Monday, 30 March 2015

Sweets Way: Is Housing a Human Right?

Sweets Way resident Kauthar, aged 13, protests against loss of family homes
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Poster on newly occupied Sweets Way home  © London Intelligence 2015

"Housing is a human right...not a privilege," chants Kauthar, a Sweets Way resident.
But Deputy District Judge Shelton doesn't agree," writes Paul Coleman.

Kauthar, aged 13, spends the first chilly morning of her Easter school break protesting outside Barnet County Court in north London.
Inside a full courtroom, Shelton says UK human rights law simply does not apply to private bodies.
“I really don’t think the human rights point is valid at all,” says Shelton, addressing his remarks to Ella Harris.
Harris is representing herself and two other unidentified defendants.
They had occupied Sweets Way homes as a protest against an ongoing plan to demolish and redevelop the estate.

Legal right
The judge then grants a possession order to Sweets Way's private landowner Annington Homes.
This gives Annington a legal right to 'remove' residents and social housing campaigners from designated homes they have occupied.
But Shelton goes further by also granting an injunction to Annington.
This forbids anyone from entering the Whetstone estate to occupy other emptied homes. 
Shelton also rules that Harris must pay £3,163 legal costs.
Annington hope this award will deter future protest occupations.

Order served on protesters still on ground outside Sweets Way home
© London Intelligence 2015

Moving into another emptied Sweets Way home
© London Intelligence 2015

Human right
But, just a few hours after Shelton’s ruling, a group of protesters and residents, including Kauthar and her mother - and Ella Harris - are back at Sweets Way.
They watch as other protesters move sprightly from the properties subject to Annington's possession order to another neat home on the northern fringe of the estate (above).
Several families and their supporters had occupied homes on the estate.
The homes are in good habitable condition.

Barnet Homes has placed Sweets Way families in temporary accommodation.
Families say this accommodation is unsuitable and far away from schools, doctors and family and friends.
Tenants and campaigners on other London estates undergoing developer-led 'regeneration' have taken similar direct action, notably on the Aylesbury and Loughborough Park estates in south London and the West Hendon Estate in north London.
“People are not taking this anymore,” says Kauthar.
“Housing is a human right and we’re fighting back.”

Re-occupying Sweets Way  © London Intelligence 2015
Sweets Way homes face demolition
© London Intelligence 2015

Perfect condition
Kauthar and her family have lived on the Sweets Way estate for five years.
Annington Homes are breaking up our families and our community,” says Kauthar.
“They want to knock down those houses which are in perfect condition.
“They are evicting us from our homes because we are poor.
“If we were rich they wouldn’t be doing this.
“They’re taking us far away from our friends and families." 

Speaking to London Intelligence, Kauthar explains: “Because of Annington, Barnet Council have sent my family – my Mum, my brother, my Dad and I - to Enfield.
“It takes my brother and I an hour and a half just to get school.
“We need to wake up at five in the morning.
“They put us in emergency accommodation.
“When we first arrived the door wouldn’t lock.
“You didn’t need a key.
“We still don’t have hot water to this day from the shower.
“And there’s no proper heating.

“My Dad has just come out of hospital with mental health problems.
“He’s had seven operations since last September.
“My Dad can’t climb up and down up the stairs.
“My mother has like three jobs.
“She works in a coffee shop.
“Then she looks after my Dad.
“And then she looks after us – her kids.
“The Council once told my mother she must work in order to get help.
“But now she works – and we still don’t get any help.

“It takes Mum more than an hour to get to work.
“And my brother and I spend like half of our day just travelling to and from school.
“By the time we get home, we’re too tired to even eat sometimes.
“We used to have a really strong community on Sweets Way.
“If my Mum had to take my Dad to hospital, she could leave us with our neighbours because she knew they’d take care of us.”

Land and homeowner Annington Property Ltd want to move all residents to make way for a new, ‘mixed’ and more densely populated development.
Sweets Way is a former Ministry of Defence-owned estate that the Annington consortium bought in 1996.
Annington sub-let homes to the housing association, Notting Hill Housing.
NHH asked Barnet Council to nominate families from the council’s list to live at Sweets Way.

'Tinned' Sweets Way homes prepared for demolition
© London Intelligence 2015

But, in December 2014, Barnet granted Annington Homes planning consent to demolish 160 homes and redevelop the estate with up to 288 new homes.
Annington say they will offer 59, or 20%, as ‘affordable homes’.
Twenty-six of these 59 will be offered as shared ownership with 33 as ‘affordable rent’.

Annington sought vacant possession to prepare the site for this redevelopment.
This led to residents being served with eviction notices - and Sweets Way's homes 'tinned' with metal screens by contractor Orbis.
Barnet Homes say ‘long-term temporary accommodation households’ still at Sweets Way will be offered temporary accommodation ‘prior to their eviction’.

