MIPIM is the name of the sales fair to flog off Britain. This is the latest extravaganza of market fundamentalism which is now sweeping Britain. It is being pitched at this moment is a huge hall in London which brings together property developers, billionaire investors from all over the world and, incongruously, local council officials from over Britain. Their common interest, though from very different concerns, is public housing. The property developers want to make a mint from knocking it down and putting up luxury flats in its place. The investors are motivated by a juicy return on capital if they invest in a must-win bonanza. And the local councils – and here’s the rub – are there because they are broke and have no other means of raising serious money. The only people who aren’t there are the tenants of the public housing which is about to be demolished before their eyes. Their homes, which many have lived in for 30-40 years, are about to be turned into someone else’s speculative asset without their even being consulted, let alone given a chance to impose a veto on a process which literally destroys their livelihood.
A key precedent for this latest bout of marketised ruthlessness is the Heygate story. First, given enough inducements, local officials start talks with multinational developers to sell off council housing estates wholesale as well as other sites. Thus last year the Australian developer, Lend Lease, funded Southwark Council’s boss, Peter John, to attend Cannes. Southwark sold the giant Heygate estate to Lend Lease at a knockdown price. The deal was that 1,100 council flats in inner London were to be demolished and replaced by 2,500 units including just 79 (3%) for ‘social rent’. This leads to thousands of tenants being kicked out of their own homes and very likely out of London altogether. Despite the fact that that there are 344,000 households on London councils’ waiting lists, Boris Johnson is egging on this process to gentrify London and reward his big business friends.
It is deeply reprehensible that councils have fallen for prioritising lucrative gains over massive need, but they have been put in this position by having their budgets literally halved in the last 4 years, whilst at the same time being deprived of the proceeds of any Right to Buy sales and prohibited from borrowing on the open market against the collateral of their housing stock (if they have any left) or their other estates. The scandalous situation has now been reached where of London’s newly built homes, only 39% were bought to live in and 61% were taken by investors. The Labour Party should be taking a stand against this whirlwind of home destruction by laying it down clearly that (i) this process will be stopped in its tracks once Labour wins the election next May, (ii) there will be no more sell-offs over the heads of the existing tenants, and (iii) tenants will have the right to veto such deals through a ballot of all households involved.