For some time now the Grenfell Action Group has been highlighting the immoral and heartless housing policies adopted by the RBKC that we believe are designed to ‘socially cleanse’ working class communities from North Kensington.
Not only do we believe that these policies are fascist and immoral but we are also concerned that Cllr Feilding-Mellen’s intended destruction of Treverton Estate, parts of Balfour of Burleigh, the remains of Silchester Estate and the Lancaster West Estate “finger blocks” may also be illegal.
It was not too long ago, and not far from North Kensington, that the infamous Dame Shirley Porter was convicted in the courts on charges that amounted to ‘gerrymandering’ through a Westminster Council housing policy entitled “Building Stable Communities”. The policy was deliberately designed to replace working class tenants, more likely to be traditional Labour voters, with middle class homeowners, more likely to be Conservative voters. Dame Shirley was found guilty of wilful misconduct and ordered to repay over £35 million in wasted election fees.
The District Auditor at the time concluded in his report that Dame Shirley and her accomplices had enforced a housing policy that pursued an unfair influence on housing allocation that resulted in an electoral advantage for the majority party and that this was:
“…a disgraceful and improper purpose and not a purpose for which a local authority may act”.
The Grenfell Action Group believes that there are striking similarities between the current ‘regeneration’ policies of RBKC and those that landed Dame Shirley in so much trouble in the late 1980’s.
For a start, the intended ‘regeneration’ policies are targeted at Wards that are currently represented (some marginally) by Labour Councillors, particularly St Charles and Notting Barns. The inevitable result of ‘regenerating’ working class housing estates involves replacing tenanted properties with so-called ‘affordable’ housing (ie affordable only to middle class home buyers). One inevitable outcome of this process will be to skew the demographics of North Kensington with a predictable swing to the Tories. If the dreaded RBKC Decant Policy is implemented against residents living on estates facing ‘regeneration’ then such demographic changes will inevitably occur as traditional Labour voters find themselves forced to relocate to areas outside RBKC, perhaps even as far distant as Luton, Peterborough or Manchester.
One question that may be puzzling our readers is why the Grenfell Action Group, and not the RBKC Labour Group, is raising this issue and challenging the majority party on the subject of ‘gerrymandering’. Rumour has it that the untimely recent ousting of the well respected Emma Dent Coad from the leadership of the Labour Group at Hornton Street was the result of a coup organised by other senior Labour councillors. We believe the resulting change of leadership, which appears to have been hushed up, will ensure that Feilding-Mellen and his Tory pals are highly unlikely be held to account for their ‘gerrymandering’ under the new Labour Group leadership of the ‘dynamic and charismatic’ Robert Atkinson.
A second, and perhaps more fundamental, question arises from the involvement of Boris Johnson’s GLA in setting the broader political agenda within which these appalling policies at RBKC, and other local authorities, are rooted.
In 2009 the GLA produced their ‘London Housing Design Guide’, a key component of the ‘London Plan’. This requires;
“A mix of tenure to address social exclusion. Communities with a mix of household incomes should be promoted across London, in small developments as well as larger schemes. A balanced mix of tenures should be sought, particularly in neighbourhoods where social renting predominates.”
RBKC incorporated this dictat into its’ ‘Core Strategy’ (published the same year) which stated in, Policy CH2, that;
“Diversity of Housing is an integral part of the Core Strategy’s central vision. It is central to stimulating regeneration in North Kensington, and vital to the residential quality of life. The Council will require that affordable housing and market housing are integrated in any development and have the same external appearance….The Council will require new residential developments to include a mix of types, tenures and sizes of homes to reflect the varying needs of the Borough, taking into account the characteristics of the site, and current evidence in relation to housing need.”
Of course RBKC were fully aware that the main interest of future developers would be the provision of luxury accomodation for sale, particularly to foreign and other corporate speculators, and that they would fiercely resist any requirement to provide social housing, or so-called ‘affordable housing’, within these exclusive developments. Under such circumstances the developers can opt instead for a Section 106 agreement with the Council that allows them to pay to subsidise the provision of the required social or affordable housing at some other location.
Consequently Policy CH2 also contains the following requirement that;
“…off-site affordable housing be provided in any wards except the following: Golborne, St. Charles, Notting Barns, Colville, Norland, Earl’s Court and Cremorne;”
In case you hadn’t noticed, this list includes the Labour heartlands of North Kensington and World’s End, and the social housing estates in the Earl’s Court area. It means that all RBKC concentrations of social tenants, ie working class residents more likely to vote Labour than Tory, will be broken up and redistributed elsewhere. This is gerrymandering plain and simple.
Furthermore, if you also consider that all other residential areas within RBKC are protected Conservation areas, and therefore unlikely to be subject to any major new housing development, it’s not difficult to predict that many social tenants displaced by ‘regeneration’ projects will have little prospect of being re-housed within the Rotten Borough, or anywhere else in Inner London, and may well find themselves forced to accept rehousing outside of London.
So what happened to the precedent set by the conviction of the notorious Shirley Porter? If it wasn’t OK for Porter to gerrymander by socially cleansing the Hallfield Estate, why is it now OK for RBKC to pull the same stunt, this time with the blessing of the Mayor of London, Boris The Clown Johnson, whose London Plan was created with the full knowledge and assent of the Prime Minister, and with barely a whimper of dissent from the Labour Party, which used to be the main refuge of the working class and the poor and underprivileged? If this is how we are now governed, in what has effectively become a one party state, then it is totally unacceptable.
This is bad news for local residents who voted for the RBKC Labour Group in the hope that they would help protect our homes. We believe that the current RBKC housing policies will lead to widespread ‘social cleansing’ and that our elected representatives should be doing everything in their power to protect our communities. This includes holding the RBKC Council to account for blatant ‘gerrymandering’ and we openly challenge them to do so.