Newham to lose 286 affordable properties to ‘estate regeneration’

New figures obtained from the GLA (pdf) by Darren Johnson, Green Party Assembly Member, show that estate regeneration schemes in London are set to cost Newham up to 286 socially-rented homes, and leave the borough with a newly-built ‘affordable’ stock of just 77.

According to figures from the London Development Database, this would result in a housing market where the stock of ‘affordable’ rented homes make up just over 5% of the Borough’s rentable properties.

Rach&BoleynDev banner
Rachel Collinson (second from right) of Newham Green Party protests with campaigners from Boleyn Dev 100 and FocusE15 Mothers

Separate figures published by the Mayor of London, requested by Darren, also reveal that estate regeneration in the Mayor’s Housing Zones will lead to a net increase in all types of homes that is 3,099 lower than the Mayor has claimed, due to demolitions of existing homes. The Mayor has not yet provided a breakdown for types of affordable homes.

At the announcement of these figures, Darren Johnson AM said:

Under the cover of tired stereotypes about sink estates, the Mayor is whittling away at homes that are genuinely affordable to Londoners. He then tries to deceive by talking about new homes being built, without mentioning all those he is knocking down. With a few exceptions, estate regeneration has been a complete disaster in London and has made our housing crisis worse.
It’s time he called a stop to the demolitions and got behind community-led plans to renovate estates, with infill development where it makes sense and demolition where it’s absolutely necessary.

Across London there is expected to be a net loss of 1,389 affordable homes, and more dramatically the net loss of 7,326 social rented homes. These are schemes with planning permission, but that have not yet started or been completed.

R-CollinsonSmlRachel Collinson, Green Party Spokesperson and London 2016 GLA candidate for City and East constituency, said “Many of the 24,000 Newham residents left hanging on the council housing waiting list are rightly angry about the lack of social housing available to them. The fact that Newham is set to lose hundreds more social rented homes – the joint fault of our Labour council and Tory London mayor – will make this even worse. A Green mayor would ensure that our existing council housing stock is not destroyed but renovated and extended.”

The Renters Union: A legal perspective

We were incredibly excited about Sian Berry’s Renters Union proposal, but how did we get to this state in the housing market?
Local member and paralegal, Tim, gives us a bit of historical perspective

renters_union_logo_final_720Last week, Sian Berry announced her Renters Union plans, which would be funded by City Hall, and help renters to rein in private rents and expose rogue lettings agents.

As many of our members are private renters we were incredibly excited about this proposal, especially following Lastminute.com’s recent PR stunt based on rent increases.

Profit over people turned into an advert… Is that meta or just a sad state of affairs? –
top-secret-hotels
lastminute stats

(Of course, most of the us effected by renting increases can’t afford the hotel option either!)

But, how did we get here?
Newham Greens member and Paralegal, Tim, gave us the rundown.

The Renter’s Union: A Legal and Historical Perspective

The American journalist and political economist Henry George, in his first book Poverty and Progress, wrote of what he saw as the danger of an over-mighty class of landlords is presented uncompromising terms; ‘Could he thus concentrate the individual rights to the whole surface of the globe, he alone of all the teeming population of the earth would have the right to live’. George’s words, written in 1879, probably sounded somewhat comical, even to the Victorians, in their sheer apocalyptic heft. One can assume that he was exaggerating for effect, to give an illustration of the dangers of excessive claim to ownership being brought by only a small group of people. But surely, things would never become as bad as that?

Since 28 February 1997, it has been the default position that all tenancies granted in England and Wales, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the relevant agreements, were to be Assured Shorthold Tenancies. These differ from Assured Tenancies in that the occupant, upon expiry of the agreement (usually after one year) has no inherent security of tenure, a position enshrined in section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

The reasons for this move are well documented; property as a resource was intended to become more alienable and therefore more saleable, so as to allow for the greatest ease of commercial transaction. There has been a deliberate shift in legislative emphasis away from the idea of property as, primarily, a place in which to live, and towards an idea of property as an exploitable commodity.

Statistics from NPI research - poorest private renters pay 57% of earnings in rent
Source: New Policy Institute

This is no great secret; the intention behind the legislation has been a well-documented, relatively uncontroversial matter in parliamentary and judicial circles for years. It was even opined as recently as 2005 in the Court of Appeal case of Secretarial and Nominee Co. Ltd. V Thomas that the ultimate result of all of this would be to make the letting of residential property ‘more attractive to landlords and thus more available to tenants’

Evidently, Lord Justice Rix did not have in mind a housing and rental market warped by successive property bubbles and the terrifying speed with which wage growth was outstripped by the growth of house prices. (Perhaps, but for these factors, something of that libertarian utopia, guaranteeing a ‘right to roam’ for anyone who had the means for it, might have been realised?) And yet all of this risks overlooking the simple reality of how the use of land and property is linked, at a more fundamental level, to human wellbeing. In the words of Lord Bingham, giving judgment in the House of Lords in 2004 in Harrow LBC v Quazi “few things are more central to the enjoyment of human life than having somewhere to live”.

Granted, one of the rights which an Assured Shorthold tenant is supposed to is that of ‘exclusive possession’ of the property, that is, the ability to eject anyone from the property, including the landlord, except for the purpose of carrying out necessary cleaning or repair duties. However, this right is only guaranteed for the life of the tenancy. Section 21 ensures that after the terms of the tenancy have expired the tenant can effectively be ejected at will and must, if the court so orders it, vacate the property within 14 days. The courts enjoy maximum discretion to delay the eviction for up to six weeks in cases of ‘exceptional hardship’, but so long as the paperwork is in order, that’s it.

Crisis - cause of homelessness
Source: Crisis – Homelessness Monitor England 2015 (pdf)

In some cases, the tenancy will continue unofficially as a ‘periodic tenancy’, with the landlord continuing to accept rent every month even after the expiry of the tenancy. However, this leaves the tenant in an even more vulnerable position, whereby a landlord can effectively hold the tenant to ransom in exchange for allowing them to overlook some of their own duties as landlords to maintain the property. So-called ‘revenge evictions’ are an ever-present danger.

According to the homelessness charity Shelter, 52,270 households were accepted as homeless by their local councils in England in 2013 and 2014. Of those, over a quarter were made homeless by the ending of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. In London, this proportion rises to four cases in ten.

gov figures homeless Q1 2014
Source: Dept. of Communities and Local Government – ‘Statutory Homelessness: January to March Quarter 2014 England (Revised)’ (pdf)

Fighting one’s case becomes that much harder when, after the coming into force of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’), Housing cases were one of a number of sectors which were deemed to be no longer eligible to receive civil legal aid. Anyone finding themselves at the sharp end of a landlord’s notice and in need of advice or representation now either has to put up the cash or, in the majority of cases, represent themselves, usually appearing opposite a well-briefed advocate for the other side in an uneven fight.

Although the ability to fight these cases and knowledge of such rights as tenant’s do have is only one facet of a much larger problem, it is nevertheless one where practical action can be taken now, and which Sian Berry, as part of her Mayoral campaign, is now proposing. The official briefing (pdf) cites the successful growth and campaigning power of a number of other citizen’s organisations, including ACORN in the USA (and now sprouting in parts of the UK) and the network of tenants’ unions being fostered by NUS Scotland, together with a growing number of London-based community associations.

A Renters Union, of which every one of the 2.3 million privately renting tenants in London would automatically be a member, would be an important step in trying to redress this unbalanced state of affairs. After that, the long work of root-and-branch reform of decades of housing policy must begin, and soon.

 

We’ve seen so many loved ones and valued community members forced out of their neighbourhoods by rising housing costs, if you have a story to share please let us know in the comments below.

If you need help with your housing situation, you should contact UK housing charities Shelter and Crisis.

#FairFares for London transport

Rachel Collinson outside Pontoon Dock station Today Rachel Collinson, our local representative for the upcoming GLA election, joined Newham Greens members out around the borough to leaflet and talk to commuters about TfL’s latest fare changes, and how we hope to make a difference with our own #FairFares policy if we can secure a bigger presence on the Greater London Assembly, and perhaps even our first Green Mayor of London!
(The GLA and Mayoral election is run on PR vote, we usually get a much better result than at more traditional FPTP elections for MPs and local councillors. We came third in 2010, so we think Sian is really in with a shot!)

Rachel Collinson leafletting in Stratford
We had a lovely (if a bit chilly!) morning with volunteers around Newham, watching the sun rise on a beautiful day.

