Friday, 18 December 2015

Fortress Wapping is no more, but still they build fences

I did not really know what to expect when I decided to explore Wapping. I approached from the North, from Aldgate, and I think this London street scene captured on my phone summed up what I thought that I was going to continue to see. I could not have been more wrong.

Aproaching from the North, a short distance to the South of this bridge carrying the Fenchurch Street line lies Wapping
I headed for Wapping High Street. I was expecting to find the heart of a traditional East End 'village', but what I found were a profusion of gatekeepers of the new London, estate agents.

The western end of Wapping High Street - across the road apartment blocks with ground floor estate agents. (Shot on film)
I had probably checked out 5 estate agent windows before finding a downbeat convenience store (Shot on my phone)
The ubiquitous Foxtons - a cross between a call centre and a car showroom devoid of cars.
Wapping Pierhead - maybe the most desirable part of Wapping, if scenic architecture and riverside pubs generate desire
Towards the Eastern End, developed warehouses line Wapping High Street. (Shot on film)
The Town of Ramsgate pub. I rather liked the look of the bar and the menu was certainly not over-priced..
Pierhead Wharf - few real wharves remain but that does not prevent developed warehouses from hijacking the name. (Shot on film)

The missing link - the arrival of the London Overground station will have perked up property prices even more
The thing about Wapping is that you can walk or very easily cycle to the City of London. If you are lazy then there are buses or the Docklands Light Railway. The London Overground does not take one directly into the City but it is nevertheless a bonus transport link to south London and the day/night magnet of Shoreditch.

And let us not forget that Wapping is on the River Thames.

Walk to Tower Bridge and your City office past these glassy apartment developments. (Shot on film)
One part of Old Wapping still in place is the Metropolitan Police Marine Policing Unit (Shot on film)
Land at Bridewell Place, Wapping. Brewhouse Lane apartments in the background, awaiting development. "The application also proposes the erection of a five storey building containing 18 residential units" "This building will provide all of the Affordable Housing." (Shot on film)
The same land - the 'affordable housing' squeezed onto this patch of land will be part of a redevelopment of King Henry's Wharf, Phoenix Wharf and Swan Wharf, all riverside buildings that will contain expensive warehouse apartments. (Shot on film)

The White Swan and Cuckoo pub - just North of Wapping overground station, it seemed a real East End pub and suddenly marked a transition to the Wapping of a different character. (Shot on film)
Chancellor House - Washing hung out to dry on the balconies means that Tower Hamlets local authority housing holds sway as one moves North East from the river (Shot on film)
More typical East End council flats. (Shot on film)
Where ugly warnings abound - it seems that the residents of Presidents Drive are worried for their security. Fortress Presidents Drive replaces Rupert Murdoch's Fortress Wapping? Does this profusion of warnings make them feel safe or merely heighten their nervousness?  (Shot on film)
The 'Ornamental Canal' is bounded by private developments with Park Vista Tower at the head. A single roomed studio flat in that tower costs about £400,000.
The Wapping Sourdough bakery - re-purposing of a public toilet block maybe? Now convenient for the folks living in nearby St Katharine Dock to get their daily bread.
As the sun sets, the view along The Ornamental Canal in Wapping towards The Shard and Tower Bridge
Another view to The Shard at dusk
What came across as I wandered about was the housing divide - on the one hand the redeveloped warehouses and swanky new apartment buildings on the River Thames or clustered around the "Ornamental Canal", on the other hand regulation East End tenement blocks, and very little in between. A divide between people who earn bonuses in the financial institutions of the City of London and those essential workers who keep those institutions clean, in the hygiene sense, and secure, in the sense of keeping the riff raff out.

The lack of people on the streets themselves was interesting, highlighting this as an area populated by people who are out at work, or home at work. When I did see large numbers of people they were primarily Moslem groups of children with mothers, probably of Bangladeshi origin, and with the time at about 4pm, I guess they were walking home from Hermitage Primary School in the South West of Wapping to their homes to the North East in or near Shadwell. I hope they do not give the citizens of Presidents Drive palpitations every day as they walk near to their homes.

I walked by the school but did not photograph it. It's ranked 'good' by Ofsted but I can tell you that those who live in the high end housing around the school do not send their children there. How do I know this? Well at the time of writing the school's website outlines that in terms of ethnicity, the largest group is Bangladeshi (65.6%) and the next is white British (7.3%). In Wapping as a whole however the Bangladeshi community is only about 10%. What a shame that the school is ignored by the majority of the local population who must feel so insecure of their children's success that they feel they have no choice but to bankroll them through education.

