by Linda Taaffe, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
The juggernaut construction companies roll on. Tower blocks are invading the sky everywhere. Our public land is being handed over to private interests. Green space is disappearing at an ever-increasing speed. Waltham Forest is just one borough of many facing this onslaught, and the Labour council is only one of many that have cosied up to private profiteers, so they can rake in more council tax while the housing waiting lists remain as long as ever.
Save Our Square has been battling for about eight years with all manner of actions and activities, opposing this model for housing in our town square. Unfortunately, the diggers moved in about six months ago. We expected the campaign to wind down, and, however disappointing, we could all be proud that we held the privateers off for so long… but no such thing. The campaign has found a new lease of life from the fall-out from the Grenfell inquiry.
Although the Grenfell report is now not due until early 2024 — a disgraceful delay in itself — there is a likelihood that building regulations will be reformed to lay down the law for two staircases to be required for tall blocks. The horrific experiences of Grenfell tenants exposed the need for firefighters and other responders to have a clear way up. Sadiq Khan has already sent a mandate around London authorities requiring that new plans submitted must contain two staircases.
Save Our Square called a public meeting called ‘No Grenfells here’ to highlight that the two tower blocks of 34 and 26 storeys proposed for our square would have only one staircase each! The construction must be paused to enable plans to be amended and allow greater local consultation. Over 40 people turned out and several other local land campaigns came too, like Save the Marshes and Action for Whipps (our local hospital). All those campaigns explained to everyone what was happening — or not happening — in their areas. Everyone mentioned how invisible and silent are the local councillors.
Our guest speaker, Paul Kershaw of the Unite Housing Workers Branch, pointed out that there is everything still to play for and described other similar campaigns. Speakers from the floor detailed how some prefabrication companies are going bust; how housing is a trade union issue; and how we must all make the councillors feel our pressure. They all received our letter and an invitation to come along. Not one did. Local Labour MP Stella Creasy replied saying she had no role in this process!
Will we be safe?
We agreed to get supporters to visit their councillors’ surgeries and demand answers; that we would urge Stella Creasy to raise the issue in Parliament. Where designs for tower blocks with one staircase have already been passed, there must be a fight for new regulations saying two have to be introduced immediately. Will the 500 tenants in these two new tower blocks be safe?
We also decided to hold a commemoration for the victims of Grenfell on Saturday 17 June in our town square under the trade union Health and Safety banner of “Remember the dead and fight like hell for the living”. The fight goes on.