More than 70 people yesterday (2 December) marched down Tulse Hill from the Cressingham Gardens estate to protest outside Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton against plans to demolish and redevelop it.
They heard speakers from the steps of the town hall – which is due to reopen early next year after rebuilding – backing their demand for a ballot of estate residents on the demolition plan.
Gerlinde Gniewosz, a co-author of Cressingham residents’ own plan for their estate, told the protesters that “what we are demanding today is a binding ballot on Cressingham. We have been asking for this for five years”.
Piers Corbyn, brother of Labour leader Jeremy, a former Labour councillor and campaigner against Southwark council’s plans to demolish the Aylesbury estate, said he was speaking in solidarity with the “famous four”.
These are the Cressingham and Aylesbury estates, Lambeth council’s Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace and the Alton estate in Conservative-run Wandsworth – all threatened with demolition.
“These are all estates by very nice parks, and the councils and developers want them because they can sell those flats to money launderers and thieves from around the world,” he said. “That is what is happening in Southwark.”
Promises that more council housing would be built had been broken and former residents had been rehoused “beyond the M25”.
He said councils lied and lied to residents of their estates.
He listed the demands of a “for the people” test for proposed regeneration of council estates:
- Any redevelopment must be in the interests of the people
- Everyone affected must have the right to return to the same location under the same conditions they had before redevelopment. “Secure council tenancies must be continued as secure council tenancies,” he said.
- All regenerations and redevelopments must be subject to democratic ballots.
People who opposed these police were a “Blairite rump” working hand in glove with developers who had to be swept aside.
Corbyn said a “triangle of evil” was operating in London – councils, “so-called” housing associations and developers. Councils moved tenants to housing associations, removing their rights to secure tenancies, then developers turned up “and people are shovelled out of London”. He said “hundreds of thousands” of families had been shovelled out in this way.
“We’ve got to stop calling housing associations “housing associations,” he said. “They are social cleansing vehicles.”
Phil Rose from Haringey in north London, where the local council plans to set up a “development vehicle” that would transfer £2 billion of public housing assets to a joint private venture with the Lendlease corporation, said the “ordinary people of Haringey had risen up” and shown what they think of social cleansing.
He was referring to reports of a “purge” of Labour councillors who had backed the plan but had now decided not to stand for election again or been deselected as party candidates.
Tanya Murat, chair of Southwark Defend Council Housing, told the protesters that the campaign to stop the demolition of Cressingham Gardens “was one of the most important housing struggles we have today”.
She called for a policy shift to “a sensible policy of subsidising public housing, not subsidising home ownership. money laundering and homes for the rich”.
The London Labour party had recently voted for a halt to all demolitions, including those already planned, unless there had been a ballot on each estate affected, she said.
Other speakers included Mikki of the Defend the Ten Lambeth library campaign, who said Lambeth council should “stand up to austerity” and Agata, one of the Brixton Ritzy workers campaigning to be paid the Living Wage.
Pointing from the town hall steps across Windrush Square to the Ritzy, she said she had worked there for six years and had spent the best part of that time campaigning for a living wage.
She has friends in Cressingham Gardens and the view from their living room is “absolutely magnificent”, making her feel “like a millionaire, even though I am just a guest at their house. I guess that’s why they want to take the estate away.”
When she heard of the plan to demolish the estate, “I decided that I’ll do anything I can to help you guys.
“As a low paid worker, I know that with every estate going there’s less space for us. When I started working at the Ritzy, we all lived in Brixton. None of the workers live around here any more. We moved to Peckham, we moved to Gypsy Hill and now everyone is asking ‘What’s next?’ – Croydon? What’s next after that?
“We need better wages. We need better homes. We are not going to be priced out any more. We’re not going to be pushed out. We are going to support each other. And we are going to stay.”
She warned Lambeth’s Labour council: “There is no such thing as a safe seat, so start listening to us.”
Roger Lewis, a member of the national steering committee of Disabled People Against Cuts, who works in Lambeth, recalled a slogan born in the eighties as part of the campaign by people with disabilities for their civil rights: Nothing about us without us. “To me, that sounds very much like ‘We want a ballot,” he said. “We want our voice not just to be heard, but to make a difference. We share that in common.”
Central Hill resident Andrew said that, as a Communist, he believed the housing crisis was a crisis of the capitalist system and there needed to be a fight back “by any means necessary”. He echoed several other speakers when he declared: “No vote for Labour. A vote for Labour is a vote for social cleansing”.
Cressingham Gardens resident Mariana made an impassioned speech in which she said: “If you vote for Labour, you vote for your home to be demolished.”
Steve Nally, secretary of the tenants’ association of the Ashmole estate near the Oval, which was transferred from Lambeth council to the Metropolitan Housing Trust in 2010, said that in the Vauxhall area 30 to 40 tower blocks were being built “for the wealthy”, but nothing was being built for the working class community of Vauxhall.
He said that “this lot in the town hall are degenerate and corrupt”. Some would lose out personally and even financially if people voted against regeneration of their estates.
Local Green Party candidate Rashid Nix said Cressingham Gardens housed about 700 people – “and you’ve got about 50 here. Give yourself a round of applause for being bothered to come down and fight for your home”. He went on: “They trade upon our apathy. They trade upon our ignorance.” He said people who voted Labour were crazy.