Saturday, 19 August 2017

The sad decline of King Edward VII park in Wembley

On the day that Brent planning officers issued final approval for Tottenham Hotspurs' increase in full capacity events at the Stadium LINK I had sight of several emails from residents about the deterioration of King Edward VII Park on Park Lane.

As emissions from heavy vehicles, noise and dust pervade the area because of all the demolition and building work in the area King Eddies has become more important as a peaceful haven.

However budget cuts mean that the park itself is no longer regularly patrolled by wardens, waste paper bins are not emptied, graffiti has appeared on benches, and late night social drinking has increased with associated littering.

The long running drainage problem LINK remains and may have been worsened by the paving over of back gardens in houses bordering the park.  The Council is trying to persuade Thames Water to renew the main pipe.

One resident wrote:
  1. Drug dealing - we have an ongoing problem with Drug Dealers dealing in the Park from approx 12.00 noon till late evening.  Despite numerous and consistent efforts by our local SNT the problem is ongoing.   They have no qualms about dealing in full view of the public, smoking around the children's play area.  The Police do not have the resources to be there everyday to deter and disrupt these youths.
  2. Anti-Social Behaviour - there are still a hardcore group of drinkers who visit the park daily, especially early evening and remain long after the park is supposedly locked at night.  No only do they smash bottles and leave cans and cigarette butts all around, the are not averse to using anywhere as a public toilet.  It has been noted on many occasions that some are so drunk they think nothing of exposing themselves in broad daylight urinating in full view of park users.  This has to be stopped immediately.
  3. In recent years we have had 4 stabbings in King Eddies, numerous Robbery's of phones and gold jewellery from young Asian mums who have been threatened with violence against their children in pushchairs to give up their possessions, again totally unacceptable, many of which now avoid the park at all costs. 
Although there are currently no funds for it one suggestion coming from residents is the refurbishment of the pavilion to include toilets. Having no toilet facilities available is a disincentive to use of the sports pitches,

King Edward VII Park was formerly a Green Flag winner but Brent Council withdrew from that scheme when it out-sourced parks maintenance to Veolia - it would not merit the ward at the moment.

Surely with millions being spent on the Quintain redevelopment sime CIL funds could be found to bring the park up to standard?

Friday, 18 August 2017

Garden trip to Willesden Green station with cake and silly socks

From Willesden Green Town Team

Never mind the failure of the Garden Bridge, we have a Garden Platform you can walk on - 2 even...

On Sunday 20th August, 4-5.30pm:
  • spend your old pound coins and look in close up at the plants on the platforms;
  • buy a slice of cake;
  • or some silly socks (think early Xmas stockings) ;
  • or a 'Keep Willesden Green Clean' bag.

Make your Wish at the Wishbone. 

All proceeds towards Willesden Greening.

Small groups will be personally escorted onto the Garden Platforms by a volunteer gardener

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Huge turnout at Genesis/Notting Hill HA merger tenants' meeting

Genesis marketing of Brent House

I hear that there was a great turnout at yesterday's meeting about the proposed merger of Genesis and Notting Hill Housing associations with the church venue unable to hold all the tenants and leaseholders wishing to attend.

There was vociferous opposition to the merger plans with many seeing this as a turn away from a social enterprise model towards a profit-making business model which would result in property sales, higher rents, lack of security and building for market rather than affordable prices.

In a vote at the end of the meeting there were more than 100 votes against the merger and none for.

I hope to carry more detailed information later.

See more about the Notting Hill Housing chief's 'embrace of the market' HERE

Statement on the merger by Genesis and Notting Hill Housing (July 20th)

Notting Hill Housing and Genesis Housing Association have agreed in principle to merge, a move that would create one of the country's largest housing associations.

The boards of both organisations agreed the merger proposal yesterday (Wednesday 19 July), which they felt was the best decision for both businesses, their residents, their shareholders and for London and the South East.

The new organisation, Notting Hill Genesis, will have 54,000 homes across London and 64,000 across London and the South East, half of which will be general needs homes with social or affordable rents.

