Tuesday 27 January 2015

A confusion in tenses, and: the difference between value, and worth - the West Hendon Inquiry continues

West Hendon resident Leigh, who has lived there since the estate was built, more than forty years ago, but will lose her home to the new development.

Thursday at the West Hendon Housing Inquiry began with evidence from Andrew Dismore, the London Assembly member for Hendon, and former MP.

He explained how he had seen the West Hendon scheme evolve over a period of many years, from a genuine desire to regenerate a badly neglected estate to what he described as something very different indeed: that is to say the private development by Barratts.

Then Tory leader Brian Salinger said the council 'guaranteed' every tenant and owner occupier would be offered a new home in West Hendon ...' Residents were balloted early on in the process, on the basis of wonderful pledges, which have of course not been met. No re-balloting has been carried out, despite the fundamental change in the nature of the proposals.

In November 2007, Andrew Dismore carried out his own consultation with residents, with absolutely conclusive support for a new ballot, and expressing concern over the new plans, which he described as 'not a regeneration, a redevelopment'. 

Over the years, the effect of 'blight' caused by the proposals has seriously affected  leaseholders trying to sell their properties, and now of 19 examples who qualify for shared equity deals, only a couple can afford them.

Barnet Council had 'cottoned on' to the idea of putting more and more non secure tenants on to the Estate: they were, he said, 'treated like pawns on a chessboard, the first to be moved, easily sacrificed ...' Only recently have they been able to stand up for themselves. There is no provision for them on the new scheme, even though many of them have lived on the estate for years, some ten years or more, their families putting down roots, their children going to local schools. 

Private tenants had been completely overlooked, and had no rights in the 'regeneration'.

The density of the scheme, suggested Dismore, was far too great, and greatly exceeds the GLA level, with buildings of up to 31 storeys, so close to the Welsh Harp, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

He then referred to the loss of York Memorial Park, not only as part of the problem of density, but as a memorial to the civilians lost in the World War 2 air raid: it would be, as the developers put it 'completely refigured'. Originally it had been promised it would be retained: it was now going to be lost. 

He referred to the inadequacy of parking provision, and traffic management, the lack of infrastructure, the impact on wildlife.

Neil King QC, for Barnet and Barratts, remarked that there was no statutory requirement for a re-ballot. Andrew Dismore suggested that it was still 'morally right' to undertake such a process. 

Oh dear, thought Mrs Angry. All these years in politics, Andrew, and you still worry about morality: have you learned nothing? 

It is a fact, isn't it, asked Mr King, that there had been no legal challenge to the planning consent? 

Awfully keen on Facts, is Mr King. (Which is good, as Mrs Angry now has some new Facts for Mr King to consider, if she is allowed to present them today).

Dismore tried to explain why that was: but how do you explain to a well paid barrister how impossible it is for disadvantaged residents on a council estate to formulate a legal challenge to anything?

Back to the question of tenants: Barnet Council, claimed Andrew Dismore, had manipulated the system by using non secure tenants for their own pusposes. Letters sent at the beginning of the scheme making promises had referred to every council tenant, and had not differentiated between different types of tenure.

He thought leaseholders should be properly compensated for the losses incurred in the value of their properties, including the impact of 'blight' from the long drawn out 'regeneration' process: offers were way below an acceptable standard.

Regarding his allegations about density, Mr King suggested that issue had been addressed at the planning stage. Depends what you mean by 'addressed', said Dismore. It appeared to be becoming a question of linguistics.

As for matters of biodiversity, Mr King offered the opinion that the matter had been resolved as objections from certain national bodies had been withdrawn. Not the full picure, said Andrew. Local wildlife groups who were better informed were still concerned. 

They continued to disagree, hardly surprisingly since Dismore is also a lawyer, and tenacious in argument. At one point Mr King became rather annoyed because he thought the witness had asked him  a question. He was not here, he was reminded, to ask questions. It was rhetorical, said Andrew.

Back to the issue of York Park. Mr King referred to the statement made by planning officer Mr Wyld. What evidence do you have for saying York Park is preserved as a memorial?

From residents, he was told, who used to live here at the time. But the park was there on the 1935 map? It became a memorial to the dead, said Dismore. King disagreed, and demanded evidence. 

He was told again, it was remembered by people who lived here at the time.

