SQUATTED CAFE RESISTS HACKNEY COUNCIL SELL-OFF
Theres a gold rush afoot in east London, and were
not invited. Also left in the cold is Sicilian café-owner
Tony Platia who, together with other locals in the borough of Hackney,
has recently re-occupied Francescas Café, his business
of 30 years, after being booted out last summer. It was one of many
premises sold from under tenants feet as the Council scrambled
to dispose of their property over the last few years.
Now the shop front has turned frontline, barricaded in the battle
to halt an ongoing stampede of investors and speculators, trailing
a stench of corruption in their wake that would make Robert Mugabe
blush. Tony had right of first refusal and tried to buy his place
but his cheques somehow kept getting lost in the post before
they reached the Council. You, too, could get a slice of the real
estate pie if you dont mind furnishing the right officials
with a few back-handers.
Francescas Cafe, at 34 Broadway Market, E8, was bought in
2003 by multi-millionaire investor Roger Wratten, in order to build
a block of luxury flats. From his mansion in Kent, Wratten is currently
under investigation by the Inland Revenue for money laundering and
tax evasion. Still, hes managed to buy up a rash of properties
across the borough, including 2 Broadway Market, until recently
the site of Little Georgia, another popular, local caff. Last August,
the very day Wratten was supposed to sign a lease with the cafés
live-in manager, Tikka, he abruptly raised his asking price
three days later, he turned up early in the morning and turfed her
on to the street.
If wed been in Sicily, Tony assures us, none
of this wouldve happened. Ive lost my home, Ive
lost my business, Ive lost everything. How can I accept that?
Indeed, he didnt take it lying down. It took 50 cops and 10
bailiffs to evict him the first time, last July. Since he re-occupied
the café on November 27th, hes tapped a deep vein of
local frustration and outrage at the Council, and Hackney residents
have rallied around.
Other ex-Council tenants have come forward with similar stories
of being swindled out of their homes and livelihoods. Shoppers have
donated food, cash and blankets to Francescas. A regular face
at the café is Betty Shanks, Mayor of Hackney in 1985, whos
demanded the Council remove her photo from their walls in disgust.
The occupied café now boasts a 20 foot scaffold tripod rising
from its roof, ready to help the more nimble occupiers evade the
The current wave of gentrification thats bringing Wratten
such rich pickings is down to the combination of a local real estate
bonanza, and a cash-strapped council desperate to flog off its assets.
Hackney Council has proved hugely successful, over the years, at
throwing away money on ill-fated management schemes. Aiming to get
out of the red in the second half of the 90s, Hackney flogged £30
million of its own property, in keeping with a series of privatisations
among London councils at the time. Nurseries and libraries tumbled
to the ground, swimming pools evaporated, and all manner of voluntary
advice and advocacy groups shut up shop.
But still the council wasted cash. A botched attempt to outsource
social security benefits left it £36 million out of pocket.
And its failed Transforming Hackney programme of institutional
change led to an accounting cock-up which, were led to believe,
meant that when the auditors arrived in 2001, they found a financial
black hole of £72 million.
From then on, central government turned the screw, the funding
cuts got deeper, the sell-offs accelerated (See Hackney
Not 4 Sale article, SchNEWS of the World). At the
same time, with a still burgeoning London population, newly-extended
underground line and the 2012 London Olympics shimmering lucratively
on the horizon, Hackneys streets began to seem paved with
Broadway Market, oozes the Labour-run council, is now home
to one of Londons newest farmers markets, and an increasing
range of specialist independent fashion boutiques, galleries, delis
a truly dynamic urban environment. Yet,
limping wretchedly amid financial and administrative chaos, the
council has gone about stripping its assets like a former Eastern
Bloc country circa 1991. In this part of London, rats dont
abandon a sinking ship they stay on board to hand out the
rich spoils to their mates. And not sharks, but wolves have gathered.
Up the road from Francescas at number 71, a Rastafarian named
Spirit has built up his Nutritious Food Gallery since 1993, selling
fresh fish and veg. Like Tony, he tried to buy the property in December
2001, presenting the councils estate agents with a deposit
cheque for £10,000. Mysteriously, it was later sent back to
him, unused. He turned up at the auction the same day. In a spectacular
coup for Hackneys Equal Opportunities policy, the only black
Rastafarian to have attended the sale was summarily barred, due
to concerns that he may not have been able to pay.
For the time being, Spirit is still trading, but now his place
is owned by Broadway Investments (Hackney) Ltd., run from a PO box
in Nassau in the Bahamas. Since 1997, while its often proved
impossible for locals to buy out their own places, the council has
been keen to spread a little bit of Hackney all over the world
selling properties across the borough to companies in Moscow, South
Africa and Dubai. But many, apparently unrelated, individual companies
to have walked off with ex-council stock have turned out, curiously,
to be traceable back to Nassau.
But for all the councils claims to have been seeking best
consideration thats the highest price, to the
you and I in respect of the properties theyve sold,
Broadway Investments underbid Spirit by £15,000.
