Residents of the New Era estate and activist Russell Brand led 400 people on a protest from Mayfair to Downing Street as they took to the streets.
The protestors congregated outside the offices of the estate’s American owners Westbrook Partners, who have threatened to triple rents in 2015, at 12:30pm. Two police vans were parked outside the Berkeley Square offices with officers standing guard outside the building.
After congregating outside Westbrook’s offices, protestors marched towards Downing Street where they handed in their petition to keep the estate’s rent rates affordable which received 294,000 signatures.
They were led by Lindsey Garrett, 35, chair of the New Era 4 All residents group, and Brand. He told Eastlondonlines: “I’m really proud of everything that the New Era estate has achieved and what they’re doing today.”
She said: “All the residents of the New Era estate should be immensely proud of themselves for standing up and fighting back and not letting these people come in and take our homes away… We’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to make it impossible for them to evict us.”
Garrett brought her eight-year old daughter to 10 Downing Street, with other family members attending including her twin sister Anne. She told ELL: “I think she [Lindsey] is amazing, she’s worked so hard, she deserves this.”
The 400 protestors included representatives from Hackney Young Socialists and the Socialist Worker as well as people attending their first ever protest. These included Mahala, a 38-year-old yoga instructor from Micham, and Tara, a 27-year-old from Kennington. Both said that Brand’s involvement in the protest had inspired them to take part and that they had been moved by the “bravery and humanity” of the women leading the New Era protest.
The New Era residents hit the national news after Brand attended a demonstration outside the home of Richard Benyon MP, whose company held a stake in the estate until last month.
Politicians and residents have now transferred pressure onto the American firm. Speaking to ELL Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said: “We want them to sell the property to a housing association at the very least… We have to fight against the social cleansing that is taking place in London.”
Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, responded to Abbot, saying: “We want long-term affordable housing on the estate as well as long-term social housing.”
The protest came the day after Westbrook delivered letters to all residents, with the Guardian confirming that residents had been told: “There will be no changes to the tenancy agreements and no increase in rents during the first half of 2015.”
However these letters have not been entirely welcome by New Era protestors. Barry Watt, one of the organisers behind New Era 4 All, previously told ELL: “They’ll probably be waiting for a quieter time in the new year… I suspect they’re waiting for some steam to come out of the story.”
Philip Glanville, Hackney Council cabinet member for housing, attended the protest with Alex Hilton, director of private renting campaign group Generation Rent. Glanville said: “There’s many New Eras happening around London… It is a real example of why we need some of the reforms Labour have talked about and I’m sure Alex [Hilton] would say they need to go further.”
This opinion was echoed by Hillier. When asked whether the Labour-backed Lyons Report went far enough she said: “I’m pushing my front bench to go further… We need to find a way of making sure people can live in the private sector and raise a family.”
Throughout the march protestors called on Mayor of London Boris Johnson to do more to protect London renters. Johnson had previously called on his deputy mayor for housing, Richard Blakeway, to intervene in support of residents.
However whilst announcing a major new partnership between London and Malaysia that will lead to the regeneration of Battersea Power Station, Johnson said that foreign investment was vital to London. The Guardian reported that when challenged on the fact that only 600 of 25,000 new homes would be affordable Johnson responded: “I think 600 affordable homes is better than no affordable homes.”
In an interview on Russell Brand’s Trews Youtube Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio had described Westbrook as a “company that deprives people of the opportunity to live in their own neighbourhood”.