Southwark accidentally leaks confidential information

Southwark Council accidentally published the details of its controversial agreement with property giant Lend Lease over the £1.5bn regeneration of the Heygate estate.

Southwark council accidentally leaked some confidential information about the regeneration of the Heygate on their website. They’d attempted to publish a redacted version of an agreement that was part of the compulsory purchase proceedings against the last tenants living in the estate.

Most of the contract was redacted, but a group of tenants realised that they could access the full text by copying and pasting it into a new document. The incident revealed that the council would only get £55m from the 22-acre site, knowing that it has already spent £43.5m on the project so far, and is expected to spend £6.6m more before the final demolition. As a comparison, the neighbouring Oakmayne/Tribeca Square development site, which is only 1.5 acre, got sold in 2011 for £40m.

The figure also sounds incredibly low, considering that the council had initially planned an estimated gross development value of £990m for the Elephant & Castle site. On the other hand, Lend Lease are predicted to make a £194m profit before any overage profit is shared.

The agreement, signed in July 2010, also showed that the council will be breaching its very own social housing policy by only including 79 social rented homes in the new development, on a total number of 2,535 houses. The council leader, Peter John, had previously guaranteed that the plans would involve 25 per cent of affordable housing, which already was 10 per cent less than it should have been.

The move had already been criticised by the local Liberal Democrats, who issued a statement on Monday attacking the Labour council’s apparent inability to “get a good deal for local residents or council taxpayers”. They also added that the blunder had raised “big questions about the low price Lend Lease bought the land for, and why the developers of Southwark's biggest development are being allowed to make their profits at the expense of desperately needed local housing at social or affordable rents.”

These worries echo the controversy around the demolition of two housing estates in Earl's Court by the Hammersmith & Fulham council as part of a larger regeneration scheme. With nearly 800 homes, the West Kensigton and Gibbs Green estates could be sold to property giant Capco and demolished despite the objection of the majority of the residents. It was also revealed last month that Stephen Greenhalgh, former council leader of Hammersmith & Fulham, had promised to put some residents on a "VIP early movers list" if they accepted to publicly back the project. Now the deputy mayor for policing and crime, he is being investigated by the IPCC.

Also under investigation is Peter John, after having failed to declare one of the two tickets for the Olympics opening ceremony, costing £1,600 each, that had been given to him by Lend Lease.

The Australian company, which was contracted to build the Olympic Games Village, has been under scrutiny earlier this year, as it settled over allegations of fraud and agreed to pay fines of $56m for over-billing authorities on public contracts in New York. It is not known how much profit they made from the Olympics, but its profits rose by 28 per cent in 2012 - when it was built – though we know that the project cost the taxpayer £275m in total.

The regeneration plans it has been working on with Southwark have been heavily criticised by local residents, who are accusing the company and the council of trying to gentrify the area, and force people with low incomes to move away from central London. The protests have been going on for over five years - when the estate started being emptied - and are part of a larger battle for the conservation of social housing in the (relative) centre of the capital.  The latest controversy around demolition plans arose in the last year in the Carpenters, close to the Olympics site. Newham council and its leader, Robin Wales, want to demolish the estate to make space for a new UCL campus; some of the tenants are attempting to resist the plans, arguing that the changes equate to social cleansing.

This article has been updated to remove innaccuracies concerning the Earl's Court development.

The Heygate estate has been awaiting demolition since 2008 [Photo: Marie Le Conte]

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.