You dont need to go by Spirits shop to catch the whiff
of something fishy. The entire debacle of the Hackneys sell-offs
is currently being investigated by Scotland Yards Public Sector
Back at Francescas last December 21st, Wrattens men
turned up brandishing a court order, and managed to evict the newly-occupied
café. They demolished the roof, stairs and rear wall, before
the Health and Safety Executive turned up and stopped them. On Boxing
day, however, the locals re-squatted the place and, with the help
of some friendly nearby builders, managed to re-build the roof and
Occupation by the local community reads the banner
above the door of Francescas. Against Corrupt developers.
We want our café not yuppie flats! The pressure is
on the council to find a way of re-possessing Spirit and Tonys
properties on their behalf, come clean about the corrupt sell-offs,
and end its relentless drive toward a brave new bourgeois world
of creative agencies, and skatewear boutiques, in which
beer is only to be sipped in some infernal, minimalist den of glass
As SchNEWS went to press, the occupiers of the café at number
34 were expecting an eviction any day. Should bailiffs move in on
Spirits shop, theyve promised to occupy that too. The
support of community has been brilliant, enthuses Tony; theyve
been all Sicilians here, except without the shotguns.
16th January 7.30-9.30pm.
St Michaels Church Hall, cnr of Lansdowne Drive &
Lavender Grove, Hackney E8.
and have your say before Deputy Mayor of Hackney, Jessica
up the respec agenda - ASBO massive in da house. The Respect
agenda whats it all about? Could it be an attempt to
head off the Tories in the headlong rush to the right, or nick the
name of Gorgeous George Galloways personality cult while hes
preoccupied in the hot tub with Dennis Rodman. In fact its
a cobbled together manifesto of rehashed ideas which exposes the
neo-Labour project as the kneejerk crackdown conservatism it actually
Some parts of society
are suffering from increasing friction and a breakdown in any sense
of community. So whats to blame for the collapse in societys
good manners? Flexible working conditions? Low pay?
The highest house prices in history? Alienation and the tedium of
life on the treadmill in 21st Century Britain? Perhaps the fact
that a price tag has been put on every aspect of public life? No,
how stupid of us its just a mysterious upsurge in anti-social
behaviour caused by bad parents and lack of proper respect
Watching this lying warmonger
pushing respect is like having an arsonist trying to
sell you a fire extinguisher when your house is in flames. Somethings
wrong but you cant quite put your fist on it.
Despite a bombardment
of propaganda about hooded tops and binge drinking Neighbours
from Hell etc etc it seems that only 17% of people on
the street are worried about anti-social behaviour.
This has been taken by Tonys crew as a mandate for - you guessed
it - extra police and state powers i.e. more CCTV, ASBOs , ABCs
and all the usual death by acronym. ASBOs for kiddies under ten,
on the spot fines for graffiti artists and a clamp down on mobile
phones in school are all on the agenda. Course it doesnt
matter if any of this actually addresses any real problems as long
it gets the front page of the Daily Hate Mail.
And no prizes for guessing which income bracket this effort is targeted
at. In fact it looks like Neo-Labour have stuck by their promise
to be tough on the causes of crime - only they reckon the cause
of crime is not poverty but the poor. And in charge of the project
is yet another Tsar. Is there a reason why New Labour
loves styling its supremos after the autocratic rulers of Imperial
Russia? Perhaps we should be told. Maybe if these Tsars left the
Winter Palace of Westminster and looked at life on an estate they
might learn the real meaning of respect.
past the causes of social breakdown to the symptoms, the raft (a
rudderless vessel heading inexorably downstream) of new summary
powers will extend compulsory parenting programmes. Despite opposition
by 98% of Housing Associations, the proposals include cuts to housing
benefit and eviction for people not toeing the line. In ASBOland
homelessness is a cure for social breakdown. Problem families will
be shoved into a national network of parenting academies or sinbins,
which might bear superficial but irrelevant resemblances to prison
Image conscious Neo Labour
has even produced a logo for the campaign, featuring two arrows
circling each other. Its themed on recycling: what goes around
comes around. If you give respect you get it back. Perhaps if the
politicians showed more respect for our poorer communities, people
would offer respect back.
some communities earning real respect for staying intact despite
the corporate onslaught:
* Following a three month
struggle, locals in Haringey have succeeded in saving their local
boozer from the clutch of rampant property developers. The Fountain
Pub in West Green Rd, N15 was a well-used local community facility
which ended up facing demolition to make way for yet more luxury
flats. The struggle and resistance by a united community resulted
in Haringey council being forced to agree that the pub was a valuable
community facility. Residents successfully argued that closing the
place would contravene the Councils own policy on Protecting
Existing Community Facilities. Locals began mobilising their
community, getting hundreds to sign petitions, organised public
meetings, ran leaflet drops and raised the campaigns profile
through the local media.
