Poor council gardening maintenance attracts fly-tipping

I wrote the other day about the deficient standard of municipal gardening at the back of a small block of council flats in Ashchurch Park Villas.

Here is another example. This time from St Peter’s Road. The poor maintenance makes it an eyesore. The barriers put up to discourage fly-tipping just makes it look more grim and so has the opposite effect.

As I said with the earlier example there would be a case for having a properly maintained garden. There would be a case for building a cottage – if it was attractive with a traditional design and materials.  Either way there would be something beautiful to look at.

What can not be justified is the current situation.

Under Labour in H&F the number of council homes failing to meet the “decent” standard has doubled

First the good news. In recent years the number of council homes that fail to meet the “decent homes standard” nationally has been falling. As on the 1st April 2014 there were 145,737 “non-decent dwellings” owned by local authorities in England. See Section F of this dataset.  As of April 1st last year, the latest figures available, it was down to 83,440 “dwellings”. The dataset for that year is here.

In London the number has fallen from 72,885 in 2014 to 47,232 last year.

But in Hammersmith and Fulham it is a different story. On April 1st 2014 there were 536 “non-decent” council homes in the borough. The next month the borough was under new management. Labour won the council elections after promising council tenants a better deal. What has been the reality? By April 1st last year the number of “non-decent” council homes was 1,095. That is more than double. These are the official figures based on the Council’s own returns.

Now the “decent homes standard” isn’t a perfect measure. It includes the perverse requirement to replace sash windows with PVC.  But those cold statistics do give a pretty clear measure of the extent of Labour’s mismanagement and neglect. Anybody who goes canvassing on a council estate can see it for themselves – frankly the figures sound like a gross underestimate. 605 council homes in Hammersmith and Fulham are categorised as “not in a reasonable state of repair” (up from 147 in 2014). 92 are “without reasonable modern amenities and services” (up from nil in 2014). There are also 499 “without a reasonable degree of thermal warmth” (up from 392).

As a percentage, the “non-decent” council homes has risen from four per cent of the council’s housing stock, in 2014, to nine per cent last year.

Other councils have made great progress during the same time. In Kingston the number of “non decent” has fallen from 1,596 to 91. Havering has seen a fall from 1,929 to just 40.

By contrast when the Conservatives were running the Council the number of “non-decent council homes” was reduced. In the last four years of the Conservatives running the Council the number fell by more than half. In 2010 it was 1,322. As noted above by 2014 it was down to 536.

I wrote earlier about the amount of new affordable housing being slashed under Labour.

So the facts are stark. Labour uses class war rhetoric about being “on the side” of council tenants while portraying the Conservatives as the enemy. But the truth is that council tenants have lost out more than anyone else as a consequence of Labour running the Council.

 

Making it easier for Flora Gardens residents to get on their bikes

While the hugely expensive “Cycle Superhighway” proposal for King Street is flawed there are plenty of more practical and less costly ways to encourage cycling.

For instance one resident in Flora Gardens asks me if a bike rack or shelter could be provided on his estate. Many council tenants keep their bikes chained to the railing in the hallway, but this is against the terms of the tenancy agreement and a potential hazard. On the other hand cycling is something that should be promoted – as a way of reducing pollution and traffic congestion and improving health and fitness.

The Head of Resident Involvement & Improvement in the Council’s Housing Department replies:

“The Resident Involvement Team is already working with the Flora Gardens TRA to look at secure bike storage. This was discussed at the TRA’s general meeting on 15 March 2018.

We’ll be looking at the possibility of carrying out works under the Neighbourhood Improvement Fund (NIF), subject to the TRA consulting with their residents and making a bid. A bid can be made for funding for up to £25,000. We would need to look at the suitable locations for secure bike storage, as well as the level of demand to understand the feasibility of this.

More information on NIF can be found at:

https://www.lbhf.gov.uk/housing/resident-involvement/get-involved-and-make-bid

Those who would like to get in touch with the Flora Gardens TRA, can contact the Resident Involvement Team on 0208 753 6652 or email getinvolved@lbhf.gov.uk.”

So that is encouraging.

H&F Council’s gardening is not up to scratch

I have written before about Hammersmith and Fulham Council owning 423 empty garages on its housing estates.  Many of these could be replaced with homes – as could derelict or unused buildings on council estates across the borough. I have also noted the Council’s very poor performance on affordable housing in recent years.  An average of just 87 new “affordable” homes a year since Labour took over – compared with an average of 194 a year under the Conservatives.

When it comes to finding room for new homes on council estates any loss of green space would obviously be a more sensitive issue than the loss of some eyesore redundant building. But is all the green space properly maintained? This photograph is of the communal back garden of a small block of council flats in Ashchurch Park Villas. There is a case for providing a well maintained pleasant garden.  There is a case for building a cottage or two on the site – which I think if they were beautiful and traditional would be acceptable to existing residents. Perhaps there would be space to do both.

What I find impossible to justify is the current use of the land.

New homes in North End Road

Please to see that new homes at available on 308-310 North End Road. This is the site of the Old Barrow Boy pub which had been closed for years. a new Italian restaurant Rigatoni has also been opened.

The Barrow Apartments are being delivered by London-based developer Setha, which was founded 10 years ago by Italian property developer Manuel Alsoni. The company has since gone from strength to strength, building a portfolio of properties across London and the south east and a positive reputation for delivering style and elegance synonymous with Italy.

This development includes studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom properties, all of which have been designed to the highest specification, offering contemporary interiors and bespoke furnishings inspired by Setha’s Italian roots. This high-quality finish is most certainly what sets the Barrow Apartments apart from larger developments, though the prices are comparable.

CEO and Founder of Setha, Manuel Alsoni said:

“Setha are pleased to build on our growing London property portfolio with the delivery of six elegant homes in the heart of the popular Fulham area. Quality design is at the forefront of our offering and we believe that this approach shines through in the beautiful interiors and high-quality finish of the Barrow Apartments.”

The properties are a great option for first time buyers, who are expected to jump at the opportunity to acquire a Fulham property with the assistance of Help to Buy. Buy-to-Let landlords are also expected to be drawn to the development, owing to Fulham’s continued popularity.

The apartments are available for purchase from Dexters. Prices starting at £450,000.

Why do councils and housing associations throw away good quality curtains and furniture?

An interesting report from Orbit Housing Association. They have undertaken a pilot where “all furnishings, flooring and window coverings” in good condition left behind by old tenants are
offered to the new tenants.

Orbit says this saves money for them as well as the new tenants.

The report says:

  • Retain good quality flooring and window coverings in properties and gift them to incoming customers at the time of re-letting
  • Provide furniture packs for those who are struggling financially
  • Promote affordable and accessible alternatives to high street lenders and weekly payment retailers
  • Ensure all properties are secure, including access to and from communal blocks and communal areas are well maintained

Poverty leaves many people living in social housing