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London Social Forum – housing and land rights conference

Keith Parkins | 02.10.2006 17:01 | Free Spaces | Repression | Social Struggles | Liverpool | London

At the request of the European Social Forum and to coincide with World Habitat Day, a meeting to discuss housing and land rights issues entitled the Divided City was held by London Social Forum at Limehouse Town Hall in East London on Sunday 1 October 2006. Speakers and delegates came from across Europe and from further afield.

London Social Forum housing conference
London Social Forum housing conference

Getting to the conference was a nightmare. Long journey into London due to rail engineering works, then problems because Docklands Light Railway was closed due to engineering works.

For future reference I have decided the best way from Waterloo, is to take the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf, then cut back to Limehouse on the Docklands Light Railway.

Limehouse Town Hall is an interesting venue. A semi-derelict town hall in need of renovation. Where the Labour leader Clem Atlee made a speech or two, sandwiched between the City and Canary Wharf, the bastions of global capital and finance in London, located in Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest and most deprived areas in London.

The idea for the London Social Forum to hold a conference on housing and land rights arose from the European Social Forum, which in turn has its roots in the World Social Forum. The timing of the conference was to coincide with World Habitat Day.

Housing and land rights is not just a UK issue, speakers and delegates came from across Europe and beyond.

It has come as a shock in Germany, used as they are to quality public housing, to find that their public housing stock is being sold off. Worse still, that it is international finance and capital flowing from London, and ownership is now based in London. Housing is becoming an international commodities market, with future options to be traded. This is having a destabilising effect on house prices, forcing rents to rise to pay for profits, green space destroyed, and tenancies becoming less secure. Municipal authorities are happy to sell their housing, as it helps clear municipal debt. Whilst public debt is unacceptable, private debt is ok as it provides the opportunity for profit.

In the UK, social housing, former council housing, is being forced into housing associations, the new Rachman landlords. Under the guiding hand of the industry regulator the Housing Corporation, through mergers and acquisitions, housing associations, or Registered Social Landlords, are becoming mega-property developers. They are in all but name, private corporations, but have all the advantages of public bodies, but lacking any accountable, especially to their tenants.

If the GATS round of WTO were to ever succeed, the housing market in the UK would be liberalised and capital would be able to acquire the mega-corporate housing associates and RSLs. This will be aided and abetted by radical reforms to housing law being promoted by the Law Commission which will further deregulate the housing rental sector, making tenancy agreements more 'flexible' and turning social housing into a commodity.

As we have seen in Germany equity capital is willing if not keen to invest as it sees the opportunity for fast buck quick returns on investment.

Just say no to the privatisation of council housing. Once privatised you have no say on the future of your home.

Public housing belongs to the public. If it is to be given away, then it should be given to the tenants to run through their own appointed tenant-controlled directors.

Small-scale, community-controlled property ownership should also be considered. Model contracts for limited liability partnerships have been drawn up.

One way to cool the property market would be to introduce an effective property or land tax, similar to that in Denmark, but at a higher level.

In Denmark, citizen groups, under expert guidance, value property for the tax base. Unlike income, it cannot be hidden in offshore tax havens.

In Curitiba in Brazil, infrastructure improvements benefits everyone due to foresight and vision in planning. The City council buys up land in advance of infrastructure improvements, the value accrued then goes to the public purse. The people participate in the decision making and planning process.

The London Olympics will drive people out of their homes and businesses. Those who will benefit will be the landowners, those that will suffer will be tenants who will see higher rents and be forced to pay increased taxes to pay for infrastructure that only benefits a few. One of the beneficiaries will be landowners. If the landowners are to benefit, should part of their capital gain not be paid back to the community in land tax?

One of the areas proposed for regeneration in East London is Queen's Market at Upton Park. The local mayor in collusion with property speculator St Modwen is wishing to destroy the popular street market for a superstore. It was claimed by St Modwen to be Asda. To the delight of the local community, Asda has pulled out. Opponents to the redevelopment are hoping to kick St Modwen out of town too.

St Modwen has an abysmal track record of destroying town centres and social housing, either directly or through one of their front companies such as KPI. Farnborough town centre has been destroyed by KPI, a Kuwaiti-financed, St Modwen front-company.

Supporters of Queen's Market are planning a demonstration.

