Condemning social cleansing: I pledge not to demolish estates in London

David Cameron’s social cleansing plans are wrong, and I pledge not to demolish estates in London if I’m elected. It’s almost always much better to improve than to knock down communities.

Responding to news that the government wants to bulldoze so-called sink estates in London, including Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, I’ve today condemned this policy of “social cleansing” and pledged to oppose estate demolitions in the capital.

The Greens’ housing policy for London is based on a presumption against estate demolition, especially where the local community is opposed to it. I’ve visited communities across London who are opposed to the loss of their social housing and putting forward better plans for redevelopment. As Mayor, I would support these estates with real expertise from City Hall and use my powers to call in planning applications where councils want to demolish communities.

I said today:

“In the great majority of cases, demolition is not the right thing to do. Unless an estate is beyond repair, it’s much better to work with the community to improve housing stock than to demolish it completely.

“My guiding principle would be to explore all the options and let the tenants decide. I would put resources and staff into a new Community Homes Unit at City to support community-led housing schemes, especially in estate regeneration. It would help residents all over London develop their own masterplans for the kind of refurbishment and redevelopment they want for the areas they call their homes.

“That’s very different to the social cleansing the Prime Minister clearly favours, which is a short-sighted as well as an ugly way to run a city.  Whenever estates are demolished, they are replaced with a much smaller number of homes affordable to people on average salaries. That either forces people further away from where they work, putting more strain on the transport system, or out of the city altogether. We will eventually find that central London is a depopulated island of ‘investments’ that can’t actually function at all.”

Dee Searle with Sian BerryMy colleague Dee Searle, former Green candidate for Tottenham and currently running for a seat at City Hall, agrees. She says: “It’s depressing that David Cameron persists in repeating tired, inaccurate stereotypes about Broadwater Farm.

“The area has a vibrant, diverse community that successfully challenged Haringey Council’s plans to demolish part of the estate earlier this year and runs many valuable local projects. Like many council estates it would benefit from investment. But this should be in consultation with residents.”

A London Assembly Housing Committee report chaired by Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson recently found that estate regenerations had led to the loss of more than 8,000 social rented homes in a decade.

Our proposed Community Homes Unit at City Hall would:

  • provide expertise and grants for residents to get involved in planning at an early stage and develop viable proposals;
  • help residents fighting their council to set-up their own community homes body and take ownership of their estate through a ‘Right to Transfer’ notice;
  • help them clear the legal hurdles needed to get these notices approved by the council or Secretary of State.

It’s based on a successful model in Cornwall, where 13 community-led housing schemes (in community land trusts) have been finished since 2009.