Something rotten in the Estate of West HendonFor two weeks at the end of January, a Public Inquiry was held at Hendon Town Hall. The London Borough of Barnet (West Hendon Regeneration Area) Compulsory Purchase Order No 1 2014. You can't do better than to read Mrs Angry's two masterful blogs for a detailed report that brings it all to life as only she can: http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk
It was a contest between residents of the West Hendon Estate, secure and non-secure tenants and leaseholders, who had no legal representation v Barnet Council, Barratts, Capita & Co aka 'The Partners', represented by a QC and Counsel. The residents had no money for lawyers, but they had a nothing-to-lose passion and anger that instilled them with a determination to fight for the fairness and justice they feel is being denied them.
Their advocates were a phenomenal, articulate leaseholder who is living the regeneration, Ms Jasmin Parsons, and the impressively calm, knowledgeable and dignified and bit of a Public Inquiry veteran, Mr Dan Knowles, an expert surveyor from Sawyer Fielding, who is representing many of the leaseholders in their struggle to get a fair price for their homes in the big buy out. They are, as yet, nowhere near it.
Jasmin Parsons & Dan Knowles
We now await the outcome, the verdict, as the Inspector, Mrs Zoe Hill considers the evidence and makes her recommendations to the Secretary of State, Mr Eric Pickles.
Here is the evidence I presented to the Inquiry in a speech on behalf of the residents, that can be seen on a video below. It was a follow-up to my first submission that can be found together with all other submissions and information at http://www.west-hendon.co.uk/how-will-it-affect-me_cp01-public-inquiry
STATEMENT TO THE INSPECTOR 27.01.15
The London Borough of Barnet (West Hendon Regeneration Area) Compulsory Purchase Order No 1 2014
I am Councillor Devra Kay, one of the three Councillors for West Hendon Ward, London Borough of Barnet. I was elected in May 2014 but have been closely involved with the regeneration since early 2013. I am a member of the Welsh Harp Consultative Committee but these are my own views.
You'll notice that my original statement is slightly amended. It consisted of two parts in which there was some repetition which I've tried to eliminate. Also certain issues that I raise have been dealt with more than once and very ably by other witnesses, so again I will try to avoid repetition in an attempt to save the Inquiry's time and just make reference to the witnesses who dealt with these matters. In addition answers and expansion to matters I have mentioned in the original statement have been provided over the past week that have never been provided before to which I shall allude to better supports/illustrate my evidence and bring it up to date.
It 's been said several times over the past few days that we are dealing with a very emotional situation and that certainly is the case. In addition, evidence that has been given by the Partners would be expected to reflect the interests of their organisations. So I think the best way for me to present my concerns and objections about allowing this CPO to be confirmed is to rely on primary evidence which includes my own personal experiences.
This Inquiry is very much a David & Goliath battle: The Partners have the support and advice of learned Counsel, the residents have no legal support and are left to fend for themselves, at a disadvantage. They have asked for help from the Council but were told there is no obligation on the Council's part to help and therefore no help has been given. The Partners' legal adviser has made a point of the fact that there has been no legal challenge to the planning permission perhaps suggesting that there was no wish to make a legal challenge, but the truth is that legal action has been considered but there have never been adequate resources available to residents to enable them to make such a challenge.
If I might draw your attention to Para 1.2 in its Statement of Reason, Barnet Council claims that:
"The regeneration proposals will provide significant social, economic and environmental improvements for existing residents."
However, very few existing residents will be able to stay on the newly-built estate because ground rents, service charges, rents, parking, etc will not be affordable. And the future for leaseholders is uncertain. Derisory offers for their homes well below market value make it impossible for them to afford to live in the new build where prices are high and the number of affordable homes has been drastically cut. Even the offer of shared equity is unaffordable to most. Reasons given last week by Mr Watling of Capita for the low valuation was the poor nature or location of the site but the estate is set on a unique site of natural beauty and of scientific interest because of the wildlife it attracts. It was nostalgically described only last week by Leigh, a resident there for 45 years, who has taken 9 days annual leave to attend this Inquiry as having been a wonderful place to live, a peaceful haven away from the world set beside the reservoir with beautiful views from their windows.
