Sunday, 30 May 2010

The truth is out there

We are constantly being told about Labour scaremongering, Labour lies, Labour whipping up residents when talking about the future of our homes. David Cameron described it as black propaganda’ when he came to Hammersmith and since the election has blamed 'appalling Labour lies' for preventing his candidate Shaun Bailey from being elected in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Are we a bunch of ignorant fools being bamboozled by Labour, or do we know something they don’t want us to know?

So what DO we know?

  • FACT: Autumn 2006 – Conservative Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh and Greg Hands MP went on 18 Doughty Street TV to be interviewed. During the interview they said that it was their policy to reduce the amount of social housing in Hammersmith and Fulham. As far as we are aware they have never retracted this.
  • FACT: Hammersmith and Fulham Council demanded a retraction from The Chronicle (local independent newspaper) of an article in July 2008 about secret plans for demolition of the West Kensington Estate. There was no retraction.
  • FACT: Stephen Greenhalgh originally denied that there were any plans to redevelop the Queen Caroline Estate. Under questioning from residents he finally admitted that talks had already taken place with developers.
  • FACT: Ira Rapp (West City PLC) was offered the Queen Caroline Estate as part of a deal involving the redevelopment of Queens Wharf and The Riverside Studios.
  • FACT: The West City PLC deal did not go ahead because a large amount of funding for the project came from Icelandic banks. Queens Wharf was sold to A2Dominion - a company already under criticism by residents of their shared ownership schemes.
  • FACT: Hammersmith and Fulham Council stated in their 2009 Local Development Framework (LDF) that they were planning to ‘redevelop’ 5 estates in the borough as part of the future for ‘decent neighbourhoods’.
  • FACT: The Council then stated that any works wouldn’t begin for 15-20 years. Some West Kensington and Gibbs Green residents are in talks about compensation for losing their homes now.
  • FACT: A leaseholder from Ashcroft Square stated in a public meeting in 2009 that he had been offered a price for his flat by a member of Hammersmith Council. Not ‘black propaganda’ - we heard it with our own ears.
  • FACT: In 2009 a number of Conservative Councillors and other leading Tories (including Grant Schapps, now Housing Minister) and executives from selected Housing Associations took part in secret round table discussions about the future (or lack of) for social housing. Papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and skillfully unearthed meeting notes exposed the extent of their nightmare vision.
  • FACT: Amongst other things this meeting noted the risk of "political pain" and "concerned citizen" dissatisfaction that housing reforms could engender. The comments included: "Funding needed for political management. Hard to get rid of people."
  • FACT: Council tenants have been told that their estates are ‘ghettos’ – not scaremongering but Harry Phibbs, Conservative cabinet member of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
  • FACT: Our estate has been designated as 'not decent' in the Council's LDF, despite meeting their own criteria for decent neighbourhoods.
  • FACT: Shaun Bailey (Conservative parliamentary candidate) stated that he would not give residents a vote on the future of their homes because they would be manipulated into making the wrong decision. Not a lie, he said this in front of reporters and local residents. Quite possibly one of many reasons why so many local people chose not to vote for him.
  • FACT: Hammersmith and Fulham is in the top group of the most expensive boroughs in the country. The average house price in this borough was £426.949 in March 09. Therefore home ownership is not a realistic option for people on low or middle incomes.
  • FACT: One quarter of the households in this borough are on incomes of less than £10,000p.a, 40% are on less than £20,000.
  • FACT: Average market rents for this borough £258pw (1bed), £360pw (2 bed), £475pw (3bed). Local Authoriy rents £76pw (1bed), £85pw (2bed), £97pw (3 Bed). Raising rents to market rates would drive working people on low to middle incomes out of the area and force job seekers to turn down low paid jobs and remain on benefits.
  • FACT: Stephen Greenhalgh also stated in ‘Principles of Housing Reform’ that he would seek to ensure that only the most needy were housed by the Council, the rest would be made to find housing through private landlords.
  • FACT: Hammersmith and Fulham only own just under 17% of the housing stock in this borough, only housing on average 20% of those that have been classed as having a ‘more urgent’ need.
  • FACT: There are over 7,700 households on the housing waiting list - not made-up statistics but the Council's Local Development Framework (LDF).
  • FACT: The original plans for the redevelopment of the original Janet Adegoke site in Bloemfontein Road contained 50% social rented. The Tory Council then adjusted this to 8% (14 units out of 179) and in June 2008 they applied to Mayor Boris Johnson to amend that figure to 0% social rented and 61% (109) private sale flats. He agreed. Not Labour lies.
  • FACT: Residents are worried that if ‘redevelopment' does go ahead, if offered new local homes at all they would be packed into new-build estates with little outside space. The Council states that they want to ‘redevelop to higher densities’ to ‘release the asset value of the land’ and also that they want ‘a better mix of affordable accommodation by increasing density’ - not misquotes, LDF.

There's plenty more, but you get the picture. We can't say what the motivation is for the press and politicians that have helped to expose the plans of this Council. But just like the X Files the truth is out there and it’s not scaremongering - it’s just plan scary.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Before you vote...

There can't be anyone who doesn't know tomorrow is polling day. For us it's both local and national elections.

Please, before you vote, read this article .

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Give us the vote

On Thursday there was a hustings in St Paul's Church. Four of the candidates for the new parliamentary seat in Hammersmith answered audience questions on finance, small business, the NHS, electoral reform, immigration and housing.

Not the best timing - it was the same night as the second televised leader debate and we were deprived of the chance to hear more anecdotes of said leaders' life-changing meetings with Joe Public. But more importantly there was football to be missed. Sigh.

The audience was asked for written questions on the night and questions were also submitted via Twitter and email. Shirley Cupit's question about housing was selected:

"Not surprisingly, all the parties talk about community empowerment. Do you believe that residents on council estates should be entitled to vote about the future of their homes rather than having decisions imposed on them by local councils? And do you guarantee that you would work with residents in Hammersmith and Fulham to gain the right to that vote?"

The answers:

Shaun Bailey (Conservative) did not answer the question but instead rather predictably accused Labour of scaremongering about the Council's intentions.

Rollo Miles (Green) said that the Green Party supports the formation of housing co-ops. It was unclear what his response was about the vote but we inferred a 'yes'.

Andy Slaughter
(Labour) gave an unequivocal yes to votes for residents.

Merlene Emerson
(Liberal Democrats) disagreed with Shaun Bailey’s accusation of scaremongering and said that the threat from the Council was real. It was unclear what her position on the vote was but we inferred a 'yes'.

Shirley approached Shaun Bailey after the meeting to ask for an answer to her question. His answer was no, he does not support residents having a vote on the future of their homes. His reason? That the majority of people on the estates are not able to understand the issues and would be manipulated into wrong decisions.

This troubles us immeasurably.

Think about it - it's an attack on democracy. If you don't view people as capable of voting on issues that directly affect them, what next? How can you see them as desirable voters in local and general elections?

It's paternalistic in the extreme: "We know what's good for you. You don't." Shaun Bailey often talks about people needing to take responsibility for their lives, yet faced with an opportunity to back this up with clear policy he reneges on it.

If he doesn't think people are well informed or well educated enough to understand the issues and vote sensibly then what would be an empowering approach? Surely it would be to educate, to inform, to talk, to listen, to openly and honestly try to win hearts and minds? Not to simply disenfranchise.

Most of all it betrays a shameful lack of respect for people who live on our estates. Mr Bailey is very keen on talking about his background in social housing and seems to suggest that this means he can speak for and about all people from similar backgrounds. Yet he fails to demonstrate basic respect for those same people. His comments actively contribute to the negative stereotyping that we continually experience at the hands of his party. It's pretty unbearable from Stephen Greenhalgh and Co but from someone who claims to come from amongst us it's truly intolerable.

Let's try and nail this once and for all. We are not a bunch of illiterate, thicko morons being helplessly manipulated by the Labour Party for political gain. We are a diverse community of homeowners and tenants with genuine, well-founded concerns for our homes. Just take the trouble to read this blog from the beginning for evidence of that. And those of you who simply accept the Council version at face value, just be prepared to ask yourselves this - could it possibly be you that is being hoodwinked?

But let's end on a more positive note. After forcefully disagreeing about the vote Shaun Bailey did say that people should not be forced to move against their will.
When pressed he gave a guarantee that he will fight with residents to prevent this, even if it means going against his own party. We were delighted to hear this, particularly as it shows he is in disagreement with
David Cameron on such an important question.

Surprising? Absolutely, given the close relationship Mr Bailey has with the Council. And we hope that he will be as good as his word, irrespective of the election result. We'd hate to think he was simply speaking for the cameras.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Greenhalgh Refusal to Debate Housing Policy

We have come across the press release below, issued recently by the Hammersmith and Fulham branch of the TUC. What a shame that in an election year some of our local politicians are either unable or unwilling to debate their housing policies in public. Surely this kind of debate is meant to be a cornerstone of democracy.

Hammersmith and Fulham TUC, c/o 691 Fulham Road, London, SW6 5UJ


Shaun Bailey, the Conservative Party’s prospective candidate for Hammersmith, and Stephen Greenhalgh, Conservative leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, have refused to accept an invitation from the local TUC to attend a public debate on the party’s controversial housing policy.

Hammersmith and Fulham Trades Union Council wrote to Bailey and Greenhalgh together with Hammersmith MP, Andrew Slaughter, and Council opposition Leader, Stephen Cowan, on February 17th, proposing a meeting for March 25th. When Councillor Greenhalgh’s office told the TUC that he was unavailable that day, the date was changed to April 6th. While Slaughter and Cowan both confirmed their attendance, Greenhalgh’s office has since failed to respond and Bailey’s office promised a reply three times but ultimately delivered nothing.

Hammersmith and Fulham TUC President, Bert Schouwenburg, said, “The Conservative Party lost any credibility it might have had when it characterised council estates as ‘barracks for the poor’ and announced plans to demolish them. It is hardly surprising that Bailey and Greenhalgh are reluctant to appear in public to defend this blatant piece of social engineering and class warfare but if they have no faith in their own extremist policies, why should anyone else?”


For further details, ring Bert Schouwenburg HFTUC President on 07974 251764 or 7736 5683.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Concern about A2 Dominion Shared Ownership Scheme

Regular readers will recall that we have previously expressed misgivings about A2 Dominion, the new owners of Queens Wharf on the edge of our estate. We have also questioned the real affordability and advisability of joining shared ownership schemes.

Sadly, we have come across some damning evidence to support these concerns. It gives us no pleasure to be right in these circumstances and our heartfelt commiserations go to these disappointed residents of a local A2 Dominion scheme. We wish them well.

Monday, 22 February 2010

David Miliband in Hammersmith: a Tale of Two Davids

Last Friday night David Miliband, Foreign Secretary, came to Hammersmith for a public meeting in St Paul's Church. Not surprising really, given that this is a marginal constituency.

What was surprising though was that he asked to come and meet us on Queen Caroline first. A group of residents met him in our local primary school, St Paul's, which draws a large proportion of its pupils from our estate.

Mr Miliband was well informed about our situation and seemed genuinely perturbed by the Council's demonisation of council estates and estate residents. He treated us as intelligent, valuable human beings, not the problematic, apathetic social deviants of the Council's caricature. He asked whether we have have been offered any opportunities to vote about the future of our estate - to which the answer is of course an emphatic 'no'. There is no way the Council will let this happen because they really don't want us to have a voice.

Another surprising and welcome factor was that Mr Miliband's public meeting was just that - an open meeting that anyone could attend on the night, including protesters. A far cry from the carefully orchestrated Cameron meeting, which was a 'ticket only' event from which most of our group was excluded. All supposedly in the name of security. So the safety of someone who is simply leader of the opposition is so precarious that he can't have an open meeting... yet the Foreign Secretary manages to stay safe and offer open access? Draw your own conclusions.

David Miliband and his staff actually walked to our estate. It was like a scene from West Wing! And then he sat with us on those little chairs you get in primary schools, asked questions, listened to what we had to say. He also spoke with the head teacher and was pleased to hear about the stability of the school - no staff turnover for three years and some teachers have been there for twenty years. Hardly a sign of a dysfunctional community.