Some of these and other images may be found at my London East End photo gallery.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Non-Doms on Thames? Who exactly is Nine Elms for?

Moving on from the relatively low key developments in Brixton featured in my last post, I took myself to Nine Elms. There is nothing low key about Nine Elms. With its Canary Wharf style agglomeration of high rise towers that look north across the Thames over Pimlico, residents will be able to view less than a mile away what will be for many of them their aspirational homes - Knightsbridge and Belgravia. Just look at the Lebanese restaurant that has bagged its place in the base of one of the Riverlight towers to get a clue where much of the marketing will be directed.

Non-Doms are in the news, but whatever the policy on this tax issue for the government elected in the May 2015 UK general election, there will still be a queue of the non UK resident rich to get themselves into prime real estate in London and get themselves a foothold on long term residency in Britain.

When it comes to immigration to the UK there is one rule for the rich and another for everybody else, however much more deserving their case may be. By February 2015, the UK has taken in only 143 refugees from Syria, but when it comes to the rich there is no problem.There will be 18,000 new homes built in Nine Elms. Of these only 15% will be 'affordable", way below the targets Councils should be striving to achieve, so there will be about 15,000 opportunities for newcomers to London.

If you are rich and desire UK residency then this is one way it can be achieved:
1. Buy £2m shares in Barclays Bank.
2. Buy yourself an apartment in Nine Elms
3. After 5 years of residency you get 'indefinite leave to remain' in the UK.

Actually, step 2 is not strictly necessary, but it's good to have somewhere to live. If you are in a hurry, buy £10m shares and after just 2 years you get that desirable 'indefinite leave to remain'. And once you have that 'indefinite leave to remain' you can flog your Barclays shares (probably at a profit) to some other super-rich bod who wants to come here too.

This all may seem a bit of a racket (yes, it is) but it has a fancy name - the Tier 1 (Investor) rules for entry into the UK. It's a bit more complicated than the 3 steps but the handy guide is at the link. There's a pretence of a points system - we've heard a lot about the one in Australia recently - but the way ours works is summarised on this Home Office website questionnaire "Do you have at least £2,000,000....?" Answer yes and you have 75 points and you're in!

The author of this blog is dubious of the benefit of the ultra rich coming to London because, by creating up-market ghettos and causing a ripple effect pushing up house prices all over London, they are contributing to the erection of The North Circular Wall, the barrier to ordinary people coming to live in London. In the main they are also not very nice people who will do what they can to ensure that anyone who gets a job because of their presence is paid only the minimum wage - and that will probably be at the end of a two hour bus commute...

More photos of regeneration and redevelopment in London

Rebuilding the Battersea Power Station chimneys, presumably so they do not fall on the new residents
It would be nice if Frank Gehry did something exotic, but so far it all looks rather conventional
The glint of the sun on "the Gherkin" in the distance. But now many will be moving here to do business in the UK?
The final Riverlight Towers being constructed
Some of the Riverlight apartments are already occupied - and this Lebanese restaurant will be opening soon
The tower at St George's Wharf - scene of a helicopter tragedy when it was nearing completion
Thankfully, very little housing makes way for the new housing. Old industrial buildings are still being demolished.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Cressingham Gardens estate, Brixton Railway Arches and remorseless development

Within London are vast numbers of ordinary people who live from day to day without being touched by the wealth which makes London stand apart from the rest of the UK. True, if they work, some of them may receive wages that directly come from the wealthy and their businesses, and if they run their own small businesses, some of them may even sell goods or services to the well-to-do.

Those touched by the wealth will be very much be the minority and you can be sure that such contact will often be only of the minimum wage variety. I strongly suspect that it is only a minority within that minority who are lifted away from minimal wages and are better off than they would be if these 'wealth creators' had parked their businesses in an alternative location.

Until recently, these ordinary people could usually at least feel safe in their homes. But there is a new phenomenon of housing developers influencing hard pressed local authorities to push long term residents out so that new development can proceed. It may sometimes even be local authorities taking the lead.

A common factor is that the people who live in these homes are being pushed out against their wishes away from the community in which they may have spent a lifetime. Some may be able to come back to the new development, but there is uncertainty of that outcome. While the development proceeds, one thing is certain and that is the gross intrusion of the unwilling dislocation of individuals and families from their homes and community.

