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:


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"

If you would also like to submit a response to the consultation, you can do so through the application page or by e-mailing

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

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Refugee crisis response

Mayor of Hackney's statement on the refugee crisis

The Mayor of Hackney has released a statement explaining how Hackney, along with boroughs across London, is preparing to help refugees fleeing Syria.
The terrible scenes being reported from across Europe have moved many people here in the UK to demand that the Government should be doing more. Yesterday, on behalf of London Councils, I made it clear that boroughs across London are standing ready to help should the Government change its mind on the number of refugees it will allow to enter the country.

Here in Hackney there is a strong history of offering help and support to refugees, such as in the 1970s when the borough became home to hundreds of Vietnamese refugees. We want to stand up and help again. We're already supporting a number of unaccompanied children and young people who have arrived here over past weeks and months, and are planning for greater numbers should the Government allow more refugees to enter, in particular how we might be able to source accommodation. One thing is clear, central government needs to step up as local government has done and commit funding to allow us to help these families in desperate need.
Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney

Here are details of a drop-off session for items to help people in the refugee camp in Calais.

Btw, it's TODAY.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Kingsland Fire Station Sell Off

De Beauvoir Labour Councillor James Peters joined Meg Hillier MP along with other Hackney Labour Councillors and members in a demonstration at the site of the former Kingsland Fire Station on Saturday 28th February.

Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson forced through his closure plans for the station last year as part of swingeing budget cuts despite massive local opposition and a High Court challenge by Hackney Council in association with other local authorities.

Meg Hillier has now uncovered a secret deal to sell the site for a rumoured £28m.

Meg said 'If it is anywhere near 28 million it must be for a mass of private luxury flats which Boris Johnson has a track record of agreeing to. I would like to see provisions for fire engines to be reinstalled, because once you have lost that capacity it is impossible to put another one back in Hackney.'

Councillor Peters said 'Response times in De Beauvoir have increased since the closure to more than six minutes which could be the difference between life and death for our residents. Boris Johnson has put profit before the safety of the people of De Beauvoir as well as neighbouring wards.'

Meg added 'I would say to any potential purchaser that this is an important community asset which needs to be reinstated and we will not let this matter drop.'

Cllr. James Peters with Meg Hillier MP and Labour Councillors
and members at the Kingsland Fire Station site on Saturday.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Have your say on the proposed Cycle Superhighway Route One

A consultation has opened for public contributions to the proposed 'Cycle Superhighway' Route 1.
This major new cycle route is proposed to run between Tottenham and the City of London passing through Hackney, Haringey and Islington. The aim is to provide safe journeys for cyclists along an 11km north-south route, running along residential streets away from car and bus traffic.
The proposed route passes right through De Beauvoir, a route which many cyclists already take to avoid the heavy traffic of Kingsland Road.

Transport for London would like to hear from anybody with opinions and thoughts on this proposal. The consultation is open now and runs up to the 29th of March.

There are detailed explanations on TfL's website along with maps and photo visuals of how the route might look.

Councillor James Peters said 'Hackney is the number one borough for cycling in London with more residents cycling to work and more people using bikes than cars. De Beauvoir is at the heart of Hackney cycling and it is important that Transport for London know the views of residents.'

To see the full proposal visit the TfL website.
There is a short online survey which should take only a few minutes to complete.
To contact TfL on this or any other consultations email:, or call 0343 222 1234

Monday, 16 February 2015

Build a De Beauvoir Bee Hotel!!!

This coming Saturday the 21st of February, the De Beauvoir Association in cooperation with Urban Bees and others will be holding a 'Bee Hotel Workshop' at St. Peter's Church.

A lot of bee dwellings in the city have disappeared and this workshop aims to teach adults and kids alike how to make a suitable home for our De Beauvoir bees! All equipment and materials are provided.

Details are in the flyer below.

For more information on city bees go to the Urban Bees website or email

Build a bee hotel workshop. 2pm - 5pm at the hall, St Peter's Church, Northchurch Terrace, N1 4DA. Alison Benjamin, author of Bees in the City to give talk at 3.30pm.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Make sure you are registered to vote

The way that everybody registers to vote has changed. The new system is called Individual Electoral Registration (IER).
This has replaced the old 'household registration' system and means that each individual voter has to register.

Voting is the single most important right in a democratic society and everybody who is entitled to vote should be allowed to register easily.

Registration to vote is now available online. It only takes around five minutes and you will need to input your National Insurance Number if you have one.

If you need assistance with this or any other voter registration issues Hackney Council are running Voter Registration Days in four of the borough's libraries. Staff will be on hand to help people register and answer any questions.

Voter registration days are taking place on Wednesday 28th January and Monday 23rd March from 10.30am to 7pm at Woodberry Down, Shoreditch, Hackney Central and Dalston CLR James libraries.

For more information of Individual electoral Registration (IER) go here.

To register or update your details go to the Government website.

For full details on all ways to register to vote visit the Hackney Council website.