Council Plan to demolish over 500 homes and hand open space to developers

I simply do not believe that there is sufficient ‘underused’ land on these 28 estates to fit in 550 homes, so the Council must be defining areas as ‘underused’ which residents do in fact use. To the Council and the developers, ‘underused’ probably means ‘not making money’.
– Janine Booth


Now the elections are out of the way and Hackney Labour have power until 2010, they are turning on our estates. The council want to knock down over 500 homes and build on open spaces and car parks. Surprise, surprise, the new homes will be for housing associations or for private sale.

Estates targeted so far are Suffolk, Fellows Court, Wenlock Barn, St John’s, St Leonards, De Beauvoir and Haberdashers. But this is only the beginning – the Council want to buld on 13 sites on Wenlock Barn alone. Expect more estates to be included later.

Instead of focussing on the task of spending our rents and service charges on cleaning and repairing our homes, the council’s main push is to hand over sites to developers. Most estates are already overcrowded and we need green spaces, playgrounds and parking. Hackney Independent sees these spaces as being vital to our community. Labour sees them as an opportunity to bring in their developer friends.

The council plans will bring chaos to estates that are already overcrowded. Even the council admit that Hackney has the third highest level of over-crowding in England. How will these plans help matters? Worse still, the plan is for at least 3 out of every 10 new homes built on our estates to be private – for homeowners or high renters. You can bet that the end result will be more than 3 out of 10.

A council report states that extra funds will be put into the targeted estates to “assist residents to consent.” – in other words they are trying to bribe residents into going along with their privatising agenda! Of course this also means less money for other estates. The report also states that “Shoreditch Trust representatives have been involved in the development of this strategy.” We spoke to some of the elected resident representatives and the plans are news to them! Worse still the Council claim they are carrying out “early consultation” for the proposals but a council insider has told Hackney Independent that the decisions have already been made.

Any new building in Hackney should be council housing for overcrowded tenants, and young people needing a place of their own – and shouldn’t take away space on existing estates. We need to campaign against these plans and stop Hackney Council from flattening council flats and destroying play areas and replacing them with private homes. This isn’t just an issue for those already targeted by the council. Your estate could be next!

Hackney Independent’s summary of the council’s plans is available here on our website as a pdf.

Council Jargon Explained

The proposals for the ‘Next Estate Regeneration Programme’ are written in council jargon. Here we pick out some of the quotes and tell you what they actually mean:

“We aim to continue tenure diversification”
This means they want fewer council tenants and more private renters and home owners.

“Selective demolition”
This means knocking council houses down.

“Land assembly and decanting”
Dividing up any open space into packages for developers and getting the tenants out.

“Infill opportunities”
This means building on any available open space.
What people are saying about the council’s plans

“I simply do not believe that there is sufficient ‘underused’ land on these 28 estates to fit in 550 homes, so the Council must be defining areas as ‘underused’ which residents do in fact use. To the Council and the developers, ‘underused’ probably means ‘not making money’.”
Janine Booth

“Hackney Council won’t be happy until they’ve sold the entire estate off”
Harry, Wenlock Barn

“I don’t want local green spaces used for development”
Ian, Wenlock Barn

“Have you seen Hackney Today recently? An article states ‘I love Hackney because of its green spaces’”
Tony Butler, Hackney Independent

The oldest council estate says no to a private landlord

In 1900 the Boundary Estate, just north of Brick Lane in the Whitechapel area of east London, became Britain’s first council estate – and, following a vote last week, it will continue to be so for the forseeable future.


