Friday 1 November 2019

West Hendon: they call this 'Regeneration' - and: 'Relative Poverty', the Barnet Tory definition

Victoria Derbyshire,  Brian Coleman, West Hendon tenant Annie, and director Ken Loach. Pics courtesy BBC.

Poverty, explained Tory Councillor David Longstaff, the diminutive former Actor, (Beige man in Ikea ad, drunken elf in Eastenders, Maniac in Accidental Death of an Anarchist) now appearing in the eternal pantomime role of Deputy Leader of the London Borough of Broken Barnet,  is always relative

The council chamber, full for the Full Council meeting earlier this week, fell silent.

Longstaff shrugged. He repeated himself. Poverty ... is relative.

The public gallery looked on, speechless. 

But he was right, of course. 

Yes, it is true that according to recent studies, children in Barnet are living in utterly unacceptably high levels of poverty. (Here in Finchley and Golders Green, for example, 'End Child Poverty' estimates children are living in poverty at the astonishingly high rate of 34%. In Hendon, the figure is 41.4 %. Other analyses put the rates even higher).

But being poor, as Longstaff explained, just means not having as much as the rich, and as the rich get richer, being poor isn't so bad, see?

Deputy Leader of the Barnet Tory group, Cllr David Longstaff. 

He's got a point, hasn't he? Children aren't employed down the mines anymore, or shoved up chimneys, so they shouldn't whinge, when say, they are housed in a slum property for ten years, on a week to week, non secure tenancy, for anything up to ten years, ready to be evicted on four weeks notice. 

When the rat infested building in which they live is deliberately neglected, pending demolition; when that building is plagued by flooding, and damp so bad the wallpaper in their bedrooms peels away from the walls, and is covered in black mould. 

Or when they wake up, bitten by cockroaches, and have to tell their mums not to cry, every time they see another of these tormentors scuttling across the floor, in the cupboards, or over their food. 

Ah, but that couldn't happen, though, could it? The local council would take these families out of the hands of slum landlords, away from such appalling conditions, and rehouse them.

Well: they might. Anywhere other than in Tory Barnet.

Because here in Tory Barnet: the slum landlords ARE the council.

That morning, on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, Barnet Council were shamed in a special investigative report as having left vulnerable families in exactly these conditions, knowingly, for years, in Marsh Drive, on the West Hendon estate. 

Watch from about 22 minutes in.
Barnet Tory spokesperson Brian Coleman, and West Hendon tenant Annie

I've written a lot about this estate, over nearly ten years of this blog's history, too many posts to list. * See below for a few links.

And it wasn't the first time the BBC have reported the appalling story of the forgotten residents of West Hendon. Three years ago, a remarkable documentary, sensitively directed by Fran Roberts, was made about the development, the destruction of a community - and the impact on families who had lived there: 'The Estate We're In'.

Dorothy, one of the tenants featured in 'The Estate We're In', a young mother summarily evicted by Barnet Council, with her nine year old daughter, sent to a damp, rat infested bedsit - and only allowed back after three weeks to collect her belongings.

As the shameful tale has unfolded, it has come to represent something much larger, the true story of something some right wing commentators would have us believe does not exist: the idea of social cleansing. A policy of removal of the poor (because even if they do not exist, they must 'not exist' somewhere else) and replacement by the well off. And it is removal: they can at best expect only to be 'decanted' from sub standard housing on one 'regeneration' estate to sub standard housing on another regeneration estate - or forced to accept accommodation perhaps many miles away, in Peterborough, perhaps: or even further, away from family, employment, schools and support networks.

Here in Barnet, there is no denial of the truth of this, even by the Tories. A former lead on housing, Tom Davey, actually boasted about this policy, saying that in this borough 'we' want only people who do not need 'affordable' housing.

The most recent Tory lead on housing, the Chair of the Housing Committee, Gabriel Rozenberg, when I asked him earlier this year why his committee would not be meeting for seven months, replied eventually that it was because there were no 'urgent' matters. 

I asked if Chairs of committees that did not meet for so long continued to receive their extra allowances (more than £15,000 a year, in addition to the standard rate for members). 

No reply. 

He is now a Libdem councillor: leader of the new Libdem group of two.

Pic courtesy Association of Marsh Drive Residents

The residents of the West Hendon council estate were fooled by Barnet Tories, some years ago, into thinking their homes would be renovated, for their benefit. They agreed to support this: why wouldn't they? The Tory councillors, in secret, then sold the publicly owned land where the estate is located  - worth upwards of £12 million (a very low estimate) for ... £3.00 (no, not a typo) to Barratts, who wanted to demolish the buildings, get rid of the tenants and leaseholders, and build luxury housing. 

They call this 'regeneration'.

The £3.00 deal only became public knowledge once the council was obliged to make disclosures for the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) Inquiry, that residents hoped would obstruct the development: or at least result in better outcomes for residents.

