It is a widely held view among residents of Lancaster West Estate that Councillor Blakeman and her fellow local councillors abandoned and betrayed this community by sacrificing their souls on the shiny altar of KALC. That, however is not the end of the story. Blakeman and her colleagues are well aware that the Grenfell Tower Project, which they hoped would appease some of the worst affected residents, has been repeatedly delayed while Council planners pick over the carcass of the scheme in a desperate attempt to balance the books and save money.
We know this from TMO minutes we have seen and a recent report to the Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee which has shed significant new light on the reasons for the delays and uncertainties that have caused such anxiety and frustration to residents.
Initially Cabinet approved £6 million funding for a comprehensive refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Responsibility for the project was then dumped on the TMO, who soon realised that the £6 million budget was way short of what was required, and that they would be unable to find the additional millions needed. There is evidence in the TMO Board minute from September 2012 that they are already facing significant funding challenges that severely restrict their ability to maintain the housing stock and deliver new capital projects:
“A recent survey of the condition of the stock, the Rand report, indicated investment was required in the region of £105 million by 2017. The current allocation was £7.5 million per year for the next four years for capital works, so there was a potential shortfall between the funding needed and the funding available of £67 million by 2017. Lack of investment could create problems in meeting decent homes’ targets, and consideration was being given to how to get more investment into the stock. Based on the figures in the Rand report, we need to consider how to move forward as the currently available funds would not be sufficient. RBKC and the Board had higher aspirations for investment than the minimum standard, and also for regeneration of some of the estates. Therefore, how to generate investment for the future was a fundamental issue”.
The implicatons of the above passage should not be underestimated, and there is no doubt that the TMO is in the middle of a serious funding crisis. Reading between the lines of the report to this month’s RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee we were therefore unsurprised to see that the Grenfell Tower Project has been bedevilled by protracted squabbling among the various parties, with the TMO pressuring the Council to increase the budget, the main contractor (Leadbitter) insisting that they can’t deliver for less than £11.3 million, the Planning Department blocking the whole project, insisting on various last minute changes, and Leadbitter’s clearly out of favour and at risk of losing out completely in a new tendering process. The scrutiny report projects a start date in March 2014 with completion by March 2015. There can, however, be no certainty about these dates as they depend on the granting of planning permission at some future date, supposedly later this summer. There is no certainty either that the squabbling parties can reach agreement in the meantime, given the £1.6 million chasm between the proposed budget and Leadbitter’s best estimate.
Notwithstanding this evidence of conflict and confusion, the Notting Barns Labour Group recently saw fit to publish a Spring Newsletter in which they painted a rosy picture of the future of Lancaster West.
They claimed, for instance, that £63 million has already been invested in Lancaster West. Of course, anyone familiar with the history of KALC will immediately realise that the £63 million was all KALC funding, NOT ONE PENNY of which was allocated for improvements to the estate.
The newsletter went on to describe;
“…a major borough-wide refurbishment project for estates which will include the rest of the Lancaster West Estate over the next two to five years….. “
Based on the contrary evidence above we would suggest that TMO capital funding falls a long way short of what would be required for any such programme. We also know that the additional £3.7 million required to bring the Grenfell Tower Project up to the proposed £9.7 million will be spread over the next three years, and that the TMO had to go back to Cabinet for approval of even this additional spend. So where does Councillor Blakeman think the money will come from for a major borough–wide refurbishment programme?
There is no doubt that the new heating system featured in the Grenfell Tower Project is urgently needed, but the rest of Lancaster West, which is not included in this programme, also needs urgent replacement of the remainder of the same obsolete and hugely wasteful district heating system. This is likely to cost at least another £10 million, and probably significantly more. Where exactly is that kind of money going to come from, and how long will the local community have to wait for it? In the light of these awkward questions and uncertainties we would suggest that Labour’s spin about major borough-wide refurbishment is wishful thinking at best, and cynical propaganda at worst.
It is noteworthy that when the Notting Barns Councillors commented in August 2012 on the KALC planning application they objected that;
“The amount of public open space that will be lost from the Lancaster West Estate includes: Lancaster Green, three five-a-side artificially turfed football pitches, a large car park, half of Station Walk, all of the green space and shrubberies adjacent to Station Walk, the garden in front of the existing Leisure Centre, the outdoor children’s playground and the secluded green beside the playground….
We have the strongest objection to the loss of informal outdoor play space. ”
In response to these comments and objections the Council planners made no concessions, and yet the same Labour councillors are now singing from the Tory hymn sheet and bragging about;
“a new and improved outdoor playground for the Grenfell Under Fives (and) a bigger and more welcoming park”
Such a shameless and cynical volte-face reveals Labour’s utter hypocricy on Lancaster West issues. Ultimately, the promises in their newsletter are no more than shabby Tory propaganda that falsely and cynically paints a bright future for us when they know that nothing of the sort is either possible or intended. What is even more sickening is that, not only do they now celebrate what they know to be a deeply flawed development (ie KALC), but they also seek to take credit for it. Let’s not forget that this was entirely the work of the Tory planning juggernaut, mindful only of its own ambitions, and utterly oblivious of the needs of the community that stood in its way. If Labour wish to claim credit for this, they’re welcome to it, but let’s be very clear that all they did was shamelessly collude with the Tory right at Hornton Street.
Ultimately we are forced to conclude that what is actually in store for our estate is likely to be the scorched earth ‘regeneration’ we have long expected, and which we have already witnessed at Wornington Green – with residents ‘socially cleansed’ to Manchester, Peterborough, or wherever. The formula for such ‘regeneration’ is invariably large-scale demolition followed by rebuild, typically at twice the previous population density. The point of such ‘regeneration’ is not to improve the living conditions of the existing community, but to create lots of additional housing for private sale. Sitting tenants and leasholders are an obstacle to this process and are therefore expendable.
By the way, when push comes to shove don’t expect any help from Labour to resist this process. They have neither the power nor the inclination to help. There was a time when Labour’s ideology was fundamentally different from that of the Tories. That is no longer the case, but they continue to shamelessly trade on and profit from that traditional difference, and the trust still naively placed in them by working class communities.
Representatives of the local community met with the Cabinet Member for Housing, and senior officers from the Council and TMO, last Friday 19th July.
When pressed on the issue of the urgent need to replace the entire district heating system at Lancaster West they confirmed that there are no plans to deliver these works and it is highly unlikely that the necessary funding can be allocated in the foreseeable future.