Labour Councillors Claim Abandoned Cars Are "Priority"

In this week’s Hackney Gazette, Labour councillors from Stoke Newington have gone on record as claiming that abandoned cars are a priority for them. Might there be just a touch of political opportunism about this statement with the Council Elections so close and Labour desperate to cling onto power in the council chambers? We think so. Surley Labour councillors who are already in power should be dealing with problems like this day in day out, not just at election times?

IWCA (Hackney Independent) spokesperson Peter Sutton, who is standing as a candidate in Haggerston ward, said today “It’s laughable that Labour councillors should claim this as a priority when they have done nothing about the problem since they’ve been in power. As anyone who knows what life is like on Hackney’s estates could tell them, the problem of dumped cars has got steadily worse ever since the Council started charging for their removal. The IWCA (Hackney Independent) has been active on the issue of dumped cars since September of last year, reporting them regularly to the council and posting details up on our website to shame the council into acting. We only ever see our Labour councillors when they’re scrounging for votes at elections, but the IWCA (Hackney Independent) – whether we win or lose at these elections – will be here all year round acting on the issues that local people tell us are their priorities”.

The long list of broken promises

From the Evening Standard:
THE PROMISE: The Labour council said it would step up the collection of income. It had historically failed to collect rent and other arrears and built up a colossal debt. It pledged to go after debtors and, crucially, people given large overpayments of housing benefit.

THE REALITY: In the year to March 2001, bad debt rose from £117.5million to £149.5million, close to the total from three years’ council tax, another area of serious concern. Hackney doesn’t even know who should be paying tax. A snap check of 5,000 properties listed as empty showed more than half occupied. And despite the pledge to go after arrears little has been achieved. When the administration took over, £18million was owed by people overpaid housing benefit. This now stands at £21 million and the best idea of the new in-house Revenues and Benefits team is to write off most.THE PROMISE: Following concerns expressed by district auditor Les Kidner last March, the council said it would deliver savings and rein in budgets that were yet again being massively overspent. It also promised to sort out chaotic accounting procedures and lax financial controls.

THE REALITY: Auditors are at their wits’ end over Hackney’s continuing failure to get a grip on its finances. They considered issuing a disclaimer condemning council accounts as unreliable. This was avoided, but despite council assurances, overspending in the current year will be between £17 million and £33 million. This is an educated guess as budgets are often produced without any supporting documentation. Despite savage cuts in services, the debts continue to mount.

THE PROMISE: The council promised to improve Hackney’s environment with efficient waste collection and good stewardship of amenities.

THE REALITY: Dumped cars litter the borough and many are left to rot. Despite paying an average of more than £1,000 in council tax, residents say streets are dirty. The council is trying to negotiate a new waste management contract. Housing density in Hackney is high, but the borough has areas of open space. In the forthcoming asset sale Hackney is to dispose of five areas of grassland – some wooded – and two playing fields. The council has touted these amenities as perfect sites for developers and indicated there will be no problems with planning permission.

THE PROMISE: Hackney’s council said it would make regeneration a priority.

THE REALITY: The strategy has concentrated on attracting developers and securing grants. But developers are mainly interested in building luxury flats or offices and the grants system is in disarray because Hackney doesn’t get claims in on time. When it does there are problems with more than half of them. It is entitled to £415million a year in grants, but evidence of widescale regeneration is scant. Amenities such as playgrounds and parks are being closed down; voluntary organisations are being squeezed.

THE PROMISE: The council pledged to vigorously pursue a Best Value policy, the monitoring process by which the performance of local authorities is judged.

THE REALITY: Hackney is still one of the worst performing authorities in London. The level of services is low while costs are among the highest. Worst of all, attempts to discover how the council is performing have been undermined by unreliable information it supplied.

What Hackney Council can't do

From the Evening Standard:
1. Replace lights bulbs. About 500 of the borough’s street lights don’t work because the bulbs have failed. The Housing and Environmental Services committee says the budget will not stretch to replacements.
2. Control noisy parties. The council has reduced its noise control staff to a skeleton service that can only operate during office hours. No one is on duty during evenings and weekends.3. Remove dumped cars. Hackney activist Bruce Spenser became so enraged with the number of decaying vehicles on the borough’s streets that he dumped one on the town hall steps. He says he’ll fight plans to prosecute him by invoking the Human Rights Act.

4. Provide Freedom Pass concessionary travel for all the borough’s disabled. The council plans to cut back on the free travel passes by taking them away from people whose disability is not “visible”, including those suffering psychiatric disorders and nervous complaints.

