Dan Jarvis’ nomination spells the end for the Sheffield City Region

Dan Jarvis, all but certain to be mayor of the Sheffield City Region. Image: Getty.

A couple of weeks back, the Labour party announced that Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis had won the vote to be its candidate to for the new role of Sheffield City Region mayor.

This announcement immediately raised several eyebrows: Dan Jarvis is a currently serving MP and has shown no sign he was planning to resign should he win the mayoral election (something which he will almost certainly do, given South Yorkshire’s status as a Labour stronghold).

The NEC, Labour’s ruling body, stated shortly afterwards that he would, in fact, have to resign as he’s not allowed to do two jobs at once. This stance didn’t last long, however, and the NEC ‘clarified’ (i.e. backtracked) shortly afterward and conceded that he actually can do two jobs at once.

One might reasonably wonder how he could be an effective mayor for the region whilst remaining as an MP. Well, there’s a straightforward answer to that: he doesn’t want to be an effective mayor. Jarvis has stated that he will take no salary for the mayoral role and will instead “remain in the Commons to argue for stronger powers across Yorkshire” .

This isn’t particularly surprising, given that Jarvis has publicly criticised the very concept of Sheffield City Region devolution, going so far as to claim in a recent interview that:

…the reason the government wants to force through a Sheffield city region deal is for naked political reasons […] They don’t want Labour-dominated South Yorkshire to pollute their electoral prospects in the rest of Yorkshire.

In the same interview he also stated that:

No one will ever go to a football or rugby match and shout ‘Sheffield city region’ – but they will shout for Yorkshire because that’s something they feel is important, that matters and that they identify with.

Jarvis has made clear that he sees the mayoralty as a platform from which to push for a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal. In other words, he will almost certainly be elected to a role that he not only doesn’t want, but that he will actively be working to dismantle.

How did we end up here?

For those of us who have been closely watching this all play out, this recent news isn’t at all surprising. The Sheffield City Region devolution deal has been fragile from the get go.

The first big challenge occurred when Chesterfield Borough Council – previously a “non-constituent member” – applied for full constituent status of Sheffield City Region in late 2016. This meant that the elected mayor would have direct powers over Chesterfield.

To say Derbyshire County Council, of which Chesterfield was a part, didn’t approve of this move is an understatement: it took Sheffield City Region to court over it. The High Court eventually sided with Derbyshire Council, agreeing that there hadn’t been a good enough public consultation. Both Chesterfield and Bassetlaw subsequently withdrew from the deal.

The second challenge was the battle over where the region’s HS2 station will be situated. Initial plans had the station out at Meadowhall, several miles from Sheffield city centre. This did not sit well with many business leaders or Sheffield City Council, who argued that the economic case for a station in the city centre was far stronger.

So local paper The Star launched a high-profile campaign to move the station to the city centre. That campaign was eventually successful, and in early 2017 the government announced a new plan for a line going further east following close to the M18, with a spur sending HS2 trains to the current Sheffield Station.

This didn’t please Rotherham, Barnsley, or Doncaster councils, who had a clear preference for Meadowhall. Ed Miliband went as far as to call the decision “wrong and peverse”.

Barnsley and Doncaster Councils acrimoniously pulled out of the devolution deal in September 2017. Steve Houghton, the head of Barnsley Council, specifically mentioned concerns about HS2 in his statement explaining why he pulled Barnsley out of the devolution deal. Others are blaming the collapse of the devolution deal solely on the HS2 station disagreement.

A powerless mayor

We now have a strange situation where a mayor is being elected for all four South Yorkshire councils (Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, and Doncaster) without the assent of two of them. This means that the new mayor will have almost no powers or budget – yet the election has to go ahead because it was signed into law.

It’s pretty reasonable to wonder at this point: what will the mayor actually do? Well, according to the Sheffield City Region website, the mayor will be a “major figure in the political life of the area”, as a “member, and chair, of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority”, and “will have certain public transport powers relating to how buses may operate in the future”. In other words… not very much.

The initial devolution deal from 2015 included £900m of funding to grow the economy, and powers for adult skills and training, but this deal appears to have been predicated on all four councils agreeing to a level of mayoral authority that Barnsley and Doncaster are clearly uncomfortable with. 

The Sheffield City Region site hints that this deal might still being available – if Barnsley and Doncaster are willing to return to the fold. But this is extremely unlikely. Both councils have well and truly thrown their weight behind the “One Yorkshire” devolution proposals, having recently worked with 18 out of 20 Yorkshire councils (without Sheffield and Rotherham) to submit a detailed bid to the government for a directly elected “Mayor for Yorkshire” in 2020. This is despite Sajid Javid specifically telling both councils that they could only join a One Yorkshire deal if they consented to the Sheffield City Region first. They’re clearly not even the least bit interested.

It’s not at all surprising, then, that a Barnsley MP with absolutely no interest in Sheffield City Region devolution would run for a job that he doesn’t want specifically with the goal of dismantling the city region and subsuming it into a wider Yorkshire deal. It may be negative, cynical, and deliberately destructive, but it fits the goals of Yorkshire’s councils.

Except for, of course, Sheffield and Rotherham – the two councils at the very heart of the region he is trying to dismantle.

Andrew Hirst blogs as The Northern Urbanist.


In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.