I don’t say this in jest, One Housing Group (OHG) plans to extinguish the Isle of Dogs Community as we all know it and create something altogether unreasonable. Plans are in tangible form – welcome to ‘Project Stone’.
Project Stone relates to four Housing Estates all at the heart of the Island Community – The Barkantine, St Johns, Samuda and Kingsbridge Estates. The Estates were originally part of the Tower Hamlets Council Housing Stock and following privatisation measures are now owned and managed by OHG.
At an open public meeting called by the labour party yesterday at the St John’s Community Centre, Councillors’ Candida Ronald, Dave Chesterton and Andrew Cregan, Jim Fitzpatrick MP and London Assembly Member John Biggs shared news of and their interactions with OHG re ‘Project Stone’ to a packed hall comprising largely of residents from all four estates.
OHG proposes to demolish and redevelop all four estates. The proposal includes up to 8,906 new properties to replace the existing 2,027 homes on all estates:
- Barkantine – demolishing 769 homes and replacing with up to 3,467 new properties.
- St John’s – demolishing 607 homes and replacing with up to 2,809 new properties
- Samuda – demolishing 517 homes and replacing with up to 2,213 new properties
- Kingsbridge – demolishing 134 homes and replacing with up to 417 new properties
John Biggs confirmed he became aware of the proposal in early 2014, when handed a 55 page glossy dossier titled Project Stone from Mike Sweeney, Chief Executive of OHG. In early 2015, Mr Biggs spoke to Boris Johnson’s office who confirmed they knew nothing of the said proposals. Boris Johnson’s office requested a meeting with Mike Sweeney who confirmed that OHG are keen to push forward with Project Stone.
John explained, “The reason we are here this evening, is because OHG have had a year to talk to you about whether they had any plans or not and they don’t seem to have been willing to do that. So we want to get the ball rolling. …We are here to tell you about what we think their plans are, so that you can make an informed view. …What’s really important is that you are consulted, as these are very significant plans for you.”
The proposal provides that 30% of the redeveloped properties would be available for Affordable Housing, 17% of which would be shared ownership and 13% would be rented. Thus 70% of the redeveloped estates would not be for affordable housing but for a target market which OHG describes as Investors (including International Investors), Company Purchases and High earning financial sector workers. Affordable housing is not the same as Social Housing.
Zed Nelson writing in the Guardian over the weekend described the gross financial divide of communities living in Tower Hamlets:
‘Nowhere is this disparity more apparent than in Tower Hamlets, located at the heart of London’s East End, which has long been associated with some of the worst poverty in Britain. As many as 23% of families here live on less than £15,000 a year, and 53% of children come from families living on unemployment benefits. Tower Hamlets is also home to the towers of Canary Wharf, a hub of banking and commerce, making the borough one of the wealthiest parts of Britain, too. Its economy, worth more than £6bn a year, is greater than that of Monaco.’
Unreasonable and Calculated Tactics by OHG
In October 2014 I shared news that OHG had de-recognised the Tenants Residents Association (TRA) for the Samuda Estate aka SELMO. This meant that as far as the OHG are concerned the Samuda Estate had no TRA to provide input to them as Landlords. I later learned that this had also happened to other estates within the ambit of Project Stone.
At that time, I spoke to local residents of the Samuda Estate who were united in saying they did not trust or have faith in the OHG (speaking to residents, this mistrust goes far deeper). They all raised issues with the failure of OHG to carry out repairs and remedial works in a reasonable manner. One resident, Wesley explained “I lived on an Estate before, where they let it run down -so that the only option was to demolish it. And I think that is what is going on here.”
Zen Nelson shared the story of Kabir Ahmed and his family living on the Holland Estate in Tower Hamlets. Kabir says
‘we felt positive about the provider EastendHomes taking over; they promised extensive refurbishments. Now, they are talking about demolishing this estate and building a 25-storey tower, all private apartments, with 120 low-rise “affordable housing” units around it. The process would displace 600 residents. EastendHomes say they will resettle everyone, but there is a waiting list of 20,000 people in Tower Hamlets – so it could be outside the borough, or even London. We’re talking about 200 families effectively being forced out of the area – separated and rehoused in different places. They say that, when the new estate is finally built, they will offer us first refusal, but we would all be scattered by then – and how much of it would be genuinely affordable?
Half the people here are leasehold owners, who have bought their flats – including me. If it goes through, we would be offered “market value” for our homes; and if we refused, the developers could seek a compulsory purchase order.
EastendHomes argue that the buildings here are structurally unsound and uneconomical to refurbish, which we totally disagree with. It’s very frustrating. You hear the phrase “social cleansing” being used – and that’s exactly what this is.’