5. Maintain its playgrounds and parks. Parents have been dismayed by a recent decision to withdraw maintenance from a popular play area, Shoreditch Park. Other playgrounds have also suffered and some have been closed by lack of maintenance.

6. Help the elderly with telephone bills. Hackney is planning to end a longstanding policy of paying for pensioners’ telephone line rental.

Hackney IWCA Hits Out at Council's Record on Abandoned Cars

press release
2nd November 2001

In the week that the government has declared a crackdown on abandoned cars, community activists from Hackney Independent have hit out at the council for its failure to act over dumped cars on the estates of the borough and have launched a “shame the council” web page.

Hackney IWCA (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) spokesperson Carl Taylor said that “Hackney Council have the power to remove abandoned cars within a week of them being reported but in most cases are failing to act within a month or even longer. On the Kingsland Estate in Haggerston, out of 5 cars reported to the council by Hackney Independent only one has been removed and more are starting to pile up. The council put stickers on two of the cars claiming they would be removed but they are still there 3 weeks later.”

He added that “Abandoned cars are another symptom of the running down of working class areas. As far as the main political parties on the council are concerned, people who live in these areas are second class citizens so their complaints aren’t worth listening to”.

To put pressure on the council, Hackney IWCA have added a page to their website featuring pictures of the dumped cars and details of when the council has been informed about them.

Chair of Kingsland Estate Tenants Association, Anna-Maria Mari backed Hackney Independent’s campaign and added “If this was a middle class area, the council would have sorted the problem out ; these abandoned cars are dangerous and can make the whole area look like a dumping ground. We have reported these cars to the council ourselves but nothing has been done.”

Carl Taylor added “The council doesn’t seem to take any notice of the concerns of working class tenants. If it’s down to us to shame them into acting then so be it”.

Abandoned Cars Campaign

Our estates and roads have become dumping grounds for rubbish and smashed up or burnt out cars. If this was a middle class neighbourhood, the Council would shift them straight away, but instead we are stuck with these dangerous and unwanted eyesores for weeks or months.

On this page we will post up details of abandoned cars on our estates. We will contact the council departments responsible and put details here of what action has been taken. If you know of any abandoned vehicles we have missed, get in touch.

Abandoned cars update:

1st September 2002 – Haggerston West estate. Steve Tucker, Director of Housing promised to get all abandoned cars taken away during his estate walkabout in June. We’re still waiting.
Date reported: 29th December 2001

Abandoned cars on Acton Estate.
C990 DXX. Grey Honda Accord. Petrol tank open. No wheels. By 34 Scriven Court.

M343 ALD. Blue RAV 4 Jeep. Burnt out. By 34 Scriven Court.

E567 HJM. Brown Honda Legend. All windows smashed. By 8 Livermere Court.

E49 WKM. Taxed till July 2000. Tower Hamlets permit R43304, ran out March 2001. Outside 6 Scriven Court.

Date reported: 18th January 2002

Abandoned car on Acton Estate. C770 YST. Silver Honda Civic. No tax. Smashed up. In car park at the back of Scriven Court.

Date reported: 18th January 2002

Three abandoned cars on Dunston Road E8.
A704 MHG White Ford Fiesta.

Black Opel. No registration. No tax. Full of rubbish.

E868 DCN. Red Ford Fiesta. No tax. Bonnet open. Window open.

Date reported: 30th November 2001

Four abandoned cars on Dunston Road E8.
F895 WCK White Nissan Bluebird. No tax. Windows smashed in. Opposite 242-248. NOW GONE.

Burnt out blue car. Can’t id make. No reg. Under the railway bridge. NOW GONE.

White Vauxhall Nova. No reg. No tax. Front window nearly smashed in. Near Stean Street. NOW GONE.

E864 VOG. Blue Vauxhall Carlton. No tax. Rear passenger window smashed. Near Haggerston Road. NOW GONE.

Date reported: 9th December 2001

Five abandoned cars on Denne Terrace E8

H671 GLX Red Citroen BX19. Taxed till March 2001. At the corner with Haggerston Road. STILL THERE.

F183 KHJ White Mazda. No wheels. Back window smashed. By Clemson House. STILL THERE.

E325 STR. White Trafic van. No tax. By Clemson House. STILL THERE.

A704 MHG. White Ford Fiesta. Taxed till June 2000. By Clemson House. STILL THERE.

D808 FGN Blue Renault 5. No tax. By Clemson House. STILL THERE. DOOR NOW OPEN.

One more car on Dunston Road E8. J925 MKU. Blue Omega. No tax. Near Acton Mews. NOW GONE.

Reported to Pinnacle Estate Management 26th November

Two abandoned cars on the estate road south of Dunloe Street on Fellows Court.

E274 RFU. Silver Nissan Sunny. No tax. Back window missing. In the car bays outside the tall block.

Maroon Ford Orion. No registration number or tax. Burnt out. Located near the junction with Cremer Street.

Cars reported to council November 23rd

Abandoned cars by the garages on Kingsland estate 57 Hebden Court.

G890 LRH Blue/silver Ford Orion. No wheels.

F141 PGU White Volvo. No tax.

Two abandoned cars on Fellows Court. Both have no tax and their windows smashed in. They are next to each other on Appleby Street E2 by the junction with Dunloe Street.

A361 GLB Red Ford Sierrra.
D373 HMV White Mazda.

Another car on Laburnum Street E2 at the back entrance to Haggerston Pool. B406 DVX. Silver/blue Mazda. No tax. Doors open.

Cars dumped behind Hebden Court garages off Whiston Road
Put on web 2.10.01
Reported to Council 2.10.01
One car has been removed (week ending 13.10.01) but the other is still there

Car abandoned on Hebden Court car park
Put on web 2.10.01
Reported to Council 2.10.01

Car dumped under railway arches on Laburnum Street.
Put on web 25.9.01
Reported to Council 26.9.01
Council sticker states removal will be by 8th October
Still there 3 weeks after council said it would be removed. Now removed.

Car dumped outside Hebden Court garages, off Laburnum Street.
Put on web 24.9.01
Reported to Council 26.9.01
Council sticker states removal will be by 9th October but still there after 3 weeks.

Now joined by a dumped Green Ford Escort – reported to council on 1st November.
Both now removed.

Another Strip Club Planned For Shoreditch?

It is rumoured that Spearmint Rhino, the American lap dance chain that have recently opened big clubs on Tottenham Court Road and in Harrow, have bought DK’s bar in Curtain Road. They won’t be planning to open up another trendy bar for the rich young artists, they will be looking to open up as a strip club.
We’ve already got thirteen strip bars in or within five minutes walk of this area. Nowhere else in London has this concentration. The Spearmint Rhino proposal would be for a huge club which is going to attract even more people. As well as attracting more men, it would attract prostitutes and muggers to the area.

As of today, Hackney Council’s entertainment licensing section have only received an application for music and dancing. There has been no application for the licence needed for a lap-dancing club.

Hackney Independent is already on record as saying that “we will oppose any new strip bars coming, and will look to oppose the licenses of the existing ones being renewed in future.” (Spring 2001 newsletter). We do not oppose them on moral grounds. Our opposition is based on the fact that these bars attract mainly City workers who come out drunk and looking for prostitutes. A number of local women have been hassled by these City workers.

The Tottenham Court Road branch of Spearmint Rhino has been in constant breach of its licensing terms. A police report has even stated that “activity in the club … borders on offences of prostitution … and managing/assisting/permitting the keeping of a brothel.”

The police go on to say that at a meeting with table dancers employed by the club, “a point was made by one of the dancers that there was a concern over the number of dancers employed and that this was leading the girls to consider offering other services to make up their money.” An Evening Standard report on this story 27th July 2001 was headlined “Strip Club Faces ‘Brothel’ Probe.”

There will be those in favour of this scheme – from Hackney Council’s promotion of the “night-time economy” to people like Lib Dem Councillor Adrian Gee-Turner who recently supported the filming of a hard core porn film in the ward that he is meant to represent. But there will be widespread opposition to this scheme as well and Hackney Independent will play its part in building that opposition.

Arden Estate Hit By Arson

A report in this week’s Hackney Gazette highlights the issue of anti-social behaviour on Shoreditch’s Arden Estate. The paper tells us that the “vandalism-plagued council estate has suffered its third arson attack in two weeks” when underground garages, which have been disused for a number of years, were set on fire, probably by “gangs of kids who maraud around the estate vandalising cars and buildings”.

Shoreditch Sector Working Group member, Adam Richards is quoted as saying “There are a lot of alleyways and the poice don’t patrol them. Their main concern is the drug and gun problems in Dalston…” while TA chair Audrey Villas says “We’ve been asking for resources to get (the garages) fixed up but the council has no money.”

