Mieka Smiles: Senior Plagiarist for the Daily Express

Reach PLC journalists, whose titles include My London, Daily Mirror and Daily Express appear to be in an interlinked conspiracy to plagiarise the work of artists and community bloggers, in order to pass other peoples original creative works off as their own.

Reach PLC journalists, whose titles include My London, Daily Mirror and Daily Express appear to be in an interlinked conspiracy to plagiarise the work of artists and community bloggers, in order to pass other peoples original creative works off as their own.

What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? by Rab Harling, the source of the plagiarised quotes.

Tens of thousands of people all around the world have now read our exclusive blog post “As buyers reject a regenerated Balfron Tower, we reveal what’s next as all flats are withdrawn from sale“, published on 3rd April 2023, in which Balfron Social Club revealed that the developers who regenerated Balfron Tower- Telford Homes, Londonewcastle and Poplar Harca, have failed to sell a single flat in the socially cleansed Ernö Goldfinger brutalist icon Balfron Tower in Tower Hamlets, east London.

It came as no surprise to us that our exclusive revelations were picked up by other media outlets. One of the first such stories drawing upon the Balfron Social Club blog arrived in Novara Media in August 2023, correctly acknowledging Balfron Social Club as the source of the story and linking to the original article.

This was swiftly followed by ‘the brutal lessons from Balfron Tower’s unsold flats’ in the Standard on 10th August 2023, which quickly revealed how journalists, especially from a media outlet that had been such an enthusiastic cheerleader for the regeneration of Balfron Tower as the Standard had been, were completely unwillingly to allow a community blog to take credit for an exclusive story, citing Novara Media as the source; the sort of exclusive that they themselves should have written, the sort of exclusive that any decent journalist would have been proud of.

Preceding either of these stories though, on 29th July 2022, was an article entitled “Council tenants forced out of Britain’s ‘ugliest building’ so flats can be sold for £800,000” by Josh Bolton, in a Reach PLC online publication My London.

This article drew heavily upon interviews in a short film “What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You?” (2015) by Rab Harling, founder of Balfron Social Club.

Quote from the Josh Bolton article in My London including appropriate credits

In this short film, which was exhibited in the Wellcome Collection exhibition Living With Buildings in 2018, numerous former-tenants of Balfron Tower were asked one simple question, what does Balfron Tower mean to you?

The results provided a unique glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of some of the inhabitants of this brutalist icon, at a time when they were being forced out of their homes so that the tower could be privatised, removing all of the social housing from this purpose-built tower block, with a plans to sell the 146 flats to bankers at nearby Canary Wharf and enthusiasts of Goldfinger’s distinct architectural style.

As we now know, this plan was a complete disaster and the developers failed to sell even one single flat, a disaster that left developer Telford Homes, recently acquired by CBRE, with a £193 million loss.

The story in My London must have been a success because that same evening another story appeared in Reach PLC’s sister national publication, the Daily Mirror, with a similar title “Council tenants turfed out of UK’s ‘ugliest building’ so flats can be sold for £800,000“, now credited to Josh Bolton and Charlie Duffield. Only this time the source of the interviews had been attributed to My London, rather than the original source.

Quote from the Daily Mirror which now cited the source of the interviews as MyLondon.

Given Poplar Harca’s habit of intimidation towards residents who speak out against them in the media, Balfron Social Club posted a tweet advising those involved in the story that the interviews had actually been drawn from Rab Harling’s short film, and that they had not spoken to journalists from My London, as they had claimed. The tweet also commented that this was no doubt an “innocent mistake”.

Fast forward to September 2023 and Balfron Social Club was contacted by Ruby Gregory, the Local Democracy Reporter for My London, who having read the Balfron Social Club blog post was interested in telling the story of Hugh Thompson, who had been living in a hotel for seven years whilst awaiting a return to his flat in Balfron Tower, now five years overdue.

Balfron Social Club was acknowledged in this article, but the included hyperlink led to an unrelated post rather than to the actual source of the story. At the time, this really felt like a kick in the teeth, but it was decided to overlook this as the story was not about Balfron Social Club, and we felt that it was important that Hugh Thompson’s story was heard, given the appalling treatment of this octogenarian leaseholder by Poplar Harca.

