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A peer gets confused about Clays Lane.

The website ‘They work for you’, referring to the various members of Parliament, Lords and Commons, contains some interesting interventions. Among the peers are the party apparatchiks who have been promoted to fill the benches on account of their ‘soundness’. One such is Lord Haworth, a former Secretary to the Parliamentary Labour Party, who made an eccentric contribution to the House of Lords debate on 17th January 2008 concerning the regeneration of the Lea Valley (see his attached speech). He states that his ‘only qualification’ for speaking is that he lived for more than 20 years in the Lower Lea Valley, which suggests that an awful lot of people are better qualified than he to speak on the subject.

He goes on to say he may be ‘one of the very few Members’ who has lived in that area for so long. If this is to be a qualification it may be very few peers are qualified to speak on the matter. He reports that he was married in Bromley by Bow and regularly played squash on a Monday morning at the Eastway Sports Centre at Eton Manor, a facility provided by the Lea Valley Park Authority, which closed not long before the Olympic bid was announced. That seems to settle the matter of his qualifications to his satisfaction.

He moves on to reminisce about his local station at Hackney Wick which, he tells the House, was unmanned for years and even lacked a ticket machine. I’m not sure these were features unique to Hackney Wick among the stations on, what used to be called, the North London Line or how relevant this is to the Olympics. But they contribute to his portrayal of the area as desolate and thus, presumably, in need of radical Olympic treatment. Indeed some of his more recent friends seem to have thought he was pretty batty to have ever ventured near the place, as he says many people have asked him "Why does anyone want to use Hackney Wick station late at night?"

Apparently Mister Haworth, as he would have been in the ‘very early 1970s’, discovered the site of the future Clays Lane housing co-operative on a local football pitch. This is a 'vivid' memory. According to him the housing built there could only rise to two floors because of the power lines overhead, which is strange as some houses reached three floors. He doesn’t mention that the site was a former rubbish tip and the housing was built on embankments of building rubble and household junk, which was why they were indeed raised up closer to the power lines. He is also apparently unaware that most of the estate was not built under power lines so there were no restrictions on the height of that housing.

His Lordship also doesn’t mention that the project was organised by a secondary housing co-operative, the Society for Co-operative Dwellings (SCD), which worked with the Borough of Newham, the Polytechnic of North-East London (now University of East London) and the Housing Corporation to create the housing co-operative. He thinks the housing consisted of flats whereas most of it was four, six or ten person shared houses. There were forty flats, which were indeed only two floors high, so perhaps the design underwent some alteration, along with ten bungalows. He describes the housing as ‘relatively inexpensive’ and in that he is certainly right.

Even more strangely the peer declares he has been embarrassed ‘for many years’ by the fact that a block of flats was named after him. He thinks the estate was built at the end of the 1970s and goes on to say ‘to my chagrin I found they had spelt my name wrong’! The flats had been called ‘Howarth’. He then says they have now been knocked down after 30 years. In reality the estate was finished in the early 1980s and did not quite attain the glorious old age of 30 years. He is certainly right in thinking that a section of the estate was called Howarth Court, but it was not a block but a courtyard.

But why does he think those responsible for naming the courtyards chose to call one after him and were then so incapable of spelling his name correctly? As far as I am aware no-one at Clays Lane had ever heard of the presumably still fairly young NELP scholar, Haworth. He certainly does not feature in the legendary tales surrounding the founding of the estate. I have never before heard of the almost Romulan tale of the anxious search of the student governor crisscrossing the lonely and possibly fogbound vicinity of the marshes until he arrived at the deserted football pitch where, at last, under the overhead power lines, he was afforded a vision of the ‘relatively inexpensive’ housing so desperately needed by his fellow students and lowly council staff.

I shouldn’t mock. Whatever part the noble lord played in this tale I certainly enjoyed the fruits of his labour. I have to reassure him. He need feel embarrassed no more. No-one misspelt his name or even thought to embarrass him by naming a courtyard after him. Nine of the ten courtyards were named after some of the 28 Rochdale Pioneers, the founders of the co-operative shop which is regarded as the founding enterprise of the modern Co-operative chain in Britain. One of the pioneers was Charles Howarth.

