Monday, 16 April 2018

True forgiveness: ugly 20th Century racism rehashed - Powell, Lawrence, deportation threat

The broken glass of 20th Century race and class reveals its unforgiving sharpness once more in 2018.
Firstly, a clumsy BBC - often confused over how to cover race and class issues - dunks its own head in a race mire by re-hashing and re-broadcasting Enoch Powell's notorious incendiary, racist and mistaken 'rivers of blood' speech from 1968. This is where Powell predicts black immigration will lead to 'rivers of blood' in UK cities. The BBC draws an accusation on its own head of seeking to posthumously 'forgive' Powell at a time in the 21st Century when immigration and race still divide working people in the UK.

Forgive, not forget
Secondly, Neville Lawrence, the father of Stephen Lawrence - the black teenager racially murdered by white youths 25 years ago - says, in an act of true forgiveness, that he 'forgives' his son's killers, even though only two of five original suspects are in jail convicted of the murder. But, whilst Lawrence says he forgives, he says he does not forget. He says the others should be brought to justice to pay for their crime and that a police investigation should stay open. 

Finally, the United Kingdom government seems to take an unforgiving stance against an estimated 50,000 older black people who came as children in the 1950s and 60s to Britain from the West Indies - from places like Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. 
For one reason or another, these people failed to secure the paperwork to confirm their right to live and work in Britain. Now, 50 years or so later, these people, for whom Britain is their only home, are being threatened by the government with deportation. Some, in these personal ID-driven times, are even being denied life-saving medical treatment as they cannot prove on paper they have a legal right to be resident in Britain.

Calls upon the UK government to grant these people an amnesty and the right to remain are becoming louder; especially as they are children of black people from Britain's former Empire colonies in the West Indies. These people were invited by the UK government in the 1950s and 60s to come and live and work in Britain, to help mitigate the UK's chronic labour shortages in its public services after World War II.
Many people in Britain's long-established black communities are asking whether the UK government would be so unforgiving if these people were the children of white Australians, Canadians, South Africans or New Zealanders. 

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, April 2018


Friday, 13 April 2018

Anti-smoking agency PHE tells own smoking staff to 'have more respect'

© London Intelligence 2018

© London Intelligence 2018

Public Health England says its 'single aim is to motivate millions of people to make changes that will improve their health' – and that includes persuading people to quit smoking.
However, PHE, an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, might need to persuade more of its own staff to quit too. 
London Intelligence photographs taken on Thursday 12 April show how PHE staff routinely drop cigarette butts on to the pavement outside the gates of the agency's imposing site on Colindale Avenue, a busy pedestrian and residential thoroughfare in north London. 
These butts pile up beneath an empty butt bin.  

Staff also heap stubbed butts on top of a Barnet Council rubbish bin right outside the PHE site’s gates. Cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapour is also puffed over passers-by.
A PHE spokesperson said on Friday (13 April): “The cigarette butt litter is completely unacceptable and we sincerely apologise to local residents. 
"We have cleaned it up and reminded our colleagues to have more respect for the area.
"We are committed to playing our part in driving down smoking rates and this includes motivating our own staff who smoke to quit."

Note: PHE reports smoking kills 79,000 people in England every year. For each death, a further 20 smokers suffer from a smoking-related disease. 

© London Intelligence 2018

© London Intelligence, April 2018.


Saturday, 7 April 2018

After Grenfell, a Blame Game: Grenfell Fire Update

Grenfell fire victims and the tower © Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2017

Central and local government struggle to mitigate the ongoing tragedy suffered by Grenfell fire survivors, writes Paul Coleman

Anger centres on the slow rehousing of households evacuated from their Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk homes. Of 209 evacuated households, 86 remain in emergency accommodation as of 1 March 2018, according to figures from the North Kensington Law Centre. 

Another 63 households have moved into temporary accommodation and just 60 into permanent accommodation. Read more...