At this point, we had still not joined the dots in realising that this was what appears to be a systemic approach to reappropriating the work of others and passing it off as their own, purposefully obfuscating the original source material.

This realisation hit us squarely in the face when we recently discovered the next article, some weeks after it was published.

On 16th December 2023, Mieka Smiles, Senior News Reporter for the Daily Express published “UK’s ugliest building cost £56million to upgrade with views over a dual carriageway” in the UK national newspaper the Daily Express, another Reach PLC title.

Mieka Smiles for the Daily Express was now linking to the Daily Mirror as the source of the interviews.

This article heavily relied on the interviews with Cindy, a former resident of Balfron Tower, who had spoken to Rab Harling in his 2015 film What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? Only now, instead of crediting the original source of the interviews, it linked to the Daily Mirror, who had already removed the original source of the material.

As you can imagine, we were not too impressed to discover that this article now included what can only be described as plagiarised content, taking credit for work that was not carried out by the journalist, but through a series of convoluted references had deleted the original author of the work to take credit for work they had not done.

Mieka Smiles also failed to mention Balfron Social Club as the source of the story regarding the failure to sell a single flat in Balfron Tower, instead attributing the credit to Novara Media, just as the Standard had previously done.

In a post on Balfron Social Club we asked Mieka Smiles to apologise and to correct the article and to add the correct credits. At the time of writing, this has not been done.

Mieka Smiles did however send one single Direct Message to Balfron Social Club in which she acknowledged that she was fully aware that the quotes that she had attributed to the Daily Mirror came from an artists film.

All further contact has been ignored.

It seems very clear that this was a concerted effort to take credit for work that was plagiarised, and over a series of articles has removed the original author of the work and instead credited themselves for interviews that they did not undertake.

Interactions on Twitter have made us realise that this is a systemic problem at Reach PLC titles, who appear to have forgotten that journalists cannot just help themselves to the work of others, and may sometimes have to actually go out and do some original research of their own, you know, the job they are paid for.

We have advised Mieka Smiles that unless this issue is addressed appropriately, which it has not been, that we would be making a formal complaint to IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation. However, our previous experience of any kind of UK regulator has revealed that they are more interested in covering up the crimes of the powerful and corrupt than actually ever taking appropriate action.

If a regulator ever actually did what they are supposed to do we suspect that this kind of unethical behaviour would not be so prevalent in the UK media.

Instead of making a complaint and then waiting months for a cover up which would only protect a plagiarist, we have decided to publish this account of the actions of Reach PLC journalists and editors, and then send it to the regulator for them to take appropriate action.

Once we have received a response we will keep you informed.

Balfron Social Club has operated since 2014 in order to highlight the unethical social cleansing of 146 purpose built social housing homes in Balfron Tower and to demand that a minimum of 50% social housing was retained in the block following redevelopment.

We are completely unfunded, nor have we ever sought funding. We publish our blog in order to expose corruption and social cleansing in attacks on working class communities.

Journalists are welcome to quote the work on the blog, with appropriate credits, but they are not welcome to plagiarise our content and pass it off as their own work.

Balfron Social Club

5th January 2024

As buyers reject a regenerated Balfron Tower, we reveal what’s next as all flats are withdrawn from sale.

Balfron Tower lead architect Ab Rogers made bold claims that he was “honouring the ghost of Goldfinger”, but it appears that Goldfingers ghost may be having the last laugh.

Despite two high profile marketing campaigns for the private sale of all 146 flats in the Ernö Goldfinger designed brutalist Balfron Tower, all flats have now been withdrawn from the market.

The sales effort for Balfron Tower was launched in Summer 2019 with a high profile sales campaign, with marketing featured across a broad range of mainstream media, including The Guardian and the Financial Times, yet genuinely interested buyers appeared to be thin on the ground and the project appeared to be going seriously off the rails.

Balfron Tower was then withdrawn from sale in early 2020 and throughout the pandemic scaffolding once again climbed this 27-storey tower, where it remained for well over a year.

There appeared to be some significant structural problems with the tower.

Meanwhile, leaseholders were waiting to return to their homes.

One elderly leaseholder, Hugh Thompson, 86, has been living out of a suitcase in a hotel since he was forcibly decanted from his home in Balfron Tower in 2016 so that regeneration works could commence.

Initially, he was told that the construction works would take two years, although following a one year delay to the commencement of the project, after the tenants had all been decanted, he was then told that he could return to his home in 2019.

After three years in a hotel, the novelty had worn off and he was eager to return home.

On several further occasions Poplar Harca advised Thompson that he could return to his 21st floor home, which he bought in the 1980’s from Tower Hamlets council under Right to Buy legislation.

Yet, on each occasion he was let down at the last moment and told that he could not return home.

Second marketing campaign

In the Summer of 2022, Poplar Harca launched a second high profile marketing campaign, managed by PR firm Good Relations, perhaps best known for their connection to Bell Pottinger and their legacy of stirring up racial tension in South Africa.

Harca scored a second feature article in The Guardian by Oliver Wainwright, as well as features in the Daily Mirror and The Sun and a collaboration with registered charity Open House to market the socially-cleansed flats via Rightmove and their Open House events.

Harca Lies

Despite Harca’s claims in The Guardian that “more than 1,200 interested buyers have already signed up”, it appears that there has actually been so little genuine interest in actually buying one of these architecturally mutilated flats that they have all now been withdrawn from the market.

Poplar Harca openly boasted that they have sold Flat 130, the home for two months in 1968 of Balfron Tower’s infamous architect Ernö Goldfinger, yet the Land Registry does not include the details of sales of any property in Balfron Tower since Flat 102 changed hands to Balfron Tower Developments LLP for £1,480,000 in 2017.

This transaction raises serious questions about the legitimacy of some of the transactions, and who they may have benefitted.

Poplar Harca openly boasted in BD Online in 2008 that one of the project team had already bought one of the flats, for cash.

Balfron Social Club reiterates our call for an independent audit of Poplar Harca.

The human cost of regeneration

Hugh Thompson’s home in Balfron Tower prior to regeneration.
Photograph from Inversion / Reflection: Turning Balfron Tower Inside Out by Rab Harling

As for leaseholder Mr Thompson, did he get to return to his flat as was promised in Autumn 2022, six years after he moved out, following the second expensive, high-profile marketing campaign?

In short, no. No, he did not.

Mr Thomson has recently been told it will now be September 2023 before he can return home, over seven years since he was forced out.

Seven years in a hotel, in his 80’s.

Hugh’s story is just one brutal story from a catalogue of abuse residents suffered at the hands of Poplar Harca and its staff who appear to thrive on bullying residents, who are treated more as an inconvenience than a community, especially social tenants who live in blocks earmarked for regeneration.

This arrogant attitude towards local people appears to stem from the very top of Poplar Harca and filters its way down though its directors, who appear to treat Poplar as their own personal fiefdom, and where telling lies to tenants seems to come as second nature.

Meanwhile, Poplar Harca directors were happily associating themselves with some very sleazy individuals, such as developers London Newcastle, highly indicative of the management style emanating from Harca under its CEO, Steve Stride.

References are still often made of the “Balfron Tower casting couch”, the nickname for a nicely decorated flat that was forcibly appropriated by Poplar Harca during Bow Arts so-called Balfron Season in 2015, where agencies such as Arts Council England, English Heritage and British Council turned Balfron Tower into their own personal playground and assisted Bow Arts and Poplar Harca with artwashing the social cleansing of Balfron Tower, all whilst social tenants, yet to be decanted, remained living in the tower.

Poplar Harca also made the flat available to London Newcastle, Telford Homes, Bow Arts and any of their friends to use, as they chose.

The Balfron Tower Casting Couch prior to having been commandeered by Poplar Harca.
Photograph from Inversion/Reflection: Turning Balfron Tower Inside Out by Rab Harling

Poplar Harca’s arrogant attitude towards the local community has ensured that local people have always been hostile towards the regeneration of Balfron Tower.

