Britain’s biggest property barons are set to descend on a posh London hotel to carve up swathes of public land for profit.
This month’s Mipim UK 2014 property fair will also be attended by councillors and officials representing dozens of local authorities.
Some councillors are Tory, but more are from opposition parties who have pledged to take action to solve the spiralling housing crisis.
It is a chance to attend glitzy champagne receptions and invite-only lunches. It’s also a chance to rub
shoulders with bosses in a hall full of stalls and a packed programme of panel discussions.
One of the main sponsors is Savills, the real estate advisers.
They wrote that London’s council estates were “brownfield” sites in a report commissioned by Tory minister Eric Pickles earlier this year.
Brownfield sites are those that could be made profitable if they are decontaminated—or in this case, removed of tenants.
“Mipim sums up the whole problem,” Eileen Short of Defend Council Housing told Socialist Worker.
“They’re having sessions to debate whether they need to have so-called social housing at all.
“They’re looking to use public land and increasingly to suck up subsidies to make the housing market work for them. That means producing crisis for us, and lots of money for them.”
Both the Tories and the previous New Labour government have put enormous financial pressure on council housing. Councils are given no money to build new council homes—but plenty of incentive to give the best land to the private sector.
There are at least 50 council estates in London alone currently facing demolition to make way for private-led development.
Tory London mayor Boris Johnson—the keynote speaker at Mipim—has hailed this as a chance to build higher density housing. But all he is selling is snake oil.
Southwark council in south London got its tickets to Mipim 2013 paid for by Lend Lease—the developer that’s cashing in on the demolition of the Heygate Estate. Eileen explained, “Southwark has made much of its pledge to build 10,000 council homes.
“But it has been revealed that it first plans to knock down 10,000 council homes.
“It’s going to rebuild more dense housing, with new private housing at the front and council housing at the back behind a ‘poor door”.
Mipim has become symbolic of the Tory-led shift towards seeing council housing as something to get rid of—and of Labour councils’ complicity.
Eileen said, “Mipim represents a fork in the road. It’s not possible to get the homes we need through deals with these bosses.
“Councils need to stand with us, hold on to public land and fight for the money to build council housing.”
The Carpenters’ estate in Stratford, east London, stands almost deserted.
As few as five inhabitants live in whole tower blocks, surrounded by streets of boarded up homes.
Only 62 remain occupied.
Some have been empty for as long as ten years.
Labour-run Newham council hopes that once the remaining residents are cleared out it can get a deal from private developers.
That will mean more expensive luxury flats—like the ones that already surround the estate. They too stand largely empty.
Yet Newham has such a shortage of council housing that it was among the first to start sending people in need hundreds of miles outside London.
Now a group of young mothers have led an occupation one of the houses.
The Focus E15 campaign was set up to protest against their own eviction from council-funded accommodation last year.
Jasmin Stone told Socialist Worker, “We’re fighting for decent housing for everyone.
“We want to reopen this estate, to make homes for a community.
“It was a real shock to see what good condition the homes were in.
“There’s fitted kitchens, electricity and running water.
“It’s absolutely disgusting to see them standing empty when there are people being pushed onto the streets or out of London.”
The occupiers have turned the house into a social centre.
They hope to set up a food bank and swap shop to help people cope with austerity.
Newham mayor Robin Wales says he wants the Carpenters’ Estate to be “mixed development”.
“It’s based on the idea that the social problems caused by poverty can be solved by getting some rich people to live next door,” said Eileen. “That’s completely false. All they do is turn public land into expensive, unaffordable homes.”
The councils schmoozing with the fat cats have faced a backlash.
This is part of the reason why Mipim relocated to London from the French Riviera.
Haringey council leaders admitted getting their “fingers burnt” being seen on the yachts with the bosses.
Most councils in London have now stopped attending.
Campaigners are holding protests throughout the Mipim fair. It takes place at Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, Kensington, London W14 8UX from Wednesday 15 to Friday 16 October.
Find out more at radicalhousingnetwork.org
You can also lobby your own council not to take part. The following local authorities will be represented at Mipim, either in their own name or as part of regional consortiums:
Activists disgusted by Keir Starmer speak out