Jeremy Corbyn has been set a challenge over his promise about housing and social cleansing

Jeremy Corbyn Housing
Steve Topple

On Wednesday 29 September, Jeremy Corbyn gave his keynote speech to the Labour Party conference. In it, he addressed the issues surrounding housing in the UK; specifically highlighting the regeneration of council estates and how Labour under him would not allow “social cleansing”.

But now, the Green Party has set Corbyn a challenge. It wants him to meet residents who claim they are being socially cleansed from two council estates in London. And a challenge it will be for the Labour leader. Because the council responsible for the regenerations is one of his.

Talking the talk?

Corbyn made it clear in his speech that he does not support the regeneration of council estates, unless it is “for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators”. And he also said he would make it Labour policy that for a regeneration to take place, councils would have “to win a ballot of existing tenants and leaseholders”.

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So, Co-Leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley has written to Corbyn about his housing pledges made at the Labour conference. Bartley, who lives in the London borough of Lambeth, has directly challenged Corbyn to come and meet the residents of the Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens estates. Lambeth Council has earmarked both these estates for regeneration.

Bartley said in his letter, which he shared with The Canary, that he supported Corbyn’s “sentiment” over estate regeneration. But he noted that:

In Lambeth… the Labour-led council is set to demolish two estates… against resident’s wishes. Residents on both estates have made clear repeatedly and clearly through ballots and surveys, that they are opposed to the council’s plans for ‘regeneration’.

Regeneration or gentrification?

As The Canary previously reported, Central Hill near Crystal Palace has around 450 homes, housing about 2,000 people. Lambeth Council wants to bulldoze most of the estate and fully rebuild it. Local ward councillor and Lambeth Cabinet Member for Housing Matthew Bennett claims that:

Too many homes suffer from damp, from mould, from disrepair. Too many homes have problems with their drains, the kitchens and bathrooms are dilapidated and need replacing, roofs and water pipes leak. Many families are living [in] overcrowded conditions in homes that are just too small.

Lambeth Council says it wants:

To improve the conditions for existing residents and explore opportunities for new homes so the next generation of Lambeth tenants and residents have somewhere they can afford to live.

The idea is to build new homes for private sale to help finance new council flats and the refurbishment of old ones.

Labour failings?

But residents and campaign groups fiercely oppose the regeneration. Save Central Hill (SCH) is a campaign group set up to oppose the plans. It says that Lambeth Council has neglected the properties on the estate for years. SCH claims that instead of spending public money on estate maintenance, Lambeth Council has spent the funds elsewhere. This has, they claim, allowed the estate to fall into disrepair.

SCH says that:

The people who live on the estate will lose their current homes, tenants will lose their secure tenancies and leaseholders will be forced out as the new properties will not be affordable. The community will be destroyed. The impact on the local area will also be significant as Lambeth plan to at least double the number of homes on the estate.

Residents’ opposition

survey carried out by residents revealed that just 1.3% of residents wanted Central Hill demolished. Ultimately, SCH claims that Lambeth Council’s plans amount to the gentrification of Central Hill. It says:

[Lambeth Council] has lied and lied and lied over what decisions have been made; what information was made available to residents… Under these plans, we are heading back to the Middle Ages… when a Tudor King and his favourites could set their sights on a property and claim it for their own.

But in March, the council took the decision to go ahead with its plans for Central Hill, amid anger from residents. You can read Lambeth Council’s full responses over the residents’ claims here and here.

But it is the situation on Central Hill and at Cressingham Gardens which Bartley wants Corbyn to see for himself. He said in the letter:

These are regeneration schemes you have supported in the past when you stood with Lambeth Councillor Matthew Bennett posing for a picture. However in your speech you made a welcome promise that your party would ‘think again’. Residents on these estates believe the ‘regeneration’ schemes will mean forced gentrification and social cleansing.

Walking the walk?

And Bartley challenged Corbyn to “stop supporting” regenerations like Central Hill:

We are writing to you today to visit Cressingham Gardens and the Central Hill estate and the people who call them home. Your pledge to ensure regeneration benefits local people, not developers or speculators, is welcome. But for your word to have any weight you must stop supporting schemes which residents are opposed to.

The Canary asked Corbyn’s office for a response, but it had not responded at the time of publication. He did say in his conference speech:

So when councils come forward with proposals for regeneration, we will put down two markers based on one simple principle: Regeneration under a Labour government will be for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators. First, people who live on an estate that’s redeveloped must get a home on the same site and the same terms as before. No social cleansing, no jacking up rents, no exorbitant ground rents. And second, councils will have to win a ballot of existing tenants and leaseholders before any redevelopment scheme can take place. Real regeneration, yes, but for the many not the few.

But Bartley told The Canary:

Jeremy Corbyn is saying the right thing about regeneration. Meanwhile on the ground Labour councils are acting in direct opposition to what he has committed his party to. Labour councils like the one in Lambeth where I live are bringing about the very social cleansing the Labour leader has now pledged to stop. The Labour council must be stopped and the residents’ homes saved in accordance with their wishes.

Empty promises?

The Central Hill and Cressingham estates are not unusual in London. The group Architects for Social Housing (ASH) claims that Labour-led councils are responsible for the planned privatisation and demolition, and actual demolition, of 195 estates across the capital. So, as Bartley implies, Corbyn’s words will only mean something if he starts intervening in his own council’s regenerations. Otherwise his pledges will just be more empty promises from another politician.

Get Involved!

– Donate to the SCH crowdfunder and follow the group on Facebook.

– Write to your MP, asking them to oppose the gentrification of estates.

– Support ASH.

Featured image via YouTube

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