Update on the Raynesfield Estate

West Barnes Lib Dem councillor, Mary-Jane Jeanes, gives an update on what's going on at Raynesfield, the flats on Grand Drive, which have recently been in the media, as London Mayor Boris Johnson was forced to back down on evicting the residents.

"This estate of flats on Grand Drive was built to house police officers. About twenty years ago the Metropolitan Police decided they did not need it, so it was leased to a housing association. The flats have always been used to house public sector workers on modest incomes (nurses, school staff, and other key workers etc) ever since.

The Crown Housing Association’s lease was due to expire at the end of 2014 and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) decided that they would put Raynesfield on the open market, with vacant possession. About a year ago, the housing association gave tenants notice that they would have to leave by the end of this year. Many of the residents have lived in Raynesfield for 15 to 20 years.

Residents launched a campaign to remain in their flats as many of them cannot afford to rent privately. Merton Council’s Housing Department only has a statutory duty to house a few of the families, but not those without children.

(then councillor) Iain Dysart and I wrote to Caroline Pidgeon and Stephen Knight, our Lib Dem Assembly members and they lobbied the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Stephen Greenhalgh and Mayor Boris Johnson to allow this estate, and the many Police owned estates around London, to remain as social housing. I also wrote to Boris to remind him of his duty to increase affordable housing.

A petition was lauched, which attracted great support. Residents organised interviews with the Wimbledon Guardian, BBC London News and London Live.

Evictions were due to begin in October but, as a result of the campaign, MOPAC called a temporary halt to the evictions less than a day before they were due to begin. By this time, some tenants had given away their furniture and moved in temporarily with family or friends. Others had put their furniture into storage and were waiting for the bailiffs’ arrival.

Housing Association staff and tenants were then left in limbo for weeks while Stephen Greenhalgh and others decided what to do. So, this led to weeks more anxiety and sleepless nights for the residents.

During this time, Caroline Pidgeon and Stephen Knight and I continued to lobby the Mayor and Deputy Mayor at City Hall. In the Merton Council meeting on 19th November, a motion was passed calling for a permanent stop to the evictions. Naturally, I spoke in favour. Not one Conservative councillor supported the motion; indeed Cllr G Lewis-Lavender, a close neighbour of the Raynesfield families, spoke against the motion. This is the link to the webcast of the meeting, so you can hear what was said.

It was only on the 28th November that MOPAC officially announced that there would be no evictions at all. MOPAC hopes to sell the estate to a social housing provider with the tenants in situ.

Like other councillors, to date I have received no replies to my emails to Stephen Greenhalgh and the Mayor of London and there are still questions to be answered:

  1. Some of the Raynesfield tenants moved out a few days before the evictions were due to begin; some are sofa-surfing; they must be allowed to return home.
  2. The residents need long term security – they should be offered assured tenancies.
  3. Finally, MOPAC needs to compensate residents for van hire, storage costs, utility reconnection fees and so on.

Stephen Knight, Caroline Pidgeon and I, with the Merton Lib Dem team, will continue to lobby for these on behalf of our neighbours in Raynesfield. The way in which Stephen Greenhalgh announced the change in MOPAC’s policy has drawn criticism across London. This u-turn has been represented as if the Deputy Mayor was unaware that he was planning to evict key workers and then was just “upset to find out how they had been treated” – by him and his staff!

There are plenty of letters about Raynesfield in both in the Wimbledon Guardian and on other local media."