Hackney Independent – Stanway area edition
IWCA local newsletter for Geffrye Estate, Harman Street, Rosalind & Cordelia
Hackney Council are about to make up to cuts of at least £22 million – on their own figures – which may end up being nearer £40 million pounds worth of cuts. They say that this was because they were overspending, but have you noticed any “overspending” round here? They can still afford to pay Council boss Max Caller £3,000 a week and pay all the councillors’ expenses, but our essential services are on the line.
When they came round asking for your vote last time, how many councillors said that they would be bringing in these sort of cuts? None of them did, and they have no mandate or support to do so. More than that, these services don’t belong to the councillors – they are ours. We have paid for them with our rents and council tax several times over and no councillor has the right to sell them off.
Our community is under attack from two sides. Not only is the Council cutting back our essential services, but they are encouraging developers and housing associations to gentrify our Borough and ‘socially cleanse’ the Borough of us – the working class majority.
Resistance to both these attacks must be from us – it’s our estates and community that is most affected. We can’t expect any favours from the Council. Instead we need to decide what which essential services we cannot lose, draw a line in the sand and plan what steps we will take to defend them. Parents from two nurseries have already occupied them and are keeping them open themselves rather than let the Council close them.
We should never let Labour get back in. The Labour government has proved no better at funding Hackney than the Tories. Labour now runs Hackney Council in an alliance with the Tories and it is these parties that are bringing in the cuts. The Hackney Labour Party is now a middle class party that has no interest in representing the working class.
And the Lib Dems are no better. They are very good at telling you what you want to hear when they are in opposition, but they helped get the Council into the mess when they ran the Borough with Labour. In neighbouring Islington the Lib Dems run the Council and are bringing in their own £2 million cuts plan.
There is no point in looking to any of the political parties on Hackney Council. The IWCA is seriously considering standing in this Ward in the next Council elections We need to replace the middle class parties on Hackney Council with working class representatives. The time for protesting to the Council has gone, we need our own representation.
IWCA needs your help
The IWCA was set up to involve and represent the interests of the working class majority in Shoreditch. We felt that the political parties were no longer able to do this, and that the developers were being given a free hand to gentrify our area.
You only ever see the other parties at election time, but the IWCA has tried to get round to every door asking about repairs, ITNet, anti-social behaviour or phone masts.
The IWCA needs your help. How much help you can give is up to you – but if you can help deliver newsletters, take a petition round your block or even make the tea at meetings there is a part you can play. And by attending our meetings you can help make decisions on what issues we take up and how we campaign on them.
If you want to know more about the IWCA you can attend the meeting below or phone us on 07000 752 752. If you can get onto the internet, look up our website on www.hackneyiwca.fsnet.co.uk
Phone masts – unsafe and unwanted
Have you seen the phone mast on top of the building on the corner of Kingsland Road and Pearson Street?
This mast is emitting pulses of radiation up to 217 times a second, and anyone living within 100 yards is affected. That means York Row, most of Harman Street and the nearest blocks on Geffrye Court.
Hackney Council are taking a small amount of money from the phone companies and not telling us about the health risks.
Federal Law in America, and similar laws in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden have made it illegal to place the masts close to homes, schools and hospitals. But the Council let them be put up next to our estates, and have even let one be put up opposite Laburnum School. Were you consulted before this phone mast went up? And has anyone told you about the health risks? This is another example of how the Council treat us like second class citizens. After all, have you ever seen a phone mast on top of a private block?
The IWCA believes that there should be no mobile phone within 100 yards of council estates or schools. We also believe that there should be ballots on every estate to see if tenants want the phone masts down. If they do, the Council should break the contract and take them down.
If you would like a free information pack on mobile phone masts, call the IWCA on 07000 752 752 and leave your details on the answerphone.
Everyone knows how hard it is to get your housing benefit or council tax benefit paid. The Council has a legal duty to get you your benefit within 2 weeks of you giving them your details – but instead the Council blame ITNet, the private contractor they brought in to do the job for them. While we have no time for ITNet – a firm that made £10 million profit a year but is causing suffering to thousands of hackney people who are not getting their benefits – the buck stops with the Council. Typical of them, they privatise a service and then pretend that it’s not their problem.
The Council got a lot of good publicity by saying they had sacked ITNet – well they haven’t. They are still in place and we are still not getting our benefits paid.
Those of us who are on benefits, or whose family and friends are on benefits know what a big issue this is. Our middle class councillors have no idea what it is like not being able to pay the rent, and that’s why they didn’t sack ITNet a long time ago.
The IWCA held a surgery in the Geffrye Estate Community Centre for people who were having trouble with ITNet. We arranged for benefits experts to attend to give people advice, and have since followed up everyone who attended. We aim to hold another surgery soon, but if you are in need of immediate advice, call the IWCA phone number – 07000 752 752 – and Carl Taylor will get in touch with you to help with your benefits application or to give you any other support.
OUT OF ORDER
Tenants across Shoreditch and South Hackney are fed up of having our lives disrupted by anti-social elements. Loud music, in-your-face drug use, syringes left on the stairs, vandalism and muggings can all make life hell. For most of us, life is hard enough without having to live through this.
Anti-social behaviour on our estates has been the biggest single issue raised with us since the last newsletter. Many people have complained repeatedly to the police, the Council and Pinnacle and have been sickened by their lack of response. Can you imagine the police taking no notice if these problems were going on in Hampstead or Chelsea?
The Council have run this area down. They leave the streets filthy. They don’t offer our kids play facilities or enough youth clubs. The Council, and Pinnacle in Shoreditch, don’t carry out the basic repairs our homes need, and seem either unwilling or unable to tackle the problems – as long as it stays in working class areas. We have problems with two sorts of vandals – the young ones who we can see terrorising our estates – and the ones in suits who work for Pinnacle and the Council.
Maybe the police, the Council and Pinnacle really don’t give a damn about us and the areas we live in. After all very few councillors and senior officers live around here. As they let this area run down – both through doing nothing about the anti-social elements and through not spending our rent money on improving our homes – you have to ask whether this is all part of a deliberate plan. We all know that they want to drive us out and fill this area with yuppies from the City. And you can bet that they won’t turn a blind eye to anti-social behaviour if the rich take over the area!
Lets get this straight. The police, the Council and Pinnacle have a duty to solve these problems. But they have shown themselves to be unwilling and unable to solve them. And so we need to begin to find our own solutions. The IWCA has begun discussions with tenants on a number of estates to look at ways of solving this problem. We cannot sit back and let anti-social elements take over our estates. This has always been a strong working class area, and we need working class solutions to the problem of anti-social behaviour.
Let us know what you think the major problems on your estate are. If you have any comments or views on this issue, please get in touch with the IWCA through the address and phone number given at the bottom of the page.
New Deal or Raw Deal? We know what you are doing.
Hackney Council have been letting our homes run down for the last 30 years. The difference now is that running our estates down is part of a plan. The Council want to make things so bad that we are prepared to accept anything else as an improvement.
This year the New Deal will be pushing two “choices” at us. Plan A is to sell-off our homes to housing associations, and Plan B is to bring in a Private Finance Initiative.
One New Deal Board member sent us the following letter, which we are happy to re-print.
“In the next 2-6 months there will be intensive consultation with the community commissioned by Shoreditch New Deal to find out what housing Shoreditch people supposedly want. I strongly suspect the questions will be loaded to engineer private sector solutions. Could you possibly print in your next Newsletter to tenants a warning not be conned, with the simple message, NO STOCK TRANSFER, NO NEW LANDLORDS.”
This is the New Deal’s Plan A. But their Plan B has just as many problems. Their idea is to raise money by:
1. selling-off some land and homes. All five “options” for housing include sales of land and three of them involve selling-off homes;
2. putting up the rents. Hard-line New Deal supporter, Winnie Ames stated in the Gazette on 13 January 2000, “As for the rents having to go up, if anyone thinks we can have our homes refurbished, new windows and lifts as well as in some cases new roofs, without a rent increase, they are living in cloud cuckoo land.” So Mrs Ames argues that we should pay more rent than now, if the Council finally fulfils its obligations and repairs our homes.