There is still the opportunity to challenge the London Olympics via a Public Inquiry yet to be held. Those who file an objection before the submission deadline, will not only be able to speak against the London Olympics at the Public Inquiry, but also cross-examine the proponents.

Pathfinder is a neo-Labour/John Prescott flagship project that is destroying tens of thousands of homes in the north of the country. Public housing and land is being handed to developers, private homes are being purchased at knock down prices, all in the name of 'regeneration', in reality, providing a development opportunity for developers and the opportunity for social cleansing.

The Regeneration Game, a documentary produced by Mike Lane that looks at Pathfinder in Liverpool and its huge social costs, was distributed on DVD to those who attended the housing workshop. It covers many of the issues that were being raised and discussed. Those who were lucky enough to receive a copy (demand far outstripped supply), were asked to arrange public showings, run off copies and distribute (and hopefully promote discussion).

An update on the documentary: In the week leading up to the conference, home owner Elizabeth Pascoe challenged in the High Court in London on the grounds of abuse of her Human Rights the Compulsory Purchase Order served on her home and won her case. As a consequence, Pathfinder has ground to a halt in Liverpool.

The alternative workshop discussed the London Olympics.

Land and property ownership is not a problem restricted to the city, we must not forget, we also have a divided countryside, with many farmers being driven out of business, food is a commodity too. EU agricultural subsidies distort the rural economy and go to line the pockets of the wealthy.

The voiceless, the powerless, the dispossessed, are fighting back, through the courts, direct occupation, community ownership.

Council tenants are saying no to privatisation, housing association tenants are resisting mergers, home owners are successfully challenging CPOs, communities are challenging developers, offices are being occupied, empty properties squatted, community common ownership partnerships agreed.

If we are to address social injustice, we need participatory democracy, not the current false choice offered between self-serving political elites, each in the pocket of Big Business, the proletariat reduced to election fodder.

Fairtrade coffee, courtesy of the Zapatistas in Mexico, and some very strange but nevertheless tasty vegetarian pasties kept everyone going.

On the long journey home, the opportunity was taken to read Boom Bust by Fred Harrison, one of the speakers. From my cursory read on the train it looks well worth reading and I am looking forward to finding the time to read it cover to cover.


A clean-sheet new start for renting homes, press release, Law Commission, 5 May 2006

Lester R Brown, Plan B 2.0, Norton, 2006

Divided City Open Forum on speculation, housing - Sun 1st Oct, London, Indymedia UK, 22 September 2006

Fred Harrison, Boom Bust: House Prices, Banking and the Depression of 2010, Shepheard-Walwyn, 2005

Sebastian Mueller, Imapacts of Privatisation, September 2006 {briefing paper for London housing conference}

Roy Nadron and John Jopling, Gaian Democracies, Green Books, 2006

Molly O’Meara, Reinventing Cities for People and the Planet, Worldwatch Paper 147, Worldwatch Institute, June 1999

Molly O’Meara Sheehan, City Limits: Putting the Breaks on Sprawl, Worldwatch Paper 156, Worldwatch Institute, June 2001

Keith Parkins, GATS, February 2001

Keith Parkins, Zapatistas, September 2003

Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution, October 2003

Keith Parkins, pathfinder schemes, Indymedia UK, 14 February 2005

Keith Parkins, Pathfinder schemes – a path to corruption?, Indymedia UK, 14 March 2005

Keith Parkins, Queens Market, Indymedia UK, 11 April 2005

Keith Parkins, Tragedy of Firgrove Court, Indymedia UK, 30 January 2006

Keith Parkins, Public Inquiry into road closures in Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 30 January 2006

Keith Parkins, Curitiba – Designing a sustainable city, April 2006

Keith Parkins, First Wessex plan takeover of Portsmouth housing, Indymedia UK, 12 September 2006

Liverpool resident halts Pathfinder programme, Indymedia UK, 27 September 2006

People's Market or Supermarket, The Land, Summer 2006

St Modwen: By Appointment to the Town Cloning Department, The Land, Summer 2006

Squatting and the Sept 2nd raid on Nottingham City Homes offices, Indymedia UK, 13 September 2006


Keith Parkins


Hide the following 10 comments

Funny! they didn't discuss Crossrail threat to the East End, did they!

