Hammersmith & Fulham: regeneration blues

This week I heard that Hammersmith & Fulham  Council approved a £15m exclusivity deal with CapCo,  whose bid to ‘regenerate’  West Kensington and Earl’s Court has faced enormous local opposition. Shepherds Bush blog reports that the Council had bussed in supporters to give the impression that most residents supported their plans.

But the real story of the night, as I predicted here, was their use of our money to bus in and co-ordinate a small group of residents who themselves seemed very confused about why they were there.

So council tax money was used to pervert the democratic process? Am I reading this correctly? This reminds me of a US right wing organisation called Protest Warrior, who specialise in disrupting anti-war demonstrations and who also act as agents provocateurs.  However it appears that those pro-Council protesters weren’t actually aware of what they were involved in. The Lib Dems Paul Kennedy is quoted to have said,

the small group of pro-development campaigners in white “Yes to the Future” T-shirts seemed confused: “Several of them told us they were campaigning to save their homes, so we thought for a while they must be campaigning against the development. They didn’t seem to realise that they were being used for propaganda by the Council and developers who want to demolish their homes.”

This kind of manipulation is reminiscent of the tactics used by authoritarian regimes to give an impression of consensus.

I found this on the H&F Conservatives blog, the misleadingly titled “Residents First”

This year Edward Glaeser has come out with a brilliant book called “Triumph of the City” which shows how cities are the engines of the economy, innovation and social mobility. Glaeser argues that urban density is far more preferable to suburban sprawl and that cities need to grow: “Urban density provides the clearest path from poverty to prosperity…..Growth keeps space affordable and ensures that people on low incomes and less profitable firms can stay which helps cities remain successful and diverse.” So we are going for growth in our 3 opportunity areas. London’s economic heart is clearly the two cities of Westminster and London and its lung to the east is currently being built along the Thames Gateway. We want to create a second lung to the west along the West London Line:

-          Earls Court: 7,500 new homes, 8,000 new jobs and brand new homes for all the residents on our two estates

-          White City: 4,500 new homes and 10,000 new jobs

-          Old Oak: 10,000 new homes and 20,000 new jobs

First, and this is stating the obvious, in advanced industrial economies, cities are always “engines of the economy”. But the author seems to feel that this is some kind of earth-shattering statement; an original idea. Second, I have some concerns about these “jobs” that they are talking about. What kind of jobs will be on offer? I suspect that the jobs that the council is talking about are low-waged service sector jobs. As for homes, these will be of the ‘mixed’ variety. In other words, most of them will be for sale and a small proportion will be let at market rents.

The Council is also at odds with the faux libertarianism that underpins Cameron’s much-vaunted Big Society figment. This is from Inside Housing

The backdoor move by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to try and use its political connections with Ministers to get the Government to deprive us of our legal Right to Transfer is, we believe, an abortive abuse of power. Were it to succeed, it would not only emasculate S34A, it would expose the Big Society and Localism as unfair – fine for wealthier communities in rural areas, yet denied to poorer communities in urban areas. Worse still, it would preserve the untrammelled power of the local state to ride roughshod over local communities, exposing the Localism Bill as a fig leaf for all that’s gone before.

This leads me neatly on to Greenhalgh’s connections to the government. Having been to Cambridge with many members of the current government, and being a close chum of  London mayor Emperor Boris Johnson,  Greenhalgh believes that he has the power to influence ministers decisions. In a speech he made in 2009, he said,

‘My mates are all in the shadow Cabinet, waiting to get those [ministerial] boxes, being terribly excited. I went to university with them, they haven’t run a piss-up in a brewery’

On this occasion he wasn’t being kind to his fellow Tories. This blog tells us how he tried to enlist the help of the government in scuppering the plans of West Ken and Gibbs Green residents dreams of a stock transfer.  He wrote this to the Minister for Decentralisation, Greg Clark.

“The new power still appears to place too much emphasis on the ability of existing tenants’ groups to manage a stock transfer and too little on whether such a transfer is better for the whole community in the longer term… Although you indicate that representations can be made, the burden of argument still falls on the council bringing uncertainty for potential development partners and unnecessary delay. Instead of this we need a clear statement in the regulations that stock transfer to existing tenants would not be approved in regeneration and opportunity areas”.

To close he added his own hand-penned coda: “PS. I really need your help on this!”

The very thing that the government seeks to promote – the empowerment of local groups and communities – is being systematically undermined for political purposes, namely the demographic realignment of certain wards in the borough. However, it doesn’t appear as though Clark is going to give in. His reply,

When considering a transfer the secretary of state will take account of all relevant considerations, which would include regeneration schemes for the wider area, and these considerations would have to be looked at in the context of the proposed transfer.

Far from being democratic, the Tory group on the council is trying to find the means – any means –  to circumvent the democratic process. If this means hiring a team of actors in clown costumes to pretend they are local residents, then they will probably do that too.  Nothing this bunch does would surprise me.

You can read the full text of Greenhalgh’s letter to Greg Clark here.

The poster that was produced by the Council can be seen here. What I find interesting about the poster is the way the word “Yes” appears to be handwritten.

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