Sunday, 2 July 2017

Hackney Council's response to the Grenfell Tower fire

by Councillor James Peters




The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy.  We still don't know how many people died in it but we know that it was a lot.

The response to the Grenfell Tower fire continues to add to the tragedy.  Hundreds of families in Kensington are homeless because of it.  Their lives are in turmoil and most are living in hotels with little support and little idea of what their future holds, if news reports are correct.

Like 2009's Lakanal House disaster, the Grenfell Tower fire clearly has implications for every other council in the country, including Hackney Council.  There are fire safety lessons to be learnt and immediate action to be taken to reassure residents that they are safe in their homes.

In De Beauvoir, we have 6 Council-owned tower blocks and some other tall, residential buildings in private ownership.

5 of the Council-owned towers are on the De Beauvoir estate.  This photo shows 4 of them (I couldn't get all 5 in shot):


The 6th tower block is on the Kingsgate Estate, in the northern part of De Beauvoir, near Dalston.

The cladding installed on the outside of Grenfell Tower appears to have contributed to the fire spreading.  None of the Council's tower blocks in De Beauvoir has any sort of cladding.  Nor have any of the private tower blocks (from looking at them).

Since the fire, the Council's Director of Housing Services has written a series of letters to everyone living in a Council property to let them know what the Council is doing in reaction to the Grenfell Tower fire.  Much of the rest of this blog post reflects what was said in the most recent letter.



___________________________________________________


Important headlines


1.  The Council has an up-to-date fire risk assessment for every single one of its housing blocks.


2.  The Council does not use the type of cladding, or the contractor, used at Grenfell Tower. 




______________________________________________



What the Council's doing to check cladding 



  • Initial inspection: Council officers completed an initial inspection of all cladding on Hackney Council buildings within 48 hours of the Grenfell Tower fire.  No Council-managed estate blocks have the same cladding that was used on the Grenfell Tower. 
  • Further work: 
    • Specialists from a company called Cladtech Associates are visiting blocks to test any cladding.  The idea is to provide more reassurance that people are safe in their homes. Cladtech Associates may remove sections of cladding from some blocks for testing – this is nothing to be concerned about, and is part of the comprehensive fire safety review.
    • Also, Council staff are checking the fire safety of things like fire doors and dry risers. They will be easily identifiable and will carry official ID.  
Residents will not need to take any action while this work is being done.  It will not affect the buildings in any way.




______________________________________________



Other things the Council is doing



  • Getting expert advice: 
    • Independent fire adviser: in order to have an expert view on what the Council needs to do to be even more sure about fire safety in its buildings, we have appointed an independent fire adviser, someone who had been the London Fire Brigade's borough commander for Hackney.  His name is Graham Howgate.  Graham provides advice on fire safety matters and is very familiar with the borough and our estates.
    • Hackney Fire Safety Response Group: the Council has set up a group which includes Hackney’s current London Fire Brigade Borough Commander and senior members of staff from across the Council.  This group meets weekly to ensure the aims of our fire safety action plan are met and to keep the Mayor of Hackney and the Cabinet Member for Housing regularly updated.
  • A fire safety review: this will happen across the borough.  The Council will look into a range of fire safety measures, such as fire safety signs, the information given to residents and the use of sprinklers.
  • Looking at fire engine access: we've asked the London Fire Brigade to visit estates over the coming weeks to look at fire engine access into estate car parks.  It is important that vehicles are not parked in areas that could hamper the fire services access – please report any cars parked dangerously.
  • Putting all fire risk assessments online: we will put all of the Council's fire risk assessments online.  Due to the number of assessments and the need to present the raw data so that it is easy to understand, this may take a number of weeks. 

When the Council's fire safety review is complete, Council officers will consider the findings with the independent fire adviser and the Council will write again to everyone living in its properties to tell them what it plans to do in each block.  The recommendations will be agreed once the Council knows that all the fire safety measures have been addressed.




___________________________________________________



More information




If you have any questions about fire safety in your block, please visit the Council's website, where we are regularly updating a list of frequently asked questions and answers: http://news.hackney.gov.uk/update-statement-and-faqs-about-fire-safety-on-estates/   

For up-to-date fire safety information from the London Fire Brigade visit: www.london-fire.gov.uk/know-the-plan.asp and http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/staying-in-or-going-out.asp 

It is important we all do everything we can to keep our estates safe. You can report any faulty fire doors or fire safety equipment immediately to Housing Services on: 020 8356 3691. 