The new organisation will serve a total of 170,000 residents and be the largest provider of shared ownership tenure in the country.

Financially, this merger will bring together two substantial organisations to make a new and stronger entity. We have combined reserves of £3.1 billion and loan facilities of £3.5 billion. We are generating turnover of about £700m and a net surplus of more than £120 million. This financial strength will enable the delivery of around 2,700 new homes a year, 400 more than would be achievable separately.

Both organisations believe passionately that their shared heritage makes this a good match. Both Notting Hill Housing and Genesis Housing were founded in different forms during the 1960s by people of faith in west London, with the aim of housing the working poor and giving them a secure home with which to build their future.

While both evolved over time, building significant commercial interests and merging with others, the core purpose remains unchanged: to provide quality homes to low income households across London and beyond.

Dipesh J. Shah OBE, from Genesis, is Chair Designate of the new organisation. Paul Hodgkinson, from Notting Hill Housing, had recently extended his term of office to oversee the transition to merger, but never intended to remain past that point.

Kate Davies from Notting Hill Housing has been named Chief Executive Designate, with Elizabeth Froude, currently Genesis Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director of Resources, being appointed Deputy Chief Executive Designate.

Notting Hill Genesis Chair Designate, Dipesh Shah, said: “Uniting two associations with a common culture, a common vision and an aspiration to enrich their social purpose augurs well for the future of the merged entity. I look forward very much to being part of it and to helping the new organisation on its journey.”

Kate Davies, Chief Executive Designate, said: “Bringing together two housing associations with similar backgrounds, shared values and a strong social purpose will allow us to provide more of the homes London needs, for those who most need them.

“This is an exciting challenge for all of us and I’m very much looking forward to leading this new organisation, which has the will and resources to be even more innovative, ambitious and influential together than we could separately.”

In line with the commitment to a merger of equals, Neil Hadden decided not to apply for the role of Chief Executive (Designate) of Notting Hill Genesis, due to the fact that Dipesh was appointed Chair (Designate).  Neil will remain as Genesis Chief Executive until the merger is complete in early 2018.
Genesis Chief Executive Neil Hadden added: “I have always believed that there should be more consolidation within the sector so that our capacity can be utilised better to provide more homes and improved services for our customers. To that end, this merger makes complete sense and I am pleased to have been involved in getting it off the ground. I look forward to continuing to lead Genesis until the merger is complete in early 2018.”

Deputy Chief Executive Designate, Elizabeth Froude, said: "I am very pleased to be taking up this role in what will be a fantastic organisation, built on the legacy of two housing associations with deep and common roots and purpose. We will take the best of both to allow us to continue to deliver a good service to our many and diverse customer groups, in the ever complex environment in which we operate.

"I believe this merger will bring us the resilience to be innovative in how we adapt our services to meet the demands of our current and future customers."

Butt fronts Quintain's Alto celebration

Quintain PR coup - Geoff Hurst and Muhammed Butt
Residents, and there are many, concerned about the close relationship between Quintain and Brent Council and its leader Muhammed Butt, are unlikely to be reassured by a public relations event coming up on September 14th.

Muhammed Butt will be speaking at the event which celebrates Quintain's 362 home Alto development that, needless to say, does not include any homes that are affordable for the average Brent resident.

Drinks and canapes will be served from 6pm, speeches at 6.15pm and tours of the Alto development from 4pm. The event ends at 8pm.

Back in 2013 Brent Council did look as if it might put up some resistance to Quintain's demands LINK but that quickly fizzled out leaving Brent residents, particularly those on the housing list, losers to this rather special relationship. Quintain's planning applications have sailed through Brent Planning Committee regardless of opposition from the local community.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Sheffield Greens respond to Labour Council's tree protest ban

Sheffield Greens are very disappointed that today the High Court ruled in favour of granting an injunction aimed at preventing peaceful protesting against the Council’s tree felling programme. The injunction was taken out against Green Councillor Alison Teal, two other named campaigners, and ‘persons unknown’. It comes into force on August 22nd.

The ruling, handed down this morning, means that tree campaigners will not legally be permitted to continue standing up for Sheffield’s street trees and for local residents by preventing the felling of healthy street trees.

Reacting the the verdict, Cllr Teal has vowed to continue opposing the Council’s plans, despite the injunction, and expressed dismay at the Council’s heavy handed and unnecessarily aggressive tactics:
I am very disappointed with this outcome, but will continue to do all that I can to save Sheffield trees. Sheffield Greens will not stop standing up for residents and communities who do not want this disastrous and unpopular tree felling programme to go on.

I would like to thank my legal team for their excellent work, and for all the messages of support I have received. In the short term, we will of course be looking into possible avenues of appeal against this decision.

It never had to come to this. The Council say that this action was a ‘last resort’, but in truth they have wasted time and taxpayers’ money on this needless, aggressive action when all they had to do was acknowledge residents’ concerns and to mediate with us.

In this, the case of Sheffield City Council vs The People, it is democracy and the residents of Sheffield who have lost. This decision by the high court is very worrying, as the right to peaceful protest has been fundamentally threatened.

The Council’s disastrous and unpopular tree felling programme continues to be a story of national and international embarrassment for our city.

Worthwhile jobs with Sufra NW London foodbank

Fancy a worthwhile job for an extremely successful worthwhile project in Brent?

Here goes…
Office Administrator (24 hours/week)
£18,000 pro-rata
To deal with the hustle and bustle at Sufra NW London’s offices, we need an extra pair of hands to help out on a part-time basis with general administration from 9:30am to 2:30pm on weekdays. Perfect for a mum or dad with parenting responsibilities. But beware: you need to be organised and thick-skinned to deal some rather impertinent characters!

Deadline: 15 September 2017
For more information, click here.
Community Garden & Learning Coordinator (full-time) - £25,000

St. Raphael’s Edible Garden, our new food growing space, is almost built!

In preparation for the finale, we’re looking to recruit a Community Garden & Learning Coordinator who will design and deliver a fantastic horticulture programme with lots of new courses, events and activities.

The successful candidate will be an experienced gardener/horticulturalist with teaching and project management experience.

Deadline: 29 September 2017

For more information, click here.
Marketing & Community Fundraising Officer (full-time) - £22,000-£25,000

Keeping the food bank running throughout the year is hard work. And we want to make sure everyone knows about Sufra NW London and is able to support our work in whatever way they can.

We’re recruiting a Marketing & Community Fundraising Officer to raise the profile of the charity, oversee a regular schedule of fundraising activities and build new links and partnerships with local organisations, companies and places of worship.

Deadline: 29 September 2017

For more information, click here.
ESOL Teacher (sessional post)
Rate negotiable

As part of Sufra NW London’s work in supporting newly-arrived Syrian refugees, we are looking for an experienced, Arabic-speaking ESOL teacher to deliver basic English language skills training for adults.

The post will initially commence with a weekly 2-hour class on a weekday evening, with additional hours made available as the programme expands.

Deadline: 15 September 2017 (but applications will be considered immediately and an appointment made in advance of the deadline if a suitable candidate is found)

For more information, click here.

Fire Safety meeting tonight at Bernard Shaw House

Friday, 11 August 2017

Genesis & Notting Hill Housing merger threat to residents - 16th August meeting

All residents very welcome - tenants, shared owners and leaseholders.

6:30-8:30 pm
Westbourne Grove Church
Westbourne Grove
London, W11 2RW
(The venue has wheel chair access)

From Genesis Residents

What are the real reasons for the proposed merger of Notting Hill Housing and Genesis Housing Association? Why are the 170,000 NHH and Genesis residents worried.  Genesis Residents explain:

Why are these housing associations merging?

So that the merged H.A can borrow more money on the private money markets to build homes which are out-of-reach for ordinary people. Both housing associations have lost sight of their original purpose.

