Thursday, 11 December 2014

'SHAMBOLIC' #2, RBKC confuses 'want' with 'need'

We know there are homeless people out there, thousands upon thousands of them, and we know there are rough sleepers. I have seen more and more tucked away in quiet corners of the borough over the summer, and left them to it; in warm weather it may be tolerable. Some rough sleepers have work of a kind (manual labour at a certain building site), some have come to the UK to work and found none, others have simply fallen off the edge.

So I shouldn’t have been shocked by this photo, sent in by a resident, of a rough sleeper on Portobello Road, with one layer of wrapping, lying on concrete on the coldest night of the year, Friday 5 December.

But I was.

Now sensitised, while I am out and about I look out for bundles of blankets and cardboard, and see quite a few. Sometimes there’s a poor soul hidden inside. How many will survive this freezing weather?

In a civilised society, in the self-professed ‘richest borough in the universe’ this is unforgivable. I have sat at meetings when Council officers backed by a pinstriped Cabinet Member have painstakingly explained how night shelters, lunch clubs, even food banks, encourage the hungry and un-housed to hang about in the borough. How unseemly! ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ and never mind where they will end up, half starved and rough sleeping.

So, the churches fill in where they can, and thank God and all the gods for that.

So reflect on this for a moment:

The ‘richest borough in the universe’
is CUTTING £150,000
from its homelessness prevention scheme this year.

Yes, the Council that can justify handing over, no strings attached, £5m to a loss-making business, Opera Holland Park, that some say has cost us cc£20m since inception - a ‘business’ that loses up to £125,000 per week on its eight-week summer run – is CUTTING the price of a week of opera (if you add in the cost of renting the location at Holland House, which is given free), for a year of homelessness prevention.

As we go about our rounds, we find the message of financial incompetence and tortured priorities by the Council is getting through. So, for the sake of absolute clarity and accuracy, here are some figures to feed your outrage this wintry season. So, when you are wondering how a civilised society and ‘fabulously’ rich Council can walk by someone sleeping on a pavement in below-zero temperatures, this is how:

Short course

Any organisation that has been run inefficiently for years can make savings through better planning and tightening up on costs.

But RBKC has taken this to a new level. While bleating ‘austerity’ and ‘tough decisions’ they have cut back on services, particularly focussed on  the most vulnerable who cannot speak for themselves.

And yet, most of this is simply unnecessary. Here’s why. Below you will see a table of government funding cuts to RBKC since 2010 (cuts = savings). In the third column is the total of UNDERSPENDING across the Council in the same year. All these sums have been taken from the Council’s own documentation:

Government funding cut
Total underspend
















A large chunk of the underspends every year are put into the Capital Reserve, to fund major projects such as the cc£100m Holland Park School.

The ‘usable Reserves’ from which capital and other projects are funded look like this:

10/11 - £206m
11/12 - £224m
12/13 - £241m
13/14 - £267m
at September 2014 - £283m

You would think that having large Reserves means you would get some interest on that to ‘soften the blow’ of savings; in fact Council policy states precisely that. You would be wrong.

These Reserves are kept almost entirely in the Debt Management Office (very safe but can be accessed quickly), whose return on investments is .25%pa. Given that inflation has been cc2.5%, the loss on say £100m of these Reserves (the sum the Council states they have not earmarked for capital projects) is cc£4-5m/yr. So we are actually LOSING money. If that £100m was invested, we could GAIN cc£4-5m/yr. So you could say that we are forgoing cc£10m/yr.

Now let’s look at some of the Council’s PRIORITIES. In 2010/11 (election year) £4.2m was spent on an ‘efficiency dividend’ of £50 each to all registered for Council Tax. In 2013/14 (election year) £7.5m was spent on an ‘efficiency dividend’ of £100 each to all Council Tax PAYERS (ie not in receipt of Housing Benefit).

