Monday, 22 April 2013

Pickles gives West Ken green light, court battle looms

Local Government Secretary of State Eric Pickles has given the nod to our Council's controversial scheme to evict the residents of the West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates in order that property developer CapCo can pursue the Earl's Court redevelopment. The problem is that the majority of residents do not want to leave.

Bullying has been the order of the day, while the courts have taken a dim view of our Council's approach, to put it mildly. That bodes ill for the scheme in the forthcoming legal tussle, the first salvoes of which will be fired tomorrow, with a hearing to consider the case brought by resident Harold Greatwood for a judicial review of the way our Council has behaved.

West Ken & Gibbs Green Estate
 Even Mr Pickles, who has described this Council in glowing terms, is in no doubt about their excesses. It was he who finally forced the withdrawal of propaganda sheet "H&F News", very much against their wishes, while his letter of consent which you can read by clicking on it above is very explicit about the Council not being allowed to take shares in CapCo as the scheme moves forward. It does not, of course, forbid individual councillors from doing so as private citizens.

Reacting to the news Jonathan Rosenberg, community organiser on the estates, had this to say:
"The Government has consented to the sale of people’s homes to a tax-havened property speculator against the wishes of 80% of residents. Yet, it won’t implement the law it promised to allow residents to take ownership of their estates. The Prime Minister promised power to the people. Rather than the Big Society, his Government has chosen Big Bucks".
While Andy Slaughter MP had some questions:
"What is extraordinary are the reasons Mr Pickles give. He thinks £90 million is a good price for one third of a development said to be worth £8 billion. Many independent experts - including the District Valuer who advised the Council - queried this, saying that at the least there should be reviews over the 20-year life of the project to see if it was continuing good value for the taxpayer.

But Pickles has changed the rules, so provided the deal is worth more than the debt remaining on the existing housing (£11m), he is not interested in whether H&F residents make a gift to CapCo worth hundreds of millions".
Tomorrow the High Court will hear from resident Harold Greatwood who has this to say:
“Arguably, the Council’s decision to sell the estates was unlawful because the scheme was not ready, the wrong people were consulted, and support for demolition from some residents was induced by the offer of preferential treatment.

I’m fighting alongside my neighbours to save our homes from being redeveloped. Why should tax-havened off shore interests benefit from destroying our community and wrecking all the trade generated by the Exhibition Centres?”
He has lodged a case for judicial review on three grounds, which are that:

The Council’s decision on 3 September 2012 to enter into a conditional land sale agreement with developer Capco was irrational and unlawful because:
  1. It did not take account of the uncertainty about whether Transport London would include the Lillie Bridge Depot (a critical maintenance facility for the London Underground) in the development. It hid that vital information from the decision makers and the public and it failed to obtain assurances from TfL. The Council should not have taken so premature a decision, given the risks involved, the financial disadvantages of such an early commitment to Capco and the impact on residents. 
  2. Without authorisation it extended the consultation area to 30,000 households, which was grossly unfair because it swamped residents’ views. Instead of confining the consultation to North Fulham, as decided by Cabinet, it consulted people as far away as Putney and Hammersmith Broadway. 68% of households on the estates as against 2% from the “wider area” responded to the consultation. Even though the estates voted 4:1 against demolition, the Council decided: “when all the views of consultees are considered, the proportion against the proposal (47%) is not much greater than the proportion in favour (45%)”. 
  3. It failed to correct residents’ perception that the Council had made them preferential offers of new council homes in Seagrave Road. This led to the consultation showing greater support for the scheme, which was relied on by the Council in reaching its decision. Because of these commitments, the Council would be unable to meet its “one move promise”. The Council’s proposal in its draft Local Lettings Policy that “preference will be given to the resident with the earlier date the relevant contract was signed” had no rational basis and was not a proper or relevant factor to be taken into account in allocating properties

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