Posts Tagged ‘empty flats’

Aldgate, Class War Rich Door, Poor Door

Saturday, July 30th, 2022

Aldgate, Class War Rich Door, Poor Door – On 30th July 2014 I went to London to cover another in the long series of protests by Class War over the ‘social apartheid’ of separate entrances to large blocks of flats for the wealthy and poor people who live in them. I went up early and walked around the area beforehand.

Class War – Rich Door, Poor Door – 1 Commercial St, Aldgate

Class War, including three of their candidates for the 2015 General Election the following year, protested at 1 Commercial St in Aldgate which has a separate ‘poor doors’ for the social housing flats they had to include to gain planning permission for the development.

The front entrance on Whitechapel High St (One Commercial St is the name of the block) has a hotel-like reception desk, and is staffed 24 hours. It leads to the lifts for the expensive flats, many owned by overseas investors. Like most such buildings, some of them are empty and seldom used, while others are short term holiday lets.

Flats like these are advertised to overseas investors particularly in the far East as providing a high return on capital. Buy a flat now and you will be able to sell it for much more in a few years as London housing prices continue to soar – some publicity suggested that people could get the equivalent of a 13% interest rate. It’s easier to sell if you keep the flats empty, though you can use them for the occasional visit to London, or even let them over the web for a few days or weeks as holiday lets to generate a little actual income.

As I commented:

The web site for One Commercial St (studios, apartments and penthouses specified to exceptional levels, with exclusive services for residents – or rather those residents allowed to use the rich door) suggests that the average rent in the area is £1,935 pcm and investors can expect a 32% increase in property value by the time Crossrail opens. It’s all a part of the madness that means London is being developed not for the people of London but for investors in China, the oil states and elsewhere.

The building owners claimed there was no internal connection between the part of the building with expensive privately owned flats and that occupied by social housing tenants, although that was simply a lie – and on a later occasion I was taken through by one of the private owners from her flat to the ‘poor door’ which she used when walking her dog.

The owners give the social housing in the block a different name and only allow the tenants to access their flats through a side door in what was when Class War began their protests a dark alley often full of dumped rubbish, smelling of urine. A card entry system let them into a long bare corridor with some mail boxes on one side, quite a contrast to the large foyer with a reception desk, concierge, comfortable seating and art works enjoyed by the rich.

The protests had by then resulted in some small improvements, the alley now having been cleaned and new lighting installed, though the card entry system was apparently often out of order. And the alley still had that nasty smell.

The protesters came with a banner featuring the radical US labour activist Lucy Parsons (1853-1942) with her quotation “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” and posters – with their skull and crossbones – and the message “We have found new homes for the rich” with long rows of grave crosses stretching into the distance – which at one time police tried to arrest them for. They stuck posters on the windows on and around the ‘Rich Door’ using Class War election stickers with their promise of a 50% mansion tax. The building manager came out and pulled the posters off and screwed them up, but they held up others beside the door.

Most of the protest took place in front of the ‘Rich Door’, where they chanted calling for an end to the social apartheid and attempted to talk with the few people who left and entered the building. They held the door open to make their protest more easily heard inside, and there was a brief brief tug of war as security and a resident tried to close it. Eventually they let the door be closed, probably when they saw police arriving.

Police only arrived around 15 minutes after the protesters and they went directly inside the building to talk to the building manager and concierge. Then the police came out and argued with the protesters, trying to get them to move further from the doorway, but they insisted on their right to protest where they wanted on the pavement. Class War kept up the protest for around an hour before they decided it was time to leave – and come back for another protest there the following week. This was just one of a series of around 30 ‘Poor Doors’ protests, most of which I photographed – and published a ‘zine’ of the pictures, still available from Blurb.

Class War – Rich Door, Poor Door


Aldgate & Spitalfields

I was early for the protest at One Commercial St, and took a short walk around the area while I was waiting, going up Commercial St and then back down Toynbee St. I was astonished at the amount of new buildings since I was last here a few years back, and with a great deal of work currently going on. At night all the red lights on the tops of the cranes make London look like a Christmas tree.

It is of course a prime site just on the edge of the City of London, an easy walk to the city, and with plenty of buses, underground stations and both Liverpool St and London Bridge stations not far away. London City Airport is a short taxi ride too, or under half an hour by public transport, and Brick Lane’s curry houses just around the corner. Crossrail will cut journey times to Canary Wharf to 4 minutes when Whitechapel station opens in 2018.

In fact Crossrail only opened in 2022, four years behind schedule, but investors still did pretty well, and much more of the area has been demolished and replaced by investment flats. Our government still counts these as a part of our meagre housing programme although they make no contribution towards easing the housing crisis. We need strong laws to limit overseas ownership of property and financial encouragement to build homes for people, particularly homes at social rents.

Aldgate & Spitalfields


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House The Homeless In Empty Properties

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

We don’t actually have a housing shortage in the UK. There are more than enough homes to go round. What we have is mainly a failure to get homeless people into empty homes. A failure to provide homes that people can afford.

Of course there will always be a few empty homes, as people move or die and it takes a little time to sell the empty properties. But the latest official figures for homes that have been empty for more than six months in England is 268,385 – and the figures are growing. According to Crisis, “more than 200,000 families and individuals in England alone will be … finding themselves sleeping on the streets, hunkered down in sheds and garages, stuck in unsuitable accommodation or sofa surfing.”

