UK government plans to take away the tenancy rights of those in social housing (coming after the 2013 housing-benefit cap) add up to an attack on the worst off. Social-housing tenants are in the firing line because the government has targeted some 100 estates for a £140million redevelopment project. The scheme was drawn up by former Conservative minister Michael Heseltine’s estate-regeneration advisory panel. On announcing the scheme, Heseltine said it was his dream to clear the ‘slums’.
Prime minister David Cameron has added to the fear that poorer areas are being targeted for ‘slum clearance’, by writing that ‘in the worst estates, you’re confronted by concrete slabs dropped from on high, brutal high-rise towers and dark alleyways that are a gift to criminals and drug dealers’. Ominously, Lord Adonis, a one-time minister under Tony Blair and now heading infrastructure planning in London, has argued that the government must unlock the value tied up in inner-city estates. ‘The scale of council-owned land is vast and greatly under-appreciated’, he said. ‘There are particularly large concentrations of council-owned land in inner London, and this is some of the highest-priced land in the world.’
Adonis goes on to say that Southwark council owns 43 per cent of its land area and ‘Islington council alone owns about 150 large council estates’. Given that London’s population is projected to grow to nine million in the next four years (having recently outgrown its previous high of eight million in 1939), and to 11million in 2033, the need for new homes is urgent. Adonis’s plan projects some 50,000 new homes in London alone.
The objective of Adonis’s plan, like Heseltine’s, would be obvious even if it were not already happening. But it is already happening: social-housing tenants are being cleared from prime real estate to make way for private developments, with windfall profits. Already social-housing tenants at the Carpenters estate in Newham, and in Balfron Tower in Tower Hamlets and Aylesbury in Southwark, have been cleared out of their homes, while tenants at other sites, like the Ravensbury Grove estate in Mitcham, are being told to get ready to move. The case of the E15 mums, who protested their eviction from the Carpenters estate, touched on the concerns of a much wider group of Londoners, who find themselves priced out of the housing market, reduced to the status of ‘generation rent’ and having to move to outer London suburbs to make way for a new breed of (bearded) ‘gentrifiers’. Social-housing tenants, with their security taken away from them by law, stand to have their lives turned upside down because of the failures of the British housing market. This is a very good reason to oppose the 2016 Housing Bill.
The tragedy of British housing is that none of this needs to be happening. The need for new homes could be met quite readily on the fringes of our major cities and towns, or in new satellite towns. Those homes are not being built because of a perverse planning system that prevents the outward expansion of our major urban centres through the stranglehold of the Green Belt.