Tag: Basildon Council

The state of the estates

Broken pavements with weeds sprouting up everywhere and the possibility of new life forms evolving in the stagnant puddle of water by the drains

It’s not clear whether this is a result of Basildon Council’s Kafkaesque rubbish collection policy or one of the residents behaving like a scumbag but leaving trash bags in an area where kids play is bang out of order

The other evening, along with a comrade from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA), we distributed our housing flyers across the estate on the south side of Wickford Avenue in Pitsea. As you can see from the above images, the place has seen better days. While it’s not as bad as the ¾ estate in Vange (yet), it’s clear that it has seen better days.

Across the estate, it was a story of broken kerbs, cracked and uneven paved areas complete with a range of weeds sprouting from the cracks and a lot of unkempt gardens. The neglect of the public areas on estates seems to be pretty much endemic across Laindon, Basildon and Pitsea. The only times we’ve seen public areas kept clean has been down to direct intervention by pissed off residents taking matters into their own hands and doing the job themselves.

As for the neglected gardens, more often than not the cause is down to the growing number of buy to lets on the estates, too many of which appear to be owned by scumbag landlords who’ll cram as many tenants into a property as possible to maximise their revenue. A lot of these are on short term leases so with the churn of tenants, community cohesion is going to start taking a hit.

In addition there are the properties owned by London based housing associations where they dump tenants who have been booted out of the capital as a result of social cleansing in the name of so called ‘regeneration’. This is something we’ve already written about here: Newham Council…it’s just got personal…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/newham-council-its-just-got-personal/

Longstanding residents understandably get concerned when they see the estate they’ve lived on for a few decades start to rapidly decline. It’s these concerns that get picked up by the knuckledraggers on the right and far right to be exploited for their own divisive, hateful purposes. Which is why we’ve produced the housing flyer shown above to a) make sure people’s anger gets directed at the right targets and b) to offer BASHA’s assistance to any residents willing to group together and start to turn their estates around.

Thankfully, we’re not alone in this task… The recently formed Vange Hill Community Grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ are doing some sterling work in starting to turn the ¾ estate around and we’ll do what we can to facilitate that. Then there’s Focus E15 who are putting Newham Council – one of the worst offenders in turfing their tenants out of London – under intense pressure. We’re always happy to stand in solidarity with Focus E15 as their fight is our fight…

The fightback starts now

Just under a month ago, we undertook a distribution of a Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) flyer on the ¾ estate in Vange on the southern fringes of Basildon – this was our write up of what we found: Where the new town dream has died…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/where-the-new-town-dream-has-died/ Since that low point, there have been a number of encouraging developments: Positive developments in Vangehttps://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/positive-developments-in-vange/

On the evening of Wednesday 2nd August, along with our comrades from BASHA, we met up with representatives from the Vange Hill Community Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ – and two of the ward councillors for a walk around the estate to get a fuller picture of what the issues were and start to work out an action strategy to deal with them.

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. Many of these properties have since 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. Many of these are ‘houses of multiple occupation’ that are seriously overcrowded. It feels 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, Circle Housing and Swan Housing – all have some responsibility for various parts of the estate but none seem to want to talk or co-operate with each other! 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…

Despite the teeming rain, the walkabout was a positive experience. Vange Hill Community Group are passionate about turning round the fortunes of the estate and members have already started clean ups in the immediate vicinity of their homes. We spent a long time talking to them about how we can support and facilitate what they’re doing and getting the outline of an action plan in place.

One aim is to lead by example… This will be when a small group of neighbours get together to clear up rubbish, strim out unwanted weeds, clear unsafe steps of leaves and weeds and where appropriate, set up a community flower bed. As well as making a physical difference, the process of doing this will start to rebuild the community solidarity and pride that the ¾ estate desperately needs. If this can start to happen at a few points on the estate and can be sustained, then it will hopefully set an example that others will want to emulate it so that the ‘reclaimed’ bits of the estate physically link up with each other.

However, as you can see from the images taken on the walkabout, we and Vange Hill Community Group are under no illusions about the scale of the task…it’s a good job we like a challenge!

A ‘house of multiple occupation’ with a front garden turned into a rubbish tip

Electricity and flood water are not a good mix!

One of the neglected paths and open areas on the estate

One of many flights of steps that appear to be getting left to go back to nature, making them hazardous for pedestrian use

Looks like someone’s had a clear out…

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)

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…

The deliberate neglect of Brooke House

Brooke House is the iconic looking tower block right in the middle of Basildon town centre. While it may look iconic from the outside (and from a distance), when you get inside, it’s a different, considerably grimmer story altogether as you can see from the images above…

Phil Turner, the Tory leader of Basildon Council, has come up with some grandiose schemes for Brooke House, none of which take any account of the wishes of the residents currently living in the block. One such scheme was converting the building into a hotel! When ‘consultations’ were held about the future of the town centre, the residents of Brooke House were not included despite them living right in the middle of the area to be ‘transformed’.

While the powers that be attempt to formulate a plan for the town centre, Brooke House continues to suffer from a policy of deliberate neglect. The images above from public areas of the block show missing ceiling tiles, rusting hand rails and blocked up rubbish chutes to name just a few of the indignities residents have to endure.

