself into Mayfair. Something that the totally un-cooperative Council is probably very happy about to the detriment of healthy communities and anything that breathes any life.’

‘Rectory Gardens is the last bastion of the cooperatives and is hanging on by its teeth. Whatever anyone can do to save it must be done now. I would ask the Council to look at their own greed and lack of foresight and vision. Otherwise, this sort of Jack the Ripper policy is going to amount to a London that is extremely boring, to say the least.’

Despite anger, Maggi optimistically concludes that ‘it is possible to win these battles. The so-called Cooperative Council should be emphatically made to see how blind they are being and how cruel.’

But, she wonders, as many might, ‘why does everything have to be a battle?’

What you can do:

Sign the petition at Change.org: http://www.change.org/p/lambeth-the-cooperative-sic-council-stop-the-co-op-housing-evictions

Visit Lambeth United Housing Co-operative’s website: http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk/

Write to the Council to support the ‘Super Co-op’ solution: http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk/?page_id=157

Tweet, Facebook, and disseminate this and related blogs and news articles to your contacts.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

Peckham Rye Station neglected by Network Rail

Network Rail’s redevelopment plans for Peckham Rye Station are more about profit and less about what they actually should be: renovation. The pictures linked below, of the bad condition of Peckham Rye, are a clear example of how Network Rail do not take care of buildings and facilities they own and their customers that use them. These puddles, and sometimes floodings are the direct result of the lack of maintenance, bad drainage and no roof to protect commuters from the rain. Network Rail has decided, in the name of profit, to bring big chains to the area and by doing so, kick out local businesses and communities, rather than simply tidy and refurbish their property, as the Peckham locals have requested.

Watch the trailer of our short film on Network Rail’s development plans, “Bleacher on the Rye”

20140826_10462520140826_104435

Visit our Peckham page for more blogs and information
Click Bleacher on the Rye to purchase our short movie on Network Rail’s redevelopment plans

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

Spectacle will make a film about Rectory Gardens housing co-operative

image1

Spectacle has met several times with members of a housing co-operative based in Rectory Gardens, Clapham, to discuss making a film about the street and its community ahead of residents planned, impending eviction by Lambeth Council. We ran an extremely successful four day training course around the project. This served the dual purpose of giving participants the opportunity to experience working on a real commission and kick-starting filming.

We received excellent feedback from course attendees and an enthusiastic response from many Rectory Gardens residents. As a result, we have more training courses scheduled in for the Autumn and we hope to start production on the Rectory Gardens film for real in the near future. Eventually we aim to produce a short film that may help the campaign of residents who choose not to settle, and serve as a record of life on the street for those who have decided to reluctantly accept the Council’s offer of rehousing.

The Rectory Garden Housing Co-operative came into being in the 1970s, when houses on the street – an L-shaped mews attached to Rectory Grove – were compulsorily purchased by the Council and then left empty. People who moved into the empty buildings were allowed to stay on ‘short life’ tenancies – for almost 40 years in some cases. The residents made the houses habitable, tended the gardens and in many cases brought up families there. They also formed a housing co-operative, with a ‘self-help’ agenda – members exchanged skills and supported each other; they taught themselves and each other to maintain the houses – in (at least) one case learning to plaster ‘on the job’. The result is a vibrant and eclectic street, with an old bombsite for a garden and a small pack of cats to keep out the mice. In contrast to a sterile and ugly gated-community redevelopment in the mews next door the street is idyllic, a hub of community that contrasts the bleakness of many residential parts of London.

image2

However some residents say they have been unable to fully enjoy their homes, instead living with constant anxiety as Lambeth Council – which ironically self-describes as a ‘co-operative council’ – has sporadically put pressure on them to leave. This came to a head in 2011, when the Labour party began systematically targeting all ‘short life’ properties in the borough. Under immense pressure and facing dubious, underhand tactics – including the employment of property guardian company Camelot to help prise tenants out and stop new ones moving in – many residents have now settled and been rehoused, or are awaiting to be rehoused within the borough. Lambeth Council have offered Rectory Gardens residents priority in selectively applying for available council houses.

