Monday, 20 July 2015
We do not know ... what else we did not, and still do not know, or - Questions: and some answers - about the £13.5m depot sale
Last week Mrs Angry updated her post on the Abbots Depot story: see here -
This was after receiving a response from Barnet Council to an FOI request which was not, in fact, a response, but an announcement that they would not reply to the request for at least another ten working days.
The pretext for this delay was that they considered that some of the information she had asked for was 'exempt', and they needed another two weeks to consider whether disclosure of the information was in the public interest, or if it was, in the time honoured tradition of 'open government', here in Broken Barnet, and the covert war against the principle of transparency, more appropriate to sit on the information, and keep it all under wraps.
Well, of course such a reply is always a cheering indication that the material you are requesting is so embarrassing that the authority is desperate to keep it out of your hands, and rather than worrying about the public interest, they are worried about the exposure and political fallout that may result from publication.
Mrs Angry was having none of it, however, knowing full well that transparency over the matter of the £13.5 million purchase of a site sold only the year before for a mere £750,000 could only ever be in the public interest ... and she also pointed out that they had not fulfilled their obligation, clearly indicated by the Information Commissioner, to explain exactly what was the nature of the exemptions they were claiming. (Hint: not wanting people to see what a balls up you've made of something is not a valid exemption).
It was a surprise, however, to see, the very next day, that the material asked for was suddenly released after all.
How odd. Could it be, thought Mrs Angry, that amongst the Tory ranks the mistrust that certain members have in the way in which their own officers - and our private partners and outsourced contractors Capita & HBPublic Law, all of whose employees feature throughout this correspondence, have handled this business ... has led to pressure to release the evidence she had asked for?
The truth is that a significant number of Tory councillors are now beginning to realise just exactly what is the new reality, here in the hollowed out council they have created, and their natural suspicion of senior officers -whom they know really regard them as a flipping nuisance, and creatures to be indulged, or kept in the dark as much as possible - is beginning to stir some resentment amongst the Conservative group. Strange bedfellows, Mrs Angry. No, best not to dwell on that line of thought.
The chickens, Tory councillors, are now coming home to roost, are they not?
Looking through the emails now released, as expected, some names had been redacted: some of which are possibly officers of a seniority which does not exempt them from identification, and which will be challenged, as Mrs Angry has done previously, and successfully, when senior officers and consultants tried to hide from her eye of scrutiny, in response to an FOI request.
(Note to person in charge of the black felt tip: it is pretty easy to work out whose names you are redacting. Use a thicker pen, in future).
Because the evidence of these emails makes one thing undeniably clear: councillors were not given the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, at the appropriate time, in regard to the interesting history of the Abbotts depot; and that senior officers most certainly knew before the Full Council meeting of December 16th that, in direct contradiction to the statement given to Labour's Geof Cooke as late as May 19th:
"to the best of our knowledge, there have been no changes to the freehold or leasehold positions since 1/1/14' ...
Read on, and see if you think that that position, maintained then and now by Barnet and Capita senior officers, overseen by our outsourced legal service, is in fact fairly defined by that phrase ... 'to the best of our knowledge': and then ask yourselves, readers, if that is the best service they can provide - why the heck are we throwing so much money at them, as demanded by the contracts that our Tory councillors so happily approved?
How is such a statement compatible with the evidence below, including this mysterious email, heavily redacted, for some reason, sent only a few weeks ago?
We were aware of this purchase from the beginning ... why did you not tell the councillors, then?
Click on enlarge, to read the document.
And now, in combination with material published by a local residents' group yesterday, containing questions - and long awaited answers - to Cllr Cooke in regard to the matter, it is clear that there is now an urgent need for a full, independent investigation into the depot purchase, and the way in which councillors of all parties have been kept in ignorance of the facts by their own officers, and of the part played in this mess by the contracted legal service, HBPublic Law, and of course our contractual partners, Capita.
Readers should compare and contrast the two sources of information, and make up their own minds about the story of Abbotts' Depot, and to decide whether or not, even now, before the first waste lorry has dumped its load on the site, there is a pervasive smell of rotten borough wafting across the area.
Here are the questions raised by Cllr Cooke, and the response from Barnet's Chief Executive, Andrew Travers, on the 9th July, as published yesterday by RAAD, Residents Against Abbotts Depot, via their Facebook page, Say NO to Abbotts Depot. As well as the aspect of the information withheld from councillors, there is the complex issue of if, in fact, we have secured full use of the site in questions, and if the apparently informal use by another company raises a threat to our huge investment in this purchase. It should also be remembered, incidentally, thatin the not too distant future, this site may well be needed for railway sidings for the Crossrail 2 expansion.
One significant omission from the attempt by senior officers to defend their representations to councillors on the depot transaction is this: why were councillors told that the £13.5 million value was based on a previous transaction of £8million, a few years ago, supposedly around 2006/7?
Where is the proof of this sale, and if there is none, on what basis was the valuation made?
As you will see, Geof Cooke is one of the few really tenacious Labour councillors, astute and obstinate in his attempts to hold officers to account, as one saw at the Audit Committee, in the days when, as it should be, an opposition, Libdem Chair was in charge, ie Monroe Palmer, and there was actually a chance of securing some scrutiny of council finances. Since then, of course, the Tories have appointed ... a Tory Chair.
The questions from Cllr Cooke, and the original responses, which he found to be unsatisfactory, followed by supplementary questions from him, labelled GNC. The most recent clarification from CEO Andrew Travers is in red. Mrs Angry's comments in orange and annotated Mrs A. There are typos in the original format, unedited.
1. Regarding Abbots Depot, on 12/11/14 John Hooton *1 informed us that ‘The site has been in long term use as Abbots Depot and has remained vacant since they ceased to operate’ but on 19/05/15 Matthew Walters *2 informed us (via Members’ Enquiries) that ‘There is no formal arrangement with regards to the Winters use of the Abbots site, however Winters are currently using part of the Abbots Depot on an informal basis’.
*1 the Chief Operating Officer.
*2 Head of Corporate Programmes at Capita-Barnet
Original Response: Correct, the fact that Winters were using part of the site on an informal basis came through the site due diligence after November 2014
GNC: Why was the council under a misapprehension on 12/11/14? Had Cergold misinformed the council? When it was discovered that councillors had been misinformed why was no correction issued?
Response: It is perfectly normal for issues of this nature to be identified during the due diligence phase of a transaction like this.
This is true, in part. It is fairly normal for issues of this nature to be overlooked, in the natural way of things in Broken Barnet.
2. Regarding the Abbots Depot site, on 25/11/14 John Hooton informed us that ‘The purchase price was £8m some 7/8 years ago, this figure is being confirmed with the Land Registry’. There was no update until 19/05/15 when Matthew Waters informed us (via Members’ Enquiries) that ‘With regards to the sale of Abbots Depot in June 2014, the Land Registry search we carried out has revealed that Cergold purchased the property in June 2014. The directors of Cergold are the Comer Brothers and according what the Comers (sic), they had ownership for several years before then’ and that ‘The price stated to have been paid on 11 June 2014 was £750,000’.
Original Response: Land Registry entries indicate on 11 June 2014 a price of £750,000 was paid for the transfer of the freehold of the Abbots Depot site to Cergold Limited. The Council is not privy to the reasons behind this agreement but is confident that the £750,000 figure quoted does not reflect the open market value of the site Abbots Depot site. The reason that the Council is confident that the figure does not reflect market value is that the two companies involved in the purchase and sale of the freehold are owned by the same people.
GNC: Was the ‘open market’ valuation based on an assumption that planning permission for residential development could be obtained without any change to adjacent land? I am still awaiting the response to an overdue member’s enquiry as to the exact identity of the vendor in 2014.
Response: The valuation included an assumption that residential planning permission could be achieved. Details of the business case for acquiring the site were set out in the exempt appendix of the DPR approving the transaction. This appendix remains exempt until the transaction is complete should planning permission be granted. In the interests of transparency the intention is that the details of this exempt report will be published once the purchase of the site is complete should planning permission be granted.
Please note the $64,000 question has been ignored: or rather, the £8m question. Where is the proof of this purchase? Is there a clue to the accuracy of this reference in the vagueness of the date, ie 'some 7/8 years ago?
3. The report to the 16/03/15 meeting of the Assets, Regeneration and Growth committee, which was referred to the full council meeting on 14/04/15, requested approval of payment of a premium to buy out a ‘Waste Operation lease’ on land for which ‘The freehold interest in the site is owned by Network Rail’ (identified by a map provided to councillors as the main Winters site) but on 19/05/15 Matthew Waters informed us (via Members’ Enquiries) that in relation to the part of the Abbots Depot site occupied by Winters ‘The vacation and clearance of this area is also covered as part of the acquisition of the Winters Site’.
Original Response: It came to light during the pre-contract due diligence that Winters were occupying part of the Abbotts Depot site for storing their skips. We asked the vendor to explain the basis of this arrangement but they merely stated it was informal and the arrangement would be terminated before completion. In the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.
GNC: If Winters vacating Abbots Depot is a requirement on Cergold, in what sense is ‘The vacation and clearance of this area is also covered as part of the acquisition of the Winters Site’?
Response: Vacant possession of the Abbotts site is assured through the contract with Cergold. The agreement for the assignment of the lease on the Winters site also includes a provision that Winters will not to relocate to any other part of the wider site of the former railway sidings (including Abbotts Depot).
4. The three items of information above were provided at 16:36 on 19/05/15 in response to a challenge to the comprehensiveness and accuracy of an earlier response at 14:51 on the same day. That response stated that ‘To the best of our knowledge, there have been no changes to the freehold or leasehold positions since 1/1/14’.
Original Response: Correct. There was an error in the responses provided at 14:51 on 19/05/15, which were clarified at 16:36 on the same day. This confirmed that Land Registry entries indicate on 11 June 2014 a transfer of the freehold of the Abbots Depot site to Cergold Limited took place.
Mrs A: 'An error'? How did that 'error' come to be on such a scale, when senior officers knew perfectly well as early as at least 9th December what the real background was? And why was the information not forwarded as a matter of course to councillors at that point?
GNC: How did the June 2014 transaction come to be overlooked despite a direct question and how can the correction to a blatant error be described as a ‘clarification’?
Mrs A: Get out of that one, if you can:
Response: The reason for the clarification is that the 2014 transaction was between parties with shared ownership. Therefore even though technically the Land Registry records a change of ownership the same individuals retained ownership and control of the site.
Mrs A: Erm? Please answer the question ...
Unnumbered: Assuming that the most recent information is correct, I suggest that the decision making process to acquire the two sites should be investigated because relevant information was withheld from at least some of the councillors making the decision.
Original Response: It is not the case that relevant information was withheld based on the respsonses provided above and bleow. The monitoring officer has reviewed the decision making process and is confident that it was robust.
Mrs A: 'It is not the case that relevant information was withheld ...' Readers must compare the emails to the responses here, and decide for themselves.
Robust, again? See below. Or 'bleow'.
GNC: Is it your view that occupation of Abbots Depot by Winters and the recent purchase of Abbots depot for £750,000 were not relevant information for councillors voting through expenditure of £13.5m plus a substantial lease buyout premium?
Response: Yes, neither of those issues are relevant to the price paid, which as set out above was supported by a business case. In the case of the occupation of the site by Winters, the Council would have a right to be compensated by Cergold in the unlikely event that they failed to deliver vacant possession on completion. The price paid in June 2014 would be relevant only if it was paid on a transaction at arms length, which it was not.
Mrs A: Just extraordinary. Neither of those issues relevant? All previous transactions most certainly WERE and ARE relevant when there is a process leading to the purchase of a site costing £13.5 million, and no apparent evidence of how that valuation was reached.
A. The occupation of part of the Abbots Depot site by Winters was not disclosed. It may be under an informal arrangement but that does not necessarily mean it was irrelevant.
Original Response: We believe that all relevant and material information was provided at the appropriate time in order to support the council's decision making process. It came to light during the pre-contract due diligence that Winters were occupying part of the Abbotts Depot site for storing their skips. We asked the vendor to explain the basis of this arrangement but they merely stated it was informal and the arrangement would be terminated before completion. In the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.
GNC: No follow-up
a. Did the Council take legal opinion as to whether Winters had a right to stay on till any date or to be given time to vacate? If so what was the advice?
Original Response: Yes, the Council took legal advice throughout. In the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.
Mrs A: how legally binding are these 'obligations' and duties which are apparently 'incumbent on them'?
GNC: The question was about advice received by the council about Winters’ legal rights occupying land informally, not about Cergold’s contractual obligation to deliver vacant possession. Please answer the question.
Response: The council's solicitors did enquire of the seller's solicitors who cited that contract terms that they were selling with vacant possession and stating that Winters would vacate before completion.
Mrs A: Can we have full confidence in a response that is grammatical nonsense, and apparently with no proof of certainty?
b. Are Winters paying Cergold for use of part of the Abbots Depot site?
Original Response: This is not a matter for the Council, however, we asked the vendor to explain the basis of this arrangement but they merely stated it was informal and the arrangement would be terminated before completion.
Mrs A: er, well yes, it is a matter for the council, if it may have an impact on our investment in the site ...
GNC: Did the council receive legal advice that whether or not Winters was paying Cergold was irrelevant to any legal rights Winters might have in the matter?
Response: Legal gave advice that the arrangement with Winters might amount to a protected business tenancy, regardless of whether any rent was being paid. It appeared to legal that rent was in fact being paid in kind, namely Winters were allowing Cergold to use some of their skips. However, the vendor's pre-contract representations suggested the arrangement was informal and a personal one between the Comers and Winters (i.e. not constituting a legal estate in land). The risk of possession not being given was judged to be very small.
Mrs A: Ah ... regardless of whether any rent was being paid ... oh dear. And 'suggesting' the arrangement was informal, 'judging the risk of possession to be very small' ... Reassured, much, readers?
c. Was the possibility of Winters not vacating Abbots Depot when required recorded as a risk on the project risk register before the proposal for the Council to acquire the main Winters site and, if so, what was the mitigation?
Original Response: The risk of Winters not ceasing their informal use of the Abbots site was not recorded in the risk register as in the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged to give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.
Mrs A: bored with this now. What I said before.
GNC: Is it not the case that there was a risk to the council’s depot relocation plan if Winters had legal rights at Abbots Depot that prevented Cergold from delivering vacant possession when required?
Response: Following conversations with the vendor's solicitors we understand the arrangement is undocumented and informal and as vacant possession is assured through the terms of the proposed purchase we do not believe there is any risk to the Council's depot relocation plan.
d. Would Winters’ occupation block access to the bulk of the site to the south and thus affect the Council’s plans?
Original Response: If the informal arrangement for Winters to use part of the Abbots site were to remain in place after the council purchased the Abbots site then this would impact the council's plans. However, in the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.
GNC: No follow-up
e. Does the proposed agreement between the Council and Winters explicitly cover evacuation of Abbots Depot?
Original Response: No, Winters have not been paid for the vacation of the Abbots site. Vacant possession of the Abbots site is assured through the agreement to purchase the Abbots site. The agreement for the assignment of the lease on the Winters site, includes a provision that Winters will not to re-locate to any other part of the wider site of the former railway sidings (including Abbotts Depot).
GNC: No follow-up
f. The identification of the ‘waste operation lease’ site was initially vague in the committee report of 16/03/15 but it did specify that the freeholder was Network Rail (with no mention of Cergold) and the map that was provided on request did not identify any part of the Abbots Depot site being part of the ‘waste operation lease’ site. So was the premium specified in the exempt papers just for a lease of the Network Rail site or did Winters’ occupation of part of the Abbots Depot site give them additional negotiating leverage that increased the price to the Council?
Original Response: The 'waste operation lease' site referred to is the Winters site and the freeholder of this site is Network Rail as stated in the committee report of 16/03/15. Winters had no additional leverage as a result of their informal use of the neighbouring Abbots site as vacant possession of the Abbots site is assured through the agreement to purchase the Abbots site from Cergold.
GNC: How could an agreement between the council and Cergold nullify any legal rights that might be held by Winters?
Response: There is no suggestion that Winters has or claims a lease. The arrangement is informal and the vendor has warranted that it will end before completion.
Mrs A: how legally binding is 'warranted'? Is it worth the paper it may or may not be written on, do you think?
g. Was the Winters’ occupation of part of the Abbots Depot site a factor in the officer decision to recommend acquisition of the main Winters site (which is not operationally necessary and was not proposed in November 2014 when negotiation to acquire Abbots Depot was recommended)?
Original Response: No. Winters' informal use of the Abbots site was not a factor in the decision to purchase the Winters' site as vacant possession of the Abbots site is assured through the agreement to purchase the Abbots site.
GNC: Question f above applies here too.
Response: There is no suggestion that Winters has or claims a lease. The arrangement is informal and the vendor has warranted that it will end before completion.
h. Was the inclusion of Winters’ evacuation of part of the Abbots Depot site in addition to their main site the reason why they did not want their freeholder, Network Rail, to know the buyout premium or even, apparently, that Winters was interested in selling its lease?
Original Response: The council is not privy to this information
Mrs A: 'The council' appears to have sat in the privy throughout this whole process, with its fingers in its corporate ears, humming a merry tune, when it should have been asking hard questions of the various interested parties ...
GNC: So why is the public not allowed to know the premium paid by the council to Winters?
Response: This is commercially confidential information. The council has entered into confidentiality obligations with Winters in the contract between them.
Mrs A: Ah. Aha. Yes, of course. Commercially confidential information. Obligations to Winters. Not to councillors, or we, the long suffering taxpayers?
B. Officers have now confirmed that Cergold paid only £750,000 for the whole of the Abbots Depot site in 2014. If the most recent purchase price had been disclosed to councillors then Cergold’s profit from selling the freehold for £13.5m would have been a very valid area for questioning by councillors. Councillors have yet to be provided with an explanation as to why the council is prepared to pay £13.5m for a site that only a year ago was bought for £750,000.
Original Response: Land Registry entries indicate on 11 June 2014 a price of £750,000 was paid for the transfer of the freehold of the Abbots Depot site to Cergold Limited. The council is not privy to the reasons behind this agreement but is confident that the £750,000 figure quoted does not reflect the open market value of the site Abbots Depot site. The reason that the Council is confident that the figure does not reflect market value is that the two companies involved in the purchase and sale of the freehold are owned by the same people.
Mrs A: If the Council is confident that the figure does not reflect market value, why did it keep its suspicions to itself, and not use this interesting fact to negotiate a better deal, and better value for money for residents?
GNC: Is the council confident that appropriate UK tax will be paid on Cergold’s profit of £12.75m (1,700%)?
Response: This is not a matter for the Council to comment on.
Mrs A: Presumably, then, the Council has informed HMRC of any concerns it may have in regard to the alleged under-valuation of the £750K transaction by the Council's landlords, and would be developers of North London Business Park?
C. The 16/03/15 committee report made no mention of Winters’ plan to move out of the Oakleigh Road South area irrespective of any prospect of the Council paying them to go away so the appropriateness of paying them a substantial premium did not receive appropriate consideration, even though it was raised by opposition councillors.
Original Response: The Winters site was not actively being marketed prior to the Council entering into negotiations for the reassignment of the lease, so plans for the operation to move out of the area irrespective of these discussions remain a matter of speculation. If Winters did intend to vacate the site, the lease would have been available on the open market, therefore, without intervention, the Council would not have been able to prevent another similar waste operation from occupying the site.
GNC: The Winters site (and the Mill Hill depot site) are safeguarded for waste use and it is Barnet’s obligation as a North London planning authority not to allow a reduction in waste-processing capacity in North London. How does the council propose to discharge that obligation in respect of the Winters site?
Response: This is a matter for the Council to engage in through the updating of the North London Waste Plan. Following re-assignment the Winters site will continue to be zoned for waste management and processing. Our proposals seek to increase the operational efficiency of the waste service which will ultimately improve the capacity. We anticipate these improvements will be required to accommodate the projected increase in throughput of waste and recyclables over future years.
D. The information in points 1-3 above came to light only through research by affected residents and persistent questioning by me. The information was withheld, for whatever reason, when it should have been disclosed first voluntarily by officers prior to decisions by councillors and then in response to explicit questioning. In the event all that I have is confirmation of what I put to the officer in question. I and other councillors do not know what else we did not and still do not know.
Original Response: We believe that all relevant and material information was provided at the appropriate time in order to support the Council's decision making process.
Mrs A: Do we? That's a cracker. The extent, and 'robust' nature, of your self belief is ... quite something.
GNC: Do you not accept that residents and opposition councillors have strong reason to doubt the council’s wish to be transparent on this matter?
Response: We believe that all relevant and material information was provided at the appropriate time in order to support the council's decision making process. The monitoring officer has reviewed the decision making process and is confident that it was robust.
London Borough of Barnet
Finally from me: as regards the decision making process being reviewed by the part time Monitoring Officer, and being found to be - ha, that favourite word - 'robust', may we please have clarification of the terms of reference used by the Monitoring Officer, and an explanation as to how a definition of 'robust' was, in his view, appropriate in the case of the process under review?
An extraordinary set of responses, by any measure, but seen in the context of the emails released through FOI, well: more than extraordinary - an indictment of this council, its management, its administration, the failure to communicate essential information to elected representatives, the apparent failure by contractual partners to ensure due diligence into the case for such a vast investment of taxpayers' money.
Posted by Mrs Angry at Monday, July 20, 2015 3 comments:
Sunday, 19 July 2015
Living Life Elevated, or: Hasta La Vista - the reinvention of West Hendon
Mrs Angry never can resist an invitation to an opening: especially one that offers opportunities for mischief - and free champagne, in line with her own brand of socialism, of course.
Well then, Saturday morning, and off to West Hendon, to take a look at the new showroom apartment in the Barratt London development, nestling - no: dropped into the marshy terrain, the waterfront that is the willow fringed borders of the Welsh Harp, squatting on the ground where once stood rows of terraced houses, flattened in the war by enemy bombing, in one terrible night in 1941, which took the lives of so many civilian victims, and made more than 1,500 people homeless.
Next to the site, the 1960s council estate which gave new homes to local families is being demolished, piece by piece: an entire community mercilessly destroyed, and who knows how many people being made homeless, not by enemy action, but by their own elected representatives - so as to allow the creation of a private development, one from which they have been effectively excluded, despite the entire project being sanctioned under the guise of 'regeneration', and subsidised by the public purse.
As it happens, Mrs Angry has had occasion, recently, to have to research the price of properties in the London Borough of Broken Barnet, and how amusing it was to her to find that the very first suggestion of all property searches results in an invitation to go and live in Hendon Waterside, this beautiful, if entirely fictional concept being marketed by Barratt London.
She decided she ought, therefore, to go and take a look. Perhaps fate was, after all, leading her to spend her twilight years on a balcony in West Hendon, gazing upon the ... what is it, let us check the brochure ... the 'tranquil environment' and the 'picturesque views'.
Well, depending which way you look, of course.
Arriving in West Hendon, and looking for the road that leads to the lovely new development - trying to cross the Edgware Road, which is a hair raising experience of its own, it must be said that Mrs Angry was somewhat puzzled.
Where was Waitrose? What: no Carluccios? No White Company?
Qu'ils mangent de la brioche, but: an absence of hipster patisseries to supply them ...
Trianon House. Ah yes: memories of Marie Antoinette, and her downsized chateau retreat, in the grounds of Versailles. Hmm. And a useful car accessory shop, selling hubcaps.
Are these signs of regeneration, or degeneration, following years of blight caused by the promised 'regeneration' that will never now take place?
On reading the literature being distributed by Barratt's sales team, one could only be more mystified. Still: nice to see that an 'uplift' in terms of more aspirational residents was clearly already underway. Look: a feeder nursery to the academy establishment attended by so many members of our Tory government:
Eton Nursery, for any unexpected child yield in West Hendon: for aspirational toddlers
Down the road, then.
Not to worry, this is only the view for the poor people, not Marie Antoinette, or the Russian oligarchs in the new development: the sans culottes, who have been 'decanted' into the new Bastille, safely outside the footprint of the private scheme, facing the backyards of the Edgware Road.
For those who live on the wrong side of the fence, in Hendon Waterside: no view of the water, of course. Pay for view clients only, here.
Mrs Angry wandered down into the estate. She thought she was in Tyrrell Way, but - oh: no. Now, Mrs Angry, you are in ... Moorhen Way.
Local historical names must be obliterated, now, in Hendon Waterside. Year Zero has begun.
Tyrrel? It was the name of a local vicar. No one except Mrs Angry knows that anymore, probably, unless they've spent hours sitting in the British Library looking at a now forgotten history of the parish. There you go: at least it will be remembered here, in a virtual chronicle.
Moorhens: they are half bird, half duck. Neither fish nor fowl. No, neither waterfowl, nor ... Oh, I don't know. Yes, they have them on the Welsh Harp. At the moment, before the SSSI status is lost, as a result of the impact of the development on the wildlife that once lived here.
The gates to the new development were open, but hovering outside was another endangered species: a group of residents, ready to greet prospective buyers intent on attending the Barratt opening day.
Resident Mitzi, who must endure the construction site, & all the noise and constant dirt from the site right next to her home
An air of unease surrounded the entrance. Security guards watched the residents suspiciously, as if they were migrants gathering at Calais, waiting to steal their way into the promised land behind the border, the black fence that defends Fortress Barratt from intruders.
Reclaiming the banner
Also outside were the two film makers who are making a documentary for the BBC on the West Hendon story, to be broadcast later this year. While we were all talking, someone spotted the security guards had pulled the residents' banner out of the flower bed by the entrance: they rushed in and demanded it back, shouting - thieves! Thieves!
After a stand off, the banner was taken back and returned to the entrance. The residents had won one small battle, at least. Each side retreated behind their lines.
Jasmin, in her Lennon specs, and some lyrics to serenade visitors ...
A few prospective buyers were trickling in and out of the newly opened showroom reception area. As they passed by, the residents spoke to them, perfectly calmly, but honestly, asking them if they knew the background to the development, or that they would effectively be buying a property on a building site, that this was the first Saturday for a very long time that had not been dominated by the sound and mess of the contractors working on the site?
Most visitors were interested, and listened to what residents said. But inevitably a police car arrived, on whose behest it was fairly obvious. They found no problem, however, and left shortly afterwards, respecting the residents' lawful right to conduct a peaceful protest.
Some residents held up pictures representing the history of the site, and told the visitors, who listened attentively, it must be said, exactly what does lie beneath the new development: the memorial park, the sacred ground that Barnet and Barratt do not want to acknowledge.
Time to cross the border between West Hendon, and Waterside. Mrs Angry slipped through customs, without being stopped (some of the residents had been refused entrance) and passed the smiling young women at the door, to be greeted by a lovely lobby full of more smiling young people, and an array of hospitality.
A suitably uxorious waiter offered Mrs Angry a glass of champagne, absurdly balanced on its own square wooden tray, and she sipped at it whilst admiring the model developments in their perspex display cases, her Barratt goody bag swinging delicately on her other arm, full of lovely pictures to look at on the way home.
Later she read the brochure, one headed with an invitation to 'live life elevated' with great excitement, as a prospective buyer, of the many attractions of the West Hendon area, which Barratt London, in a feat of engineering surpassing even the 32 story tower of babylon that is The Vista * (yep: that's what they call it), have moved West Hendon into Hampstead, and even as far as Primrose Hill, Camden Town, and ... Selfridges. Marvellous. Doesn't mention the Edgware Road, of course, or the kebab shops, or Trianon House, or the Motor Shop, or the lack of Waitrose, Carluccios etc.
*Vista: a pleasing view.
synonyms: view, prospect, panorama, aspect, perspective, spectacle, sight;
a long, narrow view as between rows of trees or buildings, especially one closed by a building or other structure.
a mental view of a succession of remembered or anticipated events.
"vistas of freedom seemed to open ahead of him"
These models were truly a work of art: Mrs Angry particularly admired the one that lit up slowly, then off again, provoking uneasy catholic childhood memories of pay as you go illumination of shrines in French and Italian churches. Where do you put the coins, to turn the lights on? No: sign here, bottom of the mortgage agreement. Easy.
And then there was the interesting display of the wider project, with the later buildings which will, as you can see, be made of sponge, presumably, thought Mrs Angry - remembering the wishful rumour that is now floating about West Hendon, that the new tower block is slowly sinking, like Venice, with the weight of too much aspirational folie de grandeur, into the marshes on which it is built - made of sponge in order to soak up any excess water from the land which was reclaimed from the once much larger reservoir, many years ago?
Hasta la Vista, baby?
Who mentioned babies? Not allowed, not here. Read on.
In the cool of the air conditioned building, in the lobby and upstairs in the apartment there wafted a familiar scent: 'Orange Blossom', by Jo Malone, clearly a favoured brand by Barratt's set dressers.
The hard faced, urban invasion of a idyllic landscape, sanctified by calming aromatherapy, a benediction, with fragrance rather than incense, to induce a sense of well being, and represent prayers for a better life rising up to heaven, or at least to the penthouse flats on the 32nd storey - and to encourage an inexplicable urge to buy into a luxury development of socially cleansed, sweet smelling properties, courtesy of Barratt London.
Off to the lifts to see the flat, accompanied by a handful of other prospective buyers, eyeing our escort salesman with suspicion, as he checked with a colleague where exactly he was supposed to go. He had never been there before, it seemed. He took us to the bin store, first time round, said one of the visitors, laughing behind his hand.
Up to the first floor and here was a sight familiar from Mrs Angry's previous visit to the other showroom.
