In March 2022, representatives of the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign and me met with Green Party member of the London Assembly Sian Berry and her Research and Support Officer Dr Faith Taylor for a walkabout in the Achilles Street area in New Cross. Sian Berry is doing important research on the effectiveness and fairness of estate ballots across London and has found many issues with regards to how estate ballots are being conducted. The research included residents from the Achilles Street Estate in New Cross, south-east London.
For those unaware of the regeneration plans in the heart of New Cross, the Achilles Street development involves the demolition of 87 homes (the council blocks on Achilles Street, the row of shops on New Cross Parade (by the Marquis of Granby bus stop) and the flats above the shops referred to as the 363s). The plans propose about 450 new flats, most of which will be private. Although tenants, leaseholders and shopkeepers are offered the right to return, we know from other developments (e.g. Heygate, Aylesbury, Pepys) that it is not a straightforward process. For some tenants, new and existing, the new home will be a huge and much-needed improvement to their quality of life. For other, existing tenants, leaseholders and shopkeepers, redevelopment is a time of upheaval, trauma and displacement. Rents and service charges in new developments are usually higher than before and unaffordable to some. Even if costs start off on the same level as before, they tend to increase very quickly. We need to remember that for some people, even an increase of £10-20 a week may mean having to skip meals, not heat the flat in winter or go into debt. Tenancies are also less secure, meaning these homes are not necessarily homes for life. For leaseholders, chances of moving to the new development are even lower as replacement properties are much more expensive than what they are being offered for their old flats. Many leaseholders purchased their flats through the Right to Buy scheme or many years ago, meaning homes cost a lot less than they do now. Some may even be forced to become renters again or enter the dubious Shared Ownership scheme. We also know that proposals and promises change over time and that in the end, far more residents are displaced from their homes, community networks and neighbourhoods than originally estimated, not to mention the long period of upheaval, insecurity and uncertainty, as well as the emotional trauma of displacement. It is yet unknown how these processes will play out on the Achilles Street development but facts and figures from other sites do not paint a pretty future. For further information about the Achilles Street campaign, please visit the campaign blog, and for stories of residents and shopkeepers experiencing displacement and not agreeing to the demolition of their homes and shops, please see lists of links at the end of this article.
Sian Berry’s research concentrates on how estate ballots are being conducted. In 2018, the Mayor introduced a new policy, enabling estate residents to have a vote when it comes to the demolition of their homes. Although the introduction of the estate ballots was a significant step to give people a say over the future of their homes, Berry’s research has found that the balloting process is an undemocratic affair with local authorities deploying persuasive tactics and spending large sums on securing a ‘yes’ vote (see Guardian article on this research). It has also found that the process silences critical voices and treats those against the demolition of their homes as adversaries, unwilling to listen to other views. This was also experienced by representatives of the Achilles Street campaign and other resident and campaign groups across London and the report draws on their experiences (see right screenshot below). It also draws on my research on how residents in Deptford/New Cross are experiencing estate regeneration and displacement, citing from my book Deptford is Changing (see right screenshot from Berry’s report below).
It is an insightful report that reveals the undemocratic process of estate ballots which needs to change. It is telling that out of 21 estate ballots only one resulted in a ‘no’ vote. While there are people who are in favour of demolition, considering the issues raised in Berry’s report, these results need revisiting. The full report ‘Estate Residents Ballots: Are they working well?’ can be read here and here.
Berry has sent this report together with proposed changes to the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development Tom Copley. Her letter can be read here: https://www.london.gov.uk//press-releases/assembly/sin-berry/londons-estate-ballot-policy-needs-urgent-refresh
Below are the links to the personal stories of Achilles Street residents and New Cross Road shopkeepers.
No vote for business owners regarding the demolition of their business on New Cross Road
New Cross was one of the last areas without being out in the suburbs
The council has not fulfilled their part of the deal
Most laundrettes are surviving because they rent from council premises and have reasonable rent
People here don’t want demolition
If I’d known they were going to demolish this, I wouldn’t have invested in this business
How can you call this flat uninhabitable and ready for demolition?
We tenants, we’re not going to win
I want to live in this flat for the rest of my life
I want to stay here and die here