Tuesday, 18 December 2012

SAVE TRELLICK TOWER - from Council games

Does the richest Council in Europe 
want historic assets to be cost neutral?

Trellick Tower with the original cornice in place, 1970s

At the foot of North Kensington’s Trellick Tower Erno Goldfinger completed his ‘cradle to grave’ Cheltenham Estate (1972) with an old people’s home. Until 2008 Edenham Residential Care Home housed 45 people, many with dementia, plus a mental health day-care centre surrounded with beautiful mature gardens. In 2006 the Council deemed it ‘not fit for purpose’. 

Despite a huge community battle to save the home the Council demolished it, leaving a gaping wound, then to add insult to injury turned it into a coach-park.

We kept track where possible of residents; many became very distressed at their forcible removal and nearly half died within a year. Two tragically ended their lives by refusing to eat, including William Rogers below.

Our horror at what had been done to older people we should honour, protect and care for, turned into a dogged insistence that whatever came next on the site would include housing for older people. Indeed, we were promised this, and a commitment was enshrined in the Council’s ‘Older Persons’ Accommodation Report’ that emerged the following year.

No doubt they hoped we had forgotten after three years. We have not.

After this first heartless act, when the Council then turned its avaricious eyes on the 100 houses and low-rise Goldfinger flats next to Trellick Tower at Edenham Way with a plan to redevelop, residents were ready. A huge campaign was launched that went worldwide and amazingly resulted in a Council commitment not to demolish. To seal this commitment the savvy residents lobbied English Heritage, and in November 2012 Edenham Way was listed Grade II.

A Vision for Edenham 2009, by Edenham Way RA 
and Novarc Studio (now LBMV Architects)

The future of the care home site is hugely problematic as there is no trust whatever between residents and the Council, or indeed between the Council and residents. In 2009 residents put forward their People’s Plan with the ‘Vision for Edenham’, working with local Councillors and Novarc Studio (now LBMV Architects). This included various facilities demanded by residents and evidenced by local need such as a health centre, the extra care housing which Council officers had promised, a public space, community rooms, history centre, and a proposed use for Trellick Tower’s half-demolished car park.

This of course was before Localism and the Council seemed horrified by the idea of planning by residents, though some of the proposals appeared in the Core Strategy.

Then earlier this year the Council finally got around to addressing a future use for the site. We are part way through a feasibility study, which has had a pathetically low response from distrustful residents who believe it will all be private housing, whatever they say or do.

The Council is playing the ‘too-early-too-late’ game. It goes like this: there are some very early proposals for which they are asking some feedback - over Christmas. But they say we mustn’t worry as it is ‘too early’ to comment in detail. Then some concrete ideas will be put forward to be consulted upon, probably over the summer holidays. By the time we have seen something tangible, it will be ‘too late’ to make any material change.

This is the ‘too-early-too-late’ game which the Council excels in.

Another game is even more dangerous to the future use of the site. There is a hidden agenda that the purpose of any development would be to support the costs of keeping the Grade II* listed Trellick Tower in good repair - breaking the ‘culture of dependency’? How much this involves has been variously reported – and often includes large sums that have been spent already – but the latest sum is ‘£13m over the next ten years’.

If this sum is accurate – it is open to challenge – this is a new move for the Council. If buildings must now be cost neutral or self-financing, we will have to review the running costs of several K&C heritage assets. Leighton House and Linley Samborne House must pay for their own upkeep, and of course Opera Holland Park must now cease its parasitic existence and pay for the repairs of its host building, the listed Holland House – which the Council was so careless with that English Heritage listed it on ‘Buildings at Risk’.

Street art. Not a crime; cool. OK?

The current study – the fourth or fifth we know of – seems to have been informed more by preconceptions than by any genuine research or understanding of the area. It is easy to misunderstand when you don’t actually care. Thus we have been informed that the area suffers terrible anti-social behaviour, and this is evidenced by the graffiti wall. In fact the wall is tolerated or even encouraged by the TMO and the Council; we treasure our local artists many of whom exhibit in the three street art galleries on Portobello Road. The Council actually commissioned some of these artists to paint a wall, and here (above) is the Council Leader up a ladder with spray can proudly pretending to paint. This was quite cool for him, frankly, and that day I shook his hand in all sincerity for the first and possibly the last time. As for crime, you can check the crime stats for yourself below, where you will see that Golborne is joint lowest for theft from motor vehicles, just three instances in 12 months. Brompton ward (Knightsbridge darlings) is highest by far for anti-social behaviour, with Golborne around half-way down the list of shame for ‘all crimes’. 

So, enough stigmatisation. Just. Don’t.

So what will happen now? We have one of the best architecture practices in London working with a derisory consultation input, with scant interest, no understanding and apparently no love whatever for either residents or the neighbourhood.

