The Regeneration Games

By Mark Saunders, 12 September 2007

Originally published by Mute Magazine

Whatever the overruns on time and cost, one thing the London 2012 Olympics is certain to deliver is a huge public debt. The enormous bill for two weeks of telematic sport is legitimated by promises of urban regeneration but in reality the games are a corporate landgrab facilitating the looting of nature and labour as prices go up and people are pushed out, argues Mark Saunders


On the 6 July 2005, crowds of Londoners gathered on Trafalgar Square for an Olympic ‘decision day’ event. With no real expectation of winning, the Olympic Bid Team had billed it as a ‘Thank You London, Thank You UK’ day. Crowds could watch on giant screens the International Olympic Committee’s decision on the host city for 2012. It would probably be Paris.

Up on the platform, a host of London 2012 ambassadors expectantly held hands. All white teeth, perma-smiles, and synthetic fabrics, they prepared themselves for sporting and gracious defeat. It would surely be Paris.

At 12:49, the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, made his dramatic announcement. The winner is… pause… pause squared… (the open mics amplifying the deafening silence)… London.


News item, 2005, commenting on London Olympics, 2012

A moment of disbelief… Not Paris? Then the crowd erupted in celebration.

That evening, TV newsreaders had particularly puckered brows and quizzical looks as they announced the news. Despite being the top story, it had the ‘would you believe it’ feel of the light-hearted ‘and finally…’ item, intended to put viewers back into a happy consumer mindset for the rest of the night’s fare.

The blue wall surrounding construction for London Olympics 2012

NO DAY AFTER

The euphoria was destroyed within 24 hours when the 7/7 bombs exploded on London’s public transport. Four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters and injured 700. The events of the day before seemed remote, doubly unbelievable and distant. Some frivolous aberration from a naïve time the other side of a watershed moment.

Seb Coe and his Olympic Bid entourage returned to London to a muted welcome, after celebrating all night at what Coe described as the ‘mother of all parties’ on the banks of the Singapore River. Despite being ‘shocked and saddened’, their return had the air of galavanting playboys who had had a high old time while at home all hell let loose.

The bombings overshadowed all debate. In the public consciousness, the Olympic party in Trafalgar Square had had no ‘day after’. As the media dust settled, the London Olympic reality slipped back into view. Like some post-traumatic flashback, computer animations of the Olympic site on TV showed a grey expanse turning green. Dome-shaped structures mushroomed everywhere like 1950s lunar bases linked by wobbly bridge walkways.

Out went the sporty types, in came the suit-and-tie squad. It was the men’s tri-athletes: legal, PR, and planning. It’s time to hide behind the sofa, because this is the invasion of the technocrats all those politicos were warning you about.

WHY LONDON?


News item, 2005, commenting on London Olympics, 2012

The main reason London won was because it was not France. The Olympics is basically corporate America in Lycra. The US Olympic Committee receives 20 percent of marketing revenues and 12.75 percent of TV income from the Olympic Games – a dominance that concerns other National Olympic Committees. The US is a serial Olympic host: St. Louis in 1904, Los Angeles in 1932 and 1984 (and a bid for 2016), Atlanta in 1996, and Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1932 and 1980, Squaw Valley 1960 and Salt Lake City in 2002.

Since the Gulf War, the US has been virulently anti-French. There was no way that McDonald’s or Coca Cola, the latter a major sponsor for the past 80 years, were going to let those smug surrender monkeys enjoy the reflected glory and glitz of corporate America. After all, it was France that forced McDonalds to deviate from the one-size-fits-all burger because of their finicky eating habits.

The Bush regime and its business allies know all about mega-spectacles like the Olympics. Recall 1 May 2003, when Bush landed a fighter jet aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, delivering his Iraq victory speech standing in front of a giant ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign.

It’s all about image. And such sophisticated connoisseurs of the spectacle are hardly likely to squander the global arse-kicking razzmatazz of their athletes sweeping up medals just to puff up the French cock… er…

A MODEL OF MULTICULTURALISM

Rather than confessing to it being a reward for British military support of the US in Iraq, and perhaps to pre-empt accusations of bribery, the London Olympic Committee claimed the UK was favoured over France (which, after all, had all the infrastructure in place) because of London’s (and particularly East London’s) tolerance, multiculturalism, and ethnic diversity. There is nothing in the constitution or history of the International Olympic Committee that betrays this concern.


News item, 2005 commenting on London Olympic bid, 2012

In 2006, an international coalition of human rights organisations issued a joint statement saying that the International Olympic Committee has failed to protect Olympic ideals citing continuing human rights violations and political propaganda abuse of the Games by the Chinese government.

Multiculturalism? It would be surprising if the IOC even thought about it. Had it done so, it would soon have had concerns about the UK. In one typical week earlier this year, stories in the national newspapers included the following:

The Conservative homeland security spokesman, Patrick Mercer, stepped down after saying that being called a ‘black bastard’ was part-and-parcel of life in the armed forces.[1]

Magistrate reprimanded for ‘bloody foreigners’ outburst in court. Mr Mitchell, a magistrate for 36 years, did not accept the punishment issued by the Office of Judicial Complaints, part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and remains on the active list.[2]

Police accused of brutality after officer beat 19 year old woman during arrest at night club. An investigation into alleged police brutality was launched last night after a black teenage epileptic woman was filmed being repeatedly punched by a policeman, while two colleagues held her down outside a Sheffield nightclub.[3]

These are all examples of institutional racism. It may be that on the East London street and within communities, there is a certain class based solidarity and community cohesion across and beyond race. But to describe the East End as a model for multiculturalism is simplistic. While the area does have a long history of fighting fascism and racism, from resisting Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 to Bengali youth reclaiming Brick Lane from the National Front in the 1980s, it sadly has often been in response to an equally long history of racism and intolerance.

In 1968, ex-Tory minister Enoch Powell’s speech in which he predicted ‘rivers of blood’ if black immigration continued inspired several hundred London dock workers to strike and stage an ‘Enoch is right’ march.