Mr King wanted Facts, of course, and now Mrs Angry has provided those Facts, so we must wait and see if they are allowed as evidence tomorrow. 

There is no real alternative, suggested the QC, to the current scheme. The reply was that we needed access to the viability study, and a reminder that when the new Labour leader took over in Hammersmith & Fulham, he was able to extract an extra £26 million from current agreements with developers for affordable housing. 

Councillor Devra Kay, and long term West Hendon resident and leaseholder Kalim

After a break, it was time for Dan Knowles to ask questions on behalf of residents: he is retained by some leaseholders, and acting as an advocate for tenants, which is just as well, as other wise they would have no one acting for them with any idea of procedure. Mr Knowles is a truly admirable man, in fact, impeccably fair, and yet firmly protective of the rights of those in West Hendon who would otherwise have no informed representation at this Inquiry, in contrast to the services of Barnet and Barratt's QC.

Dan referred to Perryfields, where it is believed there once stood a memorial to the many civilian victims of the 1941 bombing raid. Residents say the memorial disappeared, and a car park was put there. 

The car park itself has now been used to put the building no one wants, developers or residents: an afterthought - a holding place for secure tenants, the ones who are lucky enough to have some rights, and cannot be 'decanted' elsewhere against their will, by the council, unlike the non secure tenants kept on 'temporary' arrangements for up to ten years or so. 

This building is outside the footprint of the luxury housing, of course: the deserving poor must be kept away from those who buy their new properties, and whereas the newcomers will have lovely views of the Welsh Harp, the original residents will now gaze, as Andrew Dismore, cribbing from this blog, told Ed Miliband last week, on the back yards of the kebab shops of the Edgware Road. If they haven't all closed by then.

Ironic, then, that the unwanted residents of the council estate built to provide them with decent housing, post war, are now shoved on to the former location of the memorial: a place marked for things to be forgotten - the living and the dead.

After a break Andrew Dismore was questioned further by Dan Knowles: he commented on the way in which off plan sales of properties on new developments discriminates against local residents, and does not create a decent, settled community. The example of Beaufort Park was raised, where those moved there on shared equity deals found themselves facing huge service charges.

Next to take a seat as a witness, or rather to continue cross examination by Dan Knowles, was planning officer Mr Thomas Wyld. 

All Barnet planning officers now, of course, are now employed by the Capita-Barnet joint venture 'Re'. Yes: Capita is in charge of planning - and in charge of valuing the leasehold properties, and buying them too; and at the same time are expected to safeguard the best interests of residents, including the residents of West Hendon. A difficult juggling act, one might conclude.

A discussion on density ensued: Mr Wyld informed us that high density was not a reason for refusal of a planning application  - even on this scale.

As for criticisms of lack of services such as healthcare, and schools? Meh. No objections had been received in regard to the former, and seven out of twelve GPs were taking on new patients. Mrs Angry counted on the fingers of both hands, and then again, and calculated that that meant five out of twelve were not, which might cause problems when a couple of thousand new families arrived in West Hendon, as indeed would the lack of any new primary school to cater for the children, at least in the immediate future. 

Ah, but Mrs Angry, Mr Wyld had an answer for that too: families, children, illness - no. There won't be any, see, in Hendon Waterside, just as we hear a vicar near Beaufort Park was told there wouldn't be any there. 

Apparently, in the perfect world envisaged by the designers of luxury housing developments, the ideal residents are young professionals with busy jobs, mortgages, disposable salary, and no children. They must never be unwell, or have children, in fact, because that would spoil everything, and create a demand for ... schools and GPs and parks, and all the sort of things developers don't want to think about, as there is no profit in them.

Mr Wyld put it another way, when asked about the lack of any new secondary schools, he said that the 'child yield' projections indicated that, even taking into consideration of the existing 'child bulge' (feck knows) there would be no need for one. 

Odd, because we are promised a new primary school, so some statistical 'slippage', as it were, must be predicted between the crisply ironed sheets of Hendon Waterside's future inhabitants, but clearly when these inconvenient children reach the age of 11, they will be bussed out of the safe world of the new development, across the dangerous comprehensively schooled territory of West Hendon, to QEBoys, or Henrietta Barnett.

Time for residents' spokeswoman Jasmin Parsons to examine Mr Wyld. 

Good Morning - and how are you? she asked, in her disarming way, and then launched straight into the subject of - yes, York Park. York Memorial Park. She insisted there had been a stone cross on the car park site, and a service held in York Park. 

As we know now, of course she was absolutely right all along: but that is for the next post.

A disagreement followed now about the lack of transport planning: the bus lanes that would be lost, despite the big increase in traffic. They are only broken bus lanes, commented Mr Wyld, unmoved. Of course, thought Mrs Angry. This is Broken Barnet, after all.

Community facilities: so much promised by the council, and so little delivered - community centres closed, and not replaced, or rents charged to residents. When will the new centre be available? No one could say, for certain, but it would not be anytime soon. The Deerfield Social Club, known locally as 'The Madhouse': taken off them, 0r rather 'acquired', by Capita - and not being replaced. 

After lunch, Mrs Angry went to the cafe next door, in Hendon Library, with Councillor Kay, and was suddenly struck by an idea, the result of a peculiar suspicion that had been growing over listening to evidence over the last couple of days of the Inquiry. She left her half eaten sandwich on the table and hurried upstairs to see if the borough archivist was around. He was. 

Did he know anything about York Memorial Park, in West Hendon? 

He did. 

Was it true, as she expected him to confirm, that there was no evidence at all to substantiate the story that the park had any sort of memorial status? 

He looked at her, rather bemused. That was not true at all, he said: did she want to see the material he had? 

Yes - yes: as a matter of fact, she did. 

It was arranged she should come back in an hour or so to see what was held in the Archives.

In the meanwhile, back for a short session at the Inquiry. 

Giving evidence now was Mr Paul Watling, head of valuation at Capita. 

(Mrs Angry, who is easily amused, and easily distracted by the significance of such things, thought it apt that the  the valuer from Capita should take his name from that of the Roman road, Watling Street, which became the Edgware Road, on which the West Hendon estate is located ...)

Leaseholders on the estate are angry because they say Capita has undervalued their homes, and they cannot meet the 50% contribution required in the belatedly offered shared equity scheme on new properties. Mr Watling tried to explain why these valuations were so low.

He told us leasehold properties had been inspected for valuation on an 'ad hoc' basis. Offers had been made to owners, and then revised offers. Oh, and a letter had been sent to leaseholders by the deputy Chair of Hendon Conservative Association. Move on, move on, nothing to see here. Yes, just a letter from Tory councillor Tom Davey, lead member for housing, in his capacity as ... oh. Oh dear: doesn't sound credible, does it? But here you go: a real treat, featuring the man who wants the new development stuffed full with Russian oligarchs, and the MP who previously described the leaseholders and tenants who tried to lobby him at a constituency meeting last year as a 'ragtag bunch', hid in the church hall, refused to see them, and then had to be taken home in the back of a police van. Enjoy.

When the Inquiry resumed on Friday morning, Paul Watling returned to continue with his evidence, cross examined by Dan Knowles.

He said that offers to leaseholders had been made by post last June. Mr Knowles pointed out that in some cases, offers were made a matter of hours before the Compulsory Purchase Orders were made.

Only 16 out of 34 properties were inspected.

So some offers were made when the properties had not been inspected?

Yes, they were.

What about residents who had to be informed of the possible loss of rights of access?

All parties written to on the 10th July. But it transpired that Mr Watling was now of the opinion that there were no 'justifiable claims'. After questioning about timescales, he qualified this by saying at the moment he thought no rights were impacted.

Inspector Zoe Hill was interested in how Mr Watling had arrived at his valuations. He said based on 'market transactions' on the estate, and outside it, although it was difficult to make comparisons on market value directly to West Hendon, because it 'depends on one's judgement'. Ah. It was his opinion, ultimately, it seems. And his opinion was that West Hendon properties were pretty well 'obsolete'.

There had been 'revised offers', and goodwill payments dangled in front of some leaseholders, but of course they were obliged, if accepted, to withdraw from the Housing Inquiry which had been appointed.

Next came some awkward questions about the letter from Cllr Davey. This offer, about to be offered: or had it already been offered? Ah. It seems there was only a 'confusion in tenses'.

The use of the Conservative Association heading, said Mr Knowles, suggested some political interference over the most recent offer ...? If it is Capita who advises over the level of offer, how is it the Conservative Association can make this goodwill gesture?

