Saturday, 21 November 2015

TWO MEETINGS, ONE VOICE: let north and south combine

You had to be there. North and south of the borough are up in arms. Different faces, different voices, but one common message: ‘Don’t destroy our community for profit’.

On 3 November the angry voices were at Chelsea Old Town Hall. The reason – Crossrail 2’s proposal to carve an underground swathe down King’s Road, for a station many do not want or need, accompanied by years of disruption and a level of development ‘to pay for transport  improvements’ that residents will not accept and which they believe are entirely motivated by avarice not necessity. Months of petitions, meetings, street protests and lobbying, culminating in a standing-room-only public meeting, angry words against Crossrail as the developer, and the Council.

 One week later the angry voices were at the Tabernacle in Powys Square, North Kensington. The reason – Westway Trust’s plan to redevelop and monetise the 23 acres of land they hold for the benefit of local people in compensation for the Westway flyover, that carved an overground swathe through their neighbourhoods 45 years ago, demolishing entire streets on the way, belching toxic fumes. The plan is accompanied by a level of development ‘to pay for the improvements’ that residents will not accept and which they believe are entirely motivated by avarice not necessity (Westway Trust operates a healthy reserve). Months of petitions, meetings, street protests and lobbying, culminating in a packed meeting and angry words against Westway Trust as developer, and the Council.

The main difference between the two? Westway Trust did not show up, citing their need to ‘safeguard staff’. Apparently the £100,000pa chief executive of Westway Trust fears the community she is employed to serve.

Both groups are being stigmatised and their legitimacy eroded. Old Chelsea with its suits and pearls are ‘NIMBYs against the future’. Old Ladbroke Grove with its t-shirts and head-wraps are ‘jobless rastas’. Neither stereotype is in the least bit true. Both neighbourhoods are, thankfully, still a glorious cocktail of people, albeit with different spirits predominating.

Both communities are faced with massive change they neither want nor need.

Both fear their neighbourhoods will change beyond recognition for the benefit of outsiders, becoming what planning consultants call, with all the enthusiasm they can feign, ‘destinations’.

Both fear they will be priced out of the areas they were born in and belong to.

Both are faced by a juggernaut of rapacious developers with their lawyers, consultants, smarmy spin-doctors and phony consultations involving what some call ‘decision-based evidence making’.

Both are told their petitions and protests are not valid, the signatories unauthentic, and their campaigns are not representative or legitimate.

Both groups are told that yes, there will be disruption, but if these changes do not take place now, future generations will curse them.

Both groups say the Council, which was elected to represent them, is working against them, saying it knows ‘what is best’ and that the development will ‘improve the area’.

It won’t.

When challenged, senior Councillors are careful to stick to the script. But sometimes, just sometimes, the mask slips. After a typically stage-managed event of difficult questioning at a recent ‘Ask Nick’ in North Ken, the Leader of the Council was asked once again, why local people need £1,000 handbag shops and all the accompanying fol-di-ra of gentrification. This response was overheard:

Given the very similar issues faced in the borough, north and south,  wouldn’t it be interesting if these groups worked together in the fight against the Council for the long-term sustainability of their communities - around King’s Road and Portobello Road - not of businesses and shops, but of people?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Cameron, union reform, The Spanish Falange, and architecture

Cameron sees himself as a world leader; he is losing the plot. On welfare reform and tax credit cuts, many on his own side are appalled at the severity and the implications on low- and middle-income working families. The effects of the DLA ‘review’ have been proved – desperation, worsening health, stress, even suicide. His NHS reform is falling apart at the seams, and whatever his spin doctors say, actual medical doctors are protesting in the streets today. Those judged to be fit for work may die of starvation, or cancer, while those trained to treat them have their salaries cut.

But hey, we can afford to go to war. 

And so it goes on.

And now he is turning to union ‘reform’. Some of the reforms are stark bonkers, others are a clear infringement of human rights that could mean we are the only EU country with no right to strike.

