Can residents ever really take the lead on neighbourhood renewal? Paul Hebden reports
The extent to which residents have an influence over initiatives aimed at regenerating their communities has been called into question in a report by the Urban Forum.
The report, based upon the views of residents who attended a conference held by the forum last week, questions the nature of ‘bottom-up’ consultation and raises concern about the limits of resident participation.
Delegates from the 39 NDC areas alleged a tendency for decisions to be made ‘behind closed doors’. Resident power and control was called into question as was the role of consultants who were slammed for their perceived high fees and lack of commitment to individual NDC bids.
But how far can resident involvement translate into actual control of the multi-million pound NDC fund? And do all resident activists really want to head bureaucratic NDC bodies? Anthony Stanuel-Tattie is hoping to set up a residents’ network for NDC and is highly critical of the way the scheme has worked so far.
‘It should be tenants that are actually making the decisions but in fact it’s not like that,’ he said.
‘There are major problems of resident involvement throughout the country. The basic idea is that regeneration initiatives should come from the bottom-up, isn’t it?’
But Aaron Cahill a policy officer at the National Housing Federation questioned whether resident involvement always necessarily meant resident control.
‘The point is that it’s not resident involvement for its own sake, it’s resident involvement for a purpose. Resident involvement must achieve something towards an objective. I am not necessarily convinced it’s about resident control.’
The scheme’s treasurer, Clayeon McKenzie, said: “We need communal land to develop the area. Our regeneration scheme is going to be dead in the water if they flog off any more land. All that we’ll be left with is the homes that we live in.”
The community-led project is particularly alarmed at the council’s decision to put a popular adventure playground on its disposal list. It has also been under pressure in the past to demolish council homes to make way for private development, which would force tenants out of the area.
The borough, which has debts of £50m, has already been warned against selling off council assets by the district auditor. The matter is now also being raised by local Labour MP Brian Sedgemore, who said he was “very concerned” about proposed land sales.
Speaking at a visit to Shoreditch yesterday, the regeneration minister, Lord Falconer, ducked the issue of sales. He said: “That is something that needs to be worked through by the new deal partnership and the council. One cannot avoid the financial pressures. One needs to find a solution that delivers a long term community programme for Shoreditch.”
In private discussions with Shoreditch Our Way, Lord Falconer is understood to have offered to forward some of the £22m earmarked for the project to improve housing in the area, so that it could buy off land from the council. The suggestion alarmed Mr McKenzie. He said: “That would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. That money is for improving the housing not bailing out Hackney council, it’s absurd.”
Last summer Lord Falconer withheld the housing cash because he rejected the community’s plans for improving the homes, claiming they were “unsustainable” and did not have the backing of Hackney council. At the time, both Hackney and the government were concerned that the resident-led project refused to consider demolishing some of the 7,000 council homes in the area.
Yesterday Lord Falconer said: “At that time we could not agree on what [the plans] should consist of. Since then there has been a productive relationship between Hackney council and the new deal partnership. “I don’t want to comment on the detail of whether there is too much council housing. I think the issue is what is a sustainable future for the housing problem?”
Lord Falconer reaffirmed that the government was “serious” about new deal projects being community led, but he added that the community needed to be “realistic”. Representatives from Shoreditch Our Way were keen yesterday to stress that they were now working with the council on new plans to improve the homes in the area. No one from the council attended Lord Falconer’s visit to underline that message. A Hackney spokeswoman said that staff were “very thin on the ground”.
Their influence has been a property developers’ dream. As the pull of a “happening scene” continues to send prices rocketing, artisans, yuppies, entrepreneurs and now even large establishment organisations…have all been magnetically drawn towards the soi-disant creative heart of the capital.
Gentrification is not inevitable though. Hackney Independent believes that working class tenants can put our own interests first and kick the whole process into touch. Shoreditch New Deal Trust’s glossy magazine is finally starting to reflect what’s been happening on the ground: that the majority of local people want to stay with the council for their housing provision (they don’t reveal that survey results put the majority at 93% !) and that they don’t want their flats demolished.
We hear that Paul Davis-Poynter (see last news story) is now demanding an inquiry to find out how so much news from the New Deal for Shoreditch is “leaking out.” Remember this is supposed to be a community-led initiative – so there should be no secrets, or meetings behind closed doors. From now on everyone on the New Deal Board should assume that everything they say is going to get back to the people who they are meant to be representing. The best community leaders will have no problem with that – but what have the others got to hide?
