This is the full text of the article printed in the New Cross New Deal magazine. The published version has been edited and the magazine can be contacted on 0800 096 7046.
At the same time as the New Deal was planned for Shoreditch, a group of tenant and community activists set up the Hackney Independent Working Class Association. We aim to involve and represent the interests of the working class majority in Shoreditch and South Hackney, as we felt the political parties were no longer able to do this, and that the developers were being given a free hand to gentrify our area.
I thought I would send some news of what the New Deal for Communities has meant for us here in Hackney. We’re about two years ahead of you, and have been through the hype and hope that the first stages of the New Deal brings.
A big contrast with Shoreditch is your magazine. Ours is controlled by the New Deal, and only allows minor differences to be expressed – it is there to give “good news” about the New Deal. This is backed up by Hackney Today, the Council’s magazine, and the Shoreditch Star which is produced by Pinnacle, the private company brought in to run council homes in the area. All three glossy magazines, produced by professionals, put out the message that the New Deal is the best thing ever. Against them we have produced the Hackney Independent. We have produced two editions so far, and have had to raise the money and deliver them ourselves to 10,000 homes in the area. It gives a voice to our group, and carries interviews with and articles by community leaders who are opposed to what the New Deal is doing.
We are not against the New Deal – who is going to be against extra money coming into the area? – but we are against the way the New Deal is run. We have made the tenant and community reps on the Board make a choice. Are they on the side of the tenants and opening up the New Deal, or are they on the side of the professionals, the gentrifiers and those who make decisions behind closed doors? So far they are split down the middle.
We keep being told that the community is in control of the New Deal. Let’s have a look at this then. We have 21 Board members, and of them seven of them are tenants. How can this be right in an area where 80% of us are council tenants? We are not even allowed to know how much the New Deal’s Director is paid. An over-worked Board is hit by decision after decision and deadline after deadline – all set by the professionals. No-one in the area supports the sell-off of Council homes, but the Board were told that they had to put this forward as an option or they would not get any funding. And the only other “option” is to bring in a PFI and sell-off some land and homes. We do not get the option of having our homes improved and keeping our Council tenancies.
Tenant leaders in neighbouring Clerkenwell, having heard about what is happening here in Shoreditch, have decided that they want nothing to do with the New Deal in their area. And because of this they have been subject to two front-page attacks in the local paper by their local Lib Dem councillor. And they told us that the community was meant to be in charge!
The NX Project states that it is trying “to build a consensus about what should happen next.” My view is that there cannot be a consensus. The interests of New Cross’s working class majority are not the same as those who can buy houses like the Guardian’s property of the week (9 December 1999), a house in Pepys Road which “is yours for a mere £310,000. No need to worry about nasty council blocks and Costcutters; you’ll be in the heart of the beautiful Telegraph Hill conservation area.” These people will want less council housing in the area, will want to turn the pubs into café-bars and your shops into organic juice bars. They will want less council housing, they won’t use local schools and they will want to sit on the New Deal Board.
The reality is that you can make gains out of the New Deal, and should make up your own minds about getting involved. If our New Deal gave up on privatising Council housing and worked for things like getting an East-West bus route through Shoreditch then we would stop criticising them.
My advice is to bear in mind that there are some people who in Jess Steele’s words (1st edition) “are thinking big about New Cross.” They are thinking about how much big money can be made from the valuable land that your homes are sitting on. They will propose schemes to replace your estates with “mixed developments” involving housing associations and private homes where tenants used to live. But they will never propose mixed developments where houses in private streets are taken over for Council housing. What they will propose is nothing short of “social cleansing” as they seek to force and price the local population out, and bring in a new population who can afford the new rents and house prices.
And don’t trust anyone who says that this cannot happen without a ballot. You don’t get a ballot if they use the Private Finance Initiative. And you don’t get a ballot if they decide to rent out every flat that becomes empty at market rents to ensure that local people cannot afford it.
To counter this I would urge you to get the following sentence inserted into New Deal plans; “there will not be one less council home in the New Deal area at the end of the New Deal project, except where tenants have taken up their Right to Buy.” If they will not agree to this, then why not? And who is in charge?
I would also encourage you to:
- Insist on New Deal funding for NXNews, with no interference on what you can print.
- Make sure that your Board reflects the community. If the majority of residents are Council tenants then the majority of the Board should be. And only tenants should be able to vote on any proposals that only effect the estates.
Anyone who can get onto the internet can look up our website at www.hackneyiwca.fsnet.co.uk You can see the New Deal’s site at www.shoreditchnewdeal.co.uk
If you would like a copy of our latest newsletter, send a stamped, addressed envelope to Box 48, 136 Kingsland High Street, London, E8 2NS.
If you want someone to come to a meeting to discuss our view on the New Deal, write to the same address. Good luck New Cross!