Hackney was for years a solid multi-ethnic working class stronghold in London. Now that is changing, with the borough witnessing a growing influx of rich people buying up what was previously cheap, council-owned property. It is going on across London with the Labour Party – who are often in charge of local councils – either doing nothing about it or actively joining in.
Hackney was for years a solid multi-ethnic working class stronghold in London where Labour could guarantee support. Now that is changing, with the borough witnessing a growing influx of rich people buying up what was previously cheap, council-owned property, in a process that is rolling right across London. This jolly little wheeze has a name…social cleansing. It is going on across London with the Labour Party – who are often in charge of local councils – either doing nothing about it or actively joining in.
In Hackney, as part and parcel of this, we are witnessing the wholesale redevelopment of the borough’s housing estates, often with higher density private development. The right-wing, middle-class Labour leadership of Hackney Council are joining in and actively changing the borough’s class composition.
Decades of counter-reform
This is a dramatic reversal of the reforms that capitalism was able to offer in the past. In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, both Labour and even the Tories outdid each other in building what is now pretentiously called social housing, in those days known as council housing, not just in inner cities, but in every town and village in Britain.
In the late 1950s, rigorous standards (the so called Parker Morris standards) were laid down for solid high-standard working class houses, many of which still stand today. These are in sharp contrast to the little “luxury” boxes favoured by today kings of private property. In the late 1960s, however, the standards were reigned back, and soon private construction companies were building evermore crappy sub-standard housing.
By the late 1970s onwards, a counter-reform movement started as some of more bigoted middle-class backwoodsman types inside the Tory ranks started gripping about subsidised council housing. This was on the back of the end of the post-war boom and decline of the capitalist system; the ruling class needed to reverse the social reforms of 1950s and ‘60s. So, over the years, attacks started on council housing maintenance programs and housing standards were eroded by central government.
This process accelerated under the rule of the great Witch Queen of Angmar, Margaret Thatcher, in the 1980s, who represented the unrestrained interests of the City of London’s bankers and capitalists. Council housing was neglected and starved of resources; the “right to buy” scheme privatised much of the council house stock; and limitations were introduced on the abilities for councils to be able to raise finances for repair and, more importantly, for new council housing.
Disgracefully, such policies were continued under the ubiquitously useless Tony Blair government, and the Labour Party has done nothing either in government or in opposition to fight to reverse this policy brought in by the late unlamented Thatcher and her fellow crooks.
Tearing down the houses
This process is now culminating in the wholesale redevelopment of many big housing estates. Some, such as the monstrous flats at the Elephant and Castle estate in Southwark, which was a social problem writ large, are a welcome departure. But this process is now seeing demolition of a lot of good council housing, with replacement by luxury private housing and the re-emergence of eye-wateringly expensive private rented accommodation.
In the centre of Hackney is the huge Pembury Circus development which is being constructed on a piece of council-owned open land, which was in the middle of the Pembury estate.
The Pembury estate is like many inner-city council estates in Britain; neglected and run down by the council, it had become a crime hotspot and in the past had crack-dens and other unsavoury activities that arose out the despair and decline of the working class community, as a result of sustained attacks on upon it.
The developers at Pembury Circus, Bellway, are building four tower blocks of luxury flats with some “social housing”; but the vast majority of the flats are clearly out of the price range of the majority of Hackney residents. Aptly, the development is being advertised as a Circus by the jovial ringmaster Bellway, reflecting the joke that housing has become under capitalism.
The development itself is a gross over-development of the site – but hey ho, what does that matter to the right-wing Labour council and the property developer’s profits. Admittedly only a few council bungalows went here, but a piece of green space has disappeared in favour of speculation and greed and bourgeois gentrification. Not to mention that this new development sits alongside the existing council estate as none too subtle reminder of the reality of class divisions in Britain today. The housing crisis is only a crisis for the poor, as there no such crisis for rich.
The circus theme here is appropriate, as it is a circus in terms of what the Labour council and it’s property speculator chums are getting up to here. The difference is, there are no roaring lions here, just estate agent clowns and a trapeze artist in the form of Jules Pipe, the Mayor of Hackney, fobbing this off to us as a solution to people’s problems.