Courtesy and © Jeff Moore Justice4Grenfell 2018

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, April 2018

Friday, 8 December 2017

Film Review: 'Concrete Soldiers UK'

Silent march for Grenfell Tower fire victims and survivors 14 December © London Intelligence 2017

Londoners who live on council estates are ‘not worth the land they live on’, says Concrete Soldiers UK (dir. Nikita Woolfe, UK 2017), an independent documentary.

Nikita Woolfe’s strident 62-minute film, condemning developer-led, council-backed ‘regeneration’ of London council estates, disdains some conventional journalism practice. Woolfe, if asked what the weather is like, would not say ‘some people say it’s sunny whilst others say it’s raining.’ With Concrete Soldiers UK, Woolfe simply looks out of the window and tells an observed truth that, in fact, it’s pouring with rain. Regeneration rain that socially cleanses London of thousands of working class people.

Indeed, Woolfe chooses war rather than bad weather as the main analogy to describe...
(the full review can be read at:

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, December 2017

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Level Crossing Safety update 2017: Network Rail, Tina Hughes, Elsenham

Safeguarding the legacy of Liv and Charlie

By Paul Coleman
The mother of one of two girls killed by a train twelve years ago believes railway level crossings still pose a serious danger to members of the public.

Tina Hughes is the mother of 14-year-old Olivia 'Liv' Bazlinton, who was killed with her friend Charlotte 'Charlie' Thompson, 13, at the Elsenham level crossing on Saturday morning, 3 December 2005.

On the 12th anniversary of the girls’ deaths, Hughes says: “There are still thousands of crossings on the rail network with nothing but ‘stop, look and listen’ signs. That really isn’t good enough.”

Speaking to London Intelligence, Hughes adds: “Although there has been a real change in the way Network Rail manages risk at level crossings since Elsenham, progress on change has slowed significantly in the last few years.”

The full article can be read at :

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, December 2017 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

'Never demolish' : Frédéric Druot, Tour Bois-le-Prêtre and the Art of Refurbishment

Frédéric Druot, on Tour Bois-le-Prêtre at RIBA © London Intelligence 2017
By Paul Coleman

“Never demolish,” admonishes Frédéric Druot. “It’s stupid to demolish. Demolition never speaks about the people who live inside.”
Renovators lionise architect Frédéric Druot as a king of ‘retrofit’ – the rescue and reuse of public housing.
But developers tend to prefer to demolish such public housing, denigrating it as obsolete and outmoded. Hence, the demolishers dismiss and even demonise Druot.

Never demolish
Druot looks a little refurbished himself, smartly but not sharply garbed, casually clad in a sports jacket and jeans. Speaking in zippy-zappy clipped vowel English, Druot peppers his drole speech with wry irony. He charms a 500-strong audience gathered inside the imposing central London HQ of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
“It is incredible, I know, but in France, people actually live in buildings,” quips Druot with a Gallic shrug.
Cue generous applause from the assembled architects. Not a soul seeks to dismantle Druot’s ‘never demolish’ central tenet during the Q&A session that follows his speech. Such reluctance seems surprising - given that a corporate array of architects, developers and politicians are collaborating to demolish more public housing in London than in any other city on Earth.
Tour Bois-le-Prêtre
Druot enlightens his RIBA audience about Tour Bois-le-Prêtre, a wholly refurbished 1960s public housing complex in Paris that stands in stark contrast to London council tenants and leaseholders who live in a forest of London council estates now threatened with, or actually undergoing, developer-led demolition and redevelopment. The transformation by refurbishment story of Tour Bois-le-Prêtre, a 16-storey block in the 17th arrondissement of outskirts Paris, enshrines Druot’s ‘never demolish’ mantra.
Back in the 1960s, the fashionable idea of ‘streets in the sky’, inspired by Le Corbusier, seduces Raymond Lopez, Tour Bois-le-Prêtre’s original architect. Lopez designs 96 apartments inside a 50-metre high tower. But, for a variety of reasons, including political indifference, Tour Bois-le-Prêtre residents endure their estate’s later decay and neglect during the late 1970s and 80s.
Coloured panels promise to rescue residents from this decay in the 1990s, altering the block’s original façade in order to improve insulation. But the panels – and the installation of smaller windows - severely reduce natural light entering each apartment. Residents say they begin to feel claustrophobic.
"The little boy and girl could not see out of the window," says Druot.