Interestingly, as I know something on the subject, his union ‘reforms’ have been likened to Spanish Falange sindicatos. To give a brief synopsis, these syndicates or vertical unions, planned by the Falange and introduced under Franco, comprised vertical structures of workers, technical specialists and management, with representatives chosen by the employers. Strikes were forbidden, and the policy (which is not the same as the reality) of full employment meant no benefits whatever were available, and no rights to work for married women.

So, the pundits are correct. Arriba Espaňa.

Do bear in mind however that under the first ten years of Franco’s dictatorship it is said that one million people died of starvation. Would Cameron aspire to that too?

The Falange many have been the ‘caring conservatives’ of the day - they brought in land reform and ended serfdom - but yes I mean that ironically. Post-war they were put in charge of infrastructure such as road-building, hydro-electricity programmes, reservoirs – and housing.

But mainly in areas that had not been on the side of the ‘Reds’. Of course. It was a moral crusade!

Some of the architecture was quite good really, though they fell into the old trap of designing vernacular housing for the workers and peasantry, just so you would never mistake them for anything other than what they are.

The yoke is for the peasants of course
After all, maintaining the hierarchy is everything to those ‘born to rule’. Emphasising this through accent, language, pig or other kinds of forbidden love, misogyny and architecture is sadly as embedded and prevalent today in Cameron’s Britain as it was in Franco’s Spain.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

THE BATTLE FOR KENSAL TOWN: the stark reality of inequality in K&C

On the very day that the Attorney General published his findings on air pollution (current government proposals illegal!) a hundred metres down the road from my house a black, tinted-window BMW 4WD sits outside a house, all day, engine blasting filth into the atmosphere.

Another two blocks away, another similar 4WD stands guard outside a private nursery school, during school hours, engine blasting filth into the atmosphere.


Just up the road from this invasion, Kensal Town in North Kensington has more than its fair share of problems. The neighbourhood lies just north of the mainline tracks, and is forced to breathe its toxic diesel discharge. The lower super-output area around Southern Row [1] is very deprived. There are good, honest, decent, hard-working people living there, but here are some very sorry stats:

-      General health is a disgraceful 12pts below K&C average, and 2pts below English average, with incapacity benefit double that of K&C

-      Only 36% are full-time employed, 6% unemployed (average for K&C), but 30% get in-work benefits, evidence of the part-time work and low rates of pay they are forced to accept

-      People working at senior management/director level comprise 9%, compared to 23% K&C average; this is lower than the English average

-      23% have no formal qualifications whatever, and reading and writing skills are below English average

-      Deprivation index is second worst for income and employment, crime and living environment, lowest one-third for health and education, and barriers to housing are the worst in England.

So why put a super-luxury development in the middle of an area of deprivation? At an earlier stage, the mythical Crossrail station at Kensal Gasworks across the road may have precipitated interest in the area. Land is also ‘cheap’ in comparison to the rest of K&C, and next to the canal and trendy Portobello Dock with Tom Dixon restaurant.

This is it: The Ladbroke. If you believe the sales pitch, it is near Knightsbridge and Regent’s Park. It was first launched at the Westin Hotel, Kuala Lumpur to the super-rich Malaysian market.

Council tenants have watched as limos have drawn up in from of their block, door opened by one flunky, the driver emerges with umbrella, and the back seat occupant is escorted, one flunky each side, into the sales office.


Just what do they think they need protection from, as they inspect their investment? And how many flats did they buy – if any? Given that some prices have been reduced [2] maybe they are waiting for them to fall back to a ‘realistic’ level before they buy?

S106 'consultants' help reduce
affordable housing percentage
I well remember the planning application going through the process. The developer fought like a dog through its planning consultants to squeeze and squeeze the affordable housing. Replacing a 100% employment complex of affordable commercial units with a luxury housing development is a delicate business. They replaced the affordable commercial units with unaffordable, and it seems likely they may remain empty, as in their neighbouring student hostel in Kensal Road. The developer has a record on this [3].