Anti-social behaviour of this type is exactly what Hackney IWCA (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) has been working on as an issue in this part of Hackney, and this week we are holding another community meeting which brings in two blocks of the Arden Estate along with the Geffrye Estate. Work has already begun on identifying the problems faced by tenants in the area and proposals have been put forward by both Hackney IWCA, the TA and individual tenants.

Clearly, the issue is not a simple one to solve, otherwise it would have been dealt with, but we have to look at why working class communities suffer disproportionately from vandalism, intimidation and drug-related problems. As many tenants will point out, the young people responsible for a lot of this behaviour have no facilities of their own – few youth clubs or sports facilities in particular – but it would be naive to think that if a youth club opened the problem would disappear overnight; a co-ordinated community-led response that isolates the troublemakers and at the same time fights for facilities in the area seems to be the only way we can move this issue forward.

This is why Hackney IWCA is looking at all available options to combat the problem, not just in Hackney but in Islington too. The proposals and problems can be seen in the Hackney Independent Stanway edition which is online later this week.

Working Girls and City Gents?

News of money from the Home Office to provide outreach support for prostitutes in Hackney was welcomed by some community groups in the north of the borough (as reported in the Hackney Gazette 21st December) but little seems to have been done about the growing problems in areas bordering the city in south Hackney and Shoreditch.

As the City spreads outwards and gentrification gathers pace, prostitution grows accordingly. As pissed up suits roll out of pubs after a hard days trading, you can see why. On estates that border the main streets such as the Geffrye and Pitfield, tenants have told the IWCA about incidents where local women and young girls have been harassed by kerb crawlers, and well dressed men staggering out of the bars that stretch out from the centre of the City.

Many people point to the rise in the “night-time economy” as an economic bonus for the area saying that the bars and clubs provide jobs, but how many young people who live on the estates nearby get jobs in these places ? Very few, and the most obvious downside is the rise in related anti-social behaviour: noise and disruption late at night as the pubs clear out and an increase in muggings and prostitution. Time to show a red light to the spread of the night-time economy in the area ?

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.

Pembury Estate

The Peabody Trust took over the Pembury estate in April. The Gazette headline at the time “clean slate for estate” introduced the new caretaking and management team for the estate.

It has taken only four months for Pembury tenants to find out what Peabody is really about. “The Peabody Trust was oh so interested in us when it wanted our votes for privatisation…” write Gareth Dale and William Brownings in a letter to the Hackney Gazette, “… but now it only shows any concern at all when we make a fuss.”

The week before (August 24th) the Gazette’s front page was headed “Our drug hell” and sub-titled “is this Britain’s worst estate.” The report goes on to list the muggings, drug deals, vandalism and break-ins that are now common on the Pembury as well as a recent shooting.

One tenant is quoted as saying, “we know who the dealers are and where they live. We have told the cops and our landlords, but they won’t do anything until they have half-a-dozen murders on their hands.”

What is happening on Pembury will be very familiar to most people living on estates in South Hackney and Shoreditch. We 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.

Apart from housing benefit problems caused by ITNet, anti-social behaviour on our estates has been the biggest single issue raised with us in the last six months.

Many people have complained repeatedly to the police and the Council (and Pinnacle in Shoreditch) 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 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 the Council and the housing associations like Peabody.

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 Peabody 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.

The Pembury tenants are looking for solutions, not just sitting back and hoping that their problems will be solved for them. Gareth Dale and William Brownings’ report on a meeting on the Pembury showed tenants calling for Peabody to “take on more caretakers and give them a security role.” Others argued for “restoring youth clubs, bringing back football training and car maintenance and building up a community development programme.” Their report closed by asking whether Peabody would take these suggestions seriously, “and if it doesn’t, how can tenants put pressure on it to do so?”

This shows one of the problems of voting for a private landlord. You can’t go back. At least with the council there is some sort of accountability. But Peabody can be forced to take action. By doing what they are doing – calling their own meetings (and not letting Peabody run them) putting their demands and shaming Peabody through the Gazette can all help. Peabody wants to take over more council estates and won’t want he bad publicity. But all of these steps can only help win one thing at a time. We would argue that the Pembury tenants should have a look at standing their own candidates for the new Hackney Central Ward in the council elections in 2002. That would put more pressure on the Peabody Trust and the Town Hall and you would be able to link up with the IWCA candidates who will be standing against the middle class parties who currently represent Shoreditch at the Town Hall.

We would be willing to meet with any tenant or community group that wants to take on the problem of anti-social behaviour on our estates, and will publish any response to this article on our website that comes from a working class perspective. Respond to: