Fire safety issues with Orchard Village

We’ve written before about the problems afflicting the Orchard Village development in South Hornchurch which was built to replace most of the Mar Dyke estate: Building the slums of the futurehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/building-the-slums-of-the-future/ It has come as no surprise to us that given the shoddy construction at the development and what can only be described as a lack of oversight during its construction, residents are quite rightly raising concerns about fire safety: Orchard Village Rainham residents demand more action over fire safety concernshttp://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/orchard-village-rainham-residents-demand-more-action-over-fire-safety-concerns-1-5065312

Colin Nickless, chair of the Orchard Village Residents Association raised concerns about fire safety issues late last year. He provided photographic evidence showing breaches in building regulations and failures in fire protection which would counter the Stay Put policy in the event of a fire breaking out. Stay Put depends upon the building being fire resistant to the extent that any fire that does break out is confined within its point of origin and does not spread to neighbouring homes. A resident who knew a retired fire officer invited him to look at the development. The retired fire officer made a list which was submitted to the London Fire Brigade’s fire safety department. The upshot of this is that an additional engine will be submitted to any fire calls at Orchard Village.

Let’s just take a step back here… Superficially, Orchard Village might look fresh and modern but once you take a closer look at the development and the numerous flaws in construction are revealed, as we wrote back in March, it’s set to become a slum of the future if serious remedial work isn’t undertaken soon. Residents, regardless of what form of tenure they hold, should not have to be fighting to have shoddy construction remedied and most definitely should not have to be highlighting serious issues with fire safety. In the 21st century in a supposedly advanced country, it ought to be a matter of routine to get any housing development built to a high standard shouldn’t it?

Reality check… We live in an age where money talks loud and if cutting corners means more dosh in the bank for developers, builders and suppliers, cutting corners is what will happen. If you want a textbook example of cutting corners on a development, pop down to Orchard Village and take a look. This is an object lesson of what happens when the provision of decent, safe and truly affordable housing is not seen as a basic duty but as a source of profit in a dysfunctional, parasitic economy that is over-dependent on the property market. The problem is that when housing is being built for maximum profit, decent, safe and truly affordable are all too often pushed down the priority list…

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel accommodation with hours notice

PRESS RELEASE: Radical Housing Network – http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/

Today residents of Grenfell Tower were given eviction notices from their temporary accommodation in Kensington, in a move described as ‘barbaric’ by Radical Housing Network.

Residents of Grenfell Tower who had been staying at the Holiday Inn, Kensington, were told today that they were to be separated and moved by 4pm to other temporary hotel accommodation across London, in places such as in Heathrow, Lambeth, Southwark and north London. Following intervention by legal observers, most of the residents have been moved together to a hotel in Westminster.

Pilgrim Tucker, a community organiser working with the Grenfell Action Group and liaising with residents at the hotel, said:
“It’s beyond disgusting that after all these people have been through – losing their neighbours and watching their homes burn to the ground – authorities are prepared to tell them that they have hours to pick up their bags and move to some unknown destination, separated from their friends and neighbours. It makes you wonder if anything’s been learned from the Grenfell catastrophe.”

Radical Housing Network, an alliance of which Grenfell Action Group is a member, said:
“Today Grenfell residents staying together in a Kensington hotel were told they were going to be split up and scattered across London at a moment’s notice. Moving people around who have been through horror and trauma from one temporary accommodation to another is barbaric and unnecessary, and speaks of a degree of callousness by the authorities.

“Only yesterday Sajid Javid was promising that all those made homeless by the Grenfell fire would be rehoused in the borough within a matter of weeks. The government needs to move fast to make good on this commitment to rehouse all those made homeless by this catastrophe, according their wishes and needs.

“We still need answers as to what will happen to private renters, subtenants and homeowners of Grenfell Tower. We strongly suggest that given the scale of the disaster – and the trauma, mismanagement and negligence surrounding this case – all tenants of Grenfell, not just council tenants, are prioritised for permanent social housing in the local borough. If no so such social housing is available, we suggest Kensington & Chelsea council dip into their £274 million cash reserves to buy up property and turn it into social housing.

“Grenfell Tower is an indictment of a broken housing system – one where council housing is systematically run down and tenants are treated with contempt.

“It’s about time we had housing for people not for profit – and public investment in secure, decent, genuinely affordable housing for everyone.”

