Thursday 24 September 2015

A last eviction, and the sweet smell of success, for Annington, in Sweets Way:

Well, yes: it's all been kicking off, again, today, and yesterday, in Sweets Way. 

Always a sign of significance, when the Guardian turns up, or a film crew, or Russell Brand: the medium is the message, as ever, in Broken Barnet.

It means we are once more, as is so often the case, drawing attention to ourselves, here in this Garden of (outsourced) Eden, our easycouncil borough. 

There is a housing crisis, in this country, in this city, and here in Barnet, of course.

So: of course, here in this most rotten of rotten boroughs, we can provide the perfect examples of Tory housing policy, at its most lunatic extreme: the destruction of desperately needed social housing on public land given away to private developers, for free, to enable access to the optimum margin of profit, in West Hendon; and also now in Sweets Way, the forcible removal of social tenants from an estate due to be so profitably developed by Annington Homes. 

Yesterday the developers sent in bailiffs, the police, and even the fire brigade, in an attempt to 'cleanse' and secure their investment, in Sweets Way. Long term investment in properties once owned by the MoD, but used latterly by the council to house many previously homeless families.

A cheery greeting and a warm welcome was awaiting the bailiffs and their escorts, when they arrived, en masse, and all geared up for a battle:

As you can read here, in the article by the Guardian's Rob Booth, of the 288 new homes planned to be built in Sweets Way, after the demolition of the homes that were already there, only 20% are promised to be 'affordable' - a definition that is in itself of course meaningless, and yet means anyway that 80% of the new houses ...  are not affordable, to the majority of people.

The residents who have been removed, thrown out, evicted from their tenancies, their homes; accommodation that was social housing and a perfectly happy community, here in this estate, will be replaced by rather more privileged owner occupiers - as opposed to the present Occupiers, and housing activists who have moved in over the last few months, and who now are on the rooftops of the few remaining houses in Sweets Way that have not been fenced off, and marked for destruction by Annington.

Mrs Angry first discovered the story of Sweets Way earlier this year, in a chance encounter, in a local courthouse, with two residents fighting evictions. After listening to their terrible story, she encouraged them to contact the main stream media, and publicise their tale - and thankfully what was happening to them, and to all the other other residents, began to reach a wider audience.

In the spring, Russell Brand came along to offer his support, which made the plight of the families in Sweets Way even more newsworthy, for a time at least, co opted, as it then as it was, into the heady cult of celebrity endorsed politics.

Since then, the families of Sweets Way have been slowly extricated from their homes, and consigned to oblivion - with one or two exceptions. 

Barnet Council, which had a duty to rehouse residents, performed this role as one might expect: as they have done in West Hendon: reluctantly, offering a choice, to secure tenants only,  of perhaps some awful relocation to another 'regeneration' estate, in a property barely fit for purpose ... or the option of rejection, and therefore neatly making the resident declare themselves to be homeless. 

The last remaining original resident of Sweets Way, now,  is a disabled man called Mostafa, who uses a wheelchair, but whose accommodation needs, apparently, are a matter of indifference to Barnet Council.

Pic courtesy Sweets Way resists

Mostafa went to court again, yesterday, in order to try to stay the eviction that Annington Homes want to impose, so as to be able, finally, to move into the estate, and demolish all the perfectly suitable housing already there, and replace it with an unnecessary, but more profitable development.

Unfortunately for this last resident - and a large number of occupiers - yesterday was the day when Annington decided to try to reclaim its investment, in Sweets Way, and - armed with bailiffs, and police, and even two fire engines - moved in to the site, in order to secure the houses now emptied of all but one resident ...  and some occupiers.

After a show of strength from the developers, and a court hearing for Mostafa, there appeared to be something of an impasse: when Mrs Angry arrived there late in the afternoon, occupiers were on the roof, but the police presence had just been replaced, to the vast amusement of the roof-bound activists opposite, by a Mr Whippy style ice cream van - while, somewhat inexplicably - the firefighters remained in place. 

Today, no doubt, will see a final attempt to secure the estate by 'Terra Firma', the company run by former Tory leader William Hague's best man, Guy Hands. 

Police had to be bussed in to Sweets Way, yesterday, ironically, even though Whetstone police station is literally yards around the corner from the housing estate. Is - was. Oh: well, because yes, it is now closed, thanks to Tory cuts, boarded up and  - like every other public asset in Broken Barnet that can be turned to profit -  it is up for sale, offering yet another unmissable opportunity for private development.