I think you would need to ask the Conservative Association. Mr Watling had known nothing about the letter, until he saw it in a submission to the Inquiry. He would probably have advised that it should not have been sent.

Jasmin's turn: she observed, amongst other interesting matters, that Capita's low offers had the effect of ensuring no one from the estate would be able to stay on the new development.

Mr Watling said that as a valuer, I am concerned with value.  

There is a difference, he said, between value, and worth.

Capita, commented Jasmin, run around seventy per cent of council services, now. Is there not a conflict of interest, here?

No, he didn't believe so. Capita was simply a number of different services, albeit 'under the one umbrella'. 

Councillor Adam Langleben asked if he would agree that the 'regeneration' has brought a blight to property values. No, he was not sure he would. There were historic and physical factors. Yes, thought Mrs Angry, like a history of neglect by the council landlords.

Councillor Devra Kay pointed out that there seemed to be no consideration given to the beautiful location and views of these properties, and the presence of the wildlife. And that the shoddy repairs, and having to live on a building site was not their fault. 

Mr Watling kept repeating that the valuations were largely calculated on the basis of his opinion, and therefore the process we now know was entirely subjective, and has no inbuilt safeguard for the best interests of owners.

The last witness of the day was surveyor and CPO expert Dan Knowles, no longer cross examining but making his own statement. 

He explained that for his 19 clients entitled to shared equity deals, there were only ten properties available, and only one actually affordable. There were hidden costs which helped make such a deal prohibitive: huge service charges, £13, 000 charges for a parking space.

In regard to those clients facing loss of access rights, the impact was not yet known.

The level of public consultation was of an insufficient standard: the ballot was twelve years old and out of date. 

He described the case of an elderly resident with heart and lung conditions, whose GP had recommended she should move as soon as possible. Listening to this one really had to wonder why any attempt to rehouse this poor woman had not been done long ago, to save her and her family such distress throughout the construction works now making life so unbearable for residents.

Mr King's turn to examine Mr Knowles. The limitations of the Inquiry, we were reminded were that it could only consider whether the CPOs could be confirmed. It was not about valuation. There was no requirement for market value offers until the Secretary of State confirmed this, although it was good practice, said Mr Knowles, to do this. Otherwise purchasers start low and progress upwards, Equally the surveyors will start high, said Mr King.

'Blighting effects' had to be left out. Yes, said Mr Knowles, you have to value as in a 'no scheme world'. 

A no scheme world. Is there such a place? Not in Broken Barnet, where every property has its price, and a house is only a home if you can afford to buy it, and not always even then.

Before Mrs Angry realised what was happening, there was a sudden diversion to the matter of York Park, and a reference to 'new evidence'. She sat up, and watched with some wry amusement the reaction in certain quarters.

What that evidence is, will be the subject of the next post, but let us say it was enough for Dan Knowles to question the assertions made for so long by the council and Barratts about the park, and indeed the bombing raid. 

This put something of a spanner in the works, as you can imagine. Despite having made arrangements to submit this new evidence, the Inspector appeared not to realise this, and alluded somewhat obscurely to 'cost implications', as did Mr King, who then smoothly added that of course, at this stage, he had not intention of making any such application. Mrs Angry didn't know what they were banging on about, then: just as well, probably.

Anyway, said Mr King: the bomb fell outside the area under consideration. Mrs Angry shook her head, but he didn't notice. 

The discussion turned at last to the matter of consultation. Mr King was of the opinion that residents had had an opportunity to participate in the planning process. Mr Knowles thought that they felt disengaged, and disenfranchised. The residents felt they were not being effectively listened to, but rather told what was happening. Any engagement then, he thought, seemed to them to be a 'futile exercise'. 

There is a difference, said Neil King, QC, between listening to, and taking action

It didn't necessarily mean accepting their views.

Indeed, thought Mrs Angry. 

Why would anyone think that any consultation with residents and tax payers facing the demolition of their homes, and the destruction of their community, should carry any obligation to respect their opinion? 

Who are these people, to put their private loss before the interests of private developers, and the half baked political agenda of our crackpot Tory council?

The hearing resumes this morning. 

It promises to be an interesting day.

1 comment:

Professional Man and Van in Barnet said...

This whole scheme is a lie. No one works to improve Barnet.