Thurrock Council taking the p**s with flytipping letters

Here’s a classic case of Thurrock Council not being able to tell the difference between their arse and their elbow: Council apologises after sending letters demanding cash to clean up fly-tippinghttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15359229.Council_apologises_after_sending_letters_demanding_cash_to_clean_up_fly_tipping/ Okay, we know that the council have since claimed that the letters sent to residents in the London Road area of Grays were sent out in error but, when you look into the issue, they’re still taking the p**s…

The older areas of Grays have a fair few alleyways that will act as a magnet for fly-tippers. Taking rubbish to a site such as Buckingham Hill for disposal can be an expensive business and that leads the more unscrupulous elements in the area to conclude that fly-tipping is the best option for them. You only have to take a cursory tour around the back streets of rays or the country lanes to the east of Tilbury to see that fly-tipping is a big problem in Thurrock.

In the news item linked to above the leader of Thurrock Council, Cllr. Rob Gledhill (Con) stated: “However land owners are responsible for clearing their own land, and unadopted areas – such as some alleyways – are in general the responsibility of surrounding land owners”.

There are a few things that Gledhill needs to be made aware of… Firstly, it’s not always the case that the person residing at the address the letters were sent to would be the owner of the property. In the London Road area, a fair number of properties are rented so it’s the landlord that needs to be targeted. Even when the resident owns the property, the scale of the fly-tipping is beyond the capacity of most people to clear without professional help and equipment. Sure they could organise a community clean up but when it comes to convincing the orange hi-vis clad jobsworth at the tip that they’re not a commercial operation, they might just experience a few problems!

The point is that Thurrock Council have been made aware of the flytipping in the London Road area and should have had enough awareness of the problem to not send out the letters to residents in the first place. Actually getting down to the area and talking face to face to the residents whose lives have been blighted by this fly-tipping would give the council a fuller, more accurate picture of the issue. It can be the local councillor and / or council officials doing this – the point is that face to face contact is more likely to lead to a solution than sending out arsey letters. However, this would require a massive change in the culture of the council so they become more open, transparent and accountable. Somehow, we don’t think that’s going to happen this side of a major political and social transformation…

Last but by no means least, there are the scumbag fly-tippers themselves who have no concept of, and responsibility to, the community they operate in. Sadly, they are a reflection of the atomised society we have to endure where individualism is ranked higher than community solidarity and having any sense of responsibility to the neighbourhood you live in…

Coming soon…

Below is the housing flyer we’re planning to distribute with our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action on selected estates in Basildon in a bid to de-bunk some of the myths and rumours about the housing situation that are circulating and to explain in plain language what’s actually going on. We’re experimenting with short sharp flyers instead of our usual papers to see if they’re more effective in getting the message across…

Booted out of London

We’ve written more times than we care to remember about the social cleansing of London as the capital is made into a welcome home for the global super rich and their money while ordinary working class people are pushed out. We were recently alerted to a case which illustrates the personal toll of councils acting like shits and decanting people they don’t want to house right out of the capital. The case concerns Elina who was originally dumped by Newham Council in a block of studio flats in Welwyn Garden City which were simply not fit for purpose. This is her account of the conditions she had to endure: Families are speaking out against social cleansinghttps://focuse15.org/2015/12/13/families-are-speaking-out-against-social-cleansing/

Elina was offered accommodation in Pitsea which understandably she accepted in a bid to get away from the horrendous conditions she had to endure in Welwyn Garden City. The problem is that as in Welwyn Garden City, she’s a long way from family, friends and the support network she needs. Elina is not alone – there are many, many people who’ve been turfed out of London by councils who are willing to bend over backwards for the developers but who don’t give a toss about their working class residents. All too often, people booted out of London by councils who want to wash their hands of any responsibility for housing them, are dumped in estates that already have more than their fair share of problems.

The problem is that the local authorities out here are not fully in the loop as to how many properties they could potentially have in their housing portfolios for use as social housing (IF they had the political will which they DON’T!) that are actually owned by housing associations based in London charged with the task of helping to socially cleanse the capital. Even if Basildon Council did know, somehow we doubt they would care as the problem is a) mainly to the south of the great divide known as the A127 b) the Tory Mafia from Billericay and Wickford regard anywhere south of the A127 as a potential development opportunity regardless of the human cost and c) they don’t give a toss about social tenants anyway!

Another problem is that long standing residents are not fully in the loop as to what’s happening with people being decanted from London and effectively ‘dumped’ on their estate. When this happens seemingly out of the blue without any explanation, there are elements on the estates who will regard any newcomers on their turf with hostility and it’s not long before the rumours, verbal and physical harrassment starts. We’re doing our level best to get the truth about what’s happening with social cleansing from London out to people on the estates to counter the crap coming from the divide and rule merchants on the far right. The problem is that with this blog, and pretty much most political blogs, it tends to be a self selecting audience. With the South Essex Stirrer paper, owing to our constrained finances, the print run is in the hundreds rather than the thousands we would like. However, we’re working on a flyer explaining the situation in the plainest terms possible and linking it to the shite conditions that long standing residents have to endure on estates across Basildon.

