If only Balfron Tower could talk, if only we could see

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Balfron Tower (pic: @balfronsocial)

 

If only Balfron Tower could talk, if only we could see

A Balfron Social Club guest blog post by Stephen Pritchard

 

Time lapses.  Remembrances.  Lives once fixed, now in transit.  Different places.  Other spaces.

If only Balfron Tower could talk.

Each wall, window, walkway.  Every conduit, fixture, fitting, lock.  The underground garages.  The lifts.  The noticeboards.  Dispossessed.

The views.  People’s views.  Displaced.

If only we could see.

No filming.  No photography.

Fixed perspectives.  Fixed outlooks.

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No filming, no photography (pic: @etiennelefleur)

All the while, the City creeps nearer. ¬†Beacons. ¬†Warning signs. ¬†Shiny neoliberal lights. ¬†Precursors of forthcoming ‚Äúredevelopment‚ÄĚ. ¬†Glass fronted. ¬†Flimsy giants. ¬†Harbingers of impending gentrification. ¬†They are coming. ¬†They will come. ¬†They will erase generations, feast on the past, wipe clean past lives, past happiness, past hardships. ¬†Brutal.

Call in the artists, the property guardians, dark soundtracks, bleak CGI mock ups trumpeting ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre coming home, baby!‚ÄĚ

Not yet.  Just Sitex doors.  Left possessions tipped in skips.  Locks.  For now.

Business suits, fluorescent-clad workers, white-shirted private security guards. Builders or destroyers?

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A Sitex door bars access to the former home of an elderly Balfron Tower leaseholder, bullied from his home through the courts with threats of a Compulsory Purchase Order (pic: @balfronsocial)

Balfron Tower was a refuge for its many social housing tenants. ¬†Soon it will be another vacuous space filled with neoliberal lifestyle choice, as empty of lives, real lives, as the empty promises made by the local ‚Äúhousing regeneration and community association‚ÄĚ and the luxury residential property developers. ¬†A haven for thieving City bankers. ¬†Left-empty overseas billionaire investments. Hedge fund safe bets. ¬†Tax evasion. ¬†Buy-to-leave.

And now the last resident has gone, decanted to God knows where, they have wiped the soul from Balfron Tower. ¬†It will never return. ¬†They will make sure of it. ¬†They have replaced people with assets for private investors, homes with a ‚Äúnew world‚ÄĚ bereft of communities ‚Äď another dead world of capital investment. A global world of shadowy deals and care-free exploitation. ¬†Their world.

Cinema. ¬†Launderette. ¬†Play Room. ¬†Garden Room. ¬†Cocktail bar. ¬†Goldfinger Archive. ¬†Trunk Store. Treehouse. ¬†What? ¬†Social housing transformed into 1960s ‚Äúdesign icon‚ÄĚ, how lovely. ¬†How incredibly ironic. ¬†How to ‚Äúunlock the potential for an unprecedented cast of stakeholders‚ÄĚ.

So wrong.  So, so wrong.

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Up for the Yoga Room, down for the Music Room, design proposals for the Balfron Tower regeneration (Source: unknown)

And yet, Balfron Tower remembers its proud past.  Its residents will never forget.  Their ups and downs are cast in screed.  Their births and deaths, breakups and marriages haunt stairwells and walkways.  Lifts murmur songs from decades of everyday living.  Everyday hymns to everyone and no one.

Balfron Tower, like its past residents, remembers.  Together, they remember things heard and overheard; seen, unseen and overseen; touched and untouched.  Spoken, now muted, conversations.  Different people, living together high above London, through good and bad. Sharing.  Learning from one another.  Partying.  Playing.  Fighting.  Living.  Always living.

Inversion / Reflection shares little bits of some of these stories.  Resident’s lives. Balfron Tower’s life.  The film is not a crass product of socially engaged artists in the pay of profiteering property developers or housing associations hell bent on gentrification by a wryly smiling social art practice that paints a thinly disguised veil over gentrification.  It stands sensitive.  Understated.  Peaceful. Honest.  Proud.  A fitting commemoration of those displaced at the hands of unbridled gentrifiers who will, with their own rabid teeth, devour themselves eventually.  Cindy.  Gavin.  Felicity.  Shiraz. Evelyn.

Inversion/Reflection: What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? A short film by Rab Harling

Balfron Tower.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Those involved didn’t need to exploit people. They didn’t have to lie. They didn’t have to socially cleanse.

This is not what Goldfinger planned.

He turns in his grave as capitalist greed stamps out the dying embers of our hopes and dreams for social housing.  Balfron Tower was and still is a symbol of our welfare state.  Built on optimism. Killed by selfishness.  Justice for all replaced by the dog-eat-dog world of possessive hyper-individualism and neoliberal capital accumulation by dispossession.  Systematic asset-stripping and land grabbing.

