Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Temporary People: is Barnet Broken, or 'terrific'? The failure of Barnet Tory housing policy - evidence to Labour's Housing Commission

Finding solutions? Giving evidence, anyway - Mr Reasonable and Mrs Angry at the Housing Commission

Last night saw the latest session of Barnet Labour's Housing Commission, chaired by Nicky Gavron, to which bloggers Mr Reasonable and Mrs Angry were invited to give evidence. Clearly at the last minute someone was panicking at the thought of giving us an opportunity to say exactly what we thought, in an open forum, and emails arrived urging us to focus not so much on the problems, as on finding solutions. 

Hmm. Mrs Angry was of the opinion that her evidence was just that: based on five years of observation of Barnet's performance in regard to housing policy, and that it was her duty to contribute on that basis, and persuade the Labour leadership to try a bit harder to get into power, so as to implement a change in policy, rather than witter on about hypothetical solutions.

We dutifully went along, to a freezing cold community centre in Grahame Park,a council estate soon to be regenerated and gerrymandered out of existence, courtesy of Tory housing policy.

Here is the full text of Mrs Angry's contribution: an illustrated version - cut short due to time restraint, and probably just as well.

It's now five years since I started writing about local issues in my blog,  ‘Broken Barnet’, and although in all the time since I have covered many other aspects of the political landscape in our borough, it was a housing matter which drove me to start writing it, related to the way in which Barnet was using the private sector to address its inability to provide social housing for those in need.

At the time, Barnet had the longest housing waiting list in the country. Instead of seeing this as an urgent reason to consider investment in new social or council housing, the then administration, headed by Mr Easycouncil himself, Mike Freer, preferred to use the private sector to exercise its duties to house homeless residents, and appeared to care little about the standard of accommodation in which these families would be placed.

Here we are, five years later, and Mr Mike Freer is – for a few weeks longer, anyway - MP for Finchley and Golders Green, and oh look: there he is, on the Sunday politics show, only a week ago, telling us that the housing list is now only – only – 3,000 or so, or just under, even, and that his Tory colleagues in Barnet are building an astonishing number of new homes, we’ve built 6,000 new homes in the last five years, he says.

There is no housing crisis in our borough, in other words, says Freer, who, as we should remember, was the leader of the council when the new agreement with Barratts to develop West Hendon was made, in 2008, the details of which agreement, in terms of the viability report, for example, are not in the public domain.

Mr Freer is not the only Tory politician to be blessed with a sense of boundless optimism about the provision of housing in this borough, of course.

Only last week, I had a disagreement on twitter with one of the new Tory councillors, Gabriel Rozenberg - yes, the son of Joshua, and Melanie Phillips - who was complaining that a letter he had sent to a local paper had not been published, objecting to an article which had quoted a local pressure group  claiming, ‘that we are heading towards a housing crisis’.

What nonsense, he said: Barnet Council is going to build 20,000 new homes over the next two decades. We’re ready for the challenge.

Some loudmouths, he continued, only want to do Barnet down. The thousands of people moving to Barnet, year after year, prove just how wrong they are.

Oh dear. This was too much for loudmouth Mrs Angry, who engaged Cllr Rozenberg in a debate via twitter about his interesting views:

Me: Seriously? Are you being naive, or totally cynical? Those new homes will not be for ordinary families, but for the most affluent.

He replied: err totes serious. You think Barnet’s ‘broken’. I think Barnet’s terrific. If it’s so awful why is it set to be #1 in London?

Me: That can only be because you have not experienced what it is like for the huge number of people living in real need in this borough.

There is no excuse for this, other than fear of facing reality. Step outside of Hampstead Garden Suburb, & visit West Hendon ...

or Strawberry Vale, or Dollis Valley - or Sweets Way, if anyone is left there after tomorrow's evictions. This is real life, not HGS

Cllr Rozenberg: Mrs A, please accept, there is light and shade here. Many ppl are moving to Barnet cos it’s a great place to live.

Me: Oh Gabriel, please: the poorest residents are being mercilessly turfed out to make way for the 'well off' - is that fair?

Reply: Once again: if it’s such a hellhole of a borough, why is it so popular? You keep changing the subject.

Me: Popular with whom? It is hell for those living in poverty: anywhere is, just as most places are fine if you are wealthy

And answer this: how is it morally justifiable to give private developers public land, and evict the people living there?

No reply.

West Hendon residents facing eviction: pics courtesy of the Mirror

My mistake was to introduce the concept of morality into the argument: always a difficult subject of discussion with Barnet Tories. 

To be fair to Cllr Rozenberg, he is, in my view, naive, rather than lacking in compassion, unlike some of his colleagues, and at least makes the effort to take part in some sort of discussion – unlike most of his colleagues.

Tory leader Richard Cornelius does not like to leave the safety of his comfort zone, the leafy avenues of Totteridge, but recently was obliged by the BBC One Show to make an unprecedented appearance in one of the less favoured areas of his borough, in West Hendon, in the estate which he has previously described as ‘grotty’, a community now being bulldozed out of existence to make way for the luxury private development by Barratts.

We now know that Barratts have been given the land for free, and are waiting for Barnet Council to ‘decant’ residents living there already, or compulsorily purchase their homes, at a price calculated by Capita valuers below the point at which they can take advantage of the supposed shared equity schemes which is their only way of achieving the new homes promised to them originally as part of what was once a genuine regeneration scheme.

Cornelius, in his interview, stood rather gingerly in the unfamiliar surroundings, dressed in his silk cravat, displaying his typically cheerful, if sometimes inappropriate, saturnine smile, talking his usual nonsense: denying the reality of the terrible circumstances facing the residents of West Hendon, and, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, claiming that:

“the owner occupiers are all getting shared equity and a new place”

“the secure tenants will all be housed on the estate as well”

“the temporary people will be accommodated locally”

The Tory leader seems to have forgotten that any perceived ‘grottiness’ is directly the result of his own failure as landlord to maintain the estate, nor does he seem to register the offence he might cause by describing people’s homes in this way.