Sun rising over Thames Barrier Park

In fact, it was so nice that Rachel and a few more volunteers headed back out to meet people on their homeward journeys in the Royal Docks and at London City Airport station this evening.

We heard stories and feedback about all sorts of transport concerns, as well as about a lot of other local issues. Interesting and helpful conversations were had around the borough, whether it was 7 AM or PM, and we’d like to thank everyone who came to volunteer or stopped for a chat – the time was truly appreciated!

Rachel Collinson with volunteer Ed at London City Airport

In case you missed our volunteers today, what could #FairFares mean for you? Well, you can find the full lowdown at Sian Berry’s website, but here are the parts we’re most excited by:

  1. Simplify the zone pricing structure, leading to fairer charges London-wide.
  2. Single zone with a fairer flat-rate fare for all of London by 2025. Prices would start to get cheaper from 2016, with 2 of the current zones removed in 2017.
  3. Our “ONE Ticket” policy means that you pay 1 charge for your complete journey, not each time you change bus/train/tube as part of it.
  4. Lower rates for the daily pay-as-you-go caps, so part-time workers can gain from the savings too.
  5. Integrating TfL’s cycle hire scheme, taxis and riverboats into the Oyster system for easier payments on the go.

FairFares policy transition timeline

Leader Knows Best

R-CollinsonSmlNewham Green Party Chair, Rachel Collinson, reports back from Newham Council’s August meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to follow up on concerns around recent council budget decisions.

“I know how this vote is going to go. If the motion was ‘the earth is flat’ councillors Rokhsana, Seyi, Kay and Susan would vote 4-2 for it,” thunders Lester Hudson, as he eyes the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting.
 
I’m so offended and shocked by this that I can’t help snorting, despite being in the public gallery.

Hudson continues as though nothing has happened. “If the motion was ‘Geoffrey Boycott is useless at cricket’ they would vote 4-2 for it.” Nobody’s laughing this time. His tirade continues: “I sincerely hope this time, common sense will prevail, but I doubt it.”

There is general uproar, and the female councillors who have been the subject of these personal attacks are rightly livid. (Later on I realise that John Gray – also a member of the rebellion against the Robin Wales regime – is spared the vitriol. Could it be that the Y chromosome is a safeguard?)NewhamLogo

A chap to my left passes me a sheet of lined A4 notepaper, with “Attendance Sheet” scrawled at the top. There is a name and one signature on it so far. I pass it on without signing.

A few minutes later, an unnamed lady shouts “Has everybody signed the attendance sheet?”

“I’ve never been asked this before as a member of the public in a council meeting,” I say, annoyed. “It doesn’t say on it how the data will be used, so I didn’t.”

“I just need to know who is here,” she replies.

Well, that much is obvious.

This meeting has been called because Newham Council’s Cabinet have seemingly approved a dubious investment proposal without oversight of the Investment and Accounts Committee. Councillors heard about it in passing and were horrified. They have decided to ask the Mayor to reconsider spending £500,000 without due process.

Council Officers will not let members of the public (or even certain councillors) see more details of what’s proposed. All we know so far is that the Cabinet are attempting to reduce payments to the council’s pension fund – which already has a £238 million deficit – using a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’. We understand that the council is using some of their buildings as security on a risky investment. How do we know it’s risky? Because their financial advisors are warning them against it.

It seems common sense to me that if the proposal were common sense, then the Cabinet would not resort to bending the rules to avoid scrutiny.

What I am seeing in action here is the Labour belief that Leader Knows Best, and democracy is merely a frustrating blot on the master plan. The belief that the people ought to shut up and take their medicine. The belief that is shown up at its worst in the Executive Mayoral system.

This is further confirmed when a member of the public stands up and questions whether the chair should be asking loaded questions of his own committee. The offender, Anthony McAlmont, says that members of the public are not allowed to speak, despite having allowed an earlier question. For some reason this breach of meeting protocol goes unnoticed by the Legal advisor present.

Newham Town Hall in East HamI hear the words ‘p&%$-up’ and ‘brewery’ emanate loudly from elsewhere in the public gallery.

With dogged persistence, the female Councillors draft a resolution that no more money should be spent until the investment and accounts committee has had a chance to review the proposal in more detail. In the end, the meeting vote is 5-1 for this motion.

Hudson warns this is a waste of time. What does he know that we don’t?

