"Dear poor people, go away and stop depressing property prices'

By Emma Dent Coad: zzzzzz ..... more boring generic architecture

Vultures are gathering over North Kensington.
 The resident status quo of long-standing bohos, locals and immigrants, BBC employees and creative types is being toppled by the closing of the Beeb, migration due to housing benefit caps, and the relentless Notting Hill-ification of the area. Estate agents are licking their chops.

After one landlord was allowed to turn a building in Kensal Town employment zone into a money-minting student hostel [link to website], just before the borough’s Core Strategy was adopted that would have prevented it, now other local landlords are trying their luck, with a tentative planning application here and there. The ‘like for like’ retail/office units at ground level to replace lost warehouse space are empty, a symbol of the utter futility of Planning regulations in certain situations.

White Knight Laundry, a family-owned business for three generations and the last vestige of what was a laundresses’ area, has just closed with the loss of 75 jobs; the new owner hopes to parachute - guess what? – yet another banal design for student flats there instead [link to story]And yet another landlord, of Garrow House, a block of studio flats, formerly used for people with visual impairment, is simply evicting the current occupants to make room for more profitable rich student accommodation. [link to website]

Planning stands by and does nothing. There is no local plan for the area and no one seems to care. And another 50 individuals or couples (and shamefully some families with children in bedsits) are put on the scrapheap, or sent to Dagenham.

And the Council is creaming in £.8m in a one-off ‘New Homes Bonus’, mainly from allowing student accommodation to be built, but will lose long-term on Council tax as students are exempt.

Around 50 of the 100 residents per month asking for housing advice have been hit by Housing Benefit cuts; many will have to move out. Bedroom Tax will hit 854 households by an average £18 per week. Some will not be able to sustain this in the long or short term; many will have to move out.

Council rents have gone up 30% in the past five years, and are threatened to rise higher than predicted; many will have to move out. Housing association rents could go stratospheric. And anyone still clinging on by their finger-nails at that point will be hit by Universal Credit.

While the Council is going through the process of challenging Census returns that state we have lost cc10,000 residents in the past ten years, the Leader has suggested spending £50m of Council taxpayers' money to buy land and build housing in Peterborough and move our ‘ambitious young people’ out there [link]. This is targetted at people on our housing waiting list, or Common Housing Register, currently around 9,000 households.

I will give two examples of the kind of people the Peterborough Solution is alleged to be aiming to help. Both are young men, graduates, from immigrant backgrounds, married with two children, born and bred in the borough. They are polite, hard-working – and desperate.

One had returned to his mother’s overcrowded flat and was living in one bedroom with wife and two children; he returned for work. Desperate to be re-housed in or near the borough where he shared the care of his elderly mother, he was unsuccessful and made the heart-wrenching decision, for the good of his wife and children, to move to Reading. The travelling became too much, and he lost the job he was qualified for. He now hopes to get work as a cabbie.

The other lives on a soon-to-be-redeveloped housing estate. From the earliest days he was told he would have the ‘opportunity’ to get into shared ownership, and he waited five long years for the scheme to emerge. He has now been told that, to be eligible for a quarter share of a one-bedroom flat (for four people) on his own estate, he would have to be earning a minimum of £45,000, as the rent and service charges more than double the cost of a mortgage. He is devastated.
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So here are two hard-working and talented young families who cannot afford to continue to live near their work. How would this scheme work for them? It wouldn't, and it's not designed for them, it's designed to squeeze the poor out of the borough.

The Peterborough Solution might be worth a moment’s consideration if the Council wasn’t totally complicit in forcing property prices through the roof. Overseas money is welcomed like a long-lost friend, and what Simon Jenkins [link] in the Standard calls ‘money so infinitely dodgy that no authority dares look at it’ is shovelled into property that is still returning +13% a year, an investment far better than gold. Who needs tenants? Best to keep it empty and pristine.

This must be the most short-sighted, self-destructive and idiotic proposal I have heard, ever, from this Council, which is constantly pouring money into completely barmy ‘initiatives’. 

However, the suggestion that Peterborough might like to ‘share’ our cash-haemorrhaging Opera Holland Park has its merits. Yes, the Peterborough Solution could work for Opera Holland Park; permanently and entirely.

This is the first of two blogs on the state of our borough; the second will appear on 6 March.
Emma Dent Coad is a  Labour Councillor for the Golborne Ward. She has her own blog at http://emmadentcoad.blogspot.com      
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