Here, however, in the new location, the narrative that informed the decor was slightly less edgy, rather safer, and more like something out of a Next catalogue, circa 1991: with not Alexander McQueen on the coffee table, but a book on Impressionism - meh - and three peculiar 'artworks' on the wall that looked as if they might be pieces of distressed concrete removed from the backyards of distressed, evicted social tenants on the council estate: a sort of trophy, wondered Mrs Angry?
In the bedroom, this time, now we have left behind the distant fantasies of the former showroom, and moved into the new now, where only those privileged few who can afford the sort of mortgage that will deliver them into this new development may even dream about living here ...there is no empty wallet on the bedside table, no watch, no discarded dress lying enticingly on the bed, beneath the teasing reflection of an artfully shattered mirror:
This apartment is aimed at young professional couples, and so here we find the same sparkly dress, but hidden away, and neatly hung in the wardrobe; some new handbags, a pair of tea canisters, (normally keep mine in the kitchen, don't you?) and a nice pair of tan shoes, not really f*ck me shoes, more the sort of thing you might wear to your goddaughter's christening.
Oh, and a trio of black and white photos of the sort of people we are invited to believe might live here, that told their own narrative, an unusual one, thought Mrs Angry, peering with immense curiosity at the pitctures: and with a moral tale - a blonde woman, and her (rather younger) lover, apparently meeting at a Morning Star editorial team building summer camp, falling in love, renouncing political activism, and ending in an aspirational sort of kiss, happily followed up by the purchase of a Barratt home, and a petit bourgeois, revisionist renouncement of class war, right there on the waterfront, in West Hendon.
Could happen. There is hope for you yet, Mrs Angry.
And the wider message was clear: whereas the other showroom appeared to cater for some sort of casual fantasy, this is the sort of dormitory accommodation for young professional worker drones to live together and ... well yes, have sex, now and again, but of course not babies, which would upset Barratt's projected child yield, and create a need for schools, and GPs and parks, and ... all the things which go to make a community. Neither Barratts nor Tory Barnet want to encourage that sort of thing, of course, as it could only represent a threat to the profit margin of the entire development, and indeed the housing strategy now gripping the nation.
And what a view!
Oh well, not that one. This one: look ...
You can see the water, in winter, said the salesman, who had never been there before, craning his neck, and standing on his little tippy toes.
Can you, asked Mrs Angry, regarding the screen of lovely willow, blocking any sight of the Welsh Harp? Oh yes, he said. In winter. And erm ... there will be a gym. And Sainsburys and Costa will be here.
Really? You sure? When? Where?
Oh, on the commercial part.
Well, he wasn't sure. (About 15 years time, according to the residents).
Because, frankly, said Mrs Angry, playing the part of a sniffy buyer: the approach to the development, all those shut up shops on the Edgware Road, the general air of decline, and fall ... it's not quite, you know ... what one might expect, is it, if you are paying for a place like this? And buyers would have to put up with years and years of living on a construction site, as well ...?
Well, if it were anywhere else, she was told, the price would be sky high. In line with the height of the four tower blocks, then. An admission here, however, that West Hendon is not really the sort of gentrified area buyers would expect? Mrs Angry asked about the penthouse flats: how much would they be? He shrugged. He didn't know. He worked for Foxtons, it emerged, not Barratts.
Mrs Angry made her excuses and left. This was a mistake as, left to her own devices in a strange place, as usual she got lost, and ended up in some subterranean level, with no obvious way out. She began to panic: no one knew she was here ... was she going to end up spending the weekend locked in a Barratt building, in some awful karmic punishment? The very thought drove her back into the lift, to press any number of buttons, and thankfully, eventually, up and out of the building.
Passing once more across the border to Tyrrel Way, the crew from the BBC film nabbed Mrs Angry to do her bit to camera, which, fuelled by a glass of Barratt champagne on an empty stomach rather too early in the day, and fresh from the scented rooms of Hendon Waterside flowed easily, and was all encompassing in scope, as you might imagine.
As she talked, she was aware of a rather menacing figure, a man dressed in expensive but frankly rather ghastly Austin Reed weekend wear - including trousers in an eyewateringly, in your face, shade of yellow, standing in alpha male pose, furiously across the road, glaring at us, watching the filming and the protestors talking to buyers, one of whom had by now been converted by their arguments and happily posed for photographs with them.
Who was the man? From Barratt, or Barnet, or Crapita, or Foxtons, or some other interested party, presumably, outraged that the people who actually live on the West Hendon estate, whose homes and families and history belong here, might dare to object to the destruction of their community, and their eviction from this land, publicly owned land worth £12 million, given away to developers for £3?
He better get used to it, our friend in the yellow trousers, get used to the sight of strangers at the gate, and a long siege.
The residents in West Hendon, who have been condemned to another fifteen years or more of living on the edge of a construction site, their homes and family lives, their community and history betrayed, and broken up, are going nowhere, and will be there, everytime there is a sales event, to speak out, and tell the truth, the inconvenient truth that demonstrates the real cost of Hendon Waterside.
And the truth about Hendon Waterside is a story that is being acted out in every part of this country now, anywhere there is an easy profit in turning freely available land, subsidised by taxpayers, into private profit. The only thing to do, the duty that we all share, is to keep telling the truth, and refuse to be silenced. One day, perhaps, someone might listen.
Monday, 6 July 2015
Thinking Something is Going to Happen ... then Nothing Does: another Residents Forum, in Broken Barnet
Now you may or may have not noticed, but Mrs Angry has not been to many council meetings recently.
This is because:
a. She is bored with observing the deathless, glass-eyed stare and manic displacement activity of the elected representatives of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, and:
b. She has had a lot on, see, at home, what with five years' worth of unironed ironing to throw away, and important life decisions to avoid, and then:
c. She has an awful back problem, you know, in case she hasn't mentioned it? So sitting down for long is rather painful and even Mrs Angry is not masochistic enough to force herself to remain seated through the tortuous process and added pain of enduring a long council meeting ... or Residents' Forum.
Until last week, when temptation proved too great.
Temptation in the form of new evidence that yet again, our scheming Tory councillors, carefully nudged by their senior officers, were plotting to attempt to use the Forums to endorse their own nefarious agenda, rather than enable them to be what the democratic process should demand: an opportunity for genuine consultation, and debate with the electorate.
Of course one of Mrs Angry's many character faults is that she never can do as she is told, and if dared not to do something, or it is made clear her involvement is not welcome, generally will have to do it just, well - just because.
Hence her continued membership of Barnet Labour party, you might think.
And indeed a long, long list of things, trailing right back to that seminal moment of childhood memory, look: here she is, standing on a Cornish cliff, aged three, in a terrible stand off with her formidable mother, and her equally formidable grandmother, lined up on one side, pointing their finger reproachfully at the infant Mrs Angry, watched by a sternly disapproving great aunt on the other, who is being threatened by a handful of sand, which Mrs Angry is holding up, poised to throw at her, for no particular reason other than naughtiness, and the heck of it:
If you do that ... was the grim warning ... if you dare do that ... well: nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, but: now it had to be done.
The sand was thrown, Mrs Angry did run, like hell, and - history does not record what happened next, but it was bound to have ended in tears, like most of Mrs Angry's childhood acts of petty defiance against her mother's regime of endless things you must not do.
And as in childhood, in later life. Except now look: in Mrs Angry's hand, not a handful of sand.
No: Mrs Angry will show you fear, in a handful of dust: a distillation of the airless atmosphere of a council meeting, attended by Barnet Tories.
The real attraction of turning up to meetings and upsetting our elected representatives is really simply that they do not want you to be there, and do everything to try and prevent members of the public from attending, and interfering, as they see it, in the ritual of governance.
Because for many of the Tories, (several of whom are of course freemasons, and who naturally love all the pomp and pomposity of municipal office), the ritual is all that matters, and informed involvement by the electors simply a fucking nuisance, and an impertinence, at that.
This view is of course shared and supported by senior managers, who also secretly think that the elected members themselves are surplus to requirements, and deeply resent having to pretend, at least in public, that they are answerable to councillors, and not the other way round. Indeed some senior officers - and you know who you are - increasingly find it very hard not to put the councillors firmly in their place as well - and address them with barely disguised disapproval at committee meetings.
Over the years, Barnet Tories have done everything they can to try to keep residents excluded from meaningful engagement in the democratic process.
Since they nearly lost a judicial review in the High Court in 2013, as a result of their proven failure to consult residents over the mass privatisation of local services, they have pretended to want to engage with the great unwashed, in order to pay lip service to their statutory obligations.
But it is all a sham: an expensive sham. Private consultants are paid vast wads of cash for running 'reviews' which are carefully weighted and filtered so as to extract only data that will support the predetermined policies that our Tory members have been prodded into sanctioning by their senior management team. As long as it smells of true blue ideology, and comes with a side order of moral sanctimoniousness, they will endorse any old tripe that is put on the committee table.
At the beginning of the last Tory administration, in preparation for the implementation of the mass outsourcing agenda, not only was the privatisation not the subject of any mandate from the electors, who were never properly informed about the plans - the very constitution of the authority was amended so as to pre-empt any attempts by campaigners and activists to raise any sort of debate about the outsourcing, or in fact any sort of debate about any council policy: any reference to anything deemed as 'policy' was strictly forbidden at the Residents Forums. Preposterous, of course, and it was rescinded after the contracts had been signed, and all was safely sewn up.
At the beginning of the new adminstration last year, the senior management immediately began advancing plans for another tranche of services to be thrown into the laps of private contractors. Time, therefore, for a more creative approach to the manufacturing of easycouncil spin.
Since the departure of the former deputy CEO, and the former head of communications, a 'charm offensive' has been launched, in which the Tory leader has been assured by senior officers that he really can win back the hearts and minds of residents and the wider public, beyond the confines of Broken Barnet, who now find, on googling any matter relating to this benighted borough and its cockeyed council, only material written by Barnet bloggers, and beastly headlines casting doubt on the competence of our elected administration.
Certain 'friendly' and 'positive' sounding (seeming) parties have been invited in for an audience with Tory leader Richard Cornelius, to film him, or interview the great man, and listen to his words of wisdom.
As you can read here in this carefully pitched, touchy-feely interview with the local Barnet Press, everything, as seen through the rosy tinted view of Cllr Cornelius, is wonderful, in our borough, if we did but know it. Outsourcing, you know, has been a wonderful success. Any evidence? Nope.
But it all sounds so reasonable, doesn't it? Lovely place, kindly, caring Conservative council. Touching references to in house services, one of which had to be brought back in house from privatisation - and another, school meals, which Cllr Cornelius appears to have forgotten is now being put out to tender - with only one 'competitor' left in the bidding process.
The man who wants low paid YCB workers to take a 9.5 pay cut to pay for the flawed business model that can't make money out of care, whose tenants in West Hendon and Sweets Way are being thrown out of their homes as a result of private developments disguised as regeneration ... where is he hiding?
He doesn't want to show the ugly truth, that the poorest and most vulnerable people in this borough are being driven out, punished for being poor and vulnerable, lectured on the need for aspiration, and austerity, while public money is wasted on subsidising private profit.
He does want to be loved, though - Says Cornelius:
I think if people see we are relatively normal people who live here, that’s the way forward. If people see that we don’t have horns growing out of our heads.
Hard to tell, isn't it?
Another thing they hope will help, in the new battle for the love of the common people, is the cosmetic enhancement of that old bugbear, the Residents' Forums. Of course these meetings are simply a roadshow: a performance designed to delude people, as Labour's Cllr Cooke suggested later on, into 'thinking that something is going to happen - then nothing does ...'
Can't shut the Forums down, much as they would like to. Can't shut them up, much as they would like to. What to do then?
Well, just have them at different venues, at awkward times, when no one can go, or remember where they are, and don't advertise them any way, and - oh, here is a new one: change the time limit for the submission of questions, without telling anyone, and try to stop any of the blighters putting in any questions at all.
Mrs Angry's fingers are already itching to grab a handful of something to throw: a spanner in the works, maybe ... but why are they so keen to avoid questions, at the moment, do you suppose?
Having avoided the Forums for so long, she thought now it was unavoidable: time to go and upset the Chair of the Finchley and Golders Green version, Cllr Reuben Thompstone, he of the clipped antipodean voice of authority - or so he imagines - dealing with residents in the way he must treat troublesome boys at the school where he teaches, in between presiding over his council duties, and such marvellous acts as slashing the budget for respite care at our own schools for severely disabled children - and plotting to destroy our library service.
So, just for the heck of it, then: lob in a few awkward questions, Mrs Angry, and force yourself to turn up to the Forum this time.
Except, oh dear, since Mrs Angry had last been to one, things have changed.
First of all: oh no ... Tombstone is no longer the Chair. No more fun to be had, rousing his ire so easily by refusing to be well - tombstoned - by his relentless, monotonous handling of the agenda.
And Mrs Angry was particularly dismayed, having seen the agenda for Thursday night, and fallen about with amusement with the endless possibilities for entertainment, now at risk. Read on.
In the hall, the audience of residents was sparse, but flanked by an attending cohort of no less than thirteen councillors. The poor turnout, of course, by residents was predictable, because council strategy ensures almost no one knows about these meetings.
At the table sat the new Chair, a new councillor, Shimon Ryde, who rather disarmed Mrs Angry at first by being polite, and apparently reasonable. He eschewed the tombstone approach to chairing meetings, and remembered that he was there to facilitate a (sort of) open engagement between residents and their elected representatives. Couldn't quite sustain his cool for the entire length of the proceedings, but then ... to be fair, he was severely provoked.
Well, Mrs Angry, in her time, has seen off several Chairs: Cllr Cohen, Cllr Old, Cllr Thompstone: doesn't bode too well for you, Shimon ... be warned: no one can last out too long.
Cllr Thompstone sat at his side, almost entirely silent throughout the proceedings, sweating furiously in the heat, and clearly uncomfortable in his role as deputy Chair.
One of the reasons Mrs Angry felt compelled to come to this one was the first question on the issues list. Well, in fact it was not a question, although anyone not wised up to how things are, in Broken Barnet, custom and practice, would have assumed it was.
A lovely rambling, inconsequential statement about how lovely our parks are, and then, oh ... some trigger words that would alert the attention of those in the know: references to yep, 'regeneration' (easycouncil speak for 'private development opportunity') and oh, dear, 'aspirations', and 'delivering outcomes' ... we all know what that means, don't we? And no one was fooled by the 'question' coming from - in this Forum, different name at others - someone with the charmingly vintage name of Elsie Josland.
Elsie was sitting at the table, and not, as you might imagine, the homely, buxom president of a local townswomens' guild branch, in flowery frock, smelling of jam and Jerusalem, but a smart young professional woman, and, as she admitted, a landscape architect working for ... can you guess? A private consultancy.
She gave a nice, anodyne 'presentation' - a few words, nothing to be scared of, sounding awfully non controversial, all about our parks - she'd counted them, you know: we have 120, and open spaces, and nature reserves, and oh, we must not take them for granted, or, 'their wider benefits',being not just beautiful, natural places where you can breathe, and relish their status as our last remaining assets, not flogged off or given away for free to private developers, but as, you know, something that, as she said, 'if of good quality, can increase the value of your home'.
