Labour Peer favours developer rather than people led approach for council estates

RIBA, eclipse, WKGGCH meeting, Terri lunch,walk, city hall demo, 190

On Tuesday 24 March 2015, West Kensington and Earl’s Court residents gathered outside the Royal Institute of British Architects. Inside, Labour Peer Lord Adonis was launching a report he had edited: City Villages – More homes, Better Communities, published by think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

In respect of what is suggested for the future of council estates, the tone of this report and the language it uses is disturbing. Communities of people are referred to as “sink estates” and “valuable reservoirs of increasingly scarce land”. Essentially, as Lord Adonis summarises in his introduction, it proposes that London’s council estates should be redeveloped en masse. Supposedly, this would produce a large increase in the number of homes and benefit the communities who live there.

The problem with this approach is that it does not feature the views or aspirations of the people who live on these estates. Nor does it appreciate the damage and dispersal that widespread demolition would cause to communities. Instead, it advocates a largely uncritical analysis of, and solution for council estates that has provoked huge opposition and controversy over the past few years. We are not alone in our concerns about the approach. Since the ‘City Villages’ report was published there has been a chorus of concern from Dave Hill of the Guardian, housing Professor Steve Hilditch, and Inside Housing commentator Jules Birch.

Lord Adonis’ proposal that housing estates should be put together with adjoining development sites to create larger development potential is precisely the approach that was pressed on unwilling council tenants in Hammersmith and Fulham by former Conservative Leader Stephen Greenhalgh. His development dominated policies brought about his downfall as Leader and led to the Borough being won by Labour in 2014.

The IPPR report has an essay promoting the Earl’s Court redevelopment in which Capco Director Gary Yardley refers to West Kensington and Gibbs Green as “the old estates”. Gibbs Green was completed in 1961 and the larger West Kensington in 1974. No mention here that 80% of residents have steadfastly opposed demolition and campaigned instead for community ownership and their own plans to add new homes to the estates. No mention either that the developer is in discussions with the Labour Council about how to honour its manifesto commitment to prevent demolition. Nor, unsurprisingly, any mention of the convictions for bribery and corruption affecting Capco’s development partner. As Steve Hilditch argues in his blog “City Villages or ghettoes for the rich”, creating a “city village of rich people replacing long-standing social tenants with virtually no new social housing is not my idea of progress and has no place in such a report”

Omissions are one thing, but Lord Adonis’ conviction that demolition is right for council tenants’ homes is undermined by a series of factual errors. He claims that no freeholds have transferred from local authority ownership under the “Right to Buy”. This is wrong. A tenant who buys a house rather than a flat gets the freehold. As a consequence, 39 such freeholds exist on the West Kensington estate alone, with hundreds if not thousands more across council estates in London.

More mistakes emerge in Lord Adonis’s praise for the Earl’s Court scheme: “The site assembly at Earls Court is itself a remarkable feat: partly existing White City council estates, partly large redundant Transport for London (TfL) train storage and repair facilities, and partly the site of the decommissioned Earls Court Exhibition Centre.” Wrong estates (White City is a couple of miles away, so it would indeed be a remarkable feat!); far from being redundant, the train storage and maintenance facilities are essential to the Underground network; and the Exhibition Centre was fully functioning until it was shut for the site to be converted to luxury housing by Capco! (This was much opposed by the events industry who are concerned about the serious shortage of events space in London). Lord Adonis’ claim that the Earl’s Court masterplan creates “a large new public park” repeats the developer’s misrepresentation of the pathway between tower blocks that is produced by decking over the West London Line.

Given everything we have learnt about the redevelopment of urban housing over many decades, it is surprising that this report should present a programme which would rely on being imposed from the top down, and that nowhere does it suggest residents should take the lead in determining what is beneficial for their community. The Labour administration in Hammersmith & Fulham has halted any further redevelopments and established a Residents Commission to examine whether stock transfer would be the best way to protect communities and social housing.

It does seem extraordinary that the IPPR report takes insufficient account of the storm of controversy that has swept London in response to the many council estate redevelopment schemes underway. It is strange that Lord Adonis should so uncritically champion the Earl’s Court scheme, given the billions of pounds profit the developer expects to makes from destroying peoples’ homes and jobs. It’s curious that a Labour Peer should side with a Conservative instigated development which a Labour Council is doing its utmost to get out of.

Largest ever turnout of residents supports community transfer

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On 17 March 2015, 131 residents attended a general meeting organised by West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes (WKGGCH). In total, 150 people were in the community hall. This is the largest meeting held so far in the campaign and is a tremendous endorsement of the struggle to save the estates from demolition and to achieve community ownership. At the end of the meeting, WKGGCH Members voted by 100 to 1 in favour of serving a Right to Transfer Proposal Notice.

