At the risk of endlessly repeating ourselves…

We’d like to draw the attention of the relevant Basildon Council officers and the ward councillors for the area covering the ¾ estate in Vange to this list of posts we’ve written about the issues on the estate and the frustrations the residents are experiencing in trying to resolve them:

Stop moving the sodding goalposts!
Falling apart…an update:(
Admit it…you need us!
Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)
Evading responsibility
The fightback starts now

For a blog that has only been going since February and which covers an area stretching from Southend in the east to Dagenham in the west, this is a heck of a lot of posts about one estate! We shouldn’t have to be writing these posts. If Basildon Council officers, the local ward councillors, Essex County Council and both the Circle and Swan housing associations were doing their jobs properly, the ¾ estate wouldn’t be experiencing anything like the problems it has.

To all of the agencies and the ward councillors involved, we ask you to listen to the residents and don’t dismiss their concerns, fob them off with excuses, give them the runaround or treat them with contempt. Remember, you’re supposed to be the servants of the people, not their masters.

When things do eventually get done on the ¾ estate, all too often it’s been after persistent nagging and pressure that creates mistrust and bad blood between residents on the one hand and council officers, councillors and housing association staff on the other. It shouldn’t have to be like this. We know that both the Vange Hill Community Group and Basildon & Southend Housing Action would prefer a co-operative working relationship with Basildon Council, Essex County Council and the relevant ward councillors.

The offer is on the table… Forget about what’s gone on in the past, get round a table, talk the issues through face to face, show residents you’re serious about working in partnership with them and let’s make a new start with a clean slate. It shouldn’t be that hard should it?


Stop moving the sodding goalposts!

This is what we’ve written about the Vange ¾ estate over the last few months as part of our commitment to supporting the work of the Vange Hill Community Group

Falling apart…an update:(
Admit it…you need us!
Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)
Evading responsibility
The fightback starts now

Basildon & Southend Housing Action – – and now the Vange Hill Community Group have been bending over backwards in trying to encourage residents to put out their rubbish on the right day, correctly sorted and in the right location. Sounds easy doesn’t it? All that’s needed is for Basildon Council to come up with a clear set of guidelines for residents to follow and the problem of uncollected rubbish will be solved once and for all.

Cue manic laughter… FFS, getting blood out of a stone would be considerably easier that getting a straightforward, comprehensible rubbish collection protocol from Basildon Council that leaves residents and council operatives in no doubt as to what needs to be done! Seriously, how hard is it for council officers to come up with a rubbish collection protocol that residents and operatives can understand and implement? We’re not talking about anything complicated here – we’re talking about one of the basic functions that people expect their councils to be able execute efficiently and without any dramas.

It seems that every time Basildon Council have been contacted over this, the answers have been contradictory, evasive and misleading. They keep moving the sodding goalposts! The council need to bear in mind that they’re dealing with community groups who want to do the right thing and get the rubbish collection problems on the Vange ¾ estate resolved once and for all. Groups that would like to work with the council to make life better on the estate rather than having to battle them all of the time.

We don’t want to be pushed into a position where we have to name the council officers who we think need to pull their weight but the time has come… James Hendry, please give the Vange Hill Community Group a) a clear, understandable rubbish collection policy that residents and council operatives can implement and b) give the Vange Hill Community Group the respect they deserve for trying their hardest to make their estate a better place to live…

Falling apart…an update:(

In the latest print edition of the Stirrer, the main feature is about how our local authorities are failing us, the people they’re supposed to serve. The never ending government imposed austerity agenda is one major factor in this. However, there are other factors such as toxic internal cultures which serve to exacerbate external pressures such as austerity. No two local authorities are the same and they all respond in different ways to external pressures. It has to be said that on the anecdotal evidence we’ve heard, Basildon Council has an internal culture that is toxic – this is manifested in the shit way they treat their residents and high levels of staff turnover.

