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London 2012 Olympic evictions: Jowell's 'Parliamentary' answer and an evictee's response

Tessa Jowell was recently asked in the House of Commons about the rehousing of those displaced by the Olympics. Her written response can be seen below. It is followed by a response from a resident who was evicted.

House of Commons, Written answers, Thursday, 31 January 2008

Olympic Games 2012: Housing

Andrew Love (Edmonton, Labour) | Hansard source

To ask the Minister for the Olympics how many local authority tenants will be displaced from their housing as a result of the 2012 Olympics;how their housing needs will be met; and if she will make a statement.

Tessa Jowell (Minister of State (the Olympics and London (Paymaster General)), Cabinet Office)

The only social housing tenants affected by the Compulsory Purchase Order for the Olympic and Paralympic Games were at Clays Lane Housing Estate, which was located north of the Stratford City site. The estate comprised 450 social housing units, within which there were 425 residents who needed re-housing.

Working closely with a wide partnership of social housing providers over a period of 18 months, the LDA established a range of options from which tenants could choose to relocate. All tenants were offered the opportunity to relocate to an assured tenancy or equivalent and the vast majority of tenants relocated to properties that they themselves had selected as best matching their requirements. Tenants were able to bid for social rented properties covered by local authority nominations and available through choice-based letting schemes, and were prioritised in the allocation procedures. They were also able to choose to relocate to properties owned by a wide range of registered social landlords. Direct offers were made to those tenants without an identified relocation property at the end of April 2007, based on an understanding of the individuals' preferences for their relocation.

The LDA completed the relocation of residents from Clays Lane Estate on the 23 July 2007.

Response from evicted tenant.

Clays Lane was closed on 23rd July 2007. The maximum population of the estate was 500 although 425 tenants were in residence. During the last couple of weeks there were still about 50 residents on the estate. In the final days politicians complained that residents were holding up the relocation programme. In reality some residents were only offered housing during the last two weeks even though they had been engaging with the programme for months, some for more than a year. Other residents were trying to sort out problems with their new homes which delayed their moves. A few had to go into emergency accommodation for several weeks, including staying in hotels or hostels. Those in hostels had to make several further moves. About 25 residents were put into temporary accommodation, including most of those who had already made emergency moves, and these residents are now slowly finding their final places. Most of those in this group are still in temporary accommodation.

Clays Lane residents were first approached by the LDA during the autumn of 2003 to discuss their possible relocation. One of the ideas put forward was for residents to move as part of a community. A survey was supposed to be undertaken in March 2004 but this did not happen until August. Residents were then asked if they would like to make a community move and by extrapolation it was determined that about half of the community, around 200 people, would be interested in such a move. In the event nothing was done to prepare for this until the spring of 2006. By that time people were already being relocated and it was apparent a community move would involve two moves. A project of this complexity needed time and resources if it was to work and the LDA simply failed to do what was required. Two small groups are still negotiating for group moves but the one which has been trying to make such a move in London has found costs, planning restrictions and the lack of suitable sites has made this extremely difficult. After over a year and a half of negotiation only one viable site has so far been proposed and that was next to a four lane highway. So far no-one has moved as a group although some have ended up living on the same estate.

The LDA made much of its commitment to ‘sustaining communities’ in its evidence to the Compulsory Purchase Order Inquiry. As can be seen from what happened to the Clays Lane community in practice this has meant little. Residents were told by the LDA they did not count as ‘a community’ unlike, for example, the Travellers. No special provision was made for them in the compulsory purchase order by reserving land for their future moves. The Fluid survey, referred to above, was not used during the relocation programme on the grounds that it was confidential to Fluid and was only designed to be a general overview, even though the survey report stated it was designed to inquire into residents’ individual needs. It was replaced by a much more restricted survey in August 2005 which did not ask about group moves. Contradictorily the LDA has also claimed the Fluid survey was used even though the individual questionnaires were never given to the housing association, Community Based Housing, which was managing the programme.

The LDA had originally said in a letter sent out in June 2004 that it would provide accommodation ‘at least as good as, if not better than’ what residents already had. The Mayor of London later said he expected us to get ‘an improvement’ in terms of ‘space, quality, standards and amenities’. The LDA ‘clarified’ its promise to ‘accommodation at least as good as in so far as is reasonably practicable’ while CBHA said there would be ‘winners and losers’. The Mayor’s statement was dismissed by the LDA as the words of ‘a politician’. Eventually all these formulas were forgotten and the final rehousing policy simply said we would get what was available from the local authority in the area we moved to.

