Out of sight, out of mind…

That has up until now, generally been the attitude of Thurrock Council when it comes to dealing with the growing problem of flytipping down alleyways across the borough. The attitude was that if it can’t be seen from the road, it’s not a problem, even though the lives of residents have been blighted by the alleyways behind their houses being blocked by flytipped trash. Well, according to this piece on Your Thurrock, the council may be having a change of mind about this: Thurrock Council pledge to undertake fly-tipping reviewhttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/17/thurrock-council-pledge-undertake-fly-tipping-review/ Mind you, it’s only a review so let’s not get too excited that we might be moving towards a solution on this…

On the subject of solutions, we’re reproducing in full a comment left after the Your Thurrock piece which makes some very useful practical suggestions but also expresses the poster’s utter frustration in dealing with the council:
1. Fire gates either end with keys distributed to all households. 2. Organising residents who wish to maintain the alleyways. 3. Up north most alleyways are now small communal gardens made by the residents. 4. Clean, organised alleyways deter dumping as tippers know they’re being watched. It also deters residents from dumping out their back gate. 5. Making the resident responsible for their allotted area of alleyway also helps. 6. Lighting would be good too as this seems to deter the drug users. Some councils have employed solar lighting to deter these and fly tippers. 7. Portable CCTV can be employed, again tippers never know if the cameras are live or not. Most people who live with alleyways behind their properties are sick of all the dumping and fly tipping. We live on one that when we moved in in 2000 was a lovely little alley, well kept and maintained. We have motorcycles that we store in the back of the garden and it was easy to get them out. Now it’s impossible to even walk down these alleys. We have contacted the council on numerous occasions telling of the needles from drug use in the alley, but they said they sent someone to a look, bit of a lie, as I was around when the inspector viewed it and he stood at the top of the alley then got in his car and drove off. I was told he even picked up some discarded needles. Oh no he didn’t. We, the neighbours have removed the needles ourselves. We even had a cat come home with one stuck in his paw. The trouble with this council is the attitude of “If it cannot be seen from the road, we do nothing”. That was exactly the words used when we complained over two years ago. As for our councillors, I have mailed all of them and had no reply. One was too busy being Mayor (Cathy Kent as mentioned in this article), the other (her husband) running for MP, and the third I don’t even know who he is. Waste of space if you ask me. Well, there you go. You want comments, now you hear it from the streets affected. I bet I’m not the only one that’s so angry with the “Clean up the Town and forget the outskirts” mentality of the council. Oh, and by the way, Mrs Kent. we now have spilled oil, welding gas canister, 3 bed frames plus mattresses, a couple of fridges, a washing machine and a sofa. There will be a TV next week, we’ll have all we need to set up home right there in the back alley. Coming round for tea? No, I thought not.
robbiep

Looking at the tenure of properties in areas affected by flytipping may also be an idea. From when we’ve been doing door-to-door deliveries of the Stirrer paper, it seems that there are some areas with a lot of buy to let properties with a fair few being rented out on short term leases. Add in an element of landlords who cut corners and get away with the bare minimum they’re obliged to do with some blatantly flouting the rules, then you may well have an explanation for where at least some of the flytipping is coming from. Whether Thurrock Council are prepared to spend time and resources chasing up rogue landlords is however, another matter.

As we’ve written before, a large number of buy to let properties in a neighbourhood is going to cause problems, particularly if a fair number of them are on short term leases: Where the new town dream has died…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/where-the-new-town-dream-has-died/ With people constantly moving in and out, there’s no community spirit or sense of belonging which is why flytipping becomes a major issue because the flytippers sense that no one cares and that they can get away with it. It goes back to the long term project of trying to rebuild community solidarity and addressing issues of tenure to introduce an element of stability back into neighbourhoods affected by these issues. That however, is unlikely to happen this side of a major political, social and economic change…

Keeping up appearances

We noted with interest this piece on Your Thurrock on how Thurrock Council are preparing themselves for the future as funding from central government continues to be slashed year on year: Thurrock Council finance boss looks to a future of “not a penny from the government”http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/14/thurrock-council-finance-boss-looks-future-not-penny-government/ Obviously a Tory run council isn’t going to be challenging the narrative from a Tory government about continuing austerity and will be more than happy to implement an agenda of cuts…

In a period where Thurrock Council make no secret of the measures they’re having to take to bring expenditure down while building up their cash reserves, it’s not surprising that people are starting to ask some searching questions about spending priorities. Where we live in Stanford-le-Hope, we can’t help noticing that the council appear to have gone into overdrive (resources permitting) on their cleaning and greening agenda with verges getting regularly cut and Ruskin Road Park looking better than it has done for a long time. The people we know in the area have picked up on this and half jokingly have been asking ‘when is the royal visit happening?’

When the talk a couple of years back was about handing over pretty much every public space for resident led groups to run (as has happened at Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope) in a bid to save as much money as possible, it now seems that the money is there for them to be maintained to a reasonable standard. The answer to that is that it’s about surface appearances. What residents and visitors to the area see are the pavements, verges and parks and that goes a fair way to forming their impression of what Thurrock is like as a place to live and work. Hence the effort and money that’s being spent on what to all intents and purposes, is keeping up appearances.

Unless you have an ill or elderly resident in need of a care package from social services, what is provided in this sector is hidden from a large section of the public. These are services that most people don’t pay much attention to until they’re in the unfortunate situation where they have to turn to them. When they do turn to what are increasingly outsourced social services, all too often they’re found to be inadequate. As most of this suffering takes place in private away from the public eye, it’s one area where cuts can be made and corners cut because by and large, the council can get away with it.

In a political, economic and social climate where people are judged by the contribution they make to the bottom line through work, anyone who for whatever reason isn’t working, is seen as a burden on society. When those out of work are forced to turn to social services for support, they are demonised as ‘scroungers’. With these attitudes, it’s not hard to see that the axe will fall on services being provided to people that elite elements in our dysfunctional, dystopian society see as ‘undeserving’. So when you see the trimmed verges and cleaner parks across Thurrock, don’t be deceived by appearances because there is a lot of hidden suffering under the surface…

One part of the problem…

Referring to the previous two posts about the state of the ¾ estate in Vange and our highlighting the large number of buy to lets being rented out on short term tenancies as being a contributory factor, this piece from Your Thurrock encapsulates the problem in a nutshell: Thurrock homeowner fined for dumping rubbish at front of househttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/06/thurrock-homeowner-fined-dumping-rubbish-front-house/

Granted, the story is about a property in Grays but it illustrates the attitudes of too many landlords to the neighbourhoods they operate in – basically, they don’t give a s**t! In a case like this where the landlord lives in London E17 miles away from the property concerned in Grays, it’s easy to not give a s**t as they don’t have to deal with pissed off locals. To scumbags like this, their portfolios of property are seen as a tidy income stream and nothing more than that. If that income can be maximised by cutting every corner they can get away with, they will do so. In the case of this particular landlord, he took the piss once too often and was hauled before the court.

Taking landlords like this to court is like trying to put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. It’s a token gesture which may make a few landlords look at how they operate and decide to pull their socks up but it does nothing to address the underlying problems. Prosecuting cases like this is being seen to be doing something while conveniently ignoring the attitude that sees housing as an investment vehicle as opposed to the basic human right it should in a civilised society.

Whether it’s slum landlords like the one in this case or developers building block after block of apartments in formerly working class areas of London that end up as investment vehicles which remain empty as they’re ‘flipped’ on the market, the attitude that housing is an investment prevails. As long as that thinking remains unchallenged, we’ll keep on seeing slum landlords like this operate in our neighbourhoods while at the same time, more working class areas of the capital are demolished to make way for more sleek, sterile apartment blocks. To get housing seen as a basic human right is going to require fundamental political, economic and social change…it can’t come soon enough!

Eight weeks!

This story from the Echo pretty much sums up the problems experienced by residents on the ¾ estate in Vange: Rubbish left to fester for 8 weeks in bin shed as rats and maggots enjoy the messhttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15387717.Rubbish_left_to_fester_for_8_weeks_in_bin_shed_as_rats_and_maggots_enjoy_the_mess/ The rubbish has now been cleared but the fact it was left for eight weeks speaks volumes about the attitude of Basildon Council and Circle Anglia Housing (they ‘manage’ the social housing on the estate) to the residents of the ¾ estate. Basically, they don’t give a s**t!

Regarding the accumulation of rubbish that was left for eight weeks, this statement from Basildon Council is telling: “The bin shed is owned and operated by Circle Anglia Housing and it is for the managing agents of the properties to allow the council access to empty the bins. This includes the removal of dumped large items”. As ever, the problem is being batted back and forth between a council that doesn’t give a s**t and a housing association that’s not noted for its transparency and listening to their residents when they express concerns. If either of these two actually cared about the residents, they would have been on the case after the first report of a missed collection to work together to resolve the issue rather than pointing fingers at each other like two naughty kids in class trying to avoid being blamed by the teacher for misbehaviour!

So as well as working with residents to organise a community clean up, it looks as though our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) will need to be getting on the cases of both Basildon Council and Circle Anglia Housing to get them to pull their socks up. There is some good news however – residents have set up the Vange Hill Community Grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ – in a bid to turn round the fortunes of the estate by lobbying the council, Circle Housing and re-building community spirit and morale. If you live on the ¾ estate and care about its future, join this group and help them to improve life in the area…

Where the new town dream has died…

On Wednesday 5th July, we started distributing the Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) flyer depicted below. Our first port of call was the ¾ estate in Vange. This was my first visit back to the ¾ estate for a couple of years and I was shocked at the state of the place…it’s way worse than anything I’ve ever seen in London… The ¾ estate has more than it’s fair share of problems ranging from neglect by Basildon Council and the shadowy, less than transparent operation of Circle Housing through to anti-social behaviour and what to all intents and purposes, looks like a collapse of community morale…

One of the problems on the ¾ estate is tenure… A lot of houses were brought by their tenants when the right to buy came in. The problem is that a few decades later, many of these properties have been brought up by buy to let landlords…some of who are total scumbags. Anecdotal evidence suggests that tenancies on a fair number of the buy to let homes are on short leases. One elderly resident we talked to said there were ‘a lot of comings and goings’… The feeling among the few long standing residents who remain is that the sense of community that used to be found on the estate disappeared long ago as the number of people moving in and out on short term leases increased. Instead of neighbourliness and solidarity, there’s fear, suspicion and a collapse of morale…

Then there’s the neglect by Basildon Council. Perhaps we should send them a map of the ¾ estate to remind them the place exists? There are issues with rubbish collection which have been going on for years and show no sign of ever being resolved. There are broken kerbs and potholes everywhere. As for the walkways and steps, apart from the fact that they appear to be going back to nature as the grass and weeds take over, there are numerous uneven and broken paving slabs that mean you need to keep your eye on where you’re walking to avoid tripping over…

Okay, that’s the public areas…another issue is the state of a significant minority of the homes on the estate… The phrase ‘no one gives a f***ing s**t’ and ‘how the f*** can people live like this?’ were being uttered by my comrade at frequent intervals as we delivered the flyers. A few properties looked as though their residents cared and still had some pride. A significant minority of them had overgrown, rubbish strewn, dog s**t covered front gardens. Granted, a lot of properties are on short term leases but…can the tenants not show some respect for their neighbours by at least making an effort to keep things tidy? It’s not just short term tenants who are the problem – we know there’s a significant minority of long term tenants who also appear to have given up making any effort to keep up appearances.