We were heartened by the concern and encouragement David Miliband expressed, as much as we were saddened by David Cameron's unequivocal support for the Council and lack of care for our distress. Mr Miliband made the point in the later meeting that community involvement means not just devolution of power to local councils (David Cameron's model) but from Town Halls to local communities. We couldn't agree more.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

More 'Ghetto' Allegations

Sadly, ours are not the only estates being demonised and described as ghettos. It seems to be a slur that comes easily to the lips of some local politicians these days. One of the latest to use it is Tory Councillor Rock Fielding-Mellen, who happens to be Kensington and Chelsea Council's lead for planning policy and housing policy. And guess what? He happened to use it when discussing plans to demolish Wornington Green Estate. The residents are not happy. We know how they feel.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Cameron observed

We received the message below from a local resident who doesn't live on our estate but clearly takes a keen interest in community issues. We thought you'd like to share it.
I went to see David Cameron when he came to speak to the electorate in LBH&F on the 5th of January. It was an interesting evening, he heaped praise on 'an excellent' local authority with a high resident satisfaction ratio - but strangely I heard mutterings of 'I've never been asked what I think about the council' from people sitting near to me who clearly were not satisfied residents. We were never given figures of how many had said they were satisfied or happy with the services and the plans this council has for its electorate.

However, it was soon evident that this was never going to be an evening of detailed thinking and precise plans; details, openness and transparency are not the qualities that David Cameron thinks are important. The experience is really a bit like being left on your own to draw up the dots, but you have no idea of what the picture is supposed to look like. During the evening, the issue of what plans the ruling Conservative administration have for estates such as Queen Caroline Estate and West Kensington came up repeatedly. David isn't one for detailed responses, but what was clear is that they want change and they want the change to directly affect people living on key estates.

He did not offer assurances that all social housing tenants would remain secure in their tenancies - in fact he said that things 'can't remain as they are'. As things are I understand that people have secure tenancies and permanence - from what he said this is clearly going to be something that they will look at with a view to change. There were no details given - only the recurring statement, 'things just can't stand still' . From this I took it to mean that he had no objection to what the council are planning; people could be moved away and merely offered unacceptable alternative accommodation on other estates or even in other areas.

Private leaseholders have been offered some money, but it will never be enough to compete on the private market in one of the most expensive boroughs in London, so they will have to look for homes in cheaper areas as even with a 'top up' it is unlikely to be enough to buy in LBH&F. The Conservatives are very keen to use social housing as a short term 'emergency' measure, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that tenancies will be restricted to five years in order for tenants to move out into privately rented or into what the Conservatives clearly prefer to social housing - ' part private ownership'. He showed no interest in the sense of community or the need for community cohesion or how destructive this measure was for communities.

Difficult questions about the Queen Caroline Estate were asked by one resident and she was amazingly persistent in trying to get out of him what they were planning to do. She asked him for reassurances that if elected he would stop the council from taking homes and forcing the destruction of the local community. Four times she asked for clarification and each time David Cameron looked uneasy and offered empty phrases - eventually just stating that they wouldn't just 'knock the places down'. When the microphone was eventually wrestled from her hand it was clear to all that he hadn't done his homework; he didn't know that there had already been a number of meetings and discussions and little if any meaningful consultation with residents about what may happen in the future. He didn't deny that they were trying to sell the land to a developer - it would be the developer who knocks them down, so his reassurance was meaningless.

I think he was taken aback by the sheer number of dissatisfied members of the local electorate who had managed to gain entry into what was a tightly controlled political meeting. What was clearly established is that it is the disabled and the elderly who are paying the price of their 'no rise in council tax' .The charges for meals on wheels and social care have rocketed during this administration according to residents present.

The persistent questioning about plans for the estate and social housing caused considerable discomfort to him. It's up to you he said - you can vote them out if you don't like them.

When we left the hall, there was a small group of frozen protesters holding banners saying Save Our Homes. Sadly it's very clear from that meeting that Queen Caroline Estate is very vulnerable to development plans and that David Cameron doesn't really care - he relies on apathy - it's what will get him elected. What was cheering was to see so many people caring about what was happening to them, their families and communities. He may have come to LBH&F thinking it was a done deal, somehow I think that he may have miscalculated and underestimated local people, especially those fighting for the right to remain on Queen Caroline Estate.