In 1986 Tower Hamlets Liberals proposed to put hundreds of homeless families (mainly Bengalis) into ships moored on the Thames. A report by the Commission for Racial Equality in 1988 found Tower Hamlets Liberal Council guilty of allocating ethnic minorities disproportionately to poor quality estates.

In local elections in 1995, the total number of votes cast for far-Right parties in Britain amounted to just over 20 thousand. The vast majority were cast in East London. On 5 May 2006, the British National Party (BNP) gained 11 of the 13 seats it contested in the East London districts of Barking and Dagenham, becoming the second biggest party.

There are incidents of race hate crimes in the Olympic area, but there is also the manipulation of racial tension for political ends. In her paper, ‘Playing the ethnic card – politics and ghettoisation in London’s East End’, Sarah Glynn details how local politics has linked territory and race.[4] From the mid-1980s, the Tower Hamlets Liberals had in effect used housing policies based on ethnicity to divide and rule. They had systematically shifted the blame for housing shortage onto the homeless (predominantly Bengalis) while continuing to sell off housing and land.

High unemployment, scarce and neglected housing, excluded from the dockland development boom – there were reasons for local residents of the Isle of Dogs to be angry. The Island’s relatively small Bengali population provided an easy scapegoat. Similarly, the Olympics is bound to intensify competition for housing, especially with an expanding buy-to-let sector hyping rents. Locals, already squeezed between two of Europe’s biggest business districts, Docklands and the City of London, are going to find themselves surrounded on all sides by intensive gentrification. It would be ironic if racial tension were to deflect from class-based ‘yuppies out’ hostility to the gentrification and privatisation of space in the East End that the ‘multicultural’ London Olympics will presage.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Paris was favourite to win the Games because it has much of the necessary infrastructure in place. In opting for London, the International Olympic Committee must surely have chosen to ignore the UK’s unique history of infrastructure and stadia construction fiascos. The newly refurbished Wembley Stadium was originally set to cost under £400 million. The official overall cost of £757 million did not include the overruns and compensation compromises on the building works of £352 million. It opened two years late. The Millennium Dome, originally estimated to cost the National Lottery £399 million, came in at least twice over budget and only just made the New Year’s Eve opening for which it was built.

The blue wall surrounding construction for London Olympics 2012

During a debate on the economic and social benefits of the Olympics in the upper house, Lord James, a Tory peer, said that big business, including McDonald’s, BT, and British Airways, had run rings round the Government when negotiating sponsorship deals for the Dome. The Dome organisers had negotiated flawed contracts with major sponsors and had ended up receiving a fraction of the money they expected.

The overrun on the Dome all occurred on the management costs and the running of the Dome and its ancillary services […]. It resulted eventually in what amounts to an £811 million learning curve for the Government, which I sincerely hope they will be marking and using extensively in the lessons for the Olympics.

 2008 – coverage of Westfield construction for Olympics 2012,
London Tonight, itv local,

So the IOC must have thought it was worth a shot, statistically, that this time it would all go smoothly. But then they have nothing to lose.

ONE FOR THE MONEY, TWO FOR THE SHOW

As with the Poll Tax the media response to the Olympics has tended to concentrate on the costs and its implications for taxpayers, rather than the social injustices. The total Olympic budget is £9.3 billion, an increase of £5.9 billion from the original budget of £3.4 billion. When Tessa Jowell, the then culture secretary (now Minister for the Olympics), admitted in the House of Commons that the initial budget had not included the 17.5 percent cost of VAT on the construction of the venues and infrastructure, there were cries of incompetence. Nowhere was it remarked upon that nearly every bid is undervalued, not through incompetence but as a strategy. For London taxpayers, the Olympics are indeed a big story. Financing is split between the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG). The ODA will ‘build the theatre’ – the infrastructure, venues, land remediation, and so on – and will be funded jointly by the public sector (64 percent), London taxpayers (13 percent), and the lottery (23 percent). The LOCOG, meanwhile, will ‘put on the show’ – everything from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony. This expenditure will be funded by the private sector out of ticket and merchandising sales, TV rights, and sponsorship. All the real costs and risk are therefore taken on by the public sector.

Sydney 2000 ended up costing over twice the pre-bid figures, according to the auditor-general of New South Wales. In Athens, total costs will be at least four times as high as the bid committee’s initial budget. The IOC insists that host nations cover any cost overruns. Basically, the public would never accept the Olympics if it knew the real cost.

THE PROMISES

The media were equally uncritical of the promised regeneration of East London, regurgitating the public relations press releases without seeming to question the ‘empty land’ myth or whether regeneration through sporting facilities is genuinely worthwhile.


News item, 2004, commenting on London Olympics, 2012

A common feature of regeneration schemes is verbal promises given by people who are clearly unable to deliver those promises. Lord Coe, director of the London Olympics, promised a successful bid would bring: ‘9,000 new homes, many affordable for local people’ and new shops, offices, community and health facilities, plus world class sporting facilites in a new park. Local businesses are likely to benefit from the influx of new visitors and from potentially winning contracts to service the Games.[5]

Affordable housing sounds good, but a recent, high profile scheme for subsidised ‘low-cost’ rent-and-buy housing in the East End requires applicants to have an annual income of at least £28,758 (£32, 644 for couples).[6]

The Olympics are very likely to have the opposite effect and make housing unaffordable for local people. In the run-up to the Sydney Olympics 2000, rent escalated and intensified evictions in the neighbourhoods alongside the Olympic development. In Barcelona, the 1992 Games were partly responsible for massive increases in costs of living in the city: between 1986 and 1992 the market price of housing grew by an average of 260 percent.

While the number of affordable new homes promised tends to come down over time, so the projected jobs figure seems to go onwards and upwards. A 2002 survey by engineering consultants Ove Arup calculated that

The Olympics will lead to the creation of 3,000 jobs and 4,000 new affordable homes for people in East London.

By 2007, London’s Employment and Skills Taskforce and the London Development Agency (LDA) were talking of the Olympics creating up to 50,000 new jobs in the Lower Lea Valley.

