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Voices of Scotland Homes for people not for profit

Housing campaigner STEPHANIE MARTIN explains how her community-led union has fought back against Wheatley Homes’ social cleansing plans to demolish four 26-storey high-rise blocks in Glasgow

AS CHAIR of Wyndford Resident’s Union (WRU) I supported our community fightback against energy price gouging in April 2022, when we forced SSE to enact a price freeze for 10,000 households across Scotland. 

We are a community-led union that knows how to win. So when Wheatley Homes, Scotland’s largest social housing monopoly, began a crusade against our community through the demolition of four 26-storey high-rise blocks, we were ready to launch a fightback with power in our punch. 

The high-rise buildings on Wyndford Road, containing a total of 600 socially rented homes, were built in the 1960s to accommodate retired tenants in one-bedroom and bedsit flats. They were highly lucrative properties, which at one point had Glasgow’s elderly population queueing to get in.

Wheatley has neglected to keep up the standard of the high-rise flats, overpopulating the buildings with vulnerable adults without adequate wrap-around support, and failing to properly maintain them. 

Now, after degenerating the area for so long, it is manipulating the argument to pursue an agenda of social cleansing. 

Wheatley has called the destruction of our community “a new dawn for Wyndford” as it uses every trick in the book to force residents out of their homes, dispersing them across the city. We have evidence of one tenant even experiencing racism from a housing officer to this effect. 

Wheatley plan to replace these 600 social homes with 300 mid-market rent properties, a huge drop in housing stock that Glasgow’s working class can ill afford, with over 1,000 people currently experiencing homelessness in our city.

There are also environmental arguments against the demolition of these flats. Kim Pratt from Friends of the Earth Scotland conducted a carbon analysis of the flats with Jo McClelland, conservation architect. 

This study showed that the impact of Wheatley’s plan is nearly twice that of retrofitting the flats: approximately 22,465 tonnes of CO2 would be used in the demolition/rebuild against the 12,098 tonnes it would take to retrofit the properties. 

To summarise, it would be a 46 per cent higher cost to the environment to demolish these flats than to insulate them properly. 

Wheatley have argued that the high-rise flats must come down because they are not environmentally stable. However, these buildings actually have a C rating in energy efficiency — which is above the current threshold for social housing. Insulation retrofitting of these properties could elevate that rating to an A, just as we have seen in similar developments like Cedar Court at the other end of Maryhill Road. 

There are immediate social impacts of the demolition to consider too. In Wheatley’s own words, they will use the Wyndford for “on-site waste storage and segregation” (Wheatley Board Report, April 2022). 

Tonnes of concrete will be broken down within the scheme, leading to years of toxic dust, noise, industrial machinery etc constantly polluting the remaining community. 

The vast green spaces that current tenants enjoy will be covered by concrete if Wheatley’s plans come to pass, leading to the loss of ecosystems in our area and safe spaces for children to play. 

Across all four buildings there are tenants who have pledged to remain, come what may. Of those who have already been decanted to all corners of the city, many regret their decision and claim they were pressured out of their homes. 

WRU has campaigned tirelessly to prevent the destruction of these homes, gaining the support of allies such as the Young Communist League and Just Stop Oil. 

We have applied for listed status on the buildings, written an open letter to Glasgow City Council, appealed directly to our local representatives, and we have held public meetings and demonstrations. 

We exhausted all options to stop this demolition, up to the point of occupying the buildings. Tenants and activists together took this measure in direct retaliation against a social landlord that refuses to properly engage with the communities it’s supposed to serve. 

The Young Communist League declared all four high-rises under political occupation on Monday January 16 2023. 

A number of architects, including Kate Mackintosh, Professor Alan Dunlop, Professor Miles Glendinning and Malcolm Fraser, have supported our campaign to save the flats, advocating the prospects of retrofitting the buildings instead of demolition, which would save hundreds of homes and thousands of tonnes of carbon. 

An article written by Malcolm Fraser in the Architect’s Journal criticised the tokenistic attempts made by Wheatley to engage the community with their demolition plans. 

He argues that the consultation Wheatley held was concerted to produce the outcome it desired, as tenants were asked ridiculous questions such as “What excites you most about the regeneration plans?”

Wheatley has manipulated the consultation to use as a rebuttal to any criticism of their plans. Across the media, it claims a whopping 87 per cent approval rating among the community, however a freedom of information request submitted by WRU has found that housing officers were empowered to infer what they believed tenants’ responses were, and that just 309 responses were submitted to the consultation, in a scheme with over 1,600 households. 

To argue that a majority in the scheme support the demolition flies in the face of these facts, and it is our argument that had alternative suggestions been put to the community then the response would have been quite different. 

Since the launch of the community occupation, there has been an outpouring of support. This campaign is one that touches us all, it’s about people before profit as we fight to save social housing from rampant privatisation that has destroyed so much of public infrastructure in Scotland. Our residents union is clear — these flats will not come down. 

To find out how you can support the campaign, please follow us on Twitter @SaveTheWyndford and @WyndfordU

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