Ah yes. Good. Now we are back on familiar ground: ground that can be exploited, after all, in a commercial sense, in line with the underlying principle of life in Broken Barnet.
Barnet Council, we heard, had commissioned a report, from Elsie and her company, to review such matters as the 'infrastructure' of the parks - how many blades of grass, how much acreage of potential development, or rental, how many views to frame in copyright law, French style, that sort of thing?
They were going to see where money is best going to be spent, by 'consulting' residents, coming up with a series of proposals, and then engage in more 'consultation'. Like the library 'consultation'. Nonsultation. Which is being sat on, until a suitable date to sneak it out, during the summer holidays, and then to be presented to a committee meeting timed for the day of the Leader's speech, week of the Labour conference, when many councillors, and Mrs Angry, will be in Brighton, pretending to be interested in politics, but walking along the pebbled beach, staring at the sea, and wondering where our lives went so terribly wrong.
Mrs Angry smiled politely at Elsie, who, Mrs Angry thought, with a tinge of paranoid suspicion, kept looking at her with the amused expression of someone who might have read this blog and was secretly enjoying the prospect of ending up in it, so here you are, Elsie: your wish fulfilled.
And this 'consultation', asked Mrs Angry, which will be like all consultations enacted by this council, another exercise in throwing money at private consultants, and the response ignored unless it fits a predetermined agenda ... How much will it cost, and is it really hiding an intention to commercialise our parks, as the Tory administration tried a couple of years ago, but had to abandon due to protest, as we like our parks at they are, thank you very much, and please leave them alone, but maintain them as you are obliged to do?
Oh. Elsie kept smiling sweetly, and said she knew nothing about cost, and also said that no 'direction' had been given as to commercialisation. So far, retorted Mrs Angry, but we all know what this means: and if you don't know the cost of this further demonstration of waste of public money, who does? She looked at the Chair, and the members of the panel, including the two from 'Re' the re-diculous name given to the (we have decided on a) Joint Venture with Crapita.
These two men, sat beneath a rather repulsive picture of a vulture hovering over a town, looked deeply bored throughout the evening, clearly ill at ease in the role of having to engage in a process of accountability, and as we shall see, entirely unable to perform in such unfamiliar territory.
The men from Crapita, and Cllr Thompstone
At the other end of the table, although he might as well have sat with them, was the Barnet officer, Jamie Blake, who is apparently the Commissioning Director for Environment.
This means, poor man, that he is supposed to represent our best interests, as residents and taxpayers, in regard to the work that Capita - Re is contracted to do, at vast expense and with no evidence, as yet, of the alleged savings the privatisation was meant to bring. Vast savings and better standards of service, we were told.
Mr Blake had been keen at the beginning of the meeting to explain he was a new boy. Only been here five weeks, so ... he knew nothing about anything, which of course is always helpful, when tasked with the role of ensuring value for money from Crapita.
Mr Blake now made a schoolboy error, however, no doubt disarmed by Mrs Angry's warm encouragement, and foolishly announced that he did know something, after all: how much they were paying Elsie and her fellow consultants: £80,000.
Oops. £80,000? Thanks for that.
Sharp tutting from the residents. And there you go, as Mrs Angry pointed out, how easy it is for our easycouncil to throw money away, in this time of austerity, in pursuit of their own ideological obsessions.
The first real question, albeit from a sense of reality that differs somewhat wildly from that of 99% of the rest of the population, was from outraged residents in Hampstead Garden Suburb, whose every need is of course of the highest priority to Barnet Tories, dependent as they are on the patronage of the most affluent constituents in the borough, here and in Totteridge.
What was upsetting the Suburbanistas? Stand by.
Noisy leaf blowers.
Yes. Just imagine! The horror. The horror.
Noisy leaf blowers, used by - oh dear me, the council's private contractors.
Something must be done, of course: but what, and how quickly? Things are done quickly, in HGS, for residents, of course.
Generally, that is. Or rather, in the good old days, BC: before Crapita.
Here was something new again, or perhaps it was the effect of the heat. In the Greek Cypriot Brotherhood hall, a suitably mediterranean air of sultry discomfort - and silence from the Tory councillors.
The resident speaking to the item, oozing middle class confidence, and an unshakeable sense of entitlement, looked on in disbelief at the lack of reaction and interest in their dreadful plight, clearly aggrieved.
Mrs Angry was feeling aggrieved too, from the point of mischief making, the demotion of Cllr Thompstone a grave disappointment, having lined up a variety of naughty supplementary questions on the relative merits of different ways of dealing with a build up of this sort: blowing or sucking? Blowing produces only one outcome, after all, unresolved: all over the place, for someone else to clear up ...
The resident from HGS was not happy. He demanded to know what action would be taken in regard to the shameless practice now blighting their lives, in sight and sound of all, right there on the street.
The Tory councillors on the panel, and in the audience, swallowed hard - and stared straight ahead, enduring an unprecedented ordeal: not being able to serve, with gutless obsequiousness, the request of a resident from their most favoured ward.
But why the silence?
Partly, Mrs Angry suspected, because the new Chair was not yet fully groomed in the protocols of favour, in Broken Barnet: that the standard of nuisance felt by the residents of HGS is more important than that experienced by those in less privileged areas of the borough: that while the residents of West Hendon are forced to live with the interminable and unceasing noise, day and night, every day of the week, for years on end, the filth and danger of the building programme of the private development that will evict them from their own homes - this is acceptable because they are poor, the undeserving poor, and live in a Labour ward.
The occasional sound of a leafblower in Hampstead Garden Suburb clearly is offensive beyond description, in comparison. It might cause a resident to have to look up from the Telegraph crossword, or disturb the repose of a Siamese cat sleeping on the sunny window seat of a house in Winnington Avenue.
But even Tory grandee and former Hendon MP Cllr John Marshall, was uncharacteristically quiet. Normally he leaps to the aid of any residents from his ward, and kicks up merry hell on behalf of them, eg when anyone, any outsider, dares to park outside their house (yes, again: the horror, the horror ...) and they want Something Done.
Mrs Angry had a feeling that he was aware of the glint in her eye, and the guffawing from her seat, and knew that this complaint might not come over awfully well, in the loving chronicles of this blog.
But there was something else that was apparent - a dawning recognition on behalf of our Tory councillors that their ability to produce instant resolutions to the demands of their most cosseted constituents has now been lost, and lost because of Something Done by themselves, not so long ago. That is to say, the signing off of a mass privatisation of council services, and the annexation of democratic control by Crapita.
And now our Tory members are beginning to see that things being Done is no longer possible, in the way they were Done before, because they have given away control to a profit making venture, the vulture with its wings outstretched, claws fastened deep into our rapidly weakening services - and because the continuity of local knowledge, the safeguarding of democratic scrutiny, has been broken.
One of the Crapita officers stated himself later to be one of the longest serving members of staff: he has worked here for five months.
There is Quite A Lot of Noise, in Hampstead Garden Suburb! declared the resident, looking with dismay at the lack of interest in his predicament.
Of course the written response had admitted, with an admirable economy in punctuation, that:
'the Contractors due to efficiency issues do not now sweep leaves'.
Ah. Yes: there you go: the perfect metaphor for privatisation. Do not undertake to deliver a service, and resolve an issue. Move it somewhere else, for someone else to deal with, and at cheaper cost. Efficiency, Crapita style, see? Marvellous.
Still nothing from the Tory councillors. But then: how can they criticise their own handiwork?