Another council site undergoing a wonderful and indeed magical “transformation” is at Clapton Common, in a development called Ilan square. Here, two blocks of council flats built in the 1940s, which were in need of modernisation, were instead sold off to a company called Higgs Construction, who then pulled them down and have built three block of luxury flats instead, with the obligatory handful of social housing (probably at the back, on the ground or first floors). All the private flats face the common – so it’s all very nice if you have the money; meanwhile, the proles are kept in their rightful place away from anything nice.
Near by, another council block, Tower Court, has been torn down for similar treatment. This was a fairly modest robust 1960s block consisting of two blocks, one nine floors and the other low-rise, which the council had run down and refused to repair. This is a familiar tactic and has been used elsewhere in London to dispose of council housing, such as at Canning Town in Newham, or at the admittedly ghastly crime-ridden flats at Elephant and Castle in Southwark.
The Woodberry Down estate
But, by far and away the biggest project of social cleans…Whoops! Sorry being classist here!…“transformation” is the huge Woodberry Down housing estate, which straddles either side along the A533 Seven Sisters Road, just before Finsbury Park and the Manor House underground station. Those later two locus magnums demonstrate the attractiveness of it to developer Berkeley Homes, the councils “chosen” partner. On the south side of the estate, the estate edged two old reservoirs, which now make attractive lakes with trees and rural surroundings, in as far as you can get rural environments in London. All the council housing on this side of the estate has been demolished, along with an old secondary school and replaced with blocks of – what a surprise! – luxury flats! Who would have thought?! It includes a twenty-story condominium tower as the focal point of middle-class niceness right by the lake While some of the tenants have been re-housed on the development, others remain in the 1950 and 1960s block along the Seven Sisters Road, no doubt waiting to being decanted elsewhere – probably outside of London – when the time comes.
The affordable homes mentioned in the hypocritical eulogies to the Woodberry Down estate, meanwhile, are not affordable for council tenants or students, or most workers at all, but are only affordable homes for the rich.
Woodberry Down also demonstrates quite clearly what has been going on for decades, which has culminated in the collapse of reformism in Britain. In the 1960s, Woodberry Down was a self-contained community with shops, schools, a pub, doctor and dentists surgeries and its own library. Over the years all this was eroded by central government and all three political parties as cut backs were demanded by City sharks. What this effectively meant was that there was no money to improve the existing housing stock or spend on new housing stock. Together with the mis-named “fair rent” ideas of the Conservatives in 1980s and 90s, which lead to skyrocketing rents in the private sector, it has resulted in the current housing crisis, which affects working people and increasingly sections of the middle-class as well.
Another longer term effect that will affect the Labour Party is that this process is cutting away Labour traditional support. Labour is shooting themselves in the foot here. What Labour need to be doing is fighting theses policies, not implementing them
Around the corner from Woodberry Down in Green Lanes, even the old TGWU (not Unite the Union) offices are being redeveloped as luxury flats. All over London, every piece of land is being gobbled up by speculators for luxury flats. The “customer profile” for these developments is either wealthy middle- and upper-class people or, increasingly, wealthy foreigners, who buy them as an investment, leaving them empty for long periods of time.
For a socialist housing programme!
The rich are carving up Britain for themselves and, at the present moment, the Labour Party is in the hands of careerists who do nothing to provide the radical solutions needed to solve London and Britain’s growing housing crisis. The ideals that built the progressive idea of council housing need to be rekindled, especially in light of the growing acute housing crisis engulfing working class communities today.
Only a socialist programme can solve the housing crisis that capitalism has created in modern Britain. It is the task of the leaders of the labour movement to fight for such a programme.
- Fight all attempts to privatise the council housing stock
- Nationalise all land holdings; nationalise property developers and construction companies
- Reorganise the house building companies and developers to provide housing for need not greed
- Expropriate all empty flats and houses kept for speculation and investment, and reallocate these to those most in need
- Expropriate all large property portfolios and use for socially allocated housing
- For proper independent living communities with nurseries, schools, and health facilities based on collective ownership and popular control
- Nationalise the banks and major monopolies under a democratic plan of production in order to fund and build a mass programme of council housing