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WKGGCH Chair, Keith Drew welcomed the huge number of people who packed into the hall. He mentioned the letter sent by developer Capco to residents that stated: “Since last May’s election we have been in discussions with the new Labour administration, led by Councillor Cowan. The Leader has been very clear about the position he laid out in his election manifesto. We are looking at the arrangements entered into with the previous administration.”

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Linda Sanders, WKGGCH’s Company Secretary, reported on events since the general meeting held in July 2014. Following the election of the Labour administration in May, the redevelopment had not moved forward. Although the developer proposed the first phase of demolition on the estates, this was not agreed by the previous administration and is still not agreed.

WKGGCH has met regularly with Council Officers and Councillors. They have assured us that the Council is doing everything it can to save the estates and to deliver its manifesto commitment to oppose the demolition, to aim not to use Compulsory Purchase Orders against residents, and to work with council housing residents to give them ownership of the land their homes are on.

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Linda explained that although there were rumours about the options being discussed between the Council and the developer, we were determined that residents should not be set against each other. People cheered as she held up a sign banning residents from fighting one another!

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Councillors Ben Coleman and Larry Culhane addressed residents. Councillor Coleman explained that the Council was determined to put residents in the lead and had set up a Residents Commission to consider options for the future ownership of the borough’s housing stock.

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Councillor Culhane confirmed that the Council was in discussions with the developer and that in due course options would be discussed with residents. He said the turnout at the meeting showed this was the most representative estate in the borough.

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Andy Slaughter MP said that the campaign had achieved a great deal over the past six years, dramatically improving what was being offered to residents. He was delighted there was now an administration in place that is committed to saving the estates.

Community Organiser, Jonathan Rosenberg, reported he had discovered Capco was looking at putting up  residential towers on the Empress State site, and also that the developer still wanted to drive a road through the estates to connect North End Road with the development. Neither of these options is agreed but they give some idea of the content of the discussions.

WKGGCH obtained legal advice from a senior QC about the secret Collateral Agreement signed by the previous Council and the developer. The advice states that the developer cannot force the Council to reject any Right to Transfer Notice that WKGGCH might serve and that the Council has to make its own decision whether it thinks a community transfer is bad for regeneration and whether to refer to the Secretary of State. It’s hard to believe that the Council would do this as it would effectively be siding with the developer against the residents.

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Finally, WKGGCH members voted by 100 to 1 in favour of serving a Right to Transfer Proposal Notice at a time to be decided by the WKGGCH Board.

Keith Drew, Chair of WKGGCH, said: “This was an amazing turnout and a huge affirmation of everything we have been fighting for. It must be plain to everyone involved in the Earl’s Court scheme that this community is absolutely determined to stop demolition and win community ownership.”

Dust drawing protest against demolition

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On Sunday 1 February, Royal College of Art architecture student Amanda Sexton took action to help save our estates from demolition. Her demonstration was a spontaneous reaction to the greed and injustice of the demolition plans for the area. She was greeted with support from a neighbouring resident who warmed her up with a cup of tea.

This video records her making the dust drawings.DSC_3351bw2Amanda explains: “I made the dust drawing as a protest to the redevelopment of the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centres and the West Kensington & Gibbs Green Estates. I used dust as a metaphor for the senseless destruction of a long standing, diverse and stable community. I also wanted to highlight the tragic loss of the iconic exhibition centres and the vast collective memory generated during its many years of events and exhibitions.DSC_3412bwI also thought it was important to represent the economic loss in terms of revenue produced by the Exhibition centres as well as the huge blow to local businesses and employment. I find it absurd that buildings that are vital in the present day, but not deemed worthy of Heritage listing, are so easily cast aside.  Legislation such as the Certificate of Immunity from listing encourages this position  –  whereby a building of suspected cultural or community value is at the mercy of the bulldozer for a full five years before any effective action to save it can be taken.

As you will all be well aware, this process of urban regeneration or “urbicide” goes hand in hand with a new era of social cleansing that is being rolled out across London. My project proposes a series of community driven interventions within the demolition/construction site that could help to redress the balance of power between Capco and estate residents.”IMG_4629 copybwWell done Amanda and thank you for standing up for local residents against the abuse of the developer!

Residents serve notice on Capco

West Kensington and Gibbs Green residents have been out protesting against the demolition of our homes on two consecutive Saturdays. On 31 January we joined the March for Homes from Shoreditch to City Hall. Over two thousand people called on Mayor Boris Johnson to stop demolishing council estates and to build more housing that is genuinely affordable.

