Residents fight to save public land

NEF is supporting campaigns to save public land – tell us about yours

What do you need to solve the housing crisis? Campaigners, politicians, pressure groups and charities will give you different answers, but they all rely on one thing. Whether the affordable homes you create are sold to just managing” first-time buyers, or socially rented to families stuck on the council house waiting list, you need land. But that land is being sold from beneath our feet. Since 1979, about half of Britain’s publicly owned land – worth £400 billion – has been sold to private hands.

The fire sale is also burning away something less tangible but just as important: our sense of community. We get our cars fixed and our hair cut in railway arch businesses facing eviction and rent rises. We have our bones mended, our cuts stitched, and our babies born in hospitals that are demolished to provide executive homes and Lidls. We grow up on school playing fields that get turned into luxury developments. And we then can’t afford to live on the land we once owned and used as a community. NEF analysis shows that developers often use loopholes to duck their affordable housing commitments. Of the homes being built on NHS land, only one in five will be affordable to nurses.

In Lewisham, residents are fighting privatisation of their land. Reginald House and Old Tidemill Wildlife Gardens is being sold by their council to a housing association, which will demolish social housing and the garden. Lewisham council has promised green space will be replaced but, according to campaigners, is proposing locking sections of this previously public garden away to be used only by residents. Even the social homes proposed for the site will be much more expensive than the council-owned block up for demolition – rent for a two-bed flat would be over 60% more.“It’s not just demolition and rent rises that we’re fighting against,” explains Harriet Vickers, a local campaigner. It’s also against the loss of a working-class community – the garden has been run by volunteers for years and it’s one of the last places left that doesn’t feel segregated. The whole community uses it.”

The garden has been run by volunteers for years and it’s one of the last places left that doesn’t feel segregated”

Lewisham residents aren’t the only ones fighting. Across the Thames, Haringey campaigners scored a huge win when Sadiq Khan bought the site of St Ann’s Hospital, which they had fought for years to be used to provide affordable housing. Khan has promised that half of the homes on the site will be genuinely affordable – a huge increase to the few dozen originally proposed by private developers. NEF has worked with the campaigners – St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust – and also with activists in Aston, Birmingham, who want to take control of local land to provide genuinely affordable, instead of executive, homes, and are discussing this with Birmingham City Council. 

Schemes like theirs prove that there is another way: that our land should be used by us and for us, to fix the housing crisis privatisation has caused. Hundreds of thousands of homes will be built on these sites: if we do not act, these will be unaffordable, unsustainable and unsuited to anyone but profit-chasing developers. 

So NEF now want to work in partnership with others, up and down the country, who want to do things in that other way. Our organising and housing team are looking to hear from groups – however large or small – campaigning and fighting for public land to be used for the public good, to fix our housing crisis and maintain our communities. You might be:

  • Campaigning around any type of publicly owned land – from NHS sites to army barracks to council offices.
  • Only just aware of a local site being put up for sale, or have been campaigning for a number of years.
  • A small or large group, who’ve run a campaign before, or who are completely new to campaigning.
  • NHS or school cuts campaigners who have just failed to keep a hospital or school open, but who want to see the site used for the community, not to make a profit.

If you’re interested in affordable housing, communities having a say over what happens to them, and are ready to learn and get support from us, just fill in this form by Tuesday 6 November, and we’ll get back to you in early-mid November.

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