This tells you a lot about the extent of disassociation he and his colleagues feel from the real impact of their policies: the disregard for people’s lives, other people’s lives, not ‘people like us’ – ‘temporary people’, who can be ‘decanted’: dehumanised.

Easy to have an easycouncil housing policy that deals with the destruction of a community, with the loss of homes, when you remove the human aspect of their stories, isn’t it? These people, temporary people.

And necessary to dehumanise the situation, when you are committed to an agenda of not just gerrymandering, replanting entire communities with more affluent residents, more likely to vote for you, under the pretext of ‘mixed communities’ – or when you are committed to an agenda of social engineering, an activity with which our Tory councillors are now dabbling, in their dilettante fashion.

Yet again, in the story of the Sweets Way evictions, we are seeing Barnet Tory housing policy in action, and at its most shameful: children, mothers, sick residents turned out of their homes, literally on to the street, with no real care for what becomes of them, just as long as they are removed so as to free up yet another estate for a private development.

I should say that by chance I met two of the residents who have now been evicted from their homes in Sweets Way. One was an elderly man with complex health problems, and who had had a heart attack as a result of the stress caused by the loss of his home. He was told to go and live in Hanwell. 

The other was the mother of two boys who was given only the option of a flat in Grahame Park, another temporary location on another so called regeneration estate: she showed me the pictures of the filthy, squalid flat she was expected to move into with her children, with dirt, damp, and broken windows.

Yet only this week we see again the Tory leader claiming:

Residents who were temporary tenants are being found new places to live in the area. This process has gone quite smoothly despite the misinformation and scarcity of empty flats ... 

Those who sell their homes will get a brand new flat to live in ...   

The solid achievement of building homes needs to be recognised and celebrated. The new mixed areas are so much better than the old isolated council estates.

Sweets Way evictions: the impact on families, and the reality that Tory leader Richard Cornelius prefers to ignore ...

Housing is a key policy for our neo Thatcherite, materialist councillors: moving on from the provision of affordable homes, or social housing, for those who need them to a principle of removing what they see as dependence on the state, on council services, an absence of ‘aspiration’ – a culture of failure. 

This is how housing policy in Tory Barnet has come to be a moral crusade, if morality can be used in this context: a value judgement, a measurement of material worth.

This is clearly reflected in almost every policy decision promoted by the current member for housing, ie Tom Davey: an individual who revels in controversy, and refuses to apologise for remarks such as wishing to see only the well off living in this borough, and hoping to see the penthouse flats of West Hendon filled with Russian oligarchs.

We are travelling back in time beyond the golden era so beloved of our local Tories, of Thatcherite values, to something approaching the judgemental politics of the poor laws introduced in the nineteenth century.
If you are not wealthy, if you are poor, you are almost certainly the undeserving poor, and must be punished, and corrected. The creation of new social housing will only encourage dependence and obstruct the development of self help.

Access then, will be restricted: priority of housing allocation given to those who can demonstrate ‘a positive contribution to the community’, and as we have seen in West Hendon, and now in Sweets Way, residents kept on long term non secure tenancies, some of them for a decade or more, so as to deprive them of the full protection of what should be their rights in law to a decent standard of secure housing.

Those lucky few who are awarded a council home now may only have it on a five year contract: the consequences on families of such flagrant disregard for the need for a home, and not just temporary housing, is simply of no interest to the Tory administration in Barnet.

Well: you can’t expect Tories to deliver a housing policy based on the principles of social justice, but we do expect the Labour party to do just that, and that is why we are here, giving evidence to this Commission.

What can Labour do?

It is easy to ask the question, and speculate, and formulate nice ideas about what we want, but the most important thing is to see commitment, and passion, and a real desire to make change, not just easy words, ill defined, and a message lost somewhere between a good intention and a real campaign of reform.

As Harold Wilson famously once remarked, The Labour party is a moral crusade, or it is nothing.  

I absolutely believe this to be true, and I fear that in this borough, the Labour opposition, or at least its leadership, has sometimes struggled to communicate a strong commitment to that principle, and has failed to engage with voters because of it.

More recently, however, I believe there is a real recognition from most Labour councillors for the need for change, and the move to try to address some of the urgent issues through this Housing Commission is commendable and I hope that as many people as possible will support it, and engage with it. It is easy to criticise, but the only way to improve all the terrible housing issues which are springing up around us is to stand up and do something about it.

Housing is an issue that is already, as we have seen, made subject to moral evaluation: now is the time to reclaim it from the patronage of the Tory approach, and give back control of the decisions which dictate the direction of policy to the people who are actually affected by it, to empower communities and enable them to protect their rights to housing, to remain as communities. A re-invention of localism, a rewiring of the concept, so that it actually works, rather than sits in a box under the stairs, unused, Eric.

At the last session of the Housing Commission that I attended, the new Labour leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council made a very interesting contribution with an explanation as to how he had, on taking office, looked in detail at some of the developments agreed by the previous Tory administration, and shaken those agreements until a load of loose change fell out of the back pockets: to the tune of £26 million, or thereabouts. He is reinvesting that money in housing.

Here in Barnet, we should be able to do the same. The Capita contracts, as Mr Reasonable will tell you, are a licence to print money – not for us, the taxpayers, but for the contractors. 

If we were to see a Labour administration take over, we might hope to see an immediate re-evaluation of the contracts, and a no nonsense demand for revision of the terms of the agreement, which would see more savings returned to the public purse, and rather less thrown in the lap of Capita. 

Then, perhaps, we could re-invest that money in housing projects that safeguard the needs of local residents, especially those in the greatest need. New build council housing, a real commitment to affordable housing to buy or rent: a change of culture, and the replacement of the cynical facilitation of private development by a new programme of housing provision aimed at preserving and supporting communities, not destroying them.

But that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, sadly. 