There is widespread anger at the number and scale of developments across London which are replacing buildings of character and workplaces with luxury flats bought by buy-to-leave investors. Dubbed ‘safety deposit boxes in the sky’, these destructive schemes enrich a few at the expense of the many, worsening London’s housing crisis.150207_078On 7 February residents of the estates and supporters of the Earl’s Court Area Action Group joined together in a protest against the demolition of the Exhibition Centres and in support of saving West Kensington and Gibbs Green. 70 people called on developer Capco to stop tearing the heart out of London. Not a single home out of the 1,314 to be built on the site of the Exhibition Centres will be affordable. One bedroom flats sold off plan in the ‘Lillie Square’ development are already reselling for £800,000.

150207_011The protest started opposite West Brompton station outside the entrance to the Exhibition Centres with our banner and plenty of other banners and placards on display.

150207_041West Kensington resident Linda Sanders was interviewed by ITN for a news story that was broadcast later that day.

150207_056Protestors then marched on to Capco’s sales centre for its ‘Lillie Square’ development in Seagrave Road, where resident Harold Greatwood served an eviction notice on Capco. 150207_060

150207_065Protesters held up posters spelling “Hall of Shame” which on the reverse had pictures of all those implicated in the “Masterplan”.

150207_075We then staged a “die-in” in Empress Place, opposite the Capco showroom, to highlight the concerns about asbestos being released from the demolition, as well as poor air quality, noise, vibration and dust. Some supporters were dressed in “hazard” suits and wore facemasks.150207_079Our protest ended outside the Lillie Bridge depot which is also up for demolition as part of the “Masterplan”.

Jailed for bribery and corruption but still “most highly reputable”

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Thomas Chan, and Thomas Kwok, right, sit in a prison van as they leave the High Court in Hong Kong

In December 2014, Thomas Kwok, Joint Chairman of Sun Hung Kai and Thomas Chan, Executive Director of Sun Hung Kai, were found guilty of corruption for bribing a public official in Hong Kong with £3 million.

The court case was Hong Kong’s largest ever corruption trial and resulted in the conviction of the second most senior official in the Government. Sun Hung Kai is Hong Kong’s largest property developer, and the payments were for the official to be its ‘eyes and ears’ in government. Thomas Kwok was jailed for five years and Thomas Chan for six years.

Thomas Chan, who was right hand man to the Kwok brothers, was also a Director of Lillie Square GP Limited. The other two Hong Kong Directors, one of whom is Raymond Kwok who was found not guilty, both give their addresses as Sun Hung Kai’s headquarters.

Capco and “interests of certain members of the Kwok family” jointly own the Lillie Square development of 800 flats in Seagrave Road. The venture is shared 50/50 between them. Following the trial, conviction and jailing in such a high profile case that has been reported all over the world, one would have expected Lillie Square GP Ltd to be a little more careful about how they sung the praises of Sun Hung Kai. It would be too much to expect them to show any shame. Instead, the attitude is brazen and, at the very least, misrepresents the reputation of Sun Hung Kai.

The Lillie Square website explains that:

“Lillie Square is owned and developed by a joint venture between Capital & Counties Properties PLC (‘Capco’) and interests of certain members of the Kwok family (‘KFI’). KFI represents interests of certain members of the Kwok family. Interests of the Kwok family are major shareholders of Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited, one of the largest and most highly reputable real estate companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Surely, Capco’s shareholders and investors should be concerned that far from any mention being made of the jailing of its partners for bribery, the property company at the centre of such a huge corruption scandal is described as “most highly reputable”. It is telling that on Capco’s website “most highly reputable” is missing from the description of Sun Hung Kai.

Meanwhile, even before Lillie Square has been built, one bedroom flats are being resold off-plan for £800,000 and three bedroom flats for £2 million.

Director in joint venture with Capco found guilty of bribery and corruption

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The director of a Capco joint venture company has been found guilty in Hong Kong on two counts of conspiring to bribe a public official. Lillie Square GP Limited, which is registered at Capco’s headquarters in Mayfair, was set up as a 50/50 partnership with the Kwok family trusts to develop Seagrave Road, the first phase of the £12 billion Earl’s Court redevelopment.

Thomas Kui Yuen Chan was appointed a Director of Seagrave Road GP Limited – later renamed Lillie Square GP Limited – on 30 August 2012, just weeks after Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption charged him with corruption.