Dee Doocey, chair of the Committee for Economic Development, Culture, Sport, and Tourism, the leading committee on the London Assembly for scrutinising the Olympics, said locals could miss out unless language and construction skills were ‘urgently’ improved in the East London boroughs. As she said on her own website:

The last thing we need is another Docklands, where many of the newly created jobs did not benefit local people.

News item, commenting on London Olympics, 2012

Responding, the LDA pledged to make it a ‘priority’ to ensure locals in the five Olympic Boroughs of Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest benefit from the new opportunities. Of the 720,000 people of working age living there, a quarter have no qualifications and, of these, over 60 percent are unemployed. Commenting on the announcement of a new ‘Living Wage’ for London of £7.20 an hour, Doocey, said:

The Mayor and Seb Coe signed an ‘Ethical contract’ with London Citizens before winning the Olympics, promising a Living Wage for everyone involved. Yet to date, no Living Wage has been included in the contracts allocated and Seb Coe told the London Assembly that ‘any of the issues about a living wage is a consideration, not a condition’. This is of great concern because LOCOG will be letting contracts for all the traditionally low paid jobs such as catering and cleaning.

As for local businesses exploiting the games, as Coe had suggested, it is more likely that existing businesses will be endangered. The director of H. Forman & Son, the UK’s oldest established salmon curer and one of the Lea Valley’s biggest and oldest companies, recently took to bringing a large aerial photograph of the proposed Olympic site to meetings, in order to show that far from being empty the Marshgate Lane area of Stratford includes 350 businesses with 15,000 employees. According to plans, these premises would be bulldozed to make way for the games.

The Institute for Practitioners in Advertising describe the marketing prohibitions defined in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill, which sets up the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) as ‘so extreme that it could technically lead to pubs being prosecuted for using chalkboards to flag up [TV] coverage of the Games’.[7] Protected Olympic trademarks include use of the words ‘Olympic’, ‘Olympiad’, and ‘Olympian’, ‘2012’, ‘London 2012’, ‘games’, ‘medals’, ‘gold’, ‘silver’, ‘bronze’, ‘sponsor’, ‘summer’; insignia such as the 2012 Games logo (and mascots), the Olympic rings, Team GB, the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association logos, London’s bid logo; derivatives of London2012.com; and the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (Faster, Higher, Stronger).[8] Ludicrously, 31 small firms throughout London reflecting the Greek diaspora will be forced to change their company names and shop fronts as a result of trademark conditions.

The companies likely to benefit are Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Visa, which have bought exclusive worldwide marketing rights via the Olympic Partner Programme. The BBC states that the IOC have made £790 million marketing revenue over the last four years from corporate sponsorship (35 percent of total), while LOCOG estimates that £580 million, or 40 percent of its operating budget, will come from this source.

THE PARK

The International Olympic Committee specifies the need for an integrated park. The IOC also demands that athletes should be accommodated in a village and not be required to walk for more than twenty minutes. The Olympic Park has been presented as ‘1500 landscaped acres’ representing ‘one of the biggest new city centre parks in Europe for 200 years.’ This ignores the fact that much of the Lower Lea Valley, where the park will be built, is an extensive network of waterways with important wildlife habitats on a key migratory route.

Animated representation of changes to East London landscape created by London Olympics 2012

For centuries ‘Parkification’ has been the instrument of choice for colonising the urban periphery, hinterlands and backwaters, socially cleansing those edgy zones of social marginalism and transgression, displacing the grey economies and polluting industries, taming the wild.

Although it has no formal position on the Olympics, the River Leas Trust, an environmental charity that works to preserve this wild environment, have told the London Olympic bid committee that ‘landscaping’ the area is inappropriate, particularly in the way represented in the ‘artists impression’ that the bid supporters are so proud of.

Hackney Marshes, once ancient common lands called Lammas Lands, were bequeathed in the 1890s by the Settlement of St. Mary Eton to the people of Hackney in perpetuity for recreational use as open space. Since that time Hackney Marshes has been home to amateur league football. Most London footballers have played there. Hackney Marshes holds the world record for the highest number (88) of full-sized football pitches in one place. On a typical Sunday, over 100 matches are played by amateur teams competing in several local leagues.

Johnny Walker, Chairman of Hackney and Leyton Sunday Football League, talks about the effects of the London Olympics 2012

Johnny Walker, Chairman of Hackney and Leyton Sunday Football League, talks about the substructure under Hackney Marshes created by WWII, and the effects of changes due to the London Olympics 2012

At a meeting set up by the Hackney Environment Forum on 24 July 2003, Neale Coleman, the London mayor’s advisor on the Olympic bid, countered fears that Hackney would lose its open space to stadium and temporary facilities, reassuring the meeting that there was ‘no question of permanent or temporary facilities on any part of Hackney Marshes’. Attached to the planning applications is a condition stating that the developing agency must provide exchange land for Common Land and open space taken up by the Olympic developments, a procedure required under the 1981 Acquisition of Land Act.

However, at the end of 2005, the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee were told by Hackney Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Guy Nicholson, that planners were defaulting on this obligation. Since then, a clause has been inserted in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill to remove this imperative. Anne Woollett, Chair of the Hackney Marsh User Group, states:

The Games cannot make any claims to being ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ while they steal Common Land, public open space and sports pitches for an Olympic car park. The London Development Agency (LDA) have now declared […] that they are not going to provide exchange land for East Marsh. It appears that the LDA have simply lobbied to legislate away their own statutory obligations.

Many are suspicious that when the car park is no longer needed it will be built on.

Video of Manor Gardens allotments, before London Olymics 2012 construction

Hidden away on the Olympic site is Manor Gardens Allotments. Founded by philanthropic aristocrat Major Arthur Villiers before WW1, the allotments have been feeding over 150 local East End families ever since. The LDA wants the site levelled and transformed into the central concrete walkway down the spine of the Olympic Park. Apparently, saving this unique and rare place by going around or over the allotments for a few weeks was not an option for security reasons.

