Dispatch from Brooke House



Water coming from a blocked drain making the stairs dangerous to use



Drains in the basement area not being cleared leading to flooding when it rains

This comment made by one of the residents on the Brooke House Residents Basildon Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1587080528053394/) eloquently sums up the feelings of frustration and despair at the conditions in the public areas of Brooke House: It’s not good enough to be told it takes time. Not acceptable. I’ve complained about the flooding for 2 YEARS! I’ve also slipped twice coming out the lift, contacted the council asked if plastic flooring could be put down like they have in swimming pools until the flooding issue is sorted. Didn’t want to know. Darren Maybin doesn’t even reply to my emails any more, that’s so unprofessional and shows exactly what he thinks of our complaints. So now I’m going to the Echo and as a registered disabled person I will be quoting the Disability Act for the safety. I’m fed up now. I’m sick of being fobbed off. The emergency exits in this place are DANGEROUS. So I hope the council will respond in a quicker time when the echo run my piece and I’m telling them everything About this shit hole. Anyone else wanna join me feel free to. Babies,kids, disabled, elderly all live here and it’s an unsafe crap hole.

We’re aware the the local councillor, Andrew Buxton, is putting as much pressure as he can on the relevant officers at Basildon Council to get on top of the multiple issues at Brooke House. The problem Cllr. Buxton faces is having to deal with entrenched attitudes among too many officers at Basildon Council who regard social housing tenants as a nuisance. Which does lead us to ask the question as to who really holds the power to get things done at the council – the councillors or the permanent officers?

There are elements at Basildon Council who feel that social housing tenants have no right to be living in a convenient town centre location and should be moved out to estates on the periphery so they can flog Brooke House off to a developer and trouser the cash. The deterioration of the public areas of the block and the misery of living with the increasing risk that poses is making more and more of the residents think that the only solution is to apply for a transfer and hope they’re offered somewhere better to live. This is an intentional policy of managed decline. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – what’s happening at Brooke House is to all intents and purposes a deliberate process of social cleansing in the name of ‘regeneration’.

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A slum in Vange owned by a scumbag landlord

The Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG), Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and the Stirrer have been aware of the property on Dewsgreen shown above. It’s one of a number of houses of multiple occupation on the ¾ estate in Vange owned by landlords who cram as many tenants as they can get away with into properties that to all intents and purposes are slums. When we undertook an estate walkabout on Wednesday 2nd August last year, we talked to one of the tenants in the property and he said the conditions were dire.

When we undertook the community clean up last Saturday (17.2) a couple of us were walking round the area on what we thought was just going to be a gentle litter pick before doing some gardening work on Oldwyk. As soon as we walked down Dewsgreen and saw the pile of rubbish outside of this property, we knew that we were in for a pretty grim clearance session. It transpires that the landord has emptied the property of tenants and simply dumped the rubbish they cleared outside. For the sake of our blood pressure, we’re not going to dwell on why Basildon Council hadn’t cleaned it all away!

Seeing the size of the task in hand, we had to call up our support vehicle and a supply of black bags so the rubbish could be bagged up and taken away. There are a lot of things we’d rather be doing than clearing rubbish which included discarded and rotting food away from the front of a property where the landlord has clearly abrogated their responsibility to the community. Whoever, the scumbag landlord is who owns this property, we’ve got a message for you… Namely that when we have to spend our Saturday morning cleaning a pile of stinking trash away from the front of your property, a line has been crossed and it has got personal!

A house in Vange owned by…Local Space Stratford

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that we’ve posted a lot on the issue of social cleansing from London and how it has an impact on the housing situation out here along the Thames estuary. They will also be aware that we have a working relationship with Focus E15 who are a housing action group operating in the London Borough of Newham. When we can, we support actions undertaken by Focus E15: Newham Council…it’s just got personal…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/newham-council-its-just-got-personal/ As a result of this, we take a keen interest in what Newham Council and their close associates at the Local Space Stratford housing association get up to out here in Essex.

