Hackney Gazette: Protestors Reclaim Cafe

PROTESTERS occupying a cafe to save it from demolition have rebuilt part of the building destroyed by workmen.

The activists took over Francesca’s in Broadway Market again on Boxing Day after being kicked out by court order five days earlier.

Campaigners initially endured rain and freezing temperatures because part of the roof and back wall had been knocked down while they were locked out.

Members and supporters of the Save Broadway Market Campaign have put up another wall and strung a tarpaulin over new roof beams.

Group spokesman Arthur Shuter told the Gazette that people from the community had come forward to fund the work.

“I want to see the cafe open again for them,” he said. “We will not give in.

“Developers are tearing the community apart,” added Mr Shuter, “but we will fight them all the way.”

Francesca’s had been run for 31 years by Tony Platia until he was evicted last July when his lease ran out.

The cafe is one of a number of properties in the street owned by Dr Roger Wratten.

He would not comment on the row, but a spokesman made a statement on his behalf.

“We’re naturally disappointed at the continuing illegal occupation by the squatters,” he said, “and are reviewing the situation with our lawyers.”

Former Hackney mayor Betty Shanks has joined the campaign by demanding that her official portrait be taken down at the Mare Street town hall in protest at Hackney Council’s role in the dispute.

The 76-year-old, who was mayor in 1985, blames the problems in Broadway Market on the cheap sell-off of public properties by a cash-strapped council in 2000 and 2001.

“I have asked for my picture to be taken down,” said the great-grandmother-of-three, “because of what has happened to Francesca’s.

“The council should buy back Tony’s cafe with a compulsory purchase order,” added the former Labour councillor, “to set the situation right.”

The council says it is “unlikely” it will buy back properties in the street.

In another development, 58-year-old Lowell Grant, the proprietor of another shop in Broadway Market, the Nutritious Food Gallery, is facing eviction by other developers later this month.

Mr Grant, known as Spirit, who has run the shop for 13 years, is also being supported by the protesters. “The axe is now hanging over Spirit as well,” said Mr Shuter, “so we could be doing this all over again.

Broadway Market Occupation: BBC News Coverage

For BBC local news coverage of the ongoing Broadway Market occupation click on this link here.

Protesters continue cafe battle


More protesters have occupied a cafe to save it from demolition, less than a week after others were evicted.


Police and sheriff’s officers moved in to remove them from Tony’s Cafe in Broadway Market, Hackney, last Wednesday after a four-week occupation.

On Boxing Day more protesters occupied the cafe, in the fight against what they call the area’s gentrification.

Spokesman Arthur Shuter said they were now freezing in the half-demolished building, but they would remain.

He said there was no longer any water or gas and many of the fittings had been removed and the roof had been destroyed.

But he told BBC London: “We have to maintain occupation of the building, we have no choice.

“Now that we have done it we can’t go home at night, because when we come back in the morning, the building will be gone.”

He said protesters decided to re-occupy the popular cafe because what had happened was “so unfair” and a lot of people locally were against it.

Builders moved in to start knocking it down as soon as the last batch of protesters were removed.

The cafe is one of several buildings in the area due for demolition, but some residents say it is a local institution.

Hackney Council told BBC London that it had sold the property years ago, in line with government guidelines, to help clear its debts.

Developers evict cafe protesters

BBC News

Protesters who locked themselves inside a cafe for four weeks to save it from demolition have been evicted.

Builders started knocking down Tony’s Cafe in Broadway Market, Hackney, shortly after protesters were forced to leave just before dawn.

Residents fear that the popular cafe will be turned into luxury flats as part of the area’s “gentrification”.

Hackney Council told BBC London that they sold the property some years ago to help clear its debts.

Campaigners say the cafe is a institution in the community.

“People are sick of very little being done for low-income families,” said campaigner David Stanton, who said other properties were under threat.

“This is something that’s not going away and the council knows it.”

“It’s for the rich,” said Betty Shanks.

“I’m ashamed that the council, who say they’re for the working class, can come and along and take the cafe away.”

Update on Broadway Market Occupation

This is an update on the occupation of 34 Broadway Market which Hackney Independent fully supports.

Update 10th December 2005

Unfortunately we were unsuccessful in opposing Dr Wratten’s possession proceedings in court on Friday. However, instead of being heard in 10-20 minutes which is usual in these matters, the case went to trial and His Honour, Judge Latham, took until 4pm to reach his decision. He also gave Dr Wratten’s lawyers a very hard time. Much was made in court of the actions of Mrs Wratten, who is one of the directors of Market House Ltd, the company that wants to demolish Tony’s Café. Mrs Wratten made a visit to our occupation where she accepted tea, chatted with protesters and even signed our petition and gave us a donation. Judge Latham described her actions as

But at the end of the day the wider issues surrounding our occupation (for example the problems with the sale and planning permission) were not seen as relevant to the case in the eyes of the law. This meant that Dr Wratten’s property rights were given precedence and he can now evict the protesters.

