Residents of a run-down London estate who worked for four years on a community-led redevelopment plan have been sold down the river by Hackney council. In another of the “hard choices” beloved of the borough¹s Labour mayor, Jules Pipe (see Eye 1100), the council has sold a piece of land vital to the plan to a private developer putting hopes for the estate¹s regeneration back by years.
Thousands of residents on Hackney’s Woodberry Down estate live in accommodation way below the government¹s “decent homes” standard. Dampness, drug dealers, vandalism, a huge backlog of repairs the estate has the full checklist of problems. Deciding that they’d had enough, a group of tenants formed an Estate Development Committee (EDC) and came up with a redevelopment plan which, until this year, had the Council¹s backing. It entailed building 350 homes on a derelict piece of land, the site of a former school. When built, these homes would be used to “decant” residents while their original houses were being rebuilt.
Now the council has decided to cancel the community-supported plan and sell the school site to an unnamed developer for £17m. The developer will be free to sell 210 homes to the private sector, while providing just 120 “social housing” units. The original estate will be transferred to a housing association and rebuilt eventually. But no housing association has been chosen and plans for the compulsory purchase of alternative sites for the “decanting” process are at a very early stage so the whole process could take years.
Veronica Mensah, a member of the EDC, said the residents felt very badly let down: “People who have devoted a lot of their time to planning for a positive future on this estate are now losing hope. The stress and anxiety which the state of housing here causes people is unbelievable. This, though, is typical of Hackney Council.”
The Audit Commission’s annual report on council performances has again rated Hackney as one of the country’s worst – classed as “poor” – and most damningly awards it the lowest possible ratings for its core services and ability to improve. To those of us who’ve suffered at the hands of the council over the years, this comes as no surprise, but what is galling is Mayor Jules Pipe’s attempts to spin his way out of trouble. You can almost hear him whistling New Labour’s anthem “Things Can Only Get Better”.
According to the Evening Standard, Pipe “disputed that the council was the worst in the country. He said the fact that the ratings had only been partially updated since last year had made it impossible for them to convey major advances. “I realise there is a mountain to climb but I’m pleased we are going in the right direction,” he said. ”
While Hackney Council is identified as one of the 10 most improving councils by the Audit Commission, this isn’t really that hard to do. After all, improving on totally incompetent to massively incompetent isn’t that much of a leap. Apparent improvements in education have come at the expense of school closures – directly against the wishes of parents, pupils and staff – and amount to little more than an airbrushing out of the picture of some of the poorest areas of the borough. Meanwhile, leisure services are rightly slated at a time when the massively overbudget Clissold leisure centre is shut for repairs and the much-loved Haggerston Pool is still gathering dust.
Jules Pipe may believe the only way is up – and that may be true – but the slash and burn strategy of this Labour administration is likely to cause more damage to Hackney’s working class majority in the process.
(* out of 150!)
(from Brian Reade’s column in the Daily Mirror Oct 30 2003)
Well, thank God that tub-thumping, redder-than-red, socialist MP Diane Abbott is in the clear after all. As listeners to a London radio station found out, it wasn’t HER decision to send her son James to a public school but her boy’s. Which makes everything fine. And it sends out an inspirational message to any other Labour-voting parent with £10,000-a-year to spare, who can’t bear to let their precious offspring rough it with the oiks at the local comp. Just say you can’t let your principles get in the way of your kid’s foot-stomping demand to speak posh in a cap.
But why stop there? If junior wants to invest his pocket money in an off-shore tax haven, hunt with dogs, beat up asylum- seekers, shoot burglars, join Bupa and the BNP, what can you do? At 12, they just WON’T listen. There is something about the stench of socialist hypocrisy that is uniquely repulsive. It’s to do with letting down people who have nobody else to turn to. Conning your way to power through making eloquent stands against inequalities that, deep-down, you agree with.
How can Abbott, who lambasted Tony Blair and Harriet Harman for not sending their kids to the local comprehensive, justify sending her son to a far more exclusive school, buying even better life-chances for him, than they did? How can she let him swan off to an Oxbridge conveyor belt while giving the four Hackney schools he could have gone to another kick in the guts? It is worse behaviour than any Tory’s. Because she was elected to make the most deprived educational area in Britain a better place by tackling the masonic privileges she has just signed up to.
If this were still the Labour Party every constituent member would be given the right to de-select her. But it isn’t. In fact, under New Labour Abbott has just upped her chances of joining the Cabinet because in their lingo she has “shown courage in the face of tough choices”. In other words, shown how willing she is to crap on every working-class family she represents.