This cocked-up process could make or break the future of one of the most iconic buildings in London. So if you care about the future of Trellick Tower and Cheltenham Estate, please go to the Council website (link below) and comment. Or you can give me your comments here.

We only get this chance once; we have to get it right.

A Vision for Edenham (The People’s Plan: residents proposals from 2008 working with Novarc/LBMV Architects)

Early proposals for the Edenham Care Home site (Levitt Bernstein)

Monday, 3 December 2012


Residents of Edenham Way next to Trellick Tower, which together form the remainder of Erno Goldfinger’s Cheltenham estate that the Council has failed to demolish, were delighted two weeks ago to discover that English Heritage had listed their properties at Grade II.

The campaign to list Edenham Way (ringed in red in axonometric below) began in 2008, when the Council – unknown to residents – had considered flattening their homes and redeveloping the site, conveniently next to the canal and beautiful community-run lateral park and wildlife garden, Meanwhile Gardens. Once the demolition plan was discovered, the highly resourceful residents found a number of ways to scupper it.  Many were original tenants who had lived there since being decanted from their neighbouring ‘slums’; some had subsequently bought their home under Right to Buy. These former ‘slum’ dwellers appreciate the quality of their homes and were not about to let the avaricious Council destroy them and the tight-knit community that houses three generations of local people, comprising innumerable nationalities working and living in harmony.

The very sad story of the Edenham Residential Care Home (hatched area below), a Goldfinger building in front of Trellick Tower, had hit residents hard. In 2006 the Council had ‘consulted’ on its future, and in a disgraceful episode that still turns my stomach, decided it was no longer fit for purpose. Residents were turned out, and whatever the Council says about how ‘sensitively’ it was done, half were dead within a year. Two stopped eating and starved to death. We know that because we went to the funerals. It was shocking, and it woke Edenham Way residents to the reality of what could happen to them.

 From an architectural point of view, the care home had formed a carefully planned balance to the massing of the two Trellick towers and the lower blocks and houses at Edenham Way. It was a foil to the striking Trellick, surrounded by lovely gardens and trees, a vital element for the elderly care home residents many of whom suffered dementia and were unable to potter freely around the neighbourhood. The buildings themselves – we were told by an architect who worked with Goldfinger – were designed as load-bearing structural shells so that internal walls could be reorganised at will to accommodate changing need. But the Council didn’t give a fig for this, their deterministic ‘consultation’ found its mark and the buildings were ground into the dirt despite our very best efforts, which included BBC News coverage with Tony Benn, myself chained to the gates, and countless heart-breaking intercessions between families and hard-faced officers.

From a social planning aspect, Cheltenham Estate was a 'cradle to grave' or Lifetime Neighbourhood; now it's a development opportunity.

By the time I caught up with  this latest episode in 2008, a group of Edenham Way residents had already started the process of listing. Within no time at all a petition against demolition had been published in Building Design magazine and had gone global. Architects, academics, students and Goldfinger aficionados around the world signed up in support of local residents, and in the face of this strength of feeling in 2010 the Council admitted defeat – for now.

Residents living in the shadow of Trellick are now facing two onslaughts – or opportunities, depending on your viewpoint. Tomorrow Monday 3 December, an exhibition of ‘three options’ for the future of the care home site will be presented to the world. Will the architects have heard what the meagre 33 residents (from 320 households) who visited the first presentation told them? And will they have listened?

The second attack on residents’ views will emerge in the next few months. We are told that the Council is to challenge English Heritage’s listing of Edenham Way. Apparently, these unique and amazing homes are ‘of no architectural significance’. Have they visited them? This could be the most philistine, despicable and petty action of a Council that among other ‘environmental crimes’ over the years was responsible for:

-      - Demolishing the old Town Hall overnight in 1982 when a listing was imminent (I remember it well; I was there at 2am with half the neighbourhood out in their dressing gowns weeping with helpless fury)
-      - Covering an internationally-recognised mural on Portobello Road by the artist Banksy with plastic cladding, and when challenged asked, ‘who’s Banksy?’ – the same year they spent £240,000 on a painting by Lord Leighton
-      - Stating that the Grade II* listed Trellick Tower was ‘a monstrosity not worth putting a lightbulb in’

Before I see the exhibition tomorrow, before I hear the grounds on which the Council wishes to challenge the Edenham Way listing, I would like to say the following:

-      Dear Council, you are not always right. Sometimes you are very wrong indeed. Listen to your residents. Sometimes, former ‘slum’ dwellers are more knowledgeable and appreciate value better than you. You are elected to serve them.

While listing can be seen as a mixed blessing, it is not a curse. Listed buildings can be a positive force and can pay for themselves. This is not a fantasy; this is a fact.

