New Town Utopia

A review of a sympathetic, brutally honest, sometimes funny (gallows humour), sometimes tragic, film about the disparity between the original vision for Basildon New Town and the reality as we know it today…

‘New Town Utopia is a feature documentary film about utopian dreams and concrete realities… the challenging, funny, and sometimes tragic story of the British new town of Basildon, Essex. The narrative is guided by the artists, musicians and poets of Basildon – on a journey through memory, place and performance. Facing austerity, adversity and personal battles they are individuals driven by creative spirit to help their community through art, poetry, music… and some rather angry puppets.’

See here for more information about this film: http://www.newtownutopia.com/

The film is about the vision the post war Labour government had for the New Towns and how that contrasts to the stark reality of what Basildon is like today. There’s footage of tired looking estates with the inevitable cracked and broken paths with the actor, Jim Broadbent, speaking the words of the Labour MP, Lewis Silken, as he articulated his vision for what the…

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The truth…


Working with both Basildon & Southend Housing Action and the Vange Hill Community Group on the troubled Vange ¾ estate which is located on the southern fringes of Basildon, one of the problems we face is that of tenure. When the right to buy came in, a fair number of tenants brought their homes. However, since then, too many of these homes have been flogged off to buy to let landlords. A heck of a lot of these landlords are scumbags, neglecting their properties while cramming in as many tenants as they can get away with.

Properties with six or more occupants are not uncommon – these are termed ‘houses of multiple occupation’ (HMOs). All too often, the tenancies in HMOs are on short term leases so there’s always a churn in the population. Because the tenants are on short term leases and likely to move on within a year, landlords feel they can get away with the bare minimum of maintenance. Basically, a lot of HMOs are slums…

It’s the buy to let landlords running HMOs that have played a major role in bringing the ¾ estate down to where it is today. They have no sense of responsibility to the community they operate in. They’re the ones responsible for undermining the sense of community on the estate, creating a feeling of atomisation, mistrust and fear. All they’re interested in is lining their pockets. To those who say that private landlords have a role to play in solving the housing crisis, we say you’re deluded. These landlords are parasites and need to be dealt with as such…

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…

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…

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 destruction of community…

Epidemics of flytipping in neighbourhoods are an outward manifestation that all is far from well in the community. This report in the Echo about flytipping in the Westborough ward in Southend is one example of this: Road becomes infested with RATS after rubbish dumpedhttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15258270.Road_becomes_infested_with_RATS_after_rubbish_dumped/ In the Echo report there’s a quote from the chair of the Westborough Community Association which speaks volumes – here it is: “There just isn’t a community in Westborough and we feel like we’re wasting our breath. People should be taking pride in their streets and helping to keep them clean.” Before we go any further, we’d like to make a plea to the Westborough Community Association to not give into despair and give up but to keep on plugging away because it’s grassroots groups like this that are holding the line in these troubled times.

We’ve seen this situation repeated across the area we cover. On the ¾ estate in Vange where we used to work with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) on community clean ups, flytipping was rife as was confusion from certain residents about when to put their rubbish bags out for collection! When we were doing door to door distribution of the Stirrer paper in Grays at the weekend, it seemed that every back alley we looked up had piles of dumped furniture and carpets festering away.

We sympathise with the calls for people to show more civic pride and take more care of their community. In the atomised society we live in, it’s all to easy for some people to just care about themselves and not bother about what goes on beyond the front door. Our comrades at BASHA have on numerous occasions expressed their frustration with the minority of residents who don’t seem to care what happens in their neighbourhood and who refuse to take responsibility for anti-social actions such as flytipping. It’s something we’ve previously acknowledged on this blog: Show some pride and have some respect for your neighbours!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/show-some-pride-and-have-some-respect-for-your-neighbours/ However, while we acknowledge that calls for people to take more pride in their neighbourhoods and make an active effort to keep them clean have a role to play, they are only scratching at the surface of the problem…

The problem being the growing number of buy-to-let landlords who have a rogue element in their midst. In every neighbourhood we’ve seen that’s blighted by flytipping and anti-social behaviour, the common denominator is the presence of a significant minority of private landlords who don’t give a shit plus those who seem to specialise in short term lets. If a street has a significant number of properties available for private rent, it can lead to a significant churn in the local demographic with people coming and going and as a consequence, not putting down roots or becoming an active part of the community. Not that living somewhere on a short term let is any excuse to behave like a scumbag and flytip because it’s not! Although, in a fair few cases, it’s the rogue element of private landlords who are doing the flytipping…

This is what you get when housing is regarded as a financial asset rather than the essential roof over your head which is the starting point for you to take an active role in your community. A situation that’s exacerbated by an increasingly atomised society as people have no choice but to move hundreds of miles simply to find work. Then there are those who have been given no choice when it comes to being socially cleansed from London: The housing domino effect…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/the-housing-domino-effect/ To put it bluntly, things won’t change until there is movement towards replacing a dysfunctional political, economic and social system that among sins too numerous to mention, sees housing merely as a financial asset with one that’s more equitable, just and sustainable…