While the long term future of Brooke House is being decided, Basildon Council appear to be totally uninterested in spending any money on maintenance of the block. The council are giving the impression that they regard the current residents of the block as a nuisance they wish would go away.

This is part of Basildon Council’s plan to gentrify the area with the aim of turning it into a Tory voting commuter town. They hate the idea that the iconic Brooke House is inhabited by social housing tenants instead of young professionals. It would seem that the policy of deliberate neglect is aimed at driving the social tenants out so they can pull in a developer to ‘transform’ the block.

All of this shows the twisted priorities of Basildon Council who seem to be more concerned about the image of the town centre and socially engineering and cleansing the area, than they are about the residents currently living in Brooke House. This is what we get in a political, economic and social system that views housing as an asset rather than the basic right it should be…

A lifeline faces the axe

The Basildon based Disability Information & Advice Line (DIAL)http://dialbasildon.co.uk/index.php?id=1 – faces closure on 21st April as a result of its funding being cut. One of the services offered by DIAL was to help disabled people appeal against Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) assessments wrongly declaring them fit for work. Last year, Basildon Council axed its £10,000 annual funding to DIAL and gave it to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) instead. This amounted to five percent of DIAL’s budget – because of this cut, other backers pulled their funding and a situation has been reached where it’s impossible for them to carry on. See here for the full story in the Yellow Advertiser: EXCLUSIVE: Disabled Basildon residents will die if local charity DIAL is forced to close, service users warnhttps://tinyurl.com/lv8xsj4

With the CAB, an appointment is needed and people are given an allotted time. With DIAL, people can walk in or call the hotline and be seen pretty much immediately – if needed, casework taken on is carried through to its conclusion and is not subject to time constraints. Basically, we’re looking at two different modes of operation here with DIAL being more flexible and responsive. Basildon Council’s scrutiny committee challenged the notion that the CAB could provide the same kind of service as DIAL but that was ignored by Tory councillors who went ahead and approved the funding cut regardless.

There has been a long litany of horror stories where people with serious disabilities have been declared fit for work by target driven contractors operating on behalf of the DWP when it’s patently obvious they’re not. All too often, these callous, botched decisions have been followed by the death of the claimant as a result of their condition or suicide as tragically, they see no way out of an impossible situation. Voluntary groups such as DIAL are the only ones speaking up for vulnerable claimants against a system that displays a horrendous mix of incompetence and callousness. DIAL literally are a lifeline for disabled people being screwed over by the system. Despite all of this, the Tories on Basildon Council approved the cut to DIAL’s funding knowing it could eventually force the group to close.

This illustrates the sick and twisted priorities that underlie the political, economic and social system we have to endure. People are judged by how much they can contribute to the bottom line. If for whatever reason, you’re no longer able to work and are forced to rely on benefits, you’re treated as an ‘unproductive’ burden. You’re vilified by rags like the Sun, Mail and Express and bullied and harassed by the DWP and the agencies they sub-contract their dirty work to. While it may not be publicly expressed (yet), when someone with a serious disability is driven to the depths of despair by these scum and can see no other way out than suicide, you get the distinct impression the powers that be see it as a result…

* DIAL manager Jan Stevens said they had funding applications outstanding but was being forced to close before hearing the results as it cannot cover its costs in the meantime. However, she said that an offer of free premises could provide a ’last minute lifeline’ in case those grants proved successful in a few months’ time.

Anybody with possible premises for DIAL can call 01268 285676

St. Martin’s Square, Basildon – what (if anything) is happening?

Photo from GAG2011

In a previous piece, we wrote about the complex development chain that starts with a development of executive style homes at Dry Street, part of which will be on the site currently occupied by the Basildon campus of South Essex College which is scheduled to be moved to the site currently occupied by Basildon Market which is being moved to St. Martin’s Square: A breakdown in the chain?https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/a-breakdown-in-the-chain/

We’ve heard anecdotal evidence from a staff member at the Basildon campus of South Essex College that it’s already being run down even though there’s absolutely no move on building the new campus on the site of the market. This is on top of stories circulating that all is not well at South Essex College. Then we see the photograph of the ‘work’ at St. Martin’s Square to prepare it for the re-location of the market. Note the use of quotation marks around ‘work’ because to all intents and purposes, it would appear that the ‘work’ has more or less ground to a snail’s pace.

On the Facebook page of the local amenity group, GAG2011https://www.facebook.com/gag2011/ – they’re quite rightly raising the question of whether Basildon Council have run out of money again? Given the loss of the trees and seating that made St. Martin’s Square a welcome oasis to relax in while taking a break from the shopping during the summer months, a fair number of residents would like an answer to that question as well. If anyone could enlighten us as to what the heck, if anything, is happening with this complex but seemingly broken chain of development, we’d love to hear from you!

It’s getting harder to escape the impression that Basildon Council (and South Essex College) are becoming victims of their own hubris and arrogance. As we’ve written before, this is what happens with a top down planning system that wilfully refuses to take on board the concerns of people who are impacted by schemes they feel are being imposed upon them.