Here are some more ‘priorities’:

Opera Holland Park – underwriting loss of cc£1m/yr
Leighton House – this year alone £2.6m refurb costs
National Army Museum – ‘loan’ of £2.5m for refurb
Kens Academy artwork - £150k
Holland Park Ac artwork - £120k

In the past six years, the Council has spent an incredible £1m on Pre-Raphaelite art:
-      Clytie (lady in a nightie)
-      Cimabue’s Madonna ( lady in a nightie)
-      Nymphs in a Landscape (shockingly, ladies without nighties)

Now let’s look at ‘underspends’ in services, using 2013/14 as an example:

Adult Social Care                      £6.4m
Children’s Services                       £641k
Env Leisur and Res                      £2.3m
Housing                                     £638k
Libr, Arch, Heritage                     £238k
Planning, boro devt                      £1.6k
Transp & Techn                         £6.4m
Corp Servi                                £3.8m
Adult, Family Learning                    £44k

As you can see for yourself, ‘tough decisions’ are in truth IDEOLOGICAL.

And people, if the Tories get into government again and are allowed to kick off their destructive ‘deficit balancing’ budget, make no mistake, people will die.

Which is why. given that RBKC is a microcosm of all that is very wrong in the country at present, we need to understand how our Tories in RBKC make their decisions, where the money is, and just how the process is driven by wrong-headedness, incompetence and ideology. 


Far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their money, so I would just like to say 'thank you' to whoever sent me these gorgeous flowers, an extravagant but very touching anonymous gift with a very flattering message attached. Times are tough, and gratitude is rare; you made my day.

Monday, 1 December 2014


Children at Venture Centre Adventure Playground face fears of closure

In yet another utterly shambolic and logic-defying decision by the self-professed ‘richest borough in the universe’, RBKC Council is at the point of rubbishing years of excellent work by closing its Play Services. Children of low-income working parents are to be hit hardest, as the result of what is feared to be a pre-determined ‘Review’ is proposing that the after-school and holiday play services that so many rely upon are to be effectively privatised. Cut off from any form of Council subsidy, the cost of this service is destined to go through the roof and be unaffordable for many.

All this to save a measly £500,000 over three years.

A measly £500,000, regarded as a ‘tough decision in times of austerity’. This is in addition to the £500k already cut from Youth Services as youth crime and violence rises, the £340k cut from Special Educational Needs Transport that caused huge upset and allegedly put our most vulnerable children in danger, and the upcoming reorganisation of Children’s Centres and Nurseries to save £500k, that will ‘amalgamate’ services and is feared to reduce numbers of places and increase costs to an unaffordable level.

Where precisely is the logic of NOT making work pay for hard-pressed parents and carers? What will be the human cost of families no longer able to work their hours, of children stuck in an overcrowded home after school and during holidays, losing out on the very creative and physically healthy activities offered at after-school and holiday play centres?

To think the Council are supporting a study on childhood obesity, at the same time!

Simply insane.

So while the Council is trimming costs and services left, right and centre in the name of austerity, they are simultaneously proposing handing over a whopping £5m to cut loose from its loss-making Opera Holland Park, which some calculate has already lost the Council cc£20m. The season is just two months a year, which equates to a loss of cc£16,000 A DAY. And the current director, who has presided over this loss-making fiasco, is to be guaranteed his position in the new, taxpayer-funded venture.

Some Councils are genuinely struggling financially. Ours is not. It has stashed £283m of YOUR money in an ‘under-the-mattress’ fund whose return is so low that, taking inflation into account, it actually LOSES £12m/year.

So. Cuts for Play Services, that help nurture children in their early years, add immeasurably to their safety, social skills, health and well-being, and help parents work, study, or care for others. And £5m for Opera.

*Sometimes* services that cost money are excellent value; this is certainly the case with our Play Services. Our Council knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. And this terrible, illogical and dangerous situation could blight an entire generation of children.

STOP PRESS: This issue will be debated at Full Council on Weds 3.12.14, from 6.30pm in the Council Chamber. Come to the Public Gallery and show your support for parents and children in the borough.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

'Everything must go' in K&C/Farewell to Chelsea?