02.10.2006 21:20

And they never heard of the Khoodeelaar! Campaign or of the people opposing CrossRail hole assault on the East End of London!

Very interesting!

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Cross Rail was mentioned

03.10.2006 10:32


You're right that the Khoodeelaar! campaign didn't get mentioned as such. However, the campaign against Crossrail was discussed during a workshop session on how mega-events (i.e. the Olympics) and the selling off of social housing (i.e. the Thames Gateway project) affects the community, and also talked about the ongoing discrimination against gypsies and travellers (i.e. the persecution of the folk at Dale Farm).

More importantly, we talked about action we can take to prevent these social upheavals.

You're right that Crossrail should be opposed. And the more campaigners and activists make links with each other the better as we're in this together; waves made in London ripple across the UK and globally.

Peace x


Gap between the richest and poorest workers widens

03.10.2006 12:42

· City and oil sector top the salary league
· Supermarkets and cleaning firms at bottom

Ashley Seager and Mark Milner
Tuesday October 3, 2006


Investment banking, fund management and the oil and property businesses remain the most lucrative areas for workers while supermarkets and cleaning companies are the worst payers, according to the Guardian survey of pay for companies in the FTSE 100, in association with Reward Technology Forum.

As in previous years, the salaries of the better paid workers have risen much faster than those at the bottom, meaning the gap between the richest and poorest is continuing to widen.

And the increasing differential between the boardroom and those outside is causing alarm bells to ring. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "Of course companies vary and those with different skill sets among their staff will not have the same pay rates. But what is worrying is that not only the gap within companies, but the gap in pay between companies seems to be getting bigger each year.

"This increase in inequality damages social cohesion and holds back the whole economy, as we have seen when interest rates have risen to cool the top end of the London housing market driven by city bonuses."

The Guardian/RTF survey for the financial year 2005 found that directors' pay rose 28% across the FTSE 100, in contrast to average earnings that are rising at 3.7% - just above inflation of 2.5%.

Financial firms, where staff outside the boardroom are also able to enjoy potentially lucrative pay schemes, boast the highest paid staff in the survey. At venture capital specialist 3i - the firm which tops the survey - staff received an average salary of Ł174,625, up 60% from Ł107,471 the year before. The scale of the rise propelled it from second place to first, overtaking hedge fund manager Man Group, where chief executive Stanley Fink and boardroom colleagues Kevin Davis and Peter Clarke feature high among the list of the best paid directors. The average pay for an employee at Man has risen to Ł146,243 from Ł115,651.

Staff at fund management operation Schroders are able to claim third place in the table where the average salary is Ł125,425.

Property company Hammerson also has an average salary of more than six figures although staff at another fund manager, Amvescap, are pushing towards that level with an average pay of Ł97,011. Others in the top 10 are Cairn Energy, British Land, Shire Pharmaceuticals, Shell, BP and aero engine maker Rolls-Royce. Their employees all earned salaries averaging
more than Ł58,000 per head compared with the UK median salary of Ł23,000. Of the top 10, Hammerson, Cairn, British Land, Shire and Shell are new entrants, displacing from last year's list Reuters, Land Securities, Barclays and National Grid.

The Guardian/RTF survey also shows how wide the discrepancy is within the FTSE 100 itself. At the bottom end of the scale is Kazakh copper mining company Kazakhmys, now listed in London, where the average salary of its 64,000 miners is only Ł2,187. Last week the company announced that pre-tax profits rose 166% to Ł508m for the six months to the end of June on a 90% increase in revenues.

Among companies operating primarily in Britain, retailer Next is bottom with an average salary of Ł10,306, similar to last year's lowest payer, William Hill. The bookmaker does not feature this year as the company has fallen out of the FTSE 100 index. Third to last is Tesco which pays its 368,000 staff an average of Ł11,594, down from Ł12,713 a year ago. The
grocer is expanding into lower-wage countries overseas and has a lot of part-time workers.

However, the low wages still contrast markedly with the pay levels in the supermarket group's boardroom. It will presumably not have escaped the notice of the retailer's 368,000 employees that its chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy, was paid more than Ł5m, and David Reid is one of the highest paid part-time company chairmen, earning more than Ł500,000 last year.

