Rumours abound of mass resettlements of the poor from Portland, where the Olympic sailing events will be held, so landlords can take advantage of the £3 000 a week per property projected income from the Olympic Games. This isn't the preserve of 'slum landlords' - even high profile and supposedly decent landlords are at it, including local politicians.
On two occasions I have been told by separate families that they have been offered new homes on the mainland, to move by March 2012 so the houses can be renovated ahead of the games. Both were families of four and were being rehoused off the island. Their kids would have to change school - all so their landlords could make a killing at the Olympics. Neither wish to be named for this piece for fear that they would not be treated as 'fairly' as they have been to date. Such rumours are rif on the island.
Under British tenancy law there is nothing illegal in this. We have some of the least secure tenancies in the western world. Generally, after the first 6 months in your home, the landlord has the right chuck you out on 4 weeks' notice. Many are polite enough to agree to give you 8 weeks' notice. These families indeed, have been given 6 months' notice, a generous act but still unethical.
It is redolent of the slum clearances in Beijing ahead of their games. An ancient quarter, Qianmen was bulldozed to hide what the authorities perceived as an eyesore yet in the process destroyed a major link to China's past. The IOC is supranational and seems immune to the very poorest needing to live in their own communities when Olympics come to town. Indeed, I'm not convinced they objected too strongly in Beijing either.
We should look at Portland as a community. Many families, not rich by any means but descendants of miners and quarriers, can trace their roots on the island to before the Norman Conquest in 1066. As such the community is one of the oldest in the UK and seems to being destroyed by a short moment of avarice on the part of private landlords.
Though many live in local authority housing, it is extremely difficult to attain such accommodation. Those unable to buy due to adverse credit history, or simply being priced out of the market by outsiders, are forced to rent privately. Where secure tenancies are often given to council tenants, no such protection is available in private rentals. As a result a community with traditions and belief systems almost as old as the rocks they quarry, is being wrecked by something economists call 'progress'.
This mirrors the slum clearances in Beijing - the 'slums' were one of the most ancient quarters of the city, which the authorities sought to erase from the map to make China look 'modern' to the eyes of the world. Quite a few free countries' press raised their eyebrows at this, but it wasn't stopped.
The community in Quianmen may well have had roots that would embarrass Britain by comparison - Beijing in its various names has stood for millennia. Britain is losing its attachment to its past, not in the loss of buildings which are vigourously protected in law, but in the dissolution of its ancient communities. The eyes of the world turn to Portland and once again, progress dissolves one of the few gems remaining in this country that are not mere chattels.
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