First victory for Russell Brand's 'revolution' as Tory MP's New Era Estate company pulls out of Hoxton development

Brand marched alongside local residents to protest against plans alleged to increase rent to up to £2,000 a month

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The Independent Online

It’s an unlikely place for a grassroots housing revolution, with coffee shops offering £4 smoothies, but trendy Hoxton in east London will forever be remembered as the place that Russell Brand’s revolution claimed its first victim: a property firm owned by a millionaire Tory MP.

The Benyon Estate, the family company of Berkshire MP Richard Benyon, has told residents of the New Era estate in the area that it was selling its share in the consortium that bought the estate in April.

Dating back to the 1930s and home to 93 mainly low income families, the small estate has been an affordable bubble in the rapidly gentrifying area for some time.

However, accusations of rent hikes and social cleansing quickly followed the purchase and along with Mr Brand, the local residents marched against plans to allegedly increase rent to up to £2,000 a month.

This week the activism paid off, as Benyon Estates, which is run by Richard’s brother Edward, admitted: “New Era residents have made it clear that they do not welcome our involvement in the future of the estate.”

While the victory against Benyon Estates is being celebrated by some people locally, Lindsey Garrett, chair of the resident’s group, is still cautious. There are those who claim the Benyons did much to improve the area and the history of the new owners is unlikely to reassure the residents that the future will be better now. "The pulling out of the richest Tory MP in the country is a huge victory, but it is only partial," she said. "Now we need to take the fight to the American owners Westbrook Partners.

She added: “They are a billion dollar organisation dipping their toes into the residential property market and we intend to get under their skin.”

Ms Garrett, a single mother who pays £640 a month for her two bedroom flat, said that residents wanted Westbrook Partners to sell the homes to a housing association to protect residents who “simply cannot” pay a commercial level of rent.

On Sunday night though, a source close to the deal warned of the “law of unintended consequences” with the estate left solely in the hand of Westbrook Partners, a vast US investment group. It also emerged that during the sale of estate to Westbrook Partners in April, the US firm was being attacked in the New York courts over its treatment of tenants at an apartment building in the Bronx.

Following action by local authorities there, it was reportedly required to make repairs, put right thousands of building code violations and pay out more than $1m in rebates to tenants. The Independent made repeated attempts to contact Westbrook but was unable to contact a spokesperson for the firm.

Ironically back in Hackney the local council has seen the third largest number of social renting and shared ownership homes built nationally since 2011, but it said it was powerless to act over New Era Estate.

Councillor Philip Glanville, the cabinet member for housing, said: “Sadly the change in ownership of a small stake of the New Era Estate won't change anything; the fate of these residents lies in the hands of an American investment company... We need longer tenancies, index linked rent rises, the end of tenant fees and the end to unscrupulous evictions. Without better regulation, London's social diversity and economy is at risk.”

Nearby in Southwark, the issue of social cleansing has come into sharp focus in area that ranges from multi-million pound apartment in the shadow of the Shard to sprawling post-war estates. It was here that so-called homeless spikes embedded by a block of high-end flats to deter rough sleepers caused a social media storm.

Residents of the White’s Ground council estate near the White Cube art gallery and a clutch of glitzy shops, told a national newspaper last month that they felt “squeezed out by the pace of change” in the area, while in Newham in east London the former residents of the boarded up Carpenters Estate have launched a high-profile for more affordable housing in the city. The group say the Carpenters Estate is symbolic of the way many groups of residents in London feel they are being treated with the dismantling of social or affordable housing provision.

Campaigners point to a move at the start of the month to illustrate the current situation in the capital. With simultaneous launches in London and Kuala Lumpur and early purchases from Sting and Trudie Styler, 539 apartments in the new Battersea Power Station were made available to buy off plan. The site has famously stood empty for more than 30 years and will eventually provide 3,400 homes, but only 15 per cent of these are set to be affordable.

This is a scenario repeated across the capital, including in Deptford near Greenwich where the £1bn Convoys Wharf development to home 10,000 people in vast luxury tower block will only see 14 per cent dedicated to “affordable accommodation.” Even those won’t be cheap though, after a legal challenge against Boris Johnson’s plan to allow affordable rents to be set up to 80 per cent of market rents failed at the High Court earlier this year.

In contrast earlier this month the city of Manchester won control of a £300m housing fund in a devolution deal that saw it get its own directly elected mayor. The new Greater Manchester Combined Authority hopes this will lead to 15,000 new homes in the area over the next 10 years.

Back in Hoxton, a short walk from the New Era estate is the Benyon Estate where the Tory MP’s family have been landlords to 300 properties for nearly 150 years. The streets are smart and three bedroom Victorian homes are rented out for nearly four times what the residents of New Era Estate pay half a mile away. There's is even a Benyon Road nearby, which ironically sits between an ageing council block and a funky looking new development complete with a high-end art gallery on the ground floor.

Nearer the New Era Estate, a former council worker Jason Robert is sleeping rough and begging for change for a cup of tea. He was luckier earlier in the week though; he says Russell Brand gave him £20. “Change isn’t even the right word to describe what has gone on here in Hoxton. I can’t even begin to f***ing explain how expensive this place has got. A cup of tea costs £2. Everything is so expensive, including the homes.”