If you have any questions or concerns about fire safety on your block or estate, please contact the Neighbourhood Contact Centre on: 020 8356 3330. 

The Council is currently receiving a very high number of customer enquiries at the moment. If you have a question or concern which is not fire related, please refer to our website where there are contact details of how you can contact the relevant Council department: www.hackney.gov.uk/contact-us 




__________________________________________________

?
Q&A

_________________________________


Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

_________________________________

Q: I have cladding on my block, is it the same as that used on the Grenfell Tower?

A: No. The Council does not use this type of cladding and it is not on any Council-managed estate.
                    ⧫

Q: Will the Council's fire safety review look at cladding?

A:  Yes. The Council is reviewing cladding used on Council estates using an independent specialist called Cladtech Associates.  The cladding will be visually inspected and will then be tested and fire safety-rated on some estates.  Work started this week and you may see inspectors on estates in the next few days.  They will be easily identifiable and will be carrying official ID.  Again, there is no reason for concern as this forms a part of our wider fire safety check.

                    ⧫
Q: Other local authorities have already removed cladding, why hasn’t Hackney?
A: The Council completed an initial inspection of all cladding within 48 hours of the Grenfell Tower fire and found no fire safety concerns.  The Government requested samples of specific cladding.  The Council does not use any of this cladding and therefore is not required to send any for testing.  However, for added reassurance the Council will be reviewing fire safety across all estate blocks.  The Council has also commissioned an independent cladding specialist to visual inspect, test and fire rate the cladding on some estate blocks.
                    ⧫
Q: Will you be installing sprinklers in council blocks?
A: Once we have the results of our fire safety review, and on the advice of the independent fire advisory service, we will be looking at the option to install sprinklers in our estate blocks.
                    ⧫
Q: The Metropolitan Police have said that a Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer was the initial source of the Grenfell Tower, what do I do if I have one of these fridge freezers?
A: Owners should register their appliance with the manufacturer to receive any future updates and recall notices. Check you model number which is usually found on a barcode sticker behind the salad container in the fridge.
Owners of a Hotpoint fridge freezer model FF175BP (White) or FF175BG (Graphite) should call the manufacturer's freephone hotline on 0800 316 3826.
                    ⧫
Q: Will I have to evacuate my block because of the cladding like residents have in Camden?

A: No.  All of our buildings have an up to date fire risk assessment and no Council-managed estate blocks have the same type of cladding that was used on the Grenfell Tower. 

Any priority work needed following these assessments has been done and we continue to monitor fire safety, using estate inspections and our estates officers. 

In addition, all buildings have up-to-date certification for dry riser testing and electronic certificates - these are assessed twice yearly with one test and one visual inspection. The Council undertook its own inspection of cladding within 48 hours of the Grenfell Tower fire and found that no Council-managed estate blocks use the same cladding that was used on the Grenfell Tower.


Residents of Camden Council estate blocks have been asked to leave their properties temporarily for their own safety after cladding of a similar type that was used on Grenfell Tower was found.  There were also other fire safety concerns inside of the estate blocks.
                    ⧫
Q: Should residents stay put, or evacuate in the case of a fire in a block of flats?
A: The London Fire Brigade has advice about what to do in the case of a fire in a block of flats, you can see this advice below or for more information, visit: www.london-fire.gov.uk/know-the-plan-campaign.asp.
                    ⧫
Q: What if I live in one of the Council blocks that’s been told to evacuate?
A: There are some purpose-built blocks in Hackney that have an evacuation policy where the London Fire Brigade advice is to leave because of the design and layout.  You must follow this advice if you have been told specifically by the London Fire Brigade, the Council or if there are evacuation signs in your block.
                    ⧫
Q: What is the London Fire Brigade advice?
A: The London Fire Brigade advice can be seen below.
Stay put:
  • If there is a fire in your building and you are inside your purpose-built flat or maisonette, and you're not affected by the fire stay put and call 999
  • You are usually safer staying in your own flat or maisonette unless heat or smoke is affecting you
  • A self-contained, purpose-built flat or maisonette will typically give you between 30 and 60 minutes protection from fire
  • If you are in the communal areas of the building, leave and call 999
  • The exception to this is if you live in a scissor block or have been told specifically by the London Fire Brigade, the Council or if there are signs in your block telling you to evacuate if there's a fire.
Get out:
  • If there is a fire in your purpose-built flat or maisonette, warn all the people you live with and leave, closing the front door behind you
  • Follow your escape plan (ie plan your escape and know how to exit the building if you need to).
  • If there is a lot of smoke, crawl along the floor where the air will be clearer. Always use the stairs, rather than the lift, and make your way out of the building
  • Call 999 from any phone as soon as it is safe to do so
  • Further information for people who live in purpose built flats and maisonettes is available at: www.london-fire.gov.uk/know-the-plan.asp
This advice printed below is an extract from the Fire Brigade web site: www.london-fire.gov.uk/FireSafety.asp

