The Missing Piece of the Jigsaw

Greenwich council's latest plans for the riverside from West Greenwich (by the Millenium dome) to Woolwich were published in February. It is no big surprise that developers have their eye on Charlton and Woolwich - squeezed between the Millenium Village and the Woolwich Arsenal Crossrail site this is one of the last remaining areas on London's Thames where manufacturing industry survives.

Submitted by Ernestine on March 18, 2012

The development 'masterplan' for Charlton depends on bringing in the investment money fast by prettifying the Thames Barrier district, a historically industrial area. 'Low quality' - developer speak for low rent - work premises won't sit well amongst the 'Georgian style' streets of town houses envisaged. Woolwich has been recovering for decades from the loss of Thames Polytechnic, now the University of Greenwich and moved to the old Naval College buiding in posh end of the borough. New small industries have been encouraged to set up there, and are starting to thrive, only to be told they must move out.

It is pretty clear that this is all part of a city-wide 'class-cleansing' programme of housing benefit caps, council estates replaced with shared ownership and other spurious 'affordable housing' scams and districts being 'arted' up for property speculators. Recently industrial areas of London outside of the Docklands have come under heavy pressure. This so-called regeneration threatens to destroy what little industry we have left. Tideway wharf in Battersea is a prime example.

I moved to Greenwch from Deptford, in the neighbouring borough of Lewisham, where the Docklands Light Railway has been the trigger for a massive building spree during the last couple of decades, with public parks and industrial workshops making way for high-rise commuter appartments. Now Convoy's Wharf and the historic naval dockyard are set to follow. But with the apparent collapse of the property boom, there is some hope that common sense will start to prevail. Typically, the Greenwich consultation process was designed to bypass industrial workers. Not one of the dozens of small firms I visited with 'Charlton Works' - a group of local people set up to publicise and counter the plans - had been informed of the scheme. These firms are mostly leaseholders. Some of the landowners did know about it, but hadn't passed the information on. There was a half page announcement of impending compulsory purchase orders in the council's free paper 'Greenwich Time', inconspicuous amongst several colour pages of pageantry to celebrate the new status of the 'royal' borough of Greenwich.

The consultation documents available briefly online and in local libraries read like a glorified estate agents brochure, designed to win over the local homeowners with talk of improvements to the 'public realm' and the building of a couple of new schools. They seem to have largely succeeded, especially with the emphasis on 'dirty' industries like car-breaking being replaced with 'smart' industry on the few acres of land, the Westminster Industrial Estate (owned by the co-op incidently,) left for mixed use in the new 'creative quarter'. Three foundries, and hundreds of wholesale distributors, small manufacturers, craft industries and mechanics, spread over an area of over a square mile, all providing local jobs, would be wiped out to make way for yet another commuter dormitory.

However, some small firms have been protesting much, and starting to get together to save their livelihoods. Many of them have been providing genuine training, and involving workers in running their businesses, because they know how to get the job done. They are basically of the workers not the bosses.

There are other more powerful interests objecting to the new 'masterplans', notably the Port of London Authority. Their response is very interesting. There is talk in the development scheme of 'safeguarded wharves' but their importance is minimised, with 'marinas' hyped instead to complement riverside housing and pretty views. There are 2 factors making Greenwich's wharves vital for the whole of London however. First there are the last deep water wharves in London where aggregates can be offloaded to a railhead, making them strategic for the importing of building materials without requiring huge numbers of lorry movements. They are also a necessary part of the infastructure for transporting waste down the river to the Belvedere Cory Environmental Reprocessing depot. Neither of the functions have been considered in the development scheme, causing a lot of agitation amongst the bigger movers like the PLA concerned with London's river. These interests can afford better lawyers than Royal Greenwich and their pals Berkeley Homes, and are likely to cause a lot of trouble for the would-be property developers.

So why should we worry about these machinations, when as anarchists we advocate class-struggle to combat property speculation? Should we stand aside and let them the powers that be negotiate among themselves? Are the issues something we should try to engage with, and if so, how?

Industrial sites have been redeveloped all over the place. Nearby in Stratford, Silverside, Battersea and Deptford... The money has run out though. We are in a much better position to expose the fiction. The industries under threat now are not struggling economically - they have cheap enough rents and they are making and moving useful stuff. It is as important if not more so to give some solidarity here as it is to public service workers. If we don't get active here there won't be much real industry left, all we'll have is McJobs or admin or service jobs with no economic power as workers. Reasons given by local councillors for not keeping more industrial land in the plans were that this would be overruled in planning appeals, yet the wider London Plan designates Greenwich as an area for prioritising industry, and, ironically, government rhetoric is now in favour of small business. This crap peddled by our elected needs to be exposed.

Charlton Works is starting to put together an alternative strategy to develop some real smart industry on the river - recycling. If we don't start to do this everywhere we can, we are stuffed as an economy and probably as a planet. By the river is the obvious place for it, for obvious reasons. This is why we need to engage with people who work on the river and protect public access to it before it's too late. There is too much at stake here, we need to get as much expertise as we can.

Then there is the effect on communities. Greenwich's previous local development plan, which included half as many new homes, was open for consultation a year ago. 70% of the housing was to be 'affordable' - in name if not in reality - giving hope to some of the local council tenants who have been waiting nearly a decade for their estates to be refurbished or demolished that they would be rehoused locally. Re-building has repeatedly been put off and now people won't be able to afford to live in these new schemes.

Where housing issues are concerned we haven't developed ways to gain much leverage yet. The issues don't directly hit at the day-to-day issues facing workers, where anarchist ideas are pretty strong and gaining respect when compared to the bureaucratic Trade Union tactics of wait and fudge. But housing has already become a major weapon in the suppression of the working class. The reason people are most afraid of losing their jobs is that they are likely to lose their homes too. Our community strategy needs a swift kick up the developmental to deal with this.