3. letting Pinnacle borrow money. Kingsland News, the Council’s sales pitch to get estates like Colville and St Mary’s that are in the New Deal area, but not yet run by Pinnacle to go over to them had the following quote. “If all the Council housing is managed by JSS Pinnacle, then all will be able to benefit from any new forms of investment that JSS Pinnacle and the New Deal manage to attract. This is possible because JSS Pinnacle are a private company, and they are able to raise private funds.” Some New Deal Board members may not be happy with this, but the Council and Pinnacle – who are the ones calling the shots – have given the game away.
The problem for them is that the figures don’t add up. As with PFI in hospitals you end up giving so much away in interest to the banks and profits to the contractors that it is just not worth it. It would not be a problem to the Council or Pinnacle if hundreds of our homes have to be sold off to balance the books – but how would the New Deal supporters explain this in the community?
To avoid taking the blame for this later, New Deal Board members should demand that whatever plans the New Deal comes up with GUARANTEES that there will be “not one less Council home in Shoreditch at the end of the New Deal.” When, and only when, this is guaranteed will the IWCA be able to give any support to the New Deal. Until this is guaranteed we will continue to build up opposition, and prepare to fight to defend our homes.
Some other questions for PFI supporters on the New Deal Board:
- Did you know that Pinnacle are promising the Council that they can keep the £5,000,000 a year profit that Hackney Council makes from Shoreditch rents?
- Did you know that Pinnacle are trying to stitch up the contract for themselves, so no other company will compete with them to bring in the PFI?
We just cannot trust this company. They are only in Shoreditch to make a profit, and not satisfied with running the housing contract they want the to make even more money out of us through the PFI. We need to draw up our own solutions for the problems in Shoreditch – and Pinnacle are no part in them.
Eugene Francis is one of the elected tenant minority on the New Deal Board. In his election campaign he promised to oppose the privatisation of housing management, to keep people aware of all the decisions being made about the area and to make the workings of the New Deal Board more “transparent” to local residents. The IWCA put the same questions to him as we put to the other candidates in the letters page of the Hackney Gazette.
How will you oppose plans to sell off council homes in Shoreditch?
Any way I can. Before standing as a candidate in the elections for the New Deal Board, I was already fighting plans to privatise the management of our homes, which, as far as I’m concerned, is only one step away from sell off. I’ve pledged to continue this opposition even if I have to produce the leaflets and other information myself.
In what ways will you be accountable to Shoreditch tenants now you are elected?
I have already produced leaflets and information for residents in Shoreditch and I will continue doing so, making sure residents know what is going on. I also have a website and I am keen to hear from anyone who has a comment to make, whether they agree with my views or not. (My e-mail address is email@example.com) Bear in mind also, that the IWCA and Tenants Associations have a valuable – and perhaps the most critical – part to play when it comes to ensuring that people are better informed about what’s happening. I have no qualms about people knowing my views and have already insisted that the way each Board member votes should be recorded so that the public can see what their representative has said their area would or would not be happy with.
Obviously, if I or any other elected representative is not reflecting the views of their community then the community must make it know, either by contacting their representative or any member of the Board directly; and ultimately by not voting for that person if they stand for re-election.
The New Deal Board does have a website the address is: www.shoreditchnewdeal.co.uk you can also write, visit or phone the New Deal Shop at: 182 Hoxton Street N1. Tel: 0207 729 8987
Do you believe that people other people on the Board, like the business representatives, have the same interests as the elected Tenants Representatives?
Without going into personalities, it’s painfully obvious that the views of the business representatives will differ from those of the Tenants Reps. For a start, business representatives are probably not representing people with a cockroach infestation problem or people who have to live and sleep in rooms that are so damp they’re covered in fungus and the wallpaper is falling off the walls.
That said, one cannot survive without the other i.e. we must encourage businesses to locate here, stay and expand, so that the local community will benefit, not just with shelf-filling jobs. I would like to see it made a condition that companies locating here train local people to fill management and other jobs too. Personally, I believe the person filling the shelves usually makes a greater contribution to the companies’ success than the management; however, the reality is that managers are paid more.
Will you resign and speak out publicly when the Board makes decisions against the interests of Shoreditch’s working class majority?