All social housing was removed from Balfron Tower in a plan that cast local people aside, often to estates already earmarked for demolition creating chaos into the lives of the local population, in order to provide homes for office workers at the nearby Canary Wharf financial district, and took very little consideration for the needs of the local community.

They only cared about the value of the homes people occupied and their desperate attempts to gentrify the community by attracting financial workers to the neighbourhood.

Paul Augarde, Poplar Harca’s Director of Placemaking meets the locals.

The community has not forgotten the brutal treatment by Poplar Harca staff, who bullied and harassed our friends and neighbours from their homes, and intimidated, even stalked, anybody that dared criticise them or obstruct them in any way.

Is anybody really surprised that Poplar Harca’s plans to sell all the flats in Balfron Tower have been a total disaster?

I suspect they alone are, because if Harca are known locally for anything, its for not listening to the needs and requirements of local people, as they court people they want to live in the area rather than those who already do.

They were never listening, they decided what they wanted to do and then went ahead and did it, regardless of the needs of the local community, and just like the Tower Hamlets Labour Party, who lost control of the council at recent elections, their time is up.

What’s next for Balfron Tower?

“The private sales operation for Balfron has been put on hold. The developer (Balfron Tower Developments LLP) has now made a decision to convert the newly renovated homes which had been proposed for sale, to professionally managed rented homes (‘Build to Rent’ or BTR). Subsequent to this Savills have since been appointed to market the BTR element to prospective investment partners.”

It now appears that Poplar Harca, a Registered Social Landlord, that was given vast swathes of Poplar free of charge by the former Labour council, have decided to convert the homes in Balfron Tower into “professionally managed rented homes” using the government’s Build to Rent scheme.

It would seem unlikely that the regeneration of Balfron Tower should be eligible for a government scheme designed for large landlords who have specifically built new-build properties solely for the rental market, but if there is one thing that Poplar Harca & Co. are good at, its lying and cheating their way into large amounts of public funds.

If somehow they do manage to achieve their new aim of Build to Rent then this would ensure that, according to the terms of the Build to Rent scheme, at least 20% of the homes being made available for rent must be made available as “affordable rent” properties, for the long-term.

Balfron Social Club believes that the ghost of Goldfinger will never be happy until Balfron Tower is returned to its intended social purpose.

Balfron Social Club started in 2014 with a campaign for 50% social housing to be retained in the regeneration of Balfron Tower.

Poplar Harca, backed by a Labour council led by (now-former) mayor John Biggs, insisted that there would be absolutely no social housing retained in the tower and that all flats would be sold on the private market.

Now the market has concluded that there are to be no sales on the private market, Poplar Harca plans to rent the properties privately instead.

We do not believe that a token 20% “affordable rent” properties in the tower is acceptable, and we demand that all unsold flats are now returned to the socially rented sector, to help relieve some of the pressure upon people in Tower Hamlets, people in desperate need of genuinely affordable social housing.

Sack Steve Stride

Poplar Harca’s risky top-down plans to gentrify Poplar have failed, and its time for Steve Stride to be sacked, and for the Poplar Harca housing stock to be transferred back to the management of Tower Hamlets council, as has recently happened to Tower Hamlets Homes, under the direction of Tower Hamlets new mayor, Lutfur Rahman.

Meanwhile, 146 families on the Tower Hamlets housing waiting list can be housed in this recently refurbished, purpose-built social housing block, with great views across London.

Balfron Social Club

Poplar. 2nd April 2023.

Find us on twitter: https://twitter.com/BalfronSocial

Have you seen “What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? a short film by Rab Harling?

What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You?

What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? by Rab Harling

As its five month installation in Living with Buildings at the Wellcome Collection draws to a close on 3rd March 2019, Inversion/Reflection: What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You?, a short film by Rab Harling, is now available to watch, free of charge, here on the Balfron Social Club website.

If you are able to visit Living with Buildings at the Wellcome Collection in central London, we highly recommend a visit to the free exhibition.

Please note that this film is displayed here for personal viewing only. Commercial or educational screening of this film is unauthorised without prior consent. Please use the Contact button for all enquiries.

Find out more about Living with Buildings on the Wellcome Collection website.

Living with Buildings at the Wellcome Collection until 3rd March 2019

A Researchers Guide to Balfron Tower

Pic by @BalfronSocial

Balfron Social Club is regularly asked for help by researchers, journalists and students, so we have compiled a list of useful links and resources, for your easy reference.

This list will be updated regularly. If you have a suggestion, or have written something you would like us to include, please get in touch. This guide does not include work on the Balfron Social Club blog, so don’t forget to look at all the great content on our blog too.

Last updated 14th March 2019.

Balfron Tower: a Building Archive by David Roberts http://www.balfrontower.org/

Balfron Tower: a building archive

Balfron Tower: the Artwash of an Icon by Rab Harling http://journal.urbantranscripts.org/article/balfron-tower-artwash-icon-rab-harling/

Still from What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? by Rab Harling

Rethinking the role of artists in urban regeneration contexts by Stephen Pritchard http://colouringinculture.org/blog/rethinkingartistsinurbanregen

SCREENSHOT FROM TEVIOT TALES BY HANNAH NICKLIN (2016)

Wayne Hemingway’s ‘pop-up’ plan sounds the death knell for the legendary Balfron Tower by Ollie Wainwright https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2014/sep/26/wayne-hemingways-pop-up-plan-sounds-the-death-knell-for-the-legendary-balfron-tower

Photograph: Sophia Schorr-Kon/National Trust

What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? By Rab Harling http://rabharling.com/what-does-balfron-tower-mean-to-you/

Still from What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? by Rab Harling

C20 Society’s fears are confirmed as the Balfron Tower’s new look is unveiled https://c20society.org.uk/news/c20-societys-fears-are-confirmed-as-the-balfron-towers-new-look-is-unveiled/

Catherine Croft, the Society’s Director, said “especially given the controversial decision to change Balfron from social housing to private flats, this outcome is a tragic missed opportunity.”

Hey Creatives, Stop Fetishising Estates by Caroline Christie https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/jm953d/balfron-tower-art-fetishising-estates-157

Ken Coleman, local resident. Image Copyright Vice Magazine.

How the Balfron Tower tenants were ‘decanted’ and lost their homes by Benjamin Mortimer http://www.eastendreview.co.uk/2015/03/24/balfron-tower-poplar-harca/

High life: The Balfron Tower. Photograph: Joe Roberts

Balfron residents: ‘Privatising the tower will segregate the community’ by Dr Vanessa Crawford https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/balfron-residents-privatising-the-tower-will-segregate-the-community/8691394.article

Image from Inversion/Reflection: Turning Balfron Tower Inside Out by Rab Harling

How ‘placemaking’ is tearing apart social housing communities by Nye Jones https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/27/london-placemaking-social-housing-communities-tenants

Photograph: Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk

A delicate sense of terror by Rab Harling http://journal.urbantranscripts.org/article/second-post/

A Delicate Sense of Terror by Rab Harling

Artist squares up to Regulator over “manifestly unreasonable” fundraising investigation by Christy Romer https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/exclusive-artist-squares-regulator-over-manifestly-unreasonable-fundraising-investigation

Photo: diamond geezer via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Regulator resolute on decision to side with charity over artist by Christy Romer https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/regulator-resolute-decision-side-charity-over-artist

Photo: gee on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Letter: We’re not here to defend the public – Gerald Oppenheim, CEO of the Fundraising Regulator https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/letter/letter-were-not-here-defend-public

Fundraising Regulator- a toothless regulator

Poplar parade of garages to become £4m East End fashion hub by Jonathon Prynn https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/poplar-parade-of-garages-to-become-4m-east-end-fashion-hub-a3164031.html

Image: Evening Standard

Campaigners challenge housing association’s social cleansing policy by Tower Hamlets Renters https://towerhamletsrenters.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/561/

Pic by @BalfronSocial

From sink to swank — In defence of Britain’s brutal estates by Edwin Heathcote https://www.ft.com/content/7ae5d134-bacf-11e5-bf7e-8a339b6f2164