Covid will make homelessness worse, with huge numbers of people now threatened by eviction as they have been unable to keep up with rent payments. There were various extensions to a ban on bailiff-enforced evictions, but this ban came to an end in England on 31 May – but continues until 30 June 2021 in Wales and 30 September 2021 in Scotland.

As well as making people homeless, evictions also increase the number of empty properties, and those who are evicted are unlikely to be able to afford new tenancies.

There are various reasons why properties remain empty. They may simply be in places where people don’t want to live, and while there is huge pressure on housing in some areas – and we have seen house prices leap up 10% in a month – there are others where houses are difficult to sell – and even some new build houses remain empty for long periods.

Covid has meant that many holiday lets – conventional and Airbnbs – have stayed empty, and demand may be slow to pick up. People with two homes, one close to their place of work, may now have decided they can work from their more distant home and abandon the other. But even when taking these factors into account there seems to be an underlying rise in empty homes.

But housing in England has become a dysfunctional system, and we need changes so that people who need homes can afford them. To put it simply we need some way to provide more social housing. And the best way to provide these is for councils to be given the resources to build this – and to take some of those empty properties into public ownership – including some of those sold off on the cheap under ‘right to buy’, many of which are now ‘buy to let’ properties from which people are facing eviction.

Newham Council, under the then Mayor Robin Wales, began emptying people from the Carpenters Estate in the early 2000s. Many perfectly good properties on the estate have remained empty for years as the council has looked for ways to sell off the area close to the Olympic site, despite the huge waiting list for housing in Newham.

Focus E15 Mums, young mothers facing eviction from a hostel in Stratford, were offered private rented properties hundreds of miles away with little or no security of tenure and relatively high rents. It’s difficult for one person to stand up to the council, but they decided – with support from others – to join together and fight, with remarkable success – which gained them national recognition. And they continue to campaign for others facing housing problems.

Seven years ago on Monday 9th June 2014 they came to the Carpenters Estate to expose the failure of Newham Council pasting up posters on deliberately emptied quality social housing vacant for around ten years on what had been one of Newham’s most popular council estate and called for it to be used to house homeless families.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Class War v. Qatari Royals

Monday, February 8th, 2021

Three years ago today, on 8 Feb 2018, Class War had planned a protest outside London’s tallest building, the Shard, to point out the housing crisis, which is currently affecting many in London. They chose to protest at the Shard, because there are ten £50m apartments there which have remained empty since the building was completed.

We don’t actually have a housing shortage as there are more than enough properties for everyone to have a decent home. The problem is that current policies allow property to be left empty and encourage developers to build high priced flats which either remain unsold or are bought as investments and largely left empty for all or most of the time. There were then plans to build a further 26,000 flats in London costing more than a million pounds each, many on former council estates where social housing has been demolished at a time when London has a huge housing crisis with thousands sleeping on the street, and over 100 families from Grenfell were still in temporary accommodation.

The owners of The Shard, the Qatari royal family, went to court to seek an injunction against the Class War protest, seeking an injunction against Ian Bone and “persons unknown” and, despite their fortune estimated at over £250 million pounds, seeking legal costs of over £500 from the 70 year-old south London pensioner.

Fortunately barrister Ian Brownhill offered to conduct Bone’s defence pro bono and in the High Court hearing the Qatari royals were forced to drop the attempt to ban protests and the demand for fees but Bone accepted a legal restriction on him going inside the Shard and its immediate vicinity. But that meant the planned protest that evening could still go ahead, and Bone and his team emerged from the court victorious. His health issues meant that he was himself in any case unable to attend the protest.

At the protest there were large numbers of police and security, along with many in plain clothes and two officers with search dogs. The protest was always intended to be a peaceful one and the protesters were careful to remain outside the boundary of The Shard, marked with a metal line in the pavement. The police nonetheless harassed them, making a patently spurious claim that they were causing an obstruction to commuters attempting to enter London Bridge station and trying to move them further away from The Shard. Although the protest clearly wasn’t causing any serious problems to those entering or leaving the station, the larger numbers of police and security were.

Three years on, London still has a huge problem, with huge numbers of unaffordable flats still being built, particularly in the huge development area in Vauxhall and Nine Elms, including the developments around the US Embassy and the former Battersea Power Station. Some developments here include small areas of social housing, with ‘poor door’ entrances hidden away around the backs of some of the towers, the residents or which are excluded from the many facilities which are provided for the wealthy.

While blocks have large and well-furnished foyers with a concierge service for the rich, as well as some recreational facilities, social housing tenants typically enter a narrow bleak corridor with no space even for parcel deliveries. Just like the block in Aldgate where Class War’s long series of protests put the issue of ‘poor doors’, where poorer tenants are segregated from their wealthy neighbours on the national agenda back in 2014.

In July 2019, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire was “appalled” by the examples of segregation he had seen and promised to put an end to the use of “poor doors” in housing developments in England. It appears to have been a Broken promise, and Class War are thinking it is time for more action.

Class War protest at Shard
Class War victory against Qatari Royals


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.