Residents’ fury as demolition starts on Brixton Hill council building

A former town hall building named in memory of a pioneering black woman activist has started coming down this week.

The red brick Olive Morris House on Brixton Hill will be replaced by a new building with 74 flats – 40 per cent of them affordable – constructed by builders Muse Developments,

It is the final phase of the new Lambeth Town Hall project which was originally planned to cost £50million but which may have doubled in price since approval.

But locals anxious about the effects on construction workers are angry the demolition is going ahead in lockdown.

Olive Morris House

Michaela Loebner of Lambeth Coronavirus Support Group for Workers said: “Round the country workers on construction sites, where social distancing is impossible, are being put at risk and frequently for developments that are non-essential.

“Fear of not being able to pay the bills is forcing workers to go to work and to put their lives and those of their families and loved ones at risk. Many have to travel on crowded public transport, and it is only a matter of time before we hear of more deaths of workers on sites.

“This work cannot be essential or urgent, during the pandemic. It threatens lives.

“We call on Lambeth Council to halt this now and put lives first.”

virtual meetings were arranged for a week after demolition had already begun (24 and 27 April) via the platform Microsoft Teams, which many residents have struggled accessing.

The block planned to replace Olive Morris House

Lambeth is one of the worst affected boroughs in London and the country for coronavirus. Many of the local residents whose homes neighbour Olive Morris House are vulnerable and are deemed at high risk of coronavirus – some of whom are pregnant, elderly, or have underlying medical conditions.

The building is also yards from Sudbourne Primary school which remains open for the children of key workers, raising further concerns on the impact of noise and dust pollution.

Residents have also raised concerns about the wellbeing of demolition workers and their ability to adhere to social distancing guidance, and have taken to social media to illustrate the severity of the situation.

Leon, 70, who has a heart conditiono and whose home he shares with his wife Linda and backs onto Olive Morris,House said: “It’s been almost 40 days since I’ve ventured any further than our garden.

“I have not even visited Guys’ Hospital for my regular blood check as I reckon there’s more risk in doing so than not. My wife fits the same bill apart from the blood checks. As does our next-door neighbour who is 94, the same age as the Queen.

“I can’t understand why Lambeth council is doing this to us. Why does the demolition have to start now rather than waiting until the end of the national lockdown period?

“So far I have been coping, though like most others I have my bad days, but this has done nothing to lower my levels of anxiety.”

One couple, who wished to remain anonymous, said the noise and dust will make home schooling impossible: “We have three kids aged nine, four and one and we’re both working from home due to lockdown. Our biggest concern is that with lockdown there’s simply no respite from the noise, air and dust pollution a major construction project brings.

“The only reprieve we all have is access to our small garden, which will now be taken away.

“Our work involves a lot of conference calls and online meetings – doing this with the noise of a major construction site is not sustainable and will really hit our ability to work and earn a living.”

Local residents launched a petition on Monday 20 April asking Lambeth council to suspend demolition work until after the lockdown has been lifted. The petition has gained over 800 signatures.

Green opposition leader Cllr Jonathan said:“Lambeth Council is prioritising money over people’s lives.  The ‘New Town Hall’ development project, which has already cost over £100 million, has been going on for years and this part could easily be temporarily postponed until things get easier.

“It beggars belief that the demolition would be started during lockdown, in a densely populated area. Lambeth council should be sending a clear message about the importance of social distancing in one of the areas of the country when the virus has spread the most, not returning to business as usual.”

Lambeth’s ruling Labour group says the project will save more than £4million a year as a result of the sale of 12 other council office sites around the borough.

A council spokesperson said: “This is ongoing construction, turning one of our former council office block into badly needed new homes. The Government has been clear that construction can continue at this time.

“Appropriate social distancing is being observed, and this next phase of work will be inside the building only, lasting for the next four to six-weeks.”

Pictured: the planned housing block



Olive Morris, who died in 1979 aged just 27, was a Brixton community leader and activist in the feminist, black and squatters  campaigns of the 1970s. The building was named after her in 1986.

She was a member of the youth section of the Black Panther Movement, with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Clovis Reid and Farrukh Dhondy.

Morris  squatted at 121 Railton Road, Brixton, with her friend Liz Obi in 1973, hosting community groups such as Black People against State Harassment. The site subsequently became a bookshop and an anarchist project, called the 121 Cebtre, which lasted until its eviction in 1999.

Morris was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1978 and died the following year at St Thomas’s Hospital, and was buried in Streatham Vale cemetery.

Morris is depicted on the B£1 denomination of the Brixton Pound.

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