LSE’s excellent report on improving Mill Hill – what lessons for elsewhere in Barnet

I have just finished reading LSE student’s great report on how to improve Mill Hill. I think it is a fantastic piece of work and much can be taken from it for other areas in Barnet. To read go to http://www.lse.ac.uk/geographyAndEnvironment/MillHillReport.pdf

Some of the ideas put forward are long term, and expensive but others are quite reasonable easy steps (and affordable) to improve the quality of life for residents.

Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum who commissioned the report should be praised for its creativity in getting professionals to help inform their plans for the Neighbourhood Development Plan. The recommendations I feel are relevent to other areas in Barnet are:

  • Green walls
    • One of the great things about Barnet is the great road links. The M1 goes straight through the middle of the Hendon constituency providing easy access out of London and the A406 and A1 also are major arteries through the borough. A great proposal in this plan is to make the M1/Rail bridge at Mill Hill Broadway a green wall to improve the air quality for residents. The same thing could be done along the whole stretch of the M1 in Barnet. This would really improve the air quality for residents along the whole western stretch of the borough. In West Hendon we have a stretch of about 1.5 miles of M1 wall where this could be done.
  • Designated bin zones
    • One of the worst things we have in the borough is the number of bins. The sheer number means that after the weekly collection most of our streets are littered with empty bins and on a windy day that means bins all over the road and walkways. Have fixed designated bin places makes a lot of sense, not just for Mill Hill but across the borough.
  • Creation of a local BID
    • I am a big fan of Business Improvement Districts. I think the idea of local businesses taking ownership of the areas they work in results in better outcomes for the consumer and means that business owners are more invested in the local area. So far Barnet does not have a BID, although I know that Gail Laser has done some work in High Barnet in trying to get the businesses on board there.

There are other great ideas in the report too, such as the community arts initiative and partnerships in the area as well as the section on improving cycling in the area, but these are the ones that stand out for me that could easily be expanded across the borough if the will was there from the local authority.

Neighbourhood plans are great and some of the reforms in this area by central government are good. My only sincere criticism is that Neighbourhood plans are biased towards areas of relative affluence. Because of the complexity and level of detail required, and most importantly the skillset needed, these plans are generally only put together (and get completed) in areas where the local population have the residents with the required skills and time to devote to this kind of project.

The election results

Tired and absolutely gutted.
The majority in Hendon have spoken and the outcome must be respected. Congratulations to Matthew Offord on a convincing victory. It has been a bad day for Labour in Barnet, London and nationally.
Many of the residents living in the ward I represent will now face the full brunt of a Conservative government’s policies – a lowering of the benefit cap in a housing market whereby costs are spiraling out of control, a continuation of the cruel bedroom tax and a concerted attempt to remove the poor from our great mixed city. They will have an MP who wholly endorses these policies.
Labour in opposition must learn the lessons of the past 24 hours.

We must be a good opposition that scrutinises the government whilst building a successful policy platform to offer to the British public. The Labour Party must once again become a movement of people.

We must continue to oppose isolationism and fight to keep our place in the European Union in the upcoming referendum and most importantly we need to fight back against the rise of both English nationalism, as exemplified in much of the Conservative Party’s campaign and UKIP and also in Scotland against the SNP. Nationalism, even if it is dressed up in progressive clothes is still nationalism and brings out the worst in people.
Andrew Dismore, Sarah Sackman and Amy Trevethan ran great campaigns but sometimes things wholly outside of your control can alter the results.

Overall a bad day.

Why the numbers do not add up on the West Hendon estate and what the FOI disclosure tells us

Cllr Davey has hit back at Andrew Dismore for apparently not disclosing the full details of the West Hendon valuation FOI.

Andrew has published the full FOI disclosure at http://www.dismore4hendon.co.uk/dismore_exposes_barnet_conservatives_free_giveaway_land_bonanza_value_over_12m_sold_for_nil which states the ‘restricted value’.

The restricted value is exactly the problem.

Let’s imagine that land at the West Hendon estate was never owned by Barnet and that Barratt came along and bought the land and wanted to build a 2000 unit development. Under the Council’s own planning rules Barratt would have to have to provide 800 ‘affordable’ homes under their 40% affordable homes target. Barnet usually let developers off the hook with around 20%.

Now it is common knowledge that Barnet routinely allow developers to get away with far lower than the 40% figure and to break their own rules. I have illustrated this on my Barnet Regeneration Robbery website with details for each major development.

So, as you will see, the point I am making is that in a world where Barnet Council didn’t own the land – Barratt would have had to cough up 20% anyway – but in the case of West Hendon they didn’t even have to pay for the land and they are still only providing basically half of the Council’s affordable housing target and most importantly – in line with developments nearby like Pulse where the land was bought at full market value.

IF Barnet had given the land away and we were getting in excess of 50%-60% affordable housing on this site I could live with giving away the land, but we are not getting anything like this – we are not even getting the bare minimum which should have been a like for like replacement of all units on the estate.

The deal struck by the Tories in West Hendon stinks and by their reaction I am beginning to think they know it too. The people of the West Hendon estate deserve an apology and the deal with Barratt must be renegotiated at once.

Letter in response to Cllr Cornelius’s Barnet Press column

Dear Sir,

In his regular column (19/02/2015, Barnet Press), Cllr Cornelius does himself no favours in writing so casually about the housing devastation that his administration has reaped upon hundreds of Barnet households. Over the last decade – before we have even begun the bulk of the council’s so called ‘regeneration’, this authority has lost 826 socially rented units on what the London Assembly Housing Committee refer to as “major schemes”. This excludes units lost from Right to Buy. The analysis from the London Assembly Housing Committee shows that yes, Barnet is building (4,032 on major schemes over the past decade), but these homes are almost exclusively for those with money – foreign investors in a great many cases. This Conservative administration, supported by the three Barnet Conservative MPs are letting down residents in desperate need.

The Council’s plan has been to put a huge number of tenants on legally flimsy non-secure ‘temporary’ tenancies on a long term basis and then move them around the borough whenever the developer comes calling. Around 40% of all non-secure tenant households in this borough have been living on these temporary contracts for five years or longer. Eventually there will be no housing left to move them to.

The problem is that the housing stock that the council still owns is now at critical levels and the crisis at Sweets Way has shown this to be true. The Tories are now relying on landlords across London and beyond, charging well above what social housing costs to meet the housing need. The figures also back this up. In 2012/13 the Council had paid private landlords £42,689 in incentive payments. By half way through this financial year this figure has jumped to £512,556 – this is just in incentives, not rent!

This policy of selling off our housing stock is costly both financially and for our families. The Tories running the council seem unable to do basic math on housing and are even less able to do basic empathy.

West Hendon and Sweets Way have felt the full brunt of this Council’s nasty policies on housing but they will not be the last. This Thursday the Council Planning Committee will be deciding on the redevelopment of the Granville Road estate in Childs Hill, officers have recommended the scheme for approval despite it not providing even one additional socially rented unit to meet the clear and urgent need.

Either Barnet are incompetent at negotiating or something more sinister is going on – I suspect the latter.

Grahame Park is the biggest estate in Barnet and it is next. People of Barnet, you aint seen nothing yet from these dodgy developers and their Tory mates.

Adam Langleben

Labour Councillor for West Hendon ward

Member of the Housing Committee, LB Barnet

The West Hendon estate. Sold for nothing.

At the West Hendon Public Inquiry we learnt that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Mr Eric Pickles MP gave Conservative Barnet Council permission to transfer the land of the entire West Hendon estate to Barratt developments for nothing. Yes, £0.00.

It was definitely valued at over £2m as that is the threshold that authorities by law need to seek permission from the Secretary of State to dispose at below market value.

This makes no sense to me as it is not even as if we are getting a good deal from the developer. Just 25% of the new properties are defined as ‘affordable’ by the unaffordable standards set by this government. Of the 2000 new homes being built in the same footprint of the existing 680 home estate, just 242 will be at social rent and 250 marketed as ‘shared ownership’.

The borough will have a NET LOSS in social units as a result of this mad scheme.

The starting price for a low floor 1 bedroom flat is £287,000 rising to near £600,000 for a low floor 3 bed. The higher you are the pricier it gets. The Penthouse’s…God knows.

The astonishing thing is that we have seen some private developments NOT on regeneration estates, on private land, which I presume they paid market values for, provide more ‘affordable’ housing than on the piece of land in West Hendon that was gifted for nothing!

For example:

Developer Fairview built ‘Pulse’ in Colindale on the former Hospital site which they must have paid market values for to the NHS. This site has 714 homes and managed to provide 193 ‘affordable homes’ – 27% – higher than West Hendon which was GIFTED.

or

Zenith House, Colindale – 309 homes and 135 ‘affordable’ – 43% – almost double of West Hendon.

Today I have submitted an FOI to Barnet Council to get to the bottom of how much the taxpayer has lost from this deal.

Below is my FOI:

—-

Dear FOI,

I would like to know the following.

Further to the letter dated 25th September 2013 from the Department for Communities and Local Government giving the London Borough of Barnet permission to dispose of the land known as the West Hendon estate “at less than the best consideration reasonably obtainable”. (LB Barnet ref: PB/West Hendon s233)

Please could you give me the Council’s own estimated valuation of the estate prior to asking the Secretary of State for permission to dispose of the land at below market rates.