Inside out
Tour Bois-le-Prêtre again deteriorates further in the late 1990s, falling below 21st century building standards. Residents desperately need the block to undergo repair and modernisation. Some Parisians movers and shakers even call for the entire block to be demolished - a similar knee-jerk reaction similar to that acted upon by many London urban planners and politicians dithering over the deteriorating physical fabric of the city’s council estates.
But, in 2005, Paris Habitat, the Paris Office for Public Housing, decides to run an architectural competition to renovate Tour Bois-le-Prêtre - on condition that any renovation must not exceed the building’s existing footprint. Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton and Jean Philippe Vassal’s winning proposal hinges on, what Druot calls, “working from the inside out”. The idea of ‘inside out’ is to give residents the improvements they crave - more space, greater natural light, better ventilation and grander views of Paris.
Druot, Lacaton and Vassal’s renovation removes the façade of each apartment and bolts on self-supporting glass-clad balconies. Akin to a conservatory, each ‘winter garden’, measuring 7.5 by 3 metres, gives residents in every apartment a welcome flood of natural light. These ‘bolt-ons’ increase space and warmth and reduce energy costs. The glazed balconies offer residents spectacularly enhanced views of Paris.
The ground floor is also renovated and two new lifts fitted. Even better, another four apartments are added to the original 96 - but without changing Tour Bois-le-Prêtre’s original structure.

Existing residents
The fact that this refurbishment finally costs just €11.2 million generates much comment in France, especially as Tour Bois-le-Prêtre’s demolition and redevelopment would have cost, at least, an estimated €20m.
These cost savings also raise the eyebrows of RIBA’s architectural crowd - and ought to actively interest London councillors and planners. But what really engages people in France is just how closely Druot, Lacaton and Vassal work with Tour Bois-le-Prêtre’s existing residents. Residents stay in the tower block during the refurbishment instead of being temporarily rehoused elsewhere, thanks to the use of prefabricated new elements.
After the renovation completes, life returns to normal, even to the extent that some residents still complain about maintenance issues and security worries. Of course, renovation does not solve persistent problems of poverty and anti-social behaviour in the surrounding neighbourhood. The refurbishment also seems to have taken an inordinately long time to come to fruition; even refurbishment seems it must suffer from the warp that is ‘Housing Time’.
Even so, the overall result is that Druot and colleagues design and deliver a stunning transformation of Tour Bois-le-Prêtre, a building some thought irreparable and condemned by others as ripe for demolition. As Druot explains to his RIBA audience, social housing tenants now enjoy nigh new homes delivered by an innovative ‘inside out’ renovation that “put existing residents first”.

There’s another measure of the quality of the Druot-Lacaton-Vassal renovation. If a block looking like the made-over Tour Bois-le-Prêtre came on to London’s housing market, up-market real estate agents, speculative overseas property investors and ‘ultra high net worth individuals’ would be all over it like a profit-seeking rash.
But, more importantly, Tour Bois-le-Prêtre also offers potential as a  refurbishment model, an alternative for a plethora of London council estates now facing ‘regeneration’ via costly and socially destructive demolition and redevelopment schemes.
Council estates where tenants and leaseholders still call for refurbishment include Robin Hood Gardens, West Hendon, Grahame Park, Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill, Knight’s Walk, West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Northwold, and King’s Crescent.  According to housing activists, those estates represent just the more visible swathes of a forest of some 100 London council estates facing a developer-led demolition and redevelopment model of ‘regeneration’. Many, like the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, look set to be demolished and replaced with a predominant element of private luxury housing, similar to Woodberry Down in Hackney. 

Heygate to Haringey
Others could go the way of the Heygate Estate where developer Lend Lease has demolished over 1,200 council homes, a ‘regeneration’ commanded and sanctioned by New Labour politicians at the helm of Southwark Council. Less than 80 ‘social rent’ homes are being built as a paltry and token replacement for the seismic local loss of public housing at the Heygate.
Many of the Heygate’s 3,000 displaced and dispossessed residents have been dispersed to other parts of Southwark and across London – and some are compelled to live in other parts of the country. International property investors, especially from South Asia, are widely reported to have enjoyed a two-year head start over domestic buyers to buy the new luxury replacement homes. Southwark Council’s New Labour-styled leadership stands accused of selling off public land and selling out local residents’ homes so global developer Lend Lease can make profits from international investors. Local people talk of a ‘revolving door’ between people working for Southwark Council and Lend Lease.
Southwark Council leader Peter John describes the fate of the Heygate as ‘regeneration’. Many Southwark residents call it an act of class war, a clear form of ‘social cleansing’.
As for Lend Lease, it now looks to drive a similar regeneration vehicle towards council estates in north London, like Broadwater Farm. Lend Lease hopes to seal a wide-ranging ‘regeneration’ deal with another clan of New Labour-styled politicians in the north London borough of Haringey, sometime soon after the General Election.

Tour Bois-le-Robin Hood
Hence, In this highly politicised 2017 moment - post-Brexit and at the height of a fiercely fought General Election campaign - few of these London council estates look likely to be rescued from the developer-led demolition and redevelopment approach to regeneration that dominates London in the 21st century.
These multi-million, and in some cases, multi-billion pound ‘regeneration’ schemes, some hauling themselves through 20 years of phased demolition and construction, threaten existing residents – mainly working Londoners on average and lower incomes - with dispossession of their homes and displacement from their neighbourhoods.
For instance, elected politicians at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets have granted residential developer and housing association Swan Housing consent to demolish 214 homes at Robin Hood Gardens, an estate completed in 1972 and a prime example of Utopian-style Brutalist housing. Many residents actually want redevelopment but also want to be allowed to return as secure council tenants, rather than as fixed-term housing association tenants on a new development with a vastly increased density of households and a reduced proportion of subsidised ‘social rented’ homes for people in their income bracket.

Swan says the overall scheme will see 1,575 homes built over a ten-year phased construction programme. The redevelopment will include 700 ‘affordable homes’ of which 80% will be for ‘social rent’, roughly equivalent in price to a council rent. But tenants worry that these ‘social rents’ might rise to unaffordable levels on the back of fixed and insecure tenancies. The exact price and type of ‘affordable homes’ to be provided also remains shrouded in mystery – fuelling further antipathy to the Orwellian London ‘affordable housing’ concept where many such homes are unaffordable to Londoners on average and lower incomes.
By some accounts, the defeat of a campaign to save Robin Hood Gardens is all over bar the shouting. An attempt to protect Robin Hood Gardens by securing its listed status failed. Richard Rogers, architect of the Pompidou arts centre in Paris, the controversial One Hyde Park, and London Heathrow Terminal 5 – and not renowned as a staunch advocate of council housing - believes that Robin Hood Gardens is of “outstanding architectural quality” that offers “generously sized flats that could be refurbished”.

Refurbishment, therefore, seems ‘old chapeau’, despite Druot’s ‘never demolish’ refrain  - and for some London council estates refurbishment might not always be the best option. But London council estate residents should be given refurbishment options if there is a chance they could succeed - and residents should automatically be given the chance to have their say on refurbishment versus demolition options through estate-wide ballots, a natural exercise and extension of local democracy.
As Druot says: “If you don’t believe me, take a look at Tour Bois-le-Prêtre. The little boy and girl can now see out of the window." 

For more information:
Tour Bois-le-Prêtre

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, May 2017