Gentrification – Is It Real or Fake?

Woodberry Down: new builds next to the old flats. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian
Woodberry Down: new builds next to the old flats. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Google Tony Pidgley, chairman of one of Britain’s biggest housebuilders, and you’ll find a video in which he shows off his latest toy. The plaything in question is a giant council estate that his firm, Berkeley Homes, is smashing up and building over.

A squat, punchy figure, he shows a reporter around the new towers – and the gashed old blocks that, we’re informed, were used in Schindler’s List as a stand-in for the Warsaw Ghetto.

“You can understand why they used it in the film,” begins Pidgley in a reasonable tone. “It looks like a concentration camp.”

Forget for a moment that the Warsaw Ghetto was not a concentration camp, or that practically every large inner-London estate has featured in some film in the role of Ominous Backdrop. Ignore the crassness of a man who, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, is worth £160m casually rubbishing the homes of thousands of families poorer than him. Concentrate instead on the rare sight presented in that clip: a businessman at the height of his powers.

Pidgley is one of the most lavishly paid executives in his industry. The firm he helms is enjoying bumper profits, thanks to a taxpayer-funded housing boom in Berkeley’s key market of London and the south-east. And the building site where he’s playing the tour guide – Woodberry Down in Manor House, north-eastLondon – is one of the largest housing-estate redevelopments in Britain.

By 2031, around 2,000 council or former council homes will have been demolished and replaced with more than 5,500 units on the estate: some social housing; some for “key workers”, the euphemism now used for low-paid public servants, and the majority to be sold on the open market. The flagship private block in Woodberry Down, looking on to a lovely reservoir, has been sold largely to foreign investors, with one flat going for a million pounds (tell a Londoner that flats in Manor House are going for a million quid and see how low their jaw drops).

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Source: Guardian UK |  and

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