The other week Earls Court Area Action Group laid on a colourful Victorian themed to protest against the planned destruction of Empress Place and two adjacent pubs. Thankfully the Prince of Wales pub has been given ACV listing which should give it some protection but the architecturally and culturally important street of terraced housing in Empress Place is under serious threat. I went along with my camera to make a record of events and help spread the word.
25th March (which happened to be Good Friday) marked the first anniversary of the opening of the Trew Era Cafe so it seemed like a good time to meet up with some of the residents on the New Era Estate in Hoxton plus Russell Brand, to get an update on their situation.
There was so much widespread support for the campaign to save the New Era that I’m often asked how things are going now for the residents once the estate was bought by Dolphin Living. By all accounts everything is working out well with the new landlords and the spirit of the New Era Estate is as strong as ever.
There’s a great message for everybody from the residents in the video above – stick together and never give up.
The other week I returned to the Sweets Way Estate in the London Borough of Barnet to visit Sweetstopia – a newly declared microstate.
I was greeted by Daniel, who I’d first met at the Sweets Way Sleepover back in March, and it seems that Daniel has been busy since, helping to establish Sweetstopia with a collective of permaculture practitioners, bohemians, artists, squatters and activists. And two dogs – one of which is President of Sweetstopia.
The idealism of Sweetstopia in the face of the barbarism of the destruction of the estate by Annington Homes is seductive. They continue to pursue their mission of creative resistance and promoting sustainability and autonomy while being aggressively intimidated by the private security guards who patrol the estate and stalk the Sweetstopia residents. One Sweetstopian was violently assaulted by a security guard last week and required medical treatment. The authorities are clearly rattled by such a bold display of utopianism.
There are echoes of the microstates of Leytonstonia and Wanstonia that grew out of the M11 Link Road protests in the early 90’s. Then it was anti-road protests – today the housing struggle and estate regeneration is the new battlefront.
Link Road veteran Ian Bourn recounted how there was a vote to use carrots as currency in Leytonstonia – because they could be sliced into coin like discs and also the militant vegans were pushing the idea. A similar air of playful eccentricity infuses Sweetstopia – you are invited to make your own passport which is then validated with an official potato stamp.
The only rules in Sweetstopia are – NO KNITTING AFTER DARK and DON’T FEED THE UNICORNS – I saw neither knitting needles nor Unicorns so it seems to be working. Daniel told me there would be no laws only traditions.
Long may Sweetstopia prosper and grow.
On Tuesday I returned to Sweets Way in the London Borough of Barnet. I first visited the estate back in March when a combination of residents and activists hosted a sleepover in protest at the eviction of around 140 families by Annington Homes who planned to demolish the estate to make way for luxury apartments.
Now the families have gone, dispersed throughout the borough and further afield. But that night in March an occupation of some of the empty homes started and is still going strong.
I went to witness the make-over of one of the houses that Barnet Homes and Annington had deemed unfit and scheduled for demolition. A community-led team have now completed a beautiful renovation using donated and recycled materials. It’s hoped that it will prove a riposte the lie that sits at the heart of so-called estate regeneration, the process that sees communities broken up and public housing stock transferred to the private sector on the basis that it is financially unviable to renovate the estates.
What is being done at Sweets Way could spread across London – communities working together to save their homes.
Read more about the Sweets Way Show Home here
I was back in the Rotten Borough of Barnet on Tuesday night as my old pal Russell Brand staged a sleepover at the Sweets Way Estate in protest at the planned demolition of the houses by Barnet Council and Annington Homes to make way for … yes you guessed it … luxury flats.
The brutality of the eviction process, which has been going on for weeks, has been shocking as families have literally been thrown out onto the streets. Residents who have been Council tenants for years have had their homes taken from them and offered emergency accommodation elsewhere out of the Borough. Barnet are clearly embarking on a large scale privatisation of their housing stock and a thorough, psychopathic social cleansing project.
The Sleepover was a way of using Russell’s profile to draw large scale attention to the cause which has oddly had little attention in the mainstream press. And it seems to have worked gauging by the number of camera crews and dictaphone toting journos that followed him around like a cluster of ducklings everywhere he went.