An appeal is planned and must be lodged by 23rd December.

This decision has in no way dampened our enthusiasm to get justice for Tony and other affected traders in Broadway market and to continue challenging gentrification in the area.

The Evening Standard has continued its coverage of the events in Broadway Market. It devoted a whole page to the matter in Friday¹s edition and journalists were present at the court case.

London Tonight are sending a film crew to the occupation on Sunday morning we ask anyone who wants to show support to come along before 11am in a show of strength!

We are receiving an increasing number of calls from the press and media and many have started to become interested in the wider story of council corruption.

A public meeting is being called for local residents for Thursday 15th December between 7.30pm and 9.30pm at St Michaels Hall, on the corner of Lansdowne Drive and Lavender Grove, E8.

The Occupation of Tony’s Café has raised many issues in the national, London and local press and we are inviting people to discuss the following issues:




The event is to be chaired by Rev William Campbell-Taylor.

All relevant parties are being invited to speak including:

Chris Berry: Interim Head of Planning, Hackney Council
Jessica Crowe: Deputy Mayor of Hackney
Guy Nicholson: Regeneration Officer, Hackney Council
Andrew Boff: Conservative Councillor, Queeensbridge Ward
Bill Hodgson: Labour Councillor, Queensbridge Ward (Chair of Planning)

Arthur Shuter: Local Advocate and Spokesman for Protest at Tony¹s Café
Carl Taylor: Hackney Independent
Stephen Selby: Broadway Market Traders and Residents Association
Maria Flynn: Regents Estate TRA
Fred Filce: Whiston & Goldsmiths TRA

Dr Roger Wratten
Stirling Properties
Broadway Investments Hackney Ltd.

Each party will have 2-3 minutes to speak on one or all of the issues and questions will be taken from the audience. We expect the media to attend.

We have now learnt that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has appointed a senior officer to deal with criminal investigations relating to commercial property sales in Hackney.

Bill Hodgson, Chair of Planning in Hackney has told us that he is happy to refer the issues around planning consent for 34 Broadway Market to the Independent Planning Directorate a government body – for review.

Lastest Update on the Broadway Market Occupation

This is an update on the occupation of 34 Broadway Market which Hackney Independent fully supports.

You may have seen that the Hackney Gazette covered our protest on their front page. We thank them for their attention but we want to clarify some aspects of their coverage. They described the people involved in the protest as ‘self-styled squatters with a cause’. We wanted to just clarify who is participating: There are some local people with experience of squatting involved and they have been invaluable in making this action possible. But it is important to realise that many people involved here have never done anything like this before they are local residents who felt that it was time to act to prove that it is possible to reverse the tide of gentrification. Also there are many, many local people and shopkeepers who have dropped in for a short time to show their support! You are invited to join us.

Just to let you know that there are reporters preparing stories about this situation for the national press. Keep a look out next week!

We have put up a poster letting people know that we are not asking people to boycott the businesses in buildings owned by Dr Wratten or his associates who are just their landlords.
Apparently they have suffered a drop in customers since our occupation a clear indication of how seriously people in this community are taking this issue and a sign to Dr Wratten that his future business interests in the market might not be so rosy!
The one point we do want to make is that these businesses might not know that they occupy premises with a dark history. Many of us miss Prakash the proprietor of Kenny’s Newsagents, formerly at numbers 4-6 who threw in the towel after years of wrangling with Dr Wratten. Obviously people also remember Little Georgia which was priced out of Broadway Market by Dr Wratten (as covered in the Hackney Gazette). Whilst we have nothing personal against the new business owners they should recognise that they are part of the wider process of gentrifying the area (increased rents, businesses not aimed at working class locals).

Our occupation has now been served with an application for a Possession Order which is due for hearing at 10.30 on Friday 9th December. We will be vigorously opposing this application and doing everything in our power to stop Dr Wratten from recovering and destroying the building!

Hackney Planning, Legal Services and the Chief Executive of Hackney Council are in intense discussions with the audit and anti-fraud division about the planning consent to build a new development on the site of Tony’s Cafe. It remains to be seen whether the council will cancel the consent they wrongly gave or whether they will leave us to apply for judicial review. Under pressure from local councillors, Head of Planning Sue Foster has decided that the original planning application was approved contrary to council rules. Although they were aware of this at the time the planning consents were granted they seem to have decided (some twenty-one months later) that they messed up!
Hackney are aware that we face possession proceedings and that there is an urgent need to resolve this issue.

WE MEAN BUSINESS: Squatters with a cause occupy café

An update on the occupation of 34 Broadway Market which Hackney Independent fully supports.