Morale on the ¾ estate has collapsed. It’s a massive task to try and turn the whole of the ¾ estate round and we (BASHA and the Stirrer) haven’t got the resources to do that. However, there’s one small corner where we have got a couple of contacts and we’re going to work with them on a community clean up. We’re talking about a strategy of turning round one small corner of the estate and using that as an example that we hope will eventually spread. At the same time, we’re going to start building up a picture of the tenure patterns on the ¾ estate, paying particular attention to the element of buy to let landlords who are taking the p***.

By initiating a community clean up in one small corner of the ¾ estate, we hope to start the long slog of re-building community morale and solidarity. Watch this space for developments…

Dave (the editor)

The weird cult of Jeremy Corbyn

After the general election, I naively thought that we had reached the point of peak Corbyn and that elements of the left and other radicals would start to think a bit more independently again. Far from that happening, to all intents and purposes, the mania about Corbyn seems to intensified to the point where it has become a cult…a disturbing and weird one…

This was brought home to me on Saturday July 1st when, for the purposes of reporting the event and showing solidarity with any independently minded elements, I attended the Tories Out! Protest organised by the People’s Assembly. If you didn’t know anything about UK politics and saw the name People’s Assembly, you would assume that it was a left wing front representing a fairly broad range of opinions on that end of the political spectrum. Not a bit of it, the People’s Assembly is nothing more than the Jeremy Corbyn fan club. In fact it could well be argued that they do not represent the people in any way shape or form…

As for the Tories Out! protest, apart from a small autonomous block, a few other small, independently minded groups such as Class War and some individual renegades who all grouped together on the march, it was one massive Corbyn love-fest from start to finish. There were endless chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ pretty much from the off. Thousands and thousands of people putting their faith in one political leader and pretty much abandoning any vestige of independent thought let alone, autonomous grassroots action that has some relevance to the daily experience of most working class people.

I can normally tell if a protest like Tories Out! is going to be a large, because when there are huge London protests, there will be people getting on at various points along the c2c line to go to it. I didn’t see anyone getting on at any point on my journey into Fenchurch Street who looked like they would be attending Tories Out! As per usual, the train pretty much emptied at West Ham as most people piled off to go up to Westfield at Stratford for some retail therapy…

My guess about the numbers on Tories Out! is that the attendance was around the twenty thousand mark. Most of the attendees were the usual suspects plus people who have been swept up by the cult of Corbyn. It felt like a very middle class affair with lots of well meaning people but apart from a few of us renegades, little or nothing in the way of anger. Apart from a small autonomous block, the anarchist presence was pretty much zero. The working class presence was also pretty low as well. It’s pretty obvious by now that Corbyn is pitching for the young middle class vote and that everyone else is expected to fulfil their allotted tasks in securing that to ensure his victory.

Halfway down the Haymarket, a few of us had reached the point where listening to one more chant of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ would have pushed us over the edge so we departed for the pub. In the pub, the idea was hatched that a few people from Class War should go down to Parliament Square and get as close as possible to Corbyn to tell him a few home truths about the complicity of London Labour councils in social cleansing in the name of ‘regeneration’. Suffice to say, the plan was executed and not only did we manage to get the point across to Corbyn, prior to that we also encountered Len McCluskey as well – two for the price of one!

Needless to say, McCluskey and Corbyn weren’t best pleased at being called out on the dismal, anti-working class attitude of London Labour councils who are cosying up to the property developers. The Trots, stewards and Corbyn worshippers weren’t all that pleased at our intervention either. However, far from the metaphorical lynching I was expecting, there were people who were curious about what we had to say and there was a range of encounters and discussions with a few Class War papers getting handed out as well. All in all, it was a worthwhile intervention…

As for the cult of Corbyn, what has to be born in mind is that it is just that and doesn’t have a wide social base outside of the liberally educated, young middle class. The cult of Corbyn exists in a self reinforcing bubble that is apart from the day to day reality of most working class people. Hardly anyone on the estates in Thurrock and Basildon is talking about Corbyn – he’s simply not relevant to their lives. There’s still a massive political vacuum to be filled…

