Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Down by the Riverside, Where the people's housing was privatised.

BATTERSEA riverside, Hovis mills behind St.Mary's Church,c.1981. From place for industry, Thames side became location for developers, including Tory council.
(Right). Up goes For Sale sign on what was working class housing. Below window on right the name Archer recalls John Archer, West Indian-born mayor of Battersea in late 19th century.
(Below) In one of last project before they were abolished, GLC architects left touch of humour on new estate with portraits of famous, including Lord Justice Denning and Vanessa Redgrave.

MAYOR BORIS has said it, and with his headline-grabbing gift for hyperbole, made comparisons with the 'ethnic cleansing' of Kosova.

There was some tut-tutting at the seeming trivialisation of mass killing, and no doubt some more serious complaints behind scenes at the Tory mayor's being a maverick and blurting out what his party and its Lib Dem coalition partners in government were doing.

But it was reported that London local authorities were already block booking bed and breakfast accommodation along the south coast in anticipation of having to find places for for families made homeless by cuts in housing benefit, on top of the number of repossessions.

We have been here before, though not on the anticipated scale. The process whose consequences Boris Johnson warned against is not new, nor indeed was his comparison. When Westminster city council was clearing the neglected property of Artillery Row Mansions to make way for the property developers, about fifteen years ago, some people who had occupied the building hung out a banner, across the road from city hall, accusing the council of "social cleansing".

That was while we were used to the sight of war and 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia and Kosova, and refugees were still arriving.

The Tory Westminster council, led by Dame Shirley Porter, the Tesco heiress, was already making its name for madcap privatisation (cemeteries sold off cheap which then had to be bought back), shoving homeless families in properties full of rats and asbestos, and the policy which eventually placed the council in the dock and Dame Shirley in luxury exile, selling off council houses and flats in marginal wards so as to change their social composition and, so it was hoped, political complexion.

Now, working-class people are being told their housing benefit will be cut, so they will just have to find cheaper accommodation in less expensive areas, in crude terms, get out of London,(while simultaneously receiving the opposite advice, that they should move to where the work is). People are rightly remembering Lady Porter.

The fact is, though, what Porter did was only an extension of similar policies that had been carried on by her fellow Tories south of the river, in the London Borough of Wandsworth.

Christopher Chope, a judge's son from Putney, was elected as a councillor in Wandsworth in 1974 and became the council leader in 1979.

In 1980-1 I spent some time working in Wandsworth, mainly by the Battersea riverside. The area was seeing some changes. The old boy in the cafe on the corner could remember the mornings when the road outside was full of people going to work. The days when Manbre Sugars, Projectile Engineering and especially, Morgan Crucible were in Battersea. Now there was just Rank, Hovis McDougall's flour mill by the river (and since then that too has gone). "In those days the young lads got apprenticeships", he said, surveying his empty tables.

Across the road from St.Mary's church a new estate was being completed, designed by the Greater London Council's architects, before the GLC lost its housing functions and a few years before it was abolished. The new estate, a mixture of houses and flats around a scenic water feature, was passing into the hands of Wandsworth council. Nearby it was overlooked by some high-rise council-owned tower blocks. "The people up there, families with kids, are thinking they will be able to move down here when this place is built," said my workmate, a local Battersea boy. "But they've got no chance".

Even before the estate was finished, Wandsworth's Tory council had the estate agents down with "for sale" notices, and a show flat opened. To complete the picture, an old pre-war estate on the other side was given a lick of paint and some flower tubs, and advertised with flats for sale as Battersea Village.

A taxi driver told me he'd been flummoxed by two yuppies he'd picked up asking for "South Chelsea". They explained they meant "over the bridge". Battersea. Oh, well, yuppies need housing too. And to show off its marketing skills, Wandsworth was to add high-rise flats off Falcon Road, previously dubbed hard-to-lets, to its for sale portfolio.

Before that, however, the council redeveloped an area off East Hill, replacing old dwellings with houses for sale. "I'm glad we got rid of those people off East Hill," a Wandsworth council officer told us. "They were scum!" I don't suppose the councillors said anything like that, but this was a senior staff member, ex-military and colonial type, and he wasn't standing for election.

Christopher Chope on the other hand, earned the name "Chopper Chope" for cutting council spending, and an OBE in 1982 for services to local government. Wandsworth won accolades from Sir Alfred Sherman, the ex-Stalinist turned high priest of Thatcherism, who went on to defend Lady Porter. The year after gaining his OBE, Chope was elected to parliament as MP for Southampton, Itchen, and he was promoted by Margaret Thatcher to be Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment. He helped her introduce the poll tax.

Today he is MP for Christchurch, in Hants, and has called for the minimum wage to be abolished, introducing an Employment Opportunities Bill, to introduce more freedom to the jobs market, he says.

The market rules! Even if sometimes it gets a helping hand from government. So if you are one of those low-paid workers who keep London going, and you cannot afford to live where you are, you'll just have to move. Even if it is the government and local council who have helped keep your wages down and housing costs up, determining that the area where you live is no longer for people like you, y'understand?

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At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, do you have any information about the man and child walking towards the building, in the second picture? or any more detailed information about the picture itself?
Thank you.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

The building in question was a pre-war block in Battersea overlooking the Thames which I photographed in 1980-1. It had just been refurbished and the flats were put up for sale.
I'm afraid I have no idea who the man and the child were.

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much.


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