The LDA spent a lot of time dismissing Clays Lane’s amenities and housing. We were assured the housing we would move to would be of higher quality than at Clays Lane. For some that has been the case, others have moved into damp or poorly maintained properties. The housing at Clays Lane was perfectly sound but the LDA insisted it was of low quality even though the estate was only twenty-five years old. As CBHA predicted, there have been winners and losers! Clays Lane residents had the use of a community centre, free car parking, two day and night buses and a large semi-wild open space at the Eastway. The nearest shops were about eight minutes walk away, Stratford shopping centre was a short bus ride and the nearest Tube at Leyton under fifteen minutes walk. None of this impressed the LDA. During the CPO Inquiry the LDA tried to claim, on the basis of the Fluid survey, that very few were concerned about the loss of access to a green space. Indeed the LDA said residents were ‘isolated’ by this green space. The survey results were deliberately misrepresented. In fact over 75% had expressed concern about living next to a green space. Many residents have not received amenities to match those at Clays Lane.

Most Clays Lane residents were living in shared accommodation and most of them were happy to be offered a flat in exchange, which was why the LDA was confident most residents would be better off in terms of space. However, 50 residents already had flats or bungalows and for these there has been little or no improvement in their housing. Some are worse off and now have smaller flats. Despite being told they could choose where they wanted to live many residents found they were unable to find homes in their preferred locations and were told to broaden their search areas often ending up in completely unexpected places. People classed as ‘vulnerable’ were also sent to areas they had not selected and others complained about the way office staff pressured them or failed to offer them the homes they wanted.

Clays Lane was a very inexpensive place to live with low rents and cheap energy and plentiful heating and hot water from community boilers. Council tax was included in the rent. Most residents are at least £30 a week worse off, some much more, and many in low paid jobs or on benefits are now struggling with dramatically increased rents and bills. The LDA offered £1,555 to mitigate these increased housing costs. This was supposed to be spread over three years. In most cases this has already been spent. The total compensation offered was £8,500, which included a £4,000 home loss payment which is not expected to be used for relocation costs. £320 was offered for loss of amenities after the LDA finally acknowledged residents’ feelings on this score. £2,625 was allocated for disturbance costs. In reality most have spent more than this on refurbishing their flats, buying furniture, carpeting, white goods, etc. Attempts to point out the inadequacy of the compensation were simply dismissed. The LDA said it would accept claims for extra disturbance payments to cover these costs but we then heard it was not doing so saying residents had to submit estimates to CBHA before moving. In most cases this was simply impossible as people were being pressured to leave sometimes receiving daily phone calls from CBHA and few knew what their eventual costs would be. More recently we have heard the LDA is considering these claims and has settled a couple.

There was no independent supervision or monitoring of the programme until the last two or three months in 2007 when an appeals process was set up to sort out disputes about the ‘reasonableness’ of offers. Even then we understand in one case the LDA simply refused to accept the panel’s findings. The monitoring panel never came to Clays Lane to meet residents or talk to them on an individual or collective basis. Repeated requests were made for proper monitoring from the start and the LDA had promised, in a first draft of the Fluid report, to supervise the programme to ensure the highest standards were adhered to. This commitment was excised from a later, fuller version.

Monitoring was supposed to be provided under a relocation strategy which was required by the 2004 planning permission. It turned out that this requirement was rendered void by the presentation of new plans in January 2006 so effectively residents had no protection. Residents went through a meaningless consultation on the strategy and were then told it was in force even though it was never approved and in fact never existed. The planning authorities had raised concerns about the proposals for monitoring when it was thought the strategy still had some standing. Monitoring was not established and the local authority planners showed no interest in following this up. Neither did the CPO Inspector or the High Court. Indeed the CPO inquiry process and the courts offered residents no assistance as the Inspector simply dismissed residents’ concerns even when the evidence plainly supported them. The High Court disallowed any evidence which contradicted the Inspector’s findings and legal aid was refused to challenge the exploratory drilling at Clays Lane. The High Court and Legal Aid Commission held that the Olympic project was too important to be threatened by legal challenges.

One group of tenants, who had ‘no access to public funds’ and were not eligible for local authority housing, were told by CBHA (a Peabody subsidiary) and Peabody Housing Trust, our landlords, that they had no right to be rehoused in any social housing. We believe this group may have numbered around 70-80 people and an unknown number, who were misled by this, moved into private accommodation. It has since been discovered that some are now impoverished and attempts have been made to follow them up and offer them housing. Peabody had and still has a legal obligation to rehouse these tenants. Other housing associations could also provide them with accommodation. This ‘rescue’ programme seems to be proceeding rather slowly.