There are also renegade elements on the estates out here who while they are in the minority, with their persistent anti-social behaviour and utter contempt for any notion of neighbourhood solidarity and cohesion they can drag an entire neighbourhood down with them if their actions remain unchallenged. It’s scum like these who glean the vibes coming from the divide and rule merchants and use that as a justification to harass and bully anyone they regard as ‘different’ or an ‘outsider’. It’s this element who have targeted Elina among a number of other residents in the area. Suffice to say, solutions to isolate and deal with the renegades are being looked into: How do we deal with the wreckers?https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/how-do-we-deal-with-the-wreckers/

In Elina’s case, the property in Pitsea she’s housed in is owned by the Stratford based Local Space Housing Association – http://www.localspace.co.uk/ – who have close links with Newham Council. At the time of writing, we suspect that Local Space own considerably more than one property not only in Basildon but across the rest of southern Essex. We also suspect that a fair number of other London based housing associations with dodgy links to councils with a penchant for social cleansing own a considerable number of properties across southern Essex.

If you have clicked the link to the Local Space website, here’s a content warning…it’s bullshit! These housing associations do the bidding of the London councils who are in effect their masters and to help them implement their agenda of social cleansing and removing so called ‘difficult’ tenants as far away from their original neighbourhoods in the capital as they can get away with. Their definition of ‘difficult’ is anyone who has the nerve to question the way they operate and the way they come to decisions about decanting people from the capital. In Elina’s case, it’s because she’s a housing activist with Focus E15 that Local Space and Newham Council don’t want her moving back. So, it could be said that Elina is on the receiving end of a political vendetta from these two because she had the temerity to challenge them.

We’re all in favour of residents and tenants who reject the bullshit that spews from the mouths of local authorities and the housing associations who do their bidding and instead, stand up to them demanding justice and respect. As mentioned in our previous post: Notice to Basildon Council – FFS, listen to your tenants!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/notice-to-basildon-council-ffs-listen-to-your-tenants/ we’re putting Basildon Council on notice that we’re intensifying our scrutiny of them. It doesn’t matter if it’s people displaced from Newham putting their council under the cosh for what they’ve done to them or Basildon & Southend Housing Action piling the pressure on Basildon Council, as far as we’re concerned it’s one fight for decent, secure housing for all!

Notice to Basildon Council – FFS, listen to your tenants!

For years, residents at Brooke House have been nagging an out of touch, arrogant Basildon Council to be open and honest with them about the future of their block to no avail. When there was a consultation about the future of the town centre, the council somehow managed to avoid sending consultation forms to any of the residents in Brooke House – a blatant snub if ever there was one. As for maintenance of the block, a quick tour round the public areas is enough to confirm that Basildon Council’s policy is one of blatant neglect although, in private, they might like to refer to this as ‘managed decline’. It’s common knowledge that the council want Brooke House ‘re-developed’ as soon as the right offer comes along and that they couldn’t give a s*** about the residents currently living there.

With the full horror of the fire at Grenfell Tower in West London still to be revealed, it’s understandable that anyone living in a tower block is going to be worried about fire safety issues. While Brooke House doesn’t have cladding that would pose a serious fire risk (the building is listed), there are concerns about escape routes in the block. The damaged and un-repaired stair rails, steps, etc. in the block don’t exactly inspire confidence. If anyone from Basildon Council is reading this, in the next few weeks, in conjunction with our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action we intend to undertake our own survey of the public areas of the block and we’ll be publishing our findings here on this blog…

Away from Brooke House over in Laindon at Nursery Gardens, residents have been badgering Basildon Council for years over conditions on the estate and more often than not, are treated with utter contempt. When a resident had issues with a waste pipe from the property above his flooding his home, constant nagging failed to secure a proper, professional decontamination and he had to do the best he could himself. Issues such as repairing broken fences take an inordinate amount of nagging before the council gets of their arses to do anything about them. When residents take matters into their own hand to try and improve matters such as putting up warning signs about speeding in an area where kids are playing, the council gets stroppy and demands the removal of the signs. They don’t seem to care about the risk of a kid being hit by a speeding car but the prospect of a resident produced sign ‘defacing’ the estate is something they are not prepared to tolerate FFS!