Is it possible to have mufflers? asked the resident, losing heart, scanning the range of indifference presented on the faces of the panel members.
You can buy them in the States ... for 16 dollars, he muttered, trailing off into quiet desperation. He sat down, defeated.
More questions about traffic related problems in residential areas - including one from a resident in a road around the corner from Mrs Angry, who does not like traffic going down his road, and wants it all sent down Mrs Angry's road instead, which is so dangerous she has fought for years to have traffic calming measures installed. Like blowing unwanted leaves away from your own front door: but little sympathy shown from officers trying to juggle the highways budgets, thankfully. (Highways budgets that have themselves been blown on the favoured streets of Tory wards, pre-election, as Mrs Angry reminded the councillors ...)
A resident of West Finchley asked about the agreed length of time it is supposed to take officers to respond to complaints or reports to Environment officers, now Capita officers, of course, in regard to such things as obstructed pathways, or hazards that need addressing.
The Commissioning Director shrugged and said that he didn't know. And that was that. Erm:
But it is your job to know, observed Mrs Angry. To hold Capita to account, on behalf of the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet, and ensure that they are receiving Value For Money from the contract. Surely you have performance indicators that they must reach: KPIs in the contract?
Nope. He didn't know. I know nothing.
Cllr Marshall made one of only two interventions in the meeting, pointing out that Mr Blake had only just arrived, in Broken Barnet, and therefore could not be expected to know about everything. Or anything.
Well, Cllr Marshall, suggested Mrs Angry, from her seat further along the row, with an evil grin: do you know? After all, you have been here, have you not ... since the beginning of time itself ...?
Apparently not. He had not read all of the Capita contract.
Mrs Angry suggested that it was likely he had not read any of it, in fact, like the majority of the Tory councillors who signed up for it.
Anyway. Time for Mrs Angry's own awkward questions. Which had, of course, as usual, been moved as far down the agenda as possible, in the hope that they would be filibustered out of time. Unfortunately for the Tory councillors, quite a few residents who had submitted questions had not turned up, which moved hers up within the time limit. Bad luck.
1. Explain the £13.5 million of taxpayers' money spent on buying the waste depot site sold last year for only £750,000, and why did officers not tell councillors about the sale?
A written answer, not from the Chair, but from our friend John Hooton, Chief Operating Officer. He said £750K didn't reflect market value, and the Monitoring Officer said the decision making process was - ha ha -'robust', and therefore 'the information provided to the committee was not misleading'.
Well, no: it wasn't misleading. It was completely wrong. Why, asked Mrs Angry did officers not tell members about the sale? Did they not know, or did they not tell them deliberately? Simple question, not answered.
The Chair began to look very uncomfortable, and could not offer a response, other than to imply Labour was making some allegation about tax.
Labour's Cllr Cooke, who has been involved in this matter, stood and spoke angrily about the lack of transparency over the purchase. Residents sitting in the hall were clearly aghast at hearing the details of this story.
An uncharacteristically quiet Cllr Marshall, left, listens to Labour's Geof Cooke, as residents take note
Still no explanation, either to him, or Mrs Angry, whose attempts to pursue the point were met with 'I think we have exhausted the subject'.
That's what you would like to think, Tory councillors: but you are mistaken.
Incidentally residents protesting about the depot plans who submitted questions to their Forum in Barnet were told the issue could not be discussed, although the Chair, Tory councillor Lisa Rutter, made a statement defending her own much criticised actions in failing to oppose the approval of the plans.
2. Why did the Tory administration secretly give away public land in West Hendon worth more than £12 million to private developers for £3, and is this not another example of Conservative profligacy with taxpayers' money?
The written response was: Chairman to respond verbally at the meeting.
Mrs Angry looked expectantly at Councillor Ryde.
I don't recognise what you mean by your question, he said.
She repeated what she had asked. He repeated the same words.
But what is your response?
That is my response, he said, with pursed lips: I don't recognise what you mean by your question.
It seemed that poor Councillor Ryde was finding Mrs Angry's probing enquiries too much of an intellectual challenge. Not a massive surprise, to be fair. But: couldn't you have put that in writing, she asked? Nine little words: shouldn't have taken too long. The Monitoring Officer probably would have lent him his biro, if he'd asked, when he was checking his response, to see it was 'robust'.
Oh well. Now suddenly the Chair did seem to understand, and tried to tell Mrs Angry the £3 West Hendon deal was a flipping good one, because that was the real value. Mrs Angry said this was a load of rubbish, and had Cllr Ryde, like her, been to the Housing Inquiry? Er, no.
Mrs Angry pointed out that the council could have negotiated a much better deal, if you accepted the faux regeneration was actually defensible, which it is not, and did Cllr Ryde actually know how much profit Barratt London was making from the deal, because she did? * He did not. And then this subject too was by now exhausted, and so was the Chair, and we were told to Move On. *(£92 million ...)
Next: a moan about the way the council was trying to scupper the Forums: waste of time, except that Councillor Marshall tried to defend changing the time limit by saying only one person missed the deadline, and Mrs Angry explained that was because she and other enthusiasts had advertised it on his behalf, via the medium of Twitter, although there was no need to thank her. Did Cllr Marshall, who was born in an era of sealing wax, semaphore and beacons, know what Mrs Angry was talking about? Are you on twitter, btw, Cllr Marshall, she asked?
Nyeoooow! said the old boy, scandalised by the very thought.
Last question about libraries, specifically Church End. How much did they reckon they could get for it when they flog it off?
At last Tombstone was allowed to speak. Unfortunately he was so boring Mrs Angry fell into a trance, and forgot to listen to what he was actually saying, so winged a further question on the cuts themselves, and floated the thought that if he and his pals would stop throwing money at consultants, and giving away public land for free, or throwing money at land worth a fraction of the price, we would have enough to save all our libraries. But then, she observed, regarding Cllr Thompstone with her beady eye: you don't want to save the libraries, do you?
Cllr Thompstone thought that was a statement, and not a question, and therefore declined to respond. In fact, said Mrs Angry, there was a question mark at the end of my sentence.
But how interesting that he declared her suggestion to be a statement of fact: he does not want to save the libraries. No question mark.
The meeting more or less ended with a question from a resident who is concerned about the failure of the council, as she sees it, properly to manage the ecological well being of our open spaces, particularly along the Dollis Brook walk. She listed plants which are not being controlled, and may become invasive: Japanese knotweed, Himalayan Balsam, hemlock: giant hogweed.
All of them plants with attitude, and many of them rather a risk, if left unmanaged. Mrs Angry winced, having once ended up in A&E with awful burns from what Guys' toxicology unit had to confirm was due to contact, in strong sunlight, from giant hogweed. Hemlock, is of course, equally dangerous, although useful for disposing of enemies of the state, and unpopular philosophers.
The Director of Commissioning wasn't bovvered. Meh.
The plants are seeding, admonished the resident, and might go downstream, and end up establishing themselves within the borders of the Welsh Harp, which is - at the moment - an SSSI.
Seeding? That's what plants do, shrugged Mr Blake.
Well, thought Mrs Angry, as the meeting wound up, and we wandered out into the cool air outside the hall: as the colonisation of West Hendon and the Welsh Harp, and indeed the Annington development of Sweets Way, are being sponsored by our council, it seems fitting that the invasion of our open spaces should be facilitated by them as well - until these become the next target for income generation opportunities.
And Mr Blake is right. Seeding is all part of the natural cycle of life, even here in Broken Barnet.
But then of course, some plants are more invasive, and more dangerous than you might think, aren't they?
Posted by Mrs Angry at Monday, July 06, 2015 4 comments:
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