Thursday, 22 August 2013

From Soapsuds Island to the Money Laundry of the World? Wornington Green Blog 6

'Soapsuds Island', Kensal Town next to the canal
In the mid-19th century, there were so many washer-women operating in Kensal Town, North Kensington, that it was called ‘Soapsuds Island’. It was a very poor area of little hovels, and the home-based hand laundries served the great houses of Kensington. Just months ago the last vestige of this business, White Knight Laundry, moved away, a victim of rising rents and punitive parking charges and fines.

As businesses and families who have survived generations of change are squeezed out, what is replacing them? First the ‘slums’ and overcrowded tenements were replaced with housing estates, now the first poorly maintained and overcrowded post-war estate – Wornington Green – is facing demolition and replacement with ‘an exciting new urban quarter’.

So who can afford to buy the outrageously overpriced flats and houses on offer, that as we have seen in my previous five blogs are of dubious quality, to put it politely? With house price to earnings ration of 27:1, it's not our people.
Brilliant graph by Oliver Rivers, click to enlarge

Lovely Pepler House patio gardens
This (left) is what you see when you leave your front door in the ‘old’ estate.

The gardens are well used and well loved, you can see your neighbours or have a bit of privacy. There is light and space.

Scene from 'The Shining'
The new homes however aren’t even very nice. This is what greets you when you leave the ‘exciting new urban quarter’. A dark and featureless corridor that looks like a cheap hotel or a scene from a horror film.

Well, IF we are to believe Simon Jenkins – and who am I to doubt him? – these buyers are NOT the upwardly aspirational younger generation of local people, whose grandparents and parents sweated and slaved hand-washing linen or with three menial jobs to get them through school and uni into professional careers – the people whom Catalyst and the Council tried to persuade us they were catering for. No siree.

Jenkins tells us (1): ‘We hear that 90 per cent of the top 10 per cent of London houses go to foreigners but nobody really knows who is behind the faceless companies or offshore trusts. All that is likely is that this is tax-dodge money, funk money, Arab money, Russian money, laundered money, money so infinitely dodgy that no authority dares look at it. London is a tax haven down to its very kerbs. It is the Dubai of Europe.’

With central London housing now reputedly four times more valuable than offices, the City of London, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea face becoming not just vast housing estates but empty ones. They see their employment base squeezed not in favour of those needing a house but those needing a bank, one that asks no questions and makes no charges.’

And then again in March (2): 'It was reported yesterday that half a billion pounds’ worth of property in these boroughs was bought in the Knightsbridge and Kensington area last year by Greeks and Italians alone. I would guess 90 per cent of it is empty, carrying negligible council tax and no other forms of impost, until this year not even stamp duty.

'What is fuelling soaring property prices in central London is laundered money, drugs money, redirected aid money, funk money from the eurozone, money stolen from the Russian people. The property market is clearing streets of their residents to attract this cash. It is erecting tower blocks of luxury flats along the Thames, which will stand as “fiscal launderettes” that are empty of occupants.

'These properties are not sublet. They pump no money into the local economy. They are Midas properties, a banquet of solid gold that is uneatable by anyone. Boris Johnson’s theory that these people are “bringing wealth to London” is laughable. They are stashing it here, that is all.’

Friday, 9 August 2013

Myth vs Reality at ‘Portobello Square’/Wornington Green: some clarity please!

Wet, wonky, unfinished, but they moved people in anyway

Why would anyone wish to buy a flat in this block to rent out at £560/week?

Here is a mystery: Catalyst Housing employed Mansells to demolish and subsequently, they anticipated, to build ‘Portobello Square’ on Wornington Green, the thoroughly stigmatised and then ‘re-visioned’ North Kensington estate we know and love. As you may have read in previous blogs, Mansells were then removed from the job and the ‘more economic’ Ardmore brought in to build Phase 1.

