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‘The Tower Has Fallen;’ A Win For Anti-Gentrification Movement

“This is a huge victory for Brixton … Brixton has defended itself from further gentrification,” said Jordi, an organizer with the #FightTheTower campaign. The proposed construction of what’s been called Hondo Tower, or Taylor Tower, has been withdrawn. The project was to be a 20-story building built right next to Brixton’s vibrant Pope’s Road street market in London.

This particular movement, #FightTheTower (FTT), is now considered one of the most effective, persistent, hard fought and victorious anti-gentrification struggles currently held in the United Kingdom. Unicorn Riot previously explored the history of Brixton, the planned tower and the anti-gentrification movement in part two of our special entitled, The Tale of the City: Gentrification in London.

Written across the FTT movement’s website is a victorious slogan: “10,000+ objections, thousands of conversations on the streets, and 2 cancelled hearings later – Hondo Tower has fallen!!”

The American Billionaire Club DJ Behind Hondo

The tower was one of property investment company Hondo Enterprises’ planned development projects. Hondo is based in London and owned by 42-year-old Taylor McWilliams, a billionaire club DJ from Texas.

In 2018, Hondo acquired lands and sites on historic Pope’s Road and the Brixton Market, in the heart of the Brixtonian Afro-Caribbean community. Hondo quickly gained the ire of community residents and activists when they attempted to evict Nour Cash and Carry, a family-owned shop in the market during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tower project was officially put forward by Hondo Enterprises’ development group, AG Hondo Pope’s Road BV. According to Brixton Buzz, the development group is directed by McWilliams and Robert Tieskens, who works at the Netherlands branch of Angelo Gordon, a New York-based investment company. Brixton Buzz also reported that the tower’s architect, Sir David Adjaye, was recently accused by three former female employees of sexual misconduct.

The proposal of the 20-story office building was publicly announced with a promotional exhibition in the market in 2019, and the Lambeth Council received Hondo’s official planning application in April 2020. Despite widespread opposition, the Council was initially in support of the proposed tower and stated that the benefits of the tower were “sufficient to outweigh the identified impacts on heritage and residential amenity.”

Hondo’s Tower Proposal Withdrawn

In the lead-up to a public hearing set for July 21, 2023, the Greater London Authority (GLA) planning committee announced the withdrawal of Hondo Enterprises’ planning application for the tower and published the withdrawal letter by Hondo’s project planning consultant, DP9.

DP9 blamed the “long period of gestation over the past two years” for negatively impacting the project’s ability to deliver jobs and said Hondo “needs to re-consider its position.”

The GLA committee, who represented the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in the July 21 public hearing, noted that “the applicant may decide to submit a further application to Lambeth Council for redevelopment of the application site in due course but that will be their decision.”

However, according to the GLA’s statement ahead of the hearing report, the development project was presented as unacceptable because the size “would harm the character and appearance of the area.” Furthermore, the GLA ruled that the twenty-story project “would cause harm” to conservation areas, parks, gardens and six other buildings.

Greater London Authority recommendation refusing planning permission for Hondo’s tower project via their report published July 21, 2023 (pdf).

A Movement That Stayed Ready

A grassroots movement had been fighting against the project with petitions, political organizing, and on and offline actions. Over 8,500 people signed an online petition to stop the tower and the project faced nearly 2,000 objections on the area’s public comments webpage from organizations like Historic England, the Victorian Society and the Brixton Society.

Despite the opposition, GLA officers claim they received zero results after continuously pushing Hondo to engage and consult with the local community about the latest tower plans. The only ‘community’ group that Hondo has on record ensuring its support was the Brixton Project. Brixton Buzz later revealed they were paid by Hondo for their support.

FTT campaigners and many Brixton residents had alleged that the developers were attempting to evict the area’s multi-ethnic residents, favoring a more white demographic. The tower’s commercial concept is visualized through retail and office spaces in the daytime and a boosted, consuming-based nightlife that would likely mutate the area completely.

In the lead-up to the planned hearing on July 21, FTT organizers and Brixton residents were professing their readiness with acts of public awareness and postings on social media. One tweet read “The Showdown #Brixton vs #HondoTower is taking place on Friday 21st to determine the future of #BrixtonMarket area, and the neighborhood is getting ready for it. Who’s going to prevail? 10k local objections, or 1 millionaire landlord & his corporate takeover?”

Organizers published a video a week before the hearing showing high spirits and a will to win. Activists stood optimistic and publicized their threefold plan of allowing public viewing of the hearing. People were invited to watch the hearing live in the public gallery where 140 people could sit. Secondly, the campaign rented the upstairs bar area of Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema to live stream the hearing. And finally there was to be live streaming of the hearing through the campaign’s website.

Some organizers planned a victory party in Station Road if the outcome was victorious. A member of the campaign told Unicorn Riot that “a few in the campaign were quite convinced that was gonna be the case, and retrospectively Hondo’s withdrawal probably corroborates that.”

The Celebration

A large street party took place on July 22 to celebrate the cancellation of the tower. Hundreds filled the street, listened to music, laughed, and enjoyed themselves.

Jordi told Unicorn Riot that the withdrawn project is due to people power — the community gathering to “defend their very own existences.” He said that it wasn’t just a victory for Brixton, but “also a victory for London, as it will hopefully inspire and energize other local grassroots campaigns fighting against the gentrification of their areas.”

Many in Brixton are continuing to celebrate as the news is reaching other fights and inspiring others across the globe. It seems as though towers can in fact fall.

While the moment is magical for many, the ever-present responsibility to the community continues. The FTT noted in their statement on the withdrawn project that “the real fight is now truly beginning. We need to have real conversations about what development means in this city”:

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