Lewisham residents fighting to save homes from demolition accuse council of ‘social cleansing’

Banners made at the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden. Pic: Ella Milburn

Residents and campaigners from two sites in Lewisham have accused the council of “social cleansing” over development plans which they say are threatening their homes, a public garden and their sense of community.

Those living in the areas around Achilles Street in New Cross and Reginald Road in Deptford say Lewisham Council are ignoring pleas from the community to stop the redevelopments and are presenting demolition as the only way forward.

Campaigners in both sites fear the developments will do little to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable and force poorer residents out of the area.

The plans would see the demolition of at least 103 council homes and 15 businesses over the two sites, as well as a community garden.

Lewisham council says the redevelopments would go towards addressing the shortage of council housing in the borough, and has pledged to have started building 500 new council homes by 2018.

EastLondonLines spoke to residents and campaigners in the two areas about their concerns over the plans.

Reginald House and the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden

Reginald House (bottom left) and the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden (bottom middle) face destruction if current redevelopment plans go ahead.

Lewisham Council are proposing demolition of Deptford’s Old Tidemill Garden site and the 16 homes at Reginald House, a block of social housing, to make way for a 209-home development.

When construction company Mulalley and developers Family Mosaic and Sherrygreen Homes raised their offer of affordable housing at the strategic planning committee in September, councillors voted 4-2 in favour of the redevelopment.

The affordable housing offer was raised from 16% to 47% after an additional grant from the GLA, the reinvestment of profit by the developers, and a grant from the Council to the developer were secured.

Reginald House resident Pauline Wamunyu said: “We’ve petitioned I don’t know how many times, but they ignore everything. They just knock the door and pretend they want to know your housing needs.

“We said from the beginning. We’re not interested in compensation. Our interest is in keeping our building. It’s high time the council and the planning department sat back and thought about the welfare of us all.”

The strategic planning committee report says: “It is recognised that the building is the home of a number of residents and its demolition is a sensitive issue”, pledging that residents will be offered a suitable home in the new development at their current rent levels.

Regarding the demolition, the report states: “Reginald House is not a listed building, is not located in a conservation area nor subject to any other protection. Demolition of the building does not require planning permission.”

The Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden. Pic: Ella Milburn

Just down the road from Reginald House and also at risk of demolition, is outdoors community and activities space the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden.

As recently as August, the garden appeared in the Greater London Authority (GLA)’s Greener City Fund prospectus as an example of inner city green spaces.

Deptford Neighbourhood Action (DNA) campaigner and garden user, Andrea Hughes, said alternative plans drawn up by architect Andy Belfield went ignored: “We presented new plans to the developers to say you don’t need to build on the garden, or knock down Reginald House, you can build on the playground, take over the school, put another storey on. And the council said nothing.”

A campaign page created by Owen Hodgkinson says: “We want the appointed developers to go back to the drawing board and change their plans in line with what the community really needs, which is access to quality public open space and affordable housing.”

Planning documents show considerations for the inclusion of a ‘pocket garden’ in the new development, and proposes that the public spaces be subject to community consultation.

Achilles Street area

Plans for a second development on and around Achilles Street would see the area replaced with a high-rise, high-density housing complex.

The Achilles Street area includes at least 15 businesses and 87 homes, in a low density housing estate, flats and maisonettes on Achilles Street, Clifton Rise, Pagnell Street and New Cross Road.

Jacquie Utley from the Achilles Street Stop and Listen campaign has lived on the street for over 27 years. She said the four consultation events held have failed to communicate effectively with residents: “Lewisham are only presenting the option of demolition. We have repeatedly asked to see options and costing for refurbishment and infill so that residents and the businesses can have a genuine choice about what happens.

“For many of the residents and businesses, the first time they heard their homes, livelihoods, and community spaces were at risk of demolition was from our campaign.”

Businesses on New Cross Road under threat. Pic: Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign

Utley told EastLondonLines: “Demolishing council homes during a housing shortage makes no sense. The majority of homes on Lewisham’s plans will not be for the homeless or those on the waiting list.”

Lewisham Council says redevelopment would double the number of council homes, and increase other affordable housing and quality student homes.

In the latest consultation documents, the council says current tenants will be able to stay in the new development with the same rent and tenancy conditions, and leaseholders will be able to remain in home ownership on the new development.

Andy Worthington from the No Social Cleansing in Lewisham campaign said: “This is not a process that benefits local people. It’s creating unaffordable homes that, for the most part, seem to be being bought by foreign investors.

“If all the proposals come to fruition, it’s really an epidemic of driving people out of their homes because they live in social housing.”

Leave a Reply