To contact the Haringey
Solidarity Group: www.haringey.org.uk
* Over in Oxford the
Jericho Boatyard Campaign has also had a busy year resisting
the potential loss of community space to (oh yes!), yet more luxury
homes. The huge need for sustainable and affordable living space
in Oxford will certainly not be provided by this Bellway Corporate
development or Blairs ASBOs. British Waterways, the body that
is supposed to maintain the UKs canals, is planning to sell
this and other land off. The campaign has seen some success with
the councils refusal to grant planning permission, but the
squatters at the Castlemill Boatyard had their court hearing last
month, and now face eviction at the end of February with a demand
for £2,500 in costs to boot. For more on the Castlemill Boatyard
- Newcastle Green Fest crew are asking for anyone with
mobile renewable power or biodiesel generators to contact them,
as theyre trying to go 100% renewably-powered at this years
Greenfestival on May bank holiday www.newcastlegreenfestival.org.uk
- Do you know Helen Veda (Kazai) last known to be with
a travellers group at Brigg in 1994. Please contact Arani and
Co Solicitors on 0208 893 5000 and ask for Nick, asap.
- Ten years since work started on the Newbury Bypass and
guess what? New research shows that the bypass has fuelled traffic
growth of just under 50%, congestion is as bad in town at rush
hour as it was prior to the bypass opening, and that the new road
has encouraged more traffic. Well worth £100 million plus.
- From the people that bought you the G8 Bikeride 2005 (pedaling
from London to Scotland) comes the Bicycology Roadshow
2006. The idea is a roadshow involving workshops, climate
change awareness, bike maintenance, bike-art, sustainable living,
cinema, cafe and street performance, cycling around the country,
linking up with local projects and campaigns to spread the word
about all things bike-related. If youre interested in getting
involved email firstname.lastname@example.org
- 15 young anti-dam activists staged a noisy sit-down demo
in Icelands Ministry of Industry last Monday. This
action is part of an on-going campaign against Capitals
latest earth-rape in the shape of a number of new hydro-dam projects
in the country. Two of the activists were given suspended sentences
and ordered to pay £6000 in fines and expenses. A huge benefit
gig with Bjork was held in Rekyavik to raise money and interest
in this new upsurge of eco-resistance. www.savingiceland.org
- Smash EDO are having another noise demo on the 18th outside
the factory on Homefarm road, Moulscoombe, from 4 till 6. Bring
drums and stuff that makes noise. www.smashedo.org.uk
- Fancy spring in the beautiful West of Ireland? A second environmental
direct action camp is planned for March, blocking Shells
plans to place pipelines from the sea. The camp had total success
last year, stopping all work and intend a repeat performance.
The campaign has massive support in Ireland and is part of a growing
resistance to environmental degradation. Bring an umbrella.
- 21st January - national demo in London calling for Justice for
British Residents of Guantamano Bay. For details see www.cageprisoners.com
Forget pukka ponce Jamie Oliver, the Veggies Catering Campaign
are to take on a catering contract, to provide animal friendly wholesome
meals for a Nottingham primary school. Run in combination with classroom
sessions on nutritious cooking, Veggies is even offering school
dinners for the general public! To find out more check out www.veggies.org.uk
WALKING ON AIR
The Zapatistas are back on the airwaves again on this,
their 12th anniversary (See SchNEWS 250).
Hidden away in the Mexican forests, Radio Insurgente broadcasts
weekly programmes on resistance to global capitalism mixed in with
contemporary ranchero for light relief. Taste online at www.radioinsurgente.org
(but its mostly in Spanish!)
* Meanwhile, a little closer to home, the insurgent and independant
Radio4A is now 24/7. Hidden away in the concrete jungles
of Brighton, these peeps have been broadcasting sedition for over
ten years now and are on the airwaves at 101.4 FM and online at
Activists with the International Solidarity Movement were
detained and deported from Israel after attempting to reach a conference
on non-violence in Bethlehem over Christmas. In an interesting twist
the judge deported them partially on the basis there are reports
of anarchist activity abroad i.e. political involvement in
their home countries. Given one of those detained is continually
spied upon by the Mets Forward Intelligence Team despite having
no convictions, it begs the question of how much collusion there
is between UK and Israeli intelligence concerning pro-Palestinian
and Peace activists. See www.palsolidarity.org.uk
Sick of celebrity Big Brother? Well Hackney council have
got something to keep you glued to the goggle box as you shovel
in yer Turkey Twizzlers. Watching us watching them watching you
lucky residents in east London will soon be able to spy on their
neighbours via CCTV. In the soviet themed scheme, curtain-twitchers
too lazy to go their windows can turn amateur secret police by viewing
footage from 11 local cameras. Police in turn will be able to broadcast
details of any local suspected ASBO breakers. If successful
the brilliantly named Community Safety Channel will
be extended and offered to 20,000 residents covering 400 spy-cams.
SchNEWS look forward to the day when they install CCTV in Big Business
Boardrooms so we can see how corrupt the buggers are, engaging in
all that extreme anti-social behaviour - but we wont be holding
our collective breath.
SchNEWS warns all readers... if you cant hack your community
getting sold off to yuppies - do somethin abart it innit!
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