We missed the opportunity to take control of the council, despite the London wide trend of Labour wins. If there are any by elections - and Mrs Angry can exclusively reveal now that there is likely to be one, or maybe two, very soon, albeit in a very safe Tory ward - perhaps there will be another chance, but are we sure that there is the determination yet to challenge the contracts, and force change?

I’m not sure there is. We hear rumours that the Labour group is again going to support the Tory council tax freeze: if true, in my view such a move is utterly indefensible: no, reprehensible - and indicative of the need for fundamental change in the direction and leadership of the group in opposition on Barnet Council. Residents and voters need to see an opposition to the Tory administration, not one that endorses its agenda. 

But there is a more important battle to fight now: at the General Election. Ultimately, all housing provision can only take place within the definition and restrictions of central government funding, legislation and policy making: and the only way to make radical change that prioritises the housing needs of London’s residents is to elect a Labour government – and then a Labour Mayor. We have three outstandingly good Labour candidates here in Barnet: Sarah Sackman, Andrew Dismore, and Amy Trevethan.

When we go to vote in a few weeks’ time, we need to remember who was responsible for the mess we now find ourselves in: who instigated the so called regeneration projects that are driving people out of this borough, the easycouncil standards that have reduced everything to a question of profit before people, greed before need, or stood by and refused to act, when residents needed help?

If you don’t like what is happening now, in this borough, and you want something different, something better - then please: make sure your voice is heard in May.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

In Memoriam: Nick Goldberg

One day last year, on the day of the local elections, there was a ring on my doorbell. 

I opened the door. Standing on the step, in the rain, was a Labour party canvasser - a man, youngish, sort of, but of indeterminate age, indeterminate partly due to his resplendent greying beard - at that point he was aiming for the full Karl Marx - a broad grin, and a certain glint in his eye. I instantly recognised, from that glint, and that grin, a kindred spirit. 

It's ok, I said, trying to stop my cat, wearing a Labour rosette too, from running out of the front door: on balance, I think it's fairly likely we will be voting Labour.

I know, I know, he said: I just wanted to ring your bell, and meet you at last: Mrs Angry!

Yes! Hold on: that beard ... you're Nick Goldberg ...

We had moved in the same circles, and been acquainted online, but never spoken face to face.

I'm canvassing your road, he said, look: with my lovely husband, Romin - pointing across the road, where, in the rain, the steadfast Romin, the great love of his life, was dutifully stuffing newsletters through doors, while Nick chatted away.  

From then on, Nick became a friend: a dear friend - a comrade, fellow conspirator, a source of endless fun - and mischief. 

No one was as funny as him, in the way he was funny: scurrilous, scathing, outrageous, but his subversive qualities largely hidden behind that devastating grin, mistaken by his enemies for endorsement of their nefarious deeds, unaware they were being sent up, and undermined.

He made the most tedious political meeting bearable, by his presence: his wink across the table; the nudge when he was sitting next to you, the whispered commentary in your ear, or scribbled remarks. 

At one meeting once I noticed he was sitting next to me quietly, writing extensive notes, very seriously, listening carefully to a speaker pontificating at great length about something or other, nodding to himself as he wrote. 

This act of devotion seemed unlikely, so I peered down at what he was writing. It was a long list of the many absurdly mangled mixed metaphors spouted by the speaker in question, a bingo card of crashing political cliches - and worse - ticked off, and given scores out of ten. 

I very nearly had to leave the room, unable to contain myself, sitting there disgracefully, a middle aged woman laughing as helplessly as the schoolgirl I once was, continually in trouble with teachers for similar misbehaviour - he sitting calmly, like an innocent schoolboy, still smiling, but with that familiar gleam of unrepentant naughtiness in his eye.

At another meeting, asked to help out with organising a ballot, he was instructed to tear up pieces of paper, for voting slips, and hand one to each person. They don't trust me with scissors, he announced, to every one of us, as he went around the table, a dangerous smile fixed on his face, like a warning sign - a warning, if you could read the signs. 

Not trusted with scissors: selected as a candidate for the elections, but for the most safe Tory seat in the borough, so pointless, and a waste of his abilities. 

Inevitably he would have stood somewhere, and been elected, and been a brilliant councillor, or MP. He passionately wanted to make changes, to galvanise the Labour party into a real force for opposition to the causes of social injustice: he glowed with a slow burning fury about the impact of the government's war on the poor, the dispossessed. And he chose to work for a charitable organisation, the Zaccheus Trust , as an advocate for some of the most vulnerable members of our society, struggling with debt: as his employers explain in their tribute to him:

Nick understood that it wasn’t enough just to help the individuals who walk through Z2K’s doors. He would always want to be part of the campaigns against the policies that drive them into poverty and despair, and he had great ideas for how we could do more in future to make the world a better place.

Wanting to make the world a better place, and doing the best he could in his own way, starting with himself, and his wonderful, sweet way of dealing with people, tactful, discreet, yet offering the most gentle, loving support wherever needed, with a judgement that belied his relative youth, and the biggest bear hugs for all his friends, the warmth that spoke of the enormous capacity for love and generosity that he had: the greatest heart - a heart that in the end, was not strong enough for life, and failed him.

It might seem, in retrospect, that he knew, somehow, his time with us was limited: he said the things that we always wish we had said, but too often have not, when someone passes away: and thank God, in his case, the huge affection that he inspired in all his friends meant that everyone told him, all the time, how much they loved him. 

As we have been reminded, this week, life is short: if you put off saying those words to someone you love - there might never be another chance.

And here is the lesson for today, the day that celebrates romantic love: the truth is that lovers come and go, or let you down, and family ties are not always the ties that bind: the love of friends, and comrades, is what gets us through life, and maybe brings us the greatest joy, in the end.

One of Nick's favourite stomping grounds, of course, was twitter: when stricken with late night insomnia, more often than not, he would be there, ready to chat. He knew instinctively when you were upset, and would send you a private message, even in the early hours: are you alright? One of his last messages to me, on one of those sort of nights, was typical of his sweetness, to be treasured now, forever:
We and I in particular love you xxx

At other times, he would be off on a flight of brilliant diversion, improvising on a theme: quoting the most obscure passage of Yeats, for example, at the drop of a hat, wearing that as easily as any of his dandyish outfits, all got up in waistcoat and trilby, a roll up in his fingers, cracked up with laughter. 

