A Green manifesto for Forest Gate North

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I’m Elisabeth, the Green Party candidate for the Forest Gate North by election.

Here’s my manifesto for Forest Gate.

Council loans

I will push the council to take the banks to court to get £millions back for Newham residents.

Newham council was mis-sold bank loans amounting to over £500m, and the pay-back terms on these loans are so high that 80% of our council tax is now going to pay them off. That’s £51m a year – just over the amount the council is suffering in budget cuts from central government. If elected, I’d make it a priority to encourage Newham council to take the banks to court to get our money back. With this money coming back to the council rather than to the banks, we’ll be able to invest in better waste collection, council housing, sure start centres, cycle routes and community centres across Newham.

Please sign my petition asking Newham council to take the banks to court.

Flytipping & recycling

I will seek to improve the current recycling contract and challenge the £20 bulky waste fee.

Rubbish on the streets is a major problem in Newham. Despite this, the council have decided  to charge residents £20 for each bulky waste collection. This will just make things worse. If elected I would challenge the council to take this charge away and set up new pilot schemes to tackle flytipping in Forest Gate.

Not only that, Newham has one of the worst recycling schemes in the country. If elected, I’d seek to end the current recycling contract and get a new one in place that can collect food waste, more plastic items, tetra paks and glass.

Affordable homes

I will fight for more social housing and oppose estate demolition if residents want to stay.

Somewhere good to live is a basic human right and a world leading city like London can afford to offer that to our citizens. However, Newham’s housing is in crisis. Local people are being priced out of the area and rogue landlords are charging rip-off rents while allowing tenants to live in damp, crowded conditions. Social housing tenants are being forced out of their homes, making the problem worse.

If elected, I’d oppose the demolition of council housing schemes that residents love, such as the Carpenters Estate, and work with local residents to resist evictions. I’d push to make sure that any new development offers a majority of social and genuinely affordable housing as standard.

 

Traffic and cleaner air

I will work to reduce pollution and increase investment in safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Newham has some of the worst air quality in the capital, and schemes such as the proposed Silvertown tunnel will only attract more cars into our borough. That’s the last thing we need!

I’d oppose this unnecessary development and encourage the council to invest in better cycling and walking  facilities instead (such as the London Cycling Campaign’s plan for Upton Lane and Woodgrange Road). This would give us cleaner air to breathe and we’d have fewer traffic jams. I’d also push to get bike hangars for Forest Gate’s residential areas, which provide parking spaces for 6 bikes in half a regular parking space.

Siân Berry launches the Greens’ East London manifesto

Friday saw the official launch of the Green Party manifesto for East London (pdf), ahead of the Mayoral and London Assembly elections on Thursday 5th May. Support for Green policies is at an all-time high, with a particularly strong presence in East London, and we are aiming to increase the numbers of Greens on the London Assembly from the current two.

Green Party Mayoral candidate, Siân Berry, and local candidate, Rachel Collinson, were joined by local Green Party members outside of the proposed Bishopsgate Goodsyard site.

EL Manifesto Group

Rachel Collinson, who is also the Newham Green Party Chair, said: “The Bishopsgate Goodsyard development controversy perfectly illustrates what is wrong with London’s urban planning system. Boris Johnson has repeatedly ignored the wishes of local residents and Councils. The Green Party’s Jenny Jones AM challenged the Mayor on the decision, and it has now been deferred until after the Mayoral election!

R&S“The Green Party have a strong record of supporting communities, and holding those in power to account. If elected to the assembly I will work with residents to ensure local concerns continue to be heard.”

The Green Party have already highlighted their flagship policies on housing, transport, policing, the living wage and air pollution during this campaign. The manifesto provides more detail on each of these areas and gives examples of what Siân a Green Mayor and Green London Assembly Members would do for East London. Such as…

200,000 new homes across London, for ALL Londoners – with 50% to be built by smaller developers, communities and housing associations to provide truly affordable housing across the city. In East London the party will take a stand against the proliferation of luxury developments for the super-wealthy, such as Bishopsgate Goodsyard and the Newham Council Masterplan to replace the social Carpenter’s Estate with private developer blocks, and fight for the development of genuinely affordable housing for Londoners.

Celebrating and supporting London’s diversity – including rethinking the flawed and discriminatory Prevent strategy, creating a new City Hall position for monitoring policy impacts on London’s older residents, and making sure London remains a leader in LGBT+ rights and culture.

Ending the air pollution crisis – bringing pollution below legal limits by 2020 at the latest. In East London, we will continue to resist the proposed Enderby Wharf Cruise Terminal in Greenwich and the Silvertown Tunnel at Blackwall which would increase pollution across several boroughs that are already dangerously polluted. Also, we’d close London City Airport and use the land for homes and up to 16,000 more jobs.