Better outcomes were needed, because those who had followed the route mapped out for them by Margaret Thatcher, and aspired to become property owners, buying the leasehold of their flats, were now being betrayed by the neo-Thatcherites in the Town Hall, whose private contractors Capita were, in the usual knotted mass of conflicts of interest tied between Barnet Council and their outsourcerers, in charge of regeneration, in charge of planning - and in charge of property valuation, which had led to undervaluation of their properties, only 'adjusted' after the Inquiry began. 

Very few were able to find the money to buy into shared ownership on the new estate. One elderly woman I met, I last heard, could find not even the smallest flat affordable for her within any reasonable distance of her family. She was sleeping on her grandson's bunk bed.

For the social tenants, their futures were even more bleak.

Any with secure tenancies, in West Hendon, were supposed to be rehoused there. Clearly developers did not want 'ordinary' families, social tenants, in their luxury development. Their plans therefore were to build a grim looking block - Bullfinch House - for any that remained, safely outside the footprint of the proper scheme, overlooking not the beautiful views of the waterside of the Welsh Harp, but the spray-paint garages and grimy takeaway backyards of the Edgware Road. 

Pic courtesy BBC/Two Step Productions/The Estate We're In

The moral message inherent in the new Poor Law of Tory Britain, of Broken Barnet, is clear: the undeserving poor, the 'relative' poor, are an underclass, whose transgressions and lack of 'aspiration' must condemn them to the punishment of second class housing - or worse. 

The beauty of landscape, in Tory Britain, in Broken Barnet, is only available to those who can pay a premium rate for it. 

Worse was to befall those who had not been granted a secure tenancy: for years any families or individuals rehoused by Barnet Homes, the 'At Arms Length Organisation' created to ... keep their housing policy at arms' length, and out of sight ... were put there on non secure contracts that meant they had almost no rights to protect them when the development began, and they were in the way of profit. They were disposable: only a few secure tenants were given places in Bullfinch House, inevitably known as Bullshit House. As soon as they moved in, there was an infestation of rodents.

Their less 'advantaged' neighbours were offered one choice of alternative accommodation. No matter how dire it was, or how far away, if they refused it, they were considered to have made themselves homeless, and could be evicted. Residents were wrongly informed that they need not turn up to court to fight these orders: and then discovered failure to do so meant they would now be thrown out. 

In Marsh Drive, part of the last stages of the scheme, tenants were left in rapidly deteriorating flats, with damp, infestations, mould, and antisocial behaviour, including heroin addicts injecting themselves on their doorsteps, encouraged by open access, unsecured doors - and lack of intervention. 

What did the Tory council do? Turn its back. Now it is daring, outrageously, to try to put the blame on anyone else: the residents themselves, even Labour councillors, in a desperate attempt to deny responsibility for the current slum standards. They have three Tory councillors now, in West Hendon: two of them are in the picture below, with Tory MP Matthew Offord, grinning like fools in front of the new luxury development. What have they done for the residents of Marsh Drive?

What did the local Tory MP Matthew Offord do? 

When tenants tried in the past to come and see him about their plight: he hid from them in a church hall, and escaped in a police van.

He went on the BBC Sunday Politics Show, three years ago, Offord, and talked about West Hendon and Grahame Park not as communities, of course, but as 'sink estates', no go areas at night, where the police find it 'very difficult there to maintain and enforce the law'. I checked with local police to see if this was indeed their view. It wasn't. 

West Hendon, he claimed, and still claims, was 'a success story in itself'. 

More recently Offord has made a couple of visits to West Hendon. To see the 'success story' that is the luxury development, with Housing Minister Esther McVey, and an assortment of Tory councillors. The ones who were not available this week, to explain the reason they had left the tenants of Marsh Drive, across the way, in such vile accommodation.

Visiting the luxury housing at West Hendon which is displacing social tenants, including those now living in squalor in Marsh Drive, which was not visited.

West Hendon Tory councillor Saira Don, Tory Vice Chair, Regeneration Sara Wardle, Housing Minister Esther McVey, Tory MP Offord, Tory councillor & GLA candidate Roberto Weedon-Sanz, West Hendon Tory councillor Helene Richman. 

The residents of Marsh Drive do not matter, to our local Tory politicians. They are invisible: they do not exist, they are merely in a state of stasis, non citizens, with no rights, before they are moved to a new place of non-existence, beyond the boundaries of Broken Barnet. 

Victoria Derbyshire informed viewers that no Barnet Tory would come to defend their own failings as landlords in West Hendon. Not one. Why would they? The Tory Leader Dan Thomas had made clear his position, to tenants, only recently: he did not wish to intervene.

Kind regards from the new Tory leader.

In the absence of any of those currently serving as councillors, or the local Tory MP, they had resorted to inviting Brian Coleman to speak on behalf of Barnet Tories. Really? 

Coleman, whose inglorious career came to an end on the High Street in North Finchley, on the day he attacked a woman who had spotted him parking in breach of his own much hated regulations, and had dared to take a photograph of him? Who had admitted - eventually common assault by beating at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court, and was then thrown out of the party by CCHQ, as his gutless colleagues in Barnet had failed to do it? Who then joined the party again, was found out, again, and - thrown out again? 

Also on the show was director Ken Loach, foremost of British film makers, whose 'Cathy Come Home' film of 1966, on the desperate plight of those falling into the spiral of homelessness and family breakdown, and whose 'I Daniel Blake', fifty years later, speaks for a new generation of those trapped by a systemic oppression of the most vulnerable victims of austerity.

Cathy Come Home

Ken Loach looked on, as Coleman attempted to bluster his way through some sort of counter argument to the injustice being served by his former colleagues to Annie, her children, and the families of Marsh Drive. He talked absolute nonsense about why 'we' are 'regenerating' the estate, claiming utterly wrongly that the '18 story' blocks overlooking the Welsh Harp contained private and social tenants, and said of tenants like Annie and her children that 'the council owes them nothing at all'. 

Loach was clearly appalled. He said that such an attitude 'shows contempt for people ... I could weep ... to be told you don't deserve anything, the council owes you nothing, is disgusting, Brian Coleman, it's disgusting ...' 

He pointed out that like Grenfell, West Hendon demonstrates 'a contempt for people who are seen to have no power ... (even) if they live in the most squalid conditions - that's Tory Britain.

'You've got a political agenda, Mr Loach, ' was all Coleman could offer in response.

'Are you a member of the Conservative Party? Were you readmitted after the attack?' asked Loach.

Coleman asserted that he was, 'funnily enough' - and it is funny, isn't it, in the most darkly humorous sense of the word? Thrown out twice: has he been allowed back in, for a third time, and if so, why, and by whom? If not, why would he say so?

Coleman insisted he was a Conservative member, and 'proud to be so'. 

Victoria Derbyshire had heard enough. She asked him why he was so unsympathetic: 'are you a human being?' She remarked on his lack of empathy, and compassion.

In fact, these are the very reasons he was the right spokesman for Barnet Tories, as they are now, whether or not he is a member. He embodies their true spirit: their lurch even further to the hard right, to the soulless party of those who feel no compassion for those in need, who are vulnerable and in need of support; they cannot empathise with others, or feel remorse at the shameful outcomes of their own heartless policies. They do not wish to engage with their constituents, or to be held accountable for their policies. Silence, and evasion, is their tactic now: putting up a decoy, a stuffed toy mascot like Coleman, ripped at the seams: a perfectly logical way of avoiding dialogue.

The gothic horror of Hendon Town Hall

In the council chamber of Hendon Town Hall, on the evening of the same day the West Hendon film was shown, despite the usual pointless plea from the Mayor's chaplain to have 'no space for vainglory and arrogance', and to think only of 'the good of their fellow human beings', not one Barnet Tory showed any real sympathy for, or even interest in, the squalor that the fellow human beings who were their own tenants were forced to endure. 

In response to a question from Labour's Anne Clarke, the Tory Leader Dan Thomas could only emit his usual emotionless blather, wittering on about having delivered a newsletter to residents, only two weeks ago, as proof of his commitment to resolving the situation in which he had told them he did not wish to 'intervene': families living in slum conditions, infested by vermin and insects, living in flooded buildings, conditions that would have been condemned in 1919, let alone a century later.

New Libdem leader, and former Tory Housing Chair Gabriel Rozenberg is only interested in opposing Brexit. The Tory leader Dan Thomas is looking forward to it. 

Neither of them will ever have to worry about living in slum standard accommodation, or see their children bitten by cockroaches, or struggle with asthma from the damp, or worry about where they are going to live, when the ground beneath their feet is taken from them, so as to multiply the profits of a developer selling a fantasy of life on the waterside, for the new tenants of overseas landlords who bought the properties off plan, in cash.

Development and the provision of housing in Broken Barnet is driven entirely by the needs of profit, overseen by a privatised planning service that is rotten to the core, utterly out of control, out of the hands of local democratic oversight - and simply not fit for purpose. The poor are being excluded from the borough through a deliberate strategy of displacement, hidden under the guise of 'regeneration'. 

This inability to care, or even to imagine how life is for those living in the always ignored areas of social deprivation in this borough is a pattern replicated not just in the council, but by the local MPs, who ignore the issues that affect the less advantaged residents of Hendon, Finchley and Golders Green, and Chipping Barnet constituencies.

If you were shocked by the exposure of Tory policy in action revealed by the story of West Hendon, you have an opportunity, and a duty, now, in a few weeks, to do something about it. 

Do something about it: vote these MPs out, and replace them with Labour representatives - not covert Tories in yellow jumpers - who do care about the well being of their fellow residents, and will work to make their lives better. 

The story of West Hendon is not the story of regeneration. It is the story of a war on the poor, and the destruction of a community. It is the story of public land given away for private profit. Don't be fooled. And please: don't vote for Barnet Tories, as MPs, or councillors, ever again.


No comments: