Sympathy for Steve Bullock

This is another post, 21st June 2014, which is now accessible only to registered users on my local Forum, and which led to my coining the phrase ‘downsizing in situ’.

Originally it started with a photo from the London Architecture Diary, which is no longer available, of an elderly man looking out through his window with a notice saying “Save our bungalows”.  Here I substitute a screen grab from a similar photo by Jason Orton in the Telegraph


This is the price he has to pay for trying to house future generations.

As the text for the exhibition “Prefabs – Palaces for the People” explains:

Prefabs (prefabricated homes) were built as a temporary solution to the post-WW2 housing crisis

the project looks at the Excalibur Prefab Estate in Catford, South East London. This unique estate of 186 homes, built by German and Italian PoWs in 1945/46, is the biggest prefab community in Britain. It is sustained by its residents’ sense of community and six of these unique little homes were granted Grade-II listing by English Heritage in 2009, but it has finally been marked for demolition by Lewisham Council who wish to redevelop the land.

This redevelopment is devastating to the estate’s residents, including Eddie, who says: ‘The demolition is breaking my heart. There’s nothing wrong with my home. All my memories are here. I love it.’

That was all I wrote in the original post, which attracted the expected furious responses, which can be seen by registering on the Forum, and following that link, but below I give some of my further comments on the thread.  As at the time of this edit – Dec 31, 2015 –  I haven’t had time to edit them properly, and some material is still to include. 

[Respondents 1 & 2], thanks for making my point, which is that it is crazy to be saving bungalows in inner city London, and yet the political price is enormous. There is a clear link between accommodating the older generation like this, and – literally – not accommodating the younger generation, who now have little meaningful chance to get their own house until long after they might expect to start a family.


Respondent 3 wrote: Are you really saying that the older generation who have lived in these pre-fabs for years and years should give them up? Or am I getting you wrong once again Tim?
As for the younger generation,well,it hasn’t stopped many from reproducing without their own house!

Since on various occasions I have accused others of being evasive on housing issues let’s here not evade the issue, and say clearly that, yes, I think these residents should give up their homes. There, I’ve said it, and I have no expectation of ever being elected as a local councillor.

Without knowing the details of what alternative accommodation the Excalibur estate tenants have been offered, we can be fairly sure they are not going to be thrown out on the street. It may be that Lewisham is not offering anywhere decent, but I doubt it; more likely there can never be anywhere which can be as good as where these tenants have called home for all their lives. [Respondent 4] – I’m sure various options have been explored – so please don’t jump to suggesting whatever Lewisham proposes amounts to euthanasia. It’s because language like this is thrown about that in this case I really do feel sympathy for Steve Bullock.

Here’s how a quote from how story was covered in the Telegraph in 2011 which does contain some detail:

a fight with the mayor of Lewisham, Sir Steve Bullock, … has become ‘personal’. A ballot last summer found that 56 per cent of tenants favoured redevelopment but, Blackender says, ‘Prior to that vote we were informed by the council that the estate would fall further into disrepair regardless.’

In a statement, Sir Steve said, ‘The listing by English Heritage was perverse and it has made me extremely concerned about the way that organisation behaves… These are temporary prefabricated buildings, not architectural gems… The residents of this estate have pleaded with me and other councillors to get them out of their cold, damp, asbestos-ridden homes… I promised them I would help and that is what I have been endeavouring to do.’

Twenty-seven of the Excalibur homes have been bought from the council and are privately owned. Those residents – including Eddie O’Mahony – will have their homes compulsorily purchased for market value, plus 10 per cent compensation. All residents will be offered homes in the new development.

Respondent 4 – you say you don’t see it as “a choice between accommodating the old or the young, as surely, they both need somewhere to live”. And isn’t this exactly what Lewisham is doing by redeveloping the estate to have 184 more homes while the old residents also offered homes in the new development?

Maybe I am a little bit of a socialist, and believe there really is a place for social housing. But anyone who thinks the same way has to accept that with it comes the occasional need for these sorts of difficult negotiations. The alternative is an entirely free-market housing market – which is probably not as terrible a prospect as some people will think, even though I and most other people see a role for both sectors.

With that, I went off on my summer holidays, as reflected in my next comment on the thread, 30th June

Respondent 5 wrote:Top trolling Tim :lol: 58 post and only three from the OP, and those all the first page.

I only think it counts as trolling if the intent is to wind people up; what I actually want is that people to think about the pressures on any elected politician, which in this case can come from the various responses to the OP – e.g. being accused of wanting euthanasia (Respondent 4), and Stalinism (thanks, Respondent 3, I happen to have just finished this classic biography, and am happy to lend it to you :) )
Respondent 5 wrote: I think the old folks who have been there for years should be allowed to see out their years there. What’s the rush for such a small bit of space? Leave them be, they’ll all be gone in a few years and then whole place can be turned over to high density social housing.
Other things being equal, I too would like these “old folks” to live out their years there, and I have no doubt Steve Bullock would also. The problem is the link between this and redeveloping the neighbouring homes, whose erstwhile residents’ years have already been lived out, or who have moved out anyway. In due course the original tenants will become a smaller and smaller minority, so at some point it must become unreasonable for their views to prevent the redevelopment of the whole area. This is the sort of real world political decision which Steve Bullock has to make, and which we as members of the community are perfectly entitled to condemn, or we could in due course vote for alternative Mayoral candidates with policies which appear the result of a “more or less sophisticated word processor rearranging what their activists were hearing on the doorsteps”, but we shouldn’t expect our condemnation or votes to achieve anything other than a warm inner glow of moral superiority.

Perhaps there is a better way, though, which would be to let them live out their years, in these houses they love (and which I too find oddly attractive), but allow the rest of the area to be developed round them – in other words, let’s break the link between their wants and those of other ‘stakeholders’, e.g. tenants who want redevelopment and the Council and others freeholders arising from Right to Buy who prefer to take the market value of the properties. It would only work if, while allowing their bungalows to be saved, the redevelopment of the estate could proceed piecemeal, and other interested parties were allowed to put up rather more habitable rooms per hectare – or acre, if that would mollify any old imperialists out there.

The same goes for anywhere in a place like London where people want more homes; it doesn’t concern me whether these people are immigrants from overseas, incomers from elsewhere in Britain (like me), young native Londoners wanting to start their own homes (my kids) or older Londoners splitting up and wanting a place of their own – that should be their own business, not mine. But what it does mean is that a better balance needs to be struck between allowing the redevelopment of existing residential areas and the objections of neighbours.

Respondent 5 wrote:When I lived in a modern council house my next door neighbours had been relocated from a prefab and they didn’t consider it an upgrade. Home is home.

Indeed, and you put your finger here on a profound truth about humankind; even if we are not the formal legal owners of where we live, we feel we have the equivalent property rights. You old palaeo-liberal Lockean you. :)


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