When we were out and about on a community clean up in Vange today (Saturday 17.2) one of the activists from the Vange Hill Community Action Group pointed out this house which came into the possession of Local Space Stratford at the end of March 2017. After ten months of the property being left empty, work has only just started on bringing it back to (what Local Space Stratford would regard as) a habitable condition. Okay, it’s nothing compared with the years that Newham Council have been emptying the Carpenters Estate in Stratford while they await the right offer from a developer so they can trouser the dosh but…leaving properties empty for a long while seems to be a ‘thing’ with any organisation involved in housing in Newham!

Now we know for a fact this is definitely not the only property Local Space Stratford own and manage in Basildon. We suspect that they have quite a few in their portfolio, mainly acquired from private sellers. We are going to start to try and build up a picture of just how many properties they (and other London based housing associations) have on their books in Basildon but it’s not going to be an easy task.

After all, shoving tenants out of neighbourhoods in London where they have friends, family and a support network to isolated, deprived estates in Essex is admitting you’re aiding and abetting the cruel process of social cleansing from the capital – and that could be a bit embarrassing for a housing association claiming to do the best for their tenants! So we suspect that the likes of Local Space Stratford and their mates at Newham Council will be a little bit coy about the properties they own and manage out here. We also suspect that Basildon Council won’t be able to provide any answers because Local Space Stratford and Newham Council are quite possibly not keeping them in the loop.

We know that London boroughs socially cleansing their tenants and effectively dumping them in the more deprived and marginalised estates out here in Essex causes tensions. Which is why last summer, we produced the leaflet below which we distributed on a few selected estates. The aim was to explain to people angry about the housing situation out here where the roots of the problem were and to direct their anger at the right target. So, rather than re-hash the arguments, here’s the leaflet…

Action?

On the evening of Wednesday 2nd August, activists from the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) plus the ward councillors took part in a walk about on the ¾ estate to get a fuller picture of the problems afflicting the area. This is what we wrote about it pretty much as soon as we got home: The fightback starts nowhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/the-fightback-starts-now/ On the walk, we stopped by the broken ‘temporary’ fence just off Swanstead shown above where concerns were expressed about its visual impact and safety. We distinctly remember one of the ward councillors, Cllr. Block, taking a picture of the offending fence on her phone and telling us she would be contacting the relevant departments at Basildon Council to get it sorted out.

We have to assume that Cllr. Block did inform the relevant people at the council the next day. If that’s the case, can someone please explain to VHCG, BASHA and all of the residents on the ¾ estate who feel they’ve been forgotten about, why is it that five and a half months after being told that action would be taken to fix this fence, sod all appears to have been done about it? Can they also explain why there appears to have been no liaison between the ward councillor and the council officers on the one hand and VHCG, BASHA and the residents on the other on what should be the simple matter of getting this fence sorted out?

BASHA, this blog and VHCG have acquired a bit of a reputation for putting the boot into Basildon Council. We don’t do this because we’re vindictive or we like bullying people. We do this because the council are supposed to be the servants of the people and when it comes to the ¾ estate in Vange (and many other estates across Basildon), people feel like they’re being let down, ignored and belittled by them every time they raise legitimate concerns. We have to put the pressure on Basildon Council simply to get them to do their sodding job!

When turnouts at local elections hover around the thirty percent mark, you would have thought that councillors and council officers would have the humility to take a hard look at themselves and ask why people have little or no faith in them. It’s constant shite like the five and a half months of inaction over a dodgy fence that leads people to rightly conclude that the council doesn’t give a toss about them so they don’t bother to go out and vote. A little word of advice to councillors and council officers alike from those on the estates who have their fingers on the pulse – people are not just fed up, they’re getting angry now!

We got our hands dirty…

Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and supported by a number of residents got their teeth into the community clean up on the ¾ estate today (Saturday 17.2). The main areas of focus were Oldwyk and the top end of Dewsgreen at the top end of the estate and Gambleside and Sturrocks at the bottom end.

These are areas where VHCG and BASHA have an active presence and are working to establish what are effectively ‘zones of control’ where we can move forwards from fire fighting with rubbish clearance onto enhancements such as pocket community gardens. The idea of establishing these zones is to set an example of what can be achieved by residents working together which will hopefully inspire other people across the estate to do the same. This is already working as we were able to expand operations down into Sturrocks with residents coming out to clean up their close. The long term aim is to start linking these zones up and to start really transforming the estate.


The pocket community garden on Oldwyk


Gambleside looking a lot better as a result of active resident involvement

More work was undertaken on the small community garden that’s been created at the top of Oldwyk and there was bulb planting, strimming and tidying undertaken on Gambleside and Sturrocks. As you can see from the images below, a lot of rubbish was collected. A heck of a lot of rubbish considering the small area we were operating in…

There was an agreement with Basildon Council to pick up the rubbish we had collected. The Oldwyk pile was eventually collected. At the time of writing, the pile at the end of Gambleside hadn’t been collected. To say this is disappointing is an understatement as it makes a mockery of all the hard graft that was put in today. VHCG are already chasing up Basildon Council to ensure that the pile at Gambleside is collected as early as possible on Monday.


The rubbish collected from Oldwyk and Dewsgreen


The rubbish collected from Gambleside and Sturrocks

All in all, it was a reasonably successful day. However, it was just one day in a long campaign to start to turn round the fortunes of an estate that has more than its fair share of problems. A campaign that will only succeed when residents really start to turn out in numbers on clean up days and in between, do what they can to keep the estate maintained. That means a combination of doing it themselves and working with VHCG to put pressure on Basildon Council to do their job. We will be back to support the work of VHCG and BASHA as and when required in the months to come.

A poor replacement

As you can see from the image above, before Barratt Homes took out a fair sized chunk of Gloucester Park for their housing development, there was a properly designed and constructed all weather playground. That has now gone, buried underneath new housing. Obviously, as part of the deal for going ahead with the development, Barratt Homes were obliged to put in a replacement playground which they duly did. However…





Seriously? Are Barratt Homes taking the piss? In wet winter weather, this is pretty much unusable unless parents are happy about their kids coming home soaking wet and covered in mud. Somehow, we don’t think many parents would be happy about that…

We’ve been informed that funding has been secured to put proper surfaces down and to replace the skate boarding park surface. £40,000 has also been secured to refurbish the hardball area in Gloucester Park. However, we’re sure you won’t be surprised that not a penny of this has come from Barrett Homes – all of this is funding from other sources.

If housing developers want to know why people no longer trust them, here’s one reason… It’s because when it comes to providing public infrastructure such as replacement playgrounds, pocket parks etc. as part of the deal for taking land for development, the developers are cheapskates. When you put that alongside the agenda of social engineering/cleansing because they skimp on providing genuinely affordable housing, the sham ‘consultations’ with residents and building quality issues, developers really shouldn’t be surprised that many people hold them in utter contempt.

When it comes to providing genuinely affordable housing built in a sustainable way along with the necessary infrastructure needed to support the extra population, the political, economic and social system we have cannot deliver it. Which points to the inescapable conclusion that fundamental change is needed sooner rather than later…

Doing the Lambeth Walk (through Southwark)

Saturday 24th February, 1pm at City Hall then off to The Shard

This isn’t your normal point A to point B housing activists march with mass produced placards and the usual speeches at the final rally before everyone dutifully goes home thinking they’ve done their bit. This is a Class War protest. It will be VISUAL! Let’s face it, have you ever seen a protest where everyone is doing the Lambeth Walk? No, of course you haven’t! Well, you’ll have a chance to not only see but be a part of a mass Lambeth Walk. It will be irreverent, taking the piss and with absolutely no respect for authority. Did the owners of The Shard (and all the other owners of ghost apartments across London) think that after we beat the odds and had our protest outside The Shard on Thursday 8th February, we’d just sit back on our laurels thinking it was job done? We’ve got news for them – the job is not done and won’t be done until housing provision is back in the control of ordinary Londoners and not the super rich parasites who’ve been poncing off the capital for far too long. Every pissed off Londoner and militant housing activist needs to be on this action – feel free to share this far and wide and let’s get the numbers out for this one…

