Olympics 2012: Regeneration Legacy — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:50 pm on 5th November 2015.

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Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour 3:50 pm, 5th November 2015

My Lords, I am particularly pleased to speak in this debate. If noble Lords saw my full title the secret would be revealed—it is Lord Cashman, of Limehouse. Limehouse is where I was born and is where I now live. My family lived in Stepney, I went to school in Bow and Poplar, cavorted in Stratford, and my families are buried in the cemeteries of east London.

I know it well. Since the 1950s I have seen the amazing changes. However, in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s—and yes, even into the 1980s—those communities thrived because there was employment. There was a sense of ownership of the wider community in which you lived.

Of course, I witnessed the London Docklands Development Corporation. If you were local, when you were offered a flat on the Isle of Dogs you always refused, because there was nothing to do after 7 o’clock at night and if you got what was called a “bridger” you could not get to work in the morning. Look now at what has happened there because of determination and imagination. Again, I look at Wapping and at other parts of the island, where people used not to want to live; indeed, at times it was not a safe place to live.

When I think of Stratford itself, were they not amazing, those pioneers who had the courage to speak out and defend something when others wanted to get rid of it? Joan Littlewood and Gerry Raffles saw the amazing potential of the people of Stratford and Stratford East and built that shrine to culture and the arts for local people, the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

I will come to some of my concerns, but I congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for his determination, imagination and courage in seeing through a dream which for many had been unimaginable. The six London boroughs were among the poorest and most deprived in London, and perhaps still are, so the ambitions and aspirations for the regeneration were and remain laudable. Yet, despite the Prime Minister’s words in 2010, east London and, more importantly, its people have not shared fully in the capital’s growth and prosperity—not in the local growth and prosperity.

For the avoidance of any doubt, let me state that the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were an outstanding success and a deeply humbling experience, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, as is the legacy of regeneration. Therefore I will not be mean-spirited. I believe in celebrating those who try, aspire and reach for the sky, especially for the benefit of others—as this House has shown so very recently.

The reason I am going to raise concerns is that I believe there is still an opportunity and a timeframe within which to address these concerns, and thus ensure that the people of east London—that is, all who live and work there—truly benefit from the inward investment and developments. The convergence strategy referred to before will need revisiting if it is to deliver on jobs, skills, housing and quality of life. As has been said, it is of deep concern that the progress made has now been lost, particularly in relation to jobs, which are now back at the levels of 2009 according the documents lodged in our Library.

We need to address urgently the low number of apprenticeships, of which there have been only 124 at work in the park since 2012. We can and must do better. The new convergence strategy and action plan must be regularly reviewed and adapted if necessary to ensure that it delivers on new job creation.

As noble Lords have said, it is lamentable that the huge financial investment in Stratford International station has not paid off. I know that we cannot force international operators to use the facilities, but we can have imagination and flair in promoting them to international operators, as well as work with national carriers to exploit the economic opportunities.

I come to my main area of concern, and that is housing. As the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, rightly said, the centre of London is moving further to the east, and that has consequences. People like me who live locally in the six boroughs, particularly in the private rented sector and in social housing, are under increasing threat as they see a diminishing supply of social housing or privately rented accommodation at affordable rents. People are literally having to move away from where they were born or grew up or work, and often away from their communities where they feel that they belong. I am saddened to say that this is due to the regeneration and its success, and a lack of focus on a stronger mixed-housing development policy.

Allocations of affordable and social housing, as your Lordships have indicated, are not increasing on the site, but diminishing. From a starting point in the East Village of 49% for affordable housing, current plans on the other sites are now in the region of 30% to 31% and even as low as 28%. That is entirely unacceptable, particularly when not all allocations have gone to people who live and have lived locally. These levels must be increased, with an emphasis on the social rented sector; otherwise, the opportunity of a generation will be lost. Because of its success people now want to live in and around the regeneration areas, and not only in the Olympic Park sites. We are witnessing rent increases in the private sector, diminishing social housing, an increase in house prices and a subsequent increase in land prices, resulting in further pressures on local communities.

The land grab has extended all the way towards the City of London, at Aldgate. There is the controversy of the Cass sites, acquired by the Department of Education and dubbed the “Aldgate Bauhaus”, which are now likely to be destroyed and lost. Elsewhere in Tower Hamlets, an area that I know well, I have deep concerns about the effects of two particular developments on the housing needs of local people, and the damage that these will cause to diverse and cohesive communities.

The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred to the work undertaken by Poplar HARCA and it is to HARCA that I now wish to refer. The redevelopment of the Chrisp Street site in Poplar will see a large reduction in the numbers of social housing units and a large increase for private sale or rent. Especially worrying is the proposed development of the Balfron Tower in St Leonard’s Road, Poplar. The key issue there is that the tower was built and designed as social housing, and maintained as majority social housing even after the right to buy. The estate and property have been poorly maintained, despite leaseholders paying several thousands of pounds per flat per year in service charges.

There has been incredibly poor communication with, and an incredibly poor attitude towards, tenants and leaseholders from the current landlord Poplar HARCA over the decant and refurbishment, with changing plans, the insidious decanting of tenants, years of delay and an eventual declaration that Balfron Tower would be 100% privatised. The need to provide affordable accommodation for all the community is essential. Tower Hamlets has always prided itself on being a diverse and inclusive borough. Might I suggest that social cleansing in this way is the antithesis of that?

The social landlord Poplar HARCA has finally submitted plans to refurbish the 146 homes at Balfron Tower in Poplar, which it promised to do when it took over the management of the block in 2007. However, instead of the refurbished flats being returned to former social tenants, they will now be sold off as luxury apartments on the private market. As I said earlier, there will be a loss of 99 social homes—at least 99, as 11 flats were declared void during the stock transfer in 2007—despite HARCA’s boss, Steve Stride, claiming that no development should see a loss of social housing.

The history of this site and the tower embodies what the architect set out to do. Ernö Goldfinger specifically designed the block to give tenants on low incomes a decent standard of living. Sadly, HARCA now deems the flats to be too valuable for the local community. Tenants and leaseholders have demanded that Balfron stays at least 50% social. I do not consider that to be too vigorous a demand. They have many objections but I will list them briefly: a failure to meet statutory affordable housing targets; a failure to meet best practice guidelines on inclusive consultation; a failure to meet adopted standards defining heritage significance, because the tower has now been registered as grade 2 listed; and a failure to meet best practice guidelines on accountable regeneration, which it is worth restating. The regeneration consultation documents promised that,

“no resident will lose their home involuntarily”,

and that,

“there will be no loss of homes for rent on the Brownfield Estate”.

For the people at Poplar HARCA, and in particular at those two developments, that is not the reality.

I want to go back to how I started and congratulate those who had the courage, determination and imagination to proceed, and to celebrate the amazing Olympic and Paralympic Games, which gave us enormous pride in what we can do and what we can achieve with and for others. That is what I expect of the regeneration of the six boroughs and the sites beyond—the so-called domino effect.

I have cited two cases where things are plainly going wrong but, sadly, there are others, and in other boroughs. The regeneration throughout the six boroughs has transformed an area of London once, as I know only too well, overlooked and left behind. However, we must ensure that the ongoing regeneration does not leave behind or remove the local communities and the local people, who, above all, should benefit from and enjoy the fruits of development. Those fruits of development are theirs, or we have failed.