Monday, 6 June 2011

Greenhalgh to Government on housing: "I really need your help"!

"I really need your help on this!" is the scrawled note from a Council Leader trapped in a bind between residents of the West Kensington Estate who do not want to be removed from their homes so that ... guess what ... a developer can move in - and the Governments' own drive to hand power to local communities as part of the Prime Ministers' vision of a Big Society.

Inside Housing magazine has managed to use the Freedom of Information Act to get hold of this extraordinary letter which pleads with the Minister for Decentralisation Greg Clark MP to stop the Government's plans to allow tenant-led stock transfers - or in laymans language the right of residents to get together to become landlords of their own estates instead of, say, the Council. 

The Government's legislation is driven by the belief that if people develop a real stake in their areas, including by becoming owners or managers of the places that they live, it will lead to much more vibrant and involved local communities. And there is also a clause in the legislation that relates to "rogue landlords", which the legislation is aimed at freeing tenants from. In the case of residents from West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates that is what they are using to try to evict H&F Council from the position of being their landlord, as they made clear at this meeting in Parliament last year. They have already served H&F Council with a "notice to quit", as set out in the provisions of the legislation.

If that goes through it would mean that the proposed redevelopment of Earls Court, which under the current plans involves the West Ken estates being "redeveloped" would be halted in its tracks because the residents have made it very clear that they don't want to be turfed out of their homes. And a lot of money would no longer come the Council's way. 

On the Council's part they have given "cast iron" assurances that tenants would be re-housed but are vague about where. And presumably the cast iron used to forge these assurances comes from the same material as the assurance that was given to the owners of the Goldhawk Terrace of shops that if they didn't want to be knocked down to make way for developers Orion they wouldn't be. That assurance, though made in person by Cllr Greenhalgh in a public meeting, appears to be made of plasticine.

In fact, according to Inside Housing, our Council has even formed a rival residents group and sent a new contract around the 750 households to try to undermine the opposition. This was described by Jonathan Rosenberg, a housing campaigner who has been advising the residents as "a desperate attempt by the Council to intimidate them."

In fairness to the Council, and as Cllr Greenhalgh makes clear in his letter, the proposed regeneration would lead to a greater number of affordable homes which are desperately needed. But he then goes on to appear to suggest that the provisions for stock transfer should only apply once the regeneration has finished. In his letter Cllr Greenhalgh says poetically: "It is not a chioce between regeneration and localism but a question of timing and opportunity." In other words don't let the buggers get their hands on their homes till we've finished with them!

On balance, I'd say the tenants are likely to win this latest residents v Council/Developers tussle if only because for the Government to respond to Cllr Greenhalgh's plea would be to undermine the whole concept of the Big Society by making exceptions for old friends. If the Big Society is really about local people, now is the time to show it.

0930 UPDATE - Cllr Greenhalgh has been in touch about this article with a forthright defence of the Council's position which I'm happy to reproduce. He said: 
"I make no apology for raising this with Ministers. The Earls Court redevelopment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If it does go ahead this would mean all tenants on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates getting brand new homes at the same rent, building 1,500 much needed new affordable homes and providing thousands of new jobs, new education and health facilities and transport links. Once the regeneration process is complete Hammersmith & Fulham Council will strongly support tenants seeking a stock transfer under these new provisions. It is not a choice between regeneration and localism but a question of timing and opportunity."
Credit to him for the early response, more to follow no doubt.

1200 UPDATE - Dave Hill of the Guardian is now reporting this unfolding story here - and it seems the Minister is not minded to give way to Greenhalgh's entreaties.

1300 UPDATE - A fast moving story this one, Ken Livingstone, Labour's candidate for Mayor, has this afternoon come out in support of the residents, offering his "full backing" for their camapign. More to follow.  Thanks to Dave Hill for letting me know.

1500 UPDATE - Ken has just sent me a comment. He says this: "The Gibbs Green and West Kensington residents have my full backing in seeking to stop their homes being demolished by Conservative Hammersmith council"

1800 UPDATE - The Fulham Chronicle are bringing up the rear by catching up with the story this evening here - can't imagine where they read about it. You know where you read it first, folks.


  1. Look forward to seeing full coverage of this in the Chronicle. Oh, hang on...

  2. you may be waiting some considerable time

  3. Sweet that he has his morning coffee reading the Shep Bush Blog :-)

    Greenhalgh just doesn't realise that his words are not taken seriously and it is his own fault. He can say what he likes but after sneaking around trying to mess with them in an underhanded way he has lost total trust on that issue as well as many others.

  4. 1500 new 'Affordable' homes? that will be the 'New Affordable' @ upto 80% of market rents as the ConDems have abolished the 'Old Affordable' model and virtually abolished grant.
    Iain Muir

  5. Any housing built under the guise of being "affordable" should be subject to the following rules:

    1) The houses should be sold at a price below their true market value, with this price pre-determined by an independent panel before building commences.

    2) The sale of these cut-price houses should be by ballot. Only non-home owners can enter the ballot.

    3) There should be a cap on the price those houses can be sold for in the future.

    4) No owner of an "affordable" home should be allowed to make any income from rent on the property, or own another property at the same time as they occupy the affordable home. They either live their or sell up.

    5) Anything which does not fall within these rules shall not be pitched as "affordable".