I helped shut down the MIPIM housing show because cities should be for people, not profits

The property developers who attended seem to think that cities are places to be exploited for whatever profit can be squeezed from them

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The Independent Online

Along with protesters from a wide range of housing and community groups and trade unions, I was was involved in the “Block Boris” action at the opening of the MIPIM property fair at Kensington Olympia yesterday.

The action was organised by the Radical Housing Network, a set of groups fighting for housing justice in London. While we failed to prevent Boris Johnson entering the event, our protest managed, briefly, to force MIPIM to close.

MIPIM UK, whose parent event is held annually in Cannes, is being held for the first time this year. The event brings together local councils, with at least 35 attending, and other governmental bodies with global property developers looking to, in MIPIM’s words, “close deals on the UK property market.

Our protest against MIPIM took place under the slogan, “Cities for people, not for profit”, which makes clear the fundamental contradiction between the interests of the people and the interests of the property developers at MIPIM. For us cities should be places to live, to go to school, to raise families, to grow old in and to enjoy, with all the housing, amenities and public services this requires.

For the property developers cities, and particularly London, are largely places to be exploited for whatever profit can be squeezed from them. Seeking little more than profit, the property developers are ruthlessly unsentimental. Whether it is a housing estate, park or even a hospital (one workshop is entitled “Exploring Healthcare: Opportunities for the Property Industry”) all are immaterial as the lives of the people reliant on them.

In Southwark, where I live, the consequences of MIPIM’s model of housing are stark and depressing. A number of housing and community groups in the borough as well as the trade union Unite asked the council to follow the lead of a number of other Labour councils including Hackney and Islington and reconsider attending. The council refused to do so. In 2013, Southwark Council leader Peter John’s tickets and travel expenses were paid for by Lend Lease, the developer of the Heygate site in Elephant and Castle.

Lend Lease bought the site for £50m, and Southwark Council have now spent £65 million clearing it. With Fred Manson, Southwark’s former regeneration guru, declaring Elephant and Castle needed “a better class of person”, an estate of 1,200 homes, the majority of which were council houses, will be replaced with 2,535 homes, of which only 79 will be available for social rent. This year Southwark has been nominated for two awards at MIPIM, one for Planning Authority of the Year, one for Public-Private Partnership of the Year for the Aylesbury Estate regeneration, which many fear will be another Heygate. Commenting on yesterday's conference, Cllr John said: “While we're very fond of our neighbouring boroughs, we can't afford to watch them steal investment from under our noses, and that's why we need to be at events like MIPIM, telling people why they should choose Southwark over anywhere else.”

Our protest yesterday was militant, loud, but non-violent. The only arrest that took place followed an incident involving a property developer and an activist, allegedly resulting in the activist ending up with a split lip. If we are to gain control of our cities from the property developers, we need to continue to take action ourselves rather than rely on servile local authorities who do not have our interests at heart.