Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Tale of Two Cities: Kensington's ‘Trickle-up’ economy

UPDATE 30.04.17

People don't always believe me when I say parts of the borough are very very poor. For me, this photo says it all:

Do you see this? Right next to one of our newest most expensive developments, still being sold, homeless people have built a little bivouac out of waste. Though they aren't counted as homeless, as they have a roof. I know this because I went out with the wonderful Street Sleepers team in November, and they told me so. These people have been there for some time. Leave them. 

No caption necessary.

Meanwhile, Planning Committee, after a long debate, felt it had to approve the demolition of a Council care home, to make space for a super-luxury private care home. The applicant complained about neighbouring Dovehouse Green, saying it was 'unloved'. UNLOVED.

Edenham campaign
First was the application for the former Thamesbrook Residential Care Home site at Dovehouse Street in Chelsea. I know this well. Not only was I born just around the corner, but visited in later years some of our residents who were cruelly decanted there when the Council closed Edenham Residential Care Home in front of Trellick Tower – which had also been designed by Erno Goldfinger. We used every possible means to try to save the home, to no avail. Another heartbreaking campaign.

Reuben Halsey with Tony Benn

One of the Edenham campaigners was resident Reuben Halsey, he appeared on telly with Tony Benn and led much of the press campaigning for his fellow residents, many of whom were less articulate than him due to illness and dementia. So I often visited Reuben at Thamesbrook, and also former Labour Councillor Bob Pope, who had severe dementia but was responsive when visitors talked politics.

Thamesbrook was closed down ‘as a matter of urgency’ and residents removed when legionella was discovered in the plumbing. Now I’m no expert but I do know one, and he told me you can effectively and totally destroy legionella in the water system with no risk whatever to residents. Ahem. So what are they doing with the site now? Oh yeah, turning it into a super-duper luxury private extra care home, where people can future-proof their lives by buying in earlier than they need to – or only buy in when they have care needs – depending on how you phrase the question.

The frankly repellent applicant ably turned the entire committee against him with his attitude, stating that the lovely Dovehouse Green (above), next to the site on Kings Road, was ‘unloved’, which drew gasps from the public attending. He then corrected this by stating that ‘some people shouldn’t really be there’.

I know the good people of Chelsea, and a vast majority love a good social mix. The wonderful Methodist Church has a homeless hostel, so homeless people hang around so they can queue up later for a bed. This is a sad but inevitable part of daily life, in a very rich area where people lose their jobs, homes and sometimes their sanity in quick succession, and so much of the back-up and simple humanitarian support has lost its funding. People I have spoken to (some of whom dandled me on their knees when I was a baby) accept this and where possible volunteer to help at the hostel. They certainly don’t think that ‘some people shouldn’t really be there’.

After prolonged discussion the committee sadly couldn’t find grounds to refuse. We will get a huge lump of ugly building occupied by the super-rich.
No doubt one day they will get their way and socially cleanse Dovehouse Green of the unfortunates whose plight they have been instrumental in creating.

First go, 'Portobello Village'
The formal meeting was followed by an informal ‘factual briefing’ on the development at Acklam Road and Thorpe Close by Westway Trust, aka ‘The Portobello Project’. Formerly known as ‘Portobello Village’, which was so toe-curlingly wrong in every detail that they even changed the name in an attempt to delete the past.

I can’t comment on the detail as at some point it will come to committee and I do not wish to be accused of predetermination … but I made some comments at the time and I hope they will be taken into account.

But as a more general comment …

Westway Trust was set up to compensate residents for carving a swathe through a residential neighbourhood, felling homes to build a motorway beside schools and bedrooms, spewing noise and pollution into our and our children’s lungs. The land under the Westway is set up as a charitable trust for the purpose of this compensation to local communities and this section is in my ward.

Nursery, workshops, community hall, laundry - vision for
community space in 1970

So I truly object to the depiction of our fabulous mixed and diverse family neighbourhood as some kind of - totally sanitised - spectacle for visitors. The first set of visuals for the ‘Village’ showed only white middle class millenials having a lovely and expensive time in the joint poorest ward in London. It caused a major ruckus and one night the Council chamber was occupied (not for the first time) by protestors.

'Portobello Project', with added diversity
So they came back with ‘added diversity’. They deleted some of the white millenials and replaced them with light-skinned black millenials, with picture perfect Afros. Where are the Moroccan grannies? Where are the Afro-Caribbean elders, the Rastafarians? Where are the ornery folk of all colours and creeds buying cheap fruit and veg with their children?

Ah yes, they have been ‘designed out’.

What is very very clear is that the Westway Trust is planning to turn this section of land, which previously was entirely a community asset, into a privately run hipster millenials’ playground.

