Newham Council plans to sell off the Carpenters Estate next to the Olympic site to University College London and has been removing residents and boarding up good quality housing for over six years despite the desperate housing shortage in the area.
The Carpenters Estate was first developed by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters in the late Victorian era, with a mix of industry and housing. Much of the area was badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War, and the estate was redeveloped by Newham Council in the 1960s. It was in some respects an exemplary development of the time, with large area of two-story terraced housing, some maisonettes and three 22 storey point blocks. The area also retained some of the small industrial premises and included shops, a pub and a school, and later a community and health centre. It was and remains a popular estate, relatively small with good communal open space and amenities, close to the centre of Stratford and next to its station, though the closure of the direct access to this leaves residents with an unnecessarily long detour.
But around ten years ago, Newham Council decided to run down the estate, 'decant' off as many of the residents as it could, and board up (with squat-proof metal shutters) the good empty properties. it was a scandalous decision given the terrible housing shortage in the area, and one that has been extremely unpopular in the area. Even the tower blocks are pretty popular, with good quality accommodation that a number of tenants were happy to exercise the right to buy.
In November 2011, the council, upset at the activities of local residents who wanted to remain on the estate decided to fix the elections to the Carpenters Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). They barred freeholders on the estate from standing for the new board of management and 'lost' five out of the six leaseholder nominations. At the AGM the TMO officials employed security guards to refuse entry to all freeholders who had been invited to attend. The election rigging enabled Newham to effectively take over the TMO and to end real participation by tenants and freeholders in the consultations over the future of the estate.
The changes have led to a loss of confidence in the eficacy and independence of the TMO commisioned valuation service which was supposed to stand up for the interests of tenants and challenge the low valuations by the Council for Compulsory Purchase Orders. Residents formed Carpenters Against Regeneration Plans (CARP) to challenge what they say are unconstitutional decisions made by the TMO and to get it to fulfil its duties to all residents of the estate, and to fight for the future of the residents and for a sustainable community.
CARP also point out that by emptying usable properties on the estate the council is unnecessarily losing income for its housing budget and that this makes no economic sense. They also warn that tenants who take up the offer of alternative accommodation in flats owned by the housing association, Genesis Housing, are losing their secure tenancy status and becoming simply the much less favourable 'assured tenancies'.
The tour around the estate, one of a number arranged by CARP, starting from Stratford Station, was led by Tawanda Nyabango who lived for many years in one of the tower blocks, with contributions by a number of other residents, prticularly CARP vice-chairman Joe Alexander. After a long tour of the estate and a brief detour to see the Waterworks River along the west of the estate it tried to enter Lund Point, one of the three tour blocks on the estate to visit two of the flats there. BBC security (they are using some of the top five floors for Olympic coverage) and then police stopped us from entering for around an hour and a half, but finally had to admit us since we had an invitation from the residents of the two flats.
The BBC had at first wanted to use another of the point blocks, James Reilly Point, but determined action by one of the residents there had caused them to change their plans. At Lund Point there are certainly those who feel that the BBC have not been good neighbours in the block, and today's action will have reinforced that opinion.
CARP certainly has nothing against the Olympics, and is not against the idea of regenerating the estate, but are against the secretive way that the Mayor and council have acted. They accept that there may be a need for change, but would like an honest and open process in which proper consideration was given to the current residents, whether tenants, leaseholders or freeholders.
On the tour were a number of students from University College London (UCL) with whom the council are in discussions over the takeover of the area as a new campus, who at one point held up a banner stating their opposition to the UCL 'land grab'. But clearly this proposal would be in line with current Newham Mayor Robin Wales's ambition for Stratford to become 'London's Third City.'