Thursday, November 2, 2017

Demolition Deptford #1 : Tidemill update

We're long overdue to report what happened at the Planning meeting on 27 September. It was not a good outcome for Deptford. Yes, there will be new 'affordable' homes built, but at the expense of demolition of both valuable green space and a block of homes where none of the tenants want to move.

Before the meeting, protesters made their feelings known with placards, drums and chants outside the town hall. But once inside the council chamber, those who'd never attended a planning meeting before in their life were quite shocked to see what a flimsy relationship Lewisham strategic planning has with any notion of democracy.

For starters, only 6 out of 10 councillors serving on the Strategic Planning Committee were present, just one of them with extensive planning experience (housing overlord and new Mayor Damien Egan's campaign manager Kevin Bonavia). Quite astonishing for a major and controversial application that impacts so much on the area. See here for 'apologies' (sadly, Cllrs Hall and Curran amongst them).

You can read the minutes here, but here's an additional viewpoint:

Speaking against the application in the short time allowed (and with only one week's notice of the meeting) was a small group made up of the campaign co-ordinator from Deptford Neighbourhood Action (DNA), a resident of Frankham House, two residents from Reginald Road, as well as GLA Assembly member for Greenwich & Lewisham, Len Duvall.

Speaking for the applicant were a 4-person team from Family Mosaic, supported by the Council's Strategic Housing team (remember, this is a Council-led scheme).

Not one representative from the development partner, Sherrygreen Homes, who stand to make such a huge profit out of building the scheme, selling off the private housing, was available to speak. The committee was presented with a cuddly, supposedly ethical housing association applicant, with no mention or sign of the hefty and unnecessary price Lewisham will have to pay to see its scheme proceed.

It was quietly revealed that Family Mosaic had ONLY JUST managed to secure the affordable element of the scheme by "merging" with Peabody Housing Association, a process that had started in December 2016 and completed in July 2017 – a cynical move that gave Family Mosaic access to the GLA grant funding it needed to fund the 'affordable' element on this site, without which the scheme would have collapsed. (And which enables Sherrygreen Homes to continue to make well over 20% in profits).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, with the Council's ambitions and reputation riding so much on a scheme that has been planned for ten years or more, there was some heavy mis-direction from the Head of Planning Emma Talbot and also the Chair Amanda De Ryk. For instance, it was implied that work could not go ahead on the sister scheme at Amersham Vale until this application was approved.

The Council's Strategic Housing team claimed they had consulted fully with the tenants of Reginald House and with the Old Tidemill Garden team. Speaking for the garden, the campaigners countered that the Council's position had not changed at all since the deferral last year. The Chair made much of the fact that Len Duvall had chaired the meetings as if to imply everything had operated democratically.

The fact that nothing about those meetings was democratic was not examined. There had been two meetings of note: one in which how the garden team should fuck off somewhere else (but nowhere else could be found); the other in which all the ideas from Tidemill Garden were incorporated into a slim strip of land like a sort of Disney Tidemill on a very small scale.

When the Housing Team claimed a letter had gone out only the previous week to tenants at Reginald Road explaining all the terms of their re-housing on the new site, elderly resident Pauline stood up from the audience with her hand held up to request to speak.

She was told to sit down by the Chair but members of the audience murmured her concerns – she had not received the letter. Councillors fussed over whether letters had been sent as 'signed on delivery'; the Housing Team admitted they had not and there was no proof letters had been sent. Nevertheless, the lie remained, unexamined any further.

Under "standing orders" (in which Councillors who are not members of the committee are allowed to speak) New Cross Councillor Brenda Dacres said that the Amersham Vale development was being "held to ransom" and there was no reason why it could not go ahead while the Tidemill site was reviewed. (Brenda has been supportive of the campaign against demolition of both the garden and Reginald Road homes, and pointed out that the new Tidemill school had no garden and had been using the old garden).

According to the rules, anything that Councillors say "under standing orders" is not supposed to influence the decision "in any capacity". So it would follow that Brenda's support should not influence Councillors.

Meanwhile, Cllr Joe Dromey sneaked into the meeting late (having arranged with the Chair for "standing orders" to be postponed until he got there because he'd been at another meeting), and spoke fully in favour of the development.

