Labour Councillors are calling on Westminster City Council to hold a residents’ ballot on Ebury Bridge Estate, after its Cabinet approved the proposal for full demolition of the 1930s-built, majority social housing, estate in London SW1.
At the Cabinet Meeting on Monday 9th July – attended by Churchill Ward Labour Councillors Shamim Talukder and Andrea Mann, and a number of Ebury Bridge Estate residents – Cllr Mann raised councillors’ and residents’ concerns about the proposed plan.
Chief among our concerns is that Westminster Council has failed to produce any data or statistics that show that the majority of Ebury residents support the proposed plan for their estate. Indeed, the only concrete numbers given in the Council Report about resident feedback is that, after months of engagement, only 59 people on an estate of 217 occupied households back the proposal. These include a mere 3 leaseholders; and doesn’t include non-secure tenants, as they have not been given a say at all.
This lack of evidence of majority resident support for the Council’s proposed plan is one reason why Westminster Labour continue to ask for a full residents’ ballot on it – as per the Mayor of London’s recent guidelines on estate regeneration. As Westminster Council’s proposal for Ebury is full demolition and rebuild of the estate – everyone’s home will be demolished – we believe it would be entirely wrong not to give every household the right to have their say in a ballot before it goes ahead.
Many Ebury residents have also expressed their concerns to Councillors, to each other through resident-led surveys, and in interviews included in a recently published dissertation on Ebury Bridge Estate, about the Council’s consultation process on Ebury. Many of them have felt that the process has not been transparent or collaborative, nor that they have been able to shape the final decision in any meaningful way. A statement yesterday from a group of concerned residents says it rejects the Council’s “deeply flawed process”, adding: “There has NOT been reasonable ongoing consultation and the views of the residents have not been sought, let alone “presented””. It points out that a survey carried out this month by residents found that 96% of residents surveyed do not feel represented by the (Council-established) Community Futures Group, 60% do not understand what ‘Scenario 7’ (the proposed plan/’Preferred Scenario’) is, 88% do not support it, and 84% do not feel fully informed about the Preferred Scenario or the regeneration in general. It is partly as a result of statistics like these that Westminster Labour is calling on the Council to now let the Ebury Bridge Residents Association – which unlike the CFG was set up by residents themselves, not the Council – to lead its liaising with residents.
Westminster City Council has been keen to trumpet the new social and affordable housing that will be created through this regeneration of Ebury. And while Labour will always welcome the building of more social and truly affordable housing, what the Council has failed to highlight about Ebury is that, in its proposal to increase the number of flats on the estate to 750, it is dramatically changing the makeup and character of the estate – reducing its current 59% social housing to a mere 38% or 34% (depending on which option the Council chooses in its execution of the proposal). Even if we add ‘intermediate’ to that, under the Council’s umbrella of ‘affordable’ housing, it still only brings the figure up to 45%. We believe that the current community and spirit of Ebury Bridge Estate is intrinsically linked to its mix of residents. Yet make no mistake: if the Council’s plan goes ahead as it is currently proposed, social tenants will go from being a majority on Ebury Bridge Estate to being the minority – and the makeup of its community will be forever changed.
Ebury Bridge Estate was first earmarked for regeneration in 2010 – meaning that for eight years, residents and retailers have been living with it hanging over them: causing incredible stress, anxiety and uncertainty. The estate has fallen into disrepair, and a staggering 35% of its flats are empty, covered in Sitex. What’s more, many of the residents are particularly vulnerable – nearly a quarter of the estate’s population are children, 10% are elderly and 8% have a long-term illness or disability. Westminster Labour Councillors ask the Council to immediately put in place all the necessary mental health and other specific support for all the residents on the estate.
Over the coming months and years on Ebury, a community of neighbours, friends, families and support networks are going to be separated – some for good. Residents are about to go through the biggest period yet of extreme stress and upheaval to their lives as they are decanted from the estate, with no guarantee or any details currently being given by the Council as to when they will have to move, where they will be moved to, or how long for.
Westminster Labour asks that if the Council truly cares about the community of residents on Ebury Bridge Estate, it should 1) offer all residents a concrete say on the regeneration proposal via a final ballot; 2) allow the Ebury Bridge Estate Residents Association to lead its liaising with residents; and 3) confirm a rebuild which creates the maximum amount of social housing possible. If it does anything less than the above, then it risks failing to gain the majority of residents’ support for this regeneration process, and it risks losing the community spirit of a beloved estate which it – rightly – claims is so special.
Sample comments from Ebury Bridge Estate residents about the regeneration (see full Ebury Bridge CommUNITY statement for sources & more quotes)
“We are being told we want this regeneration. It is being imposed on us”
“They will just do what they want to do. It’s already decided. This is just a process, window dressing”
“I find it all really stressful. This is now going on for 8 years. Never knowing what’s happening. I can’t sleep at night”
“They are making it all rough & running it down & not fixing anything because they’re thinking, you know what? Even tenants like us will get to the point where we are fed up of living here, we will want to move & not come back. Or it encourages us to vote for the regeneration again because we are living in such a state”
“Everyone is going to be dispersed, we don’t know where, but the community we have will be gone”
“It’s like the rug has been pulled from underneath everyone who had that bit of security. It’s the people who bought a home a place to live for their family, and to leave something for their kids”
“…we will get rooted out from our community, God knows where, for somewhere probably in Hayes, even somewhere as far as that, you know? And it will be really unpleasant & will be a difficult journey”
“The lift is always breaking & they are slow to fix it… They are just trying to fool us into giving up. They are trying to exhaust us”
“I can’t afford to lose more weight. I am diabetic type 2 & sometimes I feel so stressed I can’t eat. I am in tears every 5 minutes…”
“We are in our 80s old & feel too old for all this upset – can’t face any of it – not even the meetings”
“…in reality they are demolishing it because of the Chelsea Barracks…that’s exactly what started it”
“We’re the wrong sort of people to be living here”
“I had one elderly resident say to me before she passed away, “I don’t want to go. Where will we go? This is all we have ever known”. She became ill and I think stress was part of it. That’s what she spent her final days doing, worrying about where she will go. Her life shouldn’t have revolved around her worrying if she was getting that letter telling her she had to move”
“At one point I thought, “bugger it I’ll just hang myself from the balcony. That will stop the bulldozers”
Ebury CommUNITY: “We did not find any “positive momentum” whilst surveying our neighbours. We found anger, distress, fear, a feeling of helplessness & powerlessness. We found profound trepidation at the possibility of being displaced and up-rooted from a solid community.”
Ebury residents & supporters in front of City Hall ahead of the Cabinet Meeting