THE DEMOLITION OF SHEERWATER AND SUBSEQUENT ‘SMART GARDEN SUBURB’ REPLACEMENT
Whether you live in Sheerwater or you live in an area that has also been earmarked for regeneration, this information is important in terms of ‘smart garden suburbs’ – about what it actually means and whether you wish to live in that environment, so please read! It is my investigation and thoughts that I hope may be used as part of your argument to prevent such devastation of whole communities or, if you are in favour of regeneration, you must be aware of plans that directly affect you.
Sheerwater – Has the same happened in your area?
Over the last decade, Sheerwater has been allowed to deteriorate. There has been little investment or maintenance, but Woking Borough Council (WBC) managed to find the money to provide a big running track during the 2012 Olympics and joined forces with an external company called New Vision Homes (NVH) (a joint venture between Pinnacle PSG and Mansell) who would maintain the housing stock. This hasn’t been entirely successful following numerous complaints. Lo and behold, in 2013 a leaflet was dropped through everyone’s doors in Sheerwater informing them that the area was to be regenerated because it was considered “deprived”. When they said regenerated, what they actually meant was demolished. WBC and their partners NVH, HTA Architects, Pinnacle PSG and Mansell have put together a vision for a new ‘Smart Garden Suburb’ which will be provided through demolition of 600 homes. A few hundred of these homes are private and they were informed that the council would use Compulsory Purchase Orders as a matter of course. This is, in fact, against any legislation and should be a last step.
What about council houses?
NONE OF THE NEW HOUSING INCLUDES COUNCIL HOUSING. The only accommodation on offer will be AFFORDABLE HOUSING, which require a MORTGAGE. If families cannot afford a mortgage for an ‘affordable’ home still worth 80% of full market value, or their credit rating is bad, they won’t be remaining in Sheerwater, and those lovely homes they are dangling in front of residents’ eyes, are unbeknown out of reach for many which highlights how cleverly worded their information is! The area is being ‘regenerated’ for financial reasons only and the boundary extension provides an increase in private homes which in turn are required to fund the more affordable housing.
The Dubious Thameswey Group
WBC set up the Thameswey group a few years ago, which has a number of different subsidiaries for energy, sustainability etc. I believe this was done in preparation for the destruction of Sheerwater. I wonder if other councils have done similar – especially those who are imposing ‘regeneration’ on residents? It wouldn’t be surprising as WBC’s CEO, Ray Morgan, sees pound signs after the saga of the Ryden’s Way new development debacle that was done in a very back-handed manner:
I accidentally stumbled across a video on Youtube in which a man gave brief information about the development of new Garden Cities being ‘Smart Cities’ and ‘Safe Cities’. These cities are based around the old idealogy of Ebenezer Howard, who gave us both Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities. His idealogy was that society can be moulded by their environment and a big exhibition was being held in Excell London last year promoting the idea of garden cities but rehashed and called ‘smart garden cities’ instead. In simple terms, smart cities and suburbs will have:
- A technological control grid;
- Houses will be monitored for energy usage via ‘Smart Meters’;
- A ‘safe city’ has a network of surveillance which is what makes it safe, including: video surveillance, analytics, audio and cellular.
- The population within these cities or suburbs will be biometrically identified and tracked so data of their location and their movements can be sold for corporate gain and your everyday life and behaviour will be tracked and details sold on to private companies so that local businesses will be tailored to suit your needs.
Some of his terminology sounded familiar and it got me thinking. I wonder if this is linked to all these new regenerations? So I focused on this word ‘smart’ and decided to have a look.
Firstly I found that the Sheerwater Masterplan had now been put on Youtube, so I took a look to see if I recognised any words.
And then I also found this workshop document I hadn’t seen before: http://www.sheerwater-regeneration.co.uk/web/uploads/files/downloads_21_0.pdf
and you will see on page 13 in big, bold letters, the title ‘A 21st CENTURY SMART GARDEN SUBURB’. The document talks about surveillance of streets due to proximity of housing, and “…. A new environmentally sustainable location, where active lifestyles are encouraged, shopping and transport is convenient and high quality homes are delivered. We would like to work with the community to create a sustainable, modern, attractive and popular place to live”. They promote housing for the 21st century and designed for modern life, E-Connected: making the most of technology, easily accessed cycle routes and improved transport, safe and secure over-looked streets.
In March 2013 the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) issued a guide for local councils called ‘Creating Garden Cities and Suburbs Today’ http://www.tcpa.org.uk/data/files/Creating_Garden_Cities_and_Suburbs_Today_-_a_guide_for_councils.pdf
in which it outlines how:
Applying Garden City principles to the development of new communities also allows for immediate access to the countryside, as well as the integration of smart technology.
In May 2013 WBC authorised the hybrid of a planning application. http://connect.woking.public-i.tv/document/Item_8___Sheerwater_Regeneration_Gateway_Review.pdf
On 18 December 2013 the government issued a press release entitled ‘UK Set to Lead the Way for Smart Cities’. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-set-to-lead-the-way-for-smart-cities it states that:
A new forum led by Government will see local authorities and businesses working together to ensure that growth opportunities are not missed in a market estimated to be worth more than $400bn globally by 2020.
Smart cities have the potential for businesses….
Government is already investing in development of new technologies to support this sector. £50m has been invested in Future Cities Catapult in London that will support businesses looking to commercialise their products and get them in to a market place.