Balancing rather precariously up on the roof of one of the houses, yesterday afternoon, was the familiar figure of Phoenix, the veteran of many similar events here in Broken Barnet - and elsewhere. 

Do be careful, Phoenix, called Mrs Angry, in mum mode, as he waved cheerily down at her, 

Don't worry, Mrs A, he yelled: I'm used to it ... 

Other friends from Occupy came up and explained what was happening: Mostafa's trip to court was always expected to be unsuccessful, but the story was not over, legally, or otherwise. 

Mrs Angry wondered why on earth Barnet Homes and Annington simply had not done the decent thing, and found accommodation suited to Mostafa's needs, rather than perpetuate the continuation of this stand off. 

But then, she reflected: that was the point: they want to appear tough, and uncompromising: offering a show of strength, so as to deter dependent tenants in the next phases of development in this borough from making similar, determined shows of resistance to the might of our local authority, and other developers set on acquiring other profitable sites here, that offer endless potential for profit - once the current residents are moved on, and preferably out of borough. 

Yes: let's call it what it is, in effect, and by tacit agreement: social cleansing, social engineering, and the facilitation of private profit, at the expense of local residents. Expense quite literally, as in the case of West Hendon, and in terms of the destruction of long established communities, as also in Sweets Way.

Wandering about the site now is a melancholy experience: observing perfectly decent family homes, emptied of their families, displayed behind temporary railings, like one of those zoos abandoned in a war zone, the occupants lost and wandering about a blighted landscape. 

These carcasses of grey brick, standing so forlornly on plots of land still embraced by the circle of trees which were formerly part of Mr Sweet's nursery, were once somebody's home: but the children who used to play here, perhaps attend the school just around the corner, were sent away, and now must take three buses to get to that school, or start another temporary life on another 'regeneration' estate, with no security, no continuity, or sense of being rooted in a community. 

One may assume - perhaps wrongly - that the old trees are subject to a preservation order, and unlike the homes themselves, safe from the hands of the developers. Probably not: the maximisation of profit will not be allow the protection of an awkwardly placed tree, any more than it would the inconvenient obstruction of an estate of social tenants.

A sense of belonging is no longer a right, in Broken Barnet, nor is the right to live in your home, but a privilege afforded to, and by, those who can pay a premium: the first and last tenet of the easycouncil philosophy that is now embedded in our culture - you get what you pay for: healthcare, education: housing.

You may think you have already paid for these things, through your taxes: but if you don't have the means to pay more, and more still - you have no right to protest. 

So keep quiet, and move on, or: here come the bailiffs, to shut you up, and take you away.

One of the occupiers' supporters came up to talk to Mrs Angry: an older man, in dreadlocks, who began to talk about not housing, or protest, or the occupy movement, but religion. He had been, in his younger days, he said, rubbing his beard thoughtfully, a follower of the Guru Maharaj Ji, had a passing knowledge of Kabbalah, but really wanted to speak, rather surprisingly, about ...  St Paul, and his message on redemption. Life, he said, looking around at the occupied site, was about learning, after all, and constantly evolving your opinions. 

Mrs Angry agreed. Only by continually realigning your position, especially here in Broken Barnet, where the ground beneath your feet is constantly shifting, can you find a clear point of view, and attempt to make some sense of the geography that lies before you - and behind you.

The tale of Sweets Way is almost told: the bailiffs are back on site this morning, and arrests have already been made. 

Sooner or later, the site will be emptied, the houses destroyed, and the private development will be built. News just coming from the site says Mostafa has been carried out of his home, with nowhere to go. 

If true, there could hardly be a more shameful end to his story, and the tale of Sweets Way.

But now the story moves on, to another site, and another battle in the war between profit, and need.


Phoenixrising said...

go on Mrs Angry great article , some links on my blog to sweets way and other campaigns
There were 3 arrests on the first day and 19 on the second, some people are still being held.
There are still 2 houses occupied and very overcrowded on Oakleigh rd North. One day there will be homes for all in the 1.5million empty buildings in the UK ,love n resistance phoenix

Mrs Angry said...

Hi Phoenix ... was in Sweets Way today: plenty of security still, and fencing, guarding the former homes of families evicted from the estate, houses now in the process of having windows removed: hollowed out shells. I suppose it is to deter reoccupation but it looks like the mark of a hunter, on his prey, in triumph.