Quentin Crisp, part of 'old Chelsea's DNA
For many years Chelsea has represented what is excellent, appealing and good in the English psyche – tolerant, diverse, quirky, eccentric, arty, where the famous can walk the streets in peace. There have always been some residents with lots, and others with less or little. There have always been people with ‘class’ but no money, people with both, and people with neither. There have been migrants and refugees whose background and education might bear no relation to how they end up earning a crust for their families. Above all, dear Chelsea, you have been an open friendly place for families. There have always been children with little or no English at local primary schools, and the most patient students are tasked with helping them through the first difficult months, and they become friends.

While much of that tolerance and character remains, along with a diminishing colony of impecunious artists, the beautiful buildings and spaces of Chelsea have attracted those who wish to monetise and pimp out your charms. Thus the vacuous, humour-free, talent-free, Barbie-Ken fake-tan line-up of ‘Made in Chelsea’ display their wares in a devalued market, and are disappointed NOT to be recognised in the street. They have ‘classy’ voices and pots of money and designer clothes, but no values; they have confidence but no integrity. They have shiny hair and luminous teeth, and are made up and photoshopped, or even go under the surgeon’s knife, to turn themselves into bland homogenous factory produced clones; but they are unattractive.

This is Chelsea now, proposed development
Similarly, the diversity and richness of Chelsea’s streets and buildings are losing their beautiful patina of time, and are photoshopped, replicated and Disneyfied, losing all character, as the vultures move in. Cookie-cutter modern developments, with brick cladding and reconstituted Yorkstone window surrounds, claim ‘sensitivity’, ‘sympathy’ and ‘harmony’ but barely achieve a level of banality.

Thus, Sutton Dwellings residents may be sold down the river, while their landlord Affinity Sutton claims no more than to be:

- and have no shame in stating at their first consultation with residents, that they wish to ‘maintain the sense of community’ while, with no sense of irony or shame, proposing private gardens for private homes.

Most sickening of all, the Council – while crying wolf - is following the tribe of property developers and cannibalising the borough.

The Council Leader recently blogged on the subject:

‘Now I’m far from against wealthy people from overseas coming to live here in Kensington and Chelsea.  If they obey the law, bring high level skills to our economy, shop in our shops and pay their taxes, that’s all positive I think.  What isn’t so positive however are foreigners using the assets of the UK as a sort of stuccoed safety deposit box, thereby sucking the life from our streets and plunging into cold storage homes that might otherwise be lived in by people who would actually contribute to the UK rather than simply profit from it.’

Fair enough you might say, but while noting the problem he is, with no sense of irony or shame, heading a Council hell-bent on monetising or selling off every square inch of the borough, thereby forcing prices ever upwards and exacerbating the problem.

A senior Tory said recently on reading the Cabinet papers: ‘Where is the policy? Where is the ideology? This is all about property.’

To which I responded: ‘That IS Council policy. It is all about property and making money from property. That is IT. We are now property developers’.

We are: Realty Brokers of Kensington and Chelsea.

With every square inch of land or property up for grabs, whether owned by developers, social landlords or the Council itself, we have become embroiled in a fire sale, a desperate effort to dispose of anything realisable before prices – inevitably – drop off a cliff.

Thus, riding on a tidal wave of bluster, contradiction and misrepresentation (that some would call ‘lies’ but I would not dare) the Council paraded Cremorne Estate for possible sale before the world – but was repelled by an immovable and united Chelsea, old and new, of all classes and none.

Thus, propelled by a tornado of what we are told is misrepresentation and distrust, Thamesbrooke Residential Care Home was hurriedly emptied of its vulnerable residents on the presumption – or pretence – of the presence of Legionella, which some experts have insisted is easily fixable and of no risk - while the Adult Social Care budget is UNDERSPENT by over £6m.

Thus, the property development company that my Council has become is looking at its entire portfolio, and trying to pick off ‘low hanging fruit’ buildings of the vulnerable, in the false belief that there will be less protest.

How very wrong they were. Instead, they have provoked their own voters to near riot. And they don’t even need the money. Because, with £283m in usable Reserves, we are also:

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Democracy vs Aristocracy in Kensington and Chelsea

The very peculiar world of Kensington and Chelsea Council barely reflects the reality of everyday life in the borough.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the pantomime of Full Council meetings. The idea that this is somehow part of a statutory decision-making process is simply depressing. When residents hand petitions to their ward Councillors, they often attend Full Council and sit in the Public Gallery to witness democracy at work; this may be the first and last time they ever attend. The petition is read out and the moment is quickly over. Then they stay to watch the debates. Several Council members, despite warnings, continue to play computer games or read the papers, with no pretence that it is work-related. Visitors find this shocking. Then when the debates start, they hear the bickering, name-calling and blatant disrespect. To top it all, despite the hours of work they have put into getting signatures, the petitioners may not get any response whatever.

Democracy at work, K&C style. 

To make it worse, while Labour and our single LibDem Councillors research and write their own speeches, it is clear that Cabinet Members often read out texts written by officers. They are not familiar with them, and cannot ad lib if challenged. So if they have misjudged the Labour Group position they are quite unable to alter their speech to fit; they just plough on anyway. At times the Tories are quite unable to hide the disdain they feel for their electorate; we record and date every incident.

The ‘Cllr Shut-Up’ [link to Evening Standard] episode was appalling, but not unusual. The only difference was that the offensive comment was directed at members of the public rather than the Labour Group; total disdain plus a hint of venom directed at a Public Gallery full of parents and carers who had been very badly let down by the Council, and their children put in danger.

This attitude comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what democracy means:

They seem to think they are some kind of elected aristocracy, born, or elected to rule.

So they see the borough as a mini-state and treat residents as troublesome subjects, and the Council as a humungous business, and treat its staff as their own employees.

Then they justify expense on unjustifiable items and projects in terms of ‘prestige’, as if the Council were a huge corporation or brand touting for business and placating its shareholders. 

No. We are all public servants, together, in our different roles, some of us are appointed and some are elected. The borough is a geographical area under our care. The Council is a public service that should serve the public, first and foremost.

Residents of all political persuasions, and none, are increasingly frustrated and angry that their concerns are very poorly represented by their Tory representatives. They keep residents at arm’s length, and wash their hands of the more difficult issues, such as planning matters that are changing neighbourhoods forever, or basement excavations that blight their residents lives and create a living hell for our families and older people. These are the people holding our borough together by creating networks that form communities; the very people we should treasure and respect.

Policy should be formed from residents’ concerns and priorities. These are very clearly laid out in the Annual Residents’ Survey, which reflects a far kinder and more humane and fairer and more inclusive approach to Budgeting.

Instead, without mandate and increasingly without even a pretence at meaningful consultation or democratic process, the Cabinet makes ‘difficult decisions’ to cut services that residents value and need the most, while spending to excess on pet projects and frivolities.

Saturday, 26 July 2014


The pure idiocy of it is irresistible to comment upon, though being name-checked in the Daily Hate Mail is hardly my proudest moment. Two weeks ago, Andrew Pierce, amidst nose-snorting laughs, accused me of being a ‘Labour rebel, made in Chelsea’.

Now, I was ‘Made in Chelsea’, really, here I am in front of my house in Paulton’s Square (above).

Click to enlarge, if you really must
The other matter (his words on my tombstone, left) I will refute. Like most of the K&C Opposition Labour Group I have come to politics via another career which I am still active in; I am no career politician. So unlike the drones, clones, worker bees, back-bench ballast, political ladder-climbers and front-bench hoggers who are prevalent among much of national and local politics, I believe in the democratic system. So if I think the Mansion Tax in its proposed form is unworkable, I will say so, and if my colleagues agree (which they do) I will say so publicly. in the Evening Standard if I can, and it matters not who conceived it.

I know this is pretty radical stuff, so do sit down before I continue.

Call me an old romantic if you wish, but I still believe that policy should reflect what people think, and politicians should respond to their concerns. Politics, not only ON the doorstep, but FROM the doorstep.

When people say ‘you work for the Council’, I say ‘no, the Council works for me, and I work for you’. Councillors (and MPs) are public servants. We may have been through various professions and training that helps us work our way through the labyrinthine and deliberately obfuscated system of Council decision-making - that is a useful skill - but we are the instrument of the electorate, whether they vote for us personally or not, and not of our political parties.