We also hear that Paul Davis-Poynter wants a retraction of our last news story. We won’t do that, but we’ll go one better. If Paul wants to write a reply of no more than 300 words, then we will put it on-line unedited as a news story.
To be elected Chair of a tenants’ association is an honour, but it brings responsibility. The highest standards should be expected of our community leaders, and if they are not up to it then they need to step down and let others take over.
The Chair of one of our tenants’ associations walked into the New Deal Office yesterday (February 1st) with a leaflet he claimed had been distributed by Hackney IWCA (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) on his estate. He implied that it had been written by leading Shoreditch tenant activist, Clayeon McKenzie. This was quickly checked out and the true position emerged.
The “Hackney Independent leaflet” was text taken from this website (the 20th January news item – “Demolition of Shoreditch averted – for now“) and rearranged by someone into the form of a leaflet. This had not been distributed by Hackney IWCA, or any other local tenant or community activists who we work with. So this begs the question “what was the aim of claiming this was a Hackney Independent leaflet?”
- to support sell-off’s on the New Deal Board
- to defend Pinnacle against any criticism whatsoever on the Shoreditch Panel
- to argue for rent rises in the Hackney Gazette (13th January 2000) and on the New Deal Board
- to attack Hackney Independent, while never having a word of criticism for the middle class parties that run Hackney Council.
There are some outstanding community leaders in Haggerston and Hoxton, but Paul Davis-Poynter’s leaflet that never was and Winnie Ames’ actions, show that we do not just have problems with our councillors – our own local community leaders need to be held to account as well.
New Deal Diary from Hackney Independent Issue 2:
I note that Paul Davis-Poynter was voted off the New Deal Board Area 1 by tenants. Paul was the chair of the Board and made a habit of criticising Hackney Independent behind closed doors. Always trying to look reasonable, he would claim to have tried to contact us countless times on our phone number and through our mailing address. In reality he did not make a single phone call or write a single letter. Now he is off the Board, Paul will have more time to make contact with us. One local tenant leader remarked that Paul’s problem is “that he spent too long in the Socialist Workers Party and too long trying to prove that he is not a member !”
In the elections for the Shoreditch New Deal Board a leading opponent of estate sell offs was beaten by 9 votes to 7 in the election for chair. Not the most shocking decision in the world, you might think, especially since several on the board are known to be very keen on handing over control of our estates to private companies, but there were other factors too.
An ex-member of the board who has resigned and moved to the West country (and is known to be pro-gentrification) was allowed to vote and the person who was elected to replace her (on a platform of opposing privatisation) was not allowed to. Sarah-Jane Prattent (or Lady Penelope as she has become known to some tenants’ representatives) cast her vote predicatably. As the vote was between Clayeon McKenzie, an implacable opponent of the sell-offs of our estates, and Carole Young who is sympathetic to housing associations, it is obvious who got her support. The final vote was 9-7 against Clayeon and this made all the difference.
There is obviously a huge difference between the interests of a board member who has recently sold her Georgian townhouse for nearly half a million to decamp to the West Country, and the working class people she has left behind. The question has to be asked, how many other members of the New Deal Board are truly representing the working class majority of Shoreditch ?
A report in this week’s Hackney Gazette says that Brick Lane Music Hall looks likely to be shut down. The reason ? Spiralling rents. As reported on this site months ago, rents are rising so quickly that local businesses are finding it impossible to stay open.
Vincent Hayes, the owner of the music hall, states “When I came here, Shoreditch wasn’t very fashionable and it was very working class. Now it has become trendy and all the traders have been pushed out. The music hall faces the same fate – and the irony is that it has done a lot to change the area and make it an appealing place for people to come. This is the only theatre like this in Britain and where will the working classes go for a night out if we have to close down ?”
As the IWCA has stressed in the past, the gentrification of Shoreditch is heading on apace and local people are being priced out of their own community. The influx of trendy types into Hoxton and south Hackney does no good for working class communities. They won’t be spending their money in locally owned businesses and how many of the new businesses moving into the area actually employ people from the nearby estates ? It’s all part of a process of “social cleansing” that involves housing too.
Under the New Deal, several blocks are being targetted for the introduction of market rents. Charles Gardner and Aske House, both conveniently placed on the edge of the city, are already set for “pepper pot” renting of a significant percentage of their flats. Take a look at the market rents in letting agencies around Old Street and you’ll see that not many working class people are likely to be able to afford the £250+ weekly rents that are advertised.