Dave (the editor)

Whatever you do at Tories Out! on Saturday, don’t rock the boat…

…because if you do get angry or depart from the script in any way, shape or form, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity will be really, really upset with you! As usual with a People’s Assembly event, everything is being as carefully choreographed as possible for what to all intents and purposes is going to be a massive, pro-Corbyn march and rally in the centre of London. There will be musical entertainment laid on to put everyone in a bouncy mood… There will be endless chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’… The usual suspects will be mouthing the usual guff from the stage… One more push and Corbyn will be Prime Minister…so whatever you do, don’t rock the boat…

There’s musical entertainment before and presumably, after the march… Let’s just put this in context… This will be taking place a few miles down the road from the still unfolding horror of the Grenfell Tower disaster where the death toll will not be known / revealed until the end of the year: Grenfell Fire Death Toll ‘May Not Be Known This Year’http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/grenfell-fire-death-toll-may-not-be-known-this-year_uk_5953b719e4b02734df2ef257 This shows an utter lack of respect, not just for for survivors in the community around Grenfell but also for the considerable number of people attending the march who feel saddened and angry about this needless tragedy and would appreciate a more serious atmosphere to reflect that.

The subliminal message from the People’s Assembly is ‘don’t get angry and rock the boat’. How the ***k is it possible to not get angry when Grenfell Tower survivors have been banned from attending the first full cabinet meeting of Kensington & Chelsea council because of fears of ‘disruption’? See here for the story: Grenfell Tower: Survivors Banned From Council Meeting Because Of Fear Of Violencehttp://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/grenfell-tower-council-survivors-meeting_uk_595437c1e4b05c37bb7bdad6 How the ***k is is possible to not get angry when the retired judge appointed to head the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, basically gave the green light to social cleansing from London when he ruled in 2014 that Westminster council could re-house a single mother in Milton Keynes, 50 miles away from her support network? See here for the full story: Grenfell Tower inquiry judge has controversial history in housing caseshttps://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/28/grenfell-tower-inquiry-judge-retired-martin-moore-bick

Let’s not let the Labour party off the hook… Do you want to see what they’re really like when they get their hands on the levers of power? These are just two out of hundreds of examples we could quote that shows the reality, and how far that is from the rhetoric they’ll be coming out with this Saturday… Firstly, there’s this about the sheer arrogance of Newham council and their complicity in social cleansing in the name of ‘re-generation’: No More Fake News! This is realityhttps://focuse15.org/2017/05/19/no-more-fake-news-this-is-reality/ Then there’s this from Labour controlled Haringey council where they’re demolishing the Sky City estate in Wood Green and pretty much telling tenants they have no right of return to the area: Sky City, Wood Green – set for demolitionhttps://www.facebook.com/paul.burnham.31/posts/10211012337199605 How the ***k is it possible to not get angry when this is going down?

But, we’re not supposed to get angry and rock the boat on Saturday are we? That’s a tough call when the Tories have climbed into bed with the creationist, climate change denying, homophobic, anti-abortionist, religious fundamentalist, corrupt, loyalist terrorist loving scum otherwise known as the Democratic Unionist Party. The list goes on and on but we hope you’re starting to get the picture by now…there is a lot to be angry at right now! With the numbers expected at Tories Out! on Saturday, with the will, bottle and imagination, it could be a lot more than just another point A to point B march. At the very least, there should be a few buildings occupied / squatted to make some salient points about the housing crisis. A march like this should be angry and disruptive with the aim of putting the wind up the political establishment.

It should be, but we know it won’t be as the Corbynistas will not tolerate it. The truth is that anyone attempting to depart from the script on Saturday will most likely end up getting grassed up to the cops. As ever, any point A to point B march these days is a tokenistic exercise that’s designed to stifle people’s anger. Real change can only happen from the grassroots upwards on the estates, in our workplaces, in the colleges and out on the streets but, strictly on our terms…

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.”