No one's laughing now, Mr Goldberg. 

Your leaving us in this way is, without a doubt, the most unfunniest thing you could have done, and look - now we are all in tears.

Yeats sprang to mind, inevitably,then, when I heard he had gone: especially, inescapably, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death - a poem about the death of another young man: a different form of elemental death, by air, not by water: now brought down to earth, as we are, by his loss. 

How we will miss him.

A lonely impulse of delight 
Drove to this tumult in the clouds; 
I balanced all, brought all to mind, 
The years to come seemed waste of breath, 
A waste of breath the years behind 
In balance with this life, this death.

Nick Goldberg: born London 1981, died Bark Bay, New Zealand, February 10th 2015

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A matter of perception: the battle for West Hendon draws to a close

Cllr Devra Kay, Dan Knowles from Sawyer Fielding: residents Jackie and Kalim

The West Hendon housing Inquiry wound up on Friday, with closing submissions from Dan Knowles, from Sawyer Fielding, residents' representative Jasmin Parsons - and finally from Mr Nigel King, QC, for Barnet Council and Barratt London.

We shall return to those closing statements later, but let us note a remark made at the end by Neil King QC, in reply to a comment by Jasmin Parsons, at the end of her final statement, explaining how upset she had been by the behaviour of certain representatives of the development partners present throughout the Inquiry, who sat while residents gave their statements, laughing, on their phones, or even, in one case, falling asleep. She had found that, she said 'very, very, very offensive'.

Mr King said he was sorry, if she had found the behaviour on the part of some - not quite sure who, he said, had been inappropriate: not intended, he remarked.  He appeared to be quite sincere in his apology, which was only right, after all, because Jasmin was correct - we all had observed such behaviour, throughout the days of the Inquiry, notably by some officers from the Capita run council services, one of whom in particular appeared to be deeply amused by the proceedings, and apparently regarded it all as a sort of game, smirking throughout, and joking with colleagues. 

Neil King, QC, with Zack Simons

Another senior officer had actually slept through some of the statements made to the Inquiry: Mrs Angry had considered poking him with her pen, to wake him up, paid as he is, after all, by the tax payers of Broken Barnet, a handsome salary to stay awake and at least pretend to take an interest in the proceedings - but the temptation to leave him there, with his coffee dangerously poised on top of his laptop keyboard, risking the loss of so much outsourced crapitorially managed data, was too strong, and she left him to carry on, oh dear: caught on film by the BBC camera present throughout the hearing.

This lack of respect for residents, and the terrible situation they find themselves in, the loss of their homes, and their community, was evident throughout the long years of the so called regeneration: there was never any likelihood that this would not have become embedded in the culture of the local authority, now staffed by Capita.

The men from Barratts, by and large, and in contrast to some of the other parties, sat still throughout the Inquiry, impassively, their expressions devoid of any expression: watchful, attentive to detail - unmoved. Calculating, of course, and during the course of the Inquiry attempts were made to appear to improve offers to leaseholders. Why now, at this point - so late, and so little? Because at last the developers, if not Barnet Council, had realised the impact that the Inquiry would have, if not on their plans for Hendon Waterside, in terms of reputational damage.

The real impact of the Inquiry is there, right there where it really hurts: the full glare of publicity and media interest on the testimony presented by the residents of the estate who have been so badly treated in the course of this development. 

To some extent, some of the blame for this, seen from the point of view of Barratts, might be thought to be in the hands of Capita, who have been in charge of the valuation and purchase of the leasehold properties, and Barnet Homes, whose officers had responsibility for tenants, many of whom have made very serious allegations about bullying and harassment in the course of the process leading to their eviction and forcible removal from their homes: allegations that we must ensure have full investigation. 

But it is in the power of Barratts now to mitigate at least some of the terrible injustice served to the people of West Hendon as a result of the development which they have imposed on them, excluding them, making their lives utter misery throughout the process, and dispossessing them, disenfranchising them, effectively, from any part in the new scheme. 

Only since residents have dug in their heels, engaged in direct action, and made their voices heard, have any concessions, such as they are, been made, or efforts to address the needs of some of the residents in really awful personal circumstances. But it is too little, too late.

Barratts have been given public land, and allowed to do exactly as they please by a council indifferent to the consequences for the residents of the estate, indeed at times appearing to be acting as the agent of the developer rather than properly fulfilling its duty to residents, whether in West Hendon, or anywhere else in the borough. The problems of conflict of interest caused by Capita's stranglehold on this authority's services, and its part in the final stage of the current phase of development are as yet unaddressed.

The real cost of this development, in terms of value for money for taxpayers, the considerations of financial loss due to the 'transfer' of public land to a private developer - we cannot evaluate that as yet, while Barnet Council continues to withhold the viability study. But the cost in human terms, the effect on the people now losing their homes: that was clear to see, and painful to listen to, over the long days of the Housing Inquiry. Clear to see, and painful to listen to, if you were not asleep, or playing with your phone -  or, yes: exchanging jokes with your colleagues.

On Tuesday morning, for example, we heard a submission from resident Shahnaz, who spoke quietly, but with great courage, supported by Jasmin, of her situation, living, as she said, in fear, since she first received the eviction notice.

Shahnaz, who has health problems, was desperately worried about where she would live: would she end up on the street? She dreaded a future without the support of her neighbours, isolated again.

She said that she felt 'harassed and bullied' by a Barnet housing officer and as she spoke about her treatment by him, began to cry. She bravely continued, but cried again when claiming she had been further harassed by a council officer's phone calls, and had become too frightened to open her post. The same officer, she said, had had the audacity to state in court that a housing assessment had been arranged - for the very day of the court hearing.

