Melanie Briggs on the struggle to save her home from the wrecking ball
In November Waltham Forest Council refused planning permission to build a modest, single-storey extension on a small, cramped terraced house in Chingford. The extension was refused on the basis that it would “have a serious detrimental impact” on natural light for neighbours.
This is only noteworthy when you consider that on the next working day, the council approved planning permission to raze an entire neighbourhood to the ground near Wood Street in Walthamstow and build more than 400 homes in place of the 214 that stand there now. It’s a development that will, incidentally, eclipse natural light to the householders in the bottom five storeys of the existing Northwood Tower.
Of course Walthamstow needs extra homes, and in particular, affordable homes. Local MP Stella Creasy recently wrote scathingly of the “damp, overcrowding and decay” in Marlowe Road. I felt I had to take her to task on the suggestion current homes are unfit for human habitation. You see, I live in one of those homes.
It’s a three-bedroom house with a garden, garage, and generous driveway. It’s warm, bright, spacious, modern. It’s the sort of house that thousands of families across Waltham Forest are crying out for; but they won’t get to live there, and neither will we for much longer.
This is now the reality of the redevelopment of social housing. We don’t live in a council house – we bought ours on the open market. We own it, we’ve paid for it, and yet we must move voluntarily or be thrown out. It’s clear some of the social housing on Marlowe Road has been unacceptably run down and neglected. Rather than refurbish, the decision was taken to demolish. The borders of the scheme were drawn wide – you can’t entice property developers with a few council flats. The rest of us are collateral damage.
We were told 80 percent of residents wanted this. But responses to the survey were gathered only from residents in social housing; demolition was presented as a fait accompli, not one of a number of options. The questions posed were cosy ones about how the respondent would like their new kitchen, whether they wanted a garden or extra bedrooms. There were no boxes for alternatives such as refurbishment and no indication the demolition of ‘your block’ included destructing all other blocks, dozens of cherished private homes, several thriving local businesses, communal space, and three children’s play areas.
The promise there would be new homes on the estate for all the social housing tenants was one the council could never keep; there will be even fewer council homes on the new estate.
The homes of several elderly neighbours have been boarded up now as social housing tenants are cleared off the estate. Trees are being felled, including two beautiful London planes in the recently refurbished Marlowe Road playground. My six-year-old daughter adores that playground. I can make moving house sound like an adventure, but I can’t explain why this superb space will be demolished, with a temporary playground promised on the site of a derelict pub instead.
My family will go soon. After 18 months of fighting, we’ve finally been offered a reasonable price for our house. It shouldn’t have been that hard. If someone knocked on your door and offered you £100,000 less than the market value of your property, a property you weren’t even looking to sell, you’d slam the door in their face. If that offer comes with the threat of compulsory purchase, it’s terrifying.
Many of my neighbours have already gone; accepting sums that meant they could no longer afford to live in London. Selling up, at least, brings closure. If this is ‘community-led regeneration’ why is my community disintegrating as a result?