The Lewisham councillor responsible for housing has pledged to quit amidst a bitter argument with campaigners if a council promise to rehouse Deptford residents living in homes at the centre of the row is not upheld.
Paul Bell, cabinet member for housing, also urged the protesters to “just stop” with their campaign which will see the two sides back in court later this month.
Bell spoke out after representatives from the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign said they didn’t believe a council promise to give equivalent housing to residents living in Reginald House, the building at the centre of the dispute, once it has been demolished.
Bell told Eastlondonlines: “If they don’t get new homes I would be furious and would personally leave the position of housing as this means a lot to me.”
“I can only give them signed assurances once we move further down the process which has been halted by the constant protesting by the campaign.”
He added: “We have given them our assurance and my personal promise that those living in those homes will receive like for like replacements out of the newer buildings.”
When asked if he had a message for the campaigners, Bell said: “Just stop! Please stop. There are over 10,000 people in dire need of homes, and we have gone through the legal process in which you have lost every step of the way. I respect you have the right to voice your concerns but don’t delay peoples’ need for homes.”
Save Reginald Save Tidemill started back around August last year as a campaign to fight against Tidemill Garden and homes at Reginald road being knocked down.
After the garden was destroyed in February the campaign shifted to trying to prevent Reginald House being redeveloped.
The council plan which has the go-ahead includes the demolition of 16 homes at Reginald House and the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden to make way for a 209-home development, with 114 affordable homes.
A member of Save Reginald Save Tidemill, Harriet Vickers, told Eastlondonlines: “There still is Reginald House, it’s always been a joint campaign with those who live in those property and they helped support Tidemill Garden. Those at Reginald house are scared because of the lack of clarification about their homes, no formal offer has been given or been clarified.”
“The council may say things like you will be given a secured lifetime tenancy, but it’s not true as the housing association can’t actually guarantee that.”
Andy Worthington, a journalist and campaigner for No Social Cleanse Lewisham wrote on his blog: “Campaigners are still calling for the scheme to be scrapped, and for a new plan to be created with the local community, which reinstates the garden and Reginald House.”
Both sides will be back in court on May 23 to settle the council’s push for a possession order to evict protesters near Tidemill. The representatives for the campaign will be presenting their article 10 and 11 human rights defence to protest on the green near Tidemill.
Bell expressed frustration with the forthcoming court appearance. He said: “This is absolutely ridiculous, they lose at every hurdle, but clutch on anything to delay the building of these homes.”
He also acknowledged that the council could have handled the dispute better, given the £1.5m price tag for security employed by the council. He said: “Around £1.5 million has been spent but that is not any one person’s fault, it’s both parties fault here. Yes, we could have handled the situation better, but they are not giving much of a choice when they act the way they act, protesting and a few times running on the building site.”
He also criticised the protesters for their signs. He said: “Might I add, the signs that have been put up across the garden are quite disturbing to look at. They have placed crosses for the trees that were destroyed making the place look like a cemetery. This has brought up a mix of sad emotions and memories for those who live near there and walk by. They don’t just want to save the garden or homes, they just want to stop the plans period.”
Vickers said: “The council have hired security because of the occupation of the green opposite and are worried about people running onto the site. They have even claimed that people have actually done exactly that which just hasn’t been the case.
“The waste of money is not on us as it’s the council decision about how they behave. They didn’t have to send over hundreds of bailiffs and officers to evict people off an occupation. They don’t have to have 60 people constantly guarding the site. This just shows how far the breakdown of trust and communication has got.
“It is really regrettable, I don’t want millions to be spent on security, I’d want that to go to schools, hospitals and better housing projects. This is their response, and how they have chosen to deal with it.”