This is why (put your fingers in your ears now you Tories) residents come to us with their concerns, whoever they are, wherever they are from. Along with my colleagues I will always go the extra mile for people who are more vulnerable, confused, disadvantaged or who for some reason find it difficult to speak out for themselves. But we are there to mediate between residents and the Council, whoever they are, even articulate but ignored and angry Tory voters.

Thus, I see no problem whatever stating in the Evening Standard that the Mansion Tax as currently envisaged would not work in K&C, I don’t see how it possibly can be fair given the totally preposterous housing market in K&C, and many residents are extremely worried about it.

It’s part of the job to speak out.

And you Tories still snort-laughing through your noses – watch out, we are working with YOUR voters. You know this is true, after witnessing several hundred of your natural voters cheering on the Labour Group at Council this year. Oh dear.


While on the subject of public service and preposterity, it may be a good time to remind ourselves that the Council is NOT a business but a public service.

Thus, when we are selecting organisations to work with our most vulnerable residents – children with Special Educational Needs – we must think of their needs first, and not our own profit or pleasure. Especially when we, as we are in K&C, so awash with money that we cannot be bothered to invest our Reserves, not even the teensie £100m we don't need for capital projects for five years. Thereby losing cc£12m over say five years in potential INTEREST. But 'Marie Antoinette-like' we still find the cash for the overrunning Arts Strategy - opera, multi-million pound museum refits, long-horned cows, 'n' all.

The disgraceful and avoidable disaster of the SEN Transport Contract has already been discussed in Private Eye and The Guardian [Guardian on SEN Transport fiasco], and will soon get further coverage. But for those who may have missed it, this is the story of three Councils ‘working together’ in an attempt to save an unbelievable 50% of the costs of the contract for picking up our most vulnerable and idiosyncratic and often brilliant but poorly AND OFTEN FUN AND FUNNY children, taking them to school or daycare, and home again at the end of the day. The ‘new cheap’ contract began in April, and there were problems from day one as revealed at the committee meeting at H&F  [Notes of Meeting on SEN Transport, H&F 8.7.14]. 

Did anybody pause to think, maybe the previous cost of SEN Transport was 'best value'? No. No more fun for our precious children; just daily f***-ups.

We are told that in Westminster there have been few if any issues, but in H&F as you will gather from the documents, it has been frankly disastrous. One child could have died, and if any child comes to any harm from this moment onwards, K&C Council must take the consequences.

At a specially convened Council Meeting to discuss the matter last week, the Tory Whip, bored of hearing some home truths from outraged parents in the Public Gallery, told them to ‘SHUT UP’.

Now Mr Whip, or ‘Cllr Shut-Up’ as he has been re-named, just imagine for a moment that one of your children was in this situation and subjected to appalling treatment every single day. Would you sit and listen to the drivel the Cabinet Member was expounding, or would you lose it, just a bit? As for the other Conservative Councillor, who accused the Labour Group in the most repellent terms of making political capital of what was (to him evidently) a minor matter, in case you didn't realise, some members of the public felt physically sickened at your comments and had to leave the Chamber. Yes you, the one your colleagues call 'Lord Voldemort'. Shame on you.

You will never, ever be allowed to forget what happened to SEN Transport, or your appalling conduct at Council. That’s a promise.

Along with the transcript of the meeting between parents, officers, and – love them – the new Labour team in charge of H&F, plus the Minutes of the Special Council meeting last Thursday, plus all the upcoming press coverage, this will go down in -

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Anti-Social Landlords #2: the human cost of 'regeneration'

Will the Peasants Revolt in Chelsea Old Town Hall as the Council
'wishes to destroy local communities in favour of developers'?
Barely a week goes by in Kensington and Chelsea without some new alleged outrage being visited upon one or another group of residents.

There was indignation about the assignment of a lease of Council-owned Isaac Newton Centre to a prep school group that was considered to be little more than a Trojan horse for future residential development. This led to a petition of cc2,000 furious residents – considered middle-income in K&C but elsewhere they would be ‘rich’ – who stormed the Council Chamber in their hundreds and made their fury very public. Their complaints included a deliberately convoluted bidding process, and the Council selling out to the highest bidder, with no thought for parents who had set up a local school with many community benefits. A cross-party committee of Councillors agreed with residents that the process had lacked transparency and appeared unfair or even partial. Some parents threatened to stand against Tory incumbents in the elections. The Cabinet ‘listened but did not hear’, a recurrent theme these days.

