Tenants tell UCL to pull out of £1bn scheme
Furious residents have demanded that one of the UK’s most prestigious universities pulls out of a £1 billion plan to redevelop a housing estate which borders the Olympic Park.
Roughly 100 angry residents from Newham’s Carpenter’s estate attended a standing room only meeting in Stratford on Monday evening to call on University College London to abandon its proposals.
The residents’ main concern is that the UCL’s ‘vision’ is likely to involve the complete demolition of the estate – with no guarantees that any of them will ever be able to return to the area. They are angry about the implications for them but also that Newham Council may press ahead with the scheme at a time when it is so short of social housing that it has contacted housing providers as far away as Stoke to rehouse people who have approached the council for assistance.
UCL has pledged that 20 per cent of the 23-acre scheme will include ‘non UCL uses, including residential’. But it has been unable to say how much of that is likely to be residential, how many affordable homes it would like to build or how many – if any – of the existing residents will be able to return to live in the immediate area.
Residents say this is not good enough because a residents’ charter signed by Newham Council says that ‘the council will give a commitment that those tenants who wish to be rehoused in future developments in the Carpenters estate area will be given the opportunity to do so, but this will be dependent upon availability.’
Residents say that throughout the signing of the charter – and a previous masterplanning exercise that earmarked the estate for redevelopment – they were led to believe that the likelihood was that they would be able to return to live in the area if they chose to do so.
Warren Lubin, vice chair of the residents’ steering group on the estate, spoke at length at the meeting about why existing occupants think UCL should pull out.
He told UCL that the ‘clear implication’ of its presentations to residents was that ‘our entire estate community was to be removed and, worse still, dispersed’.
He added: ‘Unlike other regenerations in London there is no strategic plan either by UCL or the council to rehouse us together so that our community could stay together and social support networks could be preserved.’
Mr Lubin said the UCL’s commitment to housing is so vague ‘it could just mean private housing for sale or as little as two per cent housing. We have no faith in that [commitment].’
He added: ‘UCL come here with an historic reputation and clearly regard themselves as good guys. But you are not good guys if you are to be party to the removal and dispersal of our community. We are essentially a working class community. What you are proposing is social cleansing in the name of your corporate objectives.
‘We therefore demand that you withdraw your interest and switch it to another site.’
Residents in the hall voted overwhelmingly to back the steering group’s demand that UCL withdraw its proposal.
As the evening went on many residents revealed their own individual stories and the meeting became increasingly heated.
One woman said: ‘I have lived on this estate for 42 years. If you honestly think I am going to give my home up to you or anybody else at my time of life – forget it. I will fight you.’
Another man said: ‘If UCL commit to this you are going to be held directly responsible for making us homeless.’
Jo Negrini, director of strategic regeneration, planning and Olympic Legacy with Newham Council, said that the decision to redevelop the estate rested with the council and not UCL.
‘It is not taking the flak for UCL. It is taking responsibility for the decision,’ she added. ‘The decision was taken by the council.’
Rex Knight, as UCL’s senior administrative officer, said the university would consult closely with residents in the coming months and during 2013 so that members of the community can be ‘rehoused in a way that is acceptable to them’.
He said UCL’s existing Bloomsbury site is ‘more or less developed out’ and that it had based its search for an additional site on transport links, affordability, connectivity and availability.
He said any new site would create 2,300 jobs in Newham.
Andrew Grainger, director of UCL estates, added that the council was currently considering whether it wishes to proceed with UCL’s vision for the area [Newham Council will decide on this at meeting on 25 October].
‘As part of that process we will engage with all different elements of the communities,’ he said.
Mr Grainger said UCL had been ‘quite explicit’ that if the development proceeds it will be ‘mixed use, including non-UCL residential’. He added. ‘We have made no decisions about what that means.’