Councillor Langleben has dealt in detail with the issue of inadequate provision of affordable housing. I would just add that the goalposts have changed considerably since Brian Salinger's promise in 2002 the year in which the ballot was taken and in that ballot 67% of eligible residents voted and 75% of that 67% were in favour, so 49% of (less than 50%) of residents voted and voted in favour of the "new" "replacement" homes that were promised with their rights protected and affordable rents, rates and service charges guaranteed. That was 12 years ago and 6 years before the original planning permission was sought and granted.
There is no intent on the part of the Partners to retain the current residents - the regeneration is now a completely different animal. It is no longer intended as a council estate, rather a commercial development on which any residents who stay are regarded as a nuisance and stand in the way of achieving the highest financial gain. Residents have either left the Estate or will be unable to afford to stay even if they have tenure.
COMMUNICATION - CONSULTATION
Regeneration was first hatched in 2002, the year of the ballot, and partners might claim that there has been constant and effective communication and consultation since then. But when I first became involved in the regeneration in 2013, I heard the same complaint over and over again from tenants and from leaseholders - they faced a wall of silence, there was no information, no communication, only one broken promise after another. They just wanted to know what was going on. They said they felt they were living in limbo, not even knowing whether it was worth repairing or refurbishing their houses, and the Council were not carrying out vital repairs. One woman had been trying with the help of her son to get a heater mended and for four years nothing had been done. People felt betrayed. The first thing I suggested to Barnet Homes was that it would make such a difference if trust was established with the residents by listening to and talking to them and they suggested regular surgeries. But when I communicated this to residents they were sceptical as they said they had had surgeries before and when they asked questions they were usually told that the answers couldn't be given that day but that they would get in touch. But no-one would ever get back to them. Last year I factored some meetings between Barnet Homes and the two groups and they were very successful, but where Barnet Homes agreed to various requests they were thwarted when matters had to be approved by the Council.
As recently as 14 December 2014, (document CDB.38) a Variation to Section 106 Officers' report to the Council's Planning Committee was published which changed things once again considerably accelerating the demolition and building works. It is stated in this document that "Although not requiring a formal consultation process, Barratt Metropolitan LLP have advised local residents of the proposed changes within a newsletter". Another box ticked.
Paragraph 1.8 in the Council's Statement of Reason for confirming the CPO the Council states: "The Scheme reflects a revised Masterplan for the regeneration proposals and will result in the complete demolition of existing buildings within the Estate and redevelopment to provide new housing, a primary school and a community centre". Another massive change that was not expected by the residents.
Any legal correspondence that arrives usually does so unexpectedly and although residents are offered the chance to have these explained, it usually causes panic because of either a lack of understanding or trust. The contact telephone number on the letters offering advice was dead, unobtainable.
And rather insensitively in the name of "consultation" two exhibitions were recently arranged for residents, the sort of exhibition that is provided for prospsective buyers who are buying off plan showing drawings and plans of the lovely new flats being built that they will never be able to afford. The residents staged a protest.
People feel that they don't count: and the evidence shows that that is indeed the case.
The level of support, commitment and passionate determination, the very existence of Our West Hendon, and People's Power speaks for itself and is powerful evidence that people are feeling immensely frustrated because of being badly treated and feel they have nothing to lose by protesting as vociferously as they can in public as the only way to make themselves heard. And because of this Public Inquiry questions have had to be answered that might never otherwise have been addressed because they just didn't need to be.
And there is not only a problem for current residents, most of whom are not going be living on the estate in any case. What about the new buyers, the future residents, paying around £450,000 for a two-bedroom flat, the first of whom are due to move in during the second half of this year. They, too, are being misled and treated with the same disregard as the current residents. We learned last week that there are no definite dates for the provision of the promised infrastructure - school, roads, community centre, etc. Such details seem to have been omitted from any sales literature. Buying flats for nearly £½m, thousands of new residents think they will be getting a new road system, GPs and schools but there is no intention to provide this infrastructure for some years after they move in, and regarding the promised school Mr Wyld made it clear that there is no obligation ever to provide a school if the projected so called "child yield" shows there is no requirement for one and for the first few years at least there is no more obligation than to provide school places within a two-mile radius. And the promised Community Centre is to be built right at the end of the scheme - I think 20 years was mentioned, but I hope I misheard.