Hackney Gazette frontpage: Thursday December 1, 2005

WE MEAN BUSINESS: Squatters with a cause occupy café

Campaigners have staged a midnight takeover of a popular greasy spoon to save it from demolition.

The self-styled ‘squatters with a cause’ invaded the former Francesca’s café in Broadway Market hours before workmen were due to gut it on Monday morning.

Calling themselves the ‘Save Broadway Market Campaign’, the highly organised group say the move is part of their quest to save the area from delopers.

The Gazette gained access to the building and found members were stocked up with food and water, keeping warm with electric heaters and even had a TV set up inside.

Group spokesman Aruther Shuter claimed up to 50 people were working in shifts to protect the building and would stay there for six months under ‘squatters rights’.

He blames a string of Broadway Market business closures on the cheap sell-off of public properties by a cash-strapped Hackney Council in 2000 and 2001.

“We want to stop the rot and prevent developers from taking businesses and homes from the people of Hackney,” Mr Shuter told the Gazette.

The café was run by Tone Platia until he was evicted in July when his lease run out and it closed.

My Shuter sawys the group is demanding that his business is hand back.

“Tony was one of the first victims of the council sell off,” he said. “Francesca’s was a meeting point for the community who lived here all their lives.”

“He had a business for 31 years and we want him back in here,” he added.

“This is just the first phase of the battle – we won’t stop until the truth comes out and we take back all these properties from developers.”

Manchester-based Thermatic Building Services Ltd owns the building and was due to replace the café with a new eatery and flats.

That company is owned by Market House Ltd, which is controlled by property developer Dr. Roger Wratten. He owns a number of properties in Broadway Market.

Dr. Wratten would not comment on the lasest row, but Thermatic’s managing director David Oakley told the Gazette he was taking legal advice.

“It’s all going to be developed in keeping with the theme of the area and it will be an asset to it,” he said.

Hackney’s deputy mayor, Cllr Jessica Crowe, explained that properties on the street were sold when the council was “under legally-binding directions from the Government”.

“These required the council to sell surplus property to get it out of the financial crisis that developed when it was under no overall control,” she said.

“All local authorities must by law get market value when they sell property.”

Hackney police have confirmed they are aware of the situation and that officers have been incontact with the protestors and owner.

We Need Housing For the People Not For the Rich

Letter and Editorial from the Hackney Gazette

In the Gazette article “Homes Shortage Crisis Claim” (20th October 05) MP Meg Hiller is just making the same points she made in the House of Commons on 15th June. Meg wants to see more “affordable, family-sized homes.” What she doesn’t call for is more council housing.

As a newcomer to Hackney affairs, Meg won’t remember this, but we saw estates like Stonebridge and Laburnum being built in Shoreditch by Hackney Council not that long ago. Then the Council told us that the Tory government had stopped council house building. We have had Tony Blair in power for eight and a half years and still we see no new council housing.

Labour are now as opposed to council housing as the Tories ever were.

When people come to see us at Hackney Independent advice surgeries they ask us to help them get a council flat big enough for their family. They never ask for “affordable homes” or “shared ownership.” These schemes are only available to people who are in secure well-paid jobs.

Hackney Independent carried out a door-to-door survey of 100 people in Shoreditch. We asked if people would like to see more council housing and more private housing built in Shoreditch.

Eight out of ten wanted to see more council housing. No-one said only private housing. Most of those who thought we needed both agreed that council housing was more important. While Meg puts out press releases calling for “affordable housing” her own party is busy approving plans for more and more luxury flats in Shoreditch, while trying to sell off as many council estates as it can. You have to judge a party by what is does, not what it says. Labour in Hackney means less council housing and more luxury flats. Hackney Independent campaigns as part of the community to save the council housing we have and to build more council housing for overcrowded tenants and our young people.

Peter Sutton
Hackney Independent

Hackney Gazette editorial

‘Sardines in a Can’

The lives of thousands of the borough’s kids are blighted because they live in overcrowded housing. An estimated 9,000 Hackney families suffer severely cramped conditions in households unsuitable for their size, a shock report by homeless charity, Shelter, has revealed. Many sleep in makeshift beds on dining-room, lounge or hallway floors because of lack of space, or have to share a bedroom with their parents – and in some extreme cases teenagers of the opposite sex are forced to share a bedroom. Lack of privacy places stress on family relationships and affects children’s education because they have nowhere to study or do their homework. It is a consequence of a chronic shortage of family-sized social housing.

In the past 20 years, the country’s public housing stock has contracted by more than a third, in part down to the sell-off of homes under the right-to-buy scheme. In an effort to free-up larger properties, tenants in homes too big for their housing needs are being given incentives to move to smaller council accommodation, but it is just tinkering. Sooner or later, society may have to grasp the nettle and accept the somewhat unpalatable reality that nobody has a God-given right to have as many children as they want when resources are scarce and taxpayers are expected to foot the bill. Until then the government needs to make the cash available to build more family-sized council and housing association homes in the borough and end the misery of overcrowding for good.