Many residents, however, persist in fighting to keep their homes, despite the risk of having to pay enormous legal fees if they lose.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

A brief update on Battersea Power Station and the Nine Elms development

bps2

As construction work progresses on the Battersea Power Station site, the Battersea Power Station Development Company’s (BPSDC) ambitious plans for the project appear to be moving rapidly forwards too; last week it was revealed that the company have made an official bid for the proposed Crossrail 2 line to serve the location. An extension of the Northern Line, Charing Cross Branch, is already planned (and will be partially financed by Sime Darby, the Malaysian consortium behind the Battersea Power Station Development Company) from Kennington to the Power Station. The Evening Standard reports that TfL is citing this as a reason to distance itself from the proposal, insisting Battersea Power Station will already be adequately connected.

Meanwhile, on the ground Everyman continue to lease an area in front of the Power Station to screen films and sell expensive, ‘ethnic’ food in the evenings from Thursday to Sunday. Last week our interns, Charlotte and Marta, risked death by falling chimney chunk to check out the event and sneak some surreptitious footage. Surprisingly they survived, reporting only giant Jenga pieces flying around.

Elsewhere, on the neighbouring Nine Elms site, all-consuming construction work has spilled out onto the Thames Path, limiting access to Tideway Village, a floating community of houseboats now overhung by the Riverlight development buildings.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

INURA release public letter in solidarity with Serbian construction workers

belgrade

INURA, the International Network of Urban Research and Action, have released a public letter regarding the housing situation of former Trudbenik construction workers and their families in Belgrade, Serbia.

The letter describes INURA as “a network of people involved in research and action in localities and cities, including professionals, activists and researchers from community and environmental groups, universities and local administrations. INURA is
also a member of the Habitat International Coalition, a global network for the right to housing and social justice.”

Members of INURA recently participated in their 24th international conference, “Between Big Ideas and Life’s Realities” from June 22 – 29, 2014 in Belgrade and Tara.
The conference was attended by about 120 participants from more than 20 countries.

The letter explains, “As part of the official program, we visited a number of sites and projects, including an initiative representing the interests of residents of the so called Samački Hoteli in New Belgrade, Yuri Gagarin Street no. 139, and in Konjarnik, Luneta Milovanovića Street no. 6, built by the KMG TRUDBENIK in 1980 and 1964 respectively. We are writing to you in order to draw your attention to the very precarious living
conditions of its residents and, in particular, to their unresolved housing situation.”

INURA found that a group of over 210 people – mostly former workers of the well-known Serbian construction company KMG TRUDBENIK and their families – are threatened with eviction, writing:

“Their accommodation, once built with the help of solidarity funds financed by the wages of all workers, was sold along with the whole company to the firm MONTERRA in March 2008 as part of the general privatization process in Serbia. Apparently, nothing was done by the state authorities to protect the status of the workers and residents of the Samački Hoteli from the arbitrariness and mismanagement of the new owners. When MONTERRA declared bankruptcy in 2011, all previous arrangements were annulled. More than 500 workers were dismissed, left without any redundancy program or support from the government. It turned out that the “business” policy of the new owner was to plunder the company and profit from its dismantling, with no plans for future production or any obligations towards the workers.”

During their visit, INURA learnt that the residents of Samački Hoteli and similar accommodations have been facing constant harassment and pressure, first by the management of MONTERRA and later by the bankruptcy trustee ERSTE BANKA and SOCIETE GENERALE BANKA and the Commercial Court who all want them to move out of their homes, in order to sell both buildings to repay the debts accrued under the management of MONTERRA. With the bankruptcy of TRUDBENIK, most tenants have become unemployed and are now threatened by eviction. The people who INURA talked to during their visit told them that they have no resources and no other place to
go, and therefore they will probably become homeless. Some families are also frightened that they will be separated, with their children being put in state-run homes while the adults end up on the streets.

INURA conclude: “As INURA members, we come from different countries and are not familiar with the details of the privatization process in Serbia or the laws that enabled and accompanied it. However, we strongly believe that workers and their families should not become the pawns of highly irresponsible corporations and their incessant appetite for increased profits. We are convinced that the state and the city of Belgrade are responsible for the welfare of its citizens and residents and should therefore
take action to prevent these workers and their families from becoming homeless and safeguard their right to housing.”

Therefore, INURA urge political and administrative bodies of Serbia and Belgrade, “to take action and protect the people living in the so called “Workers’ hotels” in Belgrade from harassment, housing insecurity and eviction. We furthermore urge you to make all possible efforts to work on a permanent solution for them and resolve their status as legal residents.”

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

INURA criticise ‘Belgrade on the Water’ development

In June, Spectacle’s Mark Saunders was among 50 international scholars and experts who visited the proposed site of the Belgrade on the Water project, a development on the Sava riverbank in the downtown area of Serbia’s capital. The group were attending the International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA) 2014 conference in the city.