The partners are eager to market the homes but do not consider the needs of the community - the residents, present or future.
I believe there are certain things that need to be fixed before the CPO can be granted.
It is going to be in the developer's favour to claim that the scheme is deliverable and professional suicide for them to deny it.
It is going to be in the developer's favour to claim that the scheme is deliverable and professional suicide for them to deny it.
But we have already seen that conditions like market changes, projections such as "child yield" mean that things can change substantially, as they already have and in fact there are no guarantees.
As we have heard, the plans for regeneration in West Hendon date back to 2002. Since then leaseholders who bought their Council homes under the Right to Buy Scheme have lived in uncertainty being given promises of building going ahead that never happened and plans that were revised and revised again. But over the years properties were badly neglected in spite of an obligation on the part of the landlord, the Council - a common practice of many developers of private schemes who purchase a property with future development in mind and leave it to deteriorate to a point beyond which renovation is neither practical nor financially viable.
You only have to look at Marsh Drive, which isn't due to come into the scheme for another 10 years. The place has been allowed to fall into a poor state of repair - no longer pleasant to live in as it once was - and any repairs carried out by the landlords are shoddy and dangerous with no consideration for either safety or appearance.
Residents cannot be left living like this for the next 10 years and should not be expected to do so. The management must recognise a duty of care and not continue to write off properties still to be occupied for some years, spending as little time and money as possible on upkeep. This is not only a blight on the estate, but a blight on people's lives - people who have little choice, little redress & who are not listened to or taken into account. They are just seen as a nuisance, to be got rid of.
The residents are living on a building site on which the standard of site management and enforcement of rules is unsatisfactory. There is bound to be some inconvenience, but there are perpetual lorries, thick dust, overwhelming levels of noise, giant cranes swinging over their rooftops sometimes out of control, porta cabins erected close up to their windows that appear without notice, bright lamps turned on outside their homes from early morning that light up their rooms, construction workers regularly working beyond the agreed hours. Article 1 of the Human Rights act states that "every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his (and I assume 'her' though not stated) possessions". This is not the case on the West Hendon Estate .
It has been pointed out at this Inquiry by the Partners' lawyer that there are a number of processes available to deal with residents' complaints, but I can assure you that availability does not guarantee anything being done. I have complained on behalf of and with residents again and again on the same issues and even when something is done, the situation usually reverts back to how it was.
Yesterday afternoon at around 4pm, I had a typical phone call from a frantic resident about noise..."Listen to this." I could hear something that sounded like a hammer drill, so loud I could hardy hear what the resident was saying. it had lasted all day from 8am. When she complained she was told with a laugh that the noise would only last for five minutes. Copper pipes were being cut in bunches outside her windows with an electric saw.
Complaints have been made repeatedly about the workers with regards to drinking and smoking certain illegal substances on site and urinating in public areas and noisily changing their clothes in the very early hours of the morning in the portacabins that have been erected so close to the homes that they block out the natural light. All allegations are denied even though they come from many different residents from different parts of the estate. At the recent Partnership Board meeting a week before this Inquiry Barratts were told that on many occasions bread was delivered noisily at 3am to the portacabins which are used as a canteen. The representative from Barratt's refused to accept that this was possible. But I had made this complaint months before on behalf of residents and nothing had been done about it how could anything be done if the complaint was not even acknowledged by Barratts.
York Memorial Park has been dealt with more than adequately by Theresa Musgrove.
The Chair of the Barnet Council Housing Committee has been heard to say on more than one occasion at public committee meetings that if you can't afford to live in the Borough then you should live elsewhere and that he would welcome Russian oligarchs as residents.