To what extent will this super-luxury development ‘regenerate’ Southern Row, and more particularly the lives of its residents? It won’t. What will happen over time is that the land the Council housing sits on will become too valuable to allow mere Council tenants to continue to live there. Repairs and maintenance will be downscaled in the cruel process of ‘managed decline’, and eventually they will be judged unfit for purpose.  Plans will then be put forward to ‘regenerate’ the estates and squeeze out those tenants who can no longer afford to live at higher rents. 

Social cleansing, pure and simple.

The battleground is clear; profit versus people.

The battle for Kensal Town has begun.

3. From RTPI Friday Briefing, 27th September 2013

‘Tower Hamlets had refused urban developer Workspace Group’s proposals for 302 dwellings and 8.104 square metres of SME business accommodation chiefly because of the affordable housing offer of just 12.5 per cent.
The east London council had suggested that a 30.4 per cent level was justifiable (and economic), particularly as that figure was significantly below the 35 to 50 per cent range the council would normally expect.
The council also argued that level of provision was needed to ensure the scheme complied with development plan policies including those in the London Plan.
At the subsequent inquiry the developer offered obligations at two levels of affordable housing provision: 12.5 and 20 per cent, although it made it clear it was concerned at the viability of the scheme at the upper level.
Pickles accepted the developer’s concern but agreed with the inspector that “there is no certainty that these concerns are of such an order as to mean that the development would not be delivered in the reasonably foreseeable future”. He allowed the appeal on the basis of a 20 per cent affordable housing figure.’

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

WHAT IS PRECIOUS: life, and Portobello Market

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I had to subject myself to two Mother’s Days this year. I am a doer, not a ‘done-to-er’. I find it difficult being looked after and spoilt for a day. But I love it. Lying on the sofa and READING A BOOK while meals are cooked and tidied up after is an unimaginable luxury that I treasure.

Swimming in waterfalls, aaah!
At such times I consider, what is precious to me? I hope my children know it is them of course, and my ‘Mummy-drawer’ (selection of treasures above). This is stuffed with home-made cards, messages, funny photos, wacky art, baby teeth (sshh!), first locks of hair, swimming medals – plus half finished photo albums from yesteryear. If I succumb to dementia and anyone thinks I need a memory reboot – the work is done.

In my day to day work as a Councillor I regularly come across people so furious about what ‘THEY’ are trying to do to their neighbourhood, area, estate, school, job, nursery, tree that they become half crazed. And not always in a bad way.

The latest manifestation of this rather awesome and precious fury is directed towards an ill-conceived first visual of a plan to ‘tidy up’ and reap profit from part of Portobello Market. The supposed purpose of this - to preserve the legacy and pave the way to the future - is irrelevant to those who feel ignored. Part of the market that has evolved, that is scruffy but loved, that has been cared for and used for many years when it seemed as if no one else cared at all, is under threat. Where some unlovely, and some very lovely events - foodie, cultural, musical, filmic, messy and often gorgeous and very locally embedded - have flourished, among the pigeon crap, weeds, more-or-less-excellent graffiti, and street drinkers. This place is precious.

A plan to tidy, sanitise, control, change and monetise such a glorious mis-match of needs and spontaneous creativity is going to come very awry unless sympathetically managed.

It hasn’t been. So let’s start again.

First of all, ask people what is precious, what is valued, what is special and idiosyncratic, what is utterly and unquestionably not to be messed with. Then preserve it. Save it. Improve it. Grow it. Make it better and more profitable to the people who run it.

Preserve, nurture, focus on and intensify what is good.

When you’ve done that, you then have permission to nibble around the edge. Don’t be greedy. Do enough, not too much. Work with local people. Don't rush it. People will know if you take short-cuts.

If you save, grow and intensify all the things that are good, you are helping a place become more of itself, not less. And you won’t kill the very thing you hope to profit from.

Being too ambitious, too self-serving, and being or appearing to be too financially greedy is the path to destruction and community annihilation.

Your choice.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

‘ILL FARES THE LAND’ in Kensington and Chelsea

It is enlightening to recognise where political figures and movements embrace pseudo or recreated traditions, and impose self-serving hierarchies and power structures to ‘authenticate’ their right to rule.