Friday, 9 November 2012


-     a masterclass in Resident Enragement at Wornington Green

In North Kensington the pressures on housing have already reached boiling point. Every month more households living in private rented homes are hit with cuts up of to £100/wk to their Local Housing Allowance as they reach the ‘anniversary’ of their rental agreement. From next April people will be hit harder by Universal Credit. This will disadvantage those who rely on those extra few pounds a week to support their children by putting meat on the table, shoes on their feet, buy books and pay for broadband without which they cannot do their homework on their creaky slow pc.

For those who don’t know, the four wards of North Kensington that border the Westway flyover are very mixed, with some areas very poor. Golborne Ward which I represent as Councillor is the joint poorest ward in London with one in Haringey on extent measure – which means a vast majority of my constituents are bumping along the bottom financially.

Kensington and Chelsea is the richest Council in Europe, with £180m in Reserves. And yes there is a connection between having the poorest ward and the fattest coffers; it’s basic arithmetic and priorities. The Council’s largest recent expense was £23m on repaving Exhibition Road. This was not a ‘spend to save’ investment; not a regeneration scheme that could improve employment and life outcomes; nobody asked for it; and it mainly benefits visitors to museums that are already at capacity. It is an in-yer-face unashamed vanity project.

Meanwhile some families in Golborne are sending their children to school hungry.

It is hardly their fault that the Council is colluding with overseas investors and with prime and super-prime developers to hike up property prices while the poor (and increasingly, to the Council’s dismay, the so-called squeezed middle) are struggling even to pay ‘affordable’ rent.

We heard last night that, after the social melt-down of families in private rented homes, from next April 536 Council tenants will be hit so hard by welfare reform that they will be in danger of not being able to afford Council rent. ‘Eviction would be the last resort’, we were told. We’ll see.

Strong and resilient communities are already threatened with total obliteration. This will get worse.

Added to this toxic mix in the ‘Royal’ borough is the unwanted Wornington Green development. Phase 1 was granted permission two years ago (by the chair who voted twice) and the first buildings of the first phase are growing taller and fatter, utterly out of scale with the neighbourhood around Golborne Road, like a cuckoo in a robin’s nest. The first buildings will supposedly be ready for occupation in spring, and the prospect of more demolition and yet more heartbreak for the decantees of the next stage is increasing depression and stress levels that are already explosive.

After years of porkies and misrepresentation and moving of goalposts by ‘social’ landlord Catalyst, reality is beginning to dawn for the first phase decantees who should be preparing to move into new homes. Why is this desperately overcrowded family now told they will have to wait another five years for the flat promised in writing for 2013? Why can’t their granny/adult child/sister live with them? Will they or won’t they be able to keep the extra bedroom they rely upon for respite care for elderly rellies? Why can’t they get another pet if their current one dies? Why can’t they choose the colour of their curtains, or even have blinds? Why can’t they bring that bay tree they have been growing on the patio for years? Why can’t they bring their expensive bike into their flats and not leave it vulnerable in the underground store? And as one elderly Muslim woman put it so eloquently, on hearing that none of the kitchens will have windows, ‘How will I see my God when I’m cooking?’.

One day residents are told the number of accessible homes is being reduced as there is ‘no demand for them’. The next an elderly couple are told they won’t be rehoused for five years as there are no accessible homes being built yet.

All this, and the rumours of an ‘Early Movers’ or ‘VIP’ list for development-friendly tenants just will not go away.

The actual process of demolition and construction got off to a very bad start, with frankly disgraceful conduct from some of the workmen who sexually harassed a local employee and reportedly swore at children. This was in addition to traffic management and health and safety practices that were shocking (right, not your car I hope) and denied until half the neighbourhood turned out to film it on their mobiles. Faced with the truth the contractors relented and are now, we hope, working purposefully with residents and our community centre that was under siege.

A great shame then, that Catalyst Housing has not relented. To put this in context, Kensington Housing Trust who built Wornington Green in the 70s and 80s have a record of never, ever, undertaking cyclical maintenance. Some residents were born in the so-called slums that were demolished so that new buildings ‘to last 200 years’ could be built. 

The famous Pepler House, designed by Peter Deakins (left), has an internal layout and design of a quality that was considered for listing by the Twentieth Century Society. But this has also been neglected shamefully.

This process of managed decline wears down residents opposed to regeneration and ripens them for the coming cull.

And a cull it will be. Catalyst’s rationale was that the estate was ‘crumbling’ and must be demolished to solve 70% overcrowding. How you can achieve that by replacing homes like for like, with fewer family sized homes, and then doubling density with private homes, is unclear. I should say, unclear until you do the maths; it is very clear that the only way they can fit decantees into the estate is if large numbers – especially larger families – never return.

It's a blatant case of social cleansing.

Back to current events, and to deal with the daily chaos on site I organised a summit meeting to include all parties including residents’ rep, local police, community centre management, Council officers, contractors and Catalyst. Having dealt robustly with the problems at hand, we circulated draft Minutes to confirm what had been agreed. A few corrections came back, then from Catalyst a totally unrecognisable rewritten version that turned facts into propaganda. I can imagine why they would wish to whitewash two furious and very public outbursts from a director, but all they have done is confirm what everyone around the table was thinking when they arrived - which it would be unwise to put on record.