Manor Garden’s former allotment holders describe the cultural, aesthetic, and ecological beauty of Manor Gardens which was wiped out for London Olympics 2012 construction
After being evicted from Manor Gardens, due to London Olympics 2012, the allotment holders were given new allotments with poor soil and terrible drainage.

After almost two years of meetings with the LDA, the Manor Gardening Society have had enough of broken promises and delays and on 27 April 2007 they issued Judicial Review proceedings against them. Phil Michaels, head of legal at Friends of the Earth’s Rights and Justice Centre, who represent the allotment holders said:

This is an important case about broken promises and local communities. The LDA made clear and consistent promises to the community that their allotments would be relocated so that they could stay together. They have now decided to break that promise. If the authorities are not willing to honour their promises then the Court has to step in.[9]

Allotment holders talk about their frustration with the empty talk about sustainability, their legal action against their eviction, and how they were cut out of the conversation about London Olympics 2012

The IOC refers to respect for the environment as the ‘third pillar of Olympianism’. The Sydney Bid Committee failed to note that Homebush Bay, the Olympic site, was heavily contaminated with dangerously high levels of dioxin, asbestos, heavy metals, and phthalates. The New South Wales government commissioned four scientific analyses and remediation plans for the site between 1990 and 1992 but took no action to avoid jeopardising the bid. When exposed, Olympic organisers accused environmentalists of being ‘unpatriotic and ‘un-Australian’.[10]

REGENERATION: THE REALITIES

David Higgins, Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), states:

“The Apperition of the Blue Wall” graffitti commenting on the walled off construction zone
The blue wall made large sections of East London inaccessible.

Our challenge is to successfully manage both the requirements of the Games and the long term regeneration of East London. Achieving both of these will bring fantastic opportunities for the whole of the UK.

In the past 20 years, there has been wave after wave of ‘regeneration’ in East London, each scheme spending huge amounts of public money. While claiming to be solving the same basic problems associated with poverty and ‘social exclusion’, the schemes seem never to have achieved their stated aims. Primarily, because their real aim has been to promote gentrification. During the Thatcher era, it was to be via the ‘trickle down effect’; now, gentrification is justified as being about ‘mixed-tenure’ and ‘social diversity’. But whichever prism you chose to view it through, the fact is that regeneration is simply the process of privatisation of housing and public space.

Art on the blue wall around contruction of London Olympics 2012

Lord Coe has explicitly stated his aim to ‘put London in the same bracket as the Barcelona games’. An ominous comparison. David Mackay, one of the leading architects of the Barcelona Olympics, whose firm MBM Arquitectes built the beach and the Olympic village, has said:

For Barcelona, [the Olympics] were a pretext, an excuse to improve the city.

Mackay calls the London Olympic plan a ‘missed opportunity’, a ‘thing that has arrived from out of this world and been plonked down in the Lea Valley’, anarchitectural theme city […] concentrated on iconic buildings rather than the recovery of the Valley.

Blue Wall, London Olympics 2012

London will build a new Olympic stadium, a velopark – a set of cycling arenas (in fact London mayor Ken Livingstone confirmed in February 2005 that the proposed £22 million velodrome and velo-park would be built with or without a successful Olympic bid) – and new athletics, aquatics and hockey centres. Mackay is critical of all these. The master plan, he told the Evening Standard, shows;over-construction. … It’s all concentrated according to the best desires of the International Olympic Committee, who want everything for their three week pageant. They’ve gone too far. It’s not for Londoners.

Blue wall, London Olypics 2012

Genuine regeneration benefits local residents; when ‘regeneration’ means displacement it is little more than a land grab. In Barcelona, the construction of the Poblenou Olympic Village displaced a working class neighbourhood. In Atlanta, the Olympics provided the opportunity to convert Techwood/Clark Howell public housing, the oldest in the US, into mixed use development and to displace low-income residents (mainly African American) from the downtown area. In total, about 450 public housing units were lost. The estates were situated on prime real estate, near the Georgia Institute of Technology and opposite the corporate HQ of Coca-Cola.[11]

In Beijing, it is thought that around 1.4 million people have been forcibly moved, some illegally. The number of traditional hutong neighbourhoods, made up of courtyard houses, has been reduced from 6.5 thousand to 500 as a result of clearances for the 2008 games.

LEGACY

Evidence suggests that new sports facilities have an extremely small (and perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment in a given area.[12] Stadia rarely earn anything approaching a reasonable return on investment and sports facilities attract neither tourists nor new industry. One legacy of the London Olympics might be high maintenance facilities and a huge debt. After all, Montreal took 30 years to pay off the debt it incurred building their Olympic site.

Manor Gardens allotment holders speak about the Legacy of the London Olympics 2012

According to the British Olympic Association, the London Games ‘will drive many of our youngsters to take part in sport and pursue dreams of becoming an Olympian.’ Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, is planning a Youth Olympics for 14-18 year olds in 2010.

But behind Rogge’s dream is another myth-busting admission: the Olympics is not about sport but about watching television. Since the average age of the television audience for the track and field events is over 40, it is difficult not to see the Youth Olympics primarily as an attempt to attract a more youthful sector. For all but the relatively miniscule number of people in the stadium, the Olympics is a televised event. In Australia, a very outdoor society, it was television viewing figures rather than sports activities that increased after the Sydney Olympics.

Sunday League players at Hackney Marshes discuss the effects on their community stemming from loosing their piches to the London 2012 Olympics

OLYMPIC IDEALS AND URBAN PLANNING

The planning applications for the Olympic Park were submitted by the ODA to the ODA Planning Decisions Team (PDT) on 5 February 2007. The 15-volume, 10,000 page document included plans for 2.5 km2 of new sporting venues, highways, bridges, river works, utilities, parks, and open spaces. Plans for the park show it will be very densely built.

