Hackney Cabinet Attacks Estates

Posted in Janine's blog on Tue, 07/11/2006 - 16:17,

Hackney Council's Cabinet has agreed to the deputy mayor's proposals for 'estate regeneration' - selling spaces on estates to be built on. The policy that was agreed by the Labour Group was bad enough, but the version that went to Cabinet looks even worse.

In the original document, six estates were identified as requiring "selective demolition to release infill opportunities". The Cabinet document now reveals that five of those will in fact be completely demolished, with the land sold to an RSL for its own developments. The sixth will be treated entirely separately as part of the Hackney Central Area Action Plan, and will not know what the Council plans for it until next year. But we get a heavy hint with the Cabinet's statement that the area "has the potential for significant housing gain." Guess which estate we're talking about? Yep, the one I live on.

Hackney's Cabinet seems pleased with itself that it has discovered a way to 'get round' the limited amount of democratic rights that tenants have to prevent their homes being privatised. If the Council proposes to transfer your home to a Registered Social Landlord (RSL) via 'stock transfer', then it has to ballot you and your fellow tenants, and if you vote 'No', they can not go ahead. However, if it proposes to demolish your home, 'decant' you elsewhere, and sell the land to an RSL to build on, then you have no such right to a vote! Without a democratic vote, tenants and residents have no choice but to actively fight this attack on our estates.

A further 22 estates are scheduled for 'infill' - patches of land sold to RSLs to build on. These estates will then have more than one landlord - the Council plus at least one RSL. The Nightingale estate already has this kind of set-up, and a Nightingale residents' representative recently told us what a nightmare it is, with the various landlords forever bickering with each other as to whose responsibility it is to clean the playground, fund the old folks' club etc.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Council will be funding the improvement works to its office accommodation by selling a two-acre site in Shoreditch to developers. I have no objection to offices being improved, if that is needed. But the Council is saying that it has to sell bits of estates to provide housing as though there is nowhere else it could build. How about building on this site in Shoreditch rather than selling it off?!

The estate regeneration policy is dressed up as a way of releasing money to achieve Decent Homes. The government brought in the Decent Homes policy, so it should ensure that local Councils can implement it without having to "sell the family silver" (as we used to call it when privatisation was a Tory policy and the whole of the Labour Party was against it). It seems that Hackney Council embarked on its Decent Homes work whilst keeping secret that it did not have the resources to see it through. It is only now that Decent Homes is underway - and that Hackney's Councillors are safely re-elected - that they admit their shortfall and unleash this attack on where we live.

At a conference of tenants' and residents' representatives on 21st October, Cabinet member Alan Laing told us that this redevelopment work would not go ahead on any estate where residents opposed it. I suspect that he felt obliged to say this under pressure of the delegates' anger at the Council's policy. But I also suspect that this promise will turn out in reality to mean "If you don't accept the privatisation and 'infill', then you won't get your Decent Homes work done".

Councillor Laing also told us that he supports the 'fourth option' ie. that Councils should have the right and resources to improve their own housing stock without having to privatise it. However, it seems that whilst the Labour government is happy to ignore three successive votes of Labour Party conference in favour of the fourth option, Councillor Laing and his colleagues are also happy to implement the government's gun-to-the-head policy of only allowing improvements if they come with privatisation.

Late addition: There is another difference between the document that went to Labour Group and the one that went to Cabinet - the former said that 550+ homes would be built in the 'infill' areas on estates, the latter says 700+. I suspect that even the sardines might move out.

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Submitted by Janine on Tue, 07/11/2006 - 20:27

Arthur, do you mean TMOs (Tenant Management Organisations)? These do seem like an attractive idea, but looking at how the handful of them have functioned in Hackney, it looks like a trap to me.

They are set adrift by the Council, and left to balance their own under-funded books. So the TMO ends up unable to carry out all the repairs, unable to hold the Council to account (in one example, when it failed to safely remove drugs paraphernalia), and could even (hypothetically) find itself attacking the wages and conditions of the estate cleaner to stay within its budget.

It seems to me like an attempt to co-opt tenants into cutting their own throats.

Submitted by Janine on Sat, 11/11/2006 - 14:48

I can't see the massive difference between what you are describing and TMOs. It still looks like trap to me.

Two basic problems:
- One, a Tenants' Co-operative does not have the power to tax the rich to fund housing maintenance and improvement on the scale necessary. It would be great if we could develop the political power to achieve this, but if we did, we would be strong enough to enforce democratic residents' management of estates whilst keeping them in public ownership.
- Two, public housing should be public housing - belonging to everyone, not simply to the people who live there at present, but providing housing for future generations too.

This is not about whether tenants would be 'efficient' or not. I agree that tenants/residents would make a much better job of running an estate than most Councils, which is why TMOs look like an attractive option to start with. Rather, it is about avoiding the trap of administering our own traps, and allowing public stock to be transferred out of public ownership using an apparent increase in tenant's control as a pretext.

Finally, there is a big battle going on to prevent Council housing becoming completely extinct. As part of that fight, we must promote increase democratic control by tenants and residents over estates. But we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from the key fight to defend Council housing by going off at a tangent.

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