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Carpenters: UCL Students vow to continue struggle despite 'intimidation'

Students have vowed to continue their struggle against UCL's proposals for a Stratford campus after being forced to end their occupation in solidarity with residents of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. They were served with an injuction after beginning the sit-in on Wednesday 28th after an inconclusive UCL General Council meeting, which failed to agree the University's plan to develop the housing estate at Carpenters Road, Stratford, as a new campus. Students and academic staff have been expressing concern at the plans and offering support to residents over the past months but UCL has pressed ahead regardless in its collaboration with Newham Council prompting the sit-in.

Dating back to the early 2000s Newham Council has been considering what to do with the estate. Its first move came in 2004 when it decided to demolish James Riley Point, one of three tower blocks. In fact, no action was taken to demolish the block. Moreover, this did not result in any action to refurbish other parts of the estate. Instead, a further programme was proposed in 2009, after five years' inaction on refurbishment, to demolish the other two tower blocks, Dennison and Lund Points and another smaller block, Doran Walk. Despite these decisions no action was taken to demolish any of the blocks, which are still standing, and Newham said it had no plans to demolish the remaining low rise housing.

As each cut has been inflicted 'decanting' of residents has proceeded apace, although it has now been found that those who moved have often not been properly advised and have lost tenancy rights. In theory all residents who have been decanted have a right to return to the estate after its redevelopment, but the programme of encouraging people to move has carried on even though no concrete plans for the estate have been proposed and no housing has yet been demolished.

In December 2010 the Council adopted the Stratford Metropolitan Master Plan, which included looking for a development partner to redevelop the estate. UCL is that partner and the council and UCL have now agreed a Principles Agreement. A report will be made on December 13th 2012 which will include a finalised Collaboration Agreement.

UCL claims it does not have 'a plan' and that it is down to Newham to decide what to do with the estate. However, Newham's plans, after years of letting the estate decay and leaving flats empty at a time of ever increasing housing shortage, involve the demolition of all the remaining housing. UCL are key to these plans as otherwise Newham would have no other options for the estate. Should residents refuse to move UCL acknowledges the estate would have to be compulsorily purchased by Newham and it would support that action.

Residents say there are other suitable sites in the area and dispute the need for another university campus in Stratford. Birkbeck and the University of East London already have sites there and residents say, contrary to the usual claims of benefits for local people, there is no evidence the presence of another university will advance the education of local people.

UCL academic staff, including those at the respected Urban Laboratory, and students have expressed their concern at the proposals and the lack of community involvement. However, both UCL estates staff and the Mayor of Newham and council officers have made plain their contempt for planning academics. Andrew Grainger, Head of UCL Estates, considered academics were impractical while Newham Mayor Robin Wales went further saying “sometimes academics are full of shit” and that “a lot of regeneration is nonsense talk".

Residents have attempted on many occasions to discuss what has been happening on their estate but have been brushed aside by the Mayor. While UCL says it doesn't yet have a plan for the area the council claims that residents have been consulted on the University's 'vision' for the estate. However, the council states in a recent report that it has encountered widespread concern and dissatisfaction with the plans.

Newham suffers from a severe housing shortage and has even resorted to asking councils like Stoke on Trent to take people on its waiting list. Despite this severe shortage, at Carpenters Road it plans to demolish valuable council housing in order to replace it with a prestigious university campus.

Councillors and officials constantly refer to the 'once in a lifetime' opportunity' presented by the Olympics and the impending demolition of the estate demonstrates the processes of gentrification which accompany mega events of this kind. CARP, the residents’ group opposing the demolition of the estate, describes this as ‘the planned eradication of the working class people of Newham’. That's certainly in keeping with Robin Wales’ attitude towards the residents of another estate at Clays Lane, who were removed to make way for the Olympics, whom he called ‘peasants'. As for UCL, it is plain its understanding of academic freedom does not extend to allowing a peaceful protest against its involvement in a programme which will demolish working class people's homes and community.

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