Last week the tenants of the Boundary and 3 other East End estates voted to reject the intense campaigning and enticements offered by vested interests to transfer their homes to a private Housing Association landlord. Despite a lack of investment in their homes due to funding cuts by central government, they chose to stay with Tower Hamlets Council as their landlord.
Successive recent Tory and New Labour governments have committed major resources in an attempt to coerce tenants into accepting privatisation. Deliberate long term underfunding of maintenace and refurbishment services is intended to ‘encourage’ tenants to vote ‘the right way’. In Tower Hamlets hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on persuasive campaigning. An army of professional ‘consultants’ and campaign managers were installed in the area; estate security guards were forced to become part of the Yes campaign and help distribute glossy promotional material.
Yet, despite the hard sell, all 4 estates voted overwhelmingly No. They joined the growing trend of now over 80 other No votes by tenants against privatisation. This is despite knowing that no extra funding is likely to be made available by central government for necessary improvements. In the London borough of Camden £283 million was already promised by central government, for a major refurbishment programme, prior to the vote. But after tenants delivered a No vote in New Labour’s flagship borough the £283 million was spitefully withdrawn. In Waltham Forest, north-east London, where tenants voted Yes a few years ago, a quango – ‘Gresham Homes’ – has taken over management of the Council housing stock. But they have been so blatantly incompetent that the government auditors have for several years refused to allow the delivery of promised extra funding for upgrading of the housing stock. So even if tenants vote Yes, they don’t always get what’s promised.

Opposition to redevelopment of Mildmay Hospital site

Hackney Independent is supporting the lobby of Tower Hamlets Council on Thursday evening (14th Sept) to oppose the plans for a 23 floor tower block next to Dunmore Point off Columbia Road.

The developers plan to build 270 single person bedsits for homeless people, demolish a recently built nursery, block out the light in the already densely built up area and provide no new housing for the existing overcrowded tenants in Tower Hamlets. The building will be managed (and possibly owned) by the homeless charity CRISIS.

Amazingly Hackney Council has opposed the planning permission. Seeing as Hackney New Labour give the green light to virtually any development proposal put to them, is this just because it is in another borough – or was the mistake to build for homeless people not yuppies?!

We give our full support to this community campaign – which has been referred to by the developers as made up of “white middle class nimbys.” Hackney Independent’s Peter Sutton and Carl Taylor met campaign leaders on Sunday 10th and can confirm that they are a very mixed group of individuals determined to oppose these developers imposing on their community.

The fact is that the developers would not dare to try to impose this kind of structure on Hampstead or the affluent parts of Hertfordshire where the CRISIS suporters live themselves.

Lobby on Thursday 14th September
Meet: by Dunmore Point at 5:45 OR by Tower Hamlets Town Hall, Mulberry Place E14 at 6:15.

Campaign leaflet [pdf]
Diagrams of proposed development [pdf]
Summary of objections [pdf]

More information:

A Call to Action

An edited version of this statement by Hackney Independent member Peter Sutton appeared in the Hackney Gazette on 25th May 2006:

How did we get almost exactly the same council following the elections?

We started with 44 Labour councillors, 9 Tories in Lordship, New River and Springfield, 3 Lib Dems in Cazenove and Andrew Boff representing theTories in Queensbridge. We ended up with 44 Labour councillors, the Tories and Lib Dems holding their wards in Stamford Hill and the Greens taking one seat in Clissold.

What is clear to us is that Labour put no real effort into the 4 wards in Stamford Hill that are still represented by the 9 Tory and 3 Lib Dem councillors. We never see these tame twelve taking on New Labour as they have no major political disagreements with them. They all agree with the ALMO, with privatising council services and with the regeneration/gentrification policies of New Labour. Lib Dem Leader Ian Sharer used to be a Labour councillor and probably would be again if they would let him join. Many of the Tories ran the council jointly with Labour during the Labour-Tory pact 6 years ago This was the time that brought us the Clissold Pool fiasco and the joint agreement to close Haggerston Pool.

Instead Labour’s electoral machine turned its fire on what they saw as threats to the status quo – maverick Lib Dem David Phillips in Hoxton, Tory populist Andrew Boff in Queensbridge and Hackney Independent in Haggerston.

The irony here is that we find it hard to tell the difference between the policies of New Labour, David Phillips and Andrew Boff. They all support privatisation. Boff supports the sale off Council-owned shops, he just thinks the Tories could do it more fairly and competently than Labour. However Phillips and Boff are campaigners and get in the Gazette and get out on the estates promoting their own parties, unlike the tame 12 in Stamord Hill. This is what drew Labour’s fire.

If only New Labour ran Hackney anything like as well as they fight elections. Hoxton, Haggerston and Queensbridge saw more of Jules Pipe and the New Labour leadership in the 4 weeks before the election than we did in the past 4 years.

We fear Labour’s hidden agenda for the next 4 years, that wasn’t in their glossy election leaflets, including:
* turning their Hackney Homes project into a housing association and giving it our council estates
* pushing through more privately-sponsored City Academies
* handing over the East of the borough to Olympic developers, who after 2012 will hand it over to big business
* building private flats on green spaces on our estates
* no new council housing but plenty more luxury flats
* more pay rises for councillors
* planning permission granted to property developers against the wishes of local communities
Is the only opposition to be the Green Party that thinks Hackney’s problems are not enough solar panels or missed recycling targets? Hackney Independent members are already in discussion with groups and individuals around the borough to play our part in opposing the New Labour hidden agenda.

If you want to talk to us about how best we can work together to keep Hackney for the people, contact us.

Police investigation into Hackney estates sell-off

Hackney Independent recently received the following email:

“Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the sale of six Hackney council housing estates to Southern Housing Group Limited.

The investigation, spearheaded by Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates, will uncover whether disgraced former Secretary of State John Prescott instructed the land registry to go ahead with the sale after a freezing order was served on them by Stamford Hill Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association.

Although a freezing order can only be cancelled by a High Court judge the land registry said they had cancelled it. Enquiries are centring on why the cancellation letter dated 9th March, 2000 was not posted till 16th March.

Land Registry has admitted it was held back until Southern Housing had lodged their sale documents – thus making any further freezing order ineffective.

Tenants have complained that, although it was guaranteed that each estate in Hackney’s Estate Regeneration Strategy Group 6 – George Downing, Hillside, Hindle House, Keates, Kennaway and Stamford Hill – would vote separately on privatisation, Southern Homes lumped all the votes together when they announced the results. Lincoln Court’s vote (95% against) was not aggregated and they remain council tenants. Hillside’s similar vote was formally notified to Prescott by the Hillside Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association under Schedule 3A, Housing Act 1985 so that he could not legally consent to the transfer.

Southern Housing Group wrote to all tenants saying that estates voting in favour would join a new local housing company with tenant representation on the Board and invited them to pick a name and nominate tenant members.

Southern Homes (Hackney) Limited was chosen and a shadow board set up.

The sale documents were prepared in the name of Samuel Lewis Housing Trust Limited which has no tenant representation.

Tenants also complained that when they were first notified of the transfer proposals the estates were removed from all repair programmes and they were threatened that if they did not vote for privatisation their homes would fall to pieces around them. They went to Court after a pane of glass fell from a second – floor window on Hillside, narrowly missing a small girl, and roof tiles began blowing off Pembury in bad weather.

Stamford Hill Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association (SHETRA) invited Southern Homes to a public meeting on the estate to discuss the issues.

They never responded. Following the disappearance of the people who
were running it in 2000 (notably Sue and Roger Kingham and Linda and Chris Woodard) we put three questions to them:

(1) Southern Homes have been collecting the 10p a week tenants’ levy
from all tenants since 6th March, 2000. What have they done with this

(2) The last published accounts (for 1998/99) submitted to the Charity
Commissioners by Mrs Woodard, the then Treasurer, showed an income of £50,000. Where is the money now?

(3) Who told the Charity Commissioners that the Association (registered charity number 107470) had ceased to exist?

No response was received.

The freezing order is still in force, but that has not stopped Southern Homes building a new estate for sale at Hillside, without planning permission, and commencing construction of flats and bungalows for sale at George Downing and Stamford Hill, also without planning permission.