The London Living Wage for all – currently one in five working Londoners are still paid less, many of whom live in Newham and surrounding boroughs. Siân also pledges to create 150,000 high­ quality apprenticeships, and improving conditions and opportunities for part-time workers.

This comes just a week after Siân and Rachel were joined by fellow Green Party candidates Shahrar Ali and Benali Hamdache to launch the Manifesto for Londoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds (pdf) in Newham’s Queens Market.

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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.

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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? –
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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.

Four legs good, two legs better… The tragedy of unopposed “revolutionaries”

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 07.23.06This afternoon I got a call from Isabelle, our candidate for Stratford and New Town. It’s unusual for her to call in the middle of the day. I put down my work and answered immediately, fearing the worst.

“Rachel we need some help urgently. The police have arrived and they are breaking in.”

My heart sank.

Isabelle was just a short walk away from where we both live, helping the Focus E15 mums protect the home of one of their friends, Jane, and her 14-year-old daughter. The council had evicted her last month because she had fallen behind on her rent payments. She had lived there for 20 years, but only recently had been sanctioned on her benefits and had her housing benefit cut. She chose to eat rather than pay the rent. So the Labour-run council decided to evict her. Even when her family offered to pay the full amount owing, they refused to let her back in.

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Green Party members helping FocusE15 mums to renovate Jane’s home

Focus E15 stepped in and let her back into the flat, gave it a much-needed redecoration and had a welcome home party. Two of our members went down to help over the weekend and pitched in with stripping the wallpaper and buying a heater.

The council had invited Jane to a meeting today at 3.30pm. That sounds great, you might think, until the cynic in you wonders what the council might do while she’s out. And behold, as soon as she left, the council were straight in to board everything up. Fortunately Focus E15 were wise to this plan and had decided to house-sit. Jasmin, their courageous leader, was there.

“They have told her that if she won’t give them her name, they will take her children into care.”

Isabelle’s next words were a bombshell. Lost for words, I fumbled a bit.

“Oh, um, OK,” I said, though, ashamedly, I was scared. “I’m coming over.”

I called others in the area, left my husband ill in bed and got there as fast as I could.

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Rachel Collinson, Green Party candidate for West Ham witnessed the illegal eviction of Jane and arrest of FocusE15 mum Jasmin

Inside, the police were blocking access to the building. We peered in through the window, tapped on the door and politely asked what was going on. They pretended that we weren’t there. There was no warrant for arrest, no court order.

When I announced that I was the parliamentary candidate for West Ham (not a card I really like to play) suddenly the police started talking. They promised me that they would bring down a ‘representative from the council’ to answer my questions. Eventually they came out and bundled Jasmin into their van ‘for questioning’. They refused to say under what grounds she was being detained (I’m not sure they themselves knew, apart from it being something to do with squatting) and drove off.

Al Thomas, the council’s enforcement manager, said that I should contact Newham’s communications team rather than talk to him. Why, I wonder? Could it be that he might get himself in trouble again?

It’s sad to see George Orwell’s tale Animal Farm played out once again in the theatrics of Newham’s Labour Council. The reds have learned how to walk on their hind legs, and us quadrupeds are being left out in the cold.

You have a chance to bring them back down to earth, if you vote Green this May.

Update: Jasmin Stone has been released without charge. However the fight for Jane’s home and the struggle for social housing for Newham residents continues.

Keep the rich, off the pitch!

Yesterday Newham Greens teamed up with the Friends of Queens Market to gather objection letters and leaflet for a public meeting (24th March) that will demand 100% social housing from the development of West Ham stadium.

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We’ll have a stall next Saturday (21st) too – so do pop down to support this important local campaign between 12-2pm. The more the merrier!

Other ways to support:

  1. Follow @BoleynDev100 on Twitter
  2. Sign the petition to demand 100% social housing on the Boleyn Ground to serve the needs of local residents
  3. Lend a hand on Saturday 21st March – there will be a stall at the entrance to Queens Market from noon – 2pm to raise awareness and collect signatures of support
  4. Come along to the public meeting on Tuesday 24th March, 7pm at Harold Road Centre,170  Harold Road, E13 0SE

100% social housing for Boleyn development

Newham Green Party are proud to support the campaign to stop Galliard’s proposed development of the Boleyn ground, and to demand 100% social housing instead.

We urge everyone to support this local campaign. Here are some ways to help:

Boleyn
Don’t let developers price local people out of Newham
  1. Follow @BoleynDev100 on Twitter
  2. Sign the petition to demand 100% social housing on the Boleyn Ground to serve the needs of local residents
  3. Lend a hand on Saturday 14th and Saturday 21st March – there will be a stall at the entrance to Queens Market from noon – 2pm to raise awareness and collect signatures of support
  4. Come along to the public meeting on Tuesday 24th March, 7pm at Harold Road Centre,170  Harold Road, E13 0SE