Image: Copyright FT

Balfron Tower: Gutted east London fortress is a husk of a utopia by Jessica Mairs https://www.iconeye.com/opinion/icon-of-the-month/item/13178-balfron-tower-erno-goldfinger

Photo: WandererWandering via Flickr (cropped)

Where do Zupagrafika stand on brutal capitalism destroying London communities by Pippa Henslowe https://reclaimec1.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/where-do-zupagrafika-stand-on-brutal-capitalism-destroying-london-communities/

Image: Reclaim EC1

Bazaar Politics: Uncovering Social Cleansing In the Heart of London by Dilly Hussain https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/bazaar-politics-uncovering-social-cleansing-heart-london/

Pic: Ceasefire

The Pernicious Realities of ‘Artwashing’ by Feargus O’Sullivan https://www.citylab.com/equity/2014/06/the-pernicious-realities-of-artwashing/373289/

Wikimedia Commons/Graeme Maclean

Artists Against Artwashing: Anti-Gentrification & the Intangible Rise of the Social Capital Artist by Stephen Pritchard http://colouringinculture.org/blog/artistsagainstartwashing

Pic via colouringinculture.org

Campaigners and local residents are furious with a Labour council for ‘allowing social and ethnic cleansing’ by Nye Jones https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2018/07/25/campaigners-and-local-residents-are-furious-with-a-labour-council-for-allowing-social-and-ethnic-cleansing/

Still from The Battle of Chrisp Street by Rab Harling

East End tenants ‘booted out’ of Goldfinger’s iconic Balfron Tower’ claim by Mike Brooke https://www.eastlondonadvertiser.co.uk/news/east-end-tenants-booted-out-of-goldfinger-s-iconic-balfron-tower-claim-1-3961574

Image via East London Advertiser

‘Artwashing’ Teviot Tales – artwashing? by Hannah Nicklin http://poplarpeople.co.uk/artwashing

Image: Poplar People

Labour peer Lord Cashman discusses Poplar Harca and the social cleansing of Balfron Tower in the House of Lords https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/667e22e7-c184-4d12-a33a-07a0e9737a07?in=15:50:50

Lord Cashman of Limehouse

A new documentary shows the harsh realities of regeneration in East London by Nye Jones https://www.thecanary.co/reviews/2018/06/17/a-new-documentary-shows-the-harsh-realities-of-regeneration-in-east-london/

A still from The Battle of Chrisp Street by Rab Harling

Challenging the artwashing of social cleansing means calling out & critiquing artists involved by Stephen Pritchard http://colouringinculture.org/blog/callingoutartwashingartists

YOUR LIFE BUT ARTWASHED, STEPHEN PRITCHARD, 2017.

Interview: Bow Arts In Balfron Tower by Londonist https://londonist.com/2009/03/interview_bow_arts_in_balfron_tower

Pic: Londonist

STOP PRIVATISATION AND SOCIAL CLEANSING AT BALFRON TOWER: Change.org petition by Balfron Social Club & others. https://www.change.org/p/stephen-halsey-steve-stride-john-biggs-stop-privatisation-and-social-cleansing-at-balfron-tower

Pic by @BalfronSocial

RAB HARLING INTERVIEW: Diffusion Photography Festival 2017 https://2017.diffusionfestival.org/live/rab-harling-interview

Rab Harling speaking at Diffusion 2017

Balfron Tower Redevelopment Video by Poplar Harca https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2hVJ0_SxtI&t=2s

Making Poplar a better place to live.

Balfron Tower: Not for the likes of us by James Walsh https://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-2a72-balfron-tower-not-for-the-likes-of-us-1

There were no pictures in the Morning Star article

Mr Goldfinger’s Tower by Steve White & the Protest Family https://stevewhiteandtheprotestfamily.bandcamp.com/track/mr-goldfingers-tower

Steve White and the Protest Family

Property chiefs caught up in Presidents Club scandal by Colin Marrs https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/property-chiefs-caught-up-in-presidents-club-scandal/10027474.article

Londonewcastle, the developers of Balfron Tower, had their own table at The Presidents Club. Is this the sort of hospitality Poplar Harca received before giving them the development contract?