The only MPs they want to kick out of the party today are ones like George Galloway. Why? Because he stuck to his principles. He said what most of the party was thinking, that the war in Iraq was obscene and illegal, and British troops should not be fighting there. His comments, which may have been expressed cack-handedly, but which stemmed from deep personal beliefs, did not cost the life of one British soldier. But Blair’s and Jack Straw’s did. And what’s worse, theirs were lies. They knew it and now we know it. So if anyone betrayed the Labour Party over Iraq and put the next election in jeopardy it is the leadership. Yet Galloway is sacrificed without a peep from his gutless backbench colleagues.
Meanwhile, party lackeys defend Abbott with the standard waffle trotted out for Blair and Harman: “It’s every parent’s right to choose… blah, blah, blah.” The same waffle she has repeatedly attacked to earn a highly- lucrative second career as TV’s token female leftie. Who is the genuine Labour MP here, Galloway or Abbott? Which one would you most like to see kicked into touch? Me too. But instead he’s excommunicated while she prospers. It’s time New Labour was given another makeover and re-named the Non-Ronseal Party. Because it is the one oily product that does exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin.
In a typically tasteless display of Hackney Council’s real priorities, councillors have awarded themselves a sizeable pay rise while at the same time overseeing the cuts to summer playscheme places. In a letter to the Hackney Gazette, which reported both stories last week, Carl Taylor responds:
I have to congratulate the gazette, once again, for juxtaposing two stories in last week’s edition, which demonstrate the misplaced priorities of Hackney Council: “Councillors give themselves pay rise” and “No place to go”, about the reduction in summer playscheme places for 5 -13 year olds from 36 schemes to just six.
This will, of course, as Hackney Play Association say, “have a direct impact on youth offending and anti-social behaviour”.
The ‘confusion’ of responsibility between the Council and the Learning Trust is not a new phenomenon. The recent closure of Laburnum School was, according to the council, the responsibility of the Learning Trust, while the LT (quoted in a national newspaper) maintain that “… they [Hackney Council] retain ultimate authority for education in the borough”. As with other Hackney Council privatisations, for example the late but unlamented ITNet debacle in the Housing Benefit service, it is easy to see how this abdication of responsibility is very convenient for those who are supposed to be accountable to their electors.
Now we have the sickening spectacle of large pay rises for councilors, recommended by an “independent” panel. Luke Akehurst asks us to believe that this will safeguard them against “allegations of having our noses in the trough”. I – and no doubt other Gazette readers – would be very interested to know exactly who made up this independent panel. Are they as independent as they unconvincingly claim Learning Trust to be? And how does this unjustifiably pay hike square with the cuts being made to youth provision in the borough?
You might be able to fool some of us some of the time, but you ain’t fooling all of us all of the time!
letter in Hackney Gazette (July 2003)
A few weeks ago you published some letters from Hackney Council apologists for the state of their Housing Benefit “service”. As a benefits advocate for a number of tenants & residents in Shoreditch I have this week had to write – for the third time – to Keltan House demanding very basic information about the progress of claims submitted in 2001. The frustration felt by myself and those who I am trying to assist is obvious.
I was involved with the campaign to rid Hackney of ITNet and I am pleased that they have been given the boot they deserved, but we should not tolerate the self-serving deception being foisted upon Hackney benefit claimants by councillors and senior officers. While they pretend that all is rosy, claimants all over Hackney know the deplorable truth, still being dragged through the courts for rent and Council Tax arrears that they have no control over.
My next port of call will be to the Local Government Ombudsman, where so many have gone before. As a Housing Benefit officer (boo, hiss!) for 15 years – in another London borough I hasten to add – councillors and managers should be ashamed at the hardship their residents are being put through. And to pretend that the service is working to an acceptable standard is just taking the proverbial pee.
Hackney Independent Working Class Association
16th June 2003
Hackney IWCA has discovered that the destruction of the Victorian former school in Dawson St E2, next to the Hackney Rd Bingo Hall, is nearly complete. Local residents received a letter from Hackney’s Planning Department on Saturday 24 May 2003 informing them that the plans for a 5-storey block of flats were due to be considered at the Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday 27 May. With the Bank Holiday in between this gave residents just one working day’s notice of the meeting, but the letter announced that the Planning Department was to recommend approval of the flats in any case.