Needless to say we will not be organising another summit any time soon that includes people who cannot be frank and honest or keep their temper during meetings.

There are ways of dealing with such people. Where formal meetings fail, the process of resident enragement may bear fruit.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

EDC WINS CLEAN AIR IN LONDON AWARD: NOlympic Legacy: Beware the twinkling Shard

To celebrate winning the Clean Air in London Award 2014, here I am with my certificate, and a repost of a very popular blog I wrote in October 2012.

Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London, said:
“Kensington and Chelsea joins Westminster as the two most-polluted boroughs in the UK.  I witnessed the human side of this crisis when Emma showed me sports fields under some of the London’s busiest elevated roads and described many other local policy failures.  Hearty congratulations therefore to Emma on winning the Clean Air in Cities Award after leading, over many years, calls for action to tackle air pollution.  We urgently need a fresh approach from the Council that puts air pollution at the top of the policy and political agendas in planning, road transport and public health.  Vote for Clean Air on 22 May.”


If you look out over London at night, that beautiful, classy, slutty, feisty, difficult city with its towering blocks and City spikes and other Pharaonic dreams, something puzzles.

There are steady lights, white, yellow and blue. Then there are the twinkling red lights of the Shard, Telecom Tower and other communication towers on the skyline. Something is strange. Seen with the naked eye the red lights twinkle. Seen through binoculars the red beam is constant. Some nights everything twinkles. What is going on here?

This is not a municipal statement of gorgeousness and romance, like the shimmering Eiffel Tower.

 It’s simple, and shocking. It is caused by particles of pollution, among which is PM2.5, that so tinily and easily wafts up your nose, into your lungs, and slithers silently like a hooded assassin, into your bloodstream. It is the carcinogenic poison of taxi and lorry diesel fuel that works invisibly and effectively, confusing the symbiotic balanced relationships between cells red and white, causing the physiological catastrophe of cancer that is often discovered too late to counteract. 

Or it could be the larger particles, the mucky sooty visible filth that sticks to walls and clogs up ducts, tunnels and filters.

'Let's Talk Dirty' Climate Rush reverse graffiti protest in Rotherhithe Tunnel

Our national government, ‘the greenest government ever’, is so committed that its Leader burnt unimaginable amounts of airline fuel flying to the Arctic Circle to hug a husky. Our capital’s government, whose Leader is so committed that he cycles whenever there is a convenient photographer to record the moment. Our local Council, which steadfastly refused to agree to a borough-wide Low Emission Zone, is now so behind in its carbon reduction programme that it has been fined this year, for the first time, nearly £200,000.

There is a sickening hypocrisy in the inaction of London’s Mayor and of our own Council, weeping crocodile tears at the estimated 75 early deaths due to air pollution in K&C, while refusing any mitigating measures, let alone leadership in reduction programmes that would actually produce cleaner air. The London Mayor has spent £100s of thousands sticking pollution to the road to reduce the measurements near monitoring stations. K&C Council imported solar panels from China to stick on the Town Hall roof in the ultimate act of greenwash, and is insistent in its denial that locating sports pitches from the site of the new Kensington Academy to another next to West Cross Route will have any effect whatever on the health of our children.

And yet the London Mayor and K&C Council, in a convenient road to Damascus conversion, are allegedly shocked and horrified to discover, in a specially commissioned report (who commissioned and paid for this?) that a third runway at Heathrow would cause more deaths than increased provision to the east of London (ie, estuary or Stansted).

While the politicians carefully choose their statistics to fit their current campaign, close their eyes to the facts one day, and the next, because the political climate has shifted, are ‘shocked and saddened’ by these same facts, people continue to suffer and to die horrible and lingering and ultimately avoidable deaths from the effects of air pollution.  

Political expediency does not save lives. Next time you wonder at the twinkling lights of London, remember that. 

Bad air day, K&C surrounded by '9's and '10's at Gypsy Corner,
Shepherd's Bush roundabout, and Marylebone flyover

Friday, 21 September 2012

NOlympic Legacy: sports, health, Oldylympics

We heard this week news about the much-vaunted Pupil Premium funds, worth £600 a year for every school student currently or recently in receipt of free school meals. This was not new money and should be seen in the context of cuts elsewhere in the schools budget. We heard that, due to these funds not being ring-fenced to boost basic skills for those falling behind, and to prepare Year 6 students for secondary school, the cash is often being used quite literally to plug gaps in school capital expenditure, such as for roof repairs.

This gob-smacking short-sightedness is typical of the current attitude to cuts and spending, which so often just shifts the costs elsewhere.

So.  False economies and shifting of responsibility. Children from poorer backgrounds will continue to be disadvantaged throughout their school years and have worse employment prospects and life outcomes.

