A roomy green estate of 150 houses has been rapidly cleared of its residents, now scattered to other boroughs, other schools, other towns. A tiny number have taken over one house and are mounting a resistance to the ‘social cleansing’ they claim has happened in Sweets Way, in the North London borough of Barnet since December.
So far, so contemporary London. Selling homes is the new Klondyke in a crowded city with helpfully open property regulations about ownership, social need, green space, communal facilities.
But whose responsibility is this? We say that it’s awful that people should lose or never get homes in which to be secure and happy but we believe we can’t do much about it.
But what of the people who can? Sweets Way and its desperate little band of protesters (joined by the successful E15 Mothers) can illuminate this.
First of all. Barnet Council, rapidly making a name for itself as the developers friend. (See West Hendon) Barnet Council however, though it has responsibility for its homeless citizens, has set up an arms length organisation to deal with housing-Barnet Homes. This is where all calls to the council about Sweets Way are referred. And they are helpful in providing the figures. Nine families remain on the estate. Of the other households 41 have been housed with flexible tenancies and long term temporary accommodation. 24 have been housed in emergency temporary accommodation. Of this total 43 are still in the borough of Barnet and 21 are outside the borough. One is outside London in Potters Bar.
The terms disguise the truth. People have been taken from a stable community to temporary and emergency accommodation, famously varied in basic standards. They have been scattered, at no doubt enormous cost to the council, across mainly temporary accommodation.
And why? Crudely, because Annington Homes wants to build expensive homes- lots of them, around 400. It will thereby add to the combined investment value of £35.8 bn of Terra Firma, its parent company. Terra Firma doesn’t appear to need the money. Its run by Guy Hands, famous for trying to buy EMI (and for living in tax haven Guernsey for the last 5 years).The rationale behind snapping up and knocking down estates like Sweets Way is explained by Arjau Breure, Financial Managing Director at Terra Firma.
“ Residential property is an asset class that provides stable, recurring and visible cash flows with inflation protection backed with physical assets.”
So no responsibility admitted there.
The chair of Annington Homes is Elizabeth Filkin, former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.I asked her office for a quote but none is to be forthcoming.
Then there is the broader realm of Government responsibility. This Government has encouraged right to Buy, taking more houses out of the public sector, and has refused to let local authorities to remove the cost of building council houses from the public sector borrowing requirement(so it’s capped). It has set an unaffordable ‘affordable rent’ at 80 percent of market rent. It has done nothing to force land banks to be opened up.
The protesters and tenants at Sweets Way have taken responsibility. Here’s what they are asking for.
‘1.No demolition of the homes on Sweets Way estate.
2. Repopulation of empty homes, with right to return for all decanted residents.
3. Immediate stop to all eviction proceedings against residents.
If Annington can’t provide homes at Sweets Way that we can afford, we demand that they sell the estate to Barnet Council at a cost the council can afford’.