Best of luck!

Janice H.
Thanks Janice. We appreciate the time you have taken to record your observations and your thoughts, as well as your good wishes.

Monday, 11 January 2010

I guess that's why they call it the blues

On January 5th David Cameron came to Hammersmith and Fulham for one of his 'Cameron Direct' sessions in marginal constituencies. The meeting took place a hundred yards from our estate in the local church: in fact the very one in which we first made Stephen Greenhalgh admit to talks with property developers. Perhaps the trauma of that night explains why Cllr Greenhalgh didn't seem to be around on Tuesday. Or is he somewhat out of favour for his recent criticism of his mates in the Tory Shadow Cabinet for their lack of experience (expressed as "they haven’t run a piss-up in a brewery")?

You can read accounts of events at Tuesday's meeting here and here and here.

Sadly, several of us were not admitted to the meeting, despite registering. Why? We don't know. We are trying to find out from Tory HQ what their selection and vetting process was. Surely they wouldn't deliberately exclude people just for being in dispute with the Council?

One of our group, Shirley Cupit, registered on December 23rd, as soon as she got news of the meeting. She genuinely wanted to find out whether David Cameron's so called 'compassionate conservatism' and espoused commitment to community empowerment would place him at odds with a Council inclined towards wholesale disempowerment of large sections of the community. She received the following email on December 31st:
Dear ms cupit

Thank you for registering an interest and attendance for the Cameron Direct event on Tuesday. Due to security reasons we will let you know the venue on Monday monring. The event will start at 6.00 pm promptly and be complete by 7.30 pm at the latest.If there are any other people you think may be interested please do ask them to register. We will be taking registrations on Monday and Tuesday as well.

Yours sincerely

Tara Douglas-Home

Chairman, Hammersmith Conservative Association.

In other words: "You're in." Much pleased, as requested she encouraged others to register.

But nothing more arrived on the Monday. On January 5th (the day of the meeting) she received the following message:

"We’re sorry but due to an unprecedented level of applicants, unfortunately the Cameron Direct event on Tuesday is now full."
To add insult to injury, she found out that some people who had registered as late as January 4th (including some from outside the borough) had been accepted!

Nobody she spoke to on the day was able to give an explanation and they seemed rather vague about the general criteria for acceptance. Examples of conversations:

SC (on the phone to Young Man in local Tory office) "Can you tell me if you have me on your list to attend the meeting?"
YM "Hang on... let me see... (pause )... oh dear, unfortunately you are just below the bar. It's been very popular so there had to be a limit on participants and you are just below the bar."
SC "Can you tell me how people were selected?"

YM "Sorry, I don't know."

SC "Can you get someone who does know to give me a call please to discuss it? I'm very disappointed that I was told I could attend and now I'm not allowed to." YM "Yes of course, give me your number...". Five hours later...

SC "I've been waiting all day for that call."

YM "Aah yes, sorry, haven't been able to find anyone to call you."

SC "Out of interest, you said I was just below the bar. How far below was I?"

YM "Sorry?"

SC "When we talked before you looked at a list and said I was just below the bar. How far below? Am I on some sort of reserve list?"

YM "Oh no, I didn't actually look at a list. I just meant you hadn't been successful."

Later that evening...

SC (to a Tory Organiser outside the church) "Good evening. I live a hundred yards away and I registered on December 23rd. Can you tell me why I was excluded from this meeting?"

TO "Well it's been very popular. Even members of the party haven't been able to come, and it's only open to people from the constituency."

SC "Really, are you sure?"

TO "Yes. Only people with addresses in the constituency were allowed to attend."

SC "But we weren't asked for our addresses when we registered."

TO "Really?"

SC "Yes."

TO "Oh. Right. Hmmm. But it's definitely only people from the constituency in there."

SC "Really, are you sure?"

TO "Yes, absolutely."

SC "But there are people from Chiswick in there."

TO "Aaaah. Yes. There are people from Chiswick in there."

