***press statement – Barnet Housing Action Group*** #JusticeforGrenfell #Inquest4GRENFELL

Barnet Housing Action Group stand in solidarity with the residents of the Grenfell Estate, the dead and the living!

Our hearts are with them and words cannot truly express how saddened we are at the news of the  tragic loss of so many loved ones in their community.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this tragic time.

We are humbled by the actions of the local community and those that have travelled to provide support; a rainbow of people of colours, ethnicities, origin and faith. They are the true heroes, together with the professionalism and bravery of the rescue services. We salute you all!!

We are shocked and appalled that not one of Barnet’s Conservative MPs has of yet posted messages of sympathy or support in the press or social media, and that our newly elected Prime Minister did not take time to speak with or console residents in their grief whilst visiting yesterday.

Who are the dead?

Working class and diverse communities

– in Kensington – the Richest borough in London and the UK! IN THE 5TH RICHEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!

 

How many are dead?

Will we ever know. The fire reportedly started on the 4th floor of a 24 storey block containing a 120 flats. How many per flat? How many sub-let? How many HMO’s? How many sofa surfers resided in this block?

Average of say 5 per flat = 600 residents at risk.

The negligence of the council which consistently failed to act on the concerns raised by residents amounts to criminal negligence! Residents were in fact threatened with legal action, as stated by Pilgrim Tucker, former Coordinator for London and South East of union of Unite Communities, and facilitator in the creation of our Housing Action Group https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An2HxYnJs7Y

(SEE FOOT NOTE 1 )

We reiterate  the statement made yesterday from Sophie Khan solicitor for the victims of the Lakanal House Tower Block fire in Camberwell in 2009  a public inquiry is NOT the right way forward – Residents should be ‘demanding an INQUEST from the Government’ !!

Although not directly pertaining to the tragedy of what has occurred at the Grenfell Estate, we also note that Jeremy Corbyn attempted to pass a law to require private landlords to make their homes safe and ‘fit for human habitation’ last year but it was rejected by the Conservatives – 72 of whom were private Landlords.

Private renters in Barnet should know that both Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, and Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green – a private landlord himself, chose to vote against the amendment.

As a member group of the Radical housing network we support the call for the immediate resignation of Gavin Barwell , Theresa May’s chief of staff, ex minister for housing , whom it has been revealed ‘sat on a report warning that tower blocks were vulnerable to fire.’ Barwell also voted against the amendment to make homes fit for human habitation!

And also reiterate the statement by http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/ that: 

‘this government, – – – have neglected council housing , and treated tenants as if they were second class. Nationally and locally , politicians have subjected public housing to decades of systematic disrepair and open to privatisation.

Regeneration , when it has come , has been for the benefit of developers and buy to let landlords, who profit from luxury flats built in place of affordable homes.

Across London , regeneration has meant evictions, poor quality building work, and has left tenants with little influence over the future of their estates’

 

We fully support Barnet Labour Party’s call for fire safety review and we are seriously concerned about the role of building controls delivered by Capita that could cause conflict of interest re safety, and which we believe should be brought back under council control. It is critical that we learn who else is at risk, and ensure remedial work is carried out with urgency. How can anyone living in a block currently sleep easy?

Barnet Housing Action have been campaigning about these issues since 2013 in Barnet, and have seen the systematic destruction of our public housing in the borough –  on the West Hendon, Dollis valley Grahame Park and Stone Grove estates, where council housing stock has been depleted resulting in a net loss of 827 council homes for social rent!

http://www.barnetlabour.org.uk/827_council_homes_to_be_lost_in_estate_regenerations

‘We want these pigeon holes taken down’ has been a call from Grenfell residents – https://www.channel4.com/news/voice-of-anger-amongst-those-who-live-around-grenfell-tower

But we as the voices of the residents and housing campaigns NEED TO FIGHT TO ENSURE that they are replaced – with decent, genuinely affordable, PUBLIC housing which are homes for the residents that were living there!!!

We call for a moratorium on regeneration on all London estates until more is known about this horrendous tragedy as it seems apparent that it was caused because of ‘regen improvements’. 

This tragedy MUST not be allowed to be an opportunity for those with power to socially cleanse the area – to gentrify with luxury homes for the rich and residents to be dispersed all over the country like pieces of furniture!!!

Indeed, the block is no doubt surrounded by empty “luxury apartments” which ought rightfully to be put to good use to house the newly homeless, bereaved former residents. They surely deserve better than a sports hall floor.

It’s tragic that it’s come to this, but from the ashes we hope we can move forward to a time and a place where all lives truly do matter, over profit, over money, over greed.

#Thepersonalispolitical

#Peoplebeforeprofit

#Homesbeforeprofit

 

NOTE 1

Grenfell Action Group outlined concerns on their blog over a series of posts, but were ignored by authorities. The group repeatedly warned the estate landlord, Kensington & Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) of serious issues with fire safety in the blocks, highlighting the absence of basic fire protection measures including fire extinguishers and a building-wide fire alarm system. The local council, Royal Borough of Kensington Chelsea (RBKC), dismissed residents’ concerns as it pushed through a £8.6 million regeneration scheme.

NOTE 2

http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/15163800.Mayor_slammed_over_lack_of__democratic_voice__in_estate_regeneration_guidelines/

Barnet Housing Action Group are an umbrella campaign which includes Our West Hendon and Sweets Way Resists, and are a member of the Radical Housing Network.

Press Contact :

Janette Evans

Jasmin Parsons

Barnethousingaction@hotmail.com

 

Twitter:

BarnetHousingAction

@BarnetHaction

https://barnethousingactiongroup.wordpress.com

 

Barnet Housing Action Group – Home | Facebook

https://en-gb.facebook.com/BarnetHaction

 

Facts & Figures on Housing in Barnet – obtained via the Freedom of Information Act

RIGHT TO BUY SALES OF COUNCIL HOUSES:

We asked how many council houses had been sold in each of the previous 5 years, and what monies had been received & what discounts had been given.

This was the raw data that was provided:

Year  Total capital receipts  Total discount Properties
sold
2010-11  £               669,500.00  £                   64,000.00 4
2011-12  £            1,446,000.00  £                  112,000.00 7
2012-13  £            4,643,550.00  £               2,517,450.00 34
2013-14  £          12,503,865.00  £             9,996,685.00 103
2014-15  £          16,661,842.80  £             12,178,907.20 123
Totals  £ 35,924,757.80  £ 24,869,042.20 271

So, as you can see, a total of 271 council properties were sold off in the last 5 years, with a total of £36m capital receipts and £25m worth of discounts given.

The right to buy scheme has been heavily promoted in recent years, and this is borne out by a ramping up of the numbers sold, from 4 in 2010/11 to 123 in 2014/15.

When you take a look at the average figures underlying the totals, the discounts given in 2010/11 averaged £16k per house, or 9% of the total value, rising to £99k per house or 44% of the total value in later years.

For all the damage that Thatcher’s legacy of the infamous Right to Buy has caused, on it goes, relentlessly. 40% of ex-council houses ending up in the hands of private landlords. Many of these now sprouting extra bedrooms via unusual conversions where once were well balanced, spacious, solid, sound family homes. A number of Sweets Way residents are now residing in such properties with rent in the region of £1,500 pcm. One (former 2 bed) maisonette has had the living room partitioned in two directly across the centre of the window creating two inadequately sized bedrooms and unbalancing the house such that it does not function for the family of four (with 2 teenage children) who now occupy it. In another, the kitchen had been divided to create a shower room, and the bathroom turned into a third bedroom. This landlord told us, “Oh, the fridge, yes, that’s down the hall [in the airing cupboard]”….as the new kitchen was unable to fit all the usual appliances you might expect in a kitchen – but think of all that extra income he’ll be earning from his extra bedroom. Never mind those who have to suffer the cramped & unsuitable living conditions. Another, a 2 bed maisonette, former council property, now owned by Notting Hill Housing Association is being rented out at £345/week….THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY FIVE POUNDS PER WEEK, and that’s supposed to be “affordable”.

Some clever little charts for your interest: Analysis of Right to Buy sales (be even more clever if I could manage to insert decent pictures of them!)

Average value, discount,and discounted sales price per council house sold in Barnet under the Right to Buy scheme in the last 5 years:

IMG_9819[1]

Notice how the discounts goes up and up and the capital receipts go down and down. It’s a bargain! – yeh, but who for….

Discounts as a % of the gross value of council houses sold under the Right to buy scheme in Barnet in the last 5 years:

IMG_9818[1]

Less than 10% discount offered in 2010-2012, ramping up to 44% discount in 2013-14

Capital receipts from the sales of Council Houses under the right to buy scheme in Barnet, and discounts given:

IMG_9821[1]

Sell, sell, sell

Number of council houses sold…..sell sell sell!

IMG_9820[1]

Now to ask them what they spent the £36m on, because it certainly isn’t 271 new replacement council houses!

Bringing Homelessness Home, Round Two: Tom Davey, Head of Social Cleansing

sweets way resists

We paid a surprise visit to the home of Tom Davey this morning, Barnet’s ‘Head of Social Cleansing,’ coinciding with the Independent’s new report that 50,000 families have been socially cleansed from London in the last three years.

TDcrop

The other day we pitched up a series of tents and umbrellas in the front garden of Richard Cornelius’ house, the leader of Barnet Council and ward councillor for Sweets Way. We wanted to bring homelessness home to one of the individuals most responsible for the decision to demolish 150 good family homes on our estate.