We could go on for ever with story after story of situations where Basildon Council have refused to listen to the concerns of their residents and when they do, all too often, the response is one of utter contempt. In the 21st century, is it such an imposition on a local authority that their tenants want decent, safe and secure housing? Simply asking the council for this gets you branded as a nuisance. Enough is enough – the council need to learn some humility, listen to the concerns of their residents, treat them with respect and above all, act on what they hear so people get decent, safe and secure housing. Any local authority that fails in this duty is simply not fit for purpose…

Criminal…

The horrific fire at Grenfell Tower and the tragic and needless loss of life, with the number of fatalities rising, is too much to fully comprehend at the moment. What we’re going to try and do with this post is comment on what we know so far…

Firstly, there are some people saying that the Grenfell Tower fire should not be ‘politicised’…seriously… We think this piece on Huck from Aaron Bastani is the perfect response that that assertion: Don’t you dare say the fatal Grenfell Tower fire is not ‘political’http://www.huckmagazine.com/perspectives/opinion-perspectives/greenfell-tower-fire-political-aron-bastani/

There’s the issue of why the fire spread so quickly. According to a number of reports we read, the materials used in the cladding and the cavity created after it was installed on the exterior of the tower which acted as a wind tunnel played a major part in the rapid spread of the blaze. The worst part about this is that one of the main reasons the cladding was put on the tower was to ‘improve view for nearby luxury flats’: Cladding added to Grenfell Tower to ‘improve view for nearby luxury flats’http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/14/cladding-added-to-grenfell-tower-to-improve-view-for-nearby-luxury-flats-6709369/ Words fail us…

The Grenfell Action Group have made numerous warnings about fire safety issues in the tower over recent years to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea who own the block and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all of the social housing in the borough: Grenfell Tower Firehttps://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/grenfell-tower-fire/ It’s the same old story – arrogant local authorities who repeatedly refuse to listen to the genuine concerns of residents living in social housing.

What’s heartening is the way the local community and people from across London and beyond have rallied round to offer whatever help and solidarity they can: How London came to the rescue during the Grenfell Tower firehttp://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/how-london-came-to-the-rescue-during-the-grenfell-tower-fire-a3564956.html We saw this quote on Facebook which pretty much sums it up for us: The people spring into action way quicker than any government or bureaucracy. The people helping those affected by the Grenfell fire are practicing anarchism. Without them people would be going hungry tonight and not have clothes. People often ask how would anarchism work? It already does, every day and whenever you don’t have anyone on your back dictating what you do or how you do it.

Emergency accommodation has been provided by the Westway Trusthttp://www.westway.org/ It’s groups and organisations like this springing into action when tragedy strikes who make a real difference. However, a comrade checked hotel vacancies in Kensington and Chelsea today and there were a fair few rooms available. It would be nice to think that these hotels would be rallying round and offering their rooms for free to those made homeless by this disaster – we won’t be holding our breath though…

Not only that, Kensington and Chelsea has the highest number of empty homes in Greater London: Map reveals shocking number of empty homes across Londonhttp://metro.co.uk/2017/05/11/map-reveals-shocking-number-of-empty-homes-across-london-6630121/ A fair number of these are owned as ‘investment vehicles’ to be flipped at a point when the property market is swiftly rising. In theory, everyone displaced by this disaster could be re-housed, temporarily and permanently in Kensington and Chelsea if the council had the political will to seize these empty, unused properties. But we know that’s not going to happen… In all likelihood, temporary accommodation will be outside of the borough and quite possibly outside of London. Somehow, we think that when Kensington and Chelsea feel the time is right to re-build the tower, they won’t be re-building it as social housing – eventually it’s going to be seen by the borough as another money spinning development opportunity. That’s if the people let them…

The extent of this disaster has yet to fully reveal itself: Grenfell Tower fire: Police open criminal investigation into blaze that killed 17 as fears grow death toll could reach 100http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/grenfell-tower-fire-criminal-investigation-manslaughter-police-latest-a7792446.html To be honest, it’s too hard to write about this at the moment as our feelings are swinging between immense sadness on the one hand and barely controllable rage on the other. Suffice to say that the authorities would rather drip feed the number of fatalities over the next few weeks rather than admit the scale of this tragedy…

The level of anger at the scale of this utterly needless disaster is visceral and goes way beyond the so called ‘usual suspects’. Needless to say that the authorities will be doing their level best to stifle and control that anger – given the inconclusive general election result and the already ongoing political and constitutional crisis, they may struggle in this objective. How all of this will eventually play itself out is anyone’s guess…