SC "I don't understand. Why did you lie to me?"

TO "I didn't lie. I made a mistake."

SC "Will you tell me your name?"

TO "No, I won't, because you've been rude."

SC (surprised) "No I haven't."

TO "Well, no you haven't, but they have." (pointing to two people nearby - who, incidentally hadn't been rude at all)

SC "Well as you know I've been very polite. Please tell me your name."

At this point it turned into that episode of Dad's Army where the foolish Private Pike gives away Captain Mainwairing's name to the dastardly Germans. One of the other Tory Organisers came along and and said "Alan, they need you inside..."

And later still ....

SC (To a second Tory Organiser outside the church) "Can you tell me how people were selected to attend this meeting?"

TO2 "Well, I think it was literally names in a hat."

SC (startled) "Really? Literally names in a hat?"

TO2 "Yes."

SC "So they actually put the names in a hat?"

TO2 "Oh no, I don't think they actually did that..."
So... baffling, frustrating and completely lacking in transparency. Most others in our group fared no better. Conspiracy, incompetence or just bad luck? Who knows, but we were not impressed, especially when the only alternative was for us to stand outside on such a bitterly cold night.

Young Tory whippersnappers tried to move us on, insisting they had the right, but we politely declined. Two police officers present didn't share their concern and simply watched from a distance with an amiable air. We thank them for their common sense.

But we are pleased to report that just one of us, Maxine Bayliss, managed to gain admission to the meeting and questioned Mr Cameron closely to find out his position on the Council's plans for our homes. You can listen to that interchange by going to the Tories' own video of the event, which unfortunately only shows their leader on camera and not the audience. Observers have suggested that one of the reasons for this is to prevent viewers from seeing how microphones were snatched from questioners to stop them from following up on their points. Maxine, however, is a determined woman, and hung on to her microphone long enough to pose some difficult questions to a man who was clearly somewhat hazy and misinformed on detail. Listen to the exchange (and watch his performance) here . [The clock runs backwards (a sign of the times?) so although it's about 14 minutes in you need to go to the 45.24 minute point.]

The gist of his response is threefold:

1. He repeatedly declares himself proud of this council and what it is doing. [This is a significant moment as this is the first time he has made his position clear]. What is notable is his lack of concern for the real fear and anxiety that is being expressed right in front of him.

2. When unable to wriggle out of tight corners he falls back on the line that all this nonsense is just 'black propaganda' by the Labour Party (yes he really said that).

3. His two-part 'get out' clause to anything unpopular: I believe in devolution of power to local councils [not local people you'll note]. What they do is nothing to do with me. If you don't like it either vote them out or stand for election yourself.

if you are just too darn lazy to stand for election yourself it's your own fault if you are mistreated by local governments that abuse their power. It's not the responsibility of national government to protect the rights and well-being of its citizens. And if you belong to a minority that simply cannot hope to take power from the over-powerful - well you're on your own. Not my problem guvnor!

It's worth listening to the question posed after Maxine's, where the questioner outlines with great care the increases in meals on wheels charges and introduction of £12.40 per hour home care charges by the Council (breaking their election pledge - be warned!), plus the disqualification of 1300 people from receiving support. In other words, the most vulnerable people in the borough have subsidised the much vaunted council tax cuts, paying hundreds of pounds for services so that the average person can save just £25 per year. Mr Cameron says he doesn't agree with the questioner. On what? The facts? They are well established. His response simply doesn't make sense.

You may also like to see an excerpt from Prime Minister's Question Time the following day, when Gordon Brown highlighted Cameron's extraordinary fudge at the Hammersmith meeting over Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs). Go to this link and watch at the 45.22 mark. Note Mr Cameron's expression - he really does look as if he's sucked a lemon.

H&F Council really is the darling of the Tory party and we anticipate the worst should they come to power in the national elections. It's quite clear that not only will we receive no protection of our homes but in all likelihood Mr Cameron will do everything he can to increase the power the Council has over our lives. Have a read of this article from the Independent if you need any convincing that far from having no policies David Cameron has many. And we live in fear of what they will mean for us all. Let us know if you were at the meeting and have a view on what you witnessed.