Hackney Gazette – Sinking with the Mortgage

Home owners in South Hackney and Shoreditch are spending up to a third their wages on mortgage repayments.

The area has been named as the worst place in the country for property owners expecting to part with more of their hard-earned cash to pay their mortgage.

Andy Gray, head of mortgages for the Woolwich, said that the top 50 least affordable areas are more likely to be up-and-coming neighbourhoods rather than ones with high property prices.

He explained that in certain areas, including South Hackney and Shoreditch, many borrowers were spending a higher proportion of earnings on repayments.

“Places like Hackney tend to attract young professionals who will borrow as much as they can to get a property in the next up-and-coming area,” said Mr Gray.

“They are hoping hat property prices will increase quickly as the area gentrifies and are also confident that as young professionals their earnings will rise quickly to drive down their mortgage payments as a percentage of income.”

The price of an average three-bedroom house in South Hackney and Shoreditch is now more than £300,000, according to estate agents, Bunch and Duke, in Mare Street, Hackney.

Prices have risen rapidly over the past three years and buyers are expected to pay out more of their income on a mortgage here than anywhere else.

Property owners paid 26.5 of their income on mortgage repayments in 2002. That figure has now increased to 32.8 percent.

South Hackney and Shoreditch is followed closely by Brent East, Vauxhaull, Poplar and Caning Town and Brent South as areas in which buyers spend most of their incomes on mortgage repayments.

Gazette Editorial

Having a mortgage can be a financial millstone around your neck, so a study showing what percentage of their salary home owners spend on repayments may make folk think twice about getting on the property ladder in Hackney. The average amount of net wages Londoners use to repay their home loans is 23 per cent, but in popular areas like Hackney South and Shoreditch the proportion of earnings which go towards repayments, according to the Woolwich, is as much as 33 per cent or a third! That’s because many buyers attracted to the area are young professionals who borrow as much as they can, gambling that property prices will increase quickly and their earnings will rise at the same rate to drive down their percentage of income spent on repayments.

As a result up-and-coming areas like South Hackney are among the least affordable in the capital because many buyers are not among the top earners.

If home owners in the south of the borough are paying up to a third of their earnings in mortgage repayments, that means they have less in their pockets to spend on the high street, and that can only be bad news for the local economy.

The ALMO and Decent Homes Debate 2004-2005

From the letters page of the Hackney Gazette

letter to the Hackney Gazette 27th September 2004

Dear Editor

Your article on Hackney’s Decent Homes Survey claimed that council canvassers are explaining a ‘range’ of ‘alternative options’ to assist the council to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard by 2010.

These boil down to full privatisation, part-privatisation or the privatisation of so-called ‘spare’ land. To call this a ‘range’ of ‘options’ is laughable. One option tenants and leaseholders might suggest is that the council pay for improvements out of rent and service charges. Some estates have been left to rot for over thirty years. Since rent receipts have clearly not been spent on maintenance over that time there should be plenty of money, and if there isn’t we should be given a further option of asking why the hell not.

Each of the council’s alternatives involve tenants paying even more – in one way or another – for maintenance that they have already paid for, sometimes over and over again.

You just know that when New Labour offers you a choice it has already made up its mind to privatise something… Decent Homes, yes, but not when the range of choices, alternatives and options all serve the government’s stated aim of killing off council housing.

Carl Taylor
Hackney Independent Working Class Association

Letters in Hackney Gazette, November 18th 2004

Debate Real ‘Fourth Way’

As representatives of Hackney tenants, we are concerned that the council is rushing towards some form of housing privatisation without due thought for the future, and without proper consultation.

It has mounted an expensive campaign to instruct tenants in three options for the future – stock transfer, PFI and Arms Length Managment Organisations. It says this is the only way to finance the improvements needed to bring our homes up to a decent standard.

It offers a “fourth option” – selling garages and play space to private developers – but admits that this wouldn’t bring in enough money. None of its material mentions the real ‘fourth way’ – the council keeps the homes and the government allows it a fair chance to invest in improving them.

Numerous studies have shown that the private options cost more money and perform no better overall than local councils. In fact, if there was a “level playing field” and the government gave councils back the remainder of the right-to-buy receipts, councils would be able to build better , more affordable and secure housing for all those who so desperately need it and held reduce housing prices for everyone.

It is only the government’s policy to date of transferring assets and operations to the private sector that has led to this option being ignored, but the tide has turned. More than 200 MPs and many local councils now support the Fourth Way.