You only have to look back through this blog and you’ll find a fair number of posts where we’re taking Basildon Council to task. Don’t just take our word for it – if you want to read what people at the grassroots are saying about the way Basildon Council are treating them, we recommend that you check out the Vange Hill Community Group and Basildon & Southend Housing Action

We heard a story of a Basildon resident who worked for the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham but changed jobs and started working at Basildon Council so they could cut down on the commuting. Within a matter of weeks they were on the phone to Barking & Dagenham begging for their old job back because the culture at Basildon was so dysfunctional they couldn’t take any more! We’ve heard another story from the Recovery section at Basildon Council where people are leaving in their droves because they can’t deal with the toxic work environment there and the pressures on them to treat residents like shit.

With a combination of high staff turnover, an all too often hostile attitude towards residents and services such as rubbish collection which on estates such as the ¾ in Vange that can only be described as piss poor, the evidence is mounting up that Basildon Council is falling apart. In the previous post: Admit it…you need us! we listed some of the ways community groups are having to step in and fill the breach while holding the council to account at the same time. Without being over-dramatic, Basildon Council is giving every impression they’re falling apart…

When the state fails to deliver, whether that’s at a national or local level, it has to be seen as an opportunity for grassroots campaigners to step in, not just to hold up failing services but to change the balance of power so we have a considerably bigger say in how our estates and neighbourhoods are managed and develop in the future. Let’s start to take that opportunity, not just in Basildon but anywhere where the state is failing, get power down to the grassroots and start to bring about some real change…

Admit it…you need us!

In an age of seemingly never ending austerity, council services are under ever growing strain and in a growing number of instances, they’re failing. Working with groups such as Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG), it’s all too clear that services such as rubbish collection and estate maintenance are in crisis. On a fair few occasions, BASHA and VHCG have had to step into the breach to undertake activities such as neighbourhood clean ups, educating residents on rubbish disposal (nigh on impossible when Basildon Council don’t have a rubbish disposal protocol!) and setting up community gardens.

BASHA, and now VHCG, are not stepping into the breach just to cover the failings of Basildon Council – they’re doing it because they care passionately about their communities. Recent clean ups they’ve undertaken include Gambleside on the ¾ estate in Vange: Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!) and the Pattocks on the Red Brick Estate: Cleaning up the Pattocks

Interestingly, in the case of the Pattocks clean up, BASHA were invited by the estate manager to come along to offer their expertise to the clean up she initiated. If that level of co-operation between council officers who know they don’t have the resources to do the job they need to do and community groups could spread, it really would make a world of difference. This wouldn’t just be to the physical appearance of the estates but also the empowerment of community action groups who want to make a meaningful contribution to the running and maintenance of their neighbourhoods.

Sadly, as things stand at the moment, far from co-operation and a constructive working relationship, BASHA and VHCG find they’re dealing with council officers who all too often, are less than helpful. The ongoing saga of dealing with a dysfunctional rubbish collection ‘service’ on the ¾ estate is just one example of where it feels that council officers are hampering efforts to clean up the estate and educate residents on rubbish disposal protocol. BASHA’s efforts to effectively carry out clean up days have been frustrated by issues with permissions to dispose of what they’ve collected at Essex County Council waste disposal facilities.

On the surface, Basildon Council’s new Pride Teams sound like a constructive idea to start to turn round issues with the neglect of estates and public spaces: Pride Teams start transforming neighbourhoods The problem is we’ve heard it on good authority that the Pride Teams know they’re overstretched and cannot do the job they’ve been set up to do with the limited resources they’ve got. This could be the perfect opportunity for them to reach out to community groups and work in partnership with them to start to turn the estates around.

