Archive article from The Socialist Issue 338
Coventry Residents Insist:
"You Won't Destroy Our Community"
"THE LAST thing you're going to get is my house," Reg Lee told developers to the cheers of a couple of hundred residents, packed into Coventry's Wood End community centre on 5 March.
Dave Griffiths and Rob Windsor, Socialist Party councillor
Residents in Wood End, Henley Green and Manor Farm are angry and frightened over plans to 'regenerate' their areas. Regeneration - a word invented by the Daleks - is really mass demolition.
Everyone agrees that major improvements are needed to the area. £54 million has been granted under the New Deal for Communities scheme. But that is not enough to do the job.
So in effect the £54 million in this scheme is sugar to attract private developers into some giant social engineering project.
Developers effectively want to clear as much space as possible - in effect an urban clearance - so they can build as many profitable developments as possible.
The New Deal 'Partnership' plans to flatten the three estates and build anew. Residents face demolition, with many more private units built and rentable housing reduced from 2,300 units to 1,400, which will be smaller houses without gardens.
"The new homes are going to be downsized," protested Josie Kenny, to the feeble reply of the privatised housing director that Wood End house sizes "are very generous" and the new house sizes "meet with standards laid down by the Housing Association."(!) "Who wrote those?" shouted a voice at the back. "How will back-to-back houses with communal gardens work? It's slum housing," complained a Winston Ave resident.
Top of every residents' survey across our city is 'something for the kids to do, better facilities for youth'. "Yet out of the £54 million, none of it is for our young people," said Steve Spreadborough of Wood End Residents Action Group. Regeneration should benefit local people, not threaten to clear them out.
As with all current 'regenerations' it's stuffed with so called 'consultation'. But as Dave East said, "every time we go to a consultation, we're told something different." Residents feel they have little control as consultation seems to be ideas from "outside suits" who dictate what's happening.
As Kev from Deedmore Rd said to more cheers and applause, "You suits have one impression of this area - that it's Beirut. But they're fine people, just not all rich or living in fancy houses. You're destroying a community."
Reg Lee agreed. "We have a good community, but when you (local New Labour MP, Bob Ainsworth) call it a 'den of social problems', it devalues the area."
Residents feel let down by all around them. Criticising the council, one said "You spent £1 million to persuade us to sell off council housing, and look where it has got us," Dave East concluded. "If you have my house down, I'll still be in it." The noise was deafening.
GOVERNMENT GRANT money to councils is not enough. This encourages councils like Coventry's to seek out private developers, offer them easy profits all in the hope that a few crumbs will fall off the table into the local communities. The record here doesn't show much trace of that.
In effect, communities are left at the mercy of developers, and we don't get a real community plan. That is what is behind the wariness, fears and anger of these North East Coventry communities.
All this because New Labour now embraces the "free market". We believe that the people of these communities are entitled to decent homes, community services and jobs and that public funds are needed for this. They can spend over £6 billion of public cash on the discredited Iraq war and occupation, yet they want to leave our communities to rely on the private sector - the private sector that wants our land and homes for more profits!
The 5 March meeting was a show of strength by the area that it won't be messed about with. This feeling now has to be built on.
This plan should demand...
Free Market Can't Solve Housing Crisis
THE SCHEME is based on the replacement of existing rented stock with expensive homes probably at £100,000 plus. Yet the day after the meeting the International Monetary Fund announced that the ever-growing housing market in Britain is in danger of causing economic problems.
On 7 March, The Observer reported on how many, especially young, first-time buyers cannot get even their big toe on the bottom rung of the "property ladder" due to massive house prices and wages failing to keep up.
Any change in this market could completely scupper the 'social engineering' plans inherent in schemes like the one in North East Coventry. Such schemes exist all over Britain. They represent big business, in the form of property developers and speculators cashing in on the current house price boom.
New Labour's capitalist regeneration plans are based on clearing existing "unattractive" working-class communities out of areas that they want to hand to big business and speculators to develop and to build massively overpriced housing.
Service industries that "shine the shoes" of the new "rich" coming into such areas are supposed to replace declining manufacturing industry.
Councils get a payoff too. In Coventry they will get a 50% share in any Whitefriars land that is commercially sold and they get income-generating band C and D houses instead of existing band A housing.
Socialists have a different approach. We believe that the deprivation that blights poor working-class communities points to the free market's failure to deliver decent standards for working-class people.
Our ideas for "regeneration" are to provide decent homes, jobs and facilities for all in areas like North East Coventry, not to clear people out because their faces don't fit the plans of the free marketers behind such schemes.
Labour's Unaffordable Housing Policy
AS THE articles on Coventry show New Labour's housing policy, based on privatisation and trust in the free market, is failing miserably.
So few houses are being built at prices people can afford that not even workers in jobs with chronic shortages such as teachers can "get on the property ladder" or find homes to rent.
A study for homelessness charity Shelter estimates a shortfall of 55,000 affordable homes a year.
House building is at its lowest level since 1924. Only half as many affordable homes are built each year as even under the Tories in the mid-Nineties. The numbers are still collapsing - from an already pathetic 25,081 in 1997 to 13,601 in 2002/03.
Shelter says at least 89,000 affordable homes need building a year. That very restrained demand is six times as many as is being achieved under New Labour, whose main priority is boosting profits for private companies. Shelter calls for twice as much public money to be spent on housing as its present £1.6 billion a year. In the 1970s, the government spent £10.2 billion a year at current prices on housing.
Halifax Building Society classed areas as 'unaffordable' if first-time buyers needed to borrow more than 4.27 times the local average salary to buy a home. On that basis, they say, 80% of Britain's towns price out first-time buyers.
House prices went up so much in north-east England and Wales that even these traditionally cheap housing areas are becoming less affordable. All East Anglia's towns and cities were unaffordable as were 98% of towns and cities in the South-West.
The free market solution to the housing problem has failed. One of the biggest problems is that since 1981 two million council homes have been lost and only half a million housing association homes have replaced them.
A massive programme of house building is needed and only public-sector housing, especially by local authorities, can provide that at an affordable price.