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Three Missing Flats: Sustaining communities, LDA style

According to The Voice newspaper, in one the most fawning articles I have yet seen on the Olympics, Manny Lewis, chief honcho of the LDA, is claiming that the 425 Clays Lane residents removed to make way for the Olympics have been rehoused in purpose built flats. The article, published on 19th September 2007 and attached below along with a letter sent in response, refers to our collective relocation to three flats, which would be an extraordinary feat for the LDA and a remarkable budget saving. Assuming he meant three blocks of flats, this is still an extraordinary claim. As a former Clays Lane resident I have never heard of any purpose built flats for relocated residents and am certainly curious to find out where Mr Lewis thinks they are. Doesn’t he know where the ‘relocated’ were sent? Or maybe he has been misled by his inferiors! Perhaps the Voice reporter didn’t listen properly. I’m sure this person must have had a press briefing as well as being granted access to the presence himself. It’s all pretty strange. Weirdness rules at the LDA.

As for the three missing blocks of flats an inquiry needs to be launched to find out where they are. An astonishing possibility exists that the LDA may have built these blocks and then forgotten to tell us about them or possibly forgot where they are (and still doesn’t know) so they couldn’t tell us about them.

Once upon a time there was indeed a plan to move residents as a community. In an oft recounted tale the LDA did come and make this proposal back in 2003. In the summer of 2004 it surveyed the population through an organisation called Fluid, which eventually produced the Fluid Report and a very good survey and report it was too. One of the results was that the surveyors thought that, by extrapolation as not everyone participated, around half of the community, over 200 people, could want to move as part of a group. Indeed the sociable nature of the community and the courtyard layout, which Fluid thought assisted in promoting this sociability, were described in the report as ‘unique qualities’ of Clays Lane.

‘Communities’ and the ‘sustaining’ of such are very buzzy type words these days and crop up in all sorts of policy documents, including those produced by the Mayor of London, various local authorities including our former Borough of Newham and the Livingstonian LDA. They featured prominently in the LDA’s ‘evidence’ to the Compulsory Purchase Order Inquiry, a less buzz type activity but regrettably of rather more consequence.

Voter type people might hope that the presence of such words would denote activity to follow up projects like keeping communities going. However, Clays Lane residents did not discover any activity between the first proposal for a community move (2003) along with the survey (summer 2004) and the launching of the relocation programme in 2006 after which some work was done.

As no preparatory or, indeed, any kind of work had been done on this project, which would include one or more new builds, before early 2006, the whole programme including recruiting members, planning, designing and building had to be crammed into a year and a half. This would be a remarkable timeframe to complete such a programme. Constructing the Athletes’ Village will begin in 2008, which will allow up to four years for that part of the project and that doesn’t include the design and planning processes. To achieve this while the community was disintegrating under the pressure of a relocation programme and a compulsory purchase order, was always an unlikely prospect and became even harder when people realised they would have to make two moves.

This dilatory behaviour suggests a less than engaged or ‘sustaining’ attitude on the part of the LDA. Building for a transitory collection of strangers who would only occupy the site for a few weeks had a higher priority for them than thinking of those who were going to be displaced but who had lived there for up to quarter of a century. It all helps to understand the meaning of ‘sustaining communities’.

In fact, that the LDA had little interest in group moves was made plain in a statement by the LDA to the tenant advisors and a dismissive scepticism about the level of demand was openly expressed by LDA staff. Right at the start of the Olympic programme one of the team promoting the Games had expressed his belief that residents would ‘realise’ it was in their interest to make individual moves after an initial attachment to a community move. It took a while before it was accepted that a demand actually existed. The figure presented by Fluid of a potential interest by half of the community was always rejected by the LDA. Despite agreeing at the end of 2005, after a second questionnaire had simply omitted the question of community moves, that the original question about community moves needed to be followed up nothing was done till June 2006 when over a hundred and twenty still expressed an interest. However, by that time the community was in free fall and the estate was due to close a year later.

In May 2006 the LDA did get down to negotiations with one small group of thirteen residents who did feel, possibly naively, that they were being taken seriously. However, it became plain that finding a suitable site for a new build would prove difficult. In some cases the price of land was an issue while planning restrictions on the number of flats for single people, as ‘sustainability’ does not allow for estates which cater for single people, was another obstacle. It may be if the project had started a couple of years earlier when it was first proposed these problems could have been overcome. We see social housing projects under way all over the East End so it is still unclear why this was so difficult to achieve for Clays Lane residents.

