One Housing Groups’ Plans to raze the Isle of Dogs Estates – Birthing Behemoth

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:

  • BarkantinProject Stone Image - OHG plans for the Isle of Dogse – 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.

Isle of Dogs Residents meet to discuss Project Stone
St John’s Community Centre, 02.06.15. Residents meet to learn about Project Stone.

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.

Further Action

  • 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.

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22 Comments

  1. Responses kindly received: Andrew Wood, Secretary of the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Forum – ‘One of the reasons for setting up the forum was the expectation that OHG would come forward with a plan like this although there are lots of other developments as well. We plan to launch a series of public meetings on the island during July to discuss this and other issues.’ For more information/ join their mailing list visit:

    http://www.isleofdogsforum.org.uk
    https://www.facebook.com/IsleofDogsNeighbourhoodPlanningForum

  2. There is a petition to stop OHG evicting Islington Park Street and Crescent Road Communities – support the petition here – http://chn.ge/1BLBIur

    ‘We are two London communities, one made up of 18 low-income adults who share a cooperative house in Islington, the other is 21 adults and 3 children who share a similar house in Kingston. Our communities have been in existence for nearly 40 years and some of us have lived in our home for over three decades.

    One Housing Group, the housing association that owns our properties, has stated that “group homes” such as ours must be “phased out” and that they intend to “decant” us. Court proceedings are being initiated in an attempt to evict all residents from the properties as soon as possible.

    Our residents range in age from 4 to 79 and we are thriving examples of supportive, sustainable communal living. We cook, eat and socialise together, make decisions together about how our houses are run, and collectively provide care and support to those of our residents who are young, elderly or sick.’

  3. Another 10,000 people on the Island?

    1. Hi Tim, if you consider that many homes will be housing couples or families, it is actually many many many more and this only relates to one development scheme. There are many others planned for the Isle of Dogs.

  4. Terry Stewart

    One Housing Group sacked two union reps, Bryan Kennedy from Unite and Debbie Cordrey from Unison when they spoke out against executive pay.

    One Housing Group closed and evicted 50 rough sleepers from their Dean St Hostel to open a backpackers hostel and pub for tourists.

    One Housing Group evicted the Hillview tenants association from their own community centre as they didn’t meet “the corporate values” of One Housing Group.

    One Housing Group de-recognised the tenants associations in Tower Hamlets on the Samuda and Island Homes estates as they are “an obstacle to private development”.

    One Housing Group decided to introduce market rents for all new social and supported tenants creating a benefit trap for them. One Housing Groups’ direct competitors (.e.g. FamilyMosiac , Newlon) decided not to do this as they felt it unethical. One Housing Group uses the extra rent to build private flats for sale.

    One Housing Group has several fire enforcement notices against them in their care and support buildings for the vulnerable and elderly , just reinforcing that they absolutely don’t care whether their tenants live or die as long as a few quid can be saved.

    One Housing Group has no social purpose whatsoever. If you want to know how their Chief Exectutive Mike Sweeney sleeps at night? It is with the help of a few glasses of expensive brandy on his publicly funded £232,000 per year salary.

  5. Terry Stewart

    A comment I wrote when One Housing Group decided to close a hostel in Westminster, evicting 50 rough sleepers to open a “backpackers’ bar” for tourists.
    ————————————

    It is not out of character for One Housing Group (OHG) to turn their back on the homeless in Westminister given their recent behaviour. When Ealing Council recently tried to buy 16 of One Housing Group’s private sale properties for use as temporary accommodation for the homeless, the Director of Development Alan Williams objected saying that the proposal was unsuitable for what he felt was a “prestige” block.

    OHG have in the last two years have almost doubled the rents for the most vulnerable in supported and elderly housing and has introduced 80% market rents for all new tenants nominated from council waiting lists. This extra revenue funds OHG’s new corporate agenda of building 1,000 flats for private sale and 500 flats let at 80% market rents each year. The move to charging market rents is entirely optional and many of OHG’s direct competitors, notably Newlon and Family Mosaic who work in the same areas and are of a similar size, have decided not to introduce market rents for their tenants.

    Of course being a developer in the London property market has it’s rewards. Housing Associations have made record profits over the last three years and the sector as a whole has just recorded a one billion pound surplus. OHG are no exception, they recorded a record £36 million surplus last year. Despite this, OHG have cut pay by an average of £2,000 for 250 of their frontline support staff, while the rest of their employees have suffered a six year pay freeze.

    What do OHG’s tenants and staff think of this? When tenants groups have objected to the new corporate agenda, OHG have disbanded the tenant’s associations on their estates, notably Hillview in Camden and Island Homes in Tower Hamlets. When staff have objected to pay cuts when OHG is announcing record surpluses, OHG publicly sacks the union representatives from both the recognised unions at OHG, Unite and UNISON.