However, this will mean Basildon Council admitting they can’t do the job themselves and relinquishing a degree of control. From BASHA’s previous dealings with the council, it’s abundantly clear that the one thing they hate doing is relinquishing control. So we have a bit of an impasse…for the moment… The point is that as community groups step into the breach more and more to deal with the failures of local government, it return for this, they have to be given a meaningful say in how their estates and neighbourhoods are managed and developed for the future. Nothing less than that is acceptable…

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…

Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)

A short while back, we posted up this piece on the problems experienced by residents on the ¾ estate in Vange, which is on the southern fringes of Basildon: The fightback starts now As well as hassling ward councillors, council officers, county council officers and various housing associations, as you can see from the above image, part of that fightback is residents getting out and cleaning up the estate themselves. The above was done by the Vange Hill Community Group and was facilitated by help from our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action.

It’s only a small section of the estate but…it sets an example to residents in other areas that a little bit of unilateral people power action will get a result when it comes to cleaning the place up. In the absence of any signs of Basildon Council / Essex County Council getting off of their arses to pay the ¾ estate a visit and do the job they’re paid to do in maintaining it, the only way things are going to get done is by the residents getting out and doing it for themselves. Hopefully, these kind of actions are the first steps towards residents taking control of their estates and bringing power right down to the grassroots…

Evading responsibility

We had an e-mail from one of the activists in the Vange Hill Community Group the other day which shows the frustrations they’re experiencing in holding the authorities to account for the conditions on the ¾ estate. Basically, it’s buck passing with no one willing to stand up and say ‘this issue is my responsibility and I’ll see that it gets sorted’.

This extract concerning the requested removal of a dumped armchair on Gambleside and dumped wood on Vange Hill Drive illustrates the way various sections of Basildon Council try to bounce responsibility for clearing up items off each other rather than getting the job done: Today spoke to men sent to clear armchair dumped between 12-14 Gambleside and they were only going to pick up chair. I said that I was fed up as I always put out various other rubbish so they should collect everything there. Apparently told by James Hendry not their job as that is dustmen’s job (Ha Ha) as we all know they do not collect it. Street sweeper has said same, told not to collect things as not his job. Basically told that it is enforcement’s job and to leave.

This e-mail was also copied to the local ward councillor, Melissa McGeorge, who by now should be in no doubt as to the frustrations felt by residents who cannot get a straight answer from the council for love nor money: I think Melissa it is about time the heads of these sections stopped acting like children guarding their marbles and get on and sort out how to do their jobs properly. This is not acceptable at all, they are paid to provide a service and they are not…Lets be clear here, the council is failing in its duty here and is also being obstructive in providing information allowing our group to keep these sections on its toes regarding health and safety [for residents] and the environment, all areas I personally have experience in. I am dismayed that the council are so indifferent to peoples need to live in a clean and safe area.

There’s one interesting nugget of information that has come to light courtesy of a helpful unnamed source at Essex County Council (ECC) – all roads, parking areas, paths and steps on the ¾ estate are their responsibility. On paper that is… Take a walk round the estate and it’s pretty clear these only get looked at once in a blue moon! So ECC, cheers for admitting these areas are your responsibility – the residents of the ¾ estate are eagerly awaiting the arrival of your operatives to sort out the potholed roads, broken kerbs, uneven paths and wonky steps… Knowledge is power and this map gives the residents a fair bit of that as they now know who to badger in order to get a problem fixed. Here’s the map…

Regardless of whether it’s Basildon Council, Essex County Council, Circle Housing or Swan Housing, the frustrating experiences of the Vange Hill Community Group (and in previous years, Basildon & Southend Housing Action) in trying to get straight answers from them and do the job they’re paid to do proves one thing beyond doubt – they’re dysfunctional. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that none of them are fit for purpose as they continue to treat the resident of the ¾ estate in Vange with contempt.

At the moment the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action are trying to hold the line by holding the authorities to account. At some point in the not too distant future, looking at ways of taking responsibility for the estate away from the authorities and giving it to the residents has to be on the agenda. Bitter experience has shown that the authorities have failed the people and that the point is coming where the people will have to take over…