Thursday, 21 May 2015

THE BATTLE FOR KENSAL TOWN: the stark reality of inequality in K&C


On the very day that the Attorney General published his findings on air pollution (current government proposals illegal!) a hundred metres down the road from my house a black, tinted-window BMW 4WD sits outside a house, all day, engine blasting filth into the atmosphere.

Another two blocks away, another similar 4WD stands guard outside a private nursery school, during school hours, engine blasting filth into the atmosphere.

Bodyguards.

Just up the road from this invasion, Kensal Town in North Kensington has more than its fair share of problems. The neighbourhood lies just north of the mainline tracks, and is forced to breathe its toxic diesel discharge. The lower super-output area around Southern Row [1] is very deprived. There are good, honest, decent, hard-working people living there, but here are some very sorry stats:

-      General health is a disgraceful 12pts below K&C average, and 2pts below English average, with incapacity benefit double that of K&C

-      Only 36% are full-time employed, 6% unemployed (average for K&C), but 30% get in-work benefits, evidence of the part-time work and low rates of pay they are forced to accept

-      People working at senior management/director level comprise 9%, compared to 23% K&C average; this is lower than the English average

-      23% have no formal qualifications whatever, and reading and writing skills are below English average

-      Deprivation index is second worst for income and employment, crime and living environment, lowest one-third for health and education, and barriers to housing are the worst in England.

So why put a super-luxury development in the middle of an area of deprivation? At an earlier stage, the mythical Crossrail station at Kensal Gasworks across the road may have precipitated interest in the area. Land is also ‘cheap’ in comparison to the rest of K&C, and next to the canal and trendy Portobello Dock with Tom Dixon restaurant.

This is it: The Ladbroke. If you believe the sales pitch, it is near Knightsbridge and Regent’s Park. It was first launched at the Westin Hotel, Kuala Lumpur to the super-rich Malaysian market.

Council tenants have watched as limos have drawn up in from of their block, door opened by one flunky, the driver emerges with umbrella, and the back seat occupant is escorted, one flunky each side, into the sales office.

Bodyguards.

Just what do they think they need protection from, as they inspect their investment? And how many flats did they buy – if any? Given that some prices have been reduced [2] maybe they are waiting for them to fall back to a ‘realistic’ level before they buy?

S106 'consultants' help reduce
affordable housing percentage
I well remember the planning application going through the process. The developer fought like a dog through its planning consultants to squeeze and squeeze the affordable housing. Replacing a 100% employment complex of affordable commercial units with a luxury housing development is a delicate business. They replaced the affordable commercial units with unaffordable, and it seems likely they may remain empty, as in their neighbouring student hostel in Kensal Road. The developer has a record on this [3].

To what extent will this super-luxury development ‘regenerate’ Southern Row, and more particularly the lives of its residents? It won’t. What will happen over time is that the land the Council housing sits on will become too valuable to allow mere Council tenants to continue to live there. Repairs and maintenance will be downscaled in the cruel process of ‘managed decline’, and eventually they will be judged unfit for purpose.  Plans will then be put forward to ‘regenerate’ the estates and squeeze out those tenants who can no longer afford to live at higher rents. 

Social cleansing, pure and simple.

The battleground is clear; profit versus people.

The battle for Kensal Town has begun.











3. From RTPI Friday Briefing, 27th September 2013

‘Tower Hamlets had refused urban developer Workspace Group’s proposals for 302 dwellings and 8.104 square metres of SME business accommodation chiefly because of the affordable housing offer of just 12.5 per cent.
The east London council had suggested that a 30.4 per cent level was justifiable (and economic), particularly as that figure was significantly below the 35 to 50 per cent range the council would normally expect.
The council also argued that level of provision was needed to ensure the scheme complied with development plan policies including those in the London Plan.
At the subsequent inquiry the developer offered obligations at two levels of affordable housing provision: 12.5 and 20 per cent, although it made it clear it was concerned at the viability of the scheme at the upper level.
Pickles accepted the developer’s concern but agreed with the inspector that “there is no certainty that these concerns are of such an order as to mean that the development would not be delivered in the reasonably foreseeable future”. He allowed the appeal on the basis of a 20 per cent affordable housing figure.’