The House of Commons council housing group of MPs and the Defend Council Housing campaign have demonstrated that the money is there and John Prescott has stated that tenants should not be penalised if they do not vote for transfer, or another private finance option, and he and Keith Hill have promised to give a “level playing field” to the Fourth Way.

This means that the consultation exercise on financing Decent Homes is not just unfair, but has also been overtaken by events. For this reason we call on Hackney council to allow time and resources for the real Fourth Way to be debated alongside the other options.

We ask tenants and TRA and trade union representatives in Hackney to support us.

Signed by 14 members of Hackney TRAs.

Wren’s Park has made its views clear

A packed meeting of more than 70 residents made their opposition to any form of partial or total privatisation very clear at Wren’s Park estate tenants’ hall on November 3.

The council had comissioned two representatives of Pathmeads Housing Association to gather residents’ opinions and they confirmed that they would take back a clear report that the residents were overwhelmingly opposed to any of the options for ALMO, stock transfer, PFI, or more land sell offs.

Residents deplored the lackof any council members or officers at the meeting and expressed their concern that “consultation” was being conducted by company with a vested interest in privatisation.

Residents do want repairs and improvements carried out, but they are anxious to retain their existing rights as tenants and leaseholders and do not want their homes to pass from control by accountable, elected councillors into the hands of unaccountable private companies.

As for land sell-offs, this estate has already had two developments on former garage sites which resulted in paltry sums offered to the estate as compensation and which have not, in fact, been paid.

Several residents commented on the eight-to-one vote at the Labour Party conference in favour of letting tenants remain council tenants, if they want to. Reference was also made to the statement by John Prescott that he wanted councils to have access to funds for housing investment equivalent to the grants and borrowing facility available to housing associations.

The arguments for direct funding were discussed and residents demanded that Hackney Council should withdraw its current consultation until the government carries out the review of funding rules that Mr Prescott promised.

The point was made that there is money that rightly belongs to council housing that could be used and that, generally, council tenants pay far more in rent than is spent on housing services. There is also the profit government takes from right-to-buy sales.

The money spent by the council on publicity newsletters, DVDs, consultation fees etc. would be better spent on housing repairs. Hopefully there will be many more such meetings across the borough and the council will be persuaded not to rush ahead with its plans for ALMOs etc. and allow an open debate, which includes the option for retention of existing council management and ownership.

In Birmingham, Camden and numerous other areas, residents have rejected both ALMOs and privatisation. They are demanding that the government allows councils to use existing funds to borrow money, where necessary, without selling off our homes to private landlords, and to provide decent housing for everyone.

Paul Robertson, committee member, Wren’s Park TRA
George Haynes, Treasurer
George Hargreaves, ex-Chairman

Make Sure Your Voice is Heard

By the time you read this, there will be 13 days left for Hackney tenants and leaseholders to vote on the best route to get the repairs and refurbishments desperately needed for Hackney’s homes.

This is the most important decision that we will make about the future of our homes and I urge all tenants and leaseholders to use their vote. The “Test of Opinion” runs from November 16 to 30 and you can vote by post or by secure freephone.

By 2010, all homes must reach the Decent Homes standard, which means dry, warm, weather-tight homes with reasonably modern kitchens and bathrooms.

To reach this, Hackney Council wants residents to be able to tap into hundreds of millions of pounds available to fund the necessary improvements to bring all homes up to the quality standard.

Hackney has just started the job – you may have seen the scaffolding going up across the borough – but our survey has revealed that there is a shortfall of around £20 million to bring all properties up to the required level. That’s about £9,000 per home. Unless we find this money, the refurbishment will slow down to a trickle.

After a year of informing and consulting our residents through newsletters, meetings fun days and even a DVD, we want to know which would be your preferred option for your neighbourhood. You can choose from:

ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation)
Stock transfer to a housing association
PFI (Private Finance Initiative)
Stay as you are (with no additional investment to improve your home or estates)
We are committed to consulting residents from every neighbourhood and want to hear your views. Every neighbourhood’s view will be fed into the decisions that the council’s Cabinent will make in December about the best way forward for all Hackney’s homes.

If you are still undecided and need the options explaining again, it’s not too late. Call the Decent Homes team on 020 8356 4409 or your independent tenant’s adviser on 0800 279 8070, to have the options explained.

Every vote counts. Make sure your voice is heard.

Cllr Jamie Carswell,
Cabinet Minister for Housing.

ALMOs are not privatisation

Janine Booth totally misrepresents the ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation) option for Hackney’s council housing in her letter (November 11).

She says it threatens “residents’ involvement in decisions about our homes” when, in fact, an ALMO would involve tenants being directly involved in running housing in Hackney through representatives on an ALMO board.

Quite apart from the massive extra government funds an ALMO would bring to improve housing, this would be a great step forward for empowering tenants. They would have a direct say in running housing in Hackney.

She smears ALMOs as privatisation. They are not. Under an ALMO, Hackney Council would remain the landlord and the council would still be protecting tenants’ interests. For example, an ALMO could not dispose of any land without council agreement.

Cllr Luke Akehurst
Labour, Chatham Ward

letters to the Hackney Gazette 25th November 2004

Cynical – and expensive

Dear Sir,

Luke Akehurst accuses Janine Booth of totally misrepresenting the ALMO option for Hackney council housing (Letters, November 18). In fact, Cllr Akehurst is so keen to push the ALMO option he deliberately misrepresents two facts:

First, ALMOS’s are a private company. They are registered as companies, they have a board of directors and they pay corporation tax.

Secondly, those tenants who get elected to the ALMO board are not there as tenant representatives. Once elected, their responsibility is to the ALMO board of directors, not to the tenants who voted for them. This is not, as Cllr Akehurst alleges, a ‘great step forward for empowering tenants’, but a surefire means of gagging them.

Hackney council has already made up its mind that it wants to set up ALMO’s. This “Test of Opinion” is, yet again, a cynical exercise to pretend democracy exists where it does not. It is also a very expensive one. If I were to ask Cllr Akehurst how much the council’s pro-ALMO campaign has cost so far, would he be able to answer without misrepresenting the true figure?

Carl Taylor
Hackney Independent

ALMO tenants bound to be outnumbered

IN reply to Cllr Akehurst’s claims about ALMOs (November 18), he is not telling the whole story – just like the glossies that have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to promote the council’s preferred option.

Tenants’ reps on ALMO boards, far from being “empowered”, are outnumbered and bound by “corporate responsibility”.

ClIr Akehurst won’t tell you about Westminster ALMO and its massive financial shortfall. Tenants on two large estates were told their homes must be sold off if they want the promised improvements.

ALMO is the New Labour government’s doctrine of privatisation, which is now out of step with the massive majority vote at the last Labour conference for direct investment as a real option. All the major unions back direct investment, as well as the ODPM Select Committee. More than 250 MPs are backing Early Day Motions calling for investment and choice for council tenants.

Does no-one in Hackney Council follow the public housing debates? The ballot option to stay with the council claims no additional investment will be available. At best this is misleading. It hides the Labour Party’s changing policy and calls into question the accountability of local and national elected representatives.

Labour councils around the country are already borrowing to improve their stock. Why can’t councils have the same financial benetits and rights that the government is prepared to offer to private options?

That’s why so many of us are calling on tenants and leaseholders to vote for “stay as you are” and then join the national and local campaigns to defend council housing and demand direct investment without strings. Properly-funded public housing with fair rents and secure tenancies should and can be available – for tenants now and all those who need it, now and in the future.

Jo Smitheman,
Lansdowne Drive,
London Fields.

Council does not want responsibility

AS a tenant I am opposed and my union branch is totally opposed to any attempt to hive off control of council housing.

The council’s proposals to tenants are dictated more by a philosophy of: “We don’t want the responsibility for housing in Hackney”. This is summed up by their favoured option of an ALMO. Any future problems tenants raise with their councillors will be kept at “arm’s length” with the “not me guv” response.

This already happens in education with the Learning Trust. To my knowledge, none of the Labour councillors advocating this policy will suffer the consequences as they are tucked up in their owner-occupied homes.

I returned my postcard some weeks ago indicating the fourth option of council control and the government should release the funds it holds from council house sales.

This would allow refurbishment of all council homes and the building of more council homes for the thousands currently on the waiting list. I received not a reply, but another complete set of the council’s glossy propaganda brochures.

This council should line up with its tenants to provide decent homes in council control. Any of the other proposals will remove control, cost more money and threaten the jobs of council workers.

Vote now for the fourth option in question one and “no” to questions two and three.

Brian Debus
Joint Branch Secretary
Hackney Unison

This is the opportunity of a lifetime

WE welcome the debate about Decent Homes.

It means that the consultation is working and that people are thinking about the options available to raise the £220 million needed to get the repairs and refurbishment for Hackney’s homes.

However, it’s important that people understand that at the moment thete isn’t a “fourth way” and it would be misleading to suggest there was.

Should the government change their minds and tell us they will be giving money direct to local authorities to improve their housing stock, then we will, of course, work with this if it is a viable option.

Above all, it’s crucial that we get the money needed to improve Hackney’s homes. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve Hackney’s homes.

We don’t have the luxury of time to debate options that aren’t on the table. The money is needed now to make the much-needed changes that will, for once and for all, improve the quality of life for everyone living in Hackney.

It’s not too late to vote, Make sure your voice is heard. The “Test of Opinion” runs until November 30 and you can vote by post, or by secure freephone.

ClIr Jamie Carswell,
Cabinet member for housing.

