Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Meet the Met

Senior police officers are a rare sight nowadays in Deptford, but on 7 December we are led to believe the Commissioner himself (Mr Bernard Hogan-Howe) will be paying us a visit. I say led to believe because as Crosswhatfields? set out on 5 Feb 2011 Move along there - Police notebook - Betfred update plod do not always turn up when they say they will.

6.30 for 7.00pm till 8.00pm at Lewisham College, Lewisham Way, SE4 1UT. Full details and how to book a ticket are on the Met website

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wandsworth Housing Policies

Earlier today the BBC reported that Wandsworth Council is considering introducing a policy under which Wandsworth council tenants could lose their homes if they lost their jobs.
Jobless 'may lose council homes', warns Wandsworth

On Wandsworth Council's hompage I find a link "Refusal to work could cost council home" which leads to a news release dated Saturday 12 November.

Near the start we have:
"This week councillors will be asked to back a new 'Housing into Work' strategy that aims to encourage new council tenants to find work or improve their job prospects through training or volunteering."

but oddly enough no mention of which committee or which day. (It is in fact the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting at 7.30pm on Tuesday 15 November 2011 meeting in Room 123, Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street SW18 2PU.)

The release goes on to say inter alia:
"If the policy is adopted, people would be given a council home on the condition that they find work or enrol on a training course. If they fail to stick to their side of the bargain they would face the prospect of losing that home. The new rules will only apply to selected new tenancies - current tenants will not be affected."

Councillor Paul Ellis is quoted as saying:
"We want to help people move on in life. By providing low cost housing on the condition that someone takes up work our expectation is that this will act as a launch pad towards more housing choices to buy or rent elsewhere and to move on, freeing up social housing for people who really need it. Fixed term tenancies will ensure social housing is a starting point, not an end point."

Note the way in which fixed term tenancies are slipped in.

Turning to the committee report itself this is an alarmingly thin (six page) document entitled:
Report by the Director of Housing on proposals for a Housing into Work Strategy (pdf)

The report itself starts:
"The Council’s Housing into Work Strategy is set in the context of robust central government policy proposals in relation to making work pay and welfare reform. National policy, as set out by the Coalition Government in its Programme for Government and which is relevant to these proposals, includes a review of the welfare system, the provision of incentives to move into employment and a commitment to end child poverty with the policy aim of moving people into work and making work pay."

A hypertext link to the 'Programme for Government'(better known as the Coalition Agreement and the only background document cited) does not work. No surprise to cynics who have read the Coalition Agreement and know that it says nothing about fixed term tenancies or evicting tenants who lose their jobs. Over recent months there has been considerable comment and discussion of such proposals in journals such as Inside Housing, the housing law blog Nearly Legal and south London social landlord Family Mosaic has recently published research that it commissioned into fixed term tenancies 'Changing direction' and many other places beside, but Wandsworth officers choose not to share such information with councillors.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the document is the extraordinary claim that: "The Director of Finance comments that all costs incurred in relation to the implementation of these proposals will be met from existing Housing Department budgets." This is not a claim that any housing professional would make as there are simply far too many variables to consider. How many tenants will acted against for failing to get a job?. How many judges will actually grant possesion to the council? How many wives and children of evicted tenants will have to be housed as homeless after such evictions? What staff resources will be necessary to police the policies?

In the absense of either methods of calculation or estimates of cost I can only suspect that junior accountant, with no expertise in housing matters, has simply rubber stamped a matter (s)he perceives as too political to argue about.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Environmental Justice: The Thames Tunnel

The internet is currently buzzing with stories and comments regarding Thames Water's proposals for a sewage storage tunnel under the river Thames. The project was approved by government when Tony Blair was premier and is now approved by coalition. As I found out on Thursday at the Thames Estuary Partnership's Annual Forum the current minister Mr Richard Benyon MP is a firm supporter of the project. Unusually for a government minister he answered questions from the floor and it was clear that he was not just depending on a narrow civil servant's briefing, but that he had extensive personal knowledge of the subject. It is very clear that the project is going ahead.