Many thanks,

Adam Langleben
Labour Councillor for West Hendon ward
London Borough of Barnet

Full Council Motion: a fair repayment scheme for Barnet Homes’ leaseholders

Below is the speech I gave to full council proposing a fairer repayment scheme for leaseholders.

Thank you Mr Mayor and Chag Sameach, Happy Chanukah to you and all members.

Mr Mayor, I hope the all members received my email from earlier today with an attached copy of the report which at first according to Cllr Davey at the 27th October Housing Committee never existed.

Then he tried to shift the blame onto Barnet Homes and then eventually revealed he may have seen something.

Well Mr Mayor… A pesky Freedom of Information request told me it did exist and the four thousand plus leaseholders across Barnet deserve that this be voted on openly, not rejected behind closed doors as Barnet’s biggest landlord Cllr Davey wanted.

Whilst on this point, one has to question what the point of a Committee system is if Committee chairs can act like tin pot dictators and remove items from agreed work programmes. But I digress…

The proposal I have brought before us tonight affects thousands of our residents in every ward.

The report consists of two parts:

one is of special interest to leaseholders living on the West Hendon estate who are having their homes bulldozed within a matter of months in some cases and being presented will bills of upto £10,000 and being offered a poor deal on the terms of the repayment schedule.
The second is about understanding that our leaseholders like many others are facing increasing financial burdens in these tough times. The report proposed an extension of the interest free period for the more expensive maintenance works.

According to my freedom of information request, these proposals were signed off by every relevant commissioner and officer at the Council and Barnet Homes right until the Friday prior to the 17th October where in a call over meeting it was withdrawn.

A resident on the Fairway in Hale ward facing a huge leaseholder bill of over £8000 wrote to me today. On the repayment plan he has he said:

“If this was expected to be paid back over the course of a year it would be £666 per month! In our case, this is more than we pay for our mortgage and food bills per month combined. There is simply no way we can make payments of that scale.”

He went on to say:

“While we do not dispute the need for the work, or the need to pay, we feel 1 or even 2 years is a completely unreasonable amount of time to pay back that amount of money.”

Another Hale resident wrote to me stating:

“From our perspective we are working people with a young family who can’t afford to pay this bill over 24 months. Matthew Offord did tell us it was the pay off for buying a discounted flat but we are the third family to live in this flat and like most of neighbours certainly have not benefited from any council discount, we paid full market value.”

This is such a issue locally and its important people who just about manage to pay their bills aren’t forced into debt by Barnet”

Many of these residents were sold Thatchers dream of right to buy, now this Conservative Council have seemed so keen to sell them down the river.

If members are curious as to how many leaseholders are affected in their own wards I would point them to the bottom of page 23 of questions to the Leader. Members in Hale, Brunswick Park and Mill Hill may wish to think very carefully before voting.

Mr Mayor, I have too much to say but will end by saying that this proposal is a fair repayment and is a compassionate response to this very specific cost of living issue. I urge all members to vote for this motion.

My speech to #LondonLab14 on the Great Barnet Tory Rent Robbery

Adam Langleben, Hendon CLP delegate, Jewish Labour Movement and GMB.

Delegates, it is fitting that we are here today in Hammersmith Town Hall. As delegates will know, this council under a previous Conservative administration had gained a reputation for being the most pernicious Council in the country for housing, gerrymandering and attacking the working poor.

Well delegates, thankfully, that dark period in the history of this borough has come to an end.

But the fight is not over. This title has been handed to the Tory run London Borough of Barnet otherwise known as EasyCouncil.

Tomorrow morning Tory Barnet will be the first Council in the country to go out to consultation to raise council rents for both existing and new council tenancies to 80% of market or LHA levels – whichever is higher. All this against a backdrop of Barnet having the highest private rents in Outer London. In the ward I represent that means a rent rise of over £350 a month on a 1 bed council flat.

This is an attack on the working poor. It will affect over 12,000 council tenants in our three CLPs across our borough. 45% of our tenants are in work and will be forced out of their homes, pushed onto benefits or forced into rent arrears.

Yesterday in my surgery had a young couple with a 2 year old. He works for the Council on garden maintenance, she’s lunchtime supervisor at a primary school. Both are paid the London Living Wage but even with this under these Barnet Tory plans this couple will be pushed into poverty and made homeless.

We must fight this.

Delegates, please join us in solidarity against Tory Barnet and help us stop this disgusting rent hike. An attack on the basic principle of council housing, an attempt to gerrymander, an attack on our Labour values and our Labour people.

Let me tell you this delegates, if this starts in Barnet, it will not end in Barnet.

Hendon CLP support this motion. Thank you.