Dozens of demonstrators braved the cold and the dark to march from a Bermondsey estate to Southwark Council’s offices on Wednesday night (November 24) to protest new council homes on existing estates.
The protesters, led by Tanya Murat from the Southwark Defend Council Housing group, walked with banners from the Vauban Estate by Spa Gardens to the council’s Tooley Street offices, at one stage frustrating drivers by going down the middle of Abbey Street.
Chants included ‘homes for people, not profit’ and ‘no demolition without permission’, although the protest centred on the Vauban Estate, where the council wants to build socially-rented flats on an area that is currently a car park.
Among others, the protesters heard a speech from a Vauban resident who is trying to get the estate listed as part of attempts to block the proposed development.
The demonstration is the latest in a series of ‘anti-infill’ events staged by groups like Yes to Fair Redevelopment. Protesters say that they are not against new council homes, but that people already living on estates should not have to lose light and open space where they live, pointing to sell-offs of public land like the Heygate Estate near Elephant and Castle.
Another concern is what protesters see as a lack of consultation on proposed new housing schemes. This was put into sharp focus by the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations being denied a chance to speak at the assembly, which they described as “ironic”.
Demonstrators continued to make noise when they arrived at the Tooley Street council offices, in an attempt to get the attention of councillors at the full council assembly inside. This included children being encouraged to rattle keys and coins against the metal fencing on the windows.
At one stage the protest was disrupted by a group of young men singing football-style chants in defence of the council, including ‘Oh, Southwark Council’, and slightly strangely, ‘One Boris Johnson’.
Southwark Council defended its infill policy again. Councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark’s cabinet member for council homes and homelessness, said: “We are in the midst of a national housing crisis, and with more than 16,200 households on our waiting lists, half of these including children.
“There are 3,400 families in temporary accommodation in Southwark, often in severely overcrowded conditions and sometimes entire families in a single room. I sincerely believe we have a moral duty to build more council homes.
“We are exploring all the options available to us to build as many new council homes as we can, including more than 70 sites across the borough. Where we identify under-used sites where we could potentially build council homes, we undertake extensive consultation with the local community.
“We work with local residents to shape the designs of new developments and improve the local public realm and wider estate. We carefully assess the housing needs of residents living in the area as well as access to green space and amenities. We always ensure that amenity spaces or community facilities are improved and/or re-provided when we build on these areas.
“We are now seeing the full impact of 40 years of Right to Buy that has meant Southwark has lost over 17,000 council homes. These are homes which would have helped house many of the households who desperately need a council home. This is one of the reasons we have no option but to build new council homes as every home we lose through Right to Buy is a home too many.”