Compulsory Purchase Orders
Kensington and Chelsea Council has said it will rehouse 68 families from Grenfell Tower in luxury Kensington Row apartments, where prices start at £1.7 million. But the housing crisis that led to the fire – the overlapping effects of underdevelopment, neglect, cuts and sell-offs of social housing stock – has left many other people in the borough homeless, or in unaffordable or substandard accommodation. Thousands languish on waiting lists for the ‘very few social housing properties available’. Meanwhile, 1399 privately owned homes in the borough lie empty. Senior Labour Party politicians have suggested that the council should use compulsory purchase orders to ‘requisition’ empty investment properties. The idea was met with outrage from people scandalised by the thought of a government ‘land grab’: ‘The state shouldn't seize private property backed by the implicit threat of violence,’ GQ’s political correspondent, Rupert Myers, tweeted. But councils have been using compulsory purchase orders for years.
Myers et al. didn’t protest when Newham Council used them in the run-up to the Olympics, to evict residents of sites now home to luxury apartments and underused sports facilities. The measly compensation meant that many former residents – such as those of the Carpenters Estate – were forced not only out of their homes but out of London altogether. The new housing built on the site has some provision for ‘affordable housing’. But ‘affordable’ is defined as ‘no more than 80 per cent of market value’, and over the Olympic regeneration period, from 2005-13, house prices in the surrounding areas went up by 45 per cent. Wages, needless to say, didn’t.
Southwark Council forced residents of the Heygate Estate to sell their houses for 40 per cent of the market value. The homeowners took the council to court but the CPOs were upheld and they were forcibly turned out of the homes where some of them had lived for more than thirty years. The estate was sold to the developer Lendlease for £50 million; the evictions had cost the council £44 million. When the new development opened for business in November 2016, Lendlease touted the flats (starting price £550,000) as an investment opportunity – and they were duly snapped up. Heygate residents, meanwhile, have been scattered to the four winds. Southwark and Newham are both Labour-controlled councils.
Untroubled by the lessons of Grenfell, or indeed the policy positions of their colleagues in the shadow cabinet, Haringey Council is pushing through a development scheme that threatens up to 1900 homes with privatisation or demolition. Strapped for cash and unable to borrow more than £50 million, they've found a workaround: the Haringey Development Vehicle, a 50-50 partnership with Lendlease worth £2 billion. ‘Underused’ property in the area will be reclaimed or bought up using CPOs, and then ‘developed’ by the private company in consultation with the council. The council has estimated that around 40 per cent of the homes will be 'affordable'; that is to say, pegged to the house prices sure to be pushed up by the land value speculation that such projects reliably attract. Local residents fear that these rising prices, combined with forced evictions and the destruction of council houses, will lead to further homelessness. The HDV provides little hope for the eight thousand Haringey families currently on the waiting list for a council house. In the meantime, the indoor market at Seven Sisters, the heart of one of the UK’s biggest Latin American communities, faces being regenerated into oblivion.