Simon Hewitt, Hendon CLP, reports on the fight against gentrification on a north London estate
IF YOU GO TO THE WEBSITE FOR BARRATT HOMES ‘Hendon Waterside’ development, you’re greeted by arty shots of luxurious apartments and panoramic views over lakeland scenery. It all looks very nice. What the website carelessly fails to mention is that the site of Hendon Waterside is currently occupied by a council estate. Gentrification has come to north London, enthusiastically invited by a Tory council whose concern for its less well-off residents is decidedly minimal.
The West Hendon Estate, which got a mention in April’s Briefing, is currently home to a mixture of leaseholders, secure and temporary council tenants. Since that last piece, the extent of the threat to West Hendon has become clearer, and resistance to it more intense. The building of the approximately 2,000 apartments that will replace these residents’ homes is well under way. Local people are getting used to living on a building site. The noise and vibration from construction is a constant nuisance throughout the day.
But for many residents there could be a lot worse to come. Compulsory purchase orders are beginning to be issued. A good proportion are going to be forced to move off an estate that has been home to some families for decades. Leaseholders are being offered a laughable amount for their homes. The figure of £165,000 for a two bedroom flat has been quoted. This is well below market price, and won’t allow homeowners to remain in London.
Meanwhile, temporary tenants have absolutely no guarantee of remaining in the area, let alone on the estate, and there is a real fear among many that they will be rehoused out of London. Children will be taken away from their schools, workers from their jobs, the elderly and vulnerable from vital support and friendship networks. The website for Barnet Homes, an ALMO for the council, tells these tenants “If alternative accommodation is offered, the actual notice period before you need to move may be as little as one week.”
The indignities of this ‘regeneration’ don’t stop with insecurity and displacement. Those residents who get to remain on the estate will be housed away from the prime luxury flats. These will overlook the Welsh Harp reservoir and nature reserve, a view currently enjoyed by local people regardless of ability to pay. Social division is being built into the very architecture of the new development.
Residents are not taking all this lying down. Our West Hendon is a self-organised group of local people campaigning against their treatment at the hands of the council and developers. They have united people across tenure types, and have done great work in the past few months – raising awareness and petitioning for a fair deal for temporary tenants. More recently they have stepped up their action, blocking the entrance to the site for developers on several occasions. The group has also been present at other housing protests in London – the situation in West Hendon is far from unique, and solidarity with others experiencing similar attacks is vital.
Time is running out for the residents of West Hendon, with compulsory purchase orders and eviction notices being served. The only realistic way they can win any concessions at this late stage is by maximising the threat to both the developers’ profits and the council’s reputation. This needs urgent and concerted action, and this in turn needs support. It is absolutely essential that people throughout the labour movement give their full support to Our West Hendon. Along with the Focus E15 Mothers campaign in East London, this group is spearheading the fight against social cleansing under the guise of regeneration.
The battle for West Hendon highlights a host of issues around the politics of housing. The scarcity of council housing means that councils can present tenancies as a privilege, making it easier for them to treat tenants in a way that would have been considered unacceptable just a few years ago. Nor is the social cleansing accidental: a Barnet Tory councillor responded to the comment that only the wealthy would be able to live in new homes in the borough with the words “and those are the people we want”. At the heart of all of this, however, is the prioritising of private profit over the human need for housing. Until that is addressed, there will be many more West Hendons.
» You can follow updates from Our West Hendon on Facebook. Please also sign their petition at 38degrees.org.uk/ petitions/homes-before-profit