Hanover in Hackney tries to ‘sell’ private flats to angry residents

The meeting held on 7 June 2007, to discuss the planned demolition of Bayton Court sheltered housing unit in London Fields by landlords Hanover in Hackney (HiH), was both bizarre and angry in equal measure.
“The purpose of the meeting”, according to the organisers, OPEN, “is to hear a presentation and to discuss a planning application made by Hanover in Hackney to demolish Bayton Court, sheltered housing accommodation on London Fields, and to redevelop the site to provide 16 x 4-bedroom houses and 2 x 4-bedroomed maisonettes for private sale.”

“The redevelopment will impact on the frail and elderly residents, who will need to be relocated, and on residents of neighbouring Blackstone Estate and create significant changes to the setting and streetscape of London Fields.”

Tenants from Blackstone Estate TRA, elderly residents from Bayton Court and others heard first the background from OPEN’s Bill Parry-Davis. In 2002 Bayton Court was stock transferred to HiH because the council claimed it had no money for improvements. Residents were promised that £41 million would be invested with every flat to be refurbished within 5 years and that their Sheltered Housing Officers and the services provided would remain the same.

Reassured, residents voted ‘YES’ to the stock transfer. Despite these reassurances made by HiH and Hackney councillors and officers back in 2002, HiH are now seeking planning permission to demolish the building and put up homes for the wealthy; not just depriving the elderly residents of the community they know and their pleasant green surroundings, but also depriving many residents of Blackstone Estate their views of London Fields, too.

HiH’s presentation of their plans for the new development was bizarre. HiH’s architect – dressed oddly like a Bond villain – gave a presentation as if he were trying to sell the proposed private homes not to the angry pensioners and tenants who were patiently waiting for him to finish, but to a room-full of prospective yuppie buyers.

Following that it took repeated questioning of HiH to get to the heart of the matter. Why build posh homes on London Fields instead of refurbishing or even building a new sheltered unit?

If the money has to be raised by building and selling posh homes, couldn’t it be raised by building and selling posh homes in another part of the borough if necessary, rather than disrupting the remaining years of frail and vulnerable old people, and disrupting – both short-term and permanently – the council tenants of Blackstone Court? HiH admitted they chose London Fields rather than any of their other sites in Hackney because of the value of the land right next to a big leafy park. As Bill Parry-Davis observed, what HiH are really saying is that Bayton Court is too nice and too valuable to be wasted on elderly people.

As usual there was lots of guff from HiH about them taking a “holistic approach” to their management of sheltered housing in Hackney, none of which gets round the fact that they have broken the promise they made to the residents and to Hackney Council in 2002 at the time of the stock transfer. Since then HiH have sold off two other buildings. As one angry member of the meeting’s audience pointed out, “they should be called Handover in Hackney!”

Given that HiH are in breach of a promise made with Hackney Council as well, you might expect the council to be outraged and threatening all sorts of action to protect their legal integrity and the rights of their constituents? Sadly, if predictably, not, however. The Queensbridge Ward Labour councillors at the meeting appeared content to sit on the fence rather than whole-heartedly defend their constituents against a landlord that had effectively lied to them to get hold of their homes five years ago.

Surely, it was asked, Hackney Council planning committee should just declare HiH’s planning application invalid since it is in breach of the original stock transfer agreement? Not so easy apparently. Councillor Emma Plouviez explained that it was up to tenants and residents to object to the planning application. Makes you wonder why we bother electing representatives in the first place….

Hackney Independent will post further developments.

For more info: www.opendalston.net or contact OPEN c/o Dowse & Co. 23-25 Dalston Lane E8 3DF