Chan was responsible for channelling money to a senior Hong Kong public official who was also found guilty, along with Thomas Kwok, of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. The guilty verdict comes at the end of a six month long trial which was one of the highest profile legal cases in Hong Kong and a test of credibility for the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Raymond Kwok, who is also a Director of Lillie Square GP Limited, was found not guilty.

The Kwok family owns Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP), the world’s second largest property developer. Chan was the top aide to Raymond and Thomas Kwok. Chan was an Executive Director of SHKP who was in charge of land purchases. He has now resigned from SHKP and along with Thomas Kwok is set to appeal against the verdict. The sentence has not yet been announced.

Earlier this year, Lillie Square flats went on sale in Hong Kong and Thailand. It is believed that around half the homes sold off plan have gone to foreign investors. One bedroom flats started at £600,000. It is not known whether the Kwok family trusts were mixed up in the corrupt dealing, though it appears that Chan’s family trusts were used to divert funds via another middleman from Thomas Kwok to the public official.

When will Thomas Kui Yuen Chan resign from Lillie Square GP Limited? Surely Capco will not want to be seen to be keeping company with a convicted criminal who has been in prison since the verdict was announced on 19 December.

£12 billion Earl’s Court scheme value hidden to avoid affordable housing

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After nearly two years of fighting to get the viability assessment of the Earl’s Court scheme, Capco and Kensington & Chelsea finally gave in to the Information Commissioner’s demand that the report be released. The Councils and the developer had good reason to keep the assessment produced by DVS secret. The scheme is not worth £8 billion, but £12 billion – and that was in September 2012. So imagine what it’s worth now!

Amazingly the DVS review showed that the scheme was not viable on the basis of Capco’s assumptions, a reason in itself not to approve the scheme. But it was also critical of Capco’s reluctance to co-operate with the assessment. Throughout their review, DVS questioned the calculations and methodologies that were used to justify 11% of so called ‘affordable’ housing.

In their defence, Capco claims that “the DVS had full access to all relevant Capco information”. But this is not true. The DVS report cites 23 separate issues on which information or evidence required was not supplied or clarity was not provided on how sums were calculated. It refers to “queries that remain unanswered” (benchmark land values), and information requested that “has not been forthcoming” (income in respect of land surrounding Empress State).

With reference to rent free periods, DVS states: “Further explanation is required … and we have requested this information from the applicant. To date this has not been forthcoming”. DVS queried the values adopted for other uses: “Despite requesting this information … we have not had the opportunity to review these values”. The phrase “we have not been provided” runs through the report like the wording in Brighton Rock.

Further in their defence, Capco claimed that “calculations referenced in the report were based on standard industry processes and methodologies”. But this isn’t true either. In at least 17 areas the DVS report questions the processes and methodologies as not being consistent with the standard approach for making calculations. Under the heading “Methodology” DVS states: “The approach is not a common method of considering viability assessments”.

Capco made such pessimistic assumptions that DVS concluded: “The scheme is not viable on a present day cost and revenue basis”. “We do not accept the method by which they determine individual plot values”. DVS had to eliminate 3% of the scheme cost because it was double counted. In respect of the land around the Empress State building, DVS say: “The methodology for assessing this site is flawed”. DVS questioned the basic assumption that plots would be sold to other developers to build out: “We are of the opinion that the exit strategy assumed by the applicant is not a consistent approach …We find it hard to comprehend why indeed the applicant would sell the land short”.

DVS question the overall approach made by Capco: “A fundamental area of concern to us is the level of detail that informs the residential sales revenue and construction costs and the reliance upon average unit sizes, blended capital values and the broad ranging unit assumptions that have been adopted to inform the anticipated residential revenue of c. £10.81bn of the entire scheme value of c. £12.05bn”. DVS’s solution, which they had been tasked to consider as part of their brief, was that there should be a review mechanism to capture any improvement in performance relative to the viability review. Capco refused and the two local authorities gave in to the developer.

Kensington & Chelsea Council’s defence is just as contradictory as Capco’s: “The viability assessment prepared by DVS was considered by the council to be comprehensive and robust”. On that basis they should have rejected the scheme. The problem was that the DVS review was not properly presented in the Officers’ reports to the planning committees, DVS’s fundamental concerns and multitude of reservations were not conveyed to Members, and the public was kept in the dark.

Residents vote to serve Right to Transfer notice on Council

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West Kensington and Gibbs Green residents have taken a big step forward to save their homes by voting unanimously to investigate a community takeover of their council estates. 760 homes occupied by 2,000 people are threatened with demolition as part of the Earl’s Court redevelopment scheme. The decision to move forward with resident control, coupled with the Conservatives losing control of the Council to Labour, offers real hope that the homes can be saved.