In 2016 the National Housing Federation, the HA bosses association, said (1) that rental income is central for ,raising private debt in order to build more homes”. Service charges and ‘management charges’ on maintenance work for leaseholders and shared owners also increase income and allow HAs to raise more private debt.

Increasing income (from rents, service charges and management charges on repairs) and a bigger asset base (our homes) means more loans for out-of-reach housing. It has very little do with protecting homes or ending the housing crisis.

In 2016 Genesis funded a report (2) by a ‘think tank’ set up by extremist conservative MPs which called for the government to give H.As a ‘deal’ – to build more out-of-reach homes based on increasing H.A debt to 60% debt and forcing up rents.  Part of the deal was also that the H.As could sell their existing housing. Although lip service was paid to ‘rent caps’, HAs would be able charge whatever rent they wanted:

“Government would give the housing associations signing up complete discretion over the use of the social housing grant from housing asset sales and allow the housing associations to set their own rents for its social housing tenants.”

Neither HA has been honest with residents about the real reasons for the merger – or the likely consequences.

What will this mean for our rents and service charges?

We are concerned that there is a long term agenda to raise rents or get tenants out, to sell properties on.

What is happening is shown by Genesis’ attitude to older ‘secure tenants’. The rents for these pre-1989 tenancies are currently uncapped. Despite the fact that all 2,000 of them are retired, or nearing retirement, usually on fixed savings or pensions, Genesis has been raising their rents by up to 177%.

As Kate Davies said (3) in 2008, “housing associations should be free to use new social housing, and existing social housing…as they see fit(our emphasis). The new Housing and Planning Act 2016 allows H.A.s to end much of the protection for residents including their rents ( a process sometimes called ‘deregulation’).

In other words the terms of tenancies, including rent, are under attack. Service and other charges may also go up with the pressure to fund more building. Neil Hadden said in an interview (4) in 2015 that Genesis was:

“really looking at our asset base and seeing what the value of that is and how we can get our hands on that value, by changing its tenure, by churning it, by selling it and using those proceeds to build more homes.” 

So there appears to be a serious conflict of interest between the interests of current residents and the drive to increase the income of Genesis and Notting Hill’s (and therefore the new merged HA) by any means.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Uproar over Brent's Alperton high rise approval, despite application “failing to meet requirements in 13 different matters”

Guest post by Alperton resident Andrew Linnie

Once again questions are being raised regarding the scrutiny under which Brent Council Planning Committee examines applications in the Alperton growth area, after the approval on August 9th of a development at 245-253 Ealing Road. 

The site is formed of two small plots separated by a private laneway, one section a disused HSBC bank and the other formerly a pub called the Plough. As was the case with Minavil House in May, I was speaking on behalf of locals in opposition to the proposal. Neighbouring residents objected for a wide variety of reasons, and the planners at Brent Council conceded that the plans for the development, which will feature 92 flats in two towers over 9 and 10 stories, failed to meet a large number of planning regulations and considerations.
144 neighbouring windows failed light assessments, yet were deemed acceptable anyway. Some homes, between this scheme and the impact of 255 Ealing Road, are losing almost all of their direct sunlight. It was asked at the meeting of August 9th what the point of such assessments is, if even the worst affected windows are to be deemed “acceptable given the context”. The effect of the buildings’ imposing height is exacerbated by the fact that their positioning fails to meet standards – none of the nearby existing buildings is 20m away as recommended by the London Plan, and one building, the currently-under-construction 255 Ealing Road, is less than 10m away from the proposed towers, failing to even meet the less stringent 10m separation guideline required elsewhere.
Residents also raised concerns over the legality of access through private land to the new development. According to the submitted plans, the emergency exit at the rear of Block A of the building opens directly into garden beds owned and maintained by residents of the 243 Ealing Road development, though the plans incorrectly show this as being paved. The residential and commercial refuse stores on the side of the same block open facing a privately owned laneway connecting Hatton and Ealing Roads. The access to these stores along the side of the building is less than 100cm wide at its narrowest point, narrower than Brent Council’s 1100 litre bins. 