Test your smoke alarms regularly

Most fires in the home start accidentally and ensuring you have working smoke alarms in your home will provide a vital early warning for danger. That is why it is important and essential to test them every month to make sure they are all in good working order.

Safety advice for smokers
  • Never smoke in bed
  • Always ensure you stub out cigarettes properly and dispose of them carefully
  • Keep matches and lighters out of children's reach
  • Never leave lit cigarettes or cigars unattended
  • Empty ashtrays carefully, ensuring all smoking materials are stubbed out and cold
  • If you must smoke, do it outdoors

How to prevent cooking fires
  • Avoid leaving cooking unattended
  • Don't cook if you are tired, have been drinking alcohol or taking medication that might make you drowsy
  • Take care not to lean over hot hobs and keep tea towels and cloths away from the cooker and hob
  • Be careful to keep the oven, hob, cooker hood and grill clean to avoid a build-up of fat and grease, which could ignite and cause a fire
  • Use spark devices to light gas cookers - they are much safer than matches or lighters as they don't have a naked flame
  • Double check the cooker and hob are turned off when you've finished cooking
  • Check toasters are clean and placed away from anything that can catch fire
  • Never put anything metal in the microwave
  • Never use a barbecue indoors or on a balcony - burning or smoldering fuel can cause carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Supervise children and pets in the kitchen at all times and keep matches and saucepan handles out of reach 

If a pan catches fire
  • Don't tackle the fire yourself and don't attempt to move the pan
  • Never throw water over a fire as it could create a fireball
  • Turn off the heat, if it is safe to do so
  • Leave the room, close the door, shout a warning to others and call 999

Electrical fires are common: know the limit 

If you're having trouble paying your energy bills don't use candles or naked flames as a substitute for heating and lighting. 

Your electric and gas supplier may be able to provide you with free or subsidised energy efficiency measures, such as insulation, or a discount on your bill.

Contact them to find out if you qualify. 

Many electrical fires can be avoided by following some simple actions:
  • Don't use imitation electrical chargers as they may be unsafe
  • Make sure electrical appliances have a British or European safety mark when you buy them
  • Keep electrical appliances clean and in good working order
  • Unplugging appliances and chargers when you are not using them or when you go to bed helps reduce the risk of fire
  • Hair straighteners can get extremely hot. Always switch them off and leave them to cool on a heatproof surface
  • For plugs that do not come fitted to the appliance, always check you're using the right fuse
  • Keep to one plug per socket
  • If you use an adaptor, use a fused 'in line' type. The adaptor or extension lead will have a limit of how much power it can safely provide so be careful not to overload sockets
  • If using a cable drum extension lead, it should be completely unwound to avoid overheating
  • Remember: scorch marks, flickering lights, hot plugs and sockets, fuses that blow or circuit-breakers that trip for no obvious reasons could be signs of loose or dangerous wiring

Bedtime routine

Many fire deaths happen at night when most people are sleeping 

Working smoke alarms should wake you if a fire does break out but you can further reduce your risk by carrying out some simple checks before you go to bed. 

  • Close inside doors at night to stop a fire from spreading
  • Turn off and unplug electrical appliances unless they are designed to be left on, such as fridges and freezers
  • Do not leave electrical appliances such as mobile phones and tablet computers charging overnight
  • Check your cooker is switched off
  • Don't leave the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher on
  • Turn heaters off, rake out fires and put a fire guard in place
  • Put candles, incense sticks and oil burners out and never leave them burning when you are asleep
  • Make sure cigarettes are completely out - it's best to wet them to be sure
  • Never smoke in bed
                    ⧫
                    ?