The Cressingham Gardens estate, adjacent to the wide open spaces of Brockwell Park, Brixton, is a little different to most of these threatened communities. It is relatively low rise, built in the sixties with a mix of owner occupation and council properties. Ignoring Brockwell Park, it benefits from some green space of its own too. All this makes it a perfect candidate for redevelopment, dramatically increasing the housing density to maximise income for developers and council alike.

There is a pattern of councils failing to invest in repairs, and then declaring that an estate needs regeneration. Councils will argue that responsibility for the largest part of the failure to invest lies with government policy. Austerity cannot afford borrowing for repairs. For councils with the headache of making their ends meet, sell offs of their assets provide a temporary reprieve. The consciences of councillors will be comforted by the thought that the doubling of the housing stock within these few acres helps solve a little of the housing crisis. The reality is that they and the residents of Cressingham Gardens are pawns in the hands of developers and others who relentlessly wish to make London more attractive to the right sort of people.

The residents explain what is going on here:

Option 1 is renovation. Sorry, too simple when a grandiose scheme is in the wings.

It's not just people in their homes. Small businesses are not immune to the pressure to move on, especially when they are the wrong kind of small business - small businesses that look like this:

All a bit scruffy you might think. Why not turf out these businesses, smarten up those arches, hike up the rents and bring in a new class of business?

Indeed. And as you might be able to guess that is what is going to happen. Businesses more fitting to the new gentrified Brixton in this prime area adjacent to the station.

Of course to placate resistance, existing businesses are being told that they can return. But most will probably not be able to deal with the rent hikes because their customers would not be able to afford the higher prices they would have to charge.It is inevitable that rents will be only affordable to businesses that match the aspirations of the new residents of the high rise developments that are to be erected as part of the plans. For a nice glossy presentation of the 'masterplan'...

The masterplan does not talk about making Brixton attractive to the right sort of people, but then it would not be called a masterplan if it were not devious!

More links:

And finally a youTube video made by the folks at Cressingham Gardens:

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The shadow of Canary Wharf

Here, in the shadow of Canary Wharf, the borough of Poplar and Limehouse, where these photos were taken, the percentage not being paid at least the London living wage is apparently 5.6%, the lowest in Britain. And that's a figure from the TUC.

So is this hooray for the benefits of trickle down wealth? Or is there some other way of interpreting this figure?

Last month, the TUC published a report on the UK's pay blackspots.  The link is to a Guardian report that highlights two of the very worst places in the UK for pay - and they happen to be just outside the North Circular Road. In the suburban London districts of  Harrow West (home to Harrow school) and in Chingford & Woodford Green (represented in Parliament by none other than Ian Duncan Smith), the percentage of working people paid less than the London Living Wage is greater than 42%.

I made a separate trip to Chingford and Woodford Green to find out what is going on there, but how are we to explain the low figure of 5.6% of people paid below the Living Wage in Poplar and Limehouse?

Well, that's 5.6% of the people EMPLOYED in Poplar and Limehouse not 5.6% of the people who live there. You see, dumped in Poplar and Limehouse are the towers of Canary Wharf. While some 95,000 LIVE in Poplar and Limehouse, over 105,000 people WORK in Canary Wharf.

Looking at my photographs of the working class estates of Poplar just in front of those towers, how many people living there do you think may actually work in Canary Wharf? Well a sure sign of that number being low is that I could actually move from my Brighton home into one of the flats seen in these images. Your average Canary Wharf worker may like the idea of a 10 minute stroll to wotk, but they do not want to do it from Poplar. Only a tiny percentage of those occupying those towers will be living in Poplar and Limehouse.

10 minutes to a different world...

As a related diversion, look what was written on the Living Wage in this issue of the Evening Standard....

"Despite London's economic boom, the recovery is not being enjoyed by all Londoners: low pay remains a significant problem. What is more surprising is the fact that pay rises are higher, on average, outside the capital. New figures show that over the past three years, pay here has risen by only half as much as in some regions."

That was a leading article on "Low-pay London" in the same newspaper on that same day. The leader finished "The capital's economy is booming again: low paid Londoners deserve their share." The Evening Standard wants London businesses to adopt a minimum Living Wage of £8.80 per hour.

But out there where it matters there is no sign of London businesses accepting a wage above the very minimum they can get away with - £6.31 per hour. There is no uplift on the national UK minimum wage for jobs in London.

