I have been to two meeting this week where the subject of the West Hendon Estate has come up. It is a tragic example of greed, incompetence and a lack of regard for the people who live there that is resulting in the destruction of a community.
On Monday night I attended the Contract monitoring scrutiny committee. I have to say the only scrutiny that took place was that carried out by the residents who had submitted 77 questions. Among the other things the residents questions revealed were that Barnet had agreed to Capita including £5.35 million of redundancy costs in their contract price. Yes that does mean that Barnet residents pay to make their own staff redundant so that Capita can make a profit by employing new staff in on much cheaper wages in Blackburn. we also learned that the council have agreed an additional payment of £453,000 to route call to libraries via a call centre. My experience was that having spoken to the call centre they had to put my call through to the library anyway. I say cut out the middleman and save £453,000.
But on to questions from the residents of West Hendon Estate. They revolved around the the council's duty to rehouse people who are homeless or about to be made homeless. Some of the council's responses were reminiscent of Joseph Heller's Catch 22. Jasmine Parsons asked:
The successful implementation of the Council’s Placement Policy has resulted in the first discharges of Homeless duty into the private rented sector.
a. Can you please specify if they still remain on the council housing list?
b. If not why not?
c. If yes what are they categorised as?
Barnet's response was as follows:
The Housing Allocations Scheme (September 2013) sets out in detail which customers are eligible to join Barnet Council’s banding system and which are not. To be placed onto the scheme a customer must have a reasonable preference. To have a reasonable preference, a customer must either be homeless or owed a duty to house under s.193 Housing Act 1996. Once a customer has accepted a suitable offer of private sector accommodation that can be used to end the housing duty, that customer is no longer homeless or threatened with homelessness or owed a duty to house. Therefore the customer has no reasonable preference and does not qualify to be placed onto the Housing Allocations Scheme (which in 2010 replaced the ‘council housing list’).
So my understanding of what they are saying is that if you are homeless the council have a duty to house you so they shuffle you off to a private sector landlord where you may have only a short term tenancy and which you may find yourself evicted from in six months time when they crank up the rent. However, because you have been placed in private accommodation you are no longer classified as homeless therefore you no longer qualify to go on the council waiting list. In other words it is impossible for the homeless to get onto the council house waiting list.
The second question was asked by Tayieba Shah related to those people in emergency accommodation (EA) and why the council is missing its own target for the length of stay in EA. The council's response is frankly staggering.
Moving the longest staying households from EA would have a positive impact on this indicator as it would reduce the average length of stay of households in EA. But it may have the adverse consequence of increasing costs as those households who are the longest stayers in EA are generally accommodated in more affordable accommodation for the council which was procured at a time when market conditions were more favourable and rents lower.
So in other words, it is cheaper to keep people who have been in Emergency Accommodation for a long time in the same EA rather than move them to new accommodation because it will be more expensive. The council's target for the length of stay in EA is 26 weeks but currently the average stay is 41.1 weeks. For those stuck in emergency accommodation it must be devastating to be stuck there indefinitely because it is cheaper than moving people out.
On to the meeting last night, the BAPS Question Time, at Barnet Multicultural Centre in Hendon. It was clear from the outset that there was just one massive issue and that is the plight of the residents from the West Hendon Estate. The regeneration of this estate has been on the cards for many years and the initial planning permission was granted back in 2003. However following detail, planning permission being granted last year the scheme now seems to be ploughing ahead.
Where there are currently 680 homes, these will be replaced by 2,171 homes including a number in 29 storey blocks looking out over Welsh Harp reservoir. According to the planning statement of 15 February 2013, the current population of the estate is estimated at 1,475 and that will rise to 9,161 when the development is complete. That is a six fold increase in population.
In theory there should be enough new homes for existing tenants but in practice that is not the case because of the catch-all phase "affordable". What is affordable to a senior officer at Barnet Council on a six figure salary is completely unaffordable to key staff carrying out essential work such as hospital workers, teachers, police and social workers.
It appears that Barnet want to gentrify this area by squeezing out those on low and average wages to be replaced with people who can afford £350,000 or £400,000 for a 2 bed flat right up to £1 million for the penthouse apartments.
It is shameless how this community is being destroyed but in Barnet money always appears to take priority over people especially in a Labour ward. I cannot imagine such a massive and disruptive development would every be considered in Conservative enclave of Totteridge where the population density is just 18 people per hectare, just one tenth of the proposed density of the new estate. Draw your own conclusions as to why that is.
Please look up Our West Hendon community group on Twitter or on Facebook to find out more about their plight.