All in a bad cause

ALL the expense all the ballyhoo – the army of employees door-knocking around the estates, glossy pamphlets glorifying three, two or one-stage privatisation options and rubbishing keeping council ownership, bouncy castles, face painting and food and drinks – to get a rushed agreement to destroy municipal housing.

Yet, the overwhelming (8-1) demand by the September Labour conference to defend council housing received assurance by John Prescott and housing minister Keith Hill that councils would have a “level playing field” in funding and investment freedom if tenants reject the three options and vote to stay with council ownership and management, and promised a review of funding rules.

Is the leadership of the council unaware of this, or are they determined to pre-empt the promised inquiry?

Hackney tenants, leaseholders and freeholders, who are being asked to vote and will be affected in one way or another, should reject any change from direct, accountable and council-run and owned housing and demand that councils are given the same funding and investment freedom that is being promised to the other leadership-favoured options.

B. Shuster,
Overbury Street,
Lower Clapton.




Letters to the Hackney Gazette, December 2nd 2004

One last gasp as the vote deadline nears

Cllr Akehurst states (November 18) that ALMOs “would be a great step forward for empowering tenants… and would have a direct say in running housing in Hackney”.

He neglects to mention that the government’s own Audit Commision think otherwise: “Tenants are often led to believe that they will have an explicit role in representing the interest of their fellow tenants on the board. This is not compatible with the accepted principle that dictates that as a board member they have to work for the interest of the organisation.”

In other words, tenants on the board of an ALMO are duty bound under the law to put the needs of the ALMO–a private company–ahead of the needs of tenants.

If tenants ignore the law, they will at best find themselves outnumbered on the board, and at worst be kicked off the board. By definition, ALMOs cannot possibly give council tenants greater control or more effective accountability over housing.

Cllr Akehurst also rejects the accusation that ALMOs are a form of privatisation, but again official sources contradict him.

Price Waterhouse Coopers reported to Haringey Council that the ALMO strategy “is compatible with achieving full stock transfer in the longer term”.

The deputy director general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders said in April 2002 that “we now need to look at bringing in private finance into ALMOs. ALMOs could also be used as a transition vehicle for disengaging from the local authority control in an interim way”

The Westminster ALMO commenced selling off council stock after two years.

There can be no motive other than privatisation behind the council’s support for ALMOs. If this is not the case, then Cllrs Akehurst and Carswell should have no problem publicly committing that ownership of council housing will never go to any private company, even after the mandate of the ALMO expires.

The truth is that ALMOs are no more than an underhand method of getting round tenant opposition to straightforward privatisation, using the threat of ‘no money for repairs’ as a particularly despicable form of blackmail.

Hackney Council are so desperate to push this measure through that they are willing to put at risk the health of the young, the sick and the elderly.

Its motive should be obvious to anyone who is local to Hackney. Coupled with the increase in cost of private housing, this is part of the wider agenda to drive out working-class people and gentrify the borough. If this is not the case, then Cllrs Akehurst and Carswell should have no problem explaining just why direct investment in council housing from central government is not an acceptable option, but investment via ALMOs, PFI and stock transfer are. What possible agenda can there be other than privatisation?

Martin Joyce
Aden Grove
Stoke Newington



letters to the Hackney Gazette 30th December 2004

Test of opinion and patience
Has anyone noticed that the Decent Homes Test of Opinion is just that.

Hackney Council will only be taking the voting results INTO CONSIDERATION when they make their decision for us.

Christina Richardson




Letters to the Hackney Gazette, January 6th 2005

Ballot a travesty of democracy

The recent “Test of Opinion” about the future of Hackney’s council homes was a travesty of democracy. I took part in the consultation, filling out several cards and returning them. In my replies I made it clear that I was not in favour of any of the so-called options the council offered, none of them being in tenants’ interests.

Yet when it came to the vote, I did not receive the opportunity to make my voice heard. My flatmate received a voting form. I didn’t, despite being a joint tenant.

Surely all council tenants should have been given the chance to have their say. That I didn’t tells me all that I need to know about the council’s attitude to democracy.

Ed Lyon


Letters to the Hackney Gazette, 27th January 2005


Commonsense or stuff and nonsense


Cllr Akehurst describes the council’s support for an ALMO as “commonsense”. To offload our hard-won housing to a board of directors in which a handful of tenants participate, merely as a response to blackmail by a central government hell-bent on carving up social property into bite-sized chunks and feeding it to rich people who can no longer make enough profits within their glorious private sector, is either madness or badness.


The only argument we have heard for the ALMO is that “Tony Blair won’t give us the money unless we agree to it” – I have not heard any councillor defend the concept of this trust/company as a more democratic, secure or even efficient way of running and improving our homes.


This is selling England by the pound, and the fact that 64 per cent (not 80 per cent) out of the 24 per cent of tenants and leaseholders who voted put the ALMO as their first preference will not, unfortunately, change that.


