Can’t afford to live in London
Barnet Council and Barratt Homes are in the early stages of knocking down a housing estate in West Hendon, to replace it with a new development. Their aim is to create ‘high quality new homes in a pleasant environment and make the area a desirable place to live, work and spend time in’. But not for most of the current residents: nearly 400 homeowners and non-secure tenants, along with their families, are being ‘decanted’ off the estate. Twenty-six non-secure tenants have already been made to leave. Those remaining are not going quietly.
Two of West Hendon’s residents were arrested last week when they tried to block Barratt's construction trucks from entering the estate. Before a meeting between the residents and the regeneration ‘partners’ last week, I met up with the small group who are actively protesting against the redevelopment. ‘I have a constant sense of worry and stress,’ Alex said. ‘Outside from eight o’clock in the morning, we’ve got the constant noise of building works. Behind us they’re building a 29-storey building, the apartments will be going for millions. So apart from the noise, you’re seeing this development go up in front of you that you’re never ever going to be a part of. And you really don’t know what’s going to happen to you.’ Along with more than two hundred other non-secure tenants, Alex has been given notice to quit the estate by next March.
At the meeting, tensions were running high. The homeowners were especially angry. The Conservative council is offering £130,000 for two-bedroom flats and £90,000 for one-bedrooms. Residents heckled the surveyor: ‘You’re lying to us.’ Adam Langleben, a Labour councillor, told the meeting: ‘It appears to be theft and that's how it comes across.’ The agent acting for the homeowners told me afterwards that the valuations were very low. He said he had found only one flat within 15 miles of the estate going for under £90,000. With the money the council says it will pay them for their flats, the homeowners on the West Hendon Estate will be unlikely to be able to afford anywhere on the new development, or elsewhere in London.
Meanwhile in Stratford, on the other side of London, single mothers from the Focus E15 campaign group have occupied an empty council block on the Carpenters estate, turning it into a social centre. Newham Council has been planning to regenerate Carpenters for over a decade but has yet to find a committed regeneration partner. More than 400 homes are empty and boarded up. Newham Council’s social housing waiting list has more than 20,000 names on it. The Mayor of Newham’s advisor Andrew Baikie said the Carpenters estate was ‘not viable’ and that the occupation was an ‘expensive stunt’ being carried out by ‘agitators and hangers on’.
At the Carpenters social centre I met Sam. Newham had paid £125 a week for her to stay at the Focus E15 Foyer. Now, after evicting her from the hostel, they’re paying £249 a week for her to live in private accommodation, she said. In Hendon, Alex said he'd been living in a B&B paid for by Barnett with a weekly rent of £399 a week before he was given a council flat on the estate. Councils are legally obliged to provide accommodation to the most vulnerable. Selling off their housing stock makes little financial sense. Perhaps the hope is that the most vulnerable will leave the borough. According to Jasmine Stone, another of the E15 mothers, the Mayor of Newham, Robin Wales, told them: ‘If you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham.’
Worried about further arrests, the West Hendon residents trying to hold off Barratt Homes postponed their blockade of the construction trucks until they’d received legal training. They say they’re in for a long campaign. The protests will start up again tomorrow. The deputy leader of Barnet Council, Daniel Thomas, said: ‘The biggest complaint I have had about the regeneration is that it has taken so long to get going, so I am sceptical that anything which slows down the process will be popular with residents at large.’The Focus E15 Mothers say they plan to stay in Carpenters indefinitely. This morning Newham Council switched off the water supply.