It's Good To Talk

Attempts by mobile phone company One 2 One to put up another mast in the borough have been thwarted by protesters. The company had hoped to put a mast on the roof of Alexandra Court in Stoke Newington but opposition by local people forced the company to back down. Vodafone already have 6 masts in the area and people have grown increasingly concerned about the possible health risks, especially for pupils at Princess May School, already overlooked by many of the masts.

One of the protesters hit the nail on the head when she said “If these companies put these masts up then they will have to do it with consent not imposition”. As the IWCA have previously said, there would be uproar if these masts suddenly sprung up on top of some yuppie loft apartments without any warning, but the council and various housing associations who have struck secret deals with the mobile companies are happy to ride roughshod over the rights of working class communities.

These masts are largely untested and there is growing concern about their harmful effects on young children, in particular. But in a way, health is perhaps not the main issue, it’s all about how working class communities are not even consulted about issues like this. As residents of Hawksley Court showed earlier this year, community opposition can stop the masts being put up and we can start regaining some control over our own areas.

IWCA proposals on mobile phone masts:
1. No new phone masts should be located within 100 yards of council estates or schools.
2. Ballots on every estate to see if tenants want the phone masts down. If they do, break the contract and take them down.

What a load of rubbish

Nearly a week after Hackney supremo Max Caller promised that “most of the rubbish will be cleared from the streets by December 1st” , residents in Dalston have threatened to take the council to court over the situation.

As the deadline to the handover of council collections to private contractors Service Team ticked away, the streets did for a while appear to have improved, but unconfirmed reports have reached the IWCA that much of this was window dressing – some of it at the direct expense of larger estates whose cleaners were diverted from normal duties to clear up the roads where rubbish was most visible. More worryingly, it appears that some tenants representatives were persuaded by Pinnacle to back this.

Whether or not this is true, the situation with rubbish is clearly going to be worse for council tenants who share disposal facilities in large blocks than it is for street properties who can leave bags outside on the pavements. The health risks for tenants of blocks are undoubtedly higher and it’s not enough to say that streets will be cleared.

On the Stonebridge Estate in Haggerston, the Tenants Association organised a rubbish collection using private contractors as the situation had got so bad. Obviously tenants shouldn’t have to do this and the TA have been criticised by some as giving in to “privatisation” but the IWCA support this action as they were meeting the immediate interest of the tenants.

The IWCA is calling for council blocks to be given priority over street properties and for the backlogs of collection to start in the working class areas most affected.

What do we get?

With the financial crisis in Hackney looking worse than it first appeared, we now get news that council tax is set to rise by up to 10%. Reports in last week’s Hackney Gazette put the council’s projected debt for next year at £76 million, much greater than the £22 million shortfall this year and the rise in council tax seems to be a direct result of this.

Of course, people should pay towards local services if they can afford them, but what exactly do we get ? The benefits service was disastrously farmed out to ITNet (who are still running it), the education service looks like going the same way and rubbish collection has now also gone over to a private contractor. If local people were actually getting a decent service there would be far less resentment.

In the leters page of the Hackney Gazette, the issue of withholding council tax has been raised. This is a possible tactic in the future but the idea should be discussed in tenant associations and community groups first.

Council Cuts and anti-social crime

In much of the door to door work the IWCA has done in the borough, the main concern of many tenants has been anti-social behaviour and crime.

We have already publicised the issue in the pages of the local press and are continuing work with tenants in a number of blocks to address the problem.

This round of council cuts has hit the provision of concierges in 15 blocks in the borough and tenants are now very worried, particularly older tenants in blocks like 355 Queensbridge Road which is for the over 50s (incidentally a flagship regeneration project, visited by Tony Blair on the award winning Holly Street redevelopment).

Tenants quite rightly feel that they are now more at risk from break ins and anti-social elements making their lives a misery. It goes to show that once the hype has died down and the politicians have basked in the publicity, things soon go back to normal (i.e. a mess).

As if to rub our noses in it, signs are meanwhile going up on new private developments in the borough promising not just concierges, not even suited concierges, but Armani-suited concierges. You couldn’t make it up.