09 July 2009

Tories' gerrymandering plans exposed

On the day that H&F Tories are celebrating the council's so-called achievements, the Evening Standard has exposed Conservative plans for 'social cleansing' Hammersmith & Fulham:


H&F council has recently announced plans to demolish 3,500 homes on estates they have declared “not decent neighbourhoods”.

Secret documents obtained through an FoI request reveal that the Conservative leader of the council, Stephen Greenhalgh, told senior Conservative Party officials that council estates are “ghettos”. The people who live there “add to the welfare cost of Government” and “have fallen into a cycle of unemployment and dependency”. “We (the taxpayer)” get “no return”. “What is needed” is “a solution to concentrations of deprivation”.

The documents reveal that the council gathered together a secret group of people to discuss this. Someone asked: “What is a ‘Poor person’?” Someone else said Fulham Court “is not a place, it is a barrack for the poor”. Yet another suggested the 2,000 strong White City estate was “an ideal place to develop and deliver a ‘master plan’”. And someone else said it was “hard to get rid of people”.

Participants acknowledged: "'Porteresque' accusations of gerrymandering or social engineering needed to be faced head on." Hence, “funding needed for political problem of management”, and “regeneration should not be stymied by a very few who object on spurious or ideological grounds”.

The “message” is “ownership empowers”, and “the Sacred Cows need to be shot!”. “We need to create mixed communities in concentrated areas of deprivation.”

Now, the Council has developed its “bulldozer argument” for its planning strategy - branding seven council estates containing 3,500 homes “not decent neighbourhoods”.

Using the language of social cleansing, and with no respect for age, vulnerability or human rights, the Tories propose to destroy communities on estates in Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith and Fulham. The sites will be used mainly for commercial development like hotels and conference centres. There would be a reduction of social rented homes by up to a third, and new housing for sale would be unaffordable to local residents.

In the meantime, all but health and safety repairs to the properties would cease and flats would be let on a temporary basis. Whole neighbourhoods are now blighted, with freeholders and leaseholders unable to sell, even though demolition could be years away. For the remaining social tenants in the borough – almost 40% of the population – there would be no prospect of re-housing for 20 years as the displaced residents took the few homes that become available.

But the targeted estates are places that all types of people wish to live – from pensioners and young families to first-time buyers and professionals. Many millions of pounds of public money have been spent on them under the Decent Homes programme. There is no need to destroy these communities. Residents are naturally furious at the proposals and don’t want to be forced into smaller homes at higher rents.

This is social engineering on a grand scale, and it is being recommended to the national Conservative Party hierarchy as the way forward in housing: no security, high rents, no duty to house the homeless, not even right to buy.

The secret council documents suggest H&F council’s policy to destroy communities they brand “not decent” may be unlawful, as well as immoral. Council officers are writing Tory party policy using council taxpayers' money. But, far worse, poor and vulnerable people in H&F are being used as guinea pigs in a dishonest and destructive socio-political experiment.

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