Note: As soon as Dromey was elected he was appointed to Mayor & Cabinet (his mum is Harriet Harman, his dad is Jack Dromey). No one in the Mayor & Cabinet seems capable of speaking against Mayor & Cabinet decisions (tho Joe insists he voted against the Millwall CPO). The committee wouldn't be influenced, right?

Dromey hadn't even been there to listen to the residents (his parishioners) speak about how they didn't want their homes demolished and how they hadn't been properly consulted or kept informed of what was going on. He's probably not sure where it is.

It's unfortunate for Deptford that two of its Councillors are part of the elite status quo (Mayor & Cabinet – the other being Paul Maslin) that controls everything in Lewisham, including the constituency Labour Party, and has so little regard for what happens locally.

The Chair (Amanda De Ryk, now known locally as Amanda 3rd Reich) ruled against any question of the committee looking at the possibility of the scheme being redesigned (as requested by Deptford Neighbourhood Action and Cllr Brenda Dacres) or examining the contractual arrangements with Amersham Vale that were supposedly holding up the sister project. Apparently, these nuanced aspects were strictly "not under consideration for this application". Nothing at all, in other words, was relevant for consideration except the improvement in affordable housing – which had only been achieved at the last minute by Family Mosaic doing a deal with Peabody.

It was Cllr Bonavia who swayed the vote, head in hands, pretending to find it a difficult decision to demolish a precious green space and 16 flats (even though his career depends on towing the party line in Lewisham in support of Damien Egan – new housing at any cost). The fact that he'd been told that only one resident in Reginald Road had shown support for their home being demolished seemed to be irrelevant.

Cllrs Suzannah Clark (Labour) and John Coughlin (Green) were the only ones brave enough to vote against. So the application was passed 4 to 2 (or 4 out of 10).

Note: NOTHING from Lewisham Homes on this matter. No defence of its tenants, no comment about how they chose not to use Decent Homes money to refurbish the outside of 2-17 Reginald Road (not that a refurbishment by Lewisham Homes' contractor MITIE would have inspired confidence since everything they did was awful and still in dispute). Happy to unload care of its stock onto Family Mosaic Peabody. Also too excited about being in charge of "infills" on estates in its care to understand what it means for its tenants to become part of a building site.

Ironically, on the very same night Jeremy Corbyn made his closing speech at the Labour conference; here's what he said about Labour's new policies on housing:

"Councils will have to win a ballot of existing tenants and leaseholders before any redevelopment scheme can take place."

Clapped by everyone, but obviously not a policy backed by Lewisham nor any other Labour borough currently engaging in regeneration of its own land and properties by selling off land at cut price and demolishing buildings they could have refurbished.

This led to the left in the local Labour Party tabling a motion (carried overwhelmingly, apparently) to ask Sadiq Khan call in the decision on Tidemill. The GLA have to review the application anyway – the question is whether enough social housing is being achieved, considering how cheaply the new owners are getting the land for (in Tidemill's case, a fraction of what Family Mosaic Peabody have paid for private land elsewhere in Deptford – e.g. Sun Wharf).

See also this new piece in The Independent that includes Reginald Road, questioning why Labour Councils feature so prominently in regeneration schemes where tenants don't get a say. "...they are opposed to giving residents ballots because it doesn't fit in with their paternalistic attitude or their culture of having absolute control. They have a big plan and they won't listen to any alternatives" (Sian Berry). 

Meanwhile, the Tidemill Garden campaigners have also written to the Mayor of London asking him to call it in, appealing to the loss of green space, especially when he has just launched the Greener Cities programme, hoping to make London the first National Park City, and has Tidemill as the first example of good practice.

An update by Old Tidemill Garden is also available here.

Also, all this this is about to happen on a bigger scale at Achilles Street in New Cross, with four blocks and several businesses at stake. Another great idea from Lewisham Planning Central that has no regard for the people living or working in the buildings it appropriates (and demolishes) in its grand plan (that ultimately makes loads of money for a developer).

(Post edited and updated 3 Nov 2017)


  1. Who wrote this !? It utterly glosses over the real reason this hideous development was granted planning approval.

  2. Hello, Just for the record I was unable to attend the meeting because I had to attend the AGM of the Charity where I work(ed) as the CEO. I was made redundant two months later. So 2017 was pretty crap all round!

    Cllr Liam Curran