On 4 November Thames Water announced the 2nd round of consultation on the project and on their website they make much of their "increased use of brownfield land" for the main tunnel drive sites. Thames justify this up by reference to inter alia "potentially serious health and safety risks to river users during the construction phase." The risks themselves are unspecified.

Here in Deptford the previously preferred bore site near Borthwick Wharf, where spoil could have left by river, has been replaced by a site in Deptford Church Street, where spoil will leave by road. According to Londonist a bore site at Barn Elms, Barnes has been replaced as the preferred option by a site at Carnwath Road, Wandsworth.

The picture is not entirely clear, but it is hard not to suspect that what has actually happened is that sites near middle class riverside developments have been replaced by sites in poorer areas. At this point I experience a feeling of déjà vu because some six years or so back I found myself helping to edit a petition opposing the Crossrail Bill. The organisation I was involved with did not oppose the line itself, but was fiercely opposed to what was then commonly known as the Hanbury Street Hole. This hole was a main shaft for removing the spoil from the tunneling for the railway line rather proposed in the heart of east London's Bengali community. In the face of many such petitions Crossrail eventually realised the error of their ways and dug their shaft elsewhere.

Environmental Justice
The term / concept of Environmental Justice originated in the United States in the 1980s in response to a realisation that polluting industries were disproportionally located in areas with large black populations.

In England there is a direct relationship between polluting industries and poverty clearly set out by Carolyn Stephens and others in a 2001 briefing paper for Friends of the Earth, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Economic & Social Research Council:
Environmental justice: Rights and means to a healthy environment for all (pdf)

More information about mapping such inequalities can be found in Muki Haklay & others' 2007 paper:
Bottom-up Environmental Justice in the UK: a fairer, greener London. (pdf)

At some point there will have to be a planning application of some sort for the Thames Tunnel and although nobody is entirely clear, in the light of government proposals regarding planning, who will be deciding the application it will require a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by the decision maling body (or bodies). A proper EIA can only be conducted if Thames Water are required to submit, as part of their Environmental Statement, a fully verifiable report comparing the socio-economic data of original sites, preferred sites and other sites considered.

A public meeting with Thames Tunnel representatives will take place on Tuesday 15th November at 7.30pm in the Salvation Army Hall on Mary Ann Gardens, Deptford. See:

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Urban Politics of Deptford Regeneration

In my inbox this morning I find a short article by Portuguese academic Daniel Azeredo Lobo on the politics of the regeneration process we in Deptord enjoy / suffer / put up with * in University College London's journal Opticon . (*Delete as applicable)

Opticon1826, Issue 11, Autumn 2011 (pdf)

Short summary of the article:

"Report for planners on the urban politics of Deptford regeneration" is presented as an urban politics case that, focusing on a key discourse politics, analyses an unjust process of spatialization of recent regeneration initiatives in the district of Deptford in the London Borough of Lewisham. This report intends to take forward the debate on the instrumental role of spatial planning in bringing civil society to the center of regeneration policies and practices, and by adding to the discussion on the dangers of previously-sought planning agendas by local and regional government for the creation of a unified vision of place identity, that allow an unequal allocation of intervention power which leads mainly to the reinforcement of partnerships with the market sector for the sole sake of inward investment.

Short biographyof the author:

Daniel Azeredo Lobo (1982), born in V. N. de Gaia (Portugal), concluded his diploma in Architecture and Urbanism at the Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon (FAUTL) in 2006. Whilst studying he collaborated with two urbanism investigation groups at the FAUTL (Lisboa Multicidade and GESTU). In 2004 he won a scholarship to study at Faculty of Civil Architecture in Milan.
He worked at the architecture studios Herman Hertzberger Architectuurstudio (Amsterdam, 2006) and Foster and Partners (London, 2007-08), and has been working as a freelance architect-urbanist since 2008. Furthermore he has been collaborating since 2010 as a freelance researcher with an urbanism investigation group from FAUTL (GESTUAL), and developing his own research.
He was recently awarded an MSc in Urban Studies at the University College London where he developed a thesis on Urban Social Movements in Portugal.