Although one should never say never, I cannot envisage an issue arising that would make me feel compelled to resign; remember, if we do not have people fighting to represent the views of the masses, the cycle of exclusion and deprivation as a result of that exclusion will continue, and there’s no guarantee that if I resigned, my replacement would promote the views of the working class majority. What is really needed is the greater involvement of local people, particularly those belonging to sections of the community that are not represented on the Board; e.g. the Asian, Turkish speaking or the Vietnamese sections of our community.
Not waving but drowning
Time to stand and fight for Haggerston Baths
In a stunning display of political cowardice and deceit, Hackney council has closed Haggerston Baths. A Health and Safety report (compiled in a 20 minute visit, and published – coincidentally of course – 3 days after private bidders for the pool had met with the council) claimed that the pool was a “risk to the users and workers at the centre”. Local people have smelt a rat and suspicions over the timing of the closure have been reinforced by a secret document obtained by the Haggerston Pool Community Action group which reveals that the pool has been closed in order to free up funds for the Clissold Pool. As one speaker at a packed emergency meeting put it, “A poorer part of the borough is being used to subsidise the building of a lovely new leisure centre in a better off part of the borough”.
The document reveals that the bidders for running the councils leisure facilities (all of which are up for tender) have demanded a larger injection of cash from the council in order to make a profit and satisfy their shareholders. This is the logic of this PFI-style initiative – which the council is now trying to apply to housing too – if there’s no profit for private business then they’re just not interested. All of this flies in the face of the work done by the local community in putting forward its own scheme for running the pool and goes to show what the IWCA has been saying all along: if you’re working class the council couldn’t care less.
Now is the time to stand and fight for Haggerston Baths. And let’s not let the Haggerston Labour Councillors Young and Nicholson off the hook. Labour voted to close the baths. We will remember this in the next elections in 2002.
Focus on Charles Square & Pitfield Estate
As part of an ongoing series focussing on estates, the IWCA looks at the issues raised by tenants of Charles Square & Pitfield Estate. Like other estates in Shoreditch, both Charles Square and Pitfield show signs of their age. One in three flats on Charles Square have no central heating, whereas Pitfield Estate has none at all. Newer blocks on the estate have had central heating from day one and tenants have been campaigning for at least 20 years to get the rest up to scratch.
Most ground floor flats on Pitfield Estate are suffering from damp, where the lack of central heating, combined with the estate being built on marshland has caused the problem. Gentrification has made the situation even worse as the already fragile sewers and drains are being overloading by the Council allowing residential developments to go up all over the south of the area. The balance between industry and housing in the south that used to exist has now been so upset that the yuppie lofts and housing association properties (with rents set beyond the reach of council tenants) are now, literally, swamping the estates with their sewage.
Coupled with this comes the added burden the “night time economy” brings to the estate. Being right next to the trendy bars and clubs the Council are encouraging to spring up in the area, Charles Square & Pitfield Estate have faced the brunt of the increase in drugs, prostitution, break-ins and muggings. “We are asking for caretakers and entry phones for our security but we can’t get the money,” said one leading tenant. The individuals running the clubs are getting rich but local residents are not seeing any benefits themselves. How many of us use these new bars? And how many of us have got jobs in these places?
With all the New Deal money flooding into the area, as the Council would have us believe, why then is south Shoreditch not in the so-called “New Deal Inner core”? To cut a long story short, the Council don’t care what happens to tenants, in fact they don’t even want them to be council tenants much longer. “They’re deliberately running down our estate so they can step later and privatise us,” said one tenant.
With Pinnacle and the Council continuing to let down the tenants on Pitfield & Charles Square, the only solution is for the tenants themselves to take action to improve their estate.
Community information for Charles Square and Pitfield Hoxton Lions Club: Boxing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – 6.15-8.45pm Computers on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays – 7.00-8.30pm Youth Club 8-22 years. Monday to Thursday 6.30-9.30pm Bell Club. Irish Dancing on Tuesdays, Over 60’s Bingo on Thursdays
Living With Canalside
Hackney Council and the housing associations tell us how much better off we’ll be when our homes are sold off, but George Birch, Chair of HAWK Tenants & Resident Association, reveals that the reality is very different. With the help of tenant’s reps like George, the IWCA will continue to show in its newsletter what life on privatised estates is actually like.
