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'A wee person' to be evicted for Glasgow Games

‘Just a person in a wee flat’ Margaret Jaconelli, the last person left living on the site of the Athletes’ Village for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, has been told she will be evicted. She protests that she has been offered totally inadequate compensation for the compulsory purchase of her flat and will be unable to buy a replacement property.

Evictions of this kind demonstrate the inequity and corruption underlying these events. Politicians steer clear of the lepers cursed by compulsory purchase. Ken Livingstone, local MP Lyn Brown and Newham Mayor Robin Wales all failed to respond to invitations to visit Clays Lane, which was demolished to make way for the London Olympics, while Alec Salmond has refused to intervene to assist Margaret Jaconelli.

Those facing mega events find themselves up against the whole political establishment, including opposition and minority parties, local and national governments. Laws are changed, special delivery organisations created and given extraordinary powers and conditions are attached to Inquiries to smooth the path of the project.

Events like the Commonwealth and Olympic Games demolish communities in their way. Margaret said: “We’re being told that properties are being pulled down for regeneration but it’s more like degeneration.

“Communities have disappeared and friendships have been lost by the council pulling down large parts of the east end so that it is now reminiscent of Beirut.”

She said she was the “sole survivor of a council policy to raze Dalmarnock to the ground”.

“I’m just a wee person from the east end of Glasgow and all I’m doing is fighting for a home that my husband has worked hard for for 34 years.

“They’re stealing my property after us working so hard for it.”

Just as the East End of Glasgow had been home to a vibrant community so Clays Lane in the East End of London was a community of which almost of half its members told the Fluid Survey they had a desire to continue living together. The LDA did nothing to meet this demand for over a year and a half after the survey was completed and until after the relocation programme had started and the community was disintegrating, despite claiming it was acting to ‘support and sustain communities’.

To justify their impending demolition areas are dismissed as derelict and in need of regeneration. When Glasgow was proclaimed the winner for the 2014 Games the East End was described as a ‘wasteland’, just as the Lea Valley was labelled a ‘scar’ by the soon to depart ODA boss David Higgins. Like Glasgow the Lea Valley had a long history of industrial activity. Industrial areas are often not pretty but the Lea Valley was being developed with new parks, housing and industry. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom that the Olympics would act as a catalyst for development Olympic Masterplanner Jason Prior said in an interview with the Property Newsletter that the intervention of the Olympics would slow up development, which would occur whether or not the Olympics came.

In Glasgow Mrs Jaconelli points out that the East End had been deliberately cleared of residents to make way for developers who had then profited from the Commonwealth Games. A similar situation prevailed in East London. In the same interview with the Property Newsletter Gareth Blacker, former Head of Development at the LDA who lost his job over the £160million ‘black hole’ in the LDA finances, said they were ‘creating a prime opportunity for the property industry.' Clays Lane, which had previously avoided being absorbed into the Stratford City project became part of this new ‘opportunity’. As one of Stratford City’s partners Chelsfield’s Keith Redshaw put it: ‘If there are no Olympics, Clays Lane is not included in the Stratford City plans, so this is a very positive and constructive approach with a big regeneration legacy.'

The author of the Property Newsletter set out the process by which the LDA, or now the OPLC, would make a profit. The process would ‘follow the precedent of the LDA's Royal Docks development, where it is working in partnership with Development Securities and Standard Life. The LDA will buy the sites and take the schemes through the planning phases and then turn them over to private partners for development and construction.’

When it comes to compensation compulsory purchase penalises those about to be evicted. Mrs Jaconelli points out that the offer of £30,000 for her flat nowhere near matches sale prices and valuations of properties in the area or valuations of her flat. Local businesses are also being removed. Clays Lane residents found that the most miserly comparisons were made in order to justify keeping compensation as low as possible. The LDA claimed residents would be on average about £12 a week worse off. Residents were spot on when they reckoned the figure would be closer to £50 a week. When some residents asked about opportunities to get loans to enter the part buy market they were initially told this was ‘not an opportunity to make a profit’.

Businesses in East London also lost out. In the case of the London Olympics one local businessman told Games Monitor owners of business properties could expect to make eight times as much for their land if it was sold for housing development. The area was indeed marked out for this kind of development. However, the process of transforming the area was just getting under way. The same local businessman stated that as soon as the Olympic bid was launched local councils stopped granting new housing permissions in the area to prevent businesses claiming higher levels of compensation.

Those facing compulsory purchase can expect little help from the courts. When businesses tried to claim compensation based on development values the High Court rejected their case. The Judge justified this by referring to the decisions reached by the Inspector in the 2006 Compulsory Purchase Inquiry who refused to accept these claims by the businesses. However, as an example of the quality of the Inspector’s decisions, in the case of Clays Lane the Inspector simply rejected the evidence of residents when considering future housing costs. He said he ‘preferred’ the evidence of the LDA. The only problem with this was that the LDA’s evidence was wrong.

In Mrs Jaconelli’s case the Sheriff said he understood the seriousness of the case for her but disputes over compensation could not prevent her being evicted. When Clays Lane tenants went to the High Court the Judge simply ruled that the Olympic project was too important to be held up by a group of residents. In each case compulsory purchase handed over land at low prices or limited compensation to new owners who would then reap the profit. A legally enforced land grab.

Evictees are also dismissed as unreasonable people. Mrs Jaconelli points out she has had to endure the lie that she was offered a fine new property in the Athletes’ Village by Glasgow City Council but turned it down. She denies this property was ever offered to her. It is her word against that of a public authority. Businesses in London have had to wait for months or years to receive the compensation they are due and have had to take the LDA to court. Clays Lane residents were made a number of promises about the quality of the accommodation they would be offered. In the event they just got what they got. The promises were swept aside and they were then accused by politicians of being too picky.

Margaret describes her life in the East End: ‘I’ve never known anywhere else but this house since I was 17. That’s the full scale issue, its going to a new house. It’s scary, having to go to a new house. See if I wasn’t well or anything went wrong, my neighbour up the stair there, she came every day or she phoned. If I went somewhere else, nobody knows you. See if something went wrong down here, I can always run around to the shops and meet somebody and say I need your help. But see in a new house, you can’t do that. The community’s always been close, if there was something wrong, the community was always together. We’ve had a lot of good times here and a lot of sad times. The past year’s been quite rough for us…this year has been a right bad year. Hopefully, they’ll come in and give us a good offer and let us get on, because we’re in limbo. I’m not looking for millions. I’m just looking for enough to buy a house, a decent house, not far from here.’

At the court hearing Advocate Gerry Moynihan, representing the council, said the public interest of holding the games was ‘greater than the private interests of Mrs Jaconelli’.

Now, for the public good, she faces eviction with inadequate compensation.

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