Posts Tagged ‘social apartheid’

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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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


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