“Inclusive investment is the foundation of a global city region”

Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram on the day of his victory in 2017. Image: Getty.

The Labour mayor of the Liverpool City region on its £500m new Strategic Investment Fund.

Devolution can be a complex topic. But at its root is a concept that could not be simpler – that the people who live in a place are best placed to make decisions about it.

Whilst the pace of devolution has arguably slowed of late, those decisions are increasingly about how we spend our money. And as we enter an uncertain, post-Brexit world, devolution gives us the opportunity to decide to use our resources in ways that benefit and protect our residents and communities.

That is why I am announcing a £500m fund to help transform the city region’s economy, creating high-quality jobs and boosting living standards for local people in the Liverpool City Region.

The new Strategic Investment Fund will feature a new approach to how our Combined Authority funds projects, which recognises the importance of building resilient communities, and puts the creation of social value at the heart of what we do. Some £100m will be available in the first year of the fund, rising to £500m over four years.


Our key purpose as a Combined Authority is to improve our residents’ lives, by creating the right ecosystems for our economy to thrive, while ensuring that growth benefits everyone through well paid local jobs and increased living standards.

Through the Strategic Investment Fund we will have £500m available to support projects in areas such transport infrastructure, economic development, skills, culture and housing.

Devolution gives us the opportunity to do things differently – and one of the ways we will do that is by making clear to applicants that they will have a better chance of success if their bids demonstrate positive social impact.

So, for example, we will consider their bid more favourably if they pay the living wage, refuse to use zero hour contracts, create apprenticeships and use local supply chains and labour to deliver their projects.

We are determined to ensure that, in an uncertain, post-Brexit world, this funding delivers the maximum possible benefit to the people of the Liverpool City Region.

As a Combined Authority we have already identified projects which can receive support from the fund, including:

  • Ultra-fast broadband for every borough, delivered by building a fibre superspine, that will connect all six of our constituent districts, and see digital exchanges created throughout the city region;
  •  A new smart ticketing system as part of our move towards a truly integrated public transport system; 
  • Help for our high streets, through a £5m Town Centre Fund that will help regenerate towns throughout our city region;
  • And a new generation of Mersey Ferries.

We know the difference that we can make as a Combined Authority from projects supported even before the adoption of this new approach.

Through our previous Single Investment Fund we have allocated £400m for investments across the city region, money which has enabled us to leverage in another £500m of additional investments.

We know that this investment will support around £1.7bn of economic activity, and directly create 9000 jobs and 5,500 apprenticeships, through supporting a wide range of projects, including:

  • £19m for the Newton-le-Willows interchange;
  • £13m for a new station at Maghull North;
  • £20m for a new Cruise Liner Terminal;
  • £2.5m for Blackburne House in Liverpool 8, one of the country’s leading educational centres for women;
  • £3.4 million for Alstom for a state-of-the-art train maintenance and repair facility, creating hundreds of local jobs and apprenticeships;
  • £30m for 40 skills projects in local colleges;
  • £12m for Paddington Village in the Knowledge Quarter;
  • £14million from its Single Investment Fund for the Shakespeare North Playhouse and a Rail Interchange project in Prescot.

In addition to making additional funding available, the new Strategic Investment Fund recognises the need to improve our capacity to develop high-impact investment-ready projects. So we will provide pre-development funding to help expand and improve the pipeline of projects, by providing support to prospective applicants to help analyse markets, identify opportunities and develop projects.

At the last election, Labour’s manifesto committed to a National Transformation Fund, which would increase levels of public investment in much needed infrastructure, R&D and job training.

I believe what we are creating here today is a city region version of that – our own local transformation fund.

It not only shows only the public that devolution and having a metro mayor is delivering significant benefits to our region; but also the difference that Labour in power can make.

Steve Rotheram is Labour mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

 
 
 
 

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.