Swings and seesaws are becoming the latest front in the class war as London property developers use every trick in the book to ensure that the minority of ‘affordable’ residents they are obligated to cater for know their place.
Henley Homes were caught this month implementing security measures to keep out lower-income kiddies from playground facilities. Under Sadiq Khan’s London Plan, all new property developments must have 30% social housing or ‘affordable’ rentals at capped rates. Though the main course is apportioned, landlords have tried to cut down all the trimmings for the residents who don’t bring in enough revenue: separate entrances, separate bin collections and parking, and now, most egregiously, restricted access to children’s public play areas is selectively administered according to wealth.
The development featured in the Guardian investigation takes place in Lambeth, a Labour-run council, adding credence to accusations from the Labour left that some London councils have cosied-up to corporate landlords too comfortably and are undermining the party’s platform of ensuring greater renter protection.
Lambeth Councillor Matthew Bennett, Cabinet member for Planning, Investment and New Homes, and a member of Progress and the Fabian Society, hit back quite aggressively at the Guardian investigation, claiming that ‘it is false for the Guardian to claim that the developer’s changes to access to play facilities were approved by Lambeth Council, they were rejected and the council are investigating what legal powers we have to ensure that any restriction of access is removed’. His indignation doesn’t account for the fact that without the Guardian investigation taking place, the development would presumably remain segregated, and it’s absolutely the job of the council to ensure that standards are met after planning permission is granted.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has emphasised that ‘the policies in [the]draft new London Plan are absolutely clear that new developments should be inclusive to all. They are explicit that play space should never be segregated by tenure’. The Greater London Authority announced that segregated play spaces will be banned in all future developments.
Whereas Khan’s plan to force private developers to integrate social and ‘affordable’ housing into all new developments represents a step forward, it’s clear that no amount of cosmetic tinkering can cover up the vast and growing economic divide that splits this country, but especially the capital. The infamous ‘poor doors’ might not be a matter of life and death for residents, but they represent a contempt for an economic class that will only manifest in other ways every time a new regulation to enforce inclusion is formulated.
There is simply no shortcut to achieving social mobility outside of a radical redistributive economic agenda: higher taxes on capital and wealthy individuals, and an abrupt end to economically-illiterate austerity measures that have destroyed public services that keep the most vulnerable people’s heads above water.
The literal, physical partition of people according to their social class may only rear its ugly head on odd occasions, but the metaphorical divide has been growing at a vast rate since the 1980s, and only by addressing this in a comprehensive way can we ensure that we never face the vulgar prospect of poor kids not owning a key fob for the swings outside their home.