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120 residents packed the Gibbs Green Hall for the general meeting of West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes (WKGGCH) on 1 July. The meeting was called to consider a resolution proposing the service of a Right to Transfer proposal notice on Hammersmith & Fulham Council. It was also an opportunity to explain more about the group’s plan to transfer the estates to a community controlled housing association. 79 Members of WKGGCH voted in favour of the resolution to serve the notice. Nobody voted against.

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The Right to Transfer was enacted by the Labour Government in 2008 and was brought into force by the Coalition Government when it made the Regulations in December 2013. WKGGCH is the fourth tenant group in the country where residents have voted to use the legislation, and is the first which is not already in charge of management. The Chair has now written to all residents to explain the result and to invite representations. On 22 July the Board will consider any responses and make the final decision on whether to serve the notice.

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At the meeting, the Chair introduced the elected Board of WKGGCH. Two resident Board members made a presentation about what we want to achieve:

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Company Secretary Linda Sanders provided background about the organisation and summarised the five-year campaign; Sally Taylor, who is also Chair of the West Kensington Estate Tenants & Residents Association, set out our vision for the estates under community control, which includes:

  • A landlord elected by residents that would decide the policies, employ professional staff to manage the properties, and spend all the income on the estates;
  • Affordable rents with increases strictly limited, and tenants keeping the security they have now;
  • Estate based management and maintenance providing a personal service for residents and tailored to meet the needs of the neighbourhood;
  • Tackling overcrowding through local knowledge and more efficient use of homes;
  • Improvements to the West Kensington blocks and to open spaces, with more CCTV and increased supervision by staff;
  • Community services and events for residents with many more activities for younger people;
  • Investigating opportunities to build more homes within the estates and to provide lifts for the blocks in Gibbs Green.

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MP for the area, Andy Slaughter, explained the wider political context. Residents were also joined by local Councillors Larry Culhane and Ali Hashem.

WKGGCH Chair, Keith Drew, said: “The huge turnout and the unanimous result was a massive vote of confidence in our campaign to save our homes. We had a lively discussion about what community ownership would mean in practice. The fact that not a single member voted against investigating transfer really shows the depth of our community’s determination to decide our own future.”

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Labour wins Hammersmith & Fulham!

P1020210Above: West Ken Gibbs Green Board Members meet on 27 May to discuss the implications of Labour winning control of the Council.

On 22 May Labour seized control of Hammersmith & Fulham Council. There are now 26 Labour Councillors and 20 Conservative Councillors, a comfortable majority for Labour. In North End Ward, which includes the estates, three Labour Councillors were elected – Daryl Brown, Larry Culhane and Ali Hashem. Ali lives in Dieppe Close on the Gibbs Green estate.

Local MP Andy Slaughter said that by trying to knock down and sell off residents’ homes, the Conservatives had become “arrogant and pushed people too far”. Stephen Greenhalgh, the man behind the demolition policy, was at the counting of the votes in the Town Hall to witness his party’s defeat.

The Councillors who wanted to destroy our community and wreck our homes have lost power. Labour’s Manifesto for the elections said: “We oppose the schemes for West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates. We aim to renegotiate these and halt the use of council powers such as Compulsory Purchase Orders on any of them”.

For over five years the Council planned to force everyone out of their homes so they could be knocked down by a developer to make way for thousands of new flats, mostly for sale at prices unaffordable to those in need. The previous Council made it clear that it would do everything it could to stop us from saving the estates.

Labour promised that if it won control it would “take immediate measures to protect council homes now and in the future”.

Labour’s Manifesto stated the party is against demolition and redevelopment and will be reviewing the Sale Agreement with Capco. It is also in favour of community ownership because it believes that is the best way to protect council homes in the longer term: “We will work with council housing residents to give them ownership of the land their homes are on”. So, we look forward to working closely with the new Council to transfer the estates into the ownership of a housing association controlled and owned by residents.

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Above: Residents Sally Taylor, Charlie Treloggan and Harold Greatwood are interviewed by ITN about how they feel following the shock downfall of the Conservative administration

We are asking the Labour Council to:

Consult fully with the elected and properly constituted residents organisations;

Halt all work in connection with the redevelopment scheme; and

Meet with our Board Members to discuss how they can support us to take over the estates.

Keith Drew, Chair of West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes said: “We are thrilled to bits with this sudden turnaround. We  expect Labour to deliver its manifesto committments and we will do everything we can to help them. Residents and the Council now share the same objectives. The sooner we can achieve them the better”.

The Remonstrance of Harold Greatwood

Harold Greatwood, resident of Fairburn House on the West Kensington Estate  declares as follows:

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