And he turned up with an ice cream van dispensing free ice cream of course.
The atmosphere was fun, jocular, playful. They were loads of excited kids running around. One fella had come all the way from Plymouth, others came from Bristol, and Coventry … and there I was thinking about the long journey back to Leytonstone from Totteridge and Whetstone.
Now the fun night has finished we have to keep the pressure on Annington Homes and Barnet Council to end their social cleansing plans for the Sweets Way estate and let the families return to their homes.
Throughout the filming of the Drift Reports/Trews Reports I have done on housing in London one of the features that has stood out has been the role of foreign investment driving property development in London.
Property Week have published an excellent article examining the boom in overseas buyers purchasing London property off-plan and the resultant feedback loop of developments aimed squarely at that market.
I recently heard Boris Johnson claim that less than 10% of property in London was sold to overseas investors – which is patently false according to Hannah Brenton’s article, placing the figure at 70% some sectors of the London property market.
Here are some selected extracts from the article:
“The surge of overseas money flooding into the market is supported by figures from Savills, which show that 70% of all new-build properties in the £1,000-£2,000/sq ft bracket were sold to foreign investors in 2013/14, with Chinese and Pacific Asian buyers accounting for more than 30%. However, the number of foreign buyers drops to 50% in the more affordable £450-£1,000/sq ft section of the capital’s new-build housing market. And across all sales and resales in prime London it stands at 39%.”
“This pipeline of new stock comes at a point where price growth in the prime market is cooling, with most forecasts predicting minimal growth or even a decline. Nina Skero of the Centre for Economics Business Research, is predicting a 3.35% drop in London prices this year, which she says will be partly due to the knock-on effect of prime residential on the rest of the market.”
“It’s all about a moment in time,” Farmer argues. “What was perceived as good for Vauxhall and Battersea four or five years ago has now got to a point where it’s so much driven by speculation that it’s created a lack of affordability – and there’s always a risk that you’ll get that feeding frenzy spreading out across London.”
“But on top of the risks of speculation, Farmer argues there is a “perfect storm” looming for developers as construction prices spiral upwards, which could see schemes stall in the next year.”
“Peter Rees, former City planning chief and now professor of places and city planning at UCL Bartlett, is despondent about the wave of foreign capital buying London housing, but does not think there is a risk of a bubble or a slowdown in sales because of the almost infinite amount of demand.
“The amount of money trying to escape from Russia, the Far East and the Middle East is just so great and there are so few top-notch targets like London that unless we do something to stem the flow it won’t stop of its own accord,” says Rees.
He argues that there is a need for more high-density low-rise buildings in place of the glitzy towers springing up along the South Bank. “We’re building a product that is unsuitable for our market and suitable only for investment. We’re building the slums of the future. Derelict land is better than what’s happening at Battersea because derelict land has potential. Those developments have no potential because they’re locked in for 100-year leases to multiple owners.”
“Back at the Earls Court protest, Liberal Democrat councillor Linda Wade, who has been fighting against the scheme, says developers are now playing havoc with the planning system and that the huge number of high-end schemes risk creating “theme-park London”.
“The problem is we’ve got to a point where development has got out of hand, where urban planning is being dictated by developers rather than by local need.”
Gary Yardley, investment director at Capital & Counties, disagrees: “Schemes such as the Earls Court Masterplan deliver much-needed investment which provides more homes for our growing population and supports London’s continued success as a global city. We have also signed up to the Mayor’s concordat to prioritise offering homes to Londoners first.”
Capital & Counties has already announced that 95% of the flats in Lillie Square at Earls Court have been sold off-plan, with prices hitting up to £1,885/sq ft. This may be excellent for the developer’s cash flow, but it will do little to dispel protestor fears that the new flats will stand apart from the local community and from London itself.”
The other week I witnessed the latest heroic struggle against the rapacious development of London with the campaign to Save Earls Court – a vast redevelopment that will completely alter the shape of this part of West London.