Map of proposed Olympics 2012 construction

The application was subject to a statutory 28 days consultation period, later extended to six weeks, to allow members of the public to give their comments. There were many objections lodged, a major one being about the inadequate time for public consultation and woeful access to the application documents. The time period given to digest, consider, and prepare responses to one of Europe’s biggest ever planning applications was completely unrealistic, and further exasperated by the lack of access to documents, either online, in public libraries, or even at the ODA offices themselves. The complete set of planning documents available from the ODA in hard copy costs £500. DVDs were provided free-of-charge to representatives and those in the ODA/LDA, but were not available to local community groups.

It is difficult to see how the ODA has complied with The European Environmental Impact Assessment Directive which applies to these applications.[13] The directive provides that, the public concerned shall be given early and effective opportunities to participate in the environmental decision-making procedures referred to;[14] and that, reasonable time-frames for the different phases shall be provided, allowing sufficient time for informing the public and for the public concerned to prepare and participate effectively in environmental decision-making subject to this article.’[15]

Complaints about the absence of meaningful consultation, a lack or withholding of information, and manipulation of facts, are commonly directed at regeneration projects. As one resident says:

I was looking at an exhibition about the Olympic site and thought… Hang on! That’s where I live!

End of an era in East London, before the construction of the Olympic Stadiums

THE WINNERS

Glass towers in construction, London Olympics 2012

Laing O’Rourke, in partnership with Mace Ltd. (project management) and environmental evaluation company CH2M Hill (together called the CLM consortium), won the contract to manage construction of the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium and the Athletes’ Village. Happily, the CLM consortium has worked on five previous Olympic Games: Torino 2006, Athens 2004, Salt Lake City 2002, Sydney 2000, and Atlanta 1996.[16] The awarding of the management contract to CLM caused some controversy within both the industry and Parliament on the grounds that construction tycoon Ray O’Rourke had given a substantial donation to ‘Tony Blair’s 2012 bid team’ and substantial help in kind.[17]

Cranes in the skyline of Olympic construction 2012

The real winners are the IOC themselves, however. In the Athens games, they made a billion dollars in TV rights alone. The IOC enjoys tax-free status despite not being a charity, a religion, or a non-profit organisation. And to be on the safe side, its members enjoy diplomatic immunity.

THE LOSERS

The losers are often the most vulnerable members of society. In Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless documented the arrest of 9,000 homeless people in a policy of ‘arrests and relocation’ during the year before the Olympics. In Athens, 140 Roma from the Marousi community were forcibly evicted. The Clays Lane estate in East London, Europe’s second largest purpose built housing cooperative, was set up in the early 1980s to address the lack of housing for young single people in the area. It was initially funded by organisations including Newham Council and the University of East London. The site is large enough to house approximately 450 people. Now, the residents have been displaced under a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) issued by the London Development Agency (LDA) to make way for the development of the Olympic Village.

Clay Lane Community Centre, once a vibrant cooperative, dispersed by Olympic Park construction.

Also among the losers will be those deprived of funding by the Olympic budget. The Lottery (which, given the miniscule chance of winning, is basically a tax on the daft) will lose £112.5 million to help pay for the Olympics. This amount would otherwise have gone to ‘good causes’. The Arts Council of Great Britain recently slashed the ‘Grants for the Arts’ scheme funding by a third, from £83 million to £54 million, the first Olympic raid on the Arts Lottery fund. This money would have gone to around 5,000 arts projects.

Protesters on canal boats in East London, Olympics 2012

In March 2004, a cross-party committee of MP’s called the earmarking of money for the Olympics ‘a straightforward raid’ on Lottery funds for projects outside of London. The committee argued that the redirection of funds breached the government’s promise not to use Lottery cash to support schemes that should be funded through general taxation. It will be communities in East London and other deprived areas of the country who will suddenly find it harder to secure funding.


Protesters tour Olympic construction sight on canal boats in East London, Olympics 2012

NATIONAL MEGA PROJECTS

The postwar Olympic games are less sporting events than mega development projects. For every host city, the Olympics is an instrument for major urban restructuring on a scale that would otherwise be beyond the planners’ wildest hopes and dreams. The glow from the Olympic torch shines so bright it bleaches out the flickering flames of protest.

Construction behind the blue wall, London Olympics 2012 construction

The governments of all host nations exploit the Games for self-aggrandisement. From Berlin 1936 to Beijing 2008, regimes have used the opening ceremonies to parade the Games as the fruit and embodiment of their ideology. The 1973 games in Munich, for example, saw politics return to German sport as Cold War tensions came to a head.[18] The American-led boycott of Moscow 1980 was another recognition of the ideological instrumentalisation of the Games, as was the retaliatory boycott of Los Angeles 1984 by the Soviet Union and 13 Communist allies. In the run up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China wants to take the Olympic Torch through Taiwan and Tibet.

One can only fantasise about the cultural kitschifaction that will feature in the London opening ceremony. In the Expo 2000 UK pavilion, Battersea Power Station, an icon for degeneration, was featured heavily – so don’t expect irony.

Stratford and Westfield, London Olympics 2012

Of course, Britain’s major cultural legacy is its colonial past, currently unravelling most visibly in Iraq. Colonialism and regeneration have much in common. After all, one of the classic tricks of British colonialism was to present the land being taken over as ‘empty’. Colonialism also likes to rename. Or, as it is called today, ‘re-brand’. The idea is to re-appropriate culturally what has been taken physically. The branders can either sweep away all that existed before by calling it ‘My-Land’. Or enlist the past, one as distant, romantic, and mythical as possible, to present as natural what in fact is an irreversible lurch in the opposite direction. To cite the deputy Chairman of the Interbrand Group, Tom Blackett:

Glass towers still looking out of place during construction London Olympics, 2012

The development that will take place in preparation for the 2012 Olympics will change profoundly the character of the old East End; much of the squalor and dereliction will be swept away, and even areas developed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority will be transformed. […] The vast site [ …] will acquire an entirely new image, and with that it needs a new name. But it has to be a name that will last, a name that will capture the glory of the 2012 Olympics and help signify the rebirth of the area. ‘Lammas Lands’ would honour the spirit of the past; it is a name that is synonymous with recreation and the public good, and carries with it a long tradition of sport in East London.

