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Guinness Trust Occupation – Good things come to those who resist

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You might have noticed, if you have a working eye or two, that all across London publicly or Trust-owned housing estates and blocks are being knocked to the ground to make way for ‘redevelopment’. Such redevelopment usually comes at the ultimate cost to the tenants who had called these places their homes: eviction, whether forced or ‘voluntary’.

While Councils have a responsibility to re-house existing tenants, this doesn’t stop compulsory purchase orders of owned properties, or pay-offs for those in rented units, being pitifully low – or such ‘re-housing’ resulting in stays in temporary accommodation. In so many cases the end result looks the same: communities broken up and shifted out from the areas they lived in, shuffled across the captial – or out of it altogether.

The Heygate Estate, in Elephant & Castle, is the most famous example of this now endemic trend – but look around you and you’ll see it everywhere. With an economy still fueled by debt – much of it piling into the London housing market – property in London has become a reserve currency for the rich of the world – and an expensive barrier to the good life for the rest of us.

This has been brought back into focus recently in Brixton with two occupations taking place in the last fortnight – first, on the Ayelsbury Estate just north of Burgess Park – now into its 3rd week despite repeated eviction attempts by Southwark Council and the police. Then, second, residents on Brixton’s Guinness Trust Estate occupied a flat in Elveden House to protest the eviction of ‘shorthold tenants’ (some of whom had been living on the estate for over 10 years) who were being told they must leave their homes by April to enable Countrywide (‘People. Places. Love’) to move in and redevelop. The Trust has no legal obligations to these tenants due to the nature of the contracts they were offered.

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Despite being a Trust, Guinness is willing to let the estate be replaced by ‘luxury’ flats built for private sale at market rates, with largely reduced provision for social tenants. With no assistance to find a new home, short-hold tenants have been told: you’re on your own – and that means being forced out of Brixton for good. If you have kids in school, or a medical condition that is being treated locally moving isn’t just unfair and disruptive: it’s unthinkable.

The Brixton Pound turned out with tenants and locals this morning to celebrate the successful opposition of the first tenant eviction, which was due to happen today. Earlier in the week we popped in and dropped off some food and other supplies requested on the occupation wishlist: paid for by the Brixton Fund, our local projects pot into which 1.5% of each electronic B£ transaction goes – so if you’ve been using your phone to pay with B£s then you’ve helped support locals fighting for their rights. Keep it up.

Support the Guinness Occupation:

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Workshop: a transparent tax zone in Brixton?

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Date: Monday 16th March

Time: 12.00-14.00

Location: Impact Hub Brixton, Lambeth Town Hall

Tax is a high-profile and hugely-important issue. We are faced with a constant stream of stories of individuals and corporations evading and/or avoiding tax. If tax isn’t paid it means there is less money to for the public services that our communities rely on in times of need and to educate our children to invest in the future. In very practical terms, if a shop is owned by a local business woman and she pays tax then she is at a commercial disadvantage to a ‘chain’ shops that manage to avoid paying tax. This puts the local businesses we love at an unfair disadvantage.

This is why the Brixton Pound is working with researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University and University of Lancaster to explore ideas around what a visible tax system might look like. Would you as a B£ user like to be able to see if a company pays tax, much like Health and Safety information is made visible. If so, how would that work? Or, do you think it would be a dangerous idea?

The workshop is going to be a friendly discussion to explore ideas for a tax system that works better for Brixton. We are offering participants £10 sterling or B£20 (paper or electronic), and food will be provided. Places are limited, so please send an email to [email protected] to register your interest in taking part.

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Brixton Pound statement on Brixton Central regeneration

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(photo courtesy of urban75.org)

The Brixton Pound (B£) was created to support the small independent businesses that are the lifeblood of the Brixton community. We hope over the years that our efforts have helped raise awareness amongst both Brixton residents and visitors that supporting local businesses, although sometimes costing a little bit more time than going to the big chains, is a worthwhile investment and a more rewarding experience. There is also a hard-nosed economic case for small independents[1] – they employ more local people and spend more of their profits locally than chain retailers. Indeed, two-thirds of all the jobs in the UK are created by small and medium sized enterprises.

As everyone is aware, however, Brixton has increasingly become a more challenging place for independent businesses to survive. Rents have been shooting up year on year and fierce competition has arrived from the major national chain-stores and supermarkets. Brixton’s main high street lost its last independent business – Mr Webster’s shoe shop[2] – a few years back. Now, with the exception of the joss-stick sellers and flower shop pop ups outside the tube, its looks little different from any other UK high street.

Fortunately, off the main thoroughfare, Brixton is still a vibrant home for independents. This includes the 30 businesses in the arches of Atlantic and Station road, many of which have been in residence for decades. So it is with great concern that we hear of the 6-month notice being served by Network Rail to these businesses with no guarantee of a return and the likelihood of large rent increases.

We do not know the details of the negotiations between Network Rail, Lambeth Council and the other stakeholders involved in the Brixton Central development program. We also appreciate that redevelopment of central Brixton will involve difficult decisions and that the current economic climate means commercial considerations have to be balanced against the needs of local stakeholders.

However, we have been involved in the community consultation and of course are familiar with many of the businesses on these two roads who have been loyal B£ members since we launched in 2009. Our understanding was that the development would not involve permanently uprooting existing businesses. We note in the Future Brixton published feedback [http://futurebrixton.org/brixtoncentral/workshop-feedback/] from the community consultation on the workshops published on 30th December, it is stated that:

“The proposals to locate new studio or office spaces throughout the masterplan were welcomed, with many people raising the need for space to be affordable… Small shops and workspaces in between the viaducts within a new covered space were also well received. The importance of offering space for light industry and artists, including those already in the area was also raised.”

Clearly, something has gone wrong and the proposals, if carried out, represent a huge blow for the robust local economy that we have been working to support.

We ask all the partners involved to try and take a long view on the development of Brixton Central. Of course, in the short-term, the easy options is to simply ramp up the rents on the refurbished commercial properties in the arches to boost profits. But what would be the long-term consequences?

What makes Brixton special and what makes people want to live here and visit is the diversity of both its residents and its businesses. Research also shows that independent businesses, although they may be able to afford a bit less in rent, are less likely to lay off workers[3] or close down during the bad times, as Tesco is doing right now across the country[4].

The current residents of the arches have proven their commitment to Brixton and their ability to ride out the ups and downs of the Brixton economy. They also provide basic goods and services – the shops on this strip include fishmongers, general stores and places to buy fruit and vegetables. But they are also more than simply businesses. They employ Brixton people, are run by Brixton families and serve loyal Brixton customers. Forcing them out would involve breaking part relationships and the social capital built up over generations.

In other words, the decisions over the Central Brixton redevelopment, as with any redevelopment, need to be based on more than just a simple, short-term economic bottom line.

Going forward, as proposed in the petition[5], we ask that Network Rail reconsider their eviction notice and engage in constructive negotiations with the arches businesses to find a solution that will enable them to remain an integral fixture of the Brixton community. We also call on Lambeth Council and the other stakeholders involved to do everything in their power to ensure such a positive outcome.

Signed

The Brixton Pound Staff and Directors

 

[1] http://ilsr.org/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail/#1

[2] http://www.urban75.org/blog/websters-shoe-shop-closes-for-after-140-years-of-service-to-brixton/

[3] http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/reimagining-the-high-street

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/28/tesco-names-43-stores-to-close

[5] https://www.change.org/p/network-rail-halt-the-evictions-of-brixton-s-beloved-businesses-from-its-railway-arches?just_created=true

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