Introducing our new candidate for East Ham #GE2017

Ex-investment banker Chidi Oti-Obihara has lived in Beckton for 6 years and is standing on a platform for improving local lives

I’m proud to announce that our candidate for East Ham is now Beckton-based Chidi Oti-Obihara!

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Michael (on phone) and Chidi having just finished registering on the ballot
Chidi Oti-Obihara lives in Beckton and became a member of the Green Party while working with us on our investigations into Newham Council’s mis-sold Lender Option, Borrower Option (‘LOBO’) loans.

Previously an Investment Banker, Chidi turned whistle-blower in 2007 and testified to Parliament about the practices he’d witnessed and been bullied for not colluding with. He now works as an independent financial consultant. 

Chidi said “It’s a bittersweet moment for me as I became involved in the party largely because of Rachel, so it’s a shame to have this opportunity due to her standing down. However, it’s a huge honour to have been selected by the membership to represent the party, and especially my own neighbourhood!” 

Chidi Oti-Obihara has lived in Beckton for 6 years and is standing on a platform for improving local lives:

“My part of the borough – Beckton and the Royal Docks, nearby – has been rather neglected by local government. There isnt enough sustainable planning. Whenever investment does appear, it’s privately funded or uses opaque private-partnerships that rarely meets the needs of local people. The air pollution, which is disgraceful across London, is particularly bad in parts of the borough due to the sewage works, the airport and the endless building works. The air is constantly full of dust particles and unpleasant smells. We deserve better, and that’s a large part of why I want to stand in East Ham.”

Chidi is also keen to discuss the problems with some of the privatisation in local government – such as the use of LOBOs by many local authorities. “Having worked in finance for over 15 years, I’ve seen both sides of the coin. I know some of the more questionable practices used in selling products. We know that Newham Council is by no means alone in having been mis-sold these loans, and I hope we can push this topic into the national agenda.”

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Chidi with local members as part of the #StandUpForCleanAir campaign

Today, Chidi launched his campaign with some leafletting on East Ham High Street, talking to residents, shoppers and business owners.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be holding events and stalls around East Ham, Beckton and the Docks – find out more on Chidi’s Facebook page.

Let’s clean up Newham!

Help us get our council taxes paying for much needed services, not paying interest to banks

So you may have heard by now that there is a by-election coming up in Forest Gate North.

FGN bannerWhile I’ve been going round talking to local residents about what we can do to help them, I hear time and time again about environmental concerns: fly-tipping, rubbish on the streets, and dog mess.

If elected, I would prioritise solving these problems. However, some of them come down to one thing: money. And we all know how this Conservative government has tightened the screws on the most disadvantaged boroughs in the country. Newham is high up on that list.

Sir Robin Wales has been spreading the news everywhere that we have to save £50 million a year from now on; potentially even more after the economic disaster of last week. So Labour in this area have been quietly getting on with privatising one public service after another. So far this includes:

  • Council housing (Red Doors);
  • Administration (OneSource);
  • Supplies to council services (NewCo);
  • Waste collection (East London Waste Authority);
  • Language and translation services (Newham Language Shop);
  • Schools (academisation across the borough)

…and worse is to come as more savings need to be found. (Here’s an excellent blog by councillor John Gray of West Ham on his concerns over the increasing privatisation of council services).

However, Newham Greens have a plan to raise the money we need without privatising one more service. It can get us the extra money we need to stop fly-tipping, and improve street maintenance, as well as reopening Sure Start centres and community centres!uk-pwlb-vs-lobo-debt

How?!
Throughout the 2000s, our Labour council took out over £500million in loans (called LOBOs) from private banks. They were a very bad deal. And now we are paying the equivalent of 80% of our council tax in interest each year. How much does that work out at? Surprise: £50 million!

Our legal advisers say that Newham’s mayor, Sir Robin Wales, could put a stop to all this by taking the banks to court for mis-selling, just like we can do with PPI.

Help us get our money back from the banks by signing this petition.

If you support our efforts and live in the the ward, please make sure to vote Green on the 14th July.

EJW ballotpGP

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? –
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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

Tackling air pollution

We currently have a campaign to tackle air pollution across Newham. 
This blogpost summarises why we think this is important, and what we plan to do about it.

What is air pollution?

There are many pollutants which contribute to air pollution(more information can be found here). The biggest threat to clean air these days is traffic emissions. Petrol and diesel-engined vehicles emit a variety of pollutants, principally carbon monoxide (CO), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM10).

What are the consequences of air pollution?

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett said:

Air pollution causes 29,000 early deaths a year in the UK and it’s a disgrace that the Coalition government have largely neglected this worsening problem. There has been far too little action from authorities despite 15 years of warnings and several extensions and postponements granted to the government”

There is good evidence that air pollution has consequences forhuman health. Specifically, the following groups are more likely to be affected by air pollution:

  • Adults and children with heart or lung conditions
  • Older people
  • Children

However, if the levels are particularly high it can affect the general population. The health impact will be worse if a) there are high levels of air pollution and b) people are exposed over a long time period.

So, what do we know about air pollution across Newham?

In 2001 Newham Borough Council (NBC) confirmed that some areas close to major roads were exceeding levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10. These findings required NBC to declare an Air Quality Management Area, which they did in March 2003 – and they produced an action plan.

NBC produced a progress report in 2008, which confirmed that NO2 levels were still higher than target levels (annual average and hourly measurements).

What do we want to do in Newham?

  • Measure air pollution level across Newham
  • Raise awareness where high levels of air pollution exist
  • Promote green solutions to reduce air pollution

We’re planning to start a citizen science project soon. This will require us to identify community areas of concern, measure the air pollution using diffuser tubes, and share the results with the community.  We will be sure to update the blog with further details as we progress.

For information on The Green Party’s policies on pollution, click here.