Over 70 Hackney residents packed into a public meeting on Monday evening to protest against Hackney Council's plan to fragment, privatise and over-populate their estates.
I gave the opening speech, largely an updated version on this blog entry from a while back. There was then plenty of discussion, despite some rather heavy-handed chairing.
An ex-councillor who lives on the Trelawney estate told the meeting that when the Council announced that its plans would be discussed at the Estate Committee on 9th January, the TRA put out a newsletter to all residents, loads of whom turned up to the meeting. There was massive hostility to the Council's plan, which includes demolishing maisonettes, pulling down and rebuilding the community hall and building three new tower blocks!
Trelawney residents are not the only ones to reject the Council's policy. Frampton Park residents also oppose it; Aspland & Marcon TRA opposes the policy in principle even though the Council has not yet revealed details of its implementation on the estate; Shoreditch Neighbourhood Panel has rejected it; and the Chair of MESH (the South Hackney Neighbourhood Panel) assured us that it would also reject the policy.
Amongst the people present were residents of Frampton Park, Trelawney, Gascoyne, Aspland & Marcon, Jack Watts, George Downing, De Beauvoir and Lordship North estates. There were not too many 'usual suspects' of the local left at the meeting, mainly because it clashed with a meeting to protest against cuts at Homerton Hospital. The high attendance reflected not just hard work by activists but a genuine groundswell of anger and resistance amongst residents of Hackney estates.
Gascoyne residents were particularly angry at the way the Council had neglected the 800 homes on their estate for years. They live only a few streets away from houses worth 5 million pounds.
The meeting was a good example of a rank-and-file initiative. Originally floated as an idea at a meeting of activists called by Hackney Independent in December, it was called by two Tenants' & Residents' Associations - those of Trelawney and Aspland & Marcon estates. So it was part of the tenants' and residents' movement rather than separate from it, but was not hamstrung by waiting for the 'higher up', more sluggish strata of that movement eg. the borough-wide Convention. Similarly to the trade union movement, we can demand that our leaders lead, but if they do not, rank-and-file activists have to take up the reins.
Sam Degraph from Trelawney Estate TRA urged residents to improve their estates as part of the strategy for defending them. Build community gardens, plant trees, apply for preservation orders, use your community hall for the maximum range of activities. Rebuild the spirit of community solidarity. All this will make it harder for the Council to attack your estate, and make residents more committed to defending it.
One person asked us to justify why transfer to an Registered Social Landlord (RSL) was so bad - after all, hadn't RSLs improved a number of Hackney estates, such as Holly Street and the Pembury? Various people replied that the reality was different from the RSLs' PR. Some of the flats on the new Holly Street are tiny; in the tower block for senior citizens, tiles are falling off the walls. On the Pembury, building works have been hugely disruptive, and the RSL, Peabody, put an office where the only playground used to be. Morningside estate is now run by Sanctuary: on one occasion, the electricty was left disconnected from a Friday to the following Wednesday, and residents had to take the rotten food from their disconnected fridges to the landlord's office to force them to ensure the supply was put back on.
The meeting concluded by resolving to campaign actively to defend our estates, with the following action:
- Form an action committee (volunteers signed up at the end of the meeting)
- The Committee to organise campaigning
- Produce a petition for use around the estates
- A demonstration outside the Town Hall
- Protests on estates, at the sites facing demolition/privatisation/redevelopment
- Gather information on exactly what's proposed for each estate
- Gather reports and experiences from residents on estates run by RSLs eg. Holly Street, Pembury
- Contact trade unions, and propose a resolution to the next meeting on Hackney TUC (next Thursday, 8th February)
- Have a positive campaign in favour of improving estates as well as against the Estate Regeneration / infill policy - propose alternative uses for "unused land"
- Produce further leaflets, including in different languages
- Produce an action plan for TRAs
- Further protest meetings in other parts of Hackney
- Demand a meeting with the Council