A NEW organisation to support tenants is being formed because residents of Scotland’s urban housing schemes cannot rely on existing institutions to look after them, its organiser has claimed.

Nick Durie, who will host the inaugural meeting of a new Scottish Tenants’ Organisation on November 5, has lived in the Wyndford estate in Maryhill for more than two decades and thinks residents of schemes like his need to organise themselves to look after their areas.

Ahead of the nascent group’s first meeting at Community Central Halls in Maryhill Road on Saturday, Durie – who is also an organiser with the Wyndford Residents’ Union – said scheme residents could not rely on housing associations or the police to look after their communities.

'The state is in retreat'

Strengthening the power of people living in some of Scotland’s most deprived areas and demanding the authorities at a local and national level give more thought to neighbourhood planning could even prevent scenes such as the chaos which visited Dundee on Monday night.

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Police had fireworks thrown at them and one was injured when a brick was thrown through the window of a police van as louts blocked roads with burning bins in the Kirkton scheme in the north of the city.

The Wynford was ravaged between 2019 and 2020 by the scourge of etizolam dealers operating in the area, which Durie said residents felt unable to report to police for fear of repercussions.

He said the “blue plague” pills had resulted in street fights and vandalism – but he claimed the police refused to take action to root out dealers until allegations were formally made.

“I’m talking about people, 13 and 14 [years old], buying the strongest barbiturates known to man for a pound a piece,” he said.

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“It was causing huge problems in the neighbourhood as well as being a danger to the children ...

“When I went to the police they said ‘well, there’s no beat officers, we don’t have a beat anymore that’s not how it works, it works on reports, we don’t get any reports so it’s a quiet area for us’.”

He said it was one example of how the state was “in retreat” in working-class areas suffering from social problems like poverty, unemployment and drugs.

“We had to jump up and down and we got it sorted, but it took a great deal of effort,” he added.

'The housing empires'

As well as trying to tackle social problems, the group aims to take on deeper and more long-term structural issues which affect the hundreds of thousands of people living in schemes – which are often some of the poorest parts of Scotland.

Right-to-buy tenants dying off means property speculators remain free to buy their homes and sell them on or rent them out for eye-watering sums, said Durie, who claimed one flat near his home had been snapped up and converted to be rented out for £2000 by adding a bedroom when the social rent was £400 per month.

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The Scottish Tenants’ Organisation would attempt to fight against this practice, which Durie said was taking place across the country, as well as leading a push for residents to be given more say in how their communities were shaped.

He added: “It used to be that you had tenant management co-operatives, who would run public housing in their area or they would have letting agreements where, in order to move into a neighbourhood, you had to sit in front of a panel of tenants and they would approve you.

“It’s similar to a closed shop [workplace] but those things require power and that’s the thing that we need first and foremost.

“We live in the era of the big housing empires like the Wheatley Group…we need to be organised on that level.”

The Wheatley Group – which owns or manages more than 93,700 homes across 19 Scottish councils, by its own estimates – is the housing association in the Wyndford and is planning to demolish four tower blocks in the neighbourhood.

The organisation – Scotland’s largest social landlord – said the blocks had low levels of occupancy and high rates of turnover.

A spokesperson said: “Tenants in Wyndford overwhelmingly backed the demolition and regeneration plans.

“The £54 million investment will see hundreds of new energy-efficient, affordable homes built in the area.

“We will consult further with tenants and the wider community about the type of housing that will be built in the area.” 

Meet the new union ...

The event to “refound” the Scottish Tenants’ Organisation will feature speakers including Glasgow Labour councillors Soryia Siddique and Fiona Higgins, co-founder of Homeless Project Scotland Colin McInnes as well as the founder of the original version of the group Iain Macinnes.

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The group was born from the 1915 rent strikes but became inactive in 2020, during the early days of the pandemic.

They led the fight against stock transfers in the early years of devolution, where tenants were encouraged by the Scottish Executive to back council houses being taken into the control of housing associations.

Macinnes warned a Holyrood committee in 1999 that housing associations would lack democratic oversight and they could push out poor people from the communities in which they lived.

He said: “The proposed privatisation of Glasgow's housing could give rise to an awful lot of scaffolding going up in the next five to 10 years.

“After that scaffolding comes down, major and minor dignitaries will cut a lot of coloured ribbons and some of the people who live in the areas concerned will live a nice, happy life ever after, provided that their incomes are up to paying the rent or mortgage.

“In cases where people's incomes are not up to that, tenants will be blamed at a later stage; that has happened in the past when housing associations and local councils have embarked on projects involving tenants in all kinds of decision-making processes.”

  • The first meeting of the new Scottish Tenants’ Organisation will be held at Community Central Halls, 292-316 Maryhill Road, Glasgow, G20 7YE from 11am to 4pm on Saturday, November 5.