I often referred to Eric Hobsbawm’s excellent ‘The Invention of Tradition’ while researching for my MA on architecture and politics in post-civil war Spain. My thesis looked at Franco’s adoption of the Spanish Imperial architectural ‘style’ (and I use that term carefully) to fill the post-civil war longing for stability. He spoke of Spain’s return to international status, while he drew up fictitious family trees claiming descendence from the royal line. He embraced classical art forms as representing 'eternal beauty', and denigrated modern art and its meaning. For ten long years, Franco built neo-classical monuments, memorials, stately public buildings, and created processional routes in the capital – while a million people are said to have died of starvation.

The imposition of fixed rules on architecture, the arts - and social mores – is a well-documented means to exclude those who ‘don’t fit’ the picture. This establishes a hierarchy that ‘authenticates’, justifies and benefits those who have put themselves at the top, and more importantly discredits and disenfranchises those with other values, aesthetic or social. 

Bizarrely, this process is often accepted without question by the population they wish to subjugate.

A social anthropologist would tell us that it is a very common predilection of the conquerors or would-be conquerors to subjugate the populace by means more subtle than physical force. Creating hierarchies and persuading the ‘lower orders’ to accept them has happened throughout human history, where societies have passed from an egalitarian co-operative community necessary for survival, to a self-serving, introspective and hierarchical system. If you can make the populace accept their inferiority and the superiority of their ‘betters’ then almost anything is possible.

If you think I’m about to make a parallel between the 1940s in Spain, and Kensington and Chelsea now, you are quite correct.

So we are persuaded that the taxpayers’ money is well spent as the Mayor needs a Bentley to ‘maintain dignity’, Holland Park needs an opera as ‘high culture’ benefits the local economy, the streets of South Ken must be paved with pink granite 'to attract tourist money', Holland Park School must be the most expensive in the western hemisphere because somehow that will improve education. We are told that the ‘Royal’ borough demands the best and it is money well spent.

However there is no evidence whatever that people care if the Mayor arrives in a taxi, that opera improves the local economy or life chances, or that spending £100m on a school will benefit students three times more than spending £33m.

Let's should stop accepting the PR. Let's demand the evidence.

Some months ago we asked 100 people on the street to pick their MP from a choice of eight; only 17 could do so. The past few days have revealed our MP’s sheer avarice, sense of entitlement and lack of compassion. How ironic that he is paid £60k/year by Adam Smith Institute. The Honorary MP is a totem of how some influential figures in our Council conduct themselves, and reflects their world view. 

But what has become very clear in the past year or two is that across Kensington and Chelsea there are values that many hold dear and share, and that there are people of all backgrounds and beliefs who are no longer content to be represented – in the Town Hall or in Westminster – by those who have created a world of self-interest that we are supposed to respect and subjugate ourselves to.
And this is how The Deserted Village ends:

Your choice, but I say, no more pot plants in politics. Vote for someone who will work hard for what we call ‘One Kensington’, and that means everyone.

Further information on inequalities in K&C here:

Sunday, 1 February 2015

STOP SHOUTING AT THE TELLY: time to show you care

As somebody born and bred in our wonderful and diverse borough (I was genuinely ‘Made in Chelsea’), I am very aware of the huge inequalities in Kensington and Chelsea. We know about the extremes of wealth, but the extremes of poverty in some areas are a surprise to many. As a local Councillor I cannot escape the harsh realities of my inbox, and the problems that come into Surgery in Golborne Ward, the joint poorest ward in London. Some days it’s heartbreaking.

The Independent has just published an excellent article on the subject: [link to Indie article]

Leading an Opposition Group on a very Conservative Council, I am thoroughly acquainted with the annual Statement of Accounts, and know that these extremes are not only severe and affect people’s lives – in our borough they are unjustifiable.

The daily battle for food on the table, credit in the gas meter, and a place to do your homework, is a war of attrition that affects many struggling and overcrowded families, with 26% of K&C children living in poverty.

And it is a world away from subsidised opera, Pre-Raphaelite art collecting, frog-hunts and the delights of long-horned cows grazing in Holland Park that are the experience of some in the self-professed ‘richest Council in the universe’.

Yes, Kensington and Chelsea really is the Marie-Antoinette of all Councils.

If you want to witness these disparities in action, I invite you to attend a Full Council meeting (next one 4 March), where you may be amazed and even shocked by the conduct of some Conservative Councillors who are supposed to represent you. Sometimes we have a packed Public Gallery of people attending Council for the first time. Yet TWICE in 2014 a Cabinet Member has told the people in the Public Gallery, who they are supposed to represent, to ‘SHUT UP!’.

So there is proof of the disdain they hold for the electorate, the residents whose vote put them there, and whose Council Tax pays their allowance.

A good Councillor represents all their constituents as best they can, and does not favour one group over another because of presumed political allegiance. A good Councillor stands for office to represent and help others, not to help themselves. And yet K&C Council is stuffed with self-servatives.

It is clear that the majority Conservative Group view the Council as a corporation and residents as shareholders, so they can then without conscience favour residents who are self-interested and may simply wish to park money here and leave, and contribute nothing (often not even tax).

What happened to our values along the way?

The Council is not a business, we are public servants and representatives; some Councillors would do well to consider just whose interests they are representing and what outcomes they are encouraging.

We tried trickle-down; it is a fallacy. We tried to ‘cut red tape’ on planning and development; it is ripping the heart out of our borough.

What has become very apparent over the past two years is that the thousands of small ‘c’ Conservative residents are also very poorly served by our Council. Left and middle have a great deal of common ground and we do work together effectively on matters we all care about: protecting our mixed communities, not just in words but action; keeping the borough’s special character, avoiding pastiche and Disneyfication; caring for our vulnerable residents, old and young; ensuring public funds benefit the public; a sense of value and good citizenship. The list of Lords, Ladies and high earners queueing up to save the Sutton Estate in Chelsea epitomises this community spirit, and the fear that we are in danger of losing it.

So I say to K&C Council: ‘Time to show you care’.

Kensington and Chelsea is not a corporation but a place, full of life and heart and soul, and should be governed to benefit people who wish to live in it and help the borough thrive.

Vote - so you don't need to protest! 
Let’s say it out loud, let's hashtag it: #itsmykensingtontoo.

Our parliamentary candidate Dr Rod Abouharb [website] stepped forward, he says, as he was fed up with shouting at the telly. So stop shouting at the telly, get out there and tell people to vote.

Here are some tips to help you decide where to put your cross at the General Election on 7 May:

1. Make sure you’re still on the electoral register, and use your vote. People died for your right to vote.

2. Do your homework. Look at your candidates, who they are, what they are, what they think and how they will serve you.

3. Vote for the person, not just the party.

That is all.

If you want to find out if you are still on the register email: or call: 020 7361 3931.
Information on electoral registration:

Thursday, 11 December 2014

'SHAMBOLIC' #2, RBKC confuses 'want' with 'need'

We know there are homeless people out there, thousands upon thousands of them, and we know there are rough sleepers. I have seen more and more tucked away in quiet corners of the borough over the summer, and left them to it; in warm weather it may be tolerable. Some rough sleepers have work of a kind (manual labour at a certain building site), some have come to the UK to work and found none, others have simply fallen off the edge.

So I shouldn’t have been shocked by this photo, sent in by a resident, of a rough sleeper on Portobello Road, with one layer of wrapping, lying on concrete on the coldest night of the year, Friday 5 December.

But I was.

Now sensitised, while I am out and about I look out for bundles of blankets and cardboard, and see quite a few. Sometimes there’s a poor soul hidden inside. How many will survive this freezing weather?

In a civilised society, in the self-professed ‘richest borough in the universe’ this is unforgivable. I have sat at meetings when Council officers backed by a pinstriped Cabinet Member have painstakingly explained how night shelters, lunch clubs, even food banks, encourage the hungry and un-housed to hang about in the borough. How unseemly! ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ and never mind where they will end up, half starved and rough sleeping.

So, the churches fill in where they can, and thank God and all the gods for that.

So reflect on this for a moment:

The ‘richest borough in the universe’
is CUTTING £150,000
from its homelessness prevention scheme this year.

Yes, the Council that can justify handing over, no strings attached, £5m to a loss-making business, Opera Holland Park, that some say has cost us cc£20m since inception - a ‘business’ that loses up to £125,000 per week on its eight-week summer run – is CUTTING the price of a week of opera (if you add in the cost of renting the location at Holland House, which is given free), for a year of homelessness prevention.

As we go about our rounds, we find the message of financial incompetence and tortured priorities by the Council is getting through. So, for the sake of absolute clarity and accuracy, here are some figures to feed your outrage this wintry season. So, when you are wondering how a civilised society and ‘fabulously’ rich Council can walk by someone sleeping on a pavement in below-zero temperatures, this is how:

Short course

Any organisation that has been run inefficiently for years can make savings through better planning and tightening up on costs.

But RBKC has taken this to a new level. While bleating ‘austerity’ and ‘tough decisions’ they have cut back on services, particularly focussed on  the most vulnerable who cannot speak for themselves.

And yet, most of this is simply unnecessary. Here’s why. Below you will see a table of government funding cuts to RBKC since 2010 (cuts = savings). In the third column is the total of UNDERSPENDING across the Council in the same year. All these sums have been taken from the Council’s own documentation:

Government funding cut
Total underspend
















A large chunk of the underspends every year are put into the Capital Reserve, to fund major projects such as the cc£100m Holland Park School.

The ‘usable Reserves’ from which capital and other projects are funded look like this:

10/11 - £206m
11/12 - £224m
12/13 - £241m
13/14 - £267m
at September 2014 - £283m

You would think that having large Reserves means you would get some interest on that to ‘soften the blow’ of savings; in fact Council policy states precisely that. You would be wrong.

These Reserves are kept almost entirely in the Debt Management Office (very safe but can be accessed quickly), whose return on investments is .25%pa. Given that inflation has been cc2.5%, the loss on say £100m of these Reserves (the sum the Council states they have not earmarked for capital projects) is cc£4-5m/yr. So we are actually LOSING money. If that £100m was invested, we could GAIN cc£4-5m/yr. So you could say that we are forgoing cc£10m/yr.

Now let’s look at some of the Council’s PRIORITIES. In 2010/11 (election year) £4.2m was spent on an ‘efficiency dividend’ of £50 each to all registered for Council Tax. In 2013/14 (election year) £7.5m was spent on an ‘efficiency dividend’ of £100 each to all Council Tax PAYERS (ie not in receipt of Housing Benefit).

Here are some more ‘priorities’:

Opera Holland Park – underwriting loss of cc£1m/yr
Leighton House – this year alone £2.6m refurb costs
National Army Museum – ‘loan’ of £2.5m for refurb
Kens Academy artwork - £150k
Holland Park Ac artwork - £120k

In the past six years, the Council has spent an incredible £1m on Pre-Raphaelite art:
-      Clytie (lady in a nightie)
-      Cimabue’s Madonna ( lady in a nightie)
-      Nymphs in a Landscape (shockingly, ladies without nighties)

Now let’s look at ‘underspends’ in services, using 2013/14 as an example:

Adult Social Care                      £6.4m
Children’s Services                       £641k
Env Leisur and Res                      £2.3m
Housing                                     £638k
Libr, Arch, Heritage                     £238k
Planning, boro devt                      £1.6k
Transp & Techn                         £6.4m
Corp Servi                                £3.8m
Adult, Family Learning                    £44k

As you can see for yourself, ‘tough decisions’ are in truth IDEOLOGICAL.

And people, if the Tories get into government again and are allowed to kick off their destructive ‘deficit balancing’ budget, make no mistake, people will die.

Which is why. given that RBKC is a microcosm of all that is very wrong in the country at present, we need to understand how our Tories in RBKC make their decisions, where the money is, and just how the process is driven by wrong-headedness, incompetence and ideology. 


Far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their money, so I would just like to say 'thank you' to whoever sent me these gorgeous flowers, an extravagant but very touching anonymous gift with a very flattering message attached. Times are tough, and gratitude is rare; you made my day.