Action Taken Against Project Stone Proposal
Candida Ronald lives on the Samuda Estate and also Chairs’ the TRA, SELMO. She explained, “The four Estates formed an umbrella Group and we were led to believe that OHG were happy to talk to that umbrella group. A letter was sent to Anthony Mayer, Chair of OHG to ask them to come clean about what they were up to. A response was received from Mick Sweeney, really not very honest about what was going on and since that point they’ve now said that they don’t want to deal with an umbrella group. They want to deal with all four Estates individually.
A petition has gone to Tower Hamlets Council calling on the Council to help stop the destruction of the communities on the Isle of Dogs. I am very concerned about the redevelopment, about the fact that if they are going to take the communities apart, how are they going to make sure that the community comes back together and that this is not just another case of social cleansing that we have seen across London? We absolutely need the Councils support in order to stop OHG from doing what they are doing, bring them to the table, be honest about what they are up to and have meaningful discussions with residents, allowing us to decide what we want to happen, to our Estates, to our communities, to our homes and not allowing OHG to be driving the agenda.”
Councillors are now waiting to hear from the Council as to when their petition will be heard. Andrew Cregan added “We need to have an open discussion, a debate to blow this thing open about what exactly OHG’s plans are on the Island. That debate needs to be had in the Council, as it will be Councillors and Council Officers that will be making decisions about whether or not these plans can go forward and if they are to go forward, everyone must be satisfied that residents have been consulted with. One of the things highlighted in the Petition, is that OHG have been very secretive throughout this process, they have not been open with residents and it has been highlighted that ever since the stock transfer, residents have not really had the level of service that they’ve been seeking from OHG. When it comes to maintenance they have been unresponsive. That’s one of the debates we also need to have in the context of these proposals.”
OHG’s Cross-Island Conversation
A conversation took place towards the end of summer 2014, between OHG and LBTH Planners where OHG began conversations re submitting a planning application. The Planning Department said it was far too early to have that kind of conversation, and they did not take it any further. In October 2014, there was a cross party scrutiny meeting with OHG largely to discuss the appalling issue of repairs/major works programme. Councillors were aware that OHG had met with LBTH Planners and asked OHG about their plans to consult with the residents of their Estates re Project Stone. At that meeting OHG said they’d commence consultation in the New Year.
OHG have employed Soundings and George Cochrane Associates to carry out the consultation which they’ve called the ‘Cross-Island Conversation’. Dave Chesterton said, “We were rather shocked when we saw this arrive – the Cross- Island Conversation. The bit that we found rather strange here was that this wasn’t about a consultation with residents about how you feel about having your homes knocked down. This was about how you feel about where you live.”
OHG’s February 2015 Newsletter talks about the Cross-Island Conversation and specifically states:
‘As yet – and despite the many rumours you may have heard – One Housing does not have a plan in place; as soon as there is, we will consult in detail with residents.’
A recent progress report by Soundings and George Cochrane Associates on the Cross-Island Conversation, reports under the section ‘What people have told us about OHG’ – their first bullet point provides: ‘Residents have no trust or confidence in One Housing.’
As I understand it, OHG are hoping to submit plans for Project Stone by the end of 2015 with a 10-15 year window for completion.
- May be helpful to contact the recently formed Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Planning Forum which works to ‘make sure that the development happening in the area works for residents who live here today as well as future resident – sustainable development is the objective.’
- If you are a resident on one of the four Estates which will be impacted by Project Stone:
- Engage in the Cross-Island Conversation and give your input, if you haven’t already.
- Fully engage with your TRA. Personally, I don’t feel the meeting yesterday afforded sufficient time or opportunity to discuss what action the residents wish to take. Indeed it was new news and much to take in. Resident’s may want to consider what forms of action they wish to take and perhaps this should be shared with their respective TRA’s to help them take this action forward including ‘Direct Action’.
- Seeing as residents overwhelmingly seem to be unhappy with the service provided by OHG, it may be a consideration to take steps to sack/dismiss OHG as the Landlords. This was a topic that arose in the meeting and I may write about it further.
If you have ideas on action to take or views on this proposal, please share them in the comments section below.
In my view, the Isle of Dogs is home to a community of Islanders that were here, and lived in the conditions provided by the Island for decades. It’s great that regeneration should come, but that should not be at the expense of the existing community, which is a close knit and loving one. No one has the right to forcefully break up families and communities that have evolved with time. The current context of social cleansing is providing that those for whom whatever reason have lower financial means should not be privy or allowed to enjoy the benefits of regeneration in London. This is wrong and not something that will happen without a stand on the Isle of Dogs.