This morning, as the Independent leaked figures from London Councils that over the last three years, 50,000 homeless families had been forced-out of London by local authorities, we showed up at the home of Barnet councillor and Chair of Barnet’s Housing Committee, Tom Davey, to send a message about what his housing policy is doing…

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They forgot that we were seeds…

sweets way resists

IMG_6540

On Friday we paid another visit to Annington Properties at their 1 James Street address in Central London (feel free to pop by and let them know what you think of their plans, by the way). Given the events of the last couple of weeks, it felt important to let them know we hadn’t disappeared and were just as committed to challenging their ‘regeneration’ plans as we ever have been.

Accordingly, we rolled up with a coffin covered in flowers, and a giant banner emblazoned with the slogan we have adopted from Mexico: ‘They tried to bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds.’

We know that everything about our fight is a David and Goliath-uphill battle, since Annington (and parent company Terra Firma) have the backing of Barnet Council, a Tory Cabinet Minister, and billions of pounds in the bank. However, that is not enough to stop us. Annington…

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Bringing homelessness home… Round One

sweets way resists

Photo by Jen Wilton (@GuerillaGrrl) Photo by Jen Wilton (@GuerillaGrrl)

A week under threat of brutal eviction by high court bailiffs is bound to put most people into a pretty bad state… but it will take more than high court bailiffs to silence the Sweets Way community!

It was a week ago on Friday that Annington Properties had everyone left on the estate’s possession orders moved from County Court to High Court bailiffs. This meant that as of Monday morning, families were facing the prospect of goons kicking in their front doors, unannounced, at 6am, leaving them with ten or so minutes to empty all of their belongings into the street. Luckily, this didn’t transpire, though it did set-off a real panic amongst the remaining families at Sweets Way. In the panic, we all headed to Barnet Homes and demanded immediate rehousing. What families got varied considerably, and continued the pattern of people being…

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Sweets Way campaigners plan weekend of fun and resistance in new occupation

Sweets Way Resists Press release – Thursday 2 April

Residents fighting for their homes have occupied an empty house backing onto the Sweets Way estate in Barnet in ongoing protest at tenant evictions. Campaigners are planning a weekend of community fun and resistance in the property which is part of the ‘Sweets Park’ redevelopment.

On Monday a county court ruled against residents following a three-week political occupation of empty homes including 60 Sweets Way, which had been turned into a thriving social centre and campaign hub. A judge granted full possession of the site to developer Annington Homes, who also requested an injunction preventing people from protesting on the estate.

In a further assault on human rights and an indictment of the court system, campaigners have not been given the details of any potential injunction, even though it potentially criminalises protesters, residents and the public at large.

Immediately following Monday’s ruling, residents and supporters occupied an empty five bedroom house, part of Annington’s ‘Sweets Park’ development area – but just beyond the possession and potential injunction zones.A weekend of fun and resistance is planned in the new occupation, including an ‘Easter Fun Day’, debate and action-planning.

Sweets Way estate is home to over 150 families. Residents were forced to leave their homes in February and moved to temporary accommodation out of the borough. Since then, they have been fighting for the right to go back to the estate and in an effort to stop the development, occupied an empty house, supported by housing campaigns Focus E15 and Barnet Housing Action Group.

Since the occupation began in early March, a handful of residents have been offered temporary accommodation in borough by Barnet Council. But campaigners, known as ‘Sweets Way Resists’, won’t stop until all of the residents are offered suitable alternative housing.

The occupations are a political statement about the criminality of destroying perfectly good houses and replacing them with investment properties. Sweets Way Resists are also staging lunchtime protests at the central London offices of Annington, to shame the company.

Annington (part owned by tax exile Guy Hands worth an estimated £250 million) looks set to make a killing on the London property market. Only 11% (33 units) of the new properties in the planned redevelopment are being leased as ‘affordable rent’ (80% of market rates).

A spokesperson said: “We’re not going to stop: we’re planning to keep the question of social cleansing on the agenda, and support one another as we fight to protect the estate from demolition and secure decent homes for all residents who have been forced out of Sweets Way.

“Our new occupation has all the makings of a fantastic place for community celebration over the Easter weekend. It’s an outrage that this five-bedroom property lies empty while right next door, people are losing their homes.

“Monday’s court ruling was a predictably unfair legal decision in which private property rights are deemed more important than human rights. As well as granting Annington possession over the whole of the estate, they have proposed an injunction on the site! This is worrying for anyone involved in housing justice work and political protest. In addition, the court has so little respect for us that they have neglected to clarify what the injunction means.

“There’s a Mexican proverb that feels appropriate for us: ‘They tried to bury us, but they forgot that we were seeds.’”

Sweets Way Resists – the fight continues!

Sunday 5 April Easter Fun Day, 12-4pm

Easter Egg Hunt, BBQ, Children’s Fun and Games, Bouncy Castle, Arts and Crafts, Egg Decorating, Rabbits, Music

Tuesday 7 April Public Meeting at the new occupation, 7.30pm

The new occupation is at 76 Oakleigh Road North, N20. (Nearest Tube: Totteridge & Whetstone, Northern Line)

Twitter @SweetsWay20

Facebook.com/SweetsWayResists

Sweetswayresists.wordpress.com

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