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Five things that are actually worth protesting about in London

Jonny Ensall

It can be difficult to feel sorry for the owners of Brick Lane’s Cereal Killer Café – which bore the brunt of an anarchic anti-gentrification protest on Saturday night. But we do. Really. Because, despite the fact they’re helping turn east London into an IRL Pat Sharp’s ‘Fun House’, the brothers who own and operate this independent business are a soft, and kind of rubbish target for a group who claim to oppose ‘communities being ripped apart’.

The protest – which involved throwing paint and cereal at the outside of the café, and was attended by activist group Class War – was (according to the Facebook event) directed at ‘Russian oligarchs, Saudi Sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money twats and our own home-grown Eton toffs.’

So why target two guys with beards selling cereal? There are loads of better causes when it comes to protecting London’s soul. For example:  

1. The cost of housing

The big one, obviously, since it affects who can live in London, and has a knock-on effect on everything from homelessness to mental health to the cost of living. Many swanky new developments are obliged to offer ‘affordable’ housing (usually about 35 percent of flats); but they usually fail to meet that quota. See Shoreditch’s own Bishopsgate Goods Yard development, where the figure’s down to around 10 percent – based on a planning application waved through by City Hall. Want to make a difference? Then exercise your democratic right as part of 2016’s mayoral elections, and get involved in the campaign for fair rents. 

2. The rise in rough sleepers

As more Londoners than ever face the question: ‘where the hell am I going to live?’ shocking amounts of the city’s premium housing stock is just sitting empty. With 80,000-odd properties unoccupied last year, and squatting in these places made illegal by the government in their last term, it’s perhaps less surprising to hear that there was a 16 percent rise in the numbers of rough sleepers in London in the year to May 2015. Donate to support them.

3. Pollution levels in central London

Levels of nitrogen dioxide on Oxford Street regularly exceed EU limits by three times. As many as 4,000 Londoners die prematurely every year due to air pollution. City Hall is planning to introduce an Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London, but given that it’s not due before 2020 I wouldn’t hold your breath. Or maybe you should. Either way you can vent your spleen here

4. The damage to our skyline

It’s not just that some tower blocks are eyesores, unashamedly built for the benefit of overseas investors, rather than Londoners – local councils receive money when land increases in value through successful planning applications designed to fund local services and community initiatives. Great, right? Except perhaps you shouldn’t have to build a great big skyscraper to make this all happen. Learn more about the process (officially called a Section 106 planning obligation) from your local authority planning department, or on the local government ombudsman site

5. ­­The loss of London’s cultural heritage

In many cases, it’s not the newly opened artisanal cheesemongers, craft beer bottle shops and – yes – cereal purveyors who pose the biggest threat to embedded communities. Hell, it’s probably not even the estate agents. It’s the developers whose ambitions don’t include maintaining the cultural life of an area that locals have loved for years. It’s the same story from the threatened gay bars of Soho, to the independent shops of Brixton arches. Keep up-to-date with Soho’s fate and help the petition to save the Curzon Soho from being ripped up by Crossrail

It’s 219 days until London elects a new mayor. This is the time to start engaging with the biggest debates about the future of our city. Perhaps over a nice bowl of cereal.

Read about the anti-gentrification protest at the Cereal Killer Café.

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