Other residents have also alleged that they were duped into not attending court hearings, on the advice of a housing officer. Those that did not attend, as advised, received eviction notices, of course.

Jasmin held her arm as she continued with the admission that she had nearly taken an overdose, as her anxiety had been exacerbated. She spoke of the constant noise and pollution caused by the construction, from 7 in the morning, to 6.30 pm at night: she is unable to rest during the day.

Shahnaz spoke with gratitude of the support from her community, and especially Jasmin.

Barnet Council, she observed, seems only to care about profit.

The next speaker was Hodan, a woman whose testimony, delivered with evident distress, but great dignity, was impossible to hear without feeling enraged - and needing to fight back tears of your own.

Hodan, who has lived at West Hendon for more than two decades.

Hodan told the Inquiry she has lived in West Hendon for 23 years, in a community of neighbours , she said, who have lived together for decades. She has three children, and works as a carer. She described how, as neighbours, she and others would often meet while their children played on the swings and slides of York Memorial Park. This has sadly ended, she said, because of the building site, the constant noise, the pollution, and for safety reasons. 

We were all told we would be 'regenerated' and would all be back together, if we so wished, she said. She stopped here, for a moment, overcome with emotion, before explaining, with Jasmin supporting her, that her toddler was born with multiple congentital abnormalities. He suffers with recurrent chest infections and breathing difficulties, and this has meant that she is unable to have any windows open, because of the dust and pollution. 

The council are trying to move her family, she said, into a building where the bedroom windows faced onto a garage, and which is right on the Edgware Road, with heavy traffic, and pollution. Her current home is suitable for her family's needs, a comfortable maisonette, that looks out on to the beautiful Welsh Harp, with all of its wildlife: and York Memorial Park.

The accommodation for secure tenants, outside the luxury development: with a view of the kebab shops and garages of the Edgware Road

When her child is ill in the night, which is often, she is able to take him downstairs, to nurse him, and calm him, without her two other children being disturbed.

Like other residents, her family had been promised 'like for like' accommodation in the new housing, but they had been excluded, and individual circumstances ignored.

Mr King had the grace not to put questions to either of these valiant women. Indeed what could he ask, without appearing to be appallingly insensitive? It was noticeable that as the sequence of similar statements continued throughout the week he built a wall of cardboard boxes between his table and the witness seat. Who could blame him? 

Mrs Angry wondered once or twice during the Inquiry how it would be if he were presenting the case for the residents, rather than the developers and Barnet Council, and what a great shame that his skills as counsel were not matched by an equally robust barrister for the community being torn apart by the development.

No questions, but in his closing submission on the last day, Mr King informed us that Hodan had been offered a property on the estate at Gadwall House, which has been assessed as 'suitable for her needs' by Barnet Homes Medical Assessment Team, following a 'detailed review' of her medical evidence. Good news: but why now, after leading her to expect her lot was to be shoved with the rest of the unwanted secure tenants on the gyratory system by the Edgware Road?

Later that morning Jasmin read out a statement by Katrina, another resident with mental and physical health problems, on a temporary tenancy of five years, who said she had had not had a proper assessment of her housing or medical needs.

Another statement by resident Kirsty, living in sub standard conditions, obliged to throw out her baby's Moses basket, due to mould caused by damp: finding out that as a non secure tenant she will be 'decanted' perhaps to another 'regeneration' estate.

Katrina's mother Sandra, had lived on the estate since 1992. Her fate, as a 'privileged' secure tenant? Moved to the building on the gyratory system, outside the new scheme, overlooking the kebab shops & toxic fumes of the Edgware Road.

Leaseholder Kalim spoke now, in two statements, one with a neighbour and fellow activist, Mr Siddiqi, explaining the lack of consultation, the refusal of Barnet Council to disclose the viability scheme. His own statement, which in the interests of transparency, Mrs Angry will disclose she helped him to complete, was a powerful indictment of the sense of betrayal felt by not only leaseholders and tenants alike. 

Kalim objected strongly to the use of the term 'decanting', for the removal of non secure tenants:

... as if the individuals concerned were some sort of liquid commodity, disposable: it is a demeaning term, dehumanising, reducing the lives of men, women and children to nothing more than that of an object, a pawn in a game, to be moved around, at the whim of the council, powerless, without rights, without dignity. It is an abominable way to treat us.

He referred as all the residents do, to the fierce sense of community felt by the residents of the estate, leaseholders, and tenants alike, to the fact that their campaign group was called 'Our West Hendon' so as to reclaim a sense of ownership over their own futures. The word community, he said, is not one understood by the London Borough of Barnet,

Where we see a community, they see nothing more than a collection of individuals, representing a problem to be resolved: an obstruction to be removed. 
He accused them of engaging not only in social cleansing, but gerrymandering. He is absolutely right, of course.

After lunch, resident Alex made his statement. Another non secure tenant with health issues, dependent on the support of his community: friends, and neighbours, but also, like so many of the residents with their own needs and vulnerabilities, genuinely worried as much about the impact of the new development on the Welsh Harp, and the wildlife there, as their own fates. Alex did express the real fear that he would end back on the streets, where he used to live. He has turned his life around, with the support he found in his neighbours, and his community: what does the future hold for him now?

It should be remembered that many of the non secure tenants moved to West Hendon over the last decade are vulnerable in some way: some believe this has been a deliberate policy, moving in residents who are easier to exclude from any obligation to rehouse, and less likely to be able to resist the process of being 'decanted'. Again, the human cost of such contempt for the housing needs and human rights of those more vulnerable members of society is extreme: it must be acknowledged, and put on record. 

What has happened at West Hendon, in my view, in regard to these residents is outrageous, a cynical act of exploitation, trading in lives as if they were expendable, and of no consequence. 

As Cllr Kay remarked, there is something rotten in the estate of West Hendon - and it is, in Mrs Angry's view, a sickness we need to eradicate, spreading as it is from the Town Halls of  all the Rotten Boroughs of this country, and beyond, eating into the fabric of our democracy like the damp and rot left to devour the concrete buildings of the estate itself.

