Thursday 1 January 2015

How the West was Won: the forgotten story of Hendon Waterside

The western boundaries of this borough have always represented a problem for the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. 

Hostile territory, populated by an indigenous people: working class communities - Labour voters. 

The very existence of such areas of unconquered land is of course an affront to the founding fathers of our easycouncil empire, and a challenge to their dwindling electoral dominance: but it is also an opportunity that attracts the pioneering political ideologues of the Tory administration - assisted by the attentions of private developers, who are adept at persuading those that need to be persuaded of the benefits of large scale development schemes, dressed in the guise of 'regeneration'.

This part of our borough, mostly on the western side, has been heavily targeted for 'regeneration', with massive development plans for Brent Cross- Cricklewood, Colindale, Grahame Park - and West Hendon. 

Nothing must stand in their way: any objections are brushed aside, or carefully managed.

Only this week it emerged that the new Colindale development by Fairview New Homes, approved by Barnet Tory councillors in July, will involve the demolition of the recently closed British Library newspaper archive. 

That this irreplaceable historic building, a brilliant example of thirties architecture, a curious hybrid of art deco meets functionalist brick modernism, stuffed full of original internal features, should be facing destruction, is unthinkable. 

Opened in 1932, by Gilbert Murray, eminent classic scholar - and great grandfather of Polly Toynbee. Due to be destroyed by Barnet Tory councillors, who see the word library, and reach for their guns.

That these developments are not regeneration, and will not provide a better quality of life for the residents of these areas, is demonstrated by the nature of the new schemes: the absence of social housing, the indifference shown for any reasonable definition of 'affordable' housing, and worse still - the eradication of entire communities within their boundaries, and a policy that really is nothing less than the living demonstration of a term, an accusation, that was once an exaggeration, but here in Broken Barnet has become reality: that is to say, the act of social cleansing.

Barnet Tories blunder about the landscape of this borough blindly, impulsively, eschewing the aid of any sort of moral compass, or principle, other than a sense of divine right to do exactly what they want; neo Thatcherites, as distant from, and as close to, what passes for modern Conservative ideals as any UKIP candidate, languishing in the past that never was, the glorious era when Margaret was in Number 10, and all was well with the world. 

Like docile puppies, they are led by the leash by their own senior management, cohorts of parasitical consultants and their masters, the private sector outsourcing companies, and by the would be developers of Broken Barnet. 

Commercial proposals are presented in an easycouncil ideological package, encouraging our councillors to believe that the mass outsourcing of public services is a necessary move, that the development of vast tracts of former areas of social housing is for the greater benefit of the borough.

The lack of leadership in the Barnet Tory group, and absence of any organised political strategy has led to major policy areas left in the hands of inadequate and inexperienced lead members, with huge budgets and responsibilities for decisions which have had terrible impact on the daily lives of residents. 

One example is the case of the environment expenditure overseen by Dean Cohen, which diverted highways money to Tory wards, and his own ward, while we now see a crisis in funding for essential maintenance. 

Another example is the ill judged appointment of  Tom Davey  as lead member for housing.

It would be unfair to lay the blame for Barnet Tories' monstrous housing record entirely on Davey, of course: the antipathy borne by this administration towards any sort of social housing, and a natural inclination to regard the duty to encourage the provision of affordable housing as entirely optional, is deeply embedded in their culture, and he is only the ranting mouthpiece of their collective subconscience, and their total lack of understanding, or compassion, for those in need.

Our Tory councillors have made it plain that market forces should dictate who lives in this borough. If you cannot afford to do so; clear off, and if you are here already, and you are facing homelessness, or struggling to find accommodation:  be afraid. Be very afraid. You will be moved on, and out, as soon as they can legally do so. 

Even if you pass the test of their moral judgement, and can prove you are not one of the undeserving poor, you may only aspire to the temporary dispensation of a five year tenancy.

For those residents who are council tenants in certain parts of our borough, especially in West Hendon, the last frontier of Broken Barnet, your tenancy is even less secure. 

You may have lived there for ten years, but Barnet Council keeps you there on a temporary basis, so as to minimise your housing rights, to dispose of you as they wish, when they knock down your home to make way for the better sort of resident: the kind Tom Davey wants to see living here.

You may be a leaseholder, who did the very thing our Thatcherite councillors urged you to do, to aspire to better yourselves, and become property owners, by buying your council flat. Hard luck. Your home will be demolished too, and just before that happens, Barnet Homes will land you with a massive bill for thousands of pounds of 'maintenance ' work on the condemned properties.

These are the people whom local resident and activist Jasmin Parsons recently described as being kept there in a 'reservation' - the analogy is apt: a gathering of indigenous people, the last of their tribe: social tenants - rounded up, detained, and fed with false promises, their own land taken from them, and handed over to land grabbing speculators.

And yes: the land was taken, and given away, to all intents and purposes. We don't know the full details, because they are shrouded under a blanket of counter transparency, in the guise of 'commercial sensitivity'. Were the developers charged anything like market rates for the land? We are not allowed to know, even years later.

Read on, and let us remind ourselves of the way this development has slowly, stealthily evolved, as so many things do, in Broken Barnet, from what was once an innocent sounding idea, a proposal to improve the standard of living of tenants living in West Hendon, and a genuine commitment to regeneration, shape-shifting by degrees, carefully managed, to an entirely different outcome.

Because in the end, we saw nothing more than a long good bye to the regeneration of the area, and a warm welcome by our Tory councillors to a luxury housing development that will bring huge profits to Barratts, but deprive the borough of much needed units of social housing, and, let us not forget, a substantial amount of publicly owned land: see a community destroyed, and the area scoured of the presence of the working class, Labour voting residents whose home it has been for so long. Social cleansing, social engineering: gerrymandering.

Well, then. Who cares? Who even knows about all this? Not many, until recently.

Mrs Angry, it must be said, is not a fan of celebrity political gobshites, or ex boy band multi millionaires making sad films for charity fundraising events, on behalf of causes that would not need to fundraise, if ex boy band multi millionaires paid their f*cking taxes; or of soap actors making sad films of dolphins who are probably thinking: please go away, and stop patronising a superior life form; or fading reality star celebs, who can't sing, demonstrating their humanitarian prowess by warbling tunelessly in a studio in Hampstead, because Bob Geldof says they must. 

Mrs Angry has never been a particular fan of Russell Brand, either, even though he appears to avoid dolphins, singing, and sad eyed charity appearances. But still: she might be warming to him, a. for being as rude as possible to the insufferable Mr Ferridge on BBCQT, and b. taking an interest in the New Era story and now, c. goodness me, most gratifyingly, turning his attention to the shameful, little known story of West Hendon. 

Take a look at this short film:

An extraordinary piece, really: featuring some of the truly admirable residents of this estate who are refusing, with great courage and determination, to accept the decisions of the council,  with the developers, to destroy their community, and hand the land they live on over for the big fat profits of a private developer.

Time to go back and look at the genesis of the West Hendon development then, I think.

The story begins in 2001, when the government produced a 'Decent Homes Programme' that the then council administration in Barnet decided was rather a good idea. Yes, I know what you are thinking: sounds unlikely until you know that this was in the halcyon days when there was a Labour-Libdem coalition. 

In response, the authority began to formulate plans to regenerate the West Hendon area, where there was dire need of improving the stock of social housing already in place, and investment in the area as a whole, including not just the estate but around West Hendon Broadway.

Pledges were made to the people living on the estate, who were then balloted for their views on the proposals. Amongst these pledges were the following promises:

You will have a brand new home
All will be housed on the new development
You will have a choice of landlord
You will have a choice of where to move
You have a real say in the regeneration
York Memorial Park will not be touched
Homeowners properties will be bought at current housing prices
No major works will be undertaken while the regeneration is under construction

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

But as local Labour councillor Adam Langleben will want to explain to the Inquiry due to be held this month - more on that later - every one of these promises has been broken, as a result of the new development now taking place, sanctioned by the Tory administration, a plan masquerading as the original regeneration but in effect a total inversion of everything the very principle that began the process all those years ago.

The scheme approved in 2002 did not exclude the current residents from the footprint of the area of new housing - they were an integral part, the reason for the regeneration. Now they have been relegated to a minimal consideration, a nuisance, held back behind the black painted wall that surrounds the new building work, and access to the formerly public land. 

Mrs Angry visited the West Hendon estate last year several times, in the course of canvassing for the local elections, and wrote about it more than once, for example here: 

That wall: the black painted fence that surrounds the no go area around the new development, and keeps the privileged views of the Welsh Harp away from the residents of the old estate - that was the thing that kept drawing the eye. 

And stirring up thoughts of another wall, in another example of social apartheid, in which the gulf between those with means, and those without, was held back by bricks and mortar: built to keep the residents of social housing away from their middle class, owner-occupier neighbours - the story of the
Cutteslowe Wall, in Oxford.

The difference here is that this story is from eighty years ago, and after early direct action by local people and activists, and obstruction by police and the developers, it was the local council who eventually demolished it, keen to be seen as progressive, moving towards a more decent, more inclusive society. 

Here in Broken Barnet, of course, where housing policy is not about fairness, or decency but more about cramming as much profit as possible into every available piece of land, our socially regressive council is reversing time itself, and forcing us back to the age of segregation, where the demands of private enterprise take precedence over equality, and humanity.

As local AM, and former (and future) Hendon MP Andrew Dismore will no doubt remind the Inquiry, due to the developers' desire to screw as much profit as possible from Hendon Waterside, there will now be a huge increase in the density of housing in this area, far in excess of the GLA's recommended level, with monstrous tower blocks up to 29 storeys in height - yes, 29 - imposed on the beautiful surroundings of the Welsh Harp - a fragile site of Special Scientific Interest - with terrible impact on the location both as a local amenity, and as a precious urban retreat for London's wildlife.

