'We don't want luxury tower blocks built in Hoxton' was the verdict of every contributor in a public meeting called by the 'Save Britannia Leisure Centre' campaign in east London.
From the platform Hackney mayor Philip Glanville tried to defend his plan to replace the popular Britannia leisure centre with three tower blocks, a large academy school, and a new leisure centre on a patch of land presently classified as 'designated open space'.
His council cabinet argues that it would cost too much to renovate the present leisure centre and the only way a new centre can be funded is for 480 flats to be built on the site, 400 of them for private sale and only 80 classed as 'affordable'.
Many of those 80 won't be at all affordable for the vast number of Hackney people who are homeless or living in overcrowded or other dire conditions. Genuinely affordable homes are very scarce, forcing working class people out of the borough.
The entire neighbourhood will be damaged environmentally: Less open space, with monstrous tower blocks blocking the sky and light. The council's own pre-planning application report admits there would be "significant intensification and increased density within the surrounding area".
Nobody in the audience of over 50 people voiced any support for the proposals. Over 20 angrily slated different aspects of the scheme, including Socialist Party members who called for the council to stop doing the Tory government's bidding and instead to safeguard the site's use as a leisure facility.
The money could be raised from the council's substantial reserves and borrowing powers, while at the same time launching a determined campaign for reimbursement by central government. Successive governments have dramatically slashed funding to councils!
There was a chorus of condemnation of the lack of 'transparency' of the cabinet - it asserts there's no alternative to its monstrous project while claiming it can't break 'confidentiality' with the organisations being lined up for involvement, so local people can't have the information they're requesting.
Objections were also made to having yet another 'academy' school - outside the direction of the elected local authority, able to undercut nationally agreed rates of pay and terms for staff, able to employ unqualified teachers. The council meekly repeats the government's order that new state-funded schools have to be free schools or academies. Where is its active opposition to this?
The government did a u-turn on forcing every existing school to become an academy. It could cave in too regarding new schools if Hackney and the many other Labour councils across the country mobilise a national campaign against these destructive privatisations - which would be willingly supported by large numbers of parents, school staff and students.
The mayor seems set on pushing on with the scheme regardless of the strong opposition, so the campaign will go on.
Jeremy Corbyn last year pledged a big council house building programme and opposition to forced academies and “forced gentrification and social cleansing”. Yet Hackney council and mayor Philip Glanville continue to do the Tory government's bidding by building luxury flats and academy schools, and they impose the Tories' savage spending cuts on council jobs and services.
"He must think he is Trump and the new leisure centre will be called the Phil Glanville leisure centre" was the verdict of a local resident after the meeting.
Virtually everyone took away Hackney Socialist Party's leaflet to read, and eight people bought a copy of the Socialist.
This is a longer version of the article printed in the Socialist
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