    In fact, it is questionable what social purpose, if any, remains at One Housing Group. The future of the Great Chappell St hostel may be seen in what they’ve done at their other large homeless hostel nearby, Arlington House. OHG have significantly reduced bed spaces at Arlington House and turned a large proportion of it into a conference centre for private hire. As for their vision of the future, an indication my lie in who they’ve have invited to speak at their new conference centre, Nick Clegg, Ian Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson to name a few, not to be outdone OHG’s CEO Mick Sweeney spoke at last years Conservative party conference to give a speech on why housing associations don’t need regulation from government.

    Sadly what Mick Sweeney didn’t mention in his speech is that the majority of his income comes from government in the form of Housing Benefit payments and Local Government grants. Perhaps Mr Sweeney who awarded himself a £51,000 pay increase over the past two years while cutting pay for frontline staff didn’t think it worth a mention, but his income comes from his tenants and the taxpayer and as such he should welcome accountability and regulation, not seek to avoid it.

    1. Terry – I’m part of the Islington community OHG are currently attempting to evict. would be great to make contact with you. could you email us your contact details? 44figtree@gmail.com. Thank you! kate

  6. Hello Terry, thanks for sharing this information. There was an interesting article by Adam McGibbon a couple of years ago re a National Tenants Union – ‘If we want the Government to take housing seriously, a national tenants union is the first step. The Rent Restriction Act of 1915, the Homeless Person’s Act of 1977; collective action has a long history of forcing action on housing’ http://ind.pn/1Hy7a5J

    A documentary recently featured on BBC, created by a man who was previously homeless ‘Where am I Sleeping Tonight’. What was surprising is how young many of the homeless people featured are, that many were made homeless due to Cuts/Benefit Sanctions and that many of them aren’t even officially classed as ‘Homeless’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05nxhgr/where-am-i-sleeping-tonight

    I do not understand the plan, long or short term. Take Project Stone for example, it is built on Land originally for Social Housing, thus, it seems reasonable for it’s redevelopment to have that in mind as a priority. But this is not the case. There is a list of thousands waiting to be housed in Tower Hamlets. How can they be housed if homes are not made available to them?

    Housing Social Tenants in the Private sector is not working either, as Landlords are wanting higher rents available from Private Tenants.

    Where are the homeless, or those of less financial means meant to go?

  7. hi yogalime, I’m part of the Islington community that OHG are currently trying to evict. Would be great to make links with folks on Isle of Dogs resisting OHG’s plans there. Could you send us a contact? you can email us @ 44figtree@gmail.com. Thanks, Kate

    1. Hi Kate, lovely to hear from you and really sad to hear what’s going on. From what I understand, a peoples specific campaign group hasn’t yet surfaced, presently things are being managed by those who run the respective resident groups on each estate. If I hear of any updates I will let you know. Please keep me posted on your situation. Peace and love, Sky

  8. Residents and sympathisers: Time to organise! I’m involved in other housing struggles in London, and here are some actions I recommend:

    1) look into taking part with Radical Housing Network, a network of grassroots campaigns fighting against evictions, demolitions etc.

    http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/

    2) check out this map of other campaigns around housing and gentrification, and link up with other groups in the east end:

    https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=zFuqvrQCgNdM.kVkO1xRLk01I

    3) Read these tips for direct action in your community by Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

    http://wire.novaramedia.com/2015/06/7-tips-for-getting-organised-in-your-community/

    1. Thanks for taking the time to put forward so many suggestions. I agree, it is time to organise and unite. Take care, Sky

      1. Hi Sky – would you be able to put me in contact with any residents who are interested in fighting back, or if you yourself are? We’ve started a Tower Hamlets-wide group called Stop the Blocks and either that group or Action East End might be able to give some advice if not assistance!

  9. my email is grahammpjones [at] googlemail [dot com]

    1. Hi Graham, that’s great to hear. Thanks for starting up these groups, they are so important especially with all the development plans for the Isle of Dogs and Tower Hamlets. I will pass the info onto anyone who it may help.

      Take care, Sky

  10. https://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/our-longer-writings/listening-to-no-end-regeneration-consultation-and-soundings-ltd-at-the-elepant/

    Once Soundings get involved prepare for the ‘charm offensive’. They are only there to secure a fake consensus from residents. Be very aware! The above writing details are experience of them around the demolition of Heygate Estate.

