Why Battersea Power Station has become a symbol of inequality

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Speech to Wandsworth Council by Aydin Dikerdem, July 2017

The first time I spoke in this council chamber after being elected, I raised the issue of affordability in Nine Elms.

I had spoken to hundreds of residents in Queenstown who felt like the developments rising up all around, were not for them – and that they would soon be priced out of the area they love.

I called on the council to take seriously its obligations in making sure the developments taking place in Battersea were benefiting everyone – rather than just creating investment properties for the wealthy.

In fact my exact words were these,

‘Let us be clear, when it comes to housing we must be getting the best deal possible from developers’

Seven months later I am confronted by a decision that frankly astounds me.

This council, that is supposed to represent and defend the interests of the residents of Wandsworth, has allowed 250 affordable homes to be all but scrapped from the Battersea Power Station Redevelopment, a project that was already outrageously unaffordable. We are now down from a pathetic 15% affordable to an even lower 9%.

The excuses given this evening are outrageous – are you seriously telling us you want to talk about hard choices when this housing was just 1 to 2 per cent of the overall costs of a what is a multi-billion pound project? When the estimated profits are in the hundreds of millions?

Let us be clear to the public, this talk of ‘viability’ has nothing to do with whether the project can go ahead or not, but is about how much profit the developers will make. The council’s decision to side with the developers shows you’re not only unfit to fight on behalf of our residents, but completely out of touch.

Can you not see what the Battersea Power Station development is starting to represent to many in our borough? It’s a symbol of inequality, of those catered to – and those left behind.
Do you not get the same emails that I get on a daily basis? The families trapped in overcrowded accommodation, parents sleeping on the sofa, children of all ages living four to a room? The people working hard in Battersea just to see all their income go on rent?

We are creating a London divided up between precarious renters and ever-wealthier landlords. After this decision there are now 250 families that have just lost their chance at securing a decent new home.

And how can you not see that a developer coming into your neighbourhood, making millions by building a luxury community, one that’s going to push up prices and rents, is a profoundly anti-social thing to do. It seems like this council thinks development is a good in of itself – that the market will facilitate the problem as long as we let developers just get on with it.~

This council seems to think it doesn’t matter that a huge expanse of central London land is now going to be filled with luxury apartments, that the opportunity of a lifetime to build affordable homes for our residents has been wasted. We should be grateful for what we get. We should be happy with a few homes here and a few there – some crumbs trickling down.

It’s a disgrace. What is clear is that the politics of the Conservatives are fundamentally unfit to deal with the housing crisis facing us. Free market solutions are not the answer. We need councils that are brave enough to intervene, to set affordable housing targets that work for the public good and hold developers to account. We should be asking for 35% from private developers – 9% is cowardly.

Of course the developers are going to say costs are increasing too much – they are private, profit seeking entities beholden to their shareholders.

This council is not fit for purpose if it thinks outsourcing to developers the power to set what is viable and what isn’t will produce the best deal for the public. Viability reviews should only be used when circumstances have made the council’s requirements literally impossible. This was not the case facing us here.

And even if this was the case, the details should be published so the public can scrutinise them. The fact theses viability assessments are private so we can’t even see the deals being made and the figures being used is outrageous – what is there to hide?

I’m going to straight up say this now – if Labour take control of the council then these viability assessments will be made public, so residents can see the evidence and decide for themselves.

Don’t come at me with Wandsworth’s affordable housing record – anyone in the real world knows most of what is classed as affordable isn’t worth that name. Start building council homes and properties with social rent.

And don’t come at me with examples in other boroughs – it’s totally disingenuous for you to attack Labour councils from the left given your own policies and history.

This Battersea Power Station decision has sent ripples across London – things cannot go on the way they are. The people won’t have it.

Local authorities need to wake up and start getting serious about the affordability crisis in London – a crisis causing misery to so many in Wandsworth. We have the power to change that, we just need the will.

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