“This report is for Canalside tenants – but should be interesting for any Council tenants.
It is now a year since Canalside (made up of Metropolitan Housing Trust and Community Housing Association) took over ownership and management 700 homes on Whitmore Estate and the Eastern half of Haggerston Estate, plus one block of Kingsland Estate.
Although I am going to be critical of Canalside, it is only fair if I state the things they have done which have been good. These are:
– Canalside has paid for us to have our own Community Worker for 14 hours a week and given us some grants.
– Canalside staff have made real efforts to reach out to those off us who opposed the sale of our estates
– There has been some helpful consultation in sub-groups
– Elections to the Community Board have taken place and the right of Board members to speak out against decisions they oppose has been maintained.
But some concerns of residents about what has happened in the last year are:
1. The works programme was changed with little or no consultation. Publicity about the new works phasing is still not out. However for most tenants works will be completed quicker.
2. Before the vote we were getting things through the door all the time – now communication from Canalside is been patchy at best. For example only two rent statements have been issued since March 1999 – the latest covering 5 months.
3. We need to be consulted much earlier about proposed actions or changes of plans. For example policies have been changed without consultation – such as on moving tenants to allow works to occur. The amount of us who will have to move twice has also been increased.
4. Some extra charges have been made – for example, insurance paid weekly is now much higher than under the Council.
5. There is also a call out fee for when tenants miss appointments.
6. The number of empty homes is almost 20% – much higher than planned.
7. We still do not have a date for the introduction of caretakers – which we were promised in the vote.
8. Wages for cleaners look like being cut from the Hackney Council rates by about £3000 a year. We do care about the wages and conditions of workers on our homes.
9. Because of the chaos caused by the privatised Housing Benefit Service ITNET, many tenants have rent arrears and two evictions have already been authorised. More intensive work will be necessary to make sure that every tenant in rent arrears gets the support she or he needs.
Ascent 21, the regeneration group used by Canalside, does not consult tenants and residents groups. Why not?
As for Hackney Council, once the Ballot was won, the Estate Regeneration Strategy team which was supposed to continue supporting tenants and residents disappeared, regularly missing meetings and after March 1999 was nowhere to be seen, apart from one leaflet.
The Council has also backtracked on the vote promised to our neighbours on Haggerston West and Kingsland Estates. We were promised just before our vote that they would also have a ballot. We care about our neighbours’ futures.
A good Tenants and Residents Organisation makes the difference in keeping our new landlords to their pre vote promises. We know that it’s absolutely vital that as many tenants and actively participate. On our estates, and on all other estates, we would urge our neighbours to get involved.
For tenants on Estates still with the Council we would remind you that our estates received the 2nd highest level of government grant in the country (over £15,000 per flat) to subsidise our transfer. Privatisation won’t solve all the problems. Proper funding and sound management of housing along with strong tenant organisation makes the difference between good housing estates and the other kind!
Contact HAWK TRA at the Haggerston Community Centre on 0171 254 2312 HAWK TRA covers the Haggerston and Whitmore estates and 37-78 Bryant Court.
In a stunning display of political cowardice and deceit, Hackney council has closed Haggerston Baths.
A Health and Safety report (compiled in a 20 minute visit, and published – coincidentally of course – 3 days after private bidders for the pool had met with the council) claimed that the pool was a “risk to the users and workers at the centre”.
Local people have smelt a rat and suspicions over the timing of the closure have been reinforced by a secret document obtained by the Haggerston Pool Community Action group which reveals that the pool has been closed in order to free up funds for the Clissold Pool.
As one speaker at a packed emergency meeting put it, “A poorer part of the borough is being used to subsidise the building of a lovely new leisure centre in a better off part of the borough”.
The document reveals that the bidders for running the councils leisure facilities (all of which are up for tender) have demanded a larger injection of cash from the council in order to make a profit and satisfy their shareholders, and under the logic of this PFI-style initiative (which the council is now trying to apply to housing too) if there’s no profit for private business then they’re just not interested.
All of this flies in the face of the work done by the local community in putting forward its own scheme for running the pool and goes to show what the IWCA has been saying all along: if you’re working class the council couldn’t care less.