Local councils were not helpful. Newham, our own Olympic Borough, was unsupportive and refused to lift its self imposed moratorium on the sale of council land. Its staff failed to respond to enquiries about one site we identified as a possible location, which was hardly surprising when the Mayor of Newham described Clays Lane residents as ‘peasants’. Hackney, at one time or another, looked at three sites in their possession but in the end declined to help. They decided to give a part of Hackney Marshes to a group of travellers but refused to offer us a site, which was also on the edge of a park, so if anything, in this regard, residents were treated even worse than the travellers. None of the other ‘Olympic Boroughs’ or ‘Partners’ like the British Waterways Board, who held another site we were interested in, showed any enthusiasm. Eventually, with less than six months to go before eviction a site in Hackney belonging to Peabody was offered but by then the group was down to ten with two more on the way out. The site was next to a very noisy four lane highway and there was no consensus in the remnant of the group to accept it. As far as the LDA was concerned this was a ‘deliverable’ and final offer as far as new build projects went.

The next proposal was to purchase some houses in a neighbourhood and convert them into flats but this fell at the first hurdle as the price of housing in Newham or further west was outside the proposed budget. The group realised this and pointed out the shortfall as soon as the figures were presented but Peabody and the LDA felt this had to be carefully explained at a later meeting. We listened politely. The group, now down to seven, is scattered across three boroughs in temporary moves but still negotiating gamely. The move has been reduced to either finding a project which could be adapted to include the group, to finding some houses in the possession of Peabody which could be converted or just moving people closer together as flats become available through the bidding system.

As far as other community moves go four people who wanted to move to Brighton as a group were initially told this was impossible. However, they persisted and after some help from John Biggs, the local GLA member in a rare representative intervention, the LDA was persuaded to press the case. Five options emerged. A much larger move to Docklands, where the LDA was prepared to offer some of its own land, failed to materialise as there really was little demand for a move to the far side of Beckton. Whether the LDA could have provided land elsewhere is a subject which has never been properly examined. Some flats in a block belonging to Peabody were made available to Clays Lane residents so a kind of group move did occur although on a random basis as has happened in some other cases where, by chance, residents have found themselves living near former neighbours.

The LDA agreed to treat travellers as a community and was prepared to buy land for them under the Olympic Compulsory Purchase Order. This idea of including us in the CPO was not considered for Clays Lane residents, although the idea was raised by our legal representatives during the CPO Inquiry. Residents were told by the LDA, even though they included people from all kinds of ethnic minorities, that they were not ‘a community’ and did not have the same status as travellers or ethnic groups. As far as the LDA were concerned it seems any negotiations about our continuing as a community were just a favour. In these circumstances it is difficult to know what a community is. Clays Lane housed an astonishingly wide range of nationalities making it one of London’s most diverse communities, ‘promoting diversity’ being another goal of those who know best how to organise society, but it made no difference in our case. The Fluid survey had commented on the ‘unique qualities’ of the Clays Lane community and noted how networks existed which supported a number of ‘vulnerable’ residents but this also counted for little when it came to sustaining our community.

Politicians, including Lyn Brown, our local MP, claimed to be supportive of community moves. She said she wanted an inquiry into what had happened to them but we never heard anything more from her on this. Once when I had a brief encounter with Mr Livingstone, who had claimed to support group moves in a written answer to a GLA member, he said it was impossible to find a row of bungalows in East London! I had no idea what he was talking about.

There never was a big budget for this project, unlike the rest of the Olympics. Whenever we ask what happened to the money paid for our estate under the Compulsory Purchase Order and why that money cannot be used to sustain our community, we are always told social housing projects are subject to the same financial arrangements and no exceptions can be made in our case. The money has sort of disappeared! The Housing Corporation, the LDA, the Government were not and are not minded to find ways to put up money to sustain a community which was being demolished to make way for a project justified as being beneficial to the community at large. There never were any purpose built flats and I have no idea what Mr Lewis is talking about. He never came to Clays Lane to discuss our situation or to see how the LDA could sustain our community. But no doubt the myth of these flats will live on and be repeated as yet another great benefit of the Olympics.


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Letter to the Editor of the Voice.doc30.5 KB
Article on Manny Lewis.doc30 KB

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