Also making a statement that afternoon was Father John Hawkins, the vicar from St John the Evangelist, West Hendon, who has lived in the parish since 1999, and has had a role more recently as Chair of the residents' partnership board. He is an admirable man, Fr Hawkins: a minister who has no difficulty at all in doing what he should do, as a pastoral leader: tell the truth, and support the people of his parish, speaking out with authority - and courage: rumour has it that he told one local politician exactly where to go, when he tried to admonish him for daring to undertake such a role. 

Fr John Hawkins, and fellow board member.

At the Inquiry, on behalf of residents on the Partnership Board, he gave detailed criticisms of the way in which the new development was affecting local residents.

He spoke of broken promises, 'diluted' pledges: to provide new homes to residents, not to build on York Memorial Park. Of the broken promise in 2009 by former Tory council leader, now MP, Mike Freer, to turn non secure tenancies into secure ones.

He spoke of the lack of consultation: of decisions involving significant changes to the scheme, put to the board too late for any meaningful input from them. Of the failure to get senior councillors such as Tom Davey and leader Richard Cornelius to attend meetings with residents, or even to acknowledge the invitations. Of the confusion caused by the processes such as valuation of property to residents, many of them vulnerable, and already feeling 'disempowered'.

It should be noted, of course, that no Tory councillor had the guts to attend any of the Inquiry, to defend their own iniquitous housing policy, or even witness the proceedings - whereas Labour councillors attended every day, all day, gave statements to the Inquiry, and supported their residents, especially Devra Kay, and Adam Langleben.

Father John was asked by Mr King if it was not in fact the case that the original pledge had not promised to leave York Park untouched, but referred to it being 'redesigned'. Ah. Oh really, thought Mrs Angry: and how does 'redesigned', Mr King, become interpreted as 'will be given to developers to build on'?

Wednesday at the Inquiry saw more testimony from West Hendon residents. 

Zubna, a resident with many serious health problems, and who uses a wheelchair, took her place at the witness table, and made what was clearly an enormous amount of courage to make her statement: her hand shook as she drank some water before she began, and she spoke with eyes, closed, with no little effort, but evident determination. 

As she had done with many residents, Jasmin Parsons sat with her for reassurance, her arm around her, and holding her hand. She remained sitting with her, in this position, during the adjournment, after Zubna had so bravely spoken of the extent of her medical condition, the complex, intimate details of her illness and disabilities. 

That a woman of such fragility and vulnerability should be compelled to come to a public Inquiry and expose herself and her needs to the scrutiny of strangers in this way, persecuted as she is in her own home, threatened with the loss of that home, speaks of the desperation and intolerable level of fear being experienced by residents over so many years, and now coming to the point of crisis as Barnet Council and Barratts and Capita conspire to force these people out of the way of the luxury development that has been agreed without their involvement, without their consent, acting with complete indifference as to the devastation that this will have on their lives. 

An adjournment was necessary because a sudden outburst of heavy drilling had erupted behind the room, and kept interrupting, drowning out Zubna's words, spoken with such difficulty, an ironic replication of the conditions in which she lives at home, trapped on a construction site, and of the way in which her voice, and those of the many vulnerable tenants on the West Hendon estate, is marginalised, ignored and ultimately silenced by the developers and the local authority.

Another non secure resident, Gazaleh, also coping with disabilities, has been moved three times in four years, and spoke of her latest removal from one 'regeneration' estate, Stonegrove, to the latest one here at West Hendon. 

She said that for a regeneration scheme to be meaningful, it has to be inclusive: but West Hendon was degeneration, not regeneration.

A statement was read on behalf of Peggy, an elderly resident too ill to attend the Inquiry. She spoke as all residents do, of her love for the park, and the closeness to nature; the peace of mind - all members of the community enjoyed such a lovely, open green space. 

Barratts, she said, look like they are only interested in those who are young, and working.

The elderly and disabled who were able to live in the flats provided for those on lower incomes: now it looks like such a way of life are just, she said: 'dreams of the past'.

Why should the poor, asked Peggy, be disadvantaged, just because other people can afford it? What happens to the rank and file, who have been living here all their lives, and still want to live here?

Jasmin, who had read out her statement, added that this tenant, as others have stated, had been told there was no need to attend court, that was a mere formality - and she now had an eviction notice requiring her to leave her home by March 31st.

Later that day we heard from another long term resident and leaseholder, Lee, who had taken nine days off work to attend the Inquiry, and sat quietly, steadfastly, all the way through, her beautiful, sad green eyes gazing on the witnesses and proceedings, watching the end of her forty five years in her home in West Hendon, minimised, trivialised, beaten down into a state of irrelevance by officers from Barnet, and representatives of Barratts, and Mr Neil King, QC. 

At last it was her time to have her say, and she sat at the table to read her statement, handwritten, and written from the heart: 

West Hendon, she wrote, was a little village, nestling in a small green valley with breathtaking views and such peace, the only sound you could hear was the sound of the birds singing.

Not so now!

Views have been destroyed by building works and bird-song replaced by the unbelievable noise coming from the construction site ...

When construction started at the back of my home in January 2014, what was once a small green hill, with trees and daffodils, was dug up and became at the time mountains of  earth.

On top of one of the piles, lay the daffodils, torn from their roots, just like we are all going to be.

March came, and despite laying discarded, those daffodils bloomed. 

They refuse to give up: and so do we.

As well as hearing from residents in this session, we heard from one or two non resident witnesses, that the council and developers, and indeed the counsel for council and developers may not have been awfully keen to hear from: such as Mr George Turner, a writer and campaigner who has a good deal of experience in fighting  'regeneration' schemes such as the Heygate scheme in Southwark.

He had come to talk about the issue of the refusal to disclose the viability study, disputing the claim by Barnet and Barratts that the reduction in affordable housing is due to a need to meet the requirements of a 'mixed and balanced' community, and because not to reduce the quota would compromise the financial viability of the whole scheme. 

