Branch Secretary :

Demanding Social Housing Not Social Cleansing!

We joined ASH (Architects for Social Housing) for a protest outside the Royal Institute of British Architects’ annual Stirling prize objecting to the nomination of Neo Bankside housing project in Southwark, and to shine a light in a dark and glitzy world of land grabs and class cleansing.



Campaigners from ASH hold up their own prize for bad architectural decisions! Photo by Demotix


The Neo Bankside project has built 217 homes with a market price ranging from £1.25m to £19.75m (see details of Neo Bankside project) when 345,000 Londoners, 4% of the city’s population, are on council waiting lists for homes. And this figure itself under-reports homelessness given the harsh criteria and often questionable processes some councils apply to keep their figures lower (see court ruling).

The branch does not oppose the building of quality housing in the borough but asks for who and who actually pays for this? Southwark Council got £11m for this deal in exchange for land which belonged to those of us who live here for the use of providing homes for those in need. No houses for the thousands of people actually on the waiting list, but instead apparently being sold to offshore investors (see more on Neo Bankside investors). And those ‘affordable’ homes are reported as requiring the demolition of a council run childrens’ home and day-care nursery.



The Unite Housing Workers Branch makes a stand for social housing


Did you know Philip Gumuchdjian, the Chair of this year’s Stirling Prize shortlist, is a former associate director of Richard Rogers Partnership, where he was employed between 1980 and 1998? Seriously, you couldn’t make it up.



At the protest itself.


Our king-sized duvet of a banner can be a bit much for pintsize protestors but seemed to find a welcome home at this protest. We stood there listening to the details of the deals, chanting, sometimes ranting but mostly trying to talk with those going into the awards ceremony. Some picked up the perfectly folded airplane flyers and read about the issues.


A few of those we spoke to as they walked in noted how they had worked on social housing projects but that there weren’t many of those anymore.


One ASH supporter stated that there should be some guidelines to who gets awards based on their social and ethical purpose and impact. ASH believes that Rogers, Stirk and Harbour violated paragraph 5 of the ARB Architects Code of Conduct and Practice: ‘to consider the wider impact of your work.’


That may be something architects campaign for before the next prize awards.  Having standards of design which require their projects to be accessible to the majority rather than tiny privileged elite playing monopoloy with our worlds wouldn’t be a bad idea. Having any rules, regulations or laws means little, as we know from our union work, without careful monitoring and campaigning to ensure these are complied with, as a minimum. RIBA is well placed to play this role, with the watchful and active eye of architects.


We weren’t picketing the event. That would be to encourage people not to go inside. We were, with ASH, profiling the appaling nomination of the Neo Bankside development for the presitgious architectural prize, giving it, as ASH have pointed out, a level of cultural legitimacy it doesn’t deserve. Protesting in this way is one of the tactics we use within the branch and helps unite our struggles with those who organise and those who are going through their own journeys in campaigning for decent homes and jobs. Nonetheless, strikes and picketing remain the most powerful of weapons in our armoury. You can see why the Tories are trying to undermine that with the Trade Union Bill.


We’re keen to work with those who design, commission, construct, and support the building of houses. Not for a saucy secret chin wag or deal over bubbly but to create a wider and deeper alliance for properly affordable, accessible and secure housing for the majority (see our branch Manifesto for Housing).


Next stop in the housing campaign is a protest at international property MIPIM on Wednesday 9am Olympia, Hammersmith Road, W14 8UX organised by the Radical Housing Network.  


More images of the protest here and here.



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