We own a house on Marlowe Road in Walthamstow. It's a very nice little house, three bedrooms, a garage, a driveway. It used to belong to the Labour-controlled London Borough of Waltham Forest but it was sold off under Right to Buy in the early 1980s. It was beige when we bought it on the open market from an octogenarian in 2013, so very beige. We lovingly refurbished it, putting in solid oak floors, creating office space, made our then three-year old daughter's bedroom a riot of pink, butterflies and glowing stars.
It was a year later when we first heard that the council intends to "buy back" our home and knock it down to build high-rise flats in its place. Somehow our property had been bypassed when they sent around the cheerful newsletters about the regeneration of Marlowe Road; out of the blue we received an official letter threatening us with a compulsory purchase order.
The letter was swiftly followed by a visit from a council official, who spouted jargon about decanting, phasing and acquisition. She coldly talked about "units" rather than homes and seemed genuinely astonished that we were unhappy about their proposal to knock down our affordable, lovely home in order to build far less affordable ones. "But we'll give you the market value!" she said, in a tone that we use for our child when we bribe her with stickers to open her mouth for the dentist. She then reared up out of her seat in horror as our cat padded into the room - "I hate cats, I'm really scared of them" - I wanted to say that she didn't seem to gel very well with human beings either but I was rooted to the spot, trying not to cry.
At first it was promised we could stay in the neighbourhood if we wanted to, take one of the new houses. It later transpired that they'd valued the (smaller) planned three bedroomed houses some £300,000 over what they think the current ones are worth and we would be expected to bear that shortfall in "shared equity". We've now been told that there will be a gap of four years between our home being demolished and the new one being built. They can't tell us where we would live in those four years, who would pay our mortgage. They probably know they don't need to work that level of detail out - it's untenable that we would accept such a detrimental position.
We face being uprooted from the community that we've lived in for the past 13 years, my daughter from the wonderful primary school that she's settled so well in. LBWF show no signs of being prepared to pay us enough money to buy an equivalent property in the area.
This isn't just about us. Our neighbours in social housing are locked in a stressful bidding war for scant council homes elsewhere. Many will need to move out of the borough and/ or suffer a significant drop in living standards. Still they have made the choice to do so, believing that the council has deliberately run down the area in order to drive them out. No additional social housing will be built, despite LBWF planning to build over 100 more homes in Marlowe Road than exist currently.
Undoubtedly, some redevelopment is a good thing. The local community square was regenerated only last year at a cost of around £1.8million, transforming a former dispersal zone littered with street drinkers into a thriving hub of the community. Children riotously belt through the play fountains in the summer sunshine and enjoy one of the biggest and best playgrounds in London. LBWF have acknowledged to us in writing that this area will close in January 2016 and our daughter's beloved play area will be bulldozed. No replacement play and recreation facilities will be provided to local children and young people for over three years. When the new plaza and playground finally open, they will be flanked on all sides by high-rise buildings, cold spaces in shadow all year round, play fountains unused.
We aren't against progress. IF this redevelopment was genuinely in the public interest and provided more affordable and much needed social housing, IF we were treated with empathy, respect and enabled to stay in the area with no loss of the quality of life we currently enjoy - then we wouldn't be fighting this. But this isn't progress - it's a cynical and nasty exercise in land-grabbing and social cleansing to capitalise on the soaring popularity of "Awesomestow", the moniker given to the area by the local estate agents.
It's happening all across London.
Who decided that our capital should be an exclusion zone for the working class, the public sector workers, the single-parent families, the vulnerable?