Hackney have confirmed on many occasions that they own the group six estates. At Thames Magistrates’ Court on 7th October 2004, in evidence to District Judge Stephen Dawson, Mr Van den Burgh, a Court Officer for Hackney council, confirmed that they own the estates and Southern Homes are there purely as managing agents. Southern Homes argued in Court that, although they acted fraudulently, their name was on the land register and therefore they own the estates. This is nonsense. Section 114 of the Land Registration Act provides:-

“… any disposition of land or of a charge, which if unregistered would be fraudulent and void, shall, notwithstanding registration, be fraudulent and void in like manner.”

Section 116(1) provides that any person who is involved in any interference iwth the land register is liable to go to jail. Section 116(2) provides:-

“Any entry, erasure, or alteration so made by fraud, shall be void as between all persons who are parties or privy to the fraud.”

After hearing the evidence Judge Dawson decided that Hackney own the estates and recorded this in his written judgment.

There is no prospect of Southern Housing Group getting planning permission for any of their developments. Even if the directors manage to complete them before getting thrown in jail they will never sell them.

One of the questions which prospective purchasers’ solicitors ask is “Has any work been done on the property in contravention of planning regulations?”

The shops in Broadway Market and Dalston Lane are not protected by a freezing order but the situation – attempted gentrification of council property by a developer claiming to own it – is likely to be similar.

Because of the fraud Hackney keeps title.

Chris Bourbour,
Stamford Hill Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association.”

Governance and Resources Scrutiny Committee

Member Working Party Panel Review Hearings February 27, March 6 and March 14, 2006

On 20th February 2006, following a motion put before the Full Council on 1st February, Hackney’s Overview & Scrutiny Commission met to record its proposals for a Review Panel to examine how the property sales procedures adopted in 2000 had impacted on local business and residential communities and to investigate the role of Nelson Bakewell auctioneers in the sales procedures.

The public review lasted, effectively, for six hours, with much behind the scenes gathering of documents and written submissions and responses.

This was a mammoth task in reality and there were unlikely to be any concrete proposals coming from any recommendations that the panel could be expected to formulate in such a short timeframe.

The enquiry sat on 27th February and Chair James Cannon set the remit for the 3 session debate.  Week one concentrated mainly on the cases of Spirit and Tony from Broadway Market, both of whom gave unscripted evidence before the panel.

Andrew Boff, Tory panel member and Councillor for Queensbridge ward asked many sympathetic questions and drew the expected responses, particularly from Tony who referred to the previous administration as a bunch of corrupt  thieves.

Bill Hodgson, outgoing Labour Queensbridge Councillor, did his best to salvage his party’s image by implying that Tony and Spirit could have acted quicker to get their freeholds and were up against market forces over which the Council had little or no control.

Our fears about Tony were not realised and every member left the first hearing in one piece and returned on 6th March to hear evidence about Dalston Lane.

Bill Parry-Davies, local solicitor (who has acted in the past for both Tony and Spirit) and is Director of OPEN-Dalston, gave evidence about how 14 properties in Dalston Lane had been gifted to an offshore Company (which still owns Spirit’s Broadway Market unit under a different name) because the leaseholders who had operated their businesses from the area for many years were not informed in advance that Nelson Bakewell had reached the decision to sell the units as a job lot.

The leaseholders had turned up at the auction as individuals with well over £ 3 million to spend in total, but were not even given the chance to pool their resources because they never knew they might have to, and the entire site sold for just £ 1.8 million.

Yes, if the Dubai based buyers were hell-bent on buying the site they could certainly have outbid the leaseholders, but at least that way the people of Hackney would have gained some benefit from the extra £1.5 million that would have raised.  Instead, the Dubia group (who operate their business from a tax haven in the Bahamas) were allowed to rob the local community and have since watched as mysterious fires have forced out all but the last few remaining leaseholders and have damaged the buildings so much that they will now need to be demolished.  This is exactly what the owners wanted to happen and even Councillors are now openly stating that the new owners set the fires for this purpose.