Others in the low-pay group are catering company Compass, supermarket Wm Morrison, cleaner and pest control group Rentokil Initial, retailer Kingfisher, owner of B&Q, nuclear group British Energy, miner Anglo American and Ladbrokes. The betting group, together with Compass and Rentokil, have this year fallen out of the FTSE 100.

How the survey works

The data for the Guardian pay survey has been derived from the latest annual reports and accounts of those companies comprising the FTSE 100 on March 8 2006 (with the exception of Carnival, whose pay data was not included). The data covers 1,340 FTSE 100 directors, who received payments from their employers in the past financial year. 546 of these
directorships were executive and 794 were non-executive. For comparability, those directors who had left or joined their boards during the course of the year were excluded. This left 960 directors who were employed throughout the year, from whom the main lists in the survey have been compiled. The figures do not include payments into pension funds. The Guardian pay survey data was researched by the Reward Technology Forum (RTF).

from the FT

Would like to know more about the organsiers' links with Tower Hamlets Council

03.10.2006 21:30

Would like to know if any ‘media' [aside from the posting on indymedia] published reports before and after the event that took place at the 'request' of the European Social fund.

Also, how was it organised in a location in tower Hamlets without the 'organisers' bothering to ask local campaigners to attend?

Two of the most noticeable campaigns in the East End have been the Khoodeelaar! Camapgn against CrossRail running for 34 months and the shorter running but equally momentous movement against Council housing stock transfer.

It is not obvious from the main posting what could have caused the organisers of the event to leave out those campaigns.

Had– could- the organisers have some overly positive links with the local Tower Hamlets Council or similar?

Why would they refer to Crossrail only in a workshop?

Had they not heard of the monumental campaign impacts recognised in March 2006 when almost a £Billion worth of a Dirt hole had been abandoned by the Government under pressure from the Khoodeelaar! movement?

Why wasn't the topic included as the key plenary?

Bethnal Green and Bow Constituent
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London Social Forum is not very socially interactive

03.10.2006 23:46

To my knowledge, London Social Forum have no links with Tower Hamlets council. The europe connection is not the European Social Fund, but the European Social Forum. However, it is this ESF which is the source of the problem alluded to in previous comments. An ineffectual talking shop could have been completely reinacted in this event, save for some critical negotiation in the organisational process for opening the event content out, away from just a bunch of european academics. The fact is, though, that LSF alongside the Habitat International Coalition, put on this event with their network of European housing experts and campaigners being their primary concern, not local people. That was said to me, as such, in the first organising meeting for this event.

I was involved in the organisiation of this meeting and put some money up for it, having not worked with London Social Forum before. The reason local campaigns were not contacted was because the organisers of this event were very few in number, were completely overstretched organising for it and other events over a weekend for a group of mainly academics from Europe, and most significantly, chose the location of this event at the exclusion of doing any sort of proper networking with local campaigns. I always had severe reservations about the balance which this event was settling for, and successfully attempted to steer the programme away from one that was purely academic in nature and purpose, to one that was more practical, and managed to include a london campaign roundup (though on the day, this did not actually happen, which was no problem since the workshop on the Olympics explored other contested development issues in the capital; Crossrail was not explored at-all in any depth).

During the organisational process of this event, a bout of inter-personal dispute delayed the effective organisation of this event. Bal from the Crossrail campaign was identified as a speaker at the very start of the preparation for it. However, she was not even contacted (she was formerly in the LSF, but got disillusioned with it). This is inexcusable. Not being the person with her contact details, I asked that she be contacted the week before the event. I do not know if this was done. (in this regard, I also hold my hands up and say that I should have tracked down the Crossrail campaign; there were other campaigns not invited - which all goes to show that you should involve local groups in an event being hosted in their own area).

Defend Council Housing were invited to this event, and made a contribution in a session in the early afternnon, but other notable local campaigns were missing.

All that remains to be said that LSF would appear to be the Trotskyist centralised outfit they have been accused of being. I have been involved in this event, purely because I thought it was a good opportunity to bring campaigns together. I have been hopelessly overstreched in trying to make the best of a bad situation. I can also confirm that I encountered a great deal of resistance from a particular member of the LSF who main concern seemed to be appeasing the concerns of a bunch of international delegates for some pointless mutual ego-massaging. This all gave some credence to the accusation that the LSF are concerned with status politics ahead of actually engaging with people on the ground. I also had to needlessly spend alot of precious time trying to refocus energies onto the practicality of organising this event in the face of personal-spats between individuals in the LSF, giving the appearance that it was more like a tussle of personal glorification within a private members club.