© London Intelligence 2015

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2015

Friday, 27 March 2015

A Day of Action against the 'regeneration' of the West Hendon estate

West Hendon residents block construction site vehicles
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015
Protester climbs onto van trying to enter estate regeneration building site
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

"Get down off the van," growls the van's driver.
Ben defies the driver and deftly hops onto the van roof.
It’s 8.30am on a Friday (27 March), writes Paul Coleman.
Ben protests against developer Barratt Metropolitan LLP’s demolition and redevelopment of the West Hendon estate in the north London borough of Barnet.
It’s part of a Day of Action.
Defiant tenants and leaseholders block lorries and vans trying to get to the gates of a vast building site.

A towering crane swings heavy loads almost directly over nearby Tyrell, a block where residents still live, including elderly people,
Sat on the van roof, Ben holds up photos of Hendon MP Matthew Offord and Barnet Council leader Richard Cornelius.
The clearly miffed driver snaps photos of Ben and complains to two police officers.
Ben clambers down.
The police officers then take Ben for a ‘quiet word’.
“The driver isn’t part of what’s going on here,” says a portly constable.
“Maybe, but he’s still working for the developers who are to blame,” rebuffs Ben.

Residents blame Richard Cornelius for denigrating their homes and the estate’s immediate neighbourhood in order to justify Barratt Metropolitan LLP’s phased scheme.
They also say Offord’s tacit support for the scheme means the MP fully senses a chilly welcome if ever he ventures to this corner of West Hendon.
Yet Cornelius remains undaunted.
“I’m convinced this will be a good result for all the people of Barnet,” says Cornelius, in an oft-quoted TV interview.
“The buildings are grotty down there.
“They need rebuilding.
“And the way you rebuild an estate is you put in private housing which pays for the rebuilding.
“We believe this regeneration is very much in the public interest.”

Private sale
Barratt and Metropolitan Housing's joint venture scheme for the estate is backed by Barnet Council, and aided by Barnet Homes.
The ‘regeneration’ scheme will demolish the West Hendon Estate’s 680 homes block by block and replace them with 2,000 new homes.
Of these, 1,494 will be for private sale.
Metropolitan will offer 287 ‘intermediate’ homes, including shared ownership and shared equity.
Just 219 will be ‘rented’, let to existing secure West Hendon tenants at ‘target rents’, sometimes aligned with ‘social’ rents, closer to council rents.

Despite phases of the development already forging ahead, a significant number of residents demand that all ‘flexible, non-secure tenants’ – many of whom have lived on West Hendon for over nine years – be granted ‘secure’ tenancies.
A ‘secure’ tenancy would have suited Shainaz, a ‘non-secure’ tenant who lived on the West Hendon estate for over four years.
Barnet Homes, the ‘arms-length’ body that manages and maintains Barnet’s 15,000 council homes, moved Shainaz to West Hendon after she became homeless.
But, with the pending regeneration of West Hendon, Barnet Homes have since moved Shainaz to another home, several miles away in North Finchley.
“I don’t know anyone there,” says Shainaz, who suffers from severe depression.
“I enjoyed living here at West Hendon and miss the people.

West Hendon resident Jackie now overshadowed by new block
 © Paul Coleman London Intelligence 2015

Local resident, Jackie, a retired communications worker, recalls the initial ‘like-or-like’ promise made to residents.
“They promised everyone would have a new home on this estate,” says Jackie.
“But the 2,000 homes being built here will be mainly for private sale, and they’ll be so expensive for leaseholders. Even the shared equity – people can’t afford it."
Jackie is a leaseholder of a two-bedroom flat now overlooked by construction workers and overshadowed by a new housing block.
“So, we’ve got to go," adds Jackie.
"But you need enough money to leave here and buy something else.
“And the third offer they made, you wouldn’t be able to buy a garden shed in this area of London.
The Council is basically telling tenants and leaseholders, ‘If you can’t afford to live in this area, then clear off.’”

Jasmin Parsons, a BT engineer, has lived on the West Hendon estate for over 35 years.
Parsons bought her council home in the late 1980s.
She feels strongly that Barnet Council’s current political leaders want wealthier people to live at West Hendon.
Affluent newcomers living densely in new, luxury apartments raise local tax revenues.
They also don’t rely on public services, like people on average and lower incomes.
That makes it easier to cut spending on public services.
Lower the council tax.
And win easy votes.

In the final analysis, Parsons says West Hendon estate homes and the land on which they are built should be publicly owned.
No politicians should have the right to sell this public land to corporate private interests.
“The biggest public asset we have is land,” says Parsons.
“And it’s specifically for the majority of people, not for the rich.
“But we have to fight to get it back."

Jasmin Parsons, West Hendon resident for over 35 years, taking direct action
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2015