Similar attitudes prevail in relation to school sports.

The legacy I would most like to see post-Olympics is the very one we most miserably failed at pre-Olympics. Yes we produced some magnificent athletes, able, disabled and impaired, and a very respectable array of medals, but as has been rehearsed many times, our state school system has not produced its fair share of them.

Notable exceptions such as the Mo’s and Jess’s are indeed wonderful role models, but they were blessed by accelerated programmes so are the exceptions that prove the rule. Why should it be so much harder for prospective top athletes from poorer backgrounds to get to the top? Our mind-blowing paralympians put us couch potatoes to shame [will there ever be an Oldylimpics?], but we heard over and again about the amazing support they had received from family, associates, work, rehab services (civil and military); support and financial backing. How many people with impairments or disabilities were sitting at home thinking, what could I achieve with that level of support, moral and financial? Don’t all children and young people of all levels of physical capacity deserve that?

Let’s look at the recent record of Kensington and Chelsea Council-funded provision for our young people, and for sports:

CUTS 2012-13
Early Intervention Service -       £350,000 cut
High Need Adolescents -           £200,000 cut
Play Services -                         £100,000 cut
Early Years provision -              £1m cut
Youth Services -                       £520,000 cut
Care Leavers -                        £468,000 cut
Sports for Schools -                £279,000 cut
Free swimming for children –   cut entirely

PM Cameraman said ‘school playgrounds are not being sold any more’ just as the playing fields of Elliott School in Putney were put up for sale for £30m. Our Council leadership is likewise involved in double-think. While all provision for children and young people is being systematically cut or shaved, and school sports funding under increased pressure, the richest Council in Europe – currently with £179m in General Reserves – is continuing to sell off playgrounds or parts of playgrounds to developers. Here is the roll of shame:

Middle Row Primary – part of playground to be developed with private flats
Warwick Road Primary (under construction) – v small playground, built next to air pollution hotspot
Oxford Gardens Primary – part of playground proposed to be developed with private flats
Holland Park School – part of playground sold to be developed with ‘super-luxury’ private flats
Chelsea Academy – very little outside space for sports, hamster cage on roof, residents complain when students overrun Westfield Park at end of school day
North Ken Academy – to be built on sports pitches that will not be replaced, hamster cage on roof, no proper playground, private flats proposed to be built on open space

Sports facilities for our proposed new North Ken school in Lancaster Road will be at Westway Sports Centre under the flyover, once again near one of the most polluted areas in London – Shepherd’s Bush roundabout. Even this will only be accessible for those who book in advance and have the means to pay. All informal and free kickabout areas are being slowly and deliberately replaced by ‘pay to play’, excluding the very people who need this most. No arguments, here are the stats:

Golborne children living in poverty, rising          51%
Children living in poverty in K&C                       29%
Life expectancy in Golborne ward                      71yrs
Life expectancy, Golborne Moroccan male          62yrs
Life expectancy, K&C average male                   85yrs
Golborne children in overcrowded homes           70%
Physically active children 2009                          7,939
Physically active children 2011                          6,947
Obese children 2009 -                                       101
Obese children 2011 -                                       193
*all stats taken from Dept of Health Health Profile and GLA Intelligence Unit

The carefully choreographed disagreement between Mayor Johnson and  PM Cameraman includes Johnson stating that ‘two hours’ sport a day’ should be the norm for school children, and that sports is of ‘profound importance for the happiness and success’ of the country.  

Labour fought long and hard for the institution of two hours’ sport a week and even this is being whittled down by the exam-obsessed Coalition, and mirrored, disgracefully, in Kensington and Chelsea.

The Council regularly bleats about the woeful situation of high land and property prices, while complicitly playing the game of land and property banking for greatest financial gain. Are we a commercial enterprise, or is our role first and foremost to provide Council services for those who need them? There is a risk that forcing up property prices will result in a situation where it is no longer financially viable to provide services of certain kinds within the borough, so residents would have to travel to other boroughs to use our services.

Oh, wait a minute, K&C Housing has already done this as part of the plan of social and ethnic cleansing of the borough, by procuring 500 properties for our homeless families - in Manchester.

While instances of diabetes, death from smoking and cancer, alcohol-related hospital stays and childhood obesity creep relentlessly up in the borough, school playgrounds are being devoured for profit, and access to free and informal active play and sports are eroded. This implicit shifting of responsibility from the Council to the NHS is planned, deliberate and little short of scandalous.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

NOLYMPICS III: Homelessness doubles as obscene spending continues

Manchester has 'very nice' areas no doubt, but it ain't home

A very sad day dawned today as at 6.45am I spoke to Susan Bookbinder on LBC about the increasing homelessness in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The number of homeless households in K&C has almost doubled in the past three years to cc2,000 – including cc2,000 school age children – and is expected to rise further as housing benefits caps and cuts continue to kick in. Currently there are around 25 new households accepted as homeless every week – and this doesn’t count those who will not be accepted under the Homelessness and Housing Acts and will never appear on the books.

