Queen for a Day: Professor Loretta Lees

Posted by ap507 at Mar 09, 2015 01:50 PM |
Professor of Human Geography sets out on a mission to halt the ‘gentrification’ of London’s council estates

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I live in inner London and I want to use this opportunity to be Queen not to move into Buckingham Palace but rather to pass some rules and regulations that would halt the demolition and social cleansing of council estates.

To do this I would have to present the academic evidence I have, as an urban geographer, that many of London’s council estates under threat are, (a) economically and socially viable, and, (b) important to the future social sustainability of London.

There is evidence out there, but councils, policy makers, government, and even the planning inspectorate, have been loathe to listen. If I were Queen, these bodies would have no choice but to listen and to halt the demolition and subsequent rebuilding of these estates as high income, new-build developments.

Not only have I lived in council property at various stages in my life around the UK, but my father was a municipal architect who designed council houses. I have long been interested in this type of housing but in recent years its importance has been underlined to me by the threats it is facing.

Since the late 1990s London’s council estates have been threatened with demolition and the displacement of their communities, as a result of hyper-gentrification in the capital. The contrast between disinvested council estates and the highly valuable land they sit on has created a ‘state-induced rent gap’ with massive capital accumulation potential. A rent gap is the difference between current use value and the potential value associated with a higher and better use.

In London this rent gap has been state-induced because the state itself has disinvested in council property and downgraded it socially and culturally. Council estates in London are very important in that they are the last brick in the wall of the complete gentrification of inner London. Council estates elsewhere in the UK are also important but they are not facing the same significant threats as those in the capital.

I have been working for the past three years with the London Tenants Federation, Just Space and Southwark Notes Archive Group in developing a handbook to help council tenants in London recognise that the ‘regeneration’ programmes for their estates are really programmes of ‘gentrification’ and that they are likely to suffer from direct or indirect displacement. The handbook also provides tenants with some tools to resist the gentrification of their estates and provides evidence of some realistic alternatives.

Being Queen for a Day would allow me to make this handbook redundant as I would pass rules that prevent the gentrification of council estates in London:

Rule 1: The demolition of council estates in London will be halted unless there is irrefutable proof that the estates under question are structurally unsound.

Rule 2: If estates are structurally sound they will be refurbished not demolished.

Rule 3: In any redevelopment of any estate all residents will have the ‘right to return’, in other words the ‘right to stay put’ in their current location.

Rule 4: If the local council no-longer desires to hold on to the estate, the residents will be offered first refusal of the estate to buy or lease, to community self-build or refurbish, on condition the estate is redeveloped as a co-operative, lifetime neighbourhood, community land trust, or community housing association.

Rule 5: If residents do not want to take over the estate, housing associations will be given second refusal on condition that their redevelopment plan does not cause displacement of the original population.

Rule 6: In national planning policy and the London Plan ‘affordable housing’ will be given a statistical measure that makes it properly affordable for low income groups in the bottom 30% of (London) society.

These rules will ensure that London remains socially mixed rather than becoming socially exclusive, fulfilling the London Plan’s goal of social sustainability.

This article originally appeared on 24dash on Monday 9 March 2015

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