by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass
On Saturday, Barratt Homes, Barnet Council and the Metropolitan Housing Trust staged an exhibition in the West Hendon Community centre, to showcase their plans for ‘regeneration’ of the estate. The uninspiring display saw several upright banners detail floor plans, estate agent descriptions, promises and ‘benefits’ for the area. The pictures of the proposals bore the usual clean, cold and expensive ‘luxury’ apartment complex scenes reserved for city types with big balances.
Outside the small exhibition were the people who didn’t fit into the developer’s vision: local residents. The West Hendon community were out defiantly staging a protest against an array of broken promises from all those who stand to profit from the new plans, and the ignorance of their local councillors to their voices, their needs and their lives.
“Out of 680, we can probably, if we’re lucky, we might have about 60 of the original dwellers left on the estate,” says Jasmin Parsons, a local resident and one of the people behind the Our West Hendon Campaign.
“Not forgetting that the first lot that are being shifted are going onto a traffic island. When they go on that traffic island, for at least another eight years, they got traffic whizzing round, they got rats, they got pigeons, they got to deal with maggots, they got to deal with exhaust fumes, paint fumes, none of that has been [dealt with].
“When it was agreed that they would move in there, it was agreed that all of that would disappear. Their answer to it now is, ‘well if we keep pushing the rents up, they might move’.”
Broken promises are a common thread for West Hendon residents (‘‘Every single thing has been trashed and reneged on”) as Jasmin leads me to a document that details just some of them, including an excuse by Barratt homes that it would be unviable to build the 40% recommended amount of affordable housing, instead capping it at 25%.
Similar excuses were made at the Heygate Estate in Southwark, and likely in many places around the country, all communally squeezing out affordable homes from their plans, as well as the people who desperately need them. Recommended rates and even statutory minimums of affordable housing are easily wavered in a housing economy that no longer cares for what the community needs but what will earn the quickest, highest buck. It also demonstrates the measly excuses given to shaft an entire community in the name of profit.
“They’ve deliberately shifted out a lot of secure tenants and put in long term council tenants on temporary tenancies and left them there, in a deliberate move because they are then ensuring that over 250 of them will be shifted out, anywhere that they wanted to, and those properties have already been earmarked for private sale.
“The secure council tenants who are moving into the property on the traffic island, which this Christmas will be renamed as Barratt Grove, will be moving into Barratt property. The agreement is they will be able to remain secure council tenants for as long as they are in council property. So now that it will no longer be council property, at any time the council will be able to say ‘we’re not paying the rent anymore’.
“We’re condemning our kids to permanent private poverty. At the end of the day, this is public land, we all own it. So why are councils allowed to give it away or sell it. Who gave them permission?”
The campaign has seen little help or understanding from the local councillors, who have apparently already demonstrated their view of the local residents, and the nature of their private interests see them siding with developers over the people that have resided on this estate for years.
“One in particular, (Cllr) Tom Davey, made a statement and I make it absolutely clear to everyone he’s turned round and said to us ‘We don’t want your kind in this borough, we want you out. If you want affordable housing, move out the borough.’
“Cllr Cornelius has also stated ‘we don’t want you here, you’re parasites, you use up the facilities. We don’t want people like you using up the facilities.’
“(Cllr) Hugh Rayner (Mayor of Barnet), was caught. He rents out 18 properties – 15 which he owns, some more with his wife, he’s a private landlord. He raised the rent three times in one year on the social tenants because he knew they were claiming housing benefit. And he sits in on how they distribute the housing benefit.
“When it was brought up, they just changed the rules ‘Oh, it’s no longer a conflict of interest’.”
When searching for details in a case like West Hendon’s, the corruption and discrimination required by local representatives to push these projects forward, come to light.
Whilst I am at the exhibition, several protestors explain to me that Councillor Hugh Rayner had brought contracts to tenant’s houses with witness signatures presigned, and even approached the children of tenants to sign in place of their parents, without the parents’ knowledge.
Jasmin mused over reasons why the plans had been pushed on, and as a long-term resident of the estate, she already seemed familiar with the results of Tory party policy.
“Is it Cameron? Because it’s Tory? Thinking we can spread out and now gentrify the area. We pushed out the Labour voters, we can put the Tory voters in so this can now become a solid tory seat.
“The Tories deliberately push people to buy a house to put people in the market to put people into debt. When she (Thatcher) brought [Right-To-Buy] in, people could already buy their own properties. You had to live in your property – which only houses were allowed to be sold by the way, no flats or maisonettes – you had to be living there for 10 years before you was entitled to buy. You had to also ensure that you were the one who was able afford the mortgage. You couldn’t sit there and say ‘if someone else comes in they’ll do it.’
“When the Tories put that Right to Buy through, the first thing that happened on this estate was that two flats were immediately sold to someone living in South Africa that had never even set foot in this country. That was 2 council properties.”
Many are left wondering how many of these new flats will lie empty for months as investments for the rich or as second, third, tenth homes while local residents are displaced, left in insecurity or made homeless. A deep madness lies in this system. But it is seeing the local community come together.
Last week, a campaigner locked themselves to the front of the construction site, stopping trucks from entering. Locals have turned out early in the morning to demonstrate and have been building plans and materials to continue to halt the process. Tomorrow sees a meeting at the Town Hall over a vote of no confidence in Cllr Cornelius. And the Our West Hendon campaign is just getting started. To the dismay of those looking to profit from the West Hendon estate (those who were betting that the deep inequality of London housing by now means that social housing tenants would lie down and take any fate), local residents are taking direct action, building cases against their councillors and informing each other about what’s going on.
“When we were nippers, we lived on council estates. We would’ve liked more but we were happy with what we’ve got. WE’RE happy with what we got. We don’t have to have more. Why is it we’re told you gotta have this, you gotta have that. That’s a capitalistic state to make sure that you pay for something.”
One of the biggest problems West Hendon residents face (and why they need public support) is one we all face on a national level when it comes to the housing crisis. Councillors and most of our MPs are cut from the same cloth; owning several houses, many are landlords, many have mansions – pushing them to sympathise with those with similar private interests. This is why our MPs gawk far more at the prospect of a mansion tax than at the reforms and regenerations that displace thousands of the nation’s worst off. More than ever, the solution to the housing crisis has to come from a united effort and pressure from the public.