Wednesday, 29 August 2012

West Ken: Veil of secrecy descends

Letter Our Council has decided to hunker down in a bunker, it would seem, and flatly deny any further requests from the residents of the estates they wish to demolish for information until after they have gone through the motions and approved the scheme at their Cabinet meeting of September 3rd.

This is not the first time H&F Council have resorted to the dark arts of secrecy. In June we saw how the Council had attempted to block residents from viewing responses to their 'consultation' on the scheme, only to be forced to back down when they went public. At that time their Executive Director of Housing and Regeneration had tried to use "data protection issues" as a means by which he could deny them more than 45 minutes in a room with the responses. As if everyone's data would be infringed by more than three quarters of an hours exposure.

The more we learn of the process and procedures used by this Council to get their way the more flimsy they seem when subjected to scrutiny. Which is why the community organiser working with the residents submitted some requests using the Freedom of Information Act, hoping to shine a light on those processes ahead of the Cabinet meeting on September 3rd.

He didn't ask for anything outrageously private, just for reasoning behind their decisions to exclude some views from the 'consultation', or the delays in the process. Take the letter above, for example, asking for the reasoning behind the views of children living on the estate being excluded from consideration. Why don't kids aged 12 or under count, he is asking.

He asked this on July 30th. The Council in its' response is saying thanks very much for asking. You asked well before the deadline. We're only allowed 20 days to answer. But actually, you know what, this question is so damned complicated we need another 20 days on top. So you might get an answer by September 25th - precisely 22 days AFTER the decision to demolish the estates has been taken anyway.

That is the commitment our Council has to transparency. And it's cynical in the extreme. So let's remind ourselves of this incendiary information that our Council thinks it needs the best part of two months to cogitate about.

Here's 9 year old Ana who was surrounded by H&F security guards as she handed her letter to a council official:
To: The Governor or to whom it may concern 
I am writing to ask why you are knocking our houses down, in West Kensington Gibbs Green. 
I understand you want to make plant, cycle parking and things like that, but there are going to be lots of happy memories here. Instead of knocking our houses down just change the name of the area instead. 
It’s really sad for us because not only adults live here but babies, children and old age people. I know it’s until next year but, my mum has a new born baby, so where will we live and where am I going to play with my little brother? 
If you want to reply to my letter then send it into this address. 
I hope this letter has changed your mind about your plans. Thanks you for reading this letter. 
Yours sincerely
Ana-Maria9 years old.
The Council's response has been to deny, to delay and to do everything in its power to undermine. The money on offer from developers CapCo matters more. And that, ladies and gents, is why the residents have given up on them and are going to the Government in a last ditch attempt to save the homes and the community they love.

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