This is only meant as a personal criticism of one person involved in London Social Forum.

I want to congratulate everyone who helped organise the event. Despite lacking local involvement, it was a worthwhile event, because it focussed on a deeper analysis of what is going on (financial liberalisation, privtaisation and the wealth divide), and it did allot time to contested development campaigns happening in London. However, it fell short of how good an event it could have been.

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The Tower Hamlets Community Empowerment Network (THCEN)

04.10.2006 11:37

THCEN is an coalition - umbrella network that include Tower Hamlets Somali Organizations Network, Bow Bengali Forum and engages, coordinates and supports local residents and voluntary groups of all sizes.

Yes Crossrail was not represented in our Divided City openforum in the same time that lots of other organizations and voices were not represented. I refer in paricular to "diversity" / I refer to Black Housing Association, I refer to Somali and Bangladeshi Associations, I refer to one milion of others mionority voices that were not even whispering in our "open forum"...

I know that the current campaign against Cross Rail in the area around Spitafield / Brick Lane is backed by the Spitalfields Small Business Association (SSBA). After a long struggle with the expansion of the city they mange to save what is left of Spitafield Market. Without them the market would not exist anymore... ( I remember the comment of a women head of the campaign : "we just manage to save the market from the city expansion and now, on the other side of the road, they want to demolish the entire block for the preparation of the crossrail hole"...

I naturally hope that we could invite member of the cross rail campaign to one of our plenary LSF session as soon as possible to discuss and progress future campaign and I hope that a comment space like this would become a space for critical and constructive collective voice rather than an individual message space where people, criticizing other people egoes, forget to look outside their own ego...

Peace, Love & Reflection.


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housing and land rights

05.10.2006 16:33

housing and land rights

Some gripes on the Crossrail development. I cannot remember whether or not it was mentioned, and I wasn't at the workshop on the London Olympics. If there was such great concern on this development, why did those who wished to raise it not turn up? It is no good carping from the sidelines.

The same could be said of the moan from Tower Hamlets. Why should anyone liaise with Tower Hamlets just because the meeting was held in Limehouse? On the same rationale, if held in Euston, is it necessary to liaise with people in Camden?

If the meeting had insufficient publicity, that is grounds for gripe. It was mentioned on Indymedia UK.

The meeting struck the right balance between academic input and grass roots activism.

Legitimate criticism of the meeting would be its location and that it was held on a Sunday, public transport on a Sunday is seriously dysfunctional. And that the two workshops were held in the same room causing a problem of crosstalk between the two meetings.

People came from far afield, not just London. Germany, Greece, Turkey, Egypt.

There was also people from Tower Hamlets. A campaigner from Tower Hamlets told the meeting what was happening on the estates to stop stock transfer in Tower Hamlets, I personally was informed at the meeting of what was happening in Tower Hamlets, there was also literature available showing what was happening.

Problems that are being experienced in Tower Hamlets:

- play areas destroyed
- development going ahead without full planning consent
- open land being taken
- demolition of council housing and community centres for luxury flats
- public land and buildings given away to developers

This is a tale that is being repeated in other parts of London, in Liverpool, in Farnborough, in Germany.

On the Pepys Estate in Lewisham, council tenants are being kicked out of their homes, flats demolished, to make way for luxury riverside apartments with stunning views of the Thames. Squatters on the Pepys Estate successfully held up the development for a couple of years.

Queen's Market in Upton Park is wanted by property speculator St Modwen for a superstore and luxury apartments.

In Liverpool, public land is being handed over to developers. If social housing happens to occupy the land, the tenants are kicked out of their home and their homes demolished. Home owners are being served CPOs to force them out.

In Farnborough, Pavilion Housing Association (now part of First Wessex) is kicking their tenants out of their homes to enable St Modwen through their Kuwaiti-funded front-company KPI to trash Farnborough town centre for an unwanted superstore.

In Germany, gardens and public open spaces are being lost to developers within what was once former public housing.

Good news is that more estates in Tower Hamlets have rejected stock transfer.

In the original report, I neglected to mention The Land which is an excellent publication by This Land Is Ours on land rights, housing issues and planning.

The web address for London Leasholders should be

Across Europe, as in the UK, we are seeing a trend of privatisation of social and public housing.

Since the meeting, I have learnt that similar to what we learnt is happening in Germany appears to be happening in the Czech Republic. Longterm tenants are being evicted from public housing, being forced to take out mortgages in the private sector which they can ill-afford, as the only way to secure a home.

Another problem in the Czech Republic, and repeated across Eastern Europe, is people from UK buying up property as an investment, forcing up the price and placing it beyond the reach of local people.

What we are seeing in Eastern Europe is what we have seen in the UK since 2002, low income house buyers priced out of the market to be replaced by middle income speculators buying homes to rent in the hope of profiteering from the property boom. These in turn have been priced out of the market to be replaced by wealthy speculators. Even Tony Blair and has wife Cherie have jumped on the property speculation bandwagon, investing at an estimated six times joint income!

Shared ownership is the latest scam to draw ever more punters with money to burn into a speculative housing market.

If we look at the housing market, it is one of boom bust, with the cost of housing far outstripping inflation. Homes are no longer seen as somewhere to live, but for the lucky few as an investment. More and more money is poured into the housing market, the equivalent of pouring gasoline onto a raging fire. A situation worsened by the crass decision of Gordon Brown to include property investment with tax advantages within a pension portfolio.

Another area of speculation, and estate agents see a steady stream every day, is people looking for a run-down property, which they hope to pick up on the cheap, a few cosmetic improvements and then make a quick buck when they put it back on the market in a few months time. Again it is first time buyers and those with little money who are losing out. In the past they could hope to buy a run-down property and slowly slowly as time and money permitted, turn it into a decent home, but not anymore, property speculators have beaten them to it.

Interest rate change is a crude instrument to dampen down the property market, as the level of rate rise needed to impact on an out-of-control property market imposes huge burdens on productive sectors of the economy. Housing debt as a percentage of GDP had dramatically escalated from 23% in 1980 to 65% in 2002, a situation that is clearly unsustainable. If interest rates cannot control rising property prices, then all that is left is a land tax.

The housing market is great for those who can realise their equity, a burden for life for everyone else. And for those who cannot make it onto the speculative housing market to chance their throw of the dice, inferior rented accommodation from Rachman landlords or a life on the streets as part of the growing army of homelessness.


Right of Reply

06.10.2006 16:31

Thanks for your further comments, Keith, and particularly for your points on Eastern Europe.
We had wanted a contribution from that region, but did not have anyone recommended to us.

Sorry to return to Crossrail, but on Friday 22 September I attended an anti-Crossrail demonstration outside Brady Street Community Centre in Whitechapel (in response to a call on Indymedia). There I distributed leaflets for our event. So the campaigners, controlled by the Respect Party, certainly knew about Limehouse.

According to its Charter of Principles, the Social Forum movement does not issue invitations to political parties. However, no one was turned away from the door, and, as far as I know, the London Social Forum has never expelled anyone. This does mean that we sometimes have challenging social interactions at our meetings. I am not familiar with the ludicrous accusation that we are a centralised Trotskyist outfit; presumably it was made by a centralised Stalinist outfit.

With regard to the suggested relationship with Tower Hamlets Council, over the past year we have had a Tower Hamlets employee as an extremely active member. However, to put it politely, he had no part in organising the Limehouse Conference, perhaps because he was already aware in some way of the sensitive politics of the borough.

Finally, it would be good to get a report on the Monday actions on World Habitat Day. These were well attended by "the bunch of international delegates" but not so well supported by "The Land is Ours".

one person involved in London Social Forum

Eastern Europe

06.10.2006 17:22

I would have liked to have brought an economist from Eastern Europe who has direct experience of the housing situation, but it was unfortunately not possible.


follow-up report

16.10.2006 11:36

Ive posted a report and follow-up to Keith Perkin's above post here :

Thanks Keith for your additional notes and remarks. Glad to hear there were efforts made to invite participants from Eastern Europe as this does seem to be a key issue if people are going to continue organising around the Olympics.

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