And finally...


...there have been reports about a building in Woodberry Down, in the north of Hackney, having cladding similar to the Grenfell Tower cladding.

It isn't a Council building but here's what the Mayor of Hackney has said on the matter:



Thursday, 2 February 2017

Taking struggling residents out of Council Tax

by Councillor James Peters



Next week, I'll be asking Council finance officers about how we make sure that we, as a Council, aren't adding to Hackney residents' financial hardship during these tough economic times. If residents are genuinely too poor to pay Council Tax, there is a scheme to help them.

That scheme is called the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (or "CTRS").

This a matter that Hackney councillors have discussed on a number of occasions recently, particularly when deciding to increase rates of Council Tax in Hackney.  These are also matters that seem all the more pressing given that Council Tax is a regressive tax, hitting the poorest hardest, and the increase that we decided comes during a time when vulnerable residents face a significant reduction in other benefits (and ever-growing living costs - which seem likely to be about to accelerate as a result of the pound dropping in value because of the referendum result).

This is an issue that came to my attention last summer when I went to a joint briefing of the poverty-alleviation charity Z2K and the Child Poverty Action Group to promote this report:



It is also over 2 years since administration of the CTRS was devolved to Councils by central Government (along with a not-so-sneaky cut).

For all these reasons, it seems to me that this is an important time to take a closer look at how we collect Council Tax, to make sure that we're not aggravating financial hardship.

Other London Councils have reacted to growing financial pressures on households by recognising that they (the Councils) may be major creditors of those households, so should do more to support vulnerable debtors.  Put another way, we shouldn't be contributing to poverty in Hackney through our CTRS and Council Tax collection policies.

Examples of work done by other Labour-controlled Councils in this field include:
  • Lambeth Council: development of an "Income and Debt Strategy" that saw Council services working together to identify and support vulnerable residents who are slipping into debt.  This strategy has led to a 75% reduction in summonses obtained by the Council (8933 to 2176) after one year and ZERO use of bailiffs to collect Council Tax from residents on CTRS.  Lambeth appears to have increased their Council Tax collection rates as a result of the strategy.
  • Lewisham Council: brought their bailiff service in-house.  Why:
    • improved debt collection;
    • the introduction of a more sensitive approach to collection;
    • better feedback from enforcement agents on debtors circumstances; and
    • surplus income.
And it seems to have worked, as this paper shows.


Successes in the paper show better identification and support for vulnerable residents AND £200,000 more Council Tax than the cost of bringing the bailiffs back in-house.  That's £200,000 that Lewisham Council would not otherwise have collected and the Council predicts that that figure will increase by £600,000 by the end of this financial year.
On the basis of the above, I think we, in Hackney, should look into at CTRS and collection policies to check that they reflect our values.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Gardening trip with De Beauvoir Estate TRA & De Beauvoir Gardeners

by Councillor James Peters



Yesterday, I invited members of the De Beauvoir Estate tenants and residents' association (or the "TRA") and members of the De Beauvoir Gardeners to visit estate gardening projects in the east of Hackney.

The projects in question are in Clapton Park, in King's Park ward.


The Clapton Park estate is well know for its allotments, vegetable patches, fruit trees and, above all, the poppies that abound in even the smallest spaces across the three estates managed by the local tenants' management organisation.


What led to the visit was an initiative by the De Beauvoir estate TRA to start gardening on the estate, using money from its environmental improvement budget (or "EIB"):


The De Beauvoir Gardeners have been gardening in De Beauvoir for the last 40 years, although not necessarily on the estate.  With that wealth of knowledge and experience, I saw an opportunity for them to lend a hand to the TRA in getting the estate gardening projects up and running. You can find more about the De Beauvoir Gardeners here.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to get the TRA and the De Beauvoir gardeners together in Clapton Park to see things we can do in De Beauvoir.

One of the local councillors, Rebecca Rennison, kindly offered to show us around.  Here we all are:



It was both very sunny and very cold.  (That's Rebecca in the middle and my shadow in the foreground.)

Here are a few more photos of some of the things we saw:


Chairs and a green canopy to enjoy the fruits of the gardeners' labour.