    Details in here on how to try to keep consultations community-focused:
    https://southwarknotes.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/staying-put-web-version-low.pdf

  11. Hello, I would like to ask some questions and make some observations as I see them – to contribute to this debate. London has always changed and evolved. It has never stayed the same nor will it ever hold fast or stagnate. Neighbourhoods all over the world develop and change or die depending on their individual economic and social circumstances – nothing stays the same. Why would the Isle of Dogs or any part of London be any different? London’s communities have long been broken up and changed depending on circumstances – the Isle of Dogs itself experienced a major post WWII shake up which created the Barkantine Estate (and others) in the first place. Many original Islanders lost the fabric of their communities then with the influx of some of the very residents that are now facing a similar shake up. If social housing is the route to which your home is sought and lived in, you will always risk losing your home and community as things change. You will still have access to social housing but it may be elsewhere depending on where the chips fall and as with post-War Isle of Dogs, new, different communities grow. By it’s very nature, doesn’t accepting social housing mean accepting a loss of overall, ultimate control? It may not happen for years but, one day, when the land your home is on becomes the inevitable next target for change in a major city, the loss of control will happen and whilst keenly felt, is it really a surprise? Of course, for the members of the community involved, this is a heart wrenching experience to say the least but, it is part of the reality of social housing. Without the establishment of your own economic buffer in life, you are always at the mercy of others. It might not feel fair to the people on the receiving end but it is the reality of a capitalist market economy. Society will always and should always help the poor and low income people. It is why we pay taxes, it is part of what makes modern civilisation …but choice may not be a huge part of the experience of people on the receiving end. As an Islander myself, I welcome any feedback on my comments.

  12. There is an open meeting for all residents of the Samuda Estate (both Lessees and Tenants) on 21st September at 6.30pm at SELMO, discussing One Housings Plans for Samuda. You can read more here – https://www.facebook.com/210646599100752/photos/pb.210646599100752.-2207520000.1442389287./525830300915712/?type=1&theater

  13. […] housing campaigns and renters’ groups must be given a proper seat at the table, rather than de-recognised when they say the ‘wrong’ thing. Planning and regeneration should be a collective and democratic process informed by residents’ […]

  14. […] housing campaigns and renters’ groups must be given a proper seat at the table, rather than de-recognised when they say the ‘wrong’ thing. Planning and regeneration should be a collective and democratic process informed by residents’ […]

  15. Wow what to say!
    I didn’t even know about this until a neighbour told me to google search it, and i’ve just read the thread and some of the replies and i’m in shock about what they plan to do and how sneaky they have gone about it.

    I am however in favour for my estate to be knocked down, i’ve been waiting years to hear them say this, i feel so embarrassed to bring any friends or family to my home just because of the way the estate looks so run down, it’s not nice living in a estate that looks so run down and lost with the times whilst having beautiful fancy apartments that are right next to mine,
    and saying to people that drop me back home “oh no that’s not my one, this is my one, i live here”

    So i am in favour to have it knocked down HOWEVER only if they can put in Writing that when the new fancy ones are built i will get my space back without any complications or procedures, and give me my new keys right away with my same rights to buy….

    BUT I DO NOT TRUST OHG because as already stated in this thread, OHG tricked us all when they dangled the carrot in front of us and made us believe that they will give us a new refurbishment as well as Gates on the estates (making it a safe gated Community) and all these other nice things but instead they only gave us some of the refurbishment and they never followed through with the gates but instaed they gave us CCTV cameras which i feel like is an invasion on my everday privacy, on top of the insult of being lied too and tricked, because the second they got enough votes from us to sack the Tower Hamlets Council (when they promised to make all the good changes) they just left us high and dry, they are awful with repairs, they are liars, and now they are showing their true nature again by being deceitful in the whole way how they are going about Project stone,

    So i say…. LET’S SACK OHG as our landLORDS with instant dismissal because I do not trust that they would guarantee me to still have my place once the new buildings are ready because they have proved that they have lied before so why should I trust them again now! once bitten twice shy

    P.s
    Yes it must be very unsettling for families to move with their children especially for a 10 to 15 year gap…. And by then the children would have finished school and it would just totally unsettled everyone and it is breaking up communities and family normality structure (which can have an impact on the childs mental stability, so it needs to be handled correctly irrespective of whatever they choose because being forced to leave your home is trumatic and will also have an impact on the mother which the child will witness…..

    What is a TRA, and how do I find the Cross Island conversation?
    God bless x

  16. Hopefully these projects will go ahead. Tripling accomodation is what London needs and all these 4 estates are just awful. So building something modern for more people would be advantageous. This is how it is in UK and especially in London. No one cared about white old communities in Newham when they experienced wave of immigrants.

    Anyway amazing article. I don’t get concept of what I read. You write good stuff on yoga page? It is better journalism than on 90% of newspapers nowadays.

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