Interview: Bow Arts In Balfron Tower by Londonist https://londonist.com/2009/03/interview_bow_arts_in_balfron_tower

Insert stock photo of Balfron Tower here.

Property developers Londonewcastle’s marketing website for Balfron Tower http://balfrontower.com/#

Balfron Tower: stolen social housing being marketed to the rich

Balfron Tower Redevelopment Video (July 2014) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3FMGeJ9g6Q

The Fall of Goldfinger’s Brutalist Balfron Tower and its Social Heritage

After nearly ten years of bullying the social tenants from their homes in Ernö Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower, so-called “social housing” provider Poplar Harca, with the full support & backing of Tower Hamlets Labour, who created Poplar Harca in order to transfer billions of pounds worth of property into the hands of their friends, have now gained vacant possession of the tower. Hurrah!

image

Ernö Goldfinger’s icon of brutalist architecture Balfron Tower on 31st August 2016, the day its final residents left ahead of refurbishment (pic: @balfronsocial)


For an organisation that claims to be a “charity” and a “social enterprise” their motives couldn’t be seen more clearly than in their intentions for this iconic purpose built 27-storey social housing block.

Poplar Harca have engaged the services of “luxury” property developers LondoNewcastle to manage the conversion of the tower into 100% privately owned investment properties, along with developers Telford Homes and United House, who both specialise in the conversion of publicly owned social housing into private investment “units”. Figures recently released show that 93% of the homes that Telford Homes develop, most commonly on land they have acquired from Registered Social Landlords, is sold on as investments. Only 7% have been sold to owner occupiers, people who actually want to live in the area.

image

The “decant” of Balfron Tower has been particularly “brutal”. Poplar Harca used all sorts of nefarious tactics to get vacant possession, including lying to tenants to remove them from their homes. Balfron Tower’s social tenants were initially told, when they were asked to vote for the NIL value stock transfer from council ownership into RSL ownership, that they would be given new windows and new kitchens. They were later told that they would need to leave their homes for the work to be carried out, but could return post-refurbishment. These were blatant lies. Many moved out having been told they could return, only to be told after they had left that they could not move back. We are in no doubt that Poplar Harca and their bible-bashing Chief Executive Steve Stride, knew exactly what they were doing. How can “street-fighting man” Stride actually have any empathy with the communities he is destroying? He is on record as saying that he plans to turn Poplar into “the New Shoreditch”, another part of London where the wealth and selfishness of the City’s rich uncomfortably co-exists with those struggling with and being ground down by poverty. Steve Stride’s salary in 2016 was £159,197, upon which he received an additional £19,000 bonus.

Poplar Harca’s intention is clear. The development of the world famous iconic Balfron Tower would serve as a flagship property, a jewel in the crown of an area with little but run-down housing stock, and bland high-density modern investment units, all uncomfortably close to the HQ of global capitalist corruption, Canary Wharf.

image

Labour peer Lord Cashman debates the social cleansing of Balfron Tower in the House of Lords, November 2015 (click HERE for the full video on parliamentlive.tv)


Another tactic in the arsenal of the social cleansers was so-called “artwash”, the use of young middle-class graduates to change the demographic of the area. This may have seemed like a good idea to Poplar Harca, in their dastardly plan to dismantle this traditional working-class East end community, but things don’t always go to plan.

Artists, desperate for studio space in a city evicting them further out to the margins as their studios are developed into luxury flats, were shipped in by Bow Arts Trust, a local Arts Council funded studio provider, who then bullied and intimidated its new creative inhabitants to discourage them from speaking out about the social cleansing of the tower, threatening them with evictions if they spoke to the media, or even wrote anything at all about them on Facebook, especially if it fell foul of their “artwash” agenda, and often even when it didn’t.