Belgrade on the Water is a vast real estate project intended to create a new business hub in Belgrade. It has been designed and will be built by Eagle Hills, a construction company based in the UAE which shares its chairman, Mohamed Alabbar, with Emaar Properties – the company behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Eagle Hills suggest that the development, which will cover 1.85 million square metres, could be completed within five to seven years. It is expected to cost just under three billion euros.

Belgrade-Waterfront-InSerbia_Info-0740

A model of Eagle Hills’ proposed Belgrade on the Water development

Despite having the full support of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, who is thought to have let Eagle Hills have the land free, the project has attracted a number of criticisms. The INURA group – who between them have expertise on waterfront developments in London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Barcelona, Boston, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne – have since published an open letter on the subject. They write:

“We are very impressed by the unique qualities of Belgrade, especially the fine-grained and mixed urban spaces that this city provides. The connection of the downtown and the water could be enriched by a careful development of the area between the city centre and the Sava River. We understand that the Belgrade on the Water project is an initiative to make this connection, and we applaud the impulse. We have seen and studied the plans, however, and want to communicate some serious concerns about the current proposal.”

The letter goes on to outline their concerns:

1. The economic risks are high…

INURA point out that megaprojects are always vulnerable to market fluctuations, but the letter is particularly critical of the entire project being given to a single investor. It points out that if the company becomes financially unviable, Belgrade will have an unfinished development on a prime site. “At the very least,” INURA write, “ensuring a diversity of developers can mitigate these possibilities.”
The letter goes on to express doubt that the project will be completed at all. “The proposal envisages 200 new buildings, but the economic context is such that only what is referred to as ‘the first A phase’ of the project has some probability to be constructed: two apartment buildings, two hotels, a high-rise tower and the ‘largest shopping mall in the Balkans’.” INURA believe that the there is a significant risk of these buildings standing “unsold and isolated on a cleared site, cordoned off from the public until land values and purchaser interests increase”.

…and gains to Belgrade are low

The letter argues that, “promises of economic gain through jobs in design, construction, maintenance and operations need guarantees of use of local resources and labour with good wages and conditions.”
INURA are sceptical that the development will be particularly beneficial to local workers, pointing out that the buildings proposed for the waterfront are such that most jobs generated will be short term, low paid construction and service jobs. They argue that instead the content of the development could be far more diverse in order to respond to the real needs of the city and citizens.

As it stands, INURA don’t believe that the proposal is in the best interests of local people. INURA states: “The land along the Sava has great potential value. Its transfer at low or no cost into long-term private leasehold will deliver little benefit to the citizens of Belgrade. In addition, the commitment of EUR 200 million of public funds to the clearing of the Sava Amphitheatre is likely the beginning of high expenditure from the state which characterizes such projects. It seems that there are many better ways of using these means and the area, in the way which would be more appropriate to economical, societal and ecological context.”

2. The plans are clichéd and exclusionary

INURA criticise the current design for revealing “a generic landscape of soulless and disconnected office, residential and commercial buildings. This high-end ‘mixed use’ formula contains no social, economic or cultural mix. It is a clichéd, corporate model that neglects local needs in terms of housing or work. It provides a very limited range of opportunities for production and consumption.”
The letter argues that “Belgrade’s greatest attractions are intricately connected to its people and culture. The city’s people populate the streets and create the spaces that make it so distinctive and full of potentials. Their exclusion from the planning and design processes for Belgrade’s waterfront development is not only inequitable – and therefore dangerous – but missing a profound opportunity to engage and utilise the city’s most vital assets.”

3. The environmental consequences have not been taken into account

INURA describe the Sava’s ecological balance as delicate, and say this has been neglected in the current proposal. The letter points out that, “In a period of serious climate change in an already flood-prone city it makes little sense to build on riverbanks without careful consideration of adaptability and allowance for water expansion. Waterfront developments in the past have destroyed local ecologies, displaced resident populations, and made public open space inaccessible.”

INURA argue that technologies for climate change adaptation and handling waterfront ecologies are developing rapidly. “Here is an opportunity for Belgrade to display a new and exciting approach to its river bank.”

3. State-of-the-art practices engage local communities and employ innovative mechanisms

INURA point out that things could be done in a way that is much more beneficial to the community: “International practice and standards for making waterfronts available for better and wider uses are also improving rapidly…
Local authorities are now employing sophisticated urban design processes, including fine subdivisions of land for lease or sale to a range of investors from larger companies to small entrepreneurs and community groups. These principles encourage innovative local and vernacular architectural styles in large project designs, and ensure diversity in built form and use. This in turn allows local opportunities to flourish in the context of a more globalised environment.”