Cranes behind the blue wall, London Olympics 2012 construction

Why not call it the ‘East End of History’?

THE FUTURE

As people who deliberately kick the hornets’ nest over love to say: ‘We are where we are.’ Sure, the London Olympics will go ahead, maybe not on time or on budget, but they will at least manage to destroy all that is currently there by turning it into Europe’s biggest building site. But the Olympic circus must stop. London must be the last nomadic Olympics. After 2012, the Games should stay in one place: perhaps Athens, Los Angeles or Atlanta (who cares?). The complex, not the IOC, should have ambassadorial status and be insulated from the host country. The athletes should represent themselves, not a country. We should see the world’s diversity through faces, not flags.

Olympic Stadiums, 2012

Competitive sport at this level is too specialist for it to be participatory for a wider public and it is a myth that the centralisation of specialist facilities does anything to help wider participation in sport. It would be better for the athletes if good, fixed facilities were established instead of the wasteful and destructive cycle of makeshift and make do. The money saved could be better invested in spreading around the world accessible local sporting facilities at a community level. That would be a true Olympic legacy.

Locals protest London Olympic games 2012

But more importantly, it is clearly unacceptable for a self-elected, unaccountable body like the International Olympics Committee to decide the fate of our cities. It is not about sport but a process whereby business interests lobby and encourage democratically elected local governments to commit limitless public money and dedicate urban priorities to hosting the Games. The IOC, through the issuing of exclusive rights and franchises, and by ruthless brand protection, in turn invigorates and gives free reign to those business interests. The momentum created by the need to ‘put on a good show’ irrevocably distorts and rearranges our cities according to private concerns. In the national interest, extraordinary powers are exercised to overcome democratic structures, opposition, and planning constraints. For the East End, it is not looking good. The area will slowly get turned into a matrix of gated housing and shopping complexes, clustered in a tamed, risk-averse landscaping linked by high security jogging friendly ‘green’ pathways.

As they say in Cockney rhyming slang: then we’re ‘McDonald Ducked’.

Further Information

The best source of info and updates on the London Olympics is Games Monitor, http://gamesmonitor.org.uk

Footnotes

[1] Guardian Unlimited, 8 March 2007.

[2] The Guardian, 8 March 2007.

[3]The Independent, 08 March 2007.

[4] Sarah Glynn, ‘Playing the ethnic card – politics and ghettoisation in London’s East End’, online papers archived by the Institute of Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, 2006, http://linkme2.net/ce

[5] East End Life, 15-21 November 2004.

[6] ’2006 Multi-Storey Housing’, in: Review of Architecture, vol. 3, 2006, p. 302.

[7] A. Fraser, BBC Sport, 16 August, 2005.

[8] BBC Sport, 16 August, 2005.

[9] Manor Gardens Press Release, 28 April 2007.

[10] Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, Progressive Planning Magazine, Fall 2004.

[11] Peter Phibbs, Progressive Planning Magazine, Fall 2004.

[12] See: Roger G. Noll and Andrew Zimbalist, Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums, Brookings Institution Press, 1997.

[13] Directive 85/337/EEC as amended.

[14] Ibid, 6(4).

[15] Ibid, 6(6).

[16] Contract Journal, 30 August, 2006

[17] Evening Standard, 3 September 2006, in the run up to the IOC’s decision.

[18] On the ideological mise en scène of the Munich Games in 1973, see: Uta Andrea Balbier, ‘Zu Gast bei Freunden. How the Federal Republic of Germany Learned to Take Sport Seriously’, in: Mittelweg 36, 2, 2006. English translation published by Eurozine : http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-06-09-balbie…

 This is an edited version of an article that appeared first on the Eurozine website entitled ‘Fish ‘n’ Freedom Fries’ : http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-05-25-saunde…

Mark Saunders is a documentary film maker living in London. His films and photography are available at http://www.spectacle.co.uk



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Stay Home? They wanted to…

As England enters a third lockdown where all people are ordered to “stay at home,” at Spectacle we are reminded of a community in Clapham Old Town, Lambeth SW4 that was told to “get out” of their homes.

In Rectory Gardens, there lived a group of creative and industrious people. As young artists and divergent thinkers they turned a derelict bombed out row of uninhabitable houses into a flourishing artistic community. For forty years they lived in a housing backwater largely unaffected by social housing policies, despite sporadic attempts by the council to “formalise” the street. They created a housing cooperative, until Lambeth, the ‘cooperative Council’ began taking their “million pound” houses from under their feet. The community that now included the vulnerable, elderly, and unwell, was broken up and dispersed. 

A Tragedy in the Commons 

The street circa 1980

Rectory Gardens (RG) is a L shaped Victorian pedestrian street in Clapham Old Town SW4 that was badly damaged by bombing during WW2. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the decimated houses attracted a group of squatters who saw the opportunity to create a utopia. This motley crew of characters with their own ideologies, housing needs, and reasons for living outside of the norm, formed a collective community which lived in relative harmony for four decades.  

Rectory Gardens circa 1980

By the 1980s these squatters had revitalized the houses, and formed a housing cooperative. Rectory Gardens offered a home for all kinds of artists, free-thinkers, draft dodgers, and other socially liminal characters. Through the 80 and 90s, it remained a diverse community at the epicentre of a flourishing arts scene.

Squatters clear rubble, circa 1960

The street was host to an industrious community of artists, musicians, poets and unconventional ‘free thinkers’ who found a cheap way of living while developing their creative endeavors. It became a hub of cultural activities initiating art studios and cafes that brought life to the area. Spectacle interviewed both Vivienne Westwood and Maggi Hambling about the value of Rectory Gardens’s cultural contributions.

Bombed out windows, circa 1960

Residents of this dynamic community were the initiators of much that made the area distinct and attractive, the skate park and cafe on clapham common, Cafe des Artistes, Fungus Mungus, Voltaire Studios, bric-a-brac shops, rehearsal studios, artisan crafts and pool of skilled creative labour. The street itself had a public garden that served as a safe play area in the day and a performance and social space in the evening.