Poplar Harca, then despicably evicted a large number of property guardians they had contracted to be put in place by Ad-Hoc Property Guardians, and then gave the guardian contract to Cambridge-educated Katharine Hibbert, who set up “social enterprise” Dot Dot Dot. Dot Dot Dot with the help of Poplar Harca then forced its guardian’s, mostly young middle class graduates, to volunteer in the community in order to keep their homes. Dot Dot Dot were another organisation that treated many of their residents like vermin, who along with Bow Arts, illegally refused to carry out any maintenance or repairs in the flats they were charging a considerable rent for. Dot Dot Dot, an organisation that was purposefully created in order to offer social cleansing services to Housing Associations like Poplar Harca, were funded, at the request of Poplar Harca, by another local “community” organisation (that Harca’s CEO used to be a director of), the Bromley-by-Bow Centre.

Sadly, in an age of neoliberal austerity, the funding of social cleansing of a community by an organisation like Bromley by Bow Centre, that is itself funded with public funds to support the community, doesn’t even seem to raise many eyebrow’s.

image

Recent comment by a Dot Dot Dot guardian who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.


Many young middle-class graduates and “socially-engaged” artists like Simon Terril and 2015’s Turner-prize “winners” Assemble Studios have shown a severe lack of social conscience and have been happy to take the money being offered to them and get involved with the social cleansing of this traditional East end working-class community. Perhaps due to the level of privilege their parents money has bought them, they have failed to relate to the people whose homes and communities they are destroying, trampling all over them, and serving their own agenda rather than those who really need their assistance, not their top-down patronising, selfish and destructive attitude.

Poplar Harca, Bow Arts and Dot Dot Dot all failed to take into account that not all of these incomers herald from elitist privilege. I believe that this is why the bullying and intimidation was so fierce. It is now easier to scare people into remaining silent, than it is to be ethical with public money, especially given that this level of brutal community destruction is sanctioned by the privileged in their well paid administrative positions, who view social housing as being wasted upon the poor.

image

Some of the mess left behind in Balfron Tower following the departure of its temporary residents (pic: @balfronsocial)


Thanks to the perseverance of some artists, evicted from their homes for questioning the widespread fraud, corruption and bullying at Bow Arts, and their involvement in tax fraud and tax evasion, using public funds gained from Arts Council England, the reputation of Balfron Tower will now forever be known as “the socially-cleansed Goldfinger”.  After significant attempts to cover up the criminal behaviour of Bow Arts Trust’s directors, the authorities are currently investigating Bow Arts for their charity tax fraud and tax evasion. Meanwhile, the ethics of Poplar Harca are clearly visible in the fact they continue to engage the services of Bow Arts and Dot Dot Dot to this day.

But where is the Mayor? Where are our MP’s? (ALL Labour, incidentally). Who in authority is fighting for the rights of the people Balfron Tower was built for in the first place? The reality is that the level of collusion between those that are supposed to protect us, such as local government, the “free” press, Historic England and the National Trust, is thoroughly frightening. They have shown that the greed of the neoliberal asset-stripping generation will stop at nothing to get their way. They will destroy lives; destroy communities to line the pockets of property developers and bankers at Canary Wharf. This is not what they were set up to do, and they need to be stopped. Is there anybody in authority out there prepared to look past the glossy PR and the recent £4m Poplar Harca re-brand to see and intervene in this devastating attack on the city’s working-class communities?

image

Respectable comment from @charliegilmour in London’s Evening Standard newspaper, 14th September 2016.


Balfron Tower has been one the worst examples of state-planned gentrification and social cleansing. But it is not alone. There are many examples out there, particularly in London, where property prices have forced the middle-classes to seek out homes in places that 3 years ago they would have planned a route around to avoid.

So, next time you wonder why a small flat in a social housing block is on sale for £350,000 or “affordable” 1-bed flats are being marketed for £495,000 and why this outrageous land grab and dismantlement of social housing is scarcely covered by the mainstream media in any depth, ask yourself, who benefits?

We at Balfron Social Club reiterate our demands that Balfron Tower remain at least 50% social housing after refurbishment. In the word’s of Lord Cashman, a “not too vigorous a demand”. Please help us make this happen and expose and penalise the worst offenders, like Poplar Harca, intent upon dismantling our social housing.

Balfron Social Club

Poplar, East London

15th September 2016

Thanks to KWS for inspiration.