The impact of Universal Credit next April, coupled with rising rent in Council and housing association properties heading towards the unaffordable ‘Affordable Rent’, could drive people into debt, resulting in yet more households applying for homelessness so they are eligible for Temporary Accommodation (TA).

Now the Council is looking further and further afield for TA to find ‘competitive rates’. We have already seen families uprooted to Barking, Dagenham and further afield. The effect on physical and mental health, schooling, and employment prospects is devastating, and Councillors have already received heartbreaking requests to be ‘brought home’ by families on the brink of despair.

The Council now states it may be ‘forced’ to pay landlords in other boroughs over the odds to secure TA, thereby forcing up rental rates and chasing low income families from there as well. They are currently doing deals with Derby, Nottingham and Manchester, which we are told by the Cabinet member for Housing is ‘very nice’. Thus homeless families will be forced to accept being sent away from everything they know, jobs, families, schools, doctors, social networks, or be removed from eligibility to any housing whatever.

Meanwhile, the Council makes over £1m PROFIT from TA, by keeping the difference between government grants and the cheapest possible rent they can find.

Let’s put this into context. Around one-third of housing benefit/LHA recipients are low income workers; another third are disabled, pensioners or otherwise unable to work; just a third are currently unemployed. In the bizarre world of Kensington and Chelsea this can include property owners, of whom there are housing benefit recipients in every single area, Knightsbridge and Chelsea included.

Property prices in the borough are the highest in the land, and the Council is not only complicit but proactive in increasing them. One example is the sale of un-refurbished basement properties in Elm Park Gardens off Fulham Road. These derelict basements – which had previously been lived in as flats, whatever the Council says (they stated they were storage to avoid paying tax) – were kept off the market for nearly two years so they could ‘achieve the best price’; a case of property banking at its worst. Little corners of the borough are being sold off or bartered with developers – a new school for some private flats on the playground is the latest wheeze. Meanwhile family homes such as park lodges or a large former childrens’ home are being sold off on the open market; the income goes straight into RBKC’s ‘fun fund’ and can be used for whatever they wish.

Despite the above, the Council will bleat ‘there is nowhere to build social housing’.

Take that £1m profit, plus the proceeds of selling the children’s home, and think what you could do with that £8m to mitigate the devastating effects of what is no less than social cleansing. What the Council decided to do with their spare £1m however, is another matter entirely. Exhibition Road Show is a £1m jamboree, or rather, ‘a journey of discovery, a landscape of wonder … London’s most sophisticated street party.’

Click here for link to Road Show events

In short, Kensington and Chelsea Council is playing Monopoly with people’s lives, and using the proceeds on its ‘urban pleasure garden of culture’ and other frivolities.

The obscenity of profiting from the misery of homeless families or pregnant women living in B&B, or sent to live in Manchester, while spending £1m on ‘a landscape of wonder’ is so cynical and heartless it is breathtaking.

Monday, 23 July 2012

NOLYMPICS: It's my London too; Wornington Green 'muck-up'

The divide between north and south of RBKC has perhaps never been so keenly felt than at this moment.

Imagine the depth of cynicism involved in a decision to bleed your most disadvantaged communities of children's sports funding due to 'government cuts', while frittering roughly the amount saved into a whacking great boozy party lasting nine days.

Unimaginable, isn't it?

Yet this is what our Council has done. In the past three years the total of cuts to school sports amounts to  cc£750,000. This is enough to affect the long-term health, fitness, exercise habits and general well-being of an entire generation of young people, many of whom come from families desperately struggling just to put food on the table. Yet our Council has done this while obscenely and incomprehensibly squandering Council taxpayers' money on nine days of high-brow entertainment, the Exhibition 'Road Show' in South Kensington, involving street performers, circus acts and a staggering 10 open air bars. It kicks off every evening at 6pm. Drinks are being priced high 'to discourage binge drinking', though this will hardly concern the gilded youth of K&C.

Meanwhile, in the embattled estate of Wornington Green in North Kensington, the juggernaut that is Catalyst Housing (a so-called 'social landlord') decided, with no forewarning and no discussion or opportunity to raise problems, to demolish a popular children's skatepark on the first day of the summer holidays and plonk some ugly portocabins there instead.

This is apparently to 'speed up the development', a development which, in my experience of six years working there, no one wants, at least not what is on offer.

To stop this insult to some of the poorest children in the borough, we asked Catalyst, we asked senior officers, Directors and Cabinet members to intervene on the residents' behalf. Guess what? They don't give a stuff. We know this because email trails inadvertently forwarded show what we always feared, that they consider us all to be a great nuisance and a hindrance to the progress of this poorly conceived development.

So, a nine-day world of wonder costing £1m in South Ken, and bugger all for residents in North Ken, not even a popular though scruffy skatepark.


