Regulars (you sad, sad people) will recall that I have been keeping my eye on the row over at the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in respect of CapCo’s plans for Earls Court. In the blog on 3 May 2011, I was emboldened enough to ask whether the attempt by Stephen Greenhalgh (leader of Hammersmith and Fulham) to exclude tenants in opportunity areas from exercising their right to take over their estates under S34A of the 1985 Housing Act was proof that localism would not work in London.
You may recall that sterling statement from the West Ken and Gibbs Green tenants: “We are confident the coalition government will stand firm with us for implementing localism and the Big Society by making the regulations for S34A without political favour, and by sticking to their commitment to implement what was promised, empowering council estate communities without exception.”
Now, thanks to government correspondence between Greg Clark, minister for decentralisation, and Cllr Greenhalgh, recovered by Inside Housing through a Freedom of Information request, it turns out that’s exactly what the coalition government has done! The Guardian got hold of the story this week and carried the headline “Earls Court project: Tory minister declines to oblige Stephen Greenhalgh”. Quelle embarrassant!
One of the letters from Cllr Greenhalgh to Mr Clark says:
“The new power still appears to place too much emphasis on the ability of existing tenants’ groups to manage a stock transfer and too little on whether such a transfer is better for the whole community in the longer term… Although you indicate that representations can be made, the burden of argument still falls on the council bringing uncertainty for potential development partners and unnecessary delay. Instead of this we need a clear statement in the regulations that stock transfer to existing tenants would not be approved in regeneration and opportunity areas”.
To close he added his own hand-penned coda: “PS. I really need your help on this!”
Mr Clark’s response does not suggest he’s going to get it. More than three weeks passed before the minister got back to him:
“When considering a transfer the secretary of state will take account of all relevant considerations, which would include regeneration schemes for the wider area, and these considerations would have to be looked at in the context of the proposed transfer.” (My italics)
That last bit has got huge ramifications, not just for CapCo and Stephen Greenhalgh but for the entire future of estate regeneration. We need to think long and hard about this one. What I think he is saying is that regeneration schemes on existing council estates (never ever easy to achieve) will be led by the stock transfer, not by the regeneration strategy. The people are in charge, not the professionals.
In another part of the forest, I understand that the Brunel Estate in Westminster has voted against plans for redevelopment and Westminster City Council has subsequently dropped its proposals to redevelop it. The Gibbs Green and West Kensington campaigners now have nearly two-thirds of residents signed up to a petition to retain their homes. Localism must mean they are in charge.