But Barnet Tories care as little for ecological sensitivities as they do for culture, heritage, or indeed, the well being of the residents of the West Hendon estate. If there is no consideration for the rights of social housing tenants, there is no hope at all for the protection of the wildlife and environmental balance of the area. 

Equally repellant, in the new order of development, is the forcible annexation of York Memorial Park, to be included now in the building scheme, despite all promises, and the impact of loss of more open space - and most shamefully of all, in full defiance of this park's historic significance.

York Park was created to commemorate the loss of many lives - and homes - in this part of West Hendon in a single bombing raid, in 1941. It is simply an abhorrant idea that what was intended as a memorial, in perpetuity, for the victims of war, should itself become a victim of speculative greed.

Where did the break happen, between a genuine attempt to improve the lives of residents of this area, and the invitation to property speculators to move in, throw out those residents, and use the publicly owned land they live on for private profit, screwed out of a luxury housing development?

The original agreement was made in 2002, with a consortium comprising Bellhouse Joseph, Lovells, and Metropolitan Housing Trust. In 2005, however, Bellhouse Joseph and Lovells pulled out, and were replaced by Barratts, forming the new 'Barratt Metropolitan LLP'.

According to the 'Statement of Reasons', a document published last June, formalising the council's Compulsory Purchase Orders of leasehold properties, the following explanation is given for the changes made to the 2002 agreement :

Whilst both the Council and the Developer remained committed to delivering the aims of the West Hendon regeneration project, the changing economic climate was starting to impact on the proposals. It was agreed between the Council and the Developer that further development under the 2008 Scheme was not possible taking into account the emerging viability and deliverability issues in the period from 2009 onwards.

Now there will be a net loss of 200 rented properties of affordable or social rent status, and clearly what little provision there is left is grudging, and deliberately marginalised.

So what started as the regeneration of a working class area, a commitment to the delivery of better housing and facilities for a local community, has become something entirely different: the creation of 'Hendon Waterside',  a land grabbing colonisation from which the local community is not only excluded, but is being removed, 'decanted', in order to make way for the sort of residents our Tory councillors prefer: those who can afford the eye wateringly expensive penthouse flats of a luxury development. And those who are more likely to vote Conservative, of course.

And all because of 'viability and deliverability issues' which occurred within twelve months of the new developers taking over. What an awful shame that they were unable to predict the pressures which were to require the transformation of a regeneration scheme for residents, into a hugely lucrative new development for anyone wealthy enough to be able to afford an exclusive view of the Welsh Harp, in one direction, and a panoramic spread of the kebab shops of the Edgware Road, from the other. 

Perhaps the wild geese who visit the Welsh Harp, at least, will remind those exiled Russian oligarchs so yearned for by Cllr Tom Davey, of home. Or perhaps, rather more likely, they will never materialise, and most of these flats, like so many in the other 'regeneration' areas of the borough, will remain empty, bought by overseas investors, and absentee owners.

In the meanwhile, the tenants and leaseholders of the West Hendon estate are being treated abominably: one third of tenants have non secure status, despite some of them having been living there for up to twelve years, and despite others having been moved there, to the reservation, after being 'decanted' from the Stonegrove estate, prior to its development, and gentrification. Some of the West Hendon tenants are being moved to Grahame Park, only to face further uprooting in a couple of years when yet another process of faux regeneration begins. Doesn't matter, to our Tory councillors. Social tenants are expendable: a problem to be resolved: removed.

Leaseholders already facing what many consider to be an undervalued estimate for their homes - assessed by Capita - have been served with bills of thousands of pounds for work the council, via Barnet Homes, insists their properties, due to be demolished, require, even though the authority, as property owners, failed to maintain them.

Tenants have been served with eviction notices, and those who did not turn up to court, allegedly in some cases because the council led them to believe they did not need to attend, have found themselves disadvantaged in the process of where they are reaccommodated, whereas those who did go to court, and challenged the order have had better offers of more secure housing.

Since residents and activists have stirred up a certain amount of media interest, the 'development partners' have made offers to some of those residents, agreements alleged to be subject to 'gagging orders' to those who accept their more favourable terms, and also reportedly requiring a withdrawal from the forthcoming Inquiry.

Ah yes: the Inquiry. 

This will be a formal process, led by an Inspector, Zoe Hill, appointed by Eric Pickles to hear objections to the compulsory purchase orders referred to above. The hearings are open to the public, and are expected to last eight days, opening at 10 am, on the 20th January, for the first day's proceedings at the Holiday Inn, Brent Cross. It will then move to the Town Hall for the rest of the hearing, at which both Barnet, Capita, and Barratts, their legal representatives, and of course a group of local residents, including Jasmin Parsons, will give evidence and present their cases.

Maybe the Inquiry will bring about a better deal for some of the residents of the former West Hendon estate. 

And of course Barratt's black fence around Hendon Waterside will come down, eventually, when the project is complete. 

But the wall will still be there. 


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Mrs Angry said...
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