Click to see open joints and dodgy bits
While one advisor from Planning Aid called Wornington Green ‘a model of community cohesion’, and Nick Johnson then of Urban Splash said ‘it would be a crime to knock this down’, a very different story was put about by PR/branding/marketing crew Philosophy Design. Philosophy claim they are responsible for ‘community engagement marketing to existing affordable tenants’ (whatever that means and I think we can guess),but instead they sideline residents, and seem more interested in stating as fact the myth that the rude and disdainful Stella McCartney (now thankfully disappeared from the neighbourhood) ‘discovered’ the ‘lost neighbourhood of Golborne’, and getting such utter nonsense in the press.

It is true that stuff happens (a very rare but horrific triple stabbing last weekend which for mysterious reasons didn’t get into the press) and may happen more frequently now the ‘new policing formula’ is in place. However, Golborne is a poor but friendly, quirky and interesting family neighbourhood where the crime rate is very low and – possibly because - everybody knows everybody, or at least they do up to now.

The lintel is supposed to be flush
We had trouble with Ardmore. We had trouble with rude and uncooperative workmen, for several months. They ignored the Traffic Management Plan and did as they pleased, until we formed a human chain across the road and began to film them doing dodgy manoeuvres, such as hoiking portocabins over a row of cars. Then they behaved themselves for a bit.

Ardmore, as already alleged, were squeezed on the build cost. Then, some say, they squeezed on the staffing cost; employees are said to be unskilled labourers rather than skilled workers, and the degree of problems that have arisen may confirm this. Despite all this, Catalyst are now squeezing them even further on the timescale.

We are told it won't fall off,
but neither can this be fixed
Then something mysterious happened to the build quality (see four previous blogs plus more pics here). And we have just been informed that some of the plans agreed via the legally binding Planning process may not have been kept to. These may seem like minor picky issues, but once you add them up, plus the leaks and the floods and the damp and the snags and the blatantly poor quality that is there for all to see (eg, softwood rather than hardwood used for lock-up doors), this adds up to something very concerning indeed.

Despite all this, we are told all the private flats and houses have been sold by Hamptons International. Today FIVE of the flats in the Bonchurch Road block are being marketed for RENT by Hamptons International; some say they may be getting double bonus fees for selling then renting so why would they care that they are marketing ‘shoddy and leaking’ homes? Two bed flats cost £560/wk, one beds cost £500/week.


£2,275 PCM
Brand New! A stunning two double bedroom apartment with the Portobello Square Development. The apartment benefits from its own balcony, two double bedrooms and two...

Evidently I’m missing something. Whatever could it be?

Any ideas, anyone?

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Word at Wornington: Mr Wolf is coming

The ancient game of Spillikins: is anything attached to anything?

Some residents who are neighbours of the new Wornington Green are very very afraid. They fear that the Big Bad Wolf will come, and huff and puff, and blow the houses down.
Corner house, Munro Mews

What else are people saying about Wornington Green?

'I'm a builder. These buildings could be dangerous.'

'I've seen a foreman give instructions to workmen in sign language. They don't speak any English and they are unskilled labourers doing a skilled job.'

'The builders urinate all down the mews, including on people's doorsteps. It's disgusting. I wonder if they have toilets on site.' 
Wonky woodwork at Wornington Green

 'The only people happy here are the plumbers and electricians employed locally to come in and put right mistakes the builders have made. There have been countless leaks and dodgy wiring in the occupied part; it's just shoddily built.'

Whatever can they do about those window frames?
'We heard a terrible story of two young apprentices, both black, who were told to guard the paint store. The paint store didn't need guarding. One of them was racially abused in a really appalling way, with the 'n' word written all over a wall. The construction company said they fired the guy, but they didn't, he's still around.'

'The show house is simply dreadful. It's not worth £1, let along £1m.'

'The new tenants in the accessible flats like it because they are big. The new tenants in the one-beds on Wornington Road are miserable. I've seen two virtually in tears. The flats are pokey and badly laid out, with no storage. One tenants keeps her washing machine in the hall as it won't fit in her tiny kitchen.'