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Little London anti-PFI campaign - public meeting 10 May

Mark Harried | 08.05.2006 20:30 | Free Spaces | Social Struggles

Tenants and anti-privatisation campaigners are joining forces this Wednesday (10 May) in a city-wide public meeting to oppose Leeds City Council's proposed 'Comprehensive Regeneration' of Little London estate and its wider decimation of council housing through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Organised by the Save Little London Campaign, the meeting takes place at Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre, Leeds University, at 7pm, and will be addressed by, amongst others, Andrew Coley, vice-chair of Little London Tenants and Residents Association, John McDermott, Leeds UNISON, and John Illingworth, Labour councillor for Kirkstall.

The meeting has been called in advance of this month's (17 May) Council Executive meeting, where elected councillors are expected to ignore the 63% of local tenants and residents who don't support its plans and rubber stamp the City Council's plans to go ahead with the PFI regeneration scheme in the Little London inner-city estate, subject to government approval in September 2006.

Campaigners aim to raise awareness about the true costs of the proposed PFI scheme that will see the net loss of 310 council homes and the forced removal of 100s of people from the neighbourhood. It will also expose the shameful undemocratic consultation process that the Council has inflicted on residents over the past 5 years.

In March 2001, the Little London and Woodhouse area was balloted on an initial PFI scheme - 54% voted 'no' on a huge 67% turnout. For Leeds City Council, however, this was the "wrong result" so they discarded Woodhouse where the majority of no votes had come from, sent Little London residents more biased consultation material and then reballoted just ? months later. This time, they got a 'yes' vote but almost half of tenants eligible to vote did not do so (46%), giving the PFI scheme no real democratic mandate.

Five years later, however, and due to Leeds City Council's delayed PFI scheme in Swarcliffe, nothing has happened, forcing the Council to consult Little London residents again. In February, after a two week process, the Council announced the results to the media (before it informed tenants and stakeholders). 'LITTLE LONDON RESIDENTS BACK £85M REGENERATION SCHEME' read the Council's press release.

Campaigners argue, however, that 63% tenants and residents of Little London have NOT backed the PFI scheme as 40% did not return their preference slips, and of those who did, only 37% of residents said they preferred 'Comprehensive Regeneration' (PFI) compared to 21% who said they preferred Decent Homes (a £20m scheme to bring homes up to a minimum standard).

Banks of the Wear, the 'Independent Tenants Advisor' during the consultation could not hide their criticism of the Council, stating that "the process was hampered…by the lack of timely information being produced, and departures from the agreed and understood process".

The report into the consultation by Banks of the Wear also shows just how confused tenants were by the Council's questionnaire. Many people who will be kicked out of their homes under Comprehensive Regeneration strangely opted for demolition and thus eviction – but also stated that they wanted to 'stay in Little London'?!?!?

Andrew Coley, vice-chair of Little London Tenants and Residents Association, said:

"All along we have told Leeds City Council that we welcome £85m of new investment in Little London, but it has to benefit all of the tenants and residents, not just some. The Tenants and Residents Association has compiled a dossier detailing all of the flaws and abuses of the consultation process. The report of the Independent Tenant's Advisor was also very critical of it. Based on results that showed a majority of people in the Lovell flats didn't want to lose their homes, we recommended changes if the PFI proposals were to go ahead. It was forwarded to LCC and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) nearly two months ago. Neither organisation has yet to respond to our objections."

Steve Skinner from Save Little London Campaign, said:

"From the beginning, tenants of Little London have been blackmailed by the Council in an appalling undemocratic process. From ignored ballots to biased information, to bare-faced lies in public meetings, the Council has completely abused its power to rail road this back door privatisation through. Now they are saying that the community backs the scheme - this is utter nonsense. We were 'consulted' on two 'lousy' options to improve homes and the area, and asked to give a 'preference' for one of them, not a vote. The fact is that 63% of people haven't backed the PFI scheme. What people need to ask is - who benefits from privatising tower blocks and bulldozing homes? Is it poor working class families local to Leeds, or wealthy city workers and private property developers? I think we all know the answer."

Save Little London campaign will expose the totally biased information given to tenants that emphasised all the negative aspects of the Decent Homes option and all the positive aspects of the PFI scheme, as well as the failure to mention to a large number of residents that they would be forced to leave Little London under Comprehensive Regeneration.

Across Leeds, similar processes are under way, like in Beeston and Holbeck Hill, and Seacroft. There are also other unpopular propsoed developments taking place, such as the car park on Woodhouse Moor and the Eastgate regeneration.

That is why campaigners have called this city-wide public event ahead of the Council Executive's monthly meeting: to bring together tenants and residents from affected areas with Defend Council Housing, local trade unions, supportive councillors, grassroots activists, university researchers and sympathetic journalists, so as to raise the political profile of PFI, council house sell-offs and "regeneration" in our city, spread information to more people and create a stronger coalition of people to fight back.

Notes for journalists

1. Save Little London Campaign is a coalition of council tenants, residents and supporters fighting the Council's plans to sell off and demolish 435 council homes in their area.

All media enquiries to: or phone Steve Skinner on 0113-217-8608 (evening)

2. The public meeting takes place from 7pm-9pm, Wednesday 10 May, Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre, Leeds University (click here for map). It has been called by Save Little London, and is supported by Leeds Defend Council Housing, Leeds UNISON and the Autonomous Geographies action research project at Leeds University.

3. There will be a lobby of the Council on Wednesday 17 May starting 12.30pm outside Leeds Civic Hall. Campaigners from Little London will march from Little London Community Centre at 12pm to Leeds Civic Hall to unveil a giant banner.

4. The Comprehensive Regeneration exercise, if given the green light by Central Government in September 2006, would not start until at least late 2008 and could take 10 years. Swarcliffe had to wait 6 years just for a PFI contract to be signed and they didn't even have a ballot.

5. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) allows private companies to profit from providing public services, it does not give value for taxpayers' money, and is notorious for delays and shoddy work.

6. 435 homes to be demolished or sold off – all 3 Lovell towers will be sold to private developers; Carlton Towers, Gate & Carr will be flattened. Anywhere between 300 and 800 residents could be forced to leave the estate. The Council cannot guarantee that anyone facing eviction will be re-housed in Little London.

7. New private houses and flats will be built for wealthy students and key workers, not existing tenants. Private houses could cost over £100,000 and private tower block flat rents in the area are currently £700/month for a 1-bed flat. Only 125 new council homes will be built – this means around 300 fewer council houses.

Mark Harried