No sooner was the election over than anti-social landlord Affinity Sutton accelerated their proposal to demolish and ‘regenerate’ Sutton Dwellings, a well-loved Edwardian estate off Fulham Road that, if properly maintained and updated, could last another 200 years. Local residents from all sides of the social spectrum, in a classic ‘old Chelsea’ manner, have rallied to the cause of saving the estate from the ‘voracious’ developers. Three even stood as Independents against the Council, attracting the support of many previous non-voters.

Now we hear that a long-time TfL plan to deliver the Chelsea/Hackney line (Crossrail 2) with a station at Dovehouse Street, has been challenged by the Council. TfL officers were forced to staff the exhibition that included the Council’s counter-proposal and they suffered verbal battering from residents, as the Council’s ingenious plan would flatten the perfectly sound Cremorne Estate and move residents as far away as possible – or so Council tenants believe.

'The lovely new Kings Rd Crossrail, with Westfield Mall,
it only lacks some riverside residential towers'
This would provide an ‘opportunity to regenerate’ that has caused heavy drooling among certain Cabinet Members and senior Property officers, with their eye on humungous financial gain.

As I once explained to the Leader of the Conservative Group, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of ‘regeneration’ - a very much misused term within the Council as elsewhere.

Here is my definition:

Regeneration is an aim not a process. Development or redevelopment carried out with intelligence, good planning and reasonable expectations of profit can result in regeneration.

‘Regeneration’ implies an uplift of economic and social benefits and wellbeing for existing residents and businesses in the long term; means other than development can also achieve regeneration in its true sense.
True regeneration improves the physical without changing the soul
If development only achieves improvement in visual amenity, built form, additional residential or business units, but does not produce other long-term sustainable economic or social benefits, this is not regeneration.

Other outcomes – intended or unintended – such as displacement of long-term residents and local amenity businesses and services, is not regeneration. This is social cleansing, pure and simple.

When the Council or TMO in its typically cack-handed and insensitive way begins a CONsultation during the Christmas or summer holidays, or Ramadan, or without informing those affected in an open and transparent and thorough way, in good time for comment and while there is a genuine possibility of influencing the outcome, when the Council seems to be by-passing genuine input, residents become distrustful and angry.

This applies to beleaguered residents subject to an intrusive subterranean excavation by a next-door neighbour, just as it does to Council tenants whose homes are viewed as ‘regeneration opportunities’.

We need to ask, ‘who is this development for?’, ‘who will it actually benefit?’. Tenants? Home-owners? Neighbours? Business? Or the developer (who may be the Council)?

What do we actually care about in the borough? Does the Council care about the same things as its residents, who it is supposed to represent? Does the Council spend the Council taxpayers’ money on the projects, services and issues that the public cares about? A close review of the Annual Residents’ Survey suggests not.

Residents I speak to agree with me on this:

In the past year this Council has done its best to crush individuality and difference of opinion. In doing so, their reputation has been tarnished and they have lost the respect of thousands of residents of all income levels and all political persuasions.

I know this because I have been approached in the street by residents who said they voted Labour for the first time, because in K&C we as the Labour Group and as individual Councillors had stood up for them.

I am proud to stand up for those who feel like I do about preserving communities, and will fight for their right to continue their contribution to the glorious DNA cocktail of our neighbourhoods, now and in perpetuity.

That’s what is so special about Kensington and Chelsea, and it’s worth preserving.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Anti-Social Landlords, Portobello Square, and the Threat Repression Nexus

They come like robbers in the night, when you are tucked up safe in bed. Your doors and windows are shut tight, but still they enter and take your money, your security, even your home. Exposed to the evil but seductive attractions of monetising the few square metres of land your home sits on, they get sucked into a web of greed that so often leads to deceit. 

They are social landlords gone bad.

In 2010 when the planning application for Wornington Green was about to be heard, there were mixed feelings on the estate. This was despite a recent survey that stated ‘69% of people surveyed said they had concerns about the redevelopment but on the whole thought it was for the best’.

