Demolition of Shoreditch averted – for now

As if to show that the pro-gentrification forces can’t have it all their own way, a packed meeting on Monday 15th saw proposals to demolish 822 council properties voted down. Angry tenants had mobilised in large numbers from all affected blocks to present petitions which had been put together at only a few days notice, and to oppose the demolition of their homes.

The proposals on the table were:

1. The Pol Pot option – demolish Shoreditch and then rebuild it. Obvious problems there…

2. Demolish 822 council properties and reallocate the affected tenants to newly built homes.

3. Fully refurbish all blocks.

It was clear that the preferred option of the pro-gentrification board members was the first one, and the game was given away when a so-called “housing expert” began referring to people’s homes as “economic units” only to be met with a stony silence. So flustered by the response was this man that he finished his presentation early and sat down, suddenly feeling a bit out of sorts.

As tenants and sympathetic board members pointed out in the discussion (which amazingly came after the vote – so much for tenants’ representation!) while the idea of having your block knocked down to make way for a shiny new development may appeal to many of us who live in buildings which have been neglected for decades, the reality of what was proposed is very different.

Does anybody really believe that having knocked down council properties, tenants will find that they are given tenancy in a new development? Looking at what has been going on in the area, it should be clear that working class people are not wanted here and there is a bigger agenda at work, namely to “socially cleanse” the working class out of the area and start at Year Zero without the “riff raff” -in other words us!

In the end, thanks to the obvious anger of the tenants at the meeting and those board members who stand up for working class interests, the proposals were amended and a new one was tabled, which put forward full refurbishment with the option to have the block demolished should the tenants vote for it . Given the abilities of the gentrifiers to sell demolition to pissed off tenants in problem blocks, this was met with scepticism from some on the board who voted for full refurbishment (option 3) to make their position clear, but the final vote went against them and the new option passed.

An interesting spin off from the meeting was the resignation of Winnie Ames as chair of Wenlock Barn Tenants’ Association. Winnie – long time friend of the gentrifiers and rabid opponent of the IWCA – was put on the spot by some of her own tenants, who asked her why she wasn’t representing their interests. Faced down by those she claimed to represent, Winnie did the decent thing and resigned her position, although she remains on the New Deal Board, but for how long?

While we should be happy to see such a positive mobilisation of working class people putting the gentrifiers on the back foot (and not forgetting those board members such as Tony Goodchild, Clayeon Mackenzie and Eugene Francis who voted against all attempts to demolish council homes) we should be wary of the next step. Already, “housing expert” Anna Eager and her developer friends are sizing up the possibilities for getting rid of the working class in the area.

As we have said before, it is sometimes very tempting to think that you have no other alternative to your block being pulled down, especially if it’s been left to rot for years. But we should be under no illusions that once pulled down, working class tenants will get housed in the same area or even in any sort council accommodation. After all, if the developers had their way there wouldn’t be any council housing at all, just endless loft apartments and bistros for the beautiful people.

The gentrifiers have been held back this time, but the battle goes on.