Wolfgang Kuchler
Fields Estate


ALMOs are outrageous
Hackney Gazette – Friday August 19, 2005

Your article “£90 million windfall boosts council homes facelift” (Gazette 4th August) tells part of the story about Hackney’s ALMO. Here are a few other points:

* This is not a “windfall.” It is a £90 million loan, which the Council will need to pay back in the future.

* This loan is only available to the Council if they are judged to be a “2 star” or good service. While the Audit Commission bureaucrats may award this, a fairer test would be to look round the estate where you live and think how may “stars” you would award our council.

* Leaseholders will have to pay for all works on estates. There is certainly no “windfall” for them.

* We will not all get the promised “modern kitchens and bathrooms.” Not only will leaseholders not get them, many tenants won’t either. There are no plans to replace any kitchens or bathrooms unless they are over 20-30 years old.

* This council is hopeless at spending money. If they have £90 million think how much of that they will hand over to consultants, architects and as profits to contractors. We will be lucky to see half of it actually spent on repairs to our homes.

* The ALMO will mean big pay rises for council housing bosses and will give an excuse for councillors to pass the buck on repairs and estate cleaning. It will be “don’t ask me, go to the ALMO.”

The Council plan to set up their ALMO in April, just one month before the council elections in May. We won’t get a chance to stop the ALMO by voting for different councillors, just like we did not get the chance for a straight yes or no vote to an ALMO in a ballot of tenants and leaseholders. Yet again Hackney’s Labour council is imposing on us their plans to hand over their responsibilities to a private company.

Of course £90 million is a lot of money, but council tenants and leaseholders pay many times that amount to the council each year. We shouldn’t jump ship to an ALMO just for the possibility of getting a £90 million debt.

Tony Butler
Hoxton representative, Hackney Independent
Cropley Court
Wenlock Barn Estate
London N1

A Response to Jamie Carswell
Hackney Gazette, September 1, 2005

Jamie Carswell has finally admitted that his ALMO project will not bring us any extra government money. In his letter (Gazette Aug 25th) he states that I am wrong to say the £90 million is a loan. Instead he says it is “interest-free borrowing.” When Jamie Carswell sees a sofa advertised as “pay nothing till 2006” does he think it is free? The truth is that Labour do not want us to start thinking about how to pay the debt back. That comes later when, no doubt, they will try to turn their ALMO into a housing association to take our housing out of the council’s hands entirely.

For now Labour have presented us with a perfect Hobson’s Choice. You either accept the way they are running down council housing or you accept their plans to privatise it! Why don’t we have elected councillors who actually want to to improve the way council housing is run and to build more council housing for those who need it?

If Labour get their way, the ALMO will take over council housing in 7 months time. Who really knows what this ALMO is? Try asking neighbours on your estate if they understand what it is, if they support it or even if they have heard of it. If Jamie Carswell is right, his “Test of Opinion” showed that 64% of us support his ALMO. So, if you can’t find two out of every three people that understand and agree with the ALMO then you know Carswell is having us on. Everyone should remember that when the Labour Party turn up next year trying to get re-elected.

Jamie Carswell wants me to start living in the real world. I’ll tell you where I live – Wenlock Barn estate – one of the many parts of Hackney that the Labour Party has neglected over the years. We have paid our rents and charges, Hackney Council have had our money. What we want in return is our dues not privatisation. Hackney Independent will keep campaigning in Shoreditch to make the council responsible for repairing and managing our estates. It is time for a straight yes or no vote on the ALMO and not this shady ‘Test of Opinion.’

Tony Butler
Hoxton representative
Hackney IndependentCropley Court
Wenlock Barn estate
London N1

Tell the truth Carswell!
Hackney Gazette, September 1, 2005

I am very concerned about Councillor Jamie Carswell’s comments in your letters pages.

The council has already sent out his pro-ALMO propaganda in half a dozen mailings to all tenants and leaseholders. All of it was pushing the ALMO and there was no balanced position against it. Reading his letter (August 25th Gazette) it seems he doesn’t like someone like Tony Butler putting the other side of the story. He claims Mr Butler is lying or inaccurate when really he just disagrees with his opinion.

There are good and bad points about the ALMO and in my opinion the bad outweigh the good. I don’t trust someone like Jamie Carswell who is trying to say it is 100% positive and there are no drawbacks.

Councillor Carswell states that “the majority of tenants and residents… voted for the ALMO in December.” The truth is that after months of one-sided pro-ALMO propaganda paid for out of rents and service charges, the council only persuaded around 4000 people to support their ALMO project. This is just 14% of tenants and leaseholders, not the 64% Councillor Carswell claims. If he is so far out on this – what else is he misleading us on about the ALMO?

John Eden
Cazenove Road