Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/494/2598
Tales from the council chamber
Lewisham One victory, one defeat
LEWISHAM'S TENANTS won an important victory against New Labour's homes privatisation plans at last week's council meeting. Lewisham - a 'hung council' with a New Labour 'executive mayor' ('Sir' Steve Bullock) - is transferring over 8,000 properties to housing associations.
One area due for transfer is Excalibur estate (aka Bungalow estate), around 180 'prefab' bungalows, built as temporary housing 60 years ago to deal with the immediate post-war housing crisis. The properties do not meet the 'decent homes standards' but most tenants enjoy living on the estate, with more spacious homes and gardens than current building standards, and a good community spirit.
New Labour councillors claim, however, that the £5.3 million cost of 'decent homes' refurbishment is not 'value for money' and propose stock transfer to London & Quadrant (L&Q) Housing Association, who would demolish the estate, build homes for sale, and use the proceeds as a 'cross-subsidy' to re-house existing Excalibur tenants.
If tenants vote against L&Q, the mayor says, the estate will be demolished anyway in a 'regeneration partnership' with another 'registered social landlord'!
Lewisham's Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, prompted all opposition councillors to come behind a simple motion (moved by a Tory councillor!) opposing demolition of the estate.
Bungalow estate tenants in the public gallery interrupted Ian four times by applause, including when he pointed out that the 'excessive' £5.3 million cost to refurbish the homes was equal to one day's government spending to keep troops in Iraq! Although one Tory councillor abstained, the motion was passed - an important victory.
The meeting wasn't so good, however, for Lewisham's commuters. At their April meeting the council passed a motion moved by Ian and Chris calling for London Bridge station to be temporarily 're-zoned' as a Zone Two station while East London underground line is closed from December until 2010 for extension works.
Without re-zoning, East London line users travelling to Zone Two stations north of the Thames will face the 'choice' of massively increased journey times or going through Zone One central London overground stations like London Bridge and paying an extra fare (£4) each time for the privilege.
Since April, a meeting had been arranged between the council, Transport for London (TfL - the transport arm of Ken Livingstone's Greater London Authority) and the local train operating companies, Southern and Southeastern. The private train companies didn't turn up, but sent a letter opposing the re-zoning plan as 'excessively expensive', and TfL were not prepared to fight them on this.
So Ian and Chris presented a motion calling on the Department of Transport to intervene. As Ian pointed out, the government had just awarded the London Midland rail franchise to Govia, Southern and Southeastern's parent company, with a £1.1 billion public subsidy - the companies could hardly plead poverty!
But this didn't convince New Labour councillors nor, incredibly, the Green council group leader, Darren Johnson. Denouncing the Socialist Party's 'empty rhetoric', he argued that re-zoning London Bridge would create 'capacity problems' there - effectively he was saying that low-income users of the East London line should be priced off the railways!
If the Greens had voted with us, the motion would have passed. But four of six Green councillors joined with New Labour and the motion was defeated. But Ian and Chris will make sure this issue won't go away.
In The Socialist 5 July 2007:
National Shop Stewards Network
Campaign for a New Workers Party
What we think
Postal workers strike
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Tales from the council chamber
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party events
Socialist Party review