The Forum ….. involves government and industry working together to support a digital sector.
The Technology Strategy Board was investing £24m to create a demonstrator in Glasgow. It would demonstrate how new integrated services across health, transport, energy and public safety can improve local economy, and increase quality of life. It would also allow UK businesses to test new solutions that can be exported around the globe.
What does all this blurb mean, and what has it got to do with communities facing regeneration?
As with anything, most people will find this whole concept very exciting and take it at face value and who could blame them? Green, open spaces – lovely. New shops and community spaces – lovely. Real-time data telling you when the next bus is due – brilliant! BUT when you begin to look through the gloss and realise that, not only is it the greed of councils and the fact that businesses and corporations are becoming involved in local housing stock that is concerning, but I and many others find it extremely worrying about the implications of the ‘Smart’ element.
So what is the ‘Smart’ element?
Do you remember when Woking Borough Council and many others put small microchips inside your wheelie bins in order for WBC to collect data on your refuse use? It’s exactly the same thing but in a much bigger form. Unbelievably, hitting the headlines today is the exact thing I am talking about:
How does any of this equate to Sheerwater?
Firstly, let’s look at the issue of 1.5 parking spaces allocated per household. Reason? They want you to get on your bikes, use shanks’ pony and/or use local transport links. They clearly state they will be “encouraging active lifestyles”. These seemingly small details go some way to dictating your choice of travel, the way your household lives and they are gently manipulating your freedom to make choices. The rail companies would see an increase in ticket sales for a start and so we begin to see how big corporations start to make a bit of cash, local authority environmental targets are achieved and government starts to “lead the way” and if you use smart tickets to access the transport, the data is collected and used.
So is Big Brother always watching?
Yes! From microchips in your wheelie bins, to smart meters for your utilities and cards to access transport – elements in the whole way you live your life can now be used to collect data on your usage consumption. For example, your local authority will know exactly who they think is using too much of a particular energy that is causing them to miss their carbon emissions target, so will you be taxed or fined? Would any of the Thameswey groups come in to play in collecting the data?
If I haven’t convinced you so far, the government press release above tells us in as much jargon as it can muster that these new garden cities will be used to collect personal data, which in turn will be then used to tailor an environment to you and the rest of your new community. In one respect, it’s a good thing because you will know when your next bus is due, but don’t forget that it also means that ‘they’ now have an indication of what you are doing, how you will be travelling and living a life that becomes somewhat contrived. Businesses will be tailored to your community because the data they collect will indicate which companies will make a good profit. These companies will pay big money for your data, as we already see from the sale of electoral rolls information. Who makes this money from your data and what will the sale of it mean for simple things like local independent shops and businesses?
Your environment will begin to dictate how you live your life and you will begin to dictate how your environment will change. From the cycle paths to the convenient shops, why would you travel elsewhere or bother to use your car? These small changes tick big boxes for local authorities and make big money too.
The overlooked streets might seem lovely and safe, but where’s privacy gone? It would be well worth asking if cctv will be fitted as standard in your local street.
They might be promoting the fact you will have super-fast broadband which is great, but there is a reason for it – to collect, collate and disseminate your information.
Local authorities like WBC may deny any sort of social cleansing, but all this goes far to blowing that myth right out of the water, so let’s go back to the beginning again and Ebenezer Howard’s theory that society can be moulded by their environment. The regeneration plans for Sheerwater:
- will remove all the council tenants, the vulnerable, the unemployed and the minimum wage or zero hours contract lower working classes who can’t afford a mortgage. They also aren’t worth as much in terms of investment and data – they don’t use much heating because they can’t afford it and they won’t have disposable income to spend in local businesses or on public transport.
- We are left with the middle and higher working classes and new breed of commuter who are after a property at a reasonable price. The ones with a bit of cash in their pocket to provide a self-sufficient new suburb. The ones who use plenty of energy, whose family members might all have mobile phones, laptops, smart tvs etc from which data is tracked.
- The eclectic community of Sheerwater as well as lots of other places, is being disbanded for financial gain
- the council is utilising its land to make money
- the companies involved in the regeneration will be making a decent return
- the Thameswey group and all its council-employed directorates will see some profit
- the businesses obtaining your data and setting up franchises in the local area etc
- and the sale of data to overseas investors as per the government’s intentions means that all this is for one reason only and that isn’t to accentuate our ‘green and pleasant land’, it is to make money.
All in all, I feel the price of your privacy, your freedom to live under the original common law of the land, and your community as you know it, is worth far more than all of that put together. It doesn’t belong to Ray Morgan, Pinnacle, Mansell, Balfour Beatty, David Cameron or anyone else. But the property will belong to a huge Hong Kong investor if this goes ahead and your data will become big global business.
Cheap-looking, overpriced, brick facade boxes
If I still haven’t convinced you, or you think I sound like a bit of a paranoid crackpot, here’s a snippet of further reading so you can see for yourself. Google it too – take a look for yourself. I do think you should think about whether you really want others knowing how you live day by day and making money out of it.
Smart home grids: https://www.smartgrid.gov/the_smart_grid/distribution_intelligence
Using analytics to fight crime: http://click-accenture.com/cops-get-smarter-using-analytics-to-fight-crime/#.VSpkRvnF8qs
Glasgow awarded £24bn to become a ‘smart city’: http://futurecity.glasgow.gov.uk/