A good example of a green roof, a fruit tree on the right and homes for bees on the side of the shed.



Brackets for hanging baskets, ready for when the weather's better.


Planters looking wintry but ready for new growth come the spring.


More planters, also awaiting warmer weather to spring into life.


Trees can also spruce the place up.


I hope that we all came away with ideas that can be transplanted to the De Beauvoir estate.  I also like to think that we may have started to form useful relationships between the TRA and the De Beauvoir Gardeners to help a gardening project like those shown here to flourish in De Beauvoir.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Fire station development approved with no affordable housing, none

by Councillor James Peters



Last Wednesday, I went to the planning meeting at the Town Hall about the building planned for the site of the old fire station on Kingsland Road.  I went to explain why the Council must make sure that those applying for planning permission include affordable housing in their buildings - that's to say, homes that people in Hackney can actually afford to live in.

A few other people had reservations about the application too:












What I was concerned about


If you're interested, you can read my objection to the original application here.  You may have seen the coverage in the local press.

At the meeting, we heard a variety of things about whether the financing of the scheme would allow the developer to build the new school on the site, the 68 flats for sale, and also provide some affordable housing.  My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggested they could.  I mean, look at this 2-bedroom flat going for comfortably over £1,000,000 a few dozen metres south of the fire station site:



Crucially, there were questions about how much money the Education Funding Agency (the body that funds the Government's "free schools") wanted back from the £16 million it had paid for the land:



To put the discussion in context, I spoke about the housing crisis that we're facing in Hackney (here's a good piece about the dire local situation and some more facts and figures).  We literally have thousands of Hackney families in emergency housing because housing is too expensive in Hackney.  And I'm using the word "literally" literally in that sentence.  We desperately need more homes that aren't priced out of reach for ordinary people.


The planning system can (and has to) be part of the solution, not part of the problem


Here in Hackney, we have a "core" planning policy that, amongst other things, says the following:



So, if a new building is going to have more than 10 homes, 50% of them should be affordable (and, unless there are exceptional circumstances, the affordable homes must be in the building).  Here, we had an original application for a block of 68 flats with zero affordable housing.  None at all.

At the meeting, I asked how granting the planning permission could possibly be compatible with our planning policy.

We, as a Council, need to be holding developers to these planning policies so that they help the Council to build the affordable housing that we so desperately need in Hackney. (Being strong in applying planning policies requiring affordable housing will also mean that those developers factor in the cost of including affordable housing when buying land.)

The Council is building affordable housing:


- Mayor of Hackney, Phil Glanville

...and we need developers to do so too.

As I pointed out at the planning meeting, Sadiq Khan has realised that we need to use the planning system to get affordable housing built and we need to examine developers' claims very carefully when they say they can't include affordable housing in their new buildings.  Mayor Khan has published (draft) guidance that says about itself:


The developers should put all their cards on the table and planning committees should examine very closely any claims that their schemes' finances don't allow them to build any affordable housing.

I asked the planning committee to postpone its decision and to really take a look at whether we could ask the developer to build affordable housing in the development for which they were asking for planning permission, or whether it would make the whole scheme unviable.  After all, our "core" planning policy says that we will do this (see above) and during this housing crisis, we need all the affordable housing we can get.

What was decided


In the end, the applicant said that they would give the Council £1.5 million to build homes somewhere else in Hackney and the Council's planning committee granted the application.

You'll find news reports here and here.


The result of closing the fire station

And if you're wondering about what has happened to fire engine response times in De Beauvoir since Boris closed our local fire station, there are a few figures in this report.



Sunday, 7 August 2016

Kingsland Fire Station - planning application


In 2014, the Boris Johnson decided that his austerity policies meant that a number of fire stations across London should be closed.  The Kingsland Road fire station in De Beauvoir was one such fire station.

The local Labour Party protested against the closure because we feared that response times would increase, putting lives in De Beauvoir at risk.

In October 2015, it was announced that the site would become a free school, the "Hackney New Primary School.  An application for planning permission for a school, with 68 flats above it, was submitted in July.  None of those homes will be for rental at a social rent or to be sold by way of shared ownership.

We're in a housing crisis, in which people from Hackney can't afford to live in Hackney.  Some would say it's a housing emergency.