We don’t know which buildings were surveyed, or how many people from each household were surveyed, but 69% of 252 people is just 173. In an estate of nearly 2,000 adults that’s barely 9%. And if they had cunningly focussed their survey on the worst maintained and most overcrowded buildings, 9% is still a lot, but not such a surprise. 

In response to local misgivings, Kensington Housing Trust (now Catalyst Housing Group) reassured their tenants with the following Pledges:

March/April 2010
Wornington Green newsletter
‘Kensington Housing Trust will keep the community together. We pledge to:

·         Re-house everybody who wants to remain on Wornington Green
·         End overcrowding
·         Create local jobs and apprenticeships
·         Provide all tenants with private outdoor space
·         Build a new home for the Venture centre and provide an improved same size park
·         Build homes to the same space standards as your home now
·         Charge the same rent levels as you have now
·         Build homes that can be adapted as your needs change’

-      The first is physically impossible unless they build additional homes, which they have no intention of doing
-      Second, ditto. We were told the estate was over 100 bedrooms short.
-      Well, the jobs are there but very few local people are involved
-      Gardens replaced with a tiny balcony or sunless patio; no thanks!
-      Venture Centre and park; wait and see
-      Ask residents if they can fit their old furniture in their new homes. NOT.
-      Residents are definitely NOT paying the same rent levels as previously
-      Adaptable homes; you gotta be kidding.

The existence of these pledges has been called a ‘myth’; but see below.

Other popular myths vs the horrible truth:
1, ‘marketing by Hamptons International is focussed entirely on London’; but see below.

Trendy village living

Situated in a prime location in West London's iconic Notting Hill, Hardy Mansions is the final block to be released in Phase 1 of the luxury Portobello Square development. Portobello Square offers the best of 21st-century city living, with its sustainable design, distinctive village atmosphere and an enviable range of attractions right on its doorstep.
Nia Tam
Friday, January 17, 2014
Situated in a prime location in West London's iconic Notting Hill, Hardy Mansions is the final block to be released in Phase 1 of the luxury Portobello Square development. Portobello Square offers the best of 21st-century city living, with its sustainable design, distinctive village atmosphere and an enviable range of attractions right on its doorstep................
Available exclusively to the Hong Kong market, 42 flats and penthouses featuring one, two or three bedrooms in sizes from 559 square feet to 1,430 sq ft will be ready for occupation in the autumn of 2015......
Hardy Mansions, Portobello Square
Address 354 Portobello Road, London W10
Layouts 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and penthouses
Developer Catalyst
Date: January 18-19 (Sat-Sun)
Time: 11am-7pm
Venue: East Room, 23/F, Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road, Central
Agent: Hamptons International

2, ‘the ceiling did not collapse’

'spectacular build quality'
3, ‘this is a heroic and incredible achievement … the quality of build is spectacular’


If anyone ever thought that the way social landlords approached their role this days is akin to a repressive dictatorship, this is of course ridiculous.

Repressive dictatorships behave in highly specified ways. Firstly of course they repress their people through poverty, poor infrastructure and health, and lack of employment. This can be deliberate, or due to incompetence, or sometimes greed. While the masses are cowed and the regime is strong, they have no need to impose repression; this is the first stage of the Threat Repression Nexus.

Secondly, when faced with the consequences of their action/inaction, they deny everything, including the right to access basic human rights (‘All individuals have the right to live in peace so that they can develop fully all their capacities, physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual, without being the target of any kind of violence’).

Then if faced by opposition from within, and pressure from outside, together with the offer of funds via a structural adjustment programme, they make tactical concessions – just enough to qualify for outside financial support.

The desired outcome here is for the regime to absorb new practices and move towards a more internationally acceptable norm. However. What often happens at this point is that strictures and savings imposed from outside have an opposite and deleterious effect, actually impoverishing the people further. This is destabilising, particularly as aspirations have been raised, and can lead to previously peaceful communities rising up against the regime. This is the point at which a repressive regime will impose the full force of repression in all its bloody horror.

As I said, nothing whatever to do with the subject to hand.


