UPDATE: This article was updated at 2.15pm on 1 March to include a council spokesperson’s response.
Around two dozen people protested outside the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Town Hall on 27 February. They claim that RBKC has been privatising public land to sell-off for ‘luxury accommodation’. Meanwhile, thousands remain homeless, along with a total of 71 households displaced by the Grenfell Tower disaster who still have no permanent accommodation. The public land in question is a 22 acre plot that was home to the world-famous Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre.
The demonstration was called by Save Earl’s Court Campaign and the Save Earl’s Court Supporters Club. The Radical Housing Network (RHN) and National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) also supported the protest. Protesters said there were private discussions being held, at the time of the protest, with the property developer Capital & Countries (Capco) about the fate of the site.
Privatising public land
According to a statement from RHN:
calls for a development that includes genuinely affordable social rent homes, community facilities, and a replacement multi-purpose green venue, have been dismissed.
Protesters called out @RBKC outside their Town Hall this eve.
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RBKC's planning committee was reportedly discussing the sell-off of 22 acres of public land (Earls Court Exhibition Centre) for 'luxury' accommodation. Residents say they're being completely ignored.#Gentrification pic.twitter.com/C00MyIyN5s
— M. A. E. (@MElmaazi) February 27, 2019
Shockingly, the RHN says that under current proposals:
“there is not one social housing unit to be built on…the site that falls within Kensington and Chelsea’s boundaries, out of 7500 planned new homes“.
Campaigner Desie told the crowd that “the absolute destruction of Earl’s Court Exhibition hall was the destruction of our heritage”.
Developers calling the shots
Protesters said that their councils have excluded them from the decision-making process for six years.
David told The Canary it was unacceptable that the council won’t build any social housing on site. He also said that the 22 acres are just “lying there idle” and so:
in the short term we want them to have ‘meanwhile use’. As an example, at White City, they’ve got what we call a pop-up theatre. They’ve got three years that they’re allowed to have a theatre.
I don’t think [the Council and developers] have been terribly good so far…and like David I am very much worried about the fact that there’s no affordable social housing. There is also very little of community space planned. And it’s rather vaguely defined.
A spokesperson for RBKC told The Canary:
The planning decisions for the Earl’s Court development have been made previously, but we understand that discussions are ongoing between the developers and Hammersmith and Fulham Council as to the mix of affordable housing that will be provided on the site.
Tories and Labour
Desie told The Canary that she has lived in the area and worked for social services for 43 years until she retired last year.
The ideology of these types of councils [is] right wing. They want this land and want people like us out of it.
Significantly, The Canary was told that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has the ability to intervene because at least some of the land in question is owned by Transport For London.
For example, the Mayor’s office reportedly paid Capco developers approximately £240m to save the Empress State Building that houses police headquarters.
“We’ll fight till the end’
Carlos, the RMT chair for the Piccadilly & District West Branch, was there with a colleague.
He told The Canary that Lilly Bridge Depot is where train and track related maintenance is done. It’s a “state of the art depot” with sophisticated machinery that will all be scrapped if the depot is closed.
all our staff there have the Sword of Damocles hanging over them because they don’t know whether they’re going to be there or not…. They’ve no idea where they’re going to be in the next couple of years. The people on the estates have no idea where they are going to be in the next couple of years. My mum and dad both live on West Ken estate so I have a joint interest in that.
He also said:
This is all ultimately so that someone can make a quick buck, on the back of everyone else. That’s why were are here. We are not having it. And we will fight ’till the end.
Gentrification is a process that will affect most of us sooner or later. The sooner people organise to protect their communities the better.
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