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.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue