Friday, 9 November 2012

FROM MANAGED DECLINE TO COMMUNITY OBLITERATION


-     a masterclass in Resident Enragement at Wornington Green


In North Kensington the pressures on housing have already reached boiling point. Every month more households living in private rented homes are hit with cuts up of to £100/wk to their Local Housing Allowance as they reach the ‘anniversary’ of their rental agreement. From next April people will be hit harder by Universal Credit. This will disadvantage those who rely on those extra few pounds a week to support their children by putting meat on the table, shoes on their feet, buy books and pay for broadband without which they cannot do their homework on their creaky slow pc.

For those who don’t know, the four wards of North Kensington that border the Westway flyover are very mixed, with some areas very poor. Golborne Ward which I represent as Councillor is the joint poorest ward in London with one in Haringey on extent measure – which means a vast majority of my constituents are bumping along the bottom financially.

Kensington and Chelsea is the richest Council in Europe, with £180m in Reserves. And yes there is a connection between having the poorest ward and the fattest coffers; it’s basic arithmetic and priorities. The Council’s largest recent expense was £23m on repaving Exhibition Road. This was not a ‘spend to save’ investment; not a regeneration scheme that could improve employment and life outcomes; nobody asked for it; and it mainly benefits visitors to museums that are already at capacity. It is an in-yer-face unashamed vanity project.


Meanwhile some families in Golborne are sending their children to school hungry.

It is hardly their fault that the Council is colluding with overseas investors and with prime and super-prime developers to hike up property prices while the poor (and increasingly, to the Council’s dismay, the so-called squeezed middle) are struggling even to pay ‘affordable’ rent.

We heard last night that, after the social melt-down of families in private rented homes, from next April 536 Council tenants will be hit so hard by welfare reform that they will be in danger of not being able to afford Council rent. ‘Eviction would be the last resort’, we were told. We’ll see.

Strong and resilient communities are already threatened with total obliteration. This will get worse.

Added to this toxic mix in the ‘Royal’ borough is the unwanted Wornington Green development. Phase 1 was granted permission two years ago (by the chair who voted twice) and the first buildings of the first phase are growing taller and fatter, utterly out of scale with the neighbourhood around Golborne Road, like a cuckoo in a robin’s nest. The first buildings will supposedly be ready for occupation in spring, and the prospect of more demolition and yet more heartbreak for the decantees of the next stage is increasing depression and stress levels that are already explosive.

After years of porkies and misrepresentation and moving of goalposts by ‘social’ landlord Catalyst, reality is beginning to dawn for the first phase decantees who should be preparing to move into new homes. Why is this desperately overcrowded family now told they will have to wait another five years for the flat promised in writing for 2013? Why can’t their granny/adult child/sister live with them? Will they or won’t they be able to keep the extra bedroom they rely upon for respite care for elderly rellies? Why can’t they get another pet if their current one dies? Why can’t they choose the colour of their curtains, or even have blinds? Why can’t they bring that bay tree they have been growing on the patio for years? Why can’t they bring their expensive bike into their flats and not leave it vulnerable in the underground store? And as one elderly Muslim woman put it so eloquently, on hearing that none of the kitchens will have windows, ‘How will I see my God when I’m cooking?’.

One day residents are told the number of accessible homes is being reduced as there is ‘no demand for them’. The next an elderly couple are told they won’t be rehoused for five years as there are no accessible homes being built yet.

All this, and the rumours of an ‘Early Movers’ or ‘VIP’ list for development-friendly tenants just will not go away.

The actual process of demolition and construction got off to a very bad start, with frankly disgraceful conduct from some of the workmen who sexually harassed a local employee and reportedly swore at children. This was in addition to traffic management and health and safety practices that were shocking (right, not your car I hope) and denied until half the neighbourhood turned out to film it on their mobiles. Faced with the truth the contractors relented and are now, we hope, working purposefully with residents and our community centre that was under siege.

A great shame then, that Catalyst Housing has not relented. To put this in context, Kensington Housing Trust who built Wornington Green in the 70s and 80s have a record of never, ever, undertaking cyclical maintenance. Some residents were born in the so-called slums that were demolished so that new buildings ‘to last 200 years’ could be built. 

The famous Pepler House, designed by Peter Deakins (left), has an internal layout and design of a quality that was considered for listing by the Twentieth Century Society. But this has also been neglected shamefully.

This process of managed decline wears down residents opposed to regeneration and ripens them for the coming cull.

And a cull it will be. Catalyst’s rationale was that the estate was ‘crumbling’ and must be demolished to solve 70% overcrowding. How you can achieve that by replacing homes like for like, with fewer family sized homes, and then doubling density with private homes, is unclear. I should say, unclear until you do the maths; it is very clear that the only way they can fit decantees into the estate is if large numbers – especially larger families – never return.

It's a blatant case of social cleansing.

Back to current events, and to deal with the daily chaos on site I organised a summit meeting to include all parties including residents’ rep, local police, community centre management, Council officers, contractors and Catalyst. Having dealt robustly with the problems at hand, we circulated draft Minutes to confirm what had been agreed. A few corrections came back, then from Catalyst a totally unrecognisable rewritten version that turned facts into propaganda. I can imagine why they would wish to whitewash two furious and very public outbursts from a director, but all they have done is confirm what everyone around the table was thinking when they arrived - which it would be unwise to put on record.

Needless to say we will not be organising another summit any time soon that includes people who cannot be frank and honest or keep their temper during meetings.

There are ways of dealing with such people. Where formal meetings fail, the process of resident enragement may bear fruit.








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