A word of advice, also nothing whatever to do with the foregoing. When dealing with unreconstructed males working in property development, IF, after a disagreeable meeting at which nothing is resolved, said developer offers to shake your hand, do not give it. You could end up with a ‘haematoma between the second and third metacarpo-phalangeal joints’. 

And that effing hurts.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

EDC WINS CLEAN AIR IN LONDON AWARD: reposting '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 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

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

SOS K&C - Save Our borough’s Soul, Sold to the highest bidder

Hundreds – if not thousands - of Kensington and Chelsea residents, many of whom have never been active politically or in their communities before, are rising up in fury in the run-up to the local elections.

Some are furious because, fairly or not, they see the Council as toothless and complacent in the battle of the basements. One Chelsea street has no less than eight subterranean basements being excavated at the same time. Is there really NOTHING that can be done, or is the Council playing victim so as not to upset wealthy property investors?

Some are furious because they cannot understand why the Council, despite ‘reviewing’ the decision five times, still came to the conclusion that the Isaac Newton Centre should be leased to Alpha Plus - allegedly for a new location for four of their schools - with no consideration whatever of the benefits of letting it to a local business, Notting Hill Prep, or of the potentially lethal effect of additional traffic on a quiet residential road. (FWIW, the K&C Labour Group has consistently, and in public, stated that the Centre should be kept in community use for professional development. Given that that is not on the table, we decided to support the ‘least worst’ option, Notting Hill Prep.)

Others are furious because their neighbourhood has been earmarked for demolition and development, and the landlord Affinity Sutton has forgotten their principles of housing ‘not affluent’ people near their place of work and have sold out to the Ritblat motto ‘Buy, monetise, sell’. With no apparent support or input from local Councillors there, the approved masterplan for the Sutton Estate clearly shows the existing social tenants shoved away in a dark corner of the estate; Wornington Green all over again.

Yet more are furious because the approved plans for Earl’s Court are so far away from the Supplementary Planning Document agreed, and even that was a million miles from the values of our Core Strategy. Twenty years of construction hell for Earl’s Court residents will bring no obvious benefits whatever.


Our Core Strategy or Local Plan is NOT a set of vague aspirations or a woolly manifesto, it is a rule-book. And yet developers and their CONsultants find a way around these rules. However do they do it? Here's a clue: 

This is a genuine advertisement

Our residents have, and are entitled to, modest requirements from their Council. Instead of satisfying them, the borough is subjected to wholesale pillaging by developers. Are residents to stand by and let this happen?

The Council has been judged by its residents and found lacking. Is the Council and its self-appointed Cabinet continually going to ignore the concerns of its electors?

Our Council knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. Communities and neighbourhoods are valued above all else. Just this morning I witnessed an elderly woman, with very swollen feet, offering to care for the cats of a neighbour who was going into hospital for a major operation: ‘We have to look after each other, don’t we?’ she said, looking wistfully at her feet. I assured her that one day, it would be her turn to be looked after, and a kind neighbour would be helping her.

Such is the value of a stable community, it is more valuable than gold and even more important, it cannot be bought. Neither can it be created, ‘re-visioned’ or ‘re-imagined’. I remember Terry Farrell 30 years back and still can’t believe what he’s doing now.  The idea that his plan for Earl’s Court is considered worthy of the name ‘village’, is beyond laughable. It is tragic.


To add to the sense of disentitlement and disenfranchisement that many residents are experiencing, we have just heard that the Chronicle local newspaper series in Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington are to be discontinued – next week, just a month before the local elections.

How is the local voice to be heard? Where are we to have a balanced view of what is going on in the borough? Not everyone can go online and check half a dozen websites to get an overview. Many people rely on their local newspaper for local news and views.

Residents in the three boroughs are so disheartened by this, that an ugly and disgraceful rumour has been circulating. This rumour has it that the Triborough Councils, alarmed by the rise of popular democracy and dissent and afraid of major electoral losses, decided jointly to pull their advertising from the papers to force their closure. While this is clearly improbable and if true possibly illegal, it is a sign of the strength of residents’ feeling that they can even consider such an explanation.