He discussed the London Plan, and the scale of the West Hendon scheme, which he said created its own community and therefore should in fact require the maximum amount of affordable housing: after all it was larger, he said, than the city where his mother lived, which had its own cathedral.

Mr Turner probed the interesting idea put forward by the development partners that there was an economic need for the scheme: he referred us to the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, in the nineteen thirties, who suggested that if you dig a hole, and fill it back in again, that will promote economic activity. That seemed, to Mrs Angry, pretty much a perfect description of what was going on, down by the Welsh Harp, courtesy of Barnet Council, and Barratt London.

After a reminder of the accepted view that Compulsory Purchase Orders are by nature a breach of human rights, but must follow due process to ensure that there really is a public benefit that overcomes those private rights, with breathtaking audacity, Mr Turner moved on from a referral to a CPO process in Tottenham, and the Shell case now being considered in the High Court by Justice Collins, to the Doon Street case in which our very own Neil King, QC, had been involved, but, goodness me, one in which he had insisted on, and been granted, the production of the viability study. 

Mr King later said yes, well - that had been a planning matter: the implication being that this is a CPO Inquiry, and therefore the study was not relevant - but as we have observed right from the beginning of the hearing, Barnet and Barratts have constantly cited the viability study as proof of their need to proceed with the CPOs, and therefore it is reasonable to expect, in Mrs Angry's view, that this study must be seen and reviewed.

Another useful submission came later that day from a Labour councillor from Brent, Roxanne Mashari, member for Welsh Harp ward: the reservoir is shared between the two boroughs. She told us that it was important to note the scale and breadth of opposition in Brent to the development: there had been a unanimous, cross party agreement on the issue. 

Cllr Mashari made a very interesting observation about the planning meeting in Barnet which approved the plans, and which she had attended, having been at the time the Cabinet member for Environment. 

She said the presentation to the meeting had been of extraordinary length - 20 or 30 minutes - and described it as, well: not as balanced as you would expect from professional officers, who appeared to be clearly in favour of the development. 

It is certainly very difficult to see where in this process, in Mrs Angry's view, the balancing act in favour of the rights of the residents of West Hendon has been given equal consideration, and protection, measured against the huge degree of support given to the implementation of the developers' requirements, especially in the light of the change of emphasis from a scheme that included the accommodation of residents, to one that effectively excludes them. 

And there is now the added factor of the potential conflict of interest posed by the role of Capita in so many different capacities. We find ourselves now, in Barnet and no doubt elsewhere, beset by a diminishing capacity for scrutiny, accountability: transparency - all the fine aspirations of the Nolan Principles, the pretence and platitudes of the localism act, worthless in the face of such relentlessly anti-democratic, fawning accommodation of the needs of the private sector, at the cost of the public interest, even, as we see in West Hendon, of our human rights. 

Time to take a stand, I think, Mr Pickles, don't you?

Part of the day's proceedings was spent in consideration of the submission by Jasmin Parsons, who tried valiantly to present the case of tenants and leaseholders on the estate. She recounted the now familiar facts: not the same sort of facts so treasured by the counsel for the Acquiring Authority: useful conclusions that appeared to have no rebuttal, but a description of the view from the other side: where the evidence of injustice has no glib, facile presentation from a top ranking barrister, but depends on the humanity and resourcefulness of the residents themselves.

Jasmin began to summarise her statement: with a typically modest understatement she explained that the fight against the development had 'taken up a lot of my life'. The worry, stress and confusion that residents faced meant she was constantly 'on call', all week - as well as having to work - our lives, she said, have been put on hold, indefinitely.

As she spoke, one of the Capita men was laughing.
She talked about her love for the community where she has lived for so long, in the place where she grew up, played as a child, brought up her own family: faced her own challenges - and then began what was really almost a eulogy: a reminder of the history of West Hendon and the Welsh Harp, from its creation as a reservoir, to the pleasure grounds that featured in Victorian music hall songs, 'The Jolliest Place that's Out' ... the first greyhound races took place here, as did tests of the first tank and - oh so much more that no developer, or Tory councillor, or Crapita clone will ever care about. She talked about the wildlife, and the impact of the new development: will it, asked Jasmin, become the stone crescent desert that is Grahame Park, like the dark, concrete jungle of Colindale - or will it be the squandered wasteland of West Hendon?

Thursday was set aside for members of the Inquiry to make a site visit, and there was no hearing in the Town Hall. 

Mrs Angry had made her own site visit on Sunday, with West Hendon councillor Devra Kay, in order to check out the evidence unearthed in the borough archives, which contradicted assertions made by the council and developers that there was no memorial association with York Park. Jasmin kindly made us a cup of tea, and took us around the estate and Welsh Harp: tracing the line of the roads destroyed in the bombing, and seeing where the park expanded, post war: an inconvenient truth ignored by the planning officers, whose curious failure to consult the borough's own archival records regarding the matter is still unexplained. 

A number of residents affected by the scheme came up to talk to us - including a grandmother who had lived there for thirty eight years; a single mother resisting the fate being assigned to her by housing officers. The sense of anger, and betrayal, was clear, as well as a feeling of stubborn resistance.

Back on Friday, though, the last day: merely to hear submissions from Dan Knowles, and Jasmin, and then, in closing from Neil King.

Dan Knowles is acting for 19 leaseholders in the course of the CPO process, but he is also acting, unpaid, as an advocate for tenants on the estate: a public spirited, admirable gesture without which many residents would have no access of any sort to any informed advice as to their circumstances. 

Measure their position against that of the developers, and council: and then, please:  tell me how this is a fair process, and not naturally weighted against the best interests of those without the means to pay for the best legal representation?

It was the last morning, the last day, and the end of an emotional two weeks for residents. For Jasmin, tired, and run out of time, it was clearly a difficult moment. As she sat and listened to the QC's final submission, to which there was no right of reply, she became upset, and left the room. 

