LAMBETH COUNCIL – A VIEW FROM THE GALLERY
To the Karuba centre in Gresham Road, Brixton for a meeting of Lambeth council’s cabinet while the town hall is being rebuilt.
At the meeting the cabinet overturned council plans to demolish sheltered housing at Queenswood Court in Hamilton Road, Gipsy Hill and another location in Streatham, placing much PR spin on the fact they’d changed their minds about something.
Pity they can’t do the same about libraries and demolishing six council estates.
Then it was the next estate up for demolition – Fenwick which is near to Clapham North tube station.
The person who was supposed to turn up and speak on behalf of the estate didn’t turn up. Conservative opposition leader Cllr Tim Briggs decided not to speak, apparently because he hadn’t had time to read the report to cabinet. This is perfectly understandable – there were more than 270 pages of it.
Lambeth’s cabinet member for housing Cllr Matthew Bennett came out with his familiar mantra on the very significant shortfall in Government spending and how the Government had imposed rent reductions (implying the council would have less money).
But here’s a thought. If a Tory Government are imposing rent reductions, that means a Tory government are, in effect, putting more money in council tenants pockets. “Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice.
All three councilors in Larkhall ward in which the Fenwick estate stands had their say.
There’d been an 84 per cent response (it was unclear as to what). People would not be moved off the estate, said one.
“We have to retain some level of resident involvement and engagement” said another.
What none of them said was what the tenants, residents and leaseholders thought of the idea.
Having covered a lot of these Lambeth council and council committee meetings, one realises it’s the information that Lambeth leave out is where questions need to be asked.
One mild-mannered lady in the audience rose. “Is it possible to get a few minutes of your time? “What’s been said on our behalf is not correct.” (Applause).
Council leader Cllr Lib Peck said: “You have three representatives here. “I suggest you speak to the three representatives.”
One person said: “You haven’t promoted our views at all”
Cllr Peck said that straight after the meeting they should speak to the three ward councilors and the officers that were there.
“If you feel you still have some issues you come and talk to Cllr Matthew Bennett (cabinet member for housing).”
Cllr Briggs intervened to say he was very happy if his time was taken up by the lady – Fowzia Molvi, a leaseholder on the estate. He was told he had forfeited that right.
Discussion followed on whether residents should have a right to speak. Perhaps sensing yet another public relations disaster, Cllr Peck changed her mind and allowed Fowzia to have her say.
“I thought our representatives definitely did not speak for what we feel here” Fowzia told the cabinet. “That’s why we’ve come – to make you aware. “I’ve never met Matthew Bennett.”
A committee member of the Fenwick estate tenants and residents association, she voiced concerns about ground rents and service charges.
“I have many questions and they have always been deterred” she said.
Lib Peck said: “There’s a group of people in the room who clearly don’t feel they have been heard. (You need to read that again – Ed.)
“Perhaps Neil Vokes (a council officer) and Matthew Bennett could undertake to meet and go through the questions we’ve gone through tonight” added Cllr Peck.
The cabinet then went ahead with their decision to demolish Fenwick estate.
What followed was a very interesting, and polite, meeting between council officers and
residents in a hallway outside – with ward councilors trying to get in on the act and one woman councilor trying to put her arms around Fowzia. (It didn’t work). Neil Vokes was also there. Said nothing.
A female council officer said that to go ahead with the Masterplan for the estate “we absolutely need your involvement. “If there’s things you don’t think were coming up we need to know what these things are and try and deal with them.”
She explained that the council decided five years ago that they were not going to have enough money within the Lambeth Housing Standard (to bring properties up to proper repair – Ed.) and at that point needed to do something more radical with estates that had really severe problems.
“Your estate was one that was going to cost too much to do up.
“If we don’t get your feedback in we won’t get it right.”
The officer admitted that they could not offer secure tenancies as the council were not building the estate. (Lambeth council are setting up a separate company called Homes for Lambeth which will demolish and rebuild six council estates – Cressingham Gardens, Fenwick, Central Hill, Knights Walk, South Lambeth, Westbury.
Officers and tenants agreed to meet – with the ward councilors wanting to come along. Whether the tenants want the ward councilors there is very, very doubtful.
(Conspiracy theorists should note that information regarding the actual amount of money spent on repairs to the six estates over the years appears to be impossible to get hold of.)
On Wednesday night there was a full Lambeth council meeting held in Elmgreen school, Elmcourt Road, West Norwood.
A much quieter council meeting than usual where some of the best contributions came from members of Lambeth Youth Council making their annual report.
Council agreed a new constitution which allows X number of speakers from Labour, Conservative and Green to speak on two motions, one put forward by the ruling party, the other by the main opposition.
What wasn’t raised was where that leaves Cllr Rachel Heywood, suspended from the Labour party for voicing the opinions of her constituents, if she wants to speak…..
*NB: There was no actual gallery at Karuba or in the hall at Elmgreen it’s just that, traditionally, sketches like this are written from the gallery. – Ed.
FURTHER READING: Don’t kick us out of here. OLD folks at an under-threat sheltered housing scheme have slammed “cruel proposals that will break up a community”. South London Press Friday, 30 August 2013 By [email protected] .