This case study explores the first stage of autonomy: resisting enclosure. Our focus is on community opposition to housing privatisation and gentrification in Little London, an inner city council estate in Leeds, a booming city in Northern England. Below is a brief overview of the case study with links to more detailed information on the right hand side.
The Little London ‘Private Finance Initiative’ (PFI)
In 2001, Leeds City Council proposed a major regeneration programme for the Little London housing estate on the edge of the city centre. Although the area had not seen any investment in its housing or environment for more than two decades, and had higher than average levels of unemployment, poverty and crime, there was considerable local opposition to the proposed regeneration because it involved using the controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
Little London’s location in Leeds (click map to enlarge)
What is PFI?
PFI is a very complicated form of public-private partnership (PPP). In simple terms, it works as follows: instead of the local council borrowing money to pay the costs of, say, refurbishing council homes or building a new school, a private consortium is given a long-term contract (20, 30, 60 years) to finance the scheme up front, which it will also usually design, build and operate for the length of that contract. The government and local council together pay the consortium an annual fee, which includes repaying the money borrowed and a healthy profit.
It is controversial because despite government claims that this gives greater quality and is a more cost-effective way of spending taxpayers’ money, the experience of PFI is that it is a form of privatisation that wastes public money on projects that are poor in standard and take years to complete (see ‘Private Finance Initiative explained’).
The PFI scheme for Little London
Over the years, the Council’s proposals have changed somewhat, but the core idea has been to renovate approximately 900 council homes, build 125 new council homes and around 100 new private homes for market sale, and to redesign the environment to make one of the poorest estates in Leeds a safer and more desirable place to live.
However, what the Council has been less keen to advertise is that the proposed scheme will demolish approximately 150 homes (mostly council flats) and for a long while involved the sale of 297 high rise flats to a private developer to renovate as affordable flats for sale (see below for update). If these plans had been allowed to go ahead, then hundreds of households could have been forced to leave their community and some 320 council homes would have been lost to a city with an affordable housing crisis.
A contested consultation
Leeds City Council has always claimed to have the overwhelming support of the local community. Yet since 2001, the scheme has attracted significant community opposition. Tenants initially voted ‘no’ to the scheme in 2002 but the Council refused to accept the result on the grounds that the ‘no’ campaign had been unfairly effective, ordered a fresh ballot and secured a ‘yes’ result on a much reduced turnout with the proviso that two blocks of flats earmarked for demolition would be saved.
The government then rejcted the Council’s business case and the scheme was put on the backburner until May 2005. Since then, another deeply controversial consultation process has taken place in which one tenant failed in a legal challenge to stop the PFI and the tenants’ association has officially complained to the local ombudsman, accusing council officers of deliberately misleading tenants during two consultation processes in 2001-2 and 2005-6.
Despite this, in November 2006, the government finally gave the green light for the PFI scheme to go ahead. Since then, progress has been very slow and it is doubtful whether any regeneration will take place before mid-2009. Crucially, the persistent campaigning by tenants finally forced the Council to shelve its planned sell-off of the three Lovells high-rise tower blocks, and instead agree to retain them as council housing under the Decent Homes scheme.
We are working with local community groups such as Little London Tenants and Residents Association (LLTRA), Community Action Little London and the Save Little London Campaign as well as individual tenants and residents.
The aim of the research project is threefold:
So far, we have co-produced with community campaigners a preliminary report, detailing the main episodes and stages of the PFI process in Little London from 1999 to the present. A summary can be downloaded opposite. This report has been used by campaigners to pursue a number of political and legal challenges to the proposed regeneration, and will form the basis of a guide to fighting housing privatisation.
We have been appointed ‘community advisors’ to the Little London Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, sitting in on their committee meetings and producing analyses and information upon request. We have also helped the Save Little London campaign to set up an accessible website and publish regular newsletters. Throughout, we have been documenting our experiences and those of the community we have encountered.
About Little London
Government housing and regeneration policy
The regeneration of Leeds
Leeds housing affordability crisis
The Private Finance Initiative explained
Regenerating Little London
The disputed consultation
Leeds Housing Strategy 2005-10
PFI regeneration option 11/05 [powerpoint – 796kb]
Independent Tenant Advisor report 03/06
Outline Business Case 05/06
Revised Outline Business Case 11/06
Draft Development Framework Website 05/07
Public Tender Document 07/07
Local community groups
Tenants & Residents Newsletter, Little London Times Feb07 Part 1, Part 2, May07, July07,
Tenants & Residents Association’s Response to Draft Development Framework 06/07
Save Little London Campaign
Newsletters 2006 (March, April, June, August, December)
Community Action Little London
Autonomous Geographies documents
Response to Draft Development Framework 06/07