Mr King, busy dismissing opposing views on certain 'facts', or presenting them as 'a matter of perception', had to be told by the Inspector to stop talking, as Miss Parsons was distressed, which had escaped his attention. 

He looked slightly abashed, and later had the decency to thank all the objectors, with sincerity, for their contributions to the Inquiry - as well as apologising for the behaviour of certain individuals out of his sightline throughout the hearing.

But who could blame Jasmin for feeling as she did, unable to counter what she felt were unfair points in his summary?

I was pretty cross myself, albeit on a rather smaller scale, noting that my own evidence about York Memorial Park, unchallenged by questioning earlier in the week, when it was too risky, was now, when it could not be contradicted, devalued and misrepresented: described as 'repeated but unsubstantiated accusations that the inquiry has been misled on the status of York Park', ignoring the evidence about the enlargement of the park, and the number of memorial services from 1941 to at least 1950 (only as far as I got in the short time available) wrongly dismissed as one event in 1950. 

 Part of Barratts encroachment on York Memorial park: a multi story tower

Not sure what Mr King's benchmark for substantiation is: but he advises 'the position is straightforward, and should not be contentious, if examined in an objective manner'. 

Ah: objectivity - that quality not required, it seems, in the valuation of leaseholders' properties - as we heard from Capita's Mr Paul Watling, who said that ultimately, it was his personal judgement that counted.

For Jasmin, to have to listen silently to the long sequence of rebuttal of her case was unbearable. Having been the support of everyone else in this Inquiry, and all the long years before it, now she was the one who was vulnerable, and in need of comfort.

The Inquiry hearing is over: now the Inspector, Zoe Hill - who presided over the proceedings with great diplomacy and fairness, it must be said - will go away and consider her findings, to be presented to the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles. The outcome is unlikely to emerge before the election.

In the meanwhile the residents of West Hendon live on, as they have done for years, in a state of fear and anxiety, leaseholders unable to sell or move, even if they want to, tenants facing either removal to the holding block on the gyratory system, or 'decantation' to wherever the council dictates. Those that continue to live there do so in the hellish conditions of a construction site. 

Last night the BBC's One Show included a very interesting item on the West Hendon story: watch Adelaide Adams describe her life as 'living in a prison', and cry when she explains how she only wants to live out her days in her own home. And then watch the ineffable Tory leader, Richard Cornelius, in his silk cravat, who described the properties for whom he and his Tory colleagues have had responsibility as landlord - the homes of people like Adelaide, and Zubna, Alex and Hodan, and all the others - as 'grotty', refuse to address the reality of what this development means for the community of West Hendon:


Adelaide and all the other residents, especially those who have lived here for so long, are being robbed of not just the homes they love, but the community they belong to: a network of neighbours, friends, a feeling of belonging and stability, betrayed by the council that is supposed to protect their best interests in favour of the facilitation of private development, on public land, handed over in secret, for luxury accommodation from which they are excluded, and very few residents of this borough will be able to afford. This is a simply scandalous situation, and has perpetrated a terrible injustice in the treatment of the residents of this estate.

A few days after the bombing of West Hendon, in February 1941, a memorial service was held in the centre of the worst destruction, and three thousand people stood in the midst of the wreckage, on the scattered debris, bordered by the remains of the many hundreds of houses that took the full force of the massive explosion, to mourn the loss of their loved ones, friends, and neighbours.

Amongst the local clergy who led prayers was the Rural Dean of Hendon, the Reverend Norman Boyd, who spoke eloquently and movingly of the terrible desolation of the scene before them.

Before serving the people of Hendon, Reverend Boyd had spent many years as a minister in Bethnal Green, where he was responsible for the spiritual well being of another working class community, noted for its resilience in the face of extreme hardship: a community whose close knit bonds became, post war, the subject of that classic study of working class life by Young & Wilmott: Family and Kinship in East London.  

This was of course a hugely influential work in twentieth century sociology, and standard text for A level students like me, all those years ago: sociology a subject in itself which was the basis for raising my own political consciousness, in the perhaps unlikely setting of an admittedly unusually liberal and academic Catholic convent school.

The central theme of Family & Kinship, the lament for a lost way of life, a working class culture of complex relationships, extended families, lost in the transition of 'slum clearance', from East End to the new outer London suburbs, and the alienation of life on a new housing estate, might seem sentimentalised, and outdated, to us now. At the time of reading it, it seemed to strike a chord with me, brought up in the emotional sterility of semi-detached life in Edgware, with an unhappy mother whose own family had been part of a rich culture of working class, largely Irish Catholic background in a north eastern mining town, living in deep poverty, but sustained by its own network of family, faith, friends and community. 

But here is the epilogue to Young and Wilmott's thesis, forged in the crucible of twenty first century Britain: the lesson learned, and another one ignored. The post war housing built in West Hendon, on this estate gave new homes for local people, and kept their community intact. 

The buildings were not some anonymous, alienating collection of tower blocks in the middle of nowhere, but built on a human scale, in a beautiful setting, where people's homes looked onto each other, and where they were able to form a new network of neighbours. 

Newcomers from a myriad of diverse cultures have joined them, and settled happily here, presenting a model of what we must become, if we are to progress at all: not a Big Society, but a small one, a community: a collection of neighbourhoods like the one now being torn apart, here in West Hendon. 

And communities take time to evolve, flourishing in the right environment, even in the worst of circumstances. Location, architecture: these factors play a part: what matters is that people are given the chance to form relationships, and treated with dignity, and respect for their needs. Everything, in short, that our Tory politicians, in government, and here in Barnet, refuse to countenance, in their desire to put private interests before the rights of the individual.

Now in West Hendon, the alienation of life in a tower block will be reserved for the wealthy investors, the off plan buyers, the affluent property buyer willing to pay for an exclusive view of the Welsh Harp, fringed by the trimmings of what was once York Memorial Park, and haunted, we might imagine, by the slightest echo of a fearful rushing noise: and the sound of silence.

Mrs Angry is now taking a break from blogging. Normal service may be resumed, as and when.