A letter dropped onto the doormat yesterday morning that was addressed to “The Resident”. When I see those words on the address line, I know straightaway that it’s either junk or it comes from some company that’s trying to schmooze the locals. This time, rather than consign it to the recycling bin, I decided to open it.
The letter informs me that they are “writing on behalf of A2Dominion to invite [me] you to an update (sic) exhibition of their submitted plans for the redevelopment of Queens Wharf, Hammersmith Broadway”. It is interesting how they have given the address as “Hammersmith Broadway” rather than the actual address, which is Crisp Road. Hammersmith Broadway is about a quarter of a mile away from the proposed development but I suspect, that they have in mind the electoral ward rather than Hammersmith Broadway per se. A Freudian slip, maybe?
This is very telling: for some time, the Dear Leader, Stephen Greenhalgh has indicated his desire to bulldoze the Queen Caroline Estate and replace it with mixed (sic) housing. This would be nothing short of a blatant attempt to
gerrymander demographically re-adjust the borough to ensure a one-party council where there is no opposition. The Broadway ward has consistently voted Labour for a number of years. This is anathema to the Tories, who currently enjoy a 16 seat majority. Another plan by the ruling Tory group is to bulldoze the buildings (including the 1930’s-built Cineworld cinema and the Friend’s Meeting House) near the town hall and replace them with a massive blocks that will contain flats to buy and rent.
So who are Green Issues? They are a part of a company called CollegePublicPolicy. Green Issues have been involved in a number of other developments. Many of them unwanted by local people. This blog from 2009 says that,
The PR company Green Issues behind some horrible planning schemes have so many big party politicians working for them they should be called ‘Grey Party leftovers’. Their schemes include; Thurrock Lakeside & a huge hotel ‘Centennial Park’ on green belt land in Elstree. They promote eco towns & urban regeneration *, telling large developers how to pretend to be green. It seems they use their political contacts to get close to local cllrs and persuade them to approve. And I thought the opposition parties were against the way Labour have used PR?
This sounds like a marriage made in hell.
Their homepage says,
Green Issues Communications is the UKs leading stakeholder engagement and community consultation specialist.
We are headquartered in Reading and have additional offices in London, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Plymouth. We work with clients from many industry sectors including energy, utilities, health, housebuilding, retail, sport and leisure, transport and waste – and undertake projects in all parts of England and Wales.
All the current buzzwords are there: “stakeholders”, “engagement”, “community”. The use of the word “community” here is used selectively and only applies to certain types of people – the wealthy or those who have enough disposable income to spend on such properties. Here is some more,
The values of our company are Energy, Innovation, Political Insight, Teamwork, Professionalism and Rigour.
Some more dog-whistle words, “value”, “political insight”. These words are entirely devoid of meaning and are employed to prompt a desired response in the reader. In this reader, they have prompted nothing but suspicion.
CollegePublicPolicy is also involved in “Government relations and lobbying”. This includes,
– Ensuring that institutions of government understand our clients, their contribution and their needs
– Campaigning for legislative change, or regulatory or policy decisions
– Influencing the passage of primary legislation
They are also involved in what is euphemistically described as “public affairs”. We should see this for what it is: public relations. More from the website,
– Broadly based communication to influence the political mood, including grass roots and grass tops campaigns, old and new media, third party support, events, etc
“Influence the political mood” is an interesting phrase. It is Bernaysian in its tone. Looking down the list, we come to “Local government and planning”,
– Assisting to secure housing allocations with local authorities and helping to win planning consents for applications
– Comprehensive political audits identifying the key influencers, with a detailed analysis of the planning system and issues of local importance
– Guide clients through negotiation with elected members at County, District, Borough and Unitary Authorities, as well as at town and parish levels
So much for the PR side of things, let’s have a look at A2Dominion, who describe themselves as “A UK leading housing developer” and claim they are “Providing choice”. “Choice” is a word that is much beloved by neoliberals. Again, it is completely meaningless within the context of housing. For example, my choices (such as they are) are limited because I do not have the income to buy or, even, rent the properties that I really want to live in. Nor does it follow that someone with a great deal more money than me can live where they want. What if their choice of dwelling is being occupied by someone else; someone who refuses to move? So much for choice. A2Dominion also claim to offer affordable rents but when you drill into their claims, you discover that the rents are often far from affordable.