Planners recommended in a supplementary report that access should be added into the refuse stores from the private laneway bisecting the site, ignoring the fact that it is privately owned and maintained by residents of the development next door. This was just one of many design flaws in the plan, including a wheelchair accessible unit included on the ninth floor of a building with just one lift, and the fact that, although obscured windows are planned for the rear of block A to avoid encroaching on privacy in neighbouring Braunston House, there are still balconies looking directly into nearby homes.

The mix of housing was another concern which failed tests. Just 16% of units are family sized, well short of the 25% requirement, and the affordable housing provision fails to meet expectations by some distance, at 26%. The density of surrounding schemes is 260 housing units/hectare, the maximum recommended in the London Plan. The scheme approved this week is 800 units/hectare. Planners said this is mitigated by the community space provided, a community space which less than a quarter of respondents in the public consultation said they wanted, and which is only 166sqm.

The current non-residential space provided on the site is 832sqm, so this “mitigation” actually represents a loss of over 80% plus added demand, while Alperton still has under half the open space of an average London ward. Saying that the density is similar to nearby developments ignores the fact that those developments included a significant provision of open space and retail units, which are still unused due to a lack of access.

This, like other developments nearby, is described as ‘car-free’ and provides 10 disabled spaces for accessible units, but no parking for the other 82 homes. The impact of this is estimated to be 66 additional cars parking in neighbouring streets, leading to an extension of the Controlled Parking Zone. There is a large provision for cycle parking, however the roads nearby are all marked red in the lowest category for cycle safety by TFL, and the only segregated cycle lane in the ward of Alperton, along the canal, is unlit and dangerous at night. 

While the buildings are close to Alperton Station, TFL say Alperton ward has one of the lowest average PTAL (Public Transport Access) scores in all of Brent. Hundreds of new homes have been approved in the area without any plan for improved services, notably the 251 units in the controversial 26 storey Minavil House tower, approved in May despite widespread opposition and a limit of 17 storeys in the area’s Masterplan. According to an independent transport assessor the figures presented at the council for the transport impact of Minavil House nearby were out by a factor of 8. Once again, there was much debate at planning committee level regarding the quality of transport services in the area, particularly with regard to the accessibility of Alperton Station and the lack of night services. The state of medical services in the area, already severely stretched, was also raised.
The Plough Pub, which has been closed for over a year, was open until developers purchased the site. Cllr Mary Daly pursued the planning officers on the issue of the pub’s upkeep, and the fact that it was not advertised for lease for the statutory 24 months after closure. The building has been allowed to decay since its closure, according to residents. 

Cllr Michael Maurice at one point of the meeting counted off 13 matters in which the proposal failed to meet guidelines and requirements.

The developers of the scheme failed to take into consideration the views put forward in the initial consultation. The design is seen by many as inappropriate for the site and lacks context, to the point that the area will become a patchwork of clashing styles. There are five unrelated styles of high rise architecture already approved or constructed, this adding yet another. The developer made no effort to gather views from residents until the week in the run up to the planning meeting, at which point it was much too late to make a difference. 42 addresses objected to the scheme, none responded in favour. Many also raised concerns as to the safety of residents during the construction phase, as the buildings occupy the entire site and will necessitate external building space, impacting on the ability of emergency services to access neighbouring homes.

 "Are our councillors and planners here to enforce the laws and guidelines for local people, 
or to make excuses and exceptions for private developers?”

When speaking at the meeting on behalf of objecting residents, I concluded by asking our representatives what their duty in the process is, in the their opinion: “This scheme fails light, massing, density, air, noise, access and other tests, yet is recommended for approval. Are our councillors and planners here to enforce the laws and guidelines for local people, or to make excuses and exceptions for private developers?”

The Planning Committee was split three votes to three, with Cllr Daly abstaining despite raising many concerns. At that point the chair, Cllr Agha, cast a deciding vote in favour of the development proceeding, and in doing so gave me an answer to my question. One wonders at this point just how many guidelines and regulations a developer would have to ignore for Brent Council Planning Committee to refuse them permission.