During this fiasco, I am reminded of the botched Labour leadership elections. You can vote for anything, as long as it’s the right choice.

As if to reinforce this, the Mayor rejects the motion day after.

It would be easy to despair right now. But I’m seeing a new movement emerging amongst the people of Newham. I see it in the snowballing, hopeful tweets about Jeremy Corbyn. I see it in the growing bravery of left-wing councillors against their bullying leaders. I see it in the swelling numbers of Newham Green Party.

And it’s almost reassuring to observe some councillors in utter denial of this growing trend. It means we will win, and soon.

If you’re interested in helping the Green Party challenge Labour’s one party state in Newham, do sign up here. (NB: We have a No Purge Promise™)

 

This post originally appeared as a guest post on ForestGate.net on August 27th 2015.

Alternative Budget for Newham

Labour-led Newham Council launched their ‘Budget Challenge’ today. They are asking Newham residents to support cuts of £50 million for the next year. We think you’ll find Rachel Collinson’s alternative budget much more appealing. Let us know your thoughts!

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 19.04.46Newham council have decided to spend money to tell us all that we need to save money.

This week their budget consultation starts, asking the people of Newham where we think we can make savings. (Not in itself a bad idea!) The Green Party are delighted to help and thank the Mayor for this opportunity. We think we have the answer. But will he listen?

We have not only found the £50m in savings he is asking us for, but also… well, you’ll see…

First of all – Newham Council’s LOBO contracts. These were mis-sold by the banks as loans, when in fact they are complex financial products known as derivatives. These are illegal for councils to use. Suing the banks for this would save us £35m in interest every year – and possibly even more in compensation.

That leaves us with £15m to find.

So, then we have several Private Finance Initiatives – the brainchild of the Conservative Party in the 1990s. Newham’s Labour council grabbed them from big developers like free chocolate samples. This means £26.5m of our council tax is going directly to groups of big companies like Lend Lease.

We could buy out these PFI contracts from the council’s quarter-of-a-billion pound annual capital budget. Perhaps we could use the money set aside for Red Door Ventures, a private housing company?

£35m + £26.5m = £61.5m.

Look at that – we’ve overshot our target by £11.5m.

So, Newham Green Party would like to issue a ‘People’s Budget Consultation’ – what would you like to spend this extra £11.5m on?

230 additional teachers? 100 new small businesses for Newham, creating thousands of jobs? Council tax reductions for 30,000 families on low incomes? Community energy schemes that would reduce our air pollution and slash our electricity bills?

Tweet us your ideas at @newhamgreens and we’ll publish our own consultation results in October alongside Newham Council’s.

Should we change our voting system?

Rachel Collinson from Newham Green Party says yes, we should.

Many broadcasters portrayed last week’s win for the Conservative Party as a decisive victory. However, the hidden truth is that David Cameron kept his place in Number 10 because of only 1,384 votes.

Yes, really. That’s all it took.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 20.44.26That number is the difference in votes in the 6 closest races for MP. For example, in constituencies like Gower, Conservative candidate Byron Davies beat Labour by 37 votes.

As if that weren’t bad enough, consider that it took 25,972 votes to elect one SNP candidate, whereas it took nearly four million votes to elect a UKIP MP.

This happens because we use a voting system called First Past the Post (FPTP) to elect MPs to Westminster. FPTP is only used by a handful of countries, most of them former British colonies and tiny islands. It only works properly when there are two parties to choose from.

We do, however, use another voting system in the UK – the Additional Member System. You will be using this system when you vote for candidates for the London General Assembly next year. It’s fairer and receives far fewer complaints than our current system. It delivers stable governments that represent a greater range of views held by the public.

Our democracy thrives on debate. If politicians hear a wide range of differing opinions before they vote on an issue, they will make better decisions. For example, without Green representatives in the London Assembly, we would not have had the successful Cycle Hire Scheme (wrongly known as Boris Bikes).

Our current system only benefits those who are already powerful. We urgently need a change in our voting system to restore faith in politics, and rebuild healthy democracy.

Do you believe votes should match seats?

Then sign this petition to show your support today.

Want somebody to blame?

Rachel Collinson (prospective parliamentary candidate for West Ham) reflects on the 2015 General Election results.

I’ll give you somebody to blame.