A2 Dominion have a housing development in the neighbouring borough of Ealing and their relationship with their residents is far from sweet. Shared-ownership residents have complained about the excess service charges they have to pay. In 2009, the Ealing Gazette reported,
The residents of Bromyard House, Bromyard Avenue, Acton, who pay part mortgage, part rent on their flats, which are owned by Berkeley Homes but managed by A2Dominion, are putting together a petition against the ‘unfair’ service charges.
Hitesh Tailor, chair of the Bromyard House Residents’ Association, said the prospect of affordable housing has diminished with the high costs, on top of mortgage payments, rent and council tax.
Mr Tailor said: “Residents have lived here for three years and have endured anger and frustration at not knowing what services they are paying for.
“We have a legal obligation to pay our service charges but we don’t feel it represents value for money. Dominion should be looking at ways of reducing the financial burden for many who are having to deal with reduced household income.
“They pay a high level of their disposable income on housing costs which were not very clear when people bought. Traditional housing policy guidelines suggest an affordability ratio of anything between 25 to 40 per cent of income spent on housing costs but it is very likely many residents here spend above that amount.”
Here’s the rub,
“The majority of costs are passed on by the site’s freeholder through its managing agent, who is responsible for the overall estate. We would like to reassure our residents that we are taking their concerns seriously, and are seeking to work co-operatively with all parties concerned to address this matter, and we will be representing our leaseholders’ views as strongly as possible.”
The question is who owns the freehold on that valuable looking piece of land overlooking the Thames and what how much is it worth?
A2Dominion is a behemoth of a social landlord. They are portrayed as ‘eco-friendly’ but this seems to be more of a selling point rather than a real effort to be effectively green. Like all companies of this nature, the profit motive is at the heart of the business. According to their website, this is what passes for ‘affordable housing’ in Hammersmith. The Cedar House development in Fulham has flats for rent for between £761.74 and £1054.69 per month. I was touched by this statement
One bedroom flats: Any key worker living or working within the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, and who fit the criteria as set by the local authority.
Any key worker who decides to rent one of these flats will have to give up food. They can’t afford to eat and rent one of these properties at the same time. One thing is for certain, there will be no housing benefit claimants living there.
Once again, no one seems to have learned from the colossal mistakes of the past. The bank and stock market crashes, the economic depressions and recessions are all conveniently forgotten, so that the already uber-rich may get richer. Stimulating another property boom can only end in tears. But not for the bailiffs, the lawyers and the profiteers who stand to make lots of money when things go wrong. The council, too, stands to gain, since these properties are likely to be bought or occupied by those people who would be inclined to vote Tory.
Public relations is a multi-million pound business. Unlike many businesses, it remains the same as it always was. It hasn’t changed since Bernays encouraged women to smoke cigarettes in the 1920’s. PR is still responsible for stimulating desires and needs in people that they didn’t know they had. It encourages people to buy things that they don’t need.
If there is a modern industrial equivalent to the medieval alchemist, then the PR industry is it.
UPDATE: 4/3/12 @ 2310
I got another Green Issues letter through my letter box yesterday. This time the heading on the stationery reads “Green Issues Communiqué” . “Oh, trés posh”, I thought. Communiqué is just a poncey name for a message. It was used a lot back in the 1960’s and 70’s to indicate an announcement from a government or public body… sometimes the Vietcong. It sort of dropped out of general usage.
Anyway, they’re holding a public exhibition on 17th and 20th March at Queens Wharf at the far end of Queen Caroline Street from 1100 to 1600. The letter also says that,
“We value the views of local residents and business owners and hope you can come along and see the plans”.
Ooh, you smooth-talking bastards.