Saturday, 7 July 2012

NOLYMPICS: some thoughts on Olympic exclusion

You can smell it but you're not getting any

TfL and London 2012 have issued the following advice to ensure people enjoy ‘the best possible Games-time experience’. Read between the lines:

‘be prepared to wait for several hours and think carefully about bringing small children’
‘For some, it may be better to view the event … on TV at home, with friends, at a pub or local community centre’
‘TfL also repeated its advice to motorists and urged those in road event areas not to get caught out by the road closures necessary to stage the event’
‘Motorists are advised to avoid central London’
‘Don't get caught out - you will not be able to cross the race route by road’
On road event days road closures will be in place from early morning;
Instead, please use public transport, cycle or walk’

What they really mean is –

In K&C, ‘an Olympic borough’ we have had that advice in bucketloads. The tickets are far too expensive for mere mortals so we can’t think of attending. We have the volleyball competition but residents of Earl’s Court are afraid that local transport will be fit to bursting, possibly dangerously so. Many people have no idea how they will get to work.

So what’s in it for the citizens of North Kensington? Well the Council has cut the school sports budget by £750,000 over the past two years, so if any local young people are inspired by watching the Games obediently on telly they can forget it, there’s little or no funding out there to encourage you. There is allegedly a huge programme of performances on Exhibition Road costing a humungous £1m, but you’ll never get there as the buses will be even more log-jammed than usual. Anyway the Council doesn’t seem to want the proletariat down there, as there is nothing on the Council website to let you know what’s going on. Even residents local to South Kensington have no idea what’s going on right on their doorsteps, so evidently that’s going to be just for tourists too.

And if the poor dears wander up to North Ken to sample the delights of Portobello Market, they will be met with this sign just outside Ladbroke Grove station.

OK not really, but it’s beginning to feel like that.

So is the Council organising any Olympic-themed fun days for residents who can’t afford tickets?

No they are not.

Have they put on any fun events for children to encourage them to get involved in sports?

No they have not.

So what are they doing for the great unwashed masses of N Ken? Well it’s ‘a riotous feast of culture’ called InTransit, comprising ‘artist-led walks, interventions, promenade performances and commissions’, or an ‘unexpected programme of site-responsive events’. You really have to see this:

Apparently they will be taking Grade F polluted water from the canal, parading it around and then throwing it in the Thames.

This is so utterly barmy it not only appeared in our own dear Hornet’s Nest, but also in Private Eye Rotten Boroughs. Some days I am embarrassed to be a Councillor in RBKC, and this was one of them.

You know, I love the arts, and some of the events they are putting on are not bonkers, they are fine. This isn’t an issue about ART. This is an issue about where the Council prioritises its spending in straitened times.

In 2012/13 the Council cut £40,000 from voluntary organisations, over £300,000 from learning disability services, £279,000 from sports for schools (to add to the £500,000 last year), £200,000 from high need adolescents etc etc. Yet they managed to find £1m for ten days of ‘site-responsive events’ on Exhibition Road for tourists, an alleged £30,000 for the launch event party for the select few, and of course the legendary whopping £25m for paving the street – which gets so mucky it needs an extra £175,000 year on special cleaning, which they will need if the ten bars selling booze until late are allowed to open.

My advice to you is, judge the Council not by what they say, but what they do. Their priorities are very clear, and the good people of North Kensington are very far down the list. What is obvious is that there is money to be found for fun activities in the south and middle of the borough, and cuts to be found for the north. The divide between rich and poor in the ‘richest borough in Europe’ is getting wider. Some children go to school hungry, while overpaid executive directors and senior Councillors dream up ever more bizarre ways to spend Council taxpayers’ money ‘saved’ from supporting the vulnerable. This map might give you an indication:

Two Years of Brutal Cuts

A group of local churches, Faith in the City, will be holding an Olympic-themed event for children on Friday 27th at Emslie Horniman Park with stalls and games. I’m sure it will be lovely. For many, it will be the only Olympic event they will experience. In our Royal Borough this is a true reflection of just how much certain people in the Council, elected or employed, care about its poorest residents, and it's shameful.

Monday, 25 June 2012

'Hear that?'

‘That’s the sound of your career going down the toilet.’

This very charming threat came from bully-boy Gideon Osborne way back in 2010, when a highly controversial vote was approaching and the ‘top’ Tories in the new Coalition government were worried that certain of its MPs would vote against it. Gideon called in any potentially independently-minded MPs one by one, and made the nasty threat repeated above.

Morally repugnant, moi? Gideon and friend
Happy days.

In the real world there is no poetic justice, the shit-bags get away with murder, chickens do not come home to roost and miscreants are not hoist by their own petard (whatever that is).

