Tag Archives: Gibb’s Green Estate

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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It’s as though Shirley Porter and the 1980s never went away

Shirley Porter: she still hasn’t paid up

It was 1986, the Tories had narrowly won Westminster City Council in the local elections. I know, it’s hard to believe it but that’s what happened. Labour did well by narrowly winning a three seats and the SDP (spits) were a major threat to the Tories in another couple of seats. To prevent this from ever happening again, Porter and her council colleagues devised a plan to gerrymander  marginal wards and those wards that had gone to Labour. The plan, euphemistically titled “Building Stable Communities”, was to sell off properties when tenants vacated them. The council also removed many homeless voters from the borough because they were less likely to vote Conservative.

Porter also sold off 3 cemeteries for 5p each. The Council bought them back in 2006.

Across the Thames in Wandsworth there was similar picture. Wandsworth under the leadership of Paul Beresford,was accused of  illegally selling off void properties in tower blocks that were located in marginal wards.

The district auditor’s inquiry found “a relatively high correlation” between housing expenditure and the five most marginal wards in Wandsworth between 1987-88 and 1990-91 – the period when the Conservatives turned a one-seat majority into one of 35 in the 1990 local authority elections.

Beresford escaped punishment but the District Auditor  found Porter guilty of wilful misconduct. Porter, her deputy David Weeks, one other councillor and a few council officials were made jointly liable for repaying £36m. However Porter was liable for the lion’s share of the sum and along with surcharges and interest, she owed around £37m. She filed a series of unsuccessful appeals but she fled the country and later resurfaced in Israel.

From the relative safety of Israel, she transferred the majority of her assets to her son.

She then claimed her wealth extended to just £300,000, though estimates put her fortune at £69m. The council failed to pursue her. But a subsequent investigation proved she moved millions of pounds to her son via a complex web of companies.

In 2004, she and the council agreed she would pay £12.3m, but Labour councillors at Westminster have pressed district auditor Les Kidner to reopen the case in a bid to force her to pay up the full fine. Councillors are aghast that investigators failed to spot the Porter family connection with Telos.

Porter lives in Westminster in a £1.5m property but is still at large.

Fast forward to the present day. Westminster City Council is still run by the Tories and council housing and homelessness are back in the headlines.  In March of this year, the council proposed to ban night-time soup kitchens for the homeless. They claimed, without any evidence to support their assertions, that soup kitchens and the like are responsible for perpetuating homelessness. Conservative Angela Harvey said,

“When you see 50 to 80 people waiting for a soup run, they are not homeless people by and large.

“The majority will not be rough sleepers… you see them going off with large carrier bags stuffed full of food which is for them and their house mates. We know they are in work and housed.”

But she and the Council has failed to provide evidence for his wild assertion that people who are not homeless simply “take advantage” of soup kitchens. It’s a tall tale.

Westminster also wants increased powers  to raise council rents. They propose to increase rent in line with any increase in a tenant’s income. Yesterday, Tory Philippa Roe told the BBC that, “we (the Council) think that it would be fair for those households to pay a little bit more so we can recycle that money, either to help the most vulnerable families or to keep rents down for vulnerable people on low, fixed incomes”.  Notice how the word “vulnerable” is being used here to suggest that council housing is a form of welfare. It is not. The Council claims that there are around 2000 people living in council housing that are earning more than £50,000 a year. Councils don’t know how much their tenants earn unless they’re claiming Housing Benefit, so it’s difficult to see where Westminster gets its figures from. I suspect that the figure is entirely made up. The Labour group leader, Paul Dimoldenberg told Inside Housing,

‘Putting up rents is just another way for the Conservatives to increase taxes for middle earners and will push many hard-working residents out of Westminster.

‘Why are they attacking hard-working residents, the backbone of the community?’

Travel through the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and you come to Hammersmith & Fulham, where the council has proposed to demolish hundreds of homes on the Gibbs Green and West Kensington Estates to make way for a new development that will include ‘affordable housing’. This ‘regeneration’ scheme forms part of the Earl’s Court redevelopment. They have also proposed to demolish the White City and Queen Caroline Estates. H&F council call their plan for council homes demolition “Decent Neighbourhoods”. The programme was detailed in the unresearched report titled “Principles for Social Housing Reform”.

It’s as though Shirley Porter and the 1980s never went away.

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Greenhalgh tries to scupper tenant’s plans in West Kensington

I found this interesting blog from the Guardian’s  Dave Hill. Recently the residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green have been trying to apply for a stock transfer, which would thwart LBHF’s attempt to demolish their homes in the proposed redevelopment of the area around the Earl’s Court exhibition centre.

Earls Court redevelopment: Stephen Greenhalgh asks for ‘wider benefit tests’ to limit tenants’ power

From Inside Housing:

A flagship Conservative council has asked ministers to water down proposals to give tenants the right to take over the ownership of their estates, so that a major redevelopment project can go ahead.

You’ll have guessed that said flagship is Hammersmith and Fulham and that the “major redevelopment project” is the Earls Court project – the one that will involve the demolition of the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates unless residents groups are able to make use of that proposed right to take ownership by way of a “stock transfer” under Section 34A of the 1985 Housing Act. I’ve written about the saga here, here and elsewhere.

Section 34A was introduced by the last government, but did not come into force because the necessary accompanying regulations were not put in place. The present government intends to complete the job in line with its localism agenda. Inside Housing continues:

A response to a request from Inside Housing under the Freedom of Information Act revealed Stephen Greenhalgh, council leader at Hammersmith & Fulham, emailed CLG ministers Greg Clark and Grant Shapps in January to ask that tests be applied before tenant-led transfers are approved in regeneration areas.

The email read: “We believe it is wrong to allow regulations on stock transfer to apply without these wider benefit tests in these ‘opportunity areas’ as an unintended consequence could be to impede regeneration in those very areas already defined as needing major economic growths, jobs and homes.”

Read on

On another, related note, I have noticed that the council’s development ‘partner’ EC Harris, who are associated with Toby Young’s Free School, have moved into offices next to the Town Hall.  Highly symbolic.

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