Whatever terminology we use, we need developments that include substantial numbers of homes that people in Hackney can afford to live in.



That's why we've submitted the following response to the consultation on the application for planning permission for the 68 flats for private sale above the proposed new primary school:

"Hello,

I am writing in relation to planning application 2016/2207 (Former Kingsland Fire Station 333 Kingsland Road Hackney London E8 4DR).

In particular, I take issue with the characterisation of the development as "an enabling development, with revenues generated by 68 residential units and 298 sqm of retail space being applied to cross-subsidise the creation and fitting out of the new school" (see page 1 of the viability assessment).  

On the same page there is the following statement: "The planning application focuses on the creation of a new, two-form entry primary school for 5-11 year olds at Hackney New Primary School (HNPS)."

Having looked further into the economics of this development, I consider that a second focus of the application to be the generation of a sizeable profit for the partners to this venture, primarily the people behind the Hackney New Primary School (who I understand to be the same people behind the Hackney New School "free school") and the Benyon Estate.

In Hackney, we currently have more than 2,600 of our residents living in temporary accommodation, mostly in largely unsuitable hostel accommodation.  Our largest hostel is the next building on Kingsland Road to the north of the former fire station.  Residents are being forced to leave private sector accommodation because it has become unaffordable for even those living on an average (median) London salary of £30,000.  In this context, granting planning permission for a block of flats solely for private sale is entirely inappropriate.

I am very surprised by the idea that the flats to be built above the proposed primary school are intended merely to finance the construction of a primary school (even taking into account any reimbursement of the Education Funding Agency).  It seems to me that the applicants will make a substantial profit on this development and that appropriate planning contributions will not be delivered.

In light of this, granting the planning permission for this development would be contrary to the Council's political direction and its planning policies, as I seek to explain below:

Hackney Labour manifesto 2014
In 2014, the Hackney Labour manifesto claimed that "we will do whatever we can to tackle the housing crisis".  Allowing blocks of flats to be built in which local people cannot afford to live is not tackling the housing crisis and not dealing with its effects in the borough.  

Hackney's Sustainable Community Strategy 2008-2018
In Hackney's Sustainable Community Strategy 2008-2018, we say that:
  • we have as a priority to "promote mixed communities in well-designed neighbourhoods, where people can access high quality, affordable housing";  
  • an outcome of our planning policy should be to "promote and maintain mixed, sustainable communities in all our neighbourhoods by securing a tenure and dwelling mix, including affordable homes and homes adaptable for people’s changing needs";
  • "our approach is to provide quality, affordable homes for all income groups"; and
  • "Hackney’s Local Development Framework requires private sector housing projects and our estate renewal programmes to provide a range of mixed tenure homes for households with a wide range of incomes, including affordable housing for rent and for sale".
In the State of the Borough report conducted and published in 2013, it was clear that over the five years since the Sustainable Community Strategy was adopted, the need for affordable housing had become the most important factor for residents for our planning policy.  In the three years since that report, residents' concerns about the affordability of housing in Hackney have sky-rocketed.

Allowing a tower block to be built containing no social or shared-ownership housing would be to create a middle-class ghetto, not a mixed, sustainable community.  The current application is for a development of housing that is affordable only to people with high incomes and/or who are fortunate enough to have accumulated considerable wealth.  As a result, to allow this development as it is described in the application would clearly run counter to our Sustainable Community Strategy.

Hackney's Core Strategy
The Council's Core Strategy Policy 20, on affordable housing, contains the following statements:
  • "Affordable housing will be sought from residential-only developments and mixed use developments incorporating residential use.
  • "On site provision of affordable housing will always be sought in the first instance."
  • "Affordable housing will be sought on all developments comprising 10 residential units or more. New housing should seek to meet a borough-wide affordable housing target of 50% of all units subject to site characteristics, location and overall scheme viability."
  • "In line with identified need and as a borough wide guide the required tenure split of affordable housing will be 60% social rented and 40% Intermediate (by unit). On individual sites the exact tenure split will be guided by up to date assessments of specific local housing need and site and neighbourhood characteristics. On individual development sites, the exact tenure split will be guided by up to date assessments of local housing need and site or neighbourhood characteristics."
The emphasis in the quotations above is on a consistently-applied policy of requiring substantial levels of affordable housing from private developments and the precise level will depend upon an assessment of specific local housing need.  In De Beauvoir and across Hackney, that need is massive and extraordinarily pressing.  The above are very clear policy statements that we will require new developments to have at least 50% of the homes contained in them as affordable.  In the middle of a housing crisis, it is plainly inappropriate for 0% of the homes in this development to be affordable to local residents.