Balfron Tower is another battleground in a class struggle ‚Äď a class war. ¬†The rich elite may have temporarily taken¬†control but one day we will assert our right to the city and we will take it back!

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A Balfron Social Club guest blog post by Stephen Pritchard

@etiennelefleur

http://colouringinculture.org/

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

An Open Letter to Secret Cinema from Balfron Social Club

The way Poplar Harca have mismanaged the decant of Balfron Tower has been phenomenal. They have treated people like dirt, whether leaseholder, tenant, artist or property guardian.

There are still residents and leaseholders living in Balfron Tower who are fighting for their homes, and there are former residents and leaseholders that want to return to their homes, as they were promised they could do, only to later discover that they were lied to.

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At least Secret Cinema acknowledge the level of fear they are likely to create amongst embattled residents

The long drawn out and mismanaged decant of Balfron Tower has been a painful event for a community being ripped apart by greedy Poplar Harca.  Their incessant social cleansing only exacerbated by their co-optation of creative people to collaborate on their PR offensive.

We think that the forthcoming Secret Cinema performance of 28 Days Later at Balfron Tower is distasteful and inappropriate. There is little surprise that they decided to keep this location secret. This collaboration with Poplar Harca in Balfron Tower only furthers an aggressive social cleansing agenda that is destroying our communities, particularly whilst embattled residents continue to fight for their homes.

Tickets for the Secret Cinema event at Balfron Tower are priced at a shocking ¬£65 each, making a ¬£4 bowl of cereal seem almost reasonable. The event is anticipated to run for a 6-week period from mid-April. No doubt there will be zombies etc. running around the building, disturbing residents, occupying busy lifts, temporarily repurposing empty flats, many that have been ‚Äėvoid‚Äô for years and some of which were specifically made vacant for spectacles such as this.

Meanwhile, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets is housing desperate families in B&B’s and in temporary accommodation on Harca estates earmarked for future development, whilst turfing many more out onto the street. First they dismantled the social housing, now it is being rapidly passed into the hands of private property developers. Meanwhile, the housing crisis rages unabated.

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Rage. But whose?

Balfron Social Club continues to fight for a minimum of 50% social housing to be retained in Balfron Tower post-refurbishment. Despite promises of no loss of social housing, Harca currently propose 0%; a wholesale land grab.

Balfron Social Club calls on Secret Cinema to kindly address the inappropriateness of the situation forthwith.

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

16 March 2016

On 16 March Secret Cinema responded:

Hi,

Hope you’re well?

I work for Secret Cinema on our 28 Days Later project. I’ve just seen the open letter about Balfron Tower and the concerns among residents.

I just wanted to re-assure you that we’re not using Balfron Tower for our event and we are not working with Poplar Harca, it’s being staged in a different (non-residential) London location. We’ve used images of the tower because it’s a prominent part of the original film, not because it’s the location for our event.

I’m really sorry if our images have caused anger amongst the residents / former residents of the tower, that certainly wasn’t our intention.

If you have any questions feel free to give me a ring / get back to me on my email.

Thanks,

Secret Cinema

Thank you for the clarification.

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HIGH RISE SUBTERFUGE AT BALFRON TOWER

Welcome to another in our series of guest blog posts, this time by the Little People in the City 

https://littlepeopleinthecity.wordpress.com/

In the early evening the Balfron Tower stands tall and translucent in a way that my poor photography skills can barely do justice, rather like trying to worship Robert Plant but in fact performing a floor-clearing karaoke version of Kashmir.

But it’s not my photography prowess that is under the microscope here but rather more dark arts.  A bit like looking in on a David Lynch scene where something far more macabre and terrifying is about to rip through your skull like a glass coffee table a la Lost Highway.

These dark arts are being performed by Tower Hamlets, and Poplar Housing And Regeneration Community Association (HARCA), those shining beacons of cultural inclusion.  Balfron Tower was designed by Ernö Goldfinger whose name was taken by Ian Fleming for his master criminal in the James Bond novel and you can only wonder which one of these two drew greater inspiration from this.  But I digress.

The Balfron Tower was created by Goldfinger as part of the Brownfield Estate in 1963 and realised by the then Greater London Council (GLC) between 1965 and 1967.  Designed as a testament to the power of social housing in the post war period, the Balfron was an exercise in re-housing those residents primarily blighted by the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel.

