Russell Brand joins London anti-eviction march against 'profit-greedy' US developer
Grandparents, parents and children from Hoxton's New Era estate travelled across London on Monday in a fleet of buses to Westbrook Partners’ offices in Mayfair. Shortly after, hundreds gathered in Berkley Square and made their way to Downing Street as part of a day of protest organised by the New Era residents.
— Robert Booth (@Robert_Booth) December 1, 2014
The east London residents’ plight has made headlines as soaring rents imposed by private landlords, particularly in London and southeast England, are pushing millions of non-homeowners into poverty – and forcing many ordinary citizens out of London. Residents’ anger has also attracted high-profile support from campaigners such as Russell Brand, the radical comedian who has called for a “socialist revolution.”
The campaigners’ demonstration was sparked by escalating fears they may face eviction in the wake of Westbrook Partners’ development plans for the east London estate. Residents are concerned dramatically increased rental prices, following the firm’s redevelopment program, will render them priced out of their own homes.
As protesters marched from Berkley Square to Number 10 on Monday, they chanted and called for affordable social housing.
— Unite the union (@unitetheunion) December 1, 2014
Outside Downing Street, New Era resident Lindsey Garrett warned that the Westbrook debacle was eroding UK citizens' faith in the coalition government.
“David Cameron talks a lot about family and community and people getting back into work, but this is destroying all that,” she said.
Westbrook Partners purchased the Hoxton estate in March 2014, and subsequently transferred ownership of the site to an offshore firm located in UK tax haven Jersey.
It is thought to be developing covert plans to evict New Era residents from their apartments, modernise and revamp the estate and rent the flats at full market prices. In the case of some flats, revised rental costs could treble current rents.
As political and public protest against the company’s project mounts, support for the residents’ campaign is growing.
— Will Brett (@williamdbrett) December 1, 2014
As well as Russell Brand, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott, accompanied leading members of the campaign group on Monday's march.
Speaking to campaigners gathered at the protest, Brand said Westbrook Partners have failed to directly address the New Era campaign’s concerns.
The comedian denounced the firm as unreasonable and profit-driven, emphasising its refusal to negotiate with local residents.
“What business has an American development firm got coming to this country, purchasing social housing and raising the rents,” he asked.
“There’s a whole strata of British society that isn’t represented by the political class,” he said.
Upon reaching Downing Street, the protesters presented a petition to Cameron, calling for Westbrook to desist from altering residents’ tenancy agreements or increasing their rents prior to July 2016. The petition has attracted almost 300,000 signatures to date.
— Robert Booth (@Robert_Booth) December 1, 2014
Sadiq Khan, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow minister for London, has demanded that Westbrook scrap its intention of evicting 93 families from the estate and opt to keep the community intact by selling the homes to a social landlord.
Speaking in advance of the protest, Khan told The Guardian that the “shameful New Era saga embodies everything that is wrong with London’s broken housing market.”
“Ordinary Londoners are suffering, with their homes ripped from underneath them and their lives and families pulled apart, just so international investors can make a quick buck, with no regard to the community they are destroying.”
— Sadiq Khan MP (@SadiqKhan) December 1, 2014
In the case of single mother Lyndsey Garrett, she was previously paying about £640 a month for a two-bedroom flat on the estate. She shares the apartment with her daughter. When her current contract comes to a close in July 2016, however, she could be charged as much as £2,400 per month.
Garrett, who works as a care coordinator at a nearby NHS trust, will be priced out of her own home if this transpires.
Council officers have warned Garrett that eviction from her flat would mean that she and her 8-year-old child would be sent to a homeless shelter for up to four years, followed by a temporary accommodation in Birmingham or Manchester. Since Westbrook bought the estate, her rent has risen by £160 per month.
Commenting on her situation at the march, the single mother told The Guardian she is being financially stretched beyond her means under present circumstances.
— Beth Haines Doran (@HDBeth) December 1, 2014
At this juncture, Westbrook Partners has failed to offer any assurance to residents regarding its future plans. The firm has said rents will not rise – but only until January 1, 2015. The news was delivered to New Era residents via swathes of hand-delivered letters on Sunday.
Hackney Council reportedly believes Westbrook harbours little intention of long-term commitment to the area, and public speculation is rife that the firm will sell the estate on to another owner once its value rises.
Speaking to crowds gathered to protest Westbrook’s development plans, Brand criticised the firm’s profit-driven greed.
“This is an example of pure, corporate greed neglected entirely by the political class," he said.
"What we’re seeing today is that if ordinary people come together we have a genuine chance of confronting this kind of corruption.”
— Aisha S Gani (@aishagani) December 1, 2014