This year the London Assembly published "Fair Pay: Making the London Living Wage the norm" quoting Boris Johnson as saying "I want the London Living Wage to be the norm in London.". The document is full of good intentions but unless legislated for, by making the Living Wage the Minimum Wage, this will never happen.

When London Transport outsources its cleaning work to companies that pay Tube cleaning staff less than the Living Wage, making those staff pay for transport to get to work (and travel between locations!) you just know that these words are just more populist entertainment from the Mayor.

Friday, 11 April 2014

A day out in Chingford and Woodford Green

Two facts:
1) This is a rock solid Conservative constituency, the domain of Ian Duncan Smith
2) This constituency has the biggest concentration of people being paid under the living wage in London, at 43% the second worst such 'blackspot' for low pay in the whole of the UK

Does that make any sense? I had to go to have a look.

A stroll around the Monkhams ward in Woodford Green left me in no doubt why this should be a rock solid Conservative seat.
Woodford Green Broadway - in colour
Monkhams Avenue - a fondness for mock-tudor hereabouts
Whoever was in the car had their audio at full volume. They spotted me taking the picture - and immediately turned it off
Neat gardens on Monkhams Avenue
Monkhams Avenue - Mock-Tudor and grand columns clash...
If the images look a bit Instagramish then it's because those are phone pics. Here are some proper black and white film images from my Pentax:

Woodford Green Broadway - this time in monochrome
The picturesque-in-all-but-name Potato Pond
Walking across the southerly splinter of Epping Forest that separates Chingford from Woodford Green is like entering a different world.

Chingford Golf Course is between Chingford and Woodford
It seems that Chingford is the natural home of the 'hard working family' beloved by Ian Duncan Smith. Perhaps, just as over the years the LGBT community and assorted slackers (like myself) have congregated in Brighton, people who want to own their own homes and are prepared to work long hours at low wages to achieve that end have assembled in Chingford. With Norman Tebbit as the previous MP for Chingford and Winston Churchill as a predecessor, perhaps an effect of having all these high profile names as incumbent MPs has been to attract more of the 'right sort' into the area.

Typical Chingford terrace - no doubt ex-council
Walking the Pomeranian
Typical Chingford semis
I am guessing that Chingford might be home to quite a few cabbies
No, not THE Guardian! But there was one on the shelf besides the towering Daily Mails
Take your shades to the Chingford United Services Club this Saturday.
Bread Pudding from Greggs, Station Road, Chingford

Spending cuts hitting hard.
Winston Churchill, bottom left. He was MP for Epping when Chingford was part of that constituency but will not have stepped foot in this hall.
End of the line - Chingford Railway Station
So why on earth, given these neat streets and what is a mecca for owner-occupation, does Chingford and Woodford Green pay its workers such lowly rates?

Well, many people living here clearly are very well paid. People getting on the train to their jobs in the City just half an hour away would escape local consideration contributing to the City statistic instead. I am guessing that there are a lot of self-employed in the area which would also take a lot of people out of the equation.

But for those self-employed that are themselves local employers, I suspect that many would be favourably disposed to the abolition of the minimum wage - they would laugh at the idea of paying the living wage. There may also be a tendency for the conservative elements (small c) to accept their lot and avoid organised labour, keeping local wages down.

Visiting a place like this makes me wonder whether the TUC low pay 'blackspots' have any relevance.  Once they once might have, but with people living in dormitory towns to go to their well paid jobs elsewhere perhaps it is far more valid to look at such statistics on a regional basis. But the TUC report and this Guardian article majored on the local statistics, perhaps for the very reason that they produce uncomfortable numbers.

Other curious details from my day in Chingford and Woodford Green:

There are very few pubs - I saw two in Woodford Green
The second was on Mill Lane - the Rose and Crown - after walking past this I saw none at all in Chingford

A real Post Office in Woodford Green - the main office in Brighton is downstairs in WH Smiths...
On Chingford Lane in Woodford, real council housing? Unlikely, but proper clothes lines and in the front garden too..
Finally, to underline this is big car territory, it was very difficult to cross the road - fences in the middle and on either side of the A104, Woodford New Road meant I had to walk a large distance before eventually finding a pelican pedestrian crossing to cross this single carriageway road. Here I had the longest wait I can remember for the green man to come up. Yes, it's different in Brighton with our dirty scraggy streets, but it does not take too long to cross them to get to the inevitable choice of pubs.

Final question. Could I afford to move to Woodford Green? Fat chance. Chingford, obviously ex-council - but this looks sweet