Bill Parry-Davies also used his legal influence to mention the OPEN-Dalston campaign and to highlight the methods by which Hackney Council has pushed through its plans for the Dalston Theatre site and the underhand way that local planners have bullied Councillors into passing demolition plans.

Then 3 leaseholders who have managed to survive in their Dalston Lane properties told the Panel that they had never really been offered the opportunity to buy their business premises and were never allowed to seek advice or group themselves together.  Their evidence was compelling and clearly shocked the Labour Panel members who had already decided how to defend the Council from any further damage.

Part 3 of the Inquiry was listed for hearing at 2pm on 14th March.  The day before, the panel chair informed us that thee was no time for any further verbal submissions and that the hearing would concentrate on past submissions and responses from the Council.  If we wanted any further evidence to be considered it would have to be drawn up in written form and presented to the Council’s officers within a few hours.

With a lot of running around, we managed to get statements drawn up and written evidence copied and got this all to the Town Hall 15 minutes before the deadline.

The hearing begins on the following day and we are told that the evidence which we had submitted at the last minute was too defamatory and ‘put the Council at risk’.  The Panel then set about reading out a list of questions which had been raised and the brief and irrelevant answers which had been listed on papers handed out before the hearing began.  After a protest from one of those attending, which was given short shrift, the assembled campaigners simultaneously stood up and walked out of the Chamber in disgust, leaving a shaken panel to ponder on whether their tactics may have rather backfired.

Fearing that this was censorship rather than genuine concern for the legal standing of the Council, e:mail traffic became intense.  At a private hearing of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 15th March (which turned to a public hearing at the insistence of Councillor Boff) the Chair conceded that, following legal advice, some of the withdrawn documents would be taken into consideration and made public and that all documents were now before the Panel.

So the Panel sat again and we waited for the anticipated whitewash. Only to find that the Committee had decided that they should recommend the immediate repurchase of the Dalston Lane units by Compulsory Purchase Orders, and that Council officers should retain the option to repurchase Tony & Spirit’s shop.

There was intense debate over whether there should be a recommendation to continue the inquiry as soon as the Council reformed in May.  Andrew Boff fought hard for a commitment to do so.  The 3 (Labour) against 1 (Tory) argument was not won and we now have a few days before the final verdict is announced to persuade the Committee to make a firm recommendation that the past 2 and 1/2 weeks was simply the start of a much wider nquiry into just exactly what went on and who did hat?

Councillor Elaine Battson (Labour – Dalston) – who had een extremely quiet to this point, and even failed to attend when the Dalston Lane evidence was heard – suddenly became very vociferous and repeatedly said that the evidence before the Panel was too weak to be seriously considered so why should there be any further hearings?

We now have to ensure that the Met, the Public Sector Fraud Office and the FSA properly and thoroughly investigate the allegations, which will not go away, and it may well be the case that this can only be achieved by the occupation of Scotland Yard, Wellington House and Canary Wharf!  But the truth will come out in the end – to that aim we are totally committed – and all those who have abused their positions to rob the local population and feather their own nests will learn that people power is far greater than their own influential contacts.

Unless this is achieved, there will be Nelson Bakewell’s springing up everywhere and victims like Tony and Spirit will dominate the world’s press for many decades.

The Campaign against property sell-offs has achieved many victories in a few short months.  Mounting local support, liaisons across class divides, a six thousand signature petition, worldwide media attention and a full public inquiry which shook the Council to its core.

Corrupt property developers have retracted into their shells and the flack is still falling all around them. Their former associates in positions of power are left wondering how much longer before the shit really hits the fan and we continue to fight for their activities to be fully exposed.

This seems to be the start of something far more powerful than any local protest has ever achieved before, not least because there are Broadway Markets and Dalston Lanes in every London borough and across the Country and beyond.

So the fight goes on and the ballot box results in a few weeks time may well give an indication as to who exactly is winning the war.


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.

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

Letter published in the Hackney Gazette – Friday, August 19

Your article “£90 million windfall boosts council homes facelift” (Gazette, August 4) 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

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