As with any tragedy, their success was key to their end as well. The artistic growth contributed to the popularity of the neighborhood and ultimately its subsequent gentrification. The council had its eyes on the properties, and though the residents tried to work with the council to legalize their living arrangement the deal fell through. The residents were recently evicted by Lambeth Council, who sold the houses to a developer on the private market.

Evicting the community was devistating for the mental health and well-being of many of these elderly and vulnerable residents. They lost not only their homes but their community and support networks. Many struggled to live away from their home of forty years, some died or were sectioned. Housing is integral to well-being, a point overlooked by this profit driven housing department.

Spectacle at Rectory Gardens

In the spring of 2014 Spectacle was contacted by the residents of Rectory Gardens. They wanted to record the final months of their squat-turned housing-cooperative. Rectory Gardens had been a lively arts community for over forty years, but growing conflict with the local council left the residents desperately fighting to avoid eviction, something that perhaps some media advocacy and intervention could assist them with, they believed.

Spectacle begins filming at Rectory Gardens in 2014

During our preliminary engagement with Rectory Gardens, Spectacle offered training to any residents who were interested in filming techniques. Spectacle conducted workshops where participants learned camera techniques, collected peers’ stories, and collectively discussed the footage and ways to continue the production process. The production process was dictated by the participants themselves, and they shaped the narrative scope by inviting ex-residents to contribute with their memories. This work developed into an archive of oral histories of the street. 

Peers interview eachother and collect an oral history of the street

The production has continued for over six years, far longer than the initial few months originally envisioned. Together, Spectacle and Rectory Gardens residents have collected over 150 hours of footage including: long interviews with residents; key events on the street; residents resisting evictions; historic footage filmed by residents during the 90s; and residents in their new flats, reflecting on living away from their community where they lived for decades.

Post evictions, the street is home to wealthier residents

During Spectacle’s engagement, RG has been dismantled through evictions and relocations, and the residents have been scattered to various and disparate areas of the borough. The street, on the other hand, has been transformed to make way for the arrival of new wealthy tenants. 

Framing the Street 

Spectacle’s video archive of Rectory Gardens brings out many topical themes and offers inspiration for the post-Covid City through an examination of the past. Rectory Gardens is a portrait of forty years of resistance to the government housing policies. 

The houses themselves were initially built as philanthropic poor-quality Victorian housing for low-income workers. After
Rectory Gardens was bombed and left derelict post WW2, it provided a solution for postwar homelessness through squatting. It offered fertile ground for experimenting with alternative ways of living, resisted the “slum clearance” in the 1970s, Thatcherism, and the sale of social housing in the ‘80s. Their methods and ideologies represent a range of approaches including anarcho individualism, anarcho-syndicalism, socialism, capitalism of small artisanal businesses looking for cheap space, and the daily necessity of the socially excluded and the legally marginalised. 

The beautiful rennovation by one of the co-operative residents, taken just before eviction

By the 2000s, the constant push to turn London’s affordable housing into profit, was nibbling at the edges of Rectory Gardens as well. The insidious forces of “regeneration” and contemporary privatised gentrification have been endemic in London where, even by global standards, the commodification of real estate is extreme. Through eviction and rehousing the community was broken up, and the squatters were replaced with live-in guardians, the modern sanitised, privatised version of squatting.

It’s important to note that not all parts of London have been equally gentrified, and Lambeth Council, where Rectory Gardens is located, was famous for its tolerance of alternative housing organisations and leftist leanings. They referred to themselves as ‘the cooperative council’ and ‘Red Ted’ Knight and his ‘Socialist Republic of Lambeth’ were the bete-noir anti hero of the tabloids. There were many houses like Rectory Gardens which were uninhabitable after the war, and Lambeth had few resources to deal with them. Squatters quickly took advantage of the council’s disinterest and moved into these spaces. Lambeth greatly benefited from the labour of these groups, and many cooperatives were able to legalise their situation, but RG was not.

The Project Now

The filming part of this project has come to a close, and we are looking for partners in the next phase – telling the story of what has disappeared. 

We are searching for funding and partners to assist in bringing the dispersed community together again for an online participatory editing process. The process will let the former residents of Rectory Gardens tell their story, by sifting through the 150 hours of footage and drawing out narratives and themes to share with a wider audience.

Searching for Partners for Rectory Gardens Online Participatory Video Project

If you are interested in exploring collaborations or can suggest potential funding streams please get in contact. We welcome academic researchers, activists, social historians, and all others. 

Read more about our model and past projects.

Please get in touch with projects@spectacle.co.uk or subscribe for more information.

For updates check our other blogs.

This project is relevant to: well-being, health, housing, social housing, urbanism, urban planning, human geography, sociology, participatory methods, co-creatation, co-authorship, knowlege sharing, community filmmaking, and participatory film.

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L&Q lockout Silwood Youth Club

Jacqueline Willis Silwood resident and Ola Walker local youth worker expressed their frustration and hurt after L&Q housing association, current managers of the Lewington Community Centre, cancelled the youth club at short notice. The day before L&Q had cancelled the Zumba class again at very short notice, which sparked a resident sit down.

L&Q have a history of last-minute cancellations of community events including the residents’ Christmas Party. Fortunately, they were given permission to throw the Christmas party, but not without causing distress and anxiety to the community event organisers and the caterers. As the Christmas party drew nearer, they were still in the dark about the availability of the centre.

The Lewington Community Centre, promised under the regeneration of the Silwood estate to serve and be managed by the Silwood neighbourhood has become simply an “asset” of L&Qs portfolio of properties- it is rented out most of the time to Morley College.

These community events were cancelled at extremely short notice, just a few hours before the events were meant to begin. This was particularly unfortunate on the day that they were supposed to hold a youth club event for minors, as it posed a child protection issue when the building closed and they had nowhere to go.

L&Q offer no real explanation for the cancellations. They cite staff shortages but there is no reason for the community not to be keyholders. If they had been keyholders none of the events would have needed to be cancelled.