Further to this, INURA advocate participatory processes in planning, which they believe guarantee better outcomes. “In engaging local communities and their local knowledge, project outcomes are not only very often substantially improved, but they are locally owned, and receive a particular legitimacy from this process. Such an approach would make the development of the Belgrade waterfront more viable.”

4. Here is an opportunity for a project that really does capture the global imagination

Economically, too, INURA believe the Belgrade on the Water project does not do justice to the potential of the site: “If the nation wants to invite the world into its social, cultural and environmental heart, it needs to do more than plan for a run-of-the-mill development formula that lacks any character unique to Belgrade.”

INURA conclude that:

“Rather than providing a standard blueprint with an unclear business plan (the obligations of the state being much greater at this point than the obligations of the investor), this project should be built step by step, closely monitored by the highest standards of local planning regulations and transparency. It must have attention to local economics, and to the design and use of this central part of Belgrade. It must involve its people, recognise the need for ecological restoration and sustainability, and not fall prey to the expectations of a corporate urbanism that is rejected by urban professionals and citizens alike around the world.

If Belgrade on the Water is to be a sustainable success, it must project the city’s needs and desires onto the global stage, rather than making one of Belgrade’s prime pieces of real estate the extension of a nameless global enterprise.”

You can read the letter in full here. 

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

Bleacher on the Rye trailer released

Following several successful screenings, we have released a trailer for our new film Bleacher on the Rye, about the proposed redevelopment of Peckham Rye Station.

The residents of Peckham Rye claim they asked for a clean up of the station and surrounding area, described by community group Peckham Vision as a complex site with “commercial buildings nestled amongst railway buildings, viaducts and arches”. Instead the proposed redevelopment would gut the area to make way for a shopping centre and new residential blocks.

The film articulates the concerns of residents and local business people, who oppose the redevelopment, which one man describes as a “bleaching”. “They want a new set of people here,” he says.

Spectacle has been observing and documenting the ‘regeneration’ of London over the past 20 years, which has largely resulted in the displacement of local people, the break up of communities, the creation of gated communities and privatisation of public space.

Please contact us if you would like to organise a screening of this film.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca

Screening at Peckham Vision Community Public Event

Spectacle’s latest film ‘Bleacher on the Rye’ will be screened 6pm Wednesday 23rd July in the CLF Art Café, 133 Rye Lane as part of the launch of the community-built model of central Rye Lane as it is now.

The Peckham Vision event is from 3pm until 9pm which includes exhibition and creative activities, meetings and the screening of the film at 6pm.

 

Community-built model

Picture 10As explained on the Peckham Vision website “The Station Gateway site is a complex one with commercial buildings nestled amongst railway buildings, viaducts and arches. The site is divided into properties with addresses on Rye Lane, Holly Grove, Blenheim Grove, Station Way, Dovedale Court, and Blenheim Court. So we created a site map showing exactly where these places are and how they related to the plans for total clearance that we were beginning to hear about. This aid to discussion proved invaluable as during 2013 we took two deputations to the Cabinet, attended a Scrutiny Committee, and took part in many community fairs, events and meetings, and discussion about the issues raised by the plans. Then Network Rail published their proposals to clear the site and redevelop it completely. To be able to have clear discussions, local people needed to have a model of the existing buildings and their layout on the site and also the areas around the site. We had suggested to the Council during the consultations last winter that a model would be very useful for this purpose. But the Council turned down the idea as too expensive. So Peckham Vision decided to ask local people on our networks if they would be interested in making a model with us for use in the planning discussions. Many people responded enthusiastically, and over 30 are now taking part in our model making group under the expert guidance of local architects Benedict O’Looney and Clyde Watson from Peckham Vision. Local organisations supporting the project are the Peckham Society, Whitten Timber and Complete Fabrication, Khan’s Bargain Ltd. We acknowledge with much thanks their support for this community project. The model is at a scale of 1:100 and is slowly taking shape building by building. It should be ready for use in a few weeks.”

Picture 4Read the Guardian City article by Matthew Ponsford: Could ‘co-design’ help Peckham where community consultation failed?

 

Spectacle homepage
Like Spectacle Documentaries on Facebook
Follow SpectacleMedia on Twitter

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Current
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Identi.ca