CBHA, disgracefully, have since denied giving this advice and tried to blame a local pastor. In fact this was known about from almost the beginning of the programme when residents started reporting that CBHA staff were saying this and it was discussed in meetings with the LDA. It took several months before our supposed tenant advisors, Safe Neighbourhoods Unit (SNU), believed what residents were reporting. They did then produce a leaflet setting out the legal position but, after being asked by the LDA and CBHA not to circulate it, decided not to! Residents continued to be told by CBHA they were not eligible despite assurances that this would be corrected. The pastor came to know about this in the autumn and asked other residents for advice only to be blamed for this abuse himself!.

Just as the local authority, Newham, through its planning department, showed no interest in monitoring what was happening so it was also not prepared to free up any of its land to enable a community move to occur. Hackney was also unwilling to make available a piece of its land, which some residents had identified for a group move.

Newham also refused to grant decant status to residents until August 2006, seven months into the programme, while it bargained with the LDA for allocation rights to Legacy housing, using residents as bargaining chips. The failure to provide decant status also prevented residents bidding for properties in neighbouring boroughs through the Choice Lettings scheme until Newham gave them status. In fact, the slowness of other boroughs in processing applications meant some never got a chance to bid outside of Newham.

Perhaps Newham’s attitude is unsurprising as residents heard that the Mayor had described us as ‘peasants’ while members of the local Labour Party told us our MP, Lyn Brown, had told them she had been visiting the estate when she had never been there. None of those at the heart of the Olympic programme, Mr Livingstone, Ms Jowell, Lord Coe, Mr Lewis or Mr Higgins were prepared to meet residents or visit the estate despite invitations or correspondence with them or, in the case of Lord Coe’s, Ms Brown and the Mayor of Newham, an agreement to come.

Likewise nobody from Peabody came to meet with residents or work from the estate on the rehousing of their own tenants except during the last six months when representatives attended meetings with one of the groups. Indeed Peabody’s attitude was revealed in their attempt to charge residents the highest rents possible if they moved into Peabody properties, despite the fact that they were already Peabody tenants. It took six months before this policy was reversed. As already stated it also tried to deny certain tenants their rights to rehousing altogether. Peabody had received £1.75million from the accounts of the Clays Lane Co-operative which it took over in the summer of 2005 and, we believe, a further £5million for the estate. Residents have received no benefit from this.

The LDA had set out a series of timelines for the relocation programme in the Fluid report, all of which it missed. It was supposed to create a Rehousing Alliance of housing providers, starting in the autumn of 2004. In fact this only met for the first time in July 2005 and then fell apart. The arrangements for rehousing seem to have been made with individual housing associations as the programme got under way. Because of the poor preparations almost no help was available for those who wanted to move to more distant parts of London or to other parts of the country, even though this had been promised. Tenants were often told they had to sort this out for themselves and, unsurprisingly, those moving out of London usually ended up in private accommodation. Even moves to boroughs like Barnet have proved to be extremely difficult and have resulted in residents having to make temporary moves while further opportunities are sought.

According to the Fluid survey Clays Lane had certain unique features. It was a very sociable community and provided a network of support for a variety of people who were described as ‘vulnerable’. The interviewers noted how the courtyard layout had facilitated social interaction and included discussion of how this could be replicated in a future community move in their report. The estate had been established to provide housing for single, sometimes homeless, people, a valuable resource which has now been lost. It was a very diverse community. We counted over 40 different nationalities present at Clays Lane. Once again creating diversity was supposed to be a key goal of the LDA but in our case the maintenance of such a community was just a nuisance. Concerns were expressed by residents for the vulnerable members of the community and they remain. Residents have lost their community and it is a frequent complaint that they are now isolated and lonely in their new homes. Interestingly it was the LDA’s contention that the community was isolated from neighbouring areas which was used to justify the demolition of the estate and the community. It wasn’t true then but they have made it so now!

It was noticeable to residents, although the LDA may deny any change of approach, that the LDA started to show more concern about the operation of the relocation process as time passed and some effort was made to compensate for earlier failures. It created a follow up programme, both in providing commitments to those left in temporary accommodation and in appointing an agency, PECAN, to support those in difficulty. It is regrettable that this effort was not put into the early stages when it would have had a much more substantial and beneficial effect. The two staff in charge were only appointed in July and November 2005 and a series of repeated meetings in September 2005 with different parts of the estate revealed how poorly prepared the LDA was, as almost no information was available at those meetings.

Extraordinarily the chief executive of the LDA, Manny Lewis, was reported, in an interview in The Voice in September 2007, as saying that residents had been rehoused in three blocks of purpose built flats. Who knows what he was talking about! It is an indication of the lack of care or proper oversight that the head of the organisation responsible for our relocation could make such a demonstrably false statement.

From January 2007 residents had to contend not only with the pressure to move but the demolition of part of the neighbouring Park Village student estate and the first stages of the remediation work at the Eastway Cycle Track. The demolition programme at Park Village was not properly supervised by the ODA and resulted in clouds of dust covering the area. The Travellers were particularly badly affected. No sprays were used until residents protested and the contractors disobeyed work restrictions on both sites. The LDA also started exploratory drilling on the Clays Lane estate, despite saying it wouldn’t do this, and began preliminary work on the Eastway, the latter work also created dust.

Security was also used as a further annoyance to residents. After a few months metal grilles started to appear on the estate. Residents had been concerned about possible problems and were keen to retain a sense of normality by leaving curtains in the windows so it wasn't immediately apparent which houses were occupied. CBHA had more concern for its properties. and was determined to put up the grilles. Interestingly the only house broken into was one covered in metal. CBHA drew the illogical conclusion that this meant more houses should be metalled up and accused residents of providing inside information to the squatter who was unceremoniously and probably illegally hauled away by the police, illegally because he had gained access through an unsecured skylight. It didn't occur to CBHA that inside information was hardly needed to pinpoint a grilled house as being empty! CBHA stated their desire to make the estate as unpleasant to live on by putting up metal grilles on all the houses to encourage tenants to move out. The LDA, at least on this occasion, showed more humanity and agreed they should be fitted inside the houses so that some semblance of normality remainded.

During the last few weeks the LDA hired security guards to patrol the estate and to watch over the scaffolding for the cable cradle erected over the estate. The scaffolding security guard sat in a van with dogs in the back and refused to respond while vandals stripped lead off roofs and took down satellite dishes, even as people were watching tv! The security guards who were supposed to help residents were nowhere to be seen.

Residents found through freedom of information searches that there were at least two deposits of drums containing thorium on the Eastway. The authorities had never told residents about this. Indeed they had concealed this information and failed to supply responses to enquiries. The Eastway and Clays Lane are part of a former landfill which also contains a considerable quantity of industrial contaminants. Attempts to communicate with the ODA, Newham Environmental Health and the HSE were largely fruitless. Once again on the Eastway no sprays were in place until protests were made. Even now there are no high level sprays only bowsers which spray water on roadways so piles of earth and areas inaccessible to bowsers produce dust without any control and it seems the dust content is not being tested, only the quantities. Agencies argued over who was responsible for what (the HSE and Newham EH) or just didn’t answer (the ODA). We have heard that when Greenwich Peninsular was dug up for the Dome asthma rates shot up by 50% among Greenwich schoolchildren and birth defects started to appear. There have also been reports of cancers among workers at the Dome.

We noted that workers on the Eastway were not wearing protective clothing or using Geiger counters. When we quoted DEFRA’s own document, Industry Profiles, which refers to the hazards expected to be found on old rubbish tips in areas where radioactive materials were in use, as in the Lea Valley, and which said such radioactive materials could even be found in domestic waste this was simply dismissed by the HSE. Neither the local authority nor local MPs seemed unduly concerned. Who knows what the effects will be but the remediation at Eastway seems to be one large experiment in hoping for the best! The prevailing winds are carrying this contaminated material over Leyton, Leytonstone and Stratford New Town. The remediation programme itself creates the danger as none of these contaminants is thought to be harmful if left undisturbed. No-one ever showed any concern for Clays Lane residents while they occupied the site or thought it needed to be remediated for them.

The estate was closed while the Travellers were still in occupation. Residents were given two weeks notice of the closure date. We asked why the LDA was so determined to move us out when they knew the Travellers would not be moving for at least another month. In fact the Travellers did not move until October and the demolition of Clays Lane was only completed in mid December with the destruction of the community centre. Residents could have stayed at least until October, rather than being shoved into emergency accommodation, as the demolition of the estate had to be stopped when it created serious disturbance for the Travellers. Instead residents had to scramble to get out under the threat of losing some of their compensation and eviction by force if they failed to leave on time. Even though residents were faced with this pressure politicians accused residents of dragging their feet and John Biggs, the local GLA member and LDA deputy chair, claimed some residents were looking to be forcibly evicted.

Clays Lane used to stand on the site of the proposed Athletes’ Village. The original preferred site for the Village, suggested by Arup, was at Mill Meads. The LDA and Lord Coe have falsely claimed the present site will produce 9,000 new homes. However, the Village will be built in part on Stratford City and will consist of modified housing which would have been built anyway. As a further insult to those evicted the loss of housing at Clays Lane and Park Village is not included in the figures so the net gain may only be about half that claimed. If Mill Meads had been used the LDA could indeed have claimed a true housing legacy from the Village. As it is the whole project is built on a lie. As if to try and eliminate any memory of what has been lost even the name Clays Lane is to be eradicated. The new name for the site is to be Channelsea Village.

Julian Cheyne, former resident at Clays Lane

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