L&Q seem determined not to allow members of the community-led Lewington Community Centre Management Community (LCCMM) to be keyholders. Indeed L&Q appear to resist any attempt by the community to organise and run their own centre as they were promised they would under the Section 106 agreement. Before the “regeneration” of the estate the community happily and efficiently ran their own centre.

Silwood residents sit-down to demand a community centre.

After a series of community events have been cancelled at short notice, when L&Q suddenly announced the Lewington Centre on the Silwood Estate would closed at 5pm- not the scheduled 9pm, it was the final straw, after 20 years of being excluded from their own centre. 

Residents wanted to show that there were people who would be prepared to manage and close the building after 5pm. The women were resident community workers and representatives of residents and tenant groups.

Residents were not asked to leave by L&Q but soon after 5 the police were in the room.

This is not the whole story.

Since the building was open L&Q have resisted all attempts by the community to manage and use their own centre.

This sit down was not just about a zumba class being cancelled. It was the last straw in a 20 year struggle for the community to get the centre “regeneration” promised.

What Silwood residents had pre Regeneration: a mish-mash of community resources, youth clubs, a nursery, a creche, education and training facilities, clubs and groups, council supported and bottom up initiatives effectively run and organised by residents, paid or voluntary. Many were much loved by the community and the residents made the best of what little they had.

What they were promised, the justification for the entire regeneration scheme was a bigger, better, purpose built community centre and facilities.

What they have 20 years on is the “Lewington Centre.” A building L&Q run and refer to as an “asset” and a business. The centre is in fact let out to Morley College most of the week so it is not available for community use.There is nothing “purpose-built” about the Lewington Centre. With 25 flats above the main hall, occupied by key workers, some on night shifts, the building was never suitable for the kind of noisy social  and community events like birthday parties, weddings.  The acoustics have been a constant problem. Just a few teenagers playing table tennis made a deafening noise before expensive sound remediation.

L&Q insisted they had to build the flats above the centre to provide an income stream to make the centre sustainable. Its not clear why the flats needed to be physically located on top of the building given the huge amount of land L&Q were given in the regeneration deal. Without transparency and published accounts it is also not clear what this income, combined with the rental from Morley College and other private hires, is actually spent on. Do L&Q really need to charge the community to use their own hall for social and community events to “cover their overheads”?

The community want some very basic things so they can once again manage their own community resources:

Management of activities and social events at the community centre.

Registered Community key holders.

Recognition of the Community Centre Management Committee (CCMC)

Published accounts for Lewington Centre. (required under Section 106)

These are simple demands. It is curious L&Q are so resistant. Why?

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Silwood Community Centre Management Committee

Before the “regeneration” of the Silwood Estate by Lewisham and L&Q in 2000 the residents successfully ran their own community centre and youth facilities- either voluntarily or employed.

These facilities, the youth club, cyber centre, community hall, under 5s etc were demolished and residents were promised a bigger and better purpose built “Community Centre” to not just replace but improve on what they lost. What followed was a systematic disempowerment of the community. What they got was the L&Q run “Lewington Centre”, a totally unsuitable building that residents struggle to access. L&Q sublet the building to Morley College which is of no benefit to the community and means the building is rarely available for residents to use.

On the 16th of September 2019, the Silwood community held a meeting to form the Community Centre Management Committee (CCMC). This meeting symbolises local people of Silwood wanting to come together to improve the facilities of the community and surrounding areas.  

Silwood Community Centre run by L&Q

Historically, the residents successfully ran their own community centre and amenities. Sadly, under the regeneration of the estate, L&Q housing association took control of the new purpose-built community centre that was meant to not just replace but improve the facilities lost. Following the regeneration, L&Q then sub-let the centre to Morley College and the community has felt excluded ever since.

After years of frustration, the establishment of an independent CCMC means the whole community could have their voice heard. In the past L&Q have managed to make promises and not keep them to individuals without being made accountable but now with the strength of the committee, this will happen no more. A significant improvement for the community, as in the past, resident’s concerns about the management of the estate was falling on to deaf ears and there was no one to hold L&Q accountable to fulfil promises made.

Spectacle has been documenting the resident’s struggle since 1999 and continue to do so today. We believe that the injustice done to the residents is unacceptable. By setting up the Silwood video group to document and lobby for a meaningful regeneration, we are working with the community to help bring awareness to the mistreatment of Silwood residents. 

The group has participated in workshops organised by Spectacle and filmed the consultative meetings so they have a personal record.

Rita Edmond, Community Develop Practitioner, in her interview, exclaims,  “we stand together, and we fall together.” which is an attitude that currently illustrates the unity of the Silwood community and their hopes for the future. 

Another interviewee, Pembe Kumbi, Local entrepreneur, said the community has lots of hidden young talent that will be expressed through the use of the community centre. 

There is so much opportunity for Lewington Community Centre to become a hub for people to gather for youth groups and an assortment of classes. Joyce Jacca mentions all sorts of potential uses for the centre if it is allowed to be run by the locals. 

This represents a whole new chapter in the Silwood story that goes to the heart of community empowerment and wellbeing.   

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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.

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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”. 

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.

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.”

Luton focus of ‘Changing Britain’, Channel 4 News

Luton was the focus of the Channel 4 News piece ‘Changing Britain‘ aired on Tuesday 23rd March.

On the streets of Luton and in the context of it’s pronounced industrial and migrant history, Jon Snow’s report examined crime, unemployment and the benefit’s trap, and inviting local perspectives on the upcoming elections.

The Snowblog ‘Hats off for Luton’, published prior to the broadcast, recognises Luton as “merely the tip of a very British reality, a snapshot of a country with vast social challenges extending far beyond what we mainly talk about – fixing the deficit.”

Glenn Jenkins (who extends the discussion in A view from the Marsh Farm estate) and other Marsh Farm Outreach members also feature in the programme. Spectacle have been working with the group for over 15 years, most recently on our Poverty and Participation in the Media project for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, but also during the early community activism and outreach principles of the Exodus Collective (now Leviticus and MFO), about whom Spectacle produced two films Exodus Movement of Jah People and Exodus from Babylon.