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14 December 2017
Waltham Forest: Stop the rotten redevelopment plan, demand residents
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
What was the point? That's what the hundreds of people who attended Waltham Forest council's planning committee on 13 December will have been thinking when they left - after 10.30pm! What was the point of the three hours in a hot room? What was the point of the well-researched, well-formulated, well-argued objections from ten speakers from the borough? What was the point of electing councillors? The officers basically said that councillors must dance to the developers' tune because Tory legislation and Sadiq Khan's plan for London demand it.
The Socialist Party rejects this 100%. We want councillors who stand up for us - not for the spivs and speculators gathering like vultures over our borough.
Sadiq Khan's London plan means the city has the smell of fresh prey for them. We say that instead we need our elected representatives to end the social cleansing of London's poor and working class. We now have to fight for homes for people, not profit.
The planning committee meeting was farcical but it showed that there is enormous anger in the borough over this plan.
It will reduce the open space at the top of the street market by a third. 81 trees will be cut down from the town square.
Some buildings around the proposed 29-storey monster blocks will get two hours of daylight (deemed good). One report that was cited said that the wind created by these buildings will mean that some seating areas will not be suitable for prolonged sitting! It will be uncomfortable for leisurely strolling.
The children's play area will be reduced (described as an advancement by the officers!).
And in a borough with approximately 2,000 people in housing need, in this development of new homes the councillors voted that only 20% will be affordable. Except it's not even that good! 20% will be available for shared ownership - available to single people or couples with a combined income of up to £90,000! We need homes - council homes.
When Nancy Taaffe of the Socialist Party said this, it got a big cheer in the hall. A number of objectors who spoke called for a rethink, for homes for those in need, not this "land grab of public space to expand the profit of a private company" as campaigner David Gardner so eloquently put it.
And what was particularly galling was to see Tory councillors, whose leaders launched the sell-off of council homes, whose party has pushed through the rotten to the core Housing and Planning Act, able to appear more radical and more on the side of working class and hard-pressed middle class people than the Blairite Labour councillors who voted 100% for this scandalous plan.
Labour councillors stand condemned by this. Two of the Labour councillors on the planning committee - Marie Pye and Steve Terry - did not even show up to this important meeting, with no explanation offered.
Campaigners and residents came to present their objections in good faith. They and the 948 people who had taken the time to respond to the council's consultation and the 2,015 people who have signed the petition, represent the majority in the borough who oppose this scheme.
As campaigner Jean Duggleby said: "The people who have been to consultations had been gagged". She had spoken to around 5,000 people in the course of her impressive campaign against the monster block plan and had only found around ten in favour.
Labour councillor Jenny Grey, in the chair, defended developer Capital & Regional getting five minutes to speak while objectors received a strict three minutes.
But Nancy told them that the community will not treat them with such deference: "To Capital and Regional here in the hall - this is just the start. We intend to be your worst nightmare."
She also said: "Sadiq Khan is a disgrace for putting forward the London plan and for saying that outer London areas can have up to 45 tall buildings.
"We support Corbyn and we want council housing and we want the money out of the taxes from the rich."
A Socialist Party member shouted out at one point to ask why the council didn't disregard regulations that prevented it building what was needed and listening to the public demands.
A councillor sought advice from the officers on this - big trouble was the answer. That makes things clear - for the campaign to be successful we have to pile the pressure on to the councillors and if they don't recall the vote then they need to be replaced by public representatives who see representing the public as their role.
Nancy talked about the housing rebellions all across the country. She said it's good to have good neighbours and "we have Haringey where Labour councillors have been deselected for pushing through a similar development.
"The May elections are coming upon us. We have the power to vote you in and we have the power to vote you out."
She gave the example of Liverpool socialist-led Labour council in the 1980s that showed how an alternative is possible - it built 5,000 council homes in defiance of Thatcher.
By the end of the meeting the audience was in full rebellion mode. Angry laughter, heckling and rebuttals of every claim rang out around the room.
Waltham Forest's women were especially vocal. When one of the councillors standing in for Pye and Terry tried to argue that we didn't need to worry about increased pressure on the tube as the development would provide local jobs (only 15% guaranteed for the borough's residents!) people shouted that they would be low-paid retail jobs.
We had had enough of their fudges and lies. At 10.11pm Councillor Keith Rayner asked if the vote even included the tower blocks (planning in outline rather than in detail). The answer was yes - but the developers can work out the detail afterwards!
Committee chair Jenny Grey threatened to take the vote into the back room if people didn't quieten down. "Go then, go into the shadows", was the shout that came back.
A Socialist Party member had earlier made the call for a 'people's vote', which was taken after the councillors voted 4:1 in favour of the rotten pro-profiteer, anti-housing provision plan. Our vote was unanimous in opposition.
People were angry, but also shocked, even in tears at the sense of helplessness that people we elected, in Jeremy Corbyn's party, could ignore so many people with so many good arguments.
As Linda Taaffe, Socialist Party member and chair of Waltham Forest trades council said about the victory of Butterfields tenants a year ago: you only win in the court/town hall what you've already won on the streets. Now the campaign must organise and take the challenge to this pointless council.
Two nights before, local campaigners from the Housing Action Network, set up by the trades council (HAN), and the Stop the Monster Block and others who organised the lobby, also discussed what they would do if the meeting went against us.
We decided to launch an appeal; investigate a judicial review; and build the campaign. The HAN distributed a leaflet inviting everyone who wants to fight on to reconvene on 11 January at 7.30pm in the William Morris Community centre. It ain't over!
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 14 December 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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