I have campaigned about housing issues since the early 1980s. As a journalist, I became aware of the first warehouse conversions in Bermondsey, while the London Dockland Development Corporation seemed determined to build luxury flats on every square inch of the bombed-out or demolished former dockland.
At one meeting, an elderly disabled woman said if they threatened to take away her view of the river she would lie down in front of bulldozers to stop them. She subsequently did. Local people – then as now – knew viscerally that some types of development are decidedly not for their benefit. That’s why, from Knightsbridge to Warwick Road, from South to North Kensington, people ask the same question: ‘How will this development benefit me?’
Sometimes developments go seriously awry. The situation at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre site is simply shameful:
We have 1,650 registered empty homes in K&C, though I suspect there are many more in reality. We have 3,500 households registered on our Housing Waiting list. Those empty homes create a scarcity which bumps up the price of all our homes, to the detriment of everybody who is not about to sell up.
Growing families are forced to move out of the area, away from friends and family, creating the social isolation which we know contributes to poor health. Often they leave their elders behind, who are then forced to apply for home care where previously their own family members cared for them.
Just adding to everyone’s housing problems, this prime luxury development has been almost empty for four years:
I will continue to campaign for safer, well maintained housing, with better security of tenure for social and private tenants. We must constantly think about how to build a better world, and plan housing which is appropriate for the people with different physical needs.
If we want to help London thrive, we must ensure that people have access to the housing they need, at a price they can afford.