But sometimes, just sometimes …

It is hard to decide, after a week – or a month actually – like the one we’ve just experienced, just who is the most blindingly incompetent politician of all. Would it be Cleggy, who pathetically flexed his puny muscles in Rio with the protective Atlantic between him and eternal damnation/electoral oblivion? Would it be Camoron, closeted with his taxman, railing against single mothers with no hint of irony about his friendship with 'baby-daddy' Boris, quaffing four glasses of wine with Sunday lunch then snoozing all afternoon while SamCam looks after his children (all 1, 2, oops of them)? Would it be Osborne, would it be Gove?

So many to choose from in the continuing omnishambolic state of the government.

I asked a comrade in arms (a well-known blogger) last week, what they would like me to chalk on Gove’s pavement, given that he lives near me (it’s ok I wouldn’t really). They said – surprisingly but rather stylishly I thought given Gove's fondness for the bible – ‘The Beatitudes’.

For anyone who might wish to draw parallels with our situation in Kensington and Chelsea, a microcosm in the worst possible way of all that is unjust in the world our current government is creating, you are welcome to do so.

I would never wish to see reflected in K&C anything like the arrogance, idiocy, short-sightedness, parsimony for some and indulgence for others, selfishness and plain cruelty that characterises our government. I would never wish to … but I do.

Listening to Camoron on Radio 4 this morning you just had to think, here is someone coming to the end of their useless career; the toilet is calling, can you hear it?

Sunday, 3 June 2012

'There is no future in England's dreaming'

When I looked around for some lateral thoughts on the Jubilee, I found a very powerful piece of poetry, as devastating today as when it was written 25 years ago.

In our topsy-turvy world the Coalition government is run by back to front thinkers. A Surrey Councillor said that chronically ill people should be moved into areas where the local health services put those suffering ‘self-inflicted’ illness to the back of the queue. So who would judge whether illness was ‘self-inflicted’ or not? – did you look both ways before you walked into the traffic, eaten too much red meat that could cause your cancer? Depressed? Bin the Prozac, pull yourself together, snap out of it!

This theme of punishing the vulnerable is prevalent throughout ConDem government thinking. They withdraw benefits from disabled people who can’t work, those with chronic pain or terminal illness. To punish people who can only afford to live in social housing, they cut the benefits. To force the unemployed to apply for work they are not qualified for, they threaten to take their homes. They are throwing a whole generation on the scrapheap.

Then they say, ‘we are all getting older …’. No we aren’t. You and I might live longer, but my next door neighbour might earn less than the London Living Wage, have had a lifetime of malnutrition and a rotten education, leading to a life expectancy of just 62, which is the average in some communities in North Kensington.


Some of us may never live long enough to draw a reduced subsistence pension. Some of us will literally have to work – if we can find work – until we drop.

The ConDems protect bankers’ bonuses and nurture top earners through tax breaks, while the 99% suffer creeping austerity, punitive attitudes to vulnerable people, and tolerance of intolerance. To add insult to injury the government has overseen the expenditure of £150m to mark the country’s subjugation by an archaic system that determines leadership by a DNA lottery. We’re all right Jack.

We are subjects ruled by Princes and run by PLANKS, plausible knaves, sophists, deceivers. All those swaggering, garrulous, domineering, sneering, bullying public schoolboys and others who emulate them know nothing, not even the price of milk, what LOL means, what a pasty tastes like, or just how much it costs to give dignified care to a dementia sufferer.  

Sin Republica
No hay democracia

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Toast, and a game of Consequences


I had already decided to make ‘toast’ a theme of this blog, but as in ‘the LibDems are toast’ or ‘Camoron is toast’, rather than our PM actually looking like toast ('spray tan' pic below). Will none of his homies tell him – enuf of da fake bake blud? LOL.

While this may seem a little flippant in strange and scary times, Cameraman’s fake bake is a metaphor for a government that looks and sounds healthy and virile, but is in fact inarticulate, pale, etiolated, washed out.

Just two years into the marriage of minds and financial/political self-interest we saw celebrated among the roses, the supposedly well-matched couple were struggling to bend their wills to the other’s demands, but while they were so co-dependent, the relationship blossomed.

He said: ‘I will retain my political independence’
He said: ‘I will retain my political independence’

However the constant interference and misdoings of a third party meant their partnership was ill-fated. ‘We’re not just a bunch of accountants’ they said. Not even what??

THEN, A NEW MAN CAME ON THE SCENE AND MESSED WITH THEIR MINDS, AND THE ECONOMY (for those who don't recognise him, this piccy is of Georgie boy Osborne)

’Government is about action, not excuses’

On May 4th they thought they would be celebrating a great victory and public affirmation of ‘difficult decisions in difficult times’...

... but instead they are clinging onto an iceberg


‘I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden’


200 years ago yesterday, my 3x great grandfather PM Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the Houses of Parliament. So, a timely reminder after an extraordinary week to keep up with the casework and remember it’s the voters who vote for you, and who can despatch you at the polling booth – or elsewhere if they choose.