I feel sick.

Kensington and Chelsea is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the country after seven years of Tory government. Three years ago I proved that RBKC is the most unequal borough in Britain. This has actually got worse in our deprived areas, with worsening life expectancy, poorer health, and the return of Victorian illnesses like TB and even rickets. Opportunities for training and work are being squeezed out – often by the Council itself privatising our publicly owned assets – with the sad but inevitable consequence of rising youth violence and crime.

Their ‘solution’ is punitive and draconian. There is little empathy for those whose lives they have ruined. They must be punished and moved away – just like the ‘unloved’ of Dovehouse Green.

Our poorer communities and vulnerable individuals are being squeezed out by voracious development to benefit the few and very wealthy; we are now suffering the worst excesses of the trickle-up economy.

Time to stop turning a blind eye.

‘First they came for the street drinkers …… ‘ 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Catalyst Housing development Portobello Square 'won't last ten years' says workman

‘We create this space’
the advertisement says
Catalyst Housing Group boast of awards and expertise as workman says development ‘won’t last ten years’ 

In late 2014 a tenant moved from their former home on Wornington Green, North Kensington, around the corner to the new development of Portobello Square. The developer is Catalyst Housing Group, the architects PRP and the contractor is Ardmore Construction.

The top floor flat had nice views and was suitable for the disabled tenant’s needs. However over the very wet winter that followed the ceiling leaked into the living room, several times. 

That was eventually fixed and the ceiling repainted, but then there was damp coming into the bedroom through the walls. It was discovered that no membrane had been fitted and that was why the damp was seeping through. This was also remediated.

This was now concerning the tenant who is quite unwell and immune compromised, so susceptible to bacterial, viral and fungal infections, having previously suffered tuberculosis and aspergillosis caused by black mould, where the mould actually grows inside the lungs.

A further issue arose when the toilet was not flushing properly. After several visits workmen had to break through the wall to reach the cistern. It was found that an instruction leaflet had been left inside, partially blocking the pipe.

It was then found that the laminate floor was beginning to buckle in places, creating a potential trip hazard.

In early February this year another problem arose – there was water leaking upwards between ceramic tiles in the bathroom floor. At first the tenant was accused of being a messy bather, or of not using the shower curtain. Then it was discovered that the seal between the tiles was leaking. 

When some tiles were removed it was realised that there was a leak coming from pipes below the bath. Workmen removed the tiles and left the floor temporarily bare to dry out, before returning to replace with lino.

Two days later, the disabled tenant stepped into the bathroom, and the floor collapsed. They were lucky not to break their ankle. They contacted Catalyst once again but at the time of writing had not received a response.

Councillor Emma Dent Coad has been helping this tenant, who wishes to remain anonymous, throughout the process. Emma says: ‘It doesn’t bear thinking about what could have happened when the floor collapsed. It could have been so much worse. The bathroom floor is now covered in black mould and has a huge hole in it. I am simply appalled at the very poor construction quality of this flat which is endangering the health of a very poorly and disabled person who deserves better.’

Councillor Dent Coad says that she has had innumerable reports of problems in the new flats, ranging from damp, leaks and dodgy electrics to two actual ceiling collapses. She says: ‘This floor collapse is an alarming new departure. I have contacted Environmental Health and Catalyst, but I can’t help worrying that if this happens again there could be a very nasty accident. These buildings are barely three years old. One day I met a workman who had come to repair a problem in one of the flats. He told me that in his opinion this block won’t last ten years. Given the cost of these flats - £620,000 for a one bedroom apartment – people must be told what is going on here.’

Catalyst Housing Group have won awards for Portobello Square:

They say Portobello Square is: 

In reality this is the quality of workmanship: 

You may ask yourself if a totally untrained apprentice was given the job of finishing off the laminate floors. 

You would be quite wrong. 

Rumour has it that the new apprentice was given at least two hours' training. Then sent off to finish the entire block. 

Now that can't be true, can it?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

And a filthy New Year from Catalyst Housing Group

When Catalyst were in the process of persuading residents of Wornington Green that demolishing their estate in phases, and rebuilding with double the number of homes - the extras being private of course - they faithfully promised to keep residents safe, the estate maintained, and to decant people only once and only during the first phase.

Visiting yet another bereaved family, who lost their elder while waiting with appalling anxiety for over a year for their - 2nd? 3rd? - decant, I am faced with the estate in a frankly disgusting state.

Lifts are broken, stairs blocked up to prevent anti-social behaviour have been kicked in and occupied by drug users, fire escapes broken into, and the dirt is simply shocking.

Catalyst Housing - you are on notice.