More to the point the former student governor expresses a very legitimate concern about the future of affordable housing in the Legacy. He had been provided with a copy of the Mayor’s Legacy plan through the good offices of the Royal Mail. It had arrived just in time for the debate. Favoured and grateful he is happy to pass on its contents without criticism. He is unaware of the fate of those who had been removed from the now demolished estate but thinks it had been levelled to make way for the stadium. This certainly makes me concerned in case the noble explorer should attempt to repeat his search for the lost estate. It seems he has already ventured out onto the Greenway, which fortunately was well lit and signposted. The sites of the two, the main stadium and the former football pitch, are in very different localities and he would be in great danger of losing his bearings if he attempted to repeat his ancient odyssey on the basis of these memories.

The noble pioneer considers that an ‘immediate legacy’ of 9000 new homes, as well as other housing ‘in the peripheral areas’, amply justifies the replacement of Clays Lane, especially as 30% of this is to be affordable. What is meant by an ‘immediate’ legacy is unclear. None of the housing will be available before 2013. In fact some of the housing would have been available sooner if the Olympics had not required it for the Athletes’ Village!

The 30% figure is troubling. The advocate of social housing seems unaware that the original figure was 50%. He is also unaware that the figure of 9000 new homes is incorrect as it includes housing on Stratford City, which would have been built anyway and nor does it represent a net figure as the loss of the two estates at Clays Lane and Park Village is not taken into account. So in fact the affordable housing element is 30% of possibly 4,500 homes which is not so far off the original housing for 1000 or so people who were housed at the two estates along with a further 80 or so travellers of whom he makes no mention. In addition the affordable housing will be a lot more expensive and less affordable than the affordable housing just demolished. The fact that a community has been destroyed does not feature in his oration. He also fails to realise that housing would have been built on the periphery of the Park anyway, without the need to spend some £9.4 billion on the Olympics, if he had read some of the other publications from the Mayor of London’s office, such as the London Plan.

The member of the Upper House then thinks about making some comments about the ‘crucial’ issue of jobs, but thinks better of it merely reflecting on the high levels of unemployment in the area. He fails to consider that so far there has been a net loss of jobs following the destruction of the Marshgate Lane area and is probably unaware of the pessimistic conclusions drawn by the GLA Committee tracking the Olympics, which anticipates there will be few employment benefits for local people and which expresses concern about the impact of gentrification on the area. He was probably also unaware that Clays Lane, his pet project, actually had an above average level of employment. Transport is another matter which he feels has been adequately dealt with by other peers. His experience of this seems to have been limited to visiting Hackney Wick station.

Lord Haworth marvels at the wonders of the work being done on the Olympic site, of which he says ‘I have seen nothing like it anywhere in the world, except in China.’ It makes me wonder what exactly they are doing there. Building a new Great Wall? It may be, of course, that he hasn’t been anywhere else in the world, except China. The mass evictions and beatings and imprisonment of protestors and evictees in that one party state do not seem to have greatly impacted on his consciousness. It is indeed a wonder how the Labour Party has grown up and come to terms with the neo-liberal world and its postmodern dictatorships. Plainly he is another of the many Labour Party members who are impressed by the shiny new buildings in Beijing.

In the best rhetorical style he then rounds off his journey into the future with a final reflection on the desolate and lonely horrors of his Hackney Wick past when he was, most regrettably, mugged. But lo! His old haunt, Hackney Wick, is now newly lit with street lighting, flats have been built and the station miraculously improved, although he doesn’t tell us whether it is now manned and equipped with a ticket machine. He doesn’t explain why this has anything to do with the Olympics. Nevertheless, Lordy! Lord! He is able to declare, the Legacy has already arrived!

Now he can report that the future is only bright and who knows, if the new street lighting is anything to go by, he may even think it is sponsored by Orange!


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