Its 146 homes on 26 storeys recreated in its covered galleries those terraced streets where the residents previously lived, and indeed wherever possible tenants who had been neighbours were allocated to the same floors to maintain relationships.  It is this consideration of the nature of the way in which the building would be occupied which had ensured it stood out as an example to those designing thoughtful social housing in the future. Goldfinger himself stated that:

‚ÄúThe success of any scheme depends on the human factor ‚Äď the relationship of people to each other and the frame to their daily life which the building provides. These particular buildings have the great advantage of having families with deep roots in the immediate neighbourhood as tenants. In fact most families have been rehoused from the adjoining streets. Of the 160 families, all except two came from the Borough of Tower Hamlets.‚ÄĚ

The 1980’s witnessed a period of managed neglect and an ideological sea-change to the extent that by 2007 Tower Hamlets had agreed to a stock transfer to HARCA, forcing this upon the residents by the slimmest margin.

Looking at the Council reports from this time can only cast doubt on the legitimacy of the votes.  So if there was no requirement to have a Maths GCSE for a job at the Council maybe that would explain the slip of the pen when the entire 941 homes on the Brownfield Estate were transferred for £nil, I’ll repeat for those who missed that, £NIL, and where obviously some zeros were missed off. (Link:http://moderngov.towerhamlets.gov.uk/documents/s5484/)

By this time some of the homes had also been sold off under Thatcher’s Right to Buy and these long-leasehold tenants were given little say in the transfer, so long as more than half of the social tenants accepted. Why everyone was not treated equally remains a mystery.

The residents were promised modernisation following the transfer, but these clearly did not happen.  Instead a ruthless programme of removing the social tenants ensued despite Council and HARCA promises that there would be no loss of council homes, and the long leaseholders equally bullied out of the Tower so that yet another private, luxury (a term so over-used it is now meaningless), unaffordable housing scheme can presented, rubbing yet more salt into the already sore wounds of the locals.

Matters came to a head in September when plans were submitted for approval by the owner of the Tower, by this time a joint venture between HARCA, London Newcastle and United House (which sold its own interest just days ahead of the planning application). (Link: http://www.wharf.co.uk/news/local-news/poplar-harca-accused-pushing-out-10223686)

The Council in considering the two planning applications, one for the refurbishment of the Tower, the second for Listed Building Consent following the Tower’s Grade II listing in 1996, is obliged to seek comments from the public, but was it just coincidence that in the final week before the deadline for such comments to be made the website had barred any access to the planning records for the Brownfield Estate and Balfron Tower?  Complaints were lodged with the Council to the effect that due process was not being followed but we won’t hold our breath for the Mayor’s response. (Link:https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yBCd1W6O8T1wem8AZot5xItabixDRDcW6d4EjiPr1bM/edit)

The primary objection here is the loss of social housing.  Having already once divested its own responsibility by transferring the property back in 2007, Tower Hamlets essentially gave Poplar HARCA a very tasty treat, and now the treat is being repackaged like a second hand Christmas present and represented, as HARCA apply for permission with no social units whatsoever, in-so-doing losing the 99 former council homes forever, in complete contravention of the Balfron Tower’s raison d’être.

The savage disrespect shown not only to the residents but also the building itself is symptomatic of the neo-liberal transfer of capital away from the people and into the hands of private profiteers.  The Balfron was built to stand as a monument to social housing but is now being metamorphosed into a mausoleum of greed and capitalism.

What is more than encouraging, however, is the fact that the little people in the city have had enough.  So much so that nearly 3,000 have sent a clear message to Tower Hamlets signed a petition demanding that HARCA’s plans be refused. (Link:https://www.change.org/p/stephen-halsey-steve-stride-john-biggs-stop-privatisation-and-social-cleansing-at-balfron-tower).

Once upon a time rampant gentrificleansing in the city caused local objections, and the voice of those locals were little more than a whisper in the collective subconscious.  But the little people in the city are rapidly gaining a voice and using it increasingly effectively so that housing is fast becoming the number one issue for Londoners.  The fight must go on.

This report is indebted both to David Roberts’ superb resource www.balfrontower.org as well as the unswerving passion of the Balfron Social Club and 50 Percent Balfron. (@BalfronSocial on Twitter). Many thanks!

Balfron Tower redevelopment video by Hawkins\Brown

This controversial video has now been removed from Vimeo, but thankfully we we were so shocked by it that we made a copy and are distributing it here in the belief that the dissemination of its contents are in the best public interest. 

We do not believe that the wholesale removal of social housing from Balfron Tower, and the exploitation of its architectural heritage, will ever be acceptable, or accepted by our community. 

The transfer of housing to registered social landlord Poplar Harca from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was made based upon promises to tenants of new windows, kitchens and bathrooms, yet what has followed has been a successive sequence of landgrabs, as they sweep through estates, displacing our communities, devouring social housing, demolishing our homes and replacing them with increased density, low-quality flats with only 11%* social housing. 1-bed flats in the redevelopments are renting for £350 per week.