(I saw a television programme a couple of weeks ago about Russian oligarchs living in London and none of them expressed a wish to live in West Hendon).
But the residents of the West Hendon Estate were able to afford to live in the Borough until the goalposts were suddenly moved and it has become more and more apparent that leaseholders are being forced out of the Borough against their will due to the inadequate, well-below-market-price offers made to them for their properties. There are leaseholders who have outstanding mortgages which have not been taken into consideration. And it seems that rents are due to rise for secure tenants so that in spite of their assurance of a home on the estate, even though this will be beside the busy main road in the most unattractive part of the estate away from the views over the reservoir, rents are due to rise to 80% of private market prices that will be unaffordable for them.
Non-secure tenants are offered an alternative home as their blocks enter the demolition stage that could be anywhere. Some have been moved elsewhere in the Borough. A home is offered and a decision demanded within 24 hours and if tenants turn down the offer because of unsuitability either of the property itself or its location in terms of jobs, schools, family, etc they are struck off the list and responsibility to rehouse them is removed.
Some families have been threatened that if they don't agree to take the one property on offer they will be homeless and their children taken into care. People are frightened to object.
Some tenants are transferred to other regeneration sites. There is a family with three children, one only four months old forced to transfer to Graham Park, another regeneration site due for demolition with no information about how long they would be there (this came up at the Partnership Board meeting the week before the Inquiry). The flat had broken windows and after two protests that were rejected they were given 2 days to move or no home. In the end they were given 4 days. Their departure was filmed and is available on Youtube. Yet a few days later so called "Guardians", a middle-aged couple I believe, moved into the flat. These Guardians pay rent and there seem to be different terms and conditions for different guardians. Some have an unfixed amount of time, some are offered a 6 month contract/agreement and I've heard of one who have been offered 12 monthst, but then your clients must be able to give you this information. We only hear of it from residents. Other non-secure tenants have been transferred to other regeneration sites. Residents also talk of construction workers who are given empty flats to live in. The decisions of those with the power of allotting empty flats and decanting non-secure tenants in what appears to be an inexplicably cavalier fashion needs explanation and seems to have no regard to the care and wellbeing of current residents. There needs to be a properly managed system established that is fair and reasonable and makes the process of having to move home less traumatic.
If the CPO is allowed to proceed without pause at least, the Partners will be given carte blanche to go on as before indicating that all is well and acceptable. New procedures need to be put in place and monitored or there will be increasing dissent and problems will continue into the future.
The question that has to be asked is WHAT WOULD BE THE IMPLICATIONS IF THE CPO DIDN'T GO AHEAD?
What's done is done. Unfortunate things have happened and people's lives have been changed in very unsatisfactory circumstances and it's too late to do anything for some who no longer live on the estate.
But I think it's important to learn lessons and ensure that things change and better processes are put in place for the future. A pause offers the opportunity to improve things that are at present unacceptable.
The rot set in a long time ago but we still have a long way to go and the evidence given to this Inquiry from both sides reveals that the intention to consider anything but profit has either never been there or certainly has not been there for some time.
There is an unsatisfactory system in place, an established culture, a practice that has been allowed to lapse into bad practice that will undoubtedly continue if the CPO is confirmed right away. I ask the Inspector to recommend to the Secretary of State that there is a pause to accommodate a complete rethink and change in policy, in priorities and an acknowledgement and recognition that things cannot go on as they are. From the Council and Partners there is no recognition of duty of care. By suppressing, ignoring and denying the protesting voices of residents the situation is bound to worsen over the years and be counter-productive in attracting buyers amid bad publicity.
We don't have a Hamlet to sort out the things that are rotten in the Estate of West Hendon as Marcellus almost said to Horatio, but we do have this opportunity to delay the CPO until a better, fairer process is in place, has been monitored and is approved by both sides, in fact until the statement in the Council's statement of reason 1.2 that "The regeneration proposals will provide significant social, economic and environmental improvements for existing residents" and (I add) also for future residents, is seen to be honoured.