This puts to bed another questionable property deal by Hackney Council. The premises were donated to the Borough for community use, and in recent years used by the council’s Social Services department. Last year the entire school building and its grounds was sold – for the criminally low sum of £526,500 according to HM Land Registry (this in a part of Hackney where a tiny terraced house will set you back £300,000!) – to a developer who immediately put forward plans for 22 residential flats and a tiny “D1 community use” area on the ground floor. The development met with concerted opposition from local residents, with 40-odd households objecting to the plans in writing. It’s not hard to do the sums: after selling their 22 flats the new landowner will still clear a million or two comfortably. And it’s not hard to guess who’ll be moving into the flats. Certainly not hard-up tenants from nearby Fellows Court!
Interestingly, the property is now owned by Goodview Ltd who are currently featured on the front of Hackney Labour Party’s website because they want to demolish a pub and build… a block of flats! In that story Labour Party councillors are quoted at length under the headline ‘”Don’t call time on The Vic” say Labour councillors’. Cllr Boyd is quoted as saying, “I am horrified at the proposal to demolish this historic building”. As a local resident has told us “It’s interesting to note the councillors’ sense of priority: they’ll scream and shout and fight to save a pub, but won’t lift a finger to prevent the demolition of a community centre by the same developer. Local people are disgusted by the council’s lack of consultation over this and want to find out how this happened”.
And it would seem Hackney Council aren’t too happy to let people access their records on this sale, claiming that the sale price for the land had been archived and was therefore unavailable. Hackney IWCA and local tenants will be investigating the whole matter further…
Our Labour council has ignored the wishes of local tenants and residents again
Two weeks ago a “consultation” exercise about the privatisation of estate management on St Mary’s estate ended. At a meeting at Fellows Court community hall, 30 of the 35 people present demanded that tenants be given an “option 3” – a choice to stay with the council. Last week the council’s cabinet voted to press ahead with the transfer of estate management to JSS Pinnacle, a private company.
The IWCA is against privatisation of council services. Not because we have an irrational hatred of the private sector but because the evidence shows it is less efficient, more expensive and less accountable to local people.
Also, if the council wants people to have a choice about their housing, it should mean genuine choice. Options 1 and 2 that tenants & residents were given only involved privatisation, either now or next year. Where was the choice to keep housing management services public? Tenants & residents were refused a ballot on the issue. Instead of allowing us to vote on the matters that affect our lives Labour offers us yet more “consultation”.
All this means is they ask us what we want and if this happens to be different to what they want – they just ignore us. Look at what happened to laburnum school whose fate was decided by so-called consultation with local people. In the face of an overwhelming majority in favour of keeping the school open, a small number of middle-class professionals and Labour councillors voted to press ahead with its closure.
It’s not surprising then that local democracy is at its lowest ebb, and it’s no wonder people are cynical about politicians and voter turn out in elections is so low. And Labour have the nerve to pretend they are worried about it. But the truth is they are responsible for it. The IWCA demands more local democracy, not less. We want people to have a real control over the issues that affect our daily lives.
Over the next few weeks the IWCA has decided to conduct its own ballot on St Mary’s estate to determine how many people would have voted for privatisation given a real choice. We’ll publicise the results. Let us know what you think. The council can’t be allowed walk all over its tenants with such blatant contempt.
A report from the Government’s Department of Work and Pensions (as reported in the Hackney Gazette 29th May) shows that Hackney Council is the worst in the country for processing housing benefit claims. The report showed that on average it took the council 142 days to process such a claim.
This comes two years after the council finally sacked the private company ITNet which had caused such misery for so many people. The IWCA was heavily involved in the campaign to get rid of ITNet and ran numerous advice surgeries to help those affected by the delays. We are still getting requests for help from people whose benefits have been delayed and while the situation is better than it was under the benefit bunglers of ITNet, Hackney Council has a duty to improve its service. In a mealy-mouthed response to the Gazette’s report, Cllr Samantha Lloyd claims that things are looking up. Why then is it that neighbouring boroughs with a similar social make-up can expect to get their claims processed so much quicker? And why after sacking ITNet 2 years ago is the Council’s own provision in such a mess?
Hackney councillors have awarded themselves huge pay rises – in many cases between £20,000 and 35,000 – while more local services have faced cutbacks. A spokesperson for the council stated that the increases were agreed back in November but have been paid since January of this year.
Barrie Hibberd, a member of Hackney Tenants and Residents Convention voiced concern over the huge increases in the Hackney Gazette and we’re sure that many others would agree that it’s scandalous to give more money to councillors who have been decimating our services. Recently there have been cutbacks to council gardeners, Laburnum School and Kingsland School face closure and that’s on top of the massive round of cuts from last year which saw funding to a range of community services reduced and in some cases stopped completely.
Clearly these councillors are more interested in getting their noses in the trough than in helping their constituents.