This video was originally published on Vimeo on July 2014. We believe it shows a vision horrific to the true intention of Ernö Goldfinger.

We reiterate that there should be a minimum of 50% social housing retained in all social housing redevelopments. 

Stop social cleansing. Stop the #landgrab.

 

 

 

* See separate blog post on the 89% landgrab on Linton and Printon Houses: http://50percentbalfron.tumblr.com/post/123355006549/our-area-is-nice-when-it-wants-to-be

 

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

20th July 2015

Our Area is Nice When it Wants to Be.

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A mural by local children outside condemned social housing block Linton House in Mile End                                       pic: @balfronsocial

“Our area is nice when it wants to be
This depends on everyone in our community
It is our home where we are brought up
Our friends and family mean a lot to us‚ÄĚ

-by The Junior Club Members

Were these words and this mural created in more optimistic days? Days when a vote to transfer the management of your council flat from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was based upon promises made by Poplar Harca of new kitchens, bathrooms and windows?

Welcome to the new reality of social housing in Poplar, Bow and Mile End; a reality now outsourced to ‚ÄúRegistered Social Landlord‚ÄĚ Poplar Harca; a reality in which community art murals by Junior Club members are ripped down (along with their homes) and replaced with ‚Äúcommunity art‚ÄĚ that isn‚Äôt really made by members of the community, but by those drafted in and curated by Poplar Harca‚Äôs ‚ÄúHead of Creativity and Innovation‚ÄĚ, curated into his own bland view of what community art is: art that ‚Äúplaceshapes‚ÄĚ community, artwash for the mass destruction of social housing and the dismantlement and social cleansing of our communities.

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Linton House in Mile End. Awaiting demolition.           pic: @balfronsocial

The same community that not so long ago was deemed worthy of creating a mural that celebrated being brought up in a community; that recognised the importance of being surrounded by a network of family and friends.

It continues to mean something to us. It still depends on everyone in the community being nice. Its just that the ones who aren’t being nice anymore aren’t hanging out on street corners scaring the elderly, but are hanging out in their corporate headquarters, doing deals with bankers at HSBC, eager to get their hands on the tax-payer funded capital assets that are (or were) our homes.

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Printon House in Mile End. Social Housing by Poplar Harca: Decanted, Demolished, Rebuilt and Sold               pic: @balfronsocial

So, what about the community on the Burdett Estate in Bow where that mural sits? For Printon House and Linton House the wrecking ball is imminent. An established pattern that has already seen most of the Poplar Harca-managed Leopold Estate demolished, with the remaining blocks (and their residents) still anxiously awaiting their fate. Their sin was simply not having a great enough density in their housing, and that they are social housing tenants, who have a level of housing security that those in the private rented sector could only dream of, and rents that aren‚Äôt ‚Äúaffordable‚ÄĚ but are actually affordable. Just who is it that can afford to pay the ¬£350 per week for a 1-bed flat in these re-developments?

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Demolition Notice nailed to a¬†‚Äúdoor‚ÄĚ in Printon House ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†pic: @balfronsocial

But surely Poplar Harca are a registered social landlord? Surely they wouldn’t act like a private property developer ruthlessly dismantling communities to build luxury flats for the financial service employees at nearby Canary Wharf? Would they?

Why don’t we take a look at some numbers? These demolition notices recently appeared on the doors in Linton and Printon House, although they are dated 4th November 2013. Their recent appearance could surely not in any way appear intimidating to the remaining residents, as they discover demolition notices stapled to every door in the block. They do however reveal replacement plans for what will materialise to replace the 78 socially rented flats that currently occupy this space.

And that is 11% social housing, with the rest available for sale.

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Initial Demolition Notice for Linton and Printon House          pic: @balfronsocial

Yes. 11%.

Does this really sound like a registered social landlord with its interests representing the community? Or does this sound like an exploitative property developer ripping apart the carcass of social housing to divide up the spoils?

To break down the figures further: Printon and Linton currently contain 78 socially rented flats. They are to be replaced with 12 flats for social rent, 12 flats for shared ownership and 85 flats for private sale. These numbers are a scandal and a disgrace.

Yes, Poplar Harca are also planning to provide other facilities such as a mosque, a primary school and a ‚Äėcultural‚Äô facility, but none of these additional facilities are the responsibility of a registered social landlord. Building schools etc. are the responsibility of the council; the same council who gave away our social housing to an organisation that has ripped through our community socially cleansing it as they go.

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A resident of Linton House has their possessions loaded into a van.                pic: @Balfronsocial

11% social housing retention is quite simply a land grab.

We reiterate our calls for retention of a minimum of 50% social housing in all re-developments of social housing blocks and estates.

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

6th July 2015