The value of the homes
I attach a number of screenshots of flats either on the market or having recently been sold within a few tens of metres of the former fire station [those screenshots were taken from Right Move and Zoopla].  These are either 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom flats.

The 2-bedroom flats have sold or are on the market for £650,000 or more.  From brief research on Zoopla and Right Move, this is relatively low for the area.  The 3-bedroom flat in the adjacent block is being marketed for £1,450,000.

If each of the proposed 2-bedroom flats in the proposed development were to sell for £650,000, this would generate over £20,000,000.

If each of the three 3-bedroom properties proposed in the development sell for over £1,000,000 each, they will net over £3,000,000 in total.  This is entirely possible and probably a very conservative estimate, given that the application drawings show that they will be penthouse-style flats at the top of a much taller building and each will have a spacious, roof-top terrace.

New one-bedroom flats in the area are being marketed mostly for more than £400,000, so their sale is likely to raise over £14,000,000. 

I am unable to guess how much the sale of the commercial units on the ground floor would generate but, on the basis of the calculations above, it is likely that the sale of just the 68 flats will generate well over £37,000,000.  This contrasts with £16,000,000 for acquiring the land acquisition (see the applicants' viability report) and around £6,000,000 for building the school, with construction costs (without land costs) of around £80,000 per flat (as I understand is broadly industry-standard).  This would mean that the total cost of construction would be around £28,000,000.  This would leave a very considerable profit for the free school trust, Benyon Estate and (maybe) the Education Funding Agency (although it is not clear whether the Agency requires full reimbursement of that money.).

These are very crude figures intended to illustrate the point that, even if a school is being built, it seems to me that the developers will make a large profit from the development.  Instead of that happening, we should apply the clear statements cited above from our planning policies, and we should require considerable social and shared-ownership housing to be included in the development.

I am worried that this planning application is a commercial development, masquerading as a social development and that, as such, it makes insufficient contribution to the community in a time of dire straits for Hackney's residents in terms of housing.

Once it is built, people in De Beauvoir will ask me how much social and shared ownership accommodation is in the development, i.e., how much housing is in it that locals can afford to live in.  Hackney's Planning Authority must ensure that a fair proportion of the homes in this building are affordable for Hackney's residents.  By "fair", I mean "high".  We cannot allow those putting up free schools and the Benyon Estate to make a big profit on a prime piece of land, which used to be occupied by a fire station until closed by the previous Mayor of London, without that land being used to mitigate the housing emergency in which we find ourselves.  To allow that big profit to be made without homes being provided for ordinary people in Hackney would be a travesty, a mockery of the Council's policies and an insult to those people throughout the borough (but particularly in the Metropolitan Hostel on Kingsland Road) who are forced to live in desperately over-crowded and unsuitable accommodation.

I very much hope that this application will be referred to a planning sub-committee and that the sub-committee inquires very closely into the viability of this development, demanding considerable amounts of social and shared-ownership housing, in addition to the construction of a primary school.

With regards,


Cllr. James Peters
De Beauvoir ward
020 8356 3373
james.peters@hackney.gov.uk
www.twitter.com/lovedebeauvoir"


If you would also like to submit a response to the consultation, you can do so through the application page or by e-mailing planning@hackney.gov.uk

Friday, 2 October 2015

Bogus caller alert!

The De Beauvoir Safer Neighbourhood Team (i.e., our local police), who are very nice, and look like this:


  

have asked us to publicise the following:

There have been two attempts made to gain entry to houses in the Englefield Road area of  De Beauvoir, by a man claiming to be a police officer in plain clothes.

The man is of Asian appearance and aged between 30-40. 

On each occasion he knocked on the door and produced what he claims to be a police warrant card. This has been described as a metal crest with the words "police" emblazoned on it.

This is actually what a warrant card looks like:  


If you are in any doubt as to the authenticity of a police officer who calls at your home please call 999 immediately.

Kind Regards,


The De Beauvoir Safer Neighbourhoods Team