As Labour begin the inevitable scapegoat search after a shock election defeat, I can’t help but join in.

I did, after all, once donate regularly to Labour. And, although I dislike the authoritarian, militaristic side to their more recent incarnations, they still have policies that I agree with. Getting rid of the bedroom tax, for one.

So I want to offer a perspective to my friends in Labour, as a friendly outsider, that may help in the licking of wounds and regrouping.

No beating about the (George) bush

OK; I’m going to dive straight in. Do you want somebody to blame?

balls

Blame Ed Balls.

I can almost sense you eyeing me skeptically here. He may be unable to recall the names of any business leaders who support Labour, and he needs to avoid Twitter when tired, but really? He’s human, isn’t he?

Yes, of course. But the problem is that Balls should not have been in charge of Labour’s economic strategy.

It’s the economy, cupid

So, the British people are in love with the idea that only the Conservatives can be trusted on the economy. The press play this tune, and the electorate dance along to it.

The worst of it is, Labour dance too.

Weirdly, it was left to Caroline Lucas (and other Greens, myself included) to defend their track record on the economy from 1997 to 2010.

You may disagree with their spending priorities (as I did) but the fact is, Labour had more years with a budget surplus than the previous Tory administration. One of the first things they did in power was to prevent Government from raising interest rates to bribe the voters before an election, causing damage to the economy. And they did exactly what a Conservative administration would have done during the financial crisis of 2008 – spend hundreds of billions of pounds to prop up our financial system.

I’m not saying that this is what we should have done, but it is certainly what George Osborne would have done.

Where it all went wrong

Labour decided not to turn the tables back on Osborne, by asking the obvious questions: –

“Would you have bailed out the banks, George?”

“And where would you have got the money from for that, George?”

Instead, they appeared meekly to accept the Tory criticisms that they mismanaged the economy. Why?

Ed Balls.

Balls is a monetarist. This means he believes – along with the Conservative Party – that the best way to grow the economy is to cut public spending. It’s called expansionary fiscal contraction, and just like it sounds, it is a contradiction in terms.

This mistake allowed Cameron and Co to pitch the battle on their own, familiar turf, and – gasp – they won.

What should Labour have done?

Labour should have done exactly what the SNP did. They should have shown that cutting public spending during a recession is like quitting your job so you can pay off your student loan.

They should have pointed to Germany and the US, economic powerhouses both, who did not adopt the deep cut strategy.

They should never have chosen Ed Balls.

What to do now?

The people of the UK – and even UK politicians – are garishly naïve about economics. Yes, even rank-and-file Tories.

Take, for example, a prospective parliamentary candidate speaking at a hustings, to whom I had to explain the difference between deficit and debt. Of course, for Conservatives, it’s convenient to be economically illiterate, because they will pursue an agenda of small government regardless.

But for the left, we need to be smart. We need to find simple frames to explain how the economy works, and what drives it.

For me, that will be a direct appeal to small business owners, farmers and freelancers. A recognition that they create most of our jobs. A recognition that they are the real wealth creators. A recognition that they are suffering terribly because of subsidies, tax reductions and a liberal approach to the rule-breaking of large corporations.

Small will be beautiful

Here’s one of the many things I love about the Green Party. Our pledges for small business:rachel

  • Abolishing employers’ National Insurance contributions, because they are, essentially, a tax on jobs
  • One rate of corporation tax for small businesses, a higher rate for large ones, as they benefit from economies of scale
  • An abolition of VAT on tourism businesses such as hotels and restaurants
  • Support for farmers through subsidies for healthy, fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables
  • To fight hard in the EU for reform of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies that have affected our smaller farming and fishing businesses so unfairly
  • Stronger penalties for late invoice payment
  • A commitment to net neutrality
  • An end to the unfair and discriminatory policy of chasing small businesses for unpaid tax while turning a blind eye to large corporations’ failure to pay
  • Mandating BT to bring super-fast broadband to everybody
  • An end to workfare schemes that essentially provide free labour to large corporations
  • An increase in small business rate relief.

To see how these policies work in practice, just take a look at Brighton. A booming economy, superfast broadband for Brighton businesses, thousands more visitors every year, and Caroline Lucas gaining the title of the FSB’s Small Business Champion.

We need to start shouting loud and clear about these smart policies. For these are what will drive Britain’s recovery.