Just to whet your appetite, here are the words (and chords) for the Lambeth Walk:)

LAMBETH WALK – UKE CHORDS Version
[C] Any [F] time you’re [C] Lambeth way,
Any [A7] evening, [Dm] Any day,
You’ll find us [Dm7] all [G7]
Doin’ the Lambeth [C] Walk [G7] Oi!
[C] Ev’ry [F] little [C] Lambeth gal,
With her [A7]little [Dm]Lambeth pal,
You’ll find ’em [Dm7] all [G7]
Doin’ the Lambeth [C] walk.[G7]
[Am7] Every thing [D7] free and [G] easy,
[D7] Do as you darn well [G] pleasey,
[Em] Why don’t you [A7] make your [G] way there,
[Am7] go [D7] there, [Dm7] stay [G7] there.
[C] Once you [F]get down [C] Lambeth way,
Ev’ry [A7]evening, [Dm]Ev’ry day,
You’ll find your[Dm]self [G7]
Doin’ the Lambeth [C] Walk.[G7] Oi!

They couldn’t stop the protest at The Shard

As we wrote in our previous post, the owners of The Shard were doing everything they could to stop the protest called by Class War highlighting the obscenity of the existence of tower after tower of empty luxury apartments – all too often acting as investment vehicles for the super rich – while London is experiencing a severe housing and homelessness crisis. This included dragging Ian Bone to the High Court and having the nerve to ask him to pay their court costs!

Well as you can see from the photographs above, the protest did go ahead. It was undertaken in the usual irreverent Class War style with the to the point Lucy Parsons banner and a number of heartfelt speeches from seasoned housing and class struggle activists. Numbers were bolstered by other activists outraged at the lengths the owners were going to in an attempt to scupper the action. For the record, Ian Bone didn’t have to pay the court costs of the owners.

Despite the desperate attempts of the owners of The Shard, they were held to account in no uncertain terms for their part in exacerbating the housing crisis in London. A crisis that now sees low paid workers on zero hours contracts having to sleep rough because they cannot afford a roof over their head in a city that fetishises housing as an investment as opposed to the basic right it should be for everyone. The action at The Shard cannot be a one off. There has to be an ongoing series of protests across the capital pointing out the obscenity of luxury apartments built and left empty as investment vehicles while people are forced to sleep on the streets.

As for the owners of The Shard, on their own terms, they screwed up monumentally. They not only failed to stop the protest, with their attempts to throw the weight of the law at Ian Bone and the subsequent media coverage that was largely sympathetic to him and the reasons for having the protest, they created their own public relations disaster!

On Thursday 8th February, one section of the global super rich who thought they were invincible and could solve any perceived threat to their privilege by waving lawsuits at their opponents were found to have gaps in their armour. Note what the headline on the latest print edition of The Stirrer says: 2018 – EVERYTHING TO GAIN (and everything to lose) – we don’t normally like to blow our own trumpet but given what has happened, we think it’s an apt comment.

Which bit of ‘don’t build on flood plains’ do planners and developers not understand?

As we’ve written before, when it comes to building new homes we’re not NIMBYs and have no problem with them being built if they are truly affordable, planned and built in a sustainable way and come with the infrastructure to support the extra population. However, living out on the Essex shore of the Thames estuary with its numerous marshes, we realise that there are some areas the builders should leave well alone: Canvey Island Sea Wall Erosion, should be the Real Focus of CPBC’s Attention. Residents again being kept in the Dark?https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2018/02/02/canvey-island-sea-wall-erosion-should-be-the-real-focus-of-cpbcs-attention-residents-again-being-kept-in-the-dark/

It would appear that Canvey Island is not alone in having to deal with pressure to develop land that is obviously unsuitable for housing development: Petition to prevent development on marshland in Little Thurrock reaches 700 signatureshttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15920847.Petition_to_prevent_development_on_marshland_reaches_700_signatures/ On a personal note, when I used to work on door-to-door leaflet delivery jobs, I had occasion to visit Little Thurrock a few times. Two things struck me about the place – one of them being the watercourses edging the estate and the other being the large number of houses built up on platforms with steps up to the front door to avoid any potential flood damage. Even though the developer may have been grateful for the land to build houses on, they weren’t taking any chances with flood risks!

As it stands, one application has already been rejected by Thurrock Council but the developer has submitted another one which is due to determined on Wednesday March 7th. Local residents have already collected 700 signatures on a petition opposing the development on grounds of the flood risk and the loss of Green Belt land. Let’s hope Thurrock Council take note of this, people power prevails and this application is rejected once and for all.

If it wasn’t for the obscene housing situation in London which is littered with blocks of luxury apartments brought as investment vehicles but rarely lived in, we wouldn’t be in a situation along the estuary where developments are being mooted for sites that are totally unsuitable. If housing provision in London was aimed at those on medium and low incomes, people wouldn’t be forced out of the capital to try and get a roof over their head in cramped new housing developments on unsuitable sites with sod all infrastructure to support them.

This is one of those situations where people need to look at the bigger picture to understand the pressures that are being brought on local authorities along the estuary to provide housing for people forced out of the capital by obscenely high home prices and rents. This is what happens in a political, economic and social system that treats housing as an investment rather than something we need as a basic right in order to live our lives.

A ‘heritage asset’ where the lifts don’t work and the windows leak

The ‘regeneration’ of Basildon town centre has been under discussion for a number of years now accompanied by the occasional ‘consultation’ exercise. From anecdotal evidence we’ve heard, these ‘consultation’ exercises seem to avoid any meaningful engagement with the residents of Brooke House, the unmissable block shown above that’s located slap bang in the middle of Basildon town centre.

Brooke House is a Grade II listed building and has been described by Basildon Council in their bullshit ‘regeneration’ propaganda as a ‘heritage asset’. You can see this description for yourself if you visit the premises near the Entertainer toy shop taken over by the council to display their plans for the town centre.

Let’s get one thing straight, Brooke House is more than a Grade II listed building or a ‘heritage asset’ – it’s where people live. Given the deteriorating conditions inside the block, it would appear that this is something Basildon Council can’t really grasp: The state (and future) of Brooke Househttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/12/22/the-state-and-future-of-brooke-house/

Over the weekend of the 20th and 21st January, the lift serving the even floors was only working intermittently before packing up completely. The lift to the odd floors was working but very slowly and in almost complete darkness. Residents frequently had no option but to use the stairwells. Stairwells that as a result of the wet weather over the weekend and leaking windows were soaking wet, slippery and dangerous to use.

So, in the 21st century in a supposedly advanced country, we have a residential tower block in the middle of a town centre with malfunctioning / broken lifts and a soaking wet stairwell that has rightly been described as a death trap because the windows aren’t getting fixed. All of which gives the impression that the policy of Basildon Council regarding Brooke House is one of managed decline that will force tenants and residents to seek alternative accommodation. The idea being is that once the block is empty, the council can offload it to a developer and trouser the cash.

Basildon Council now have a fight on their hands with the newly formed and vocal Brooke House Residents Basildon group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1587080528053394/ and a proactive local councillor willing to hassle the council until they start to take a genuine interest in the people living in the block. As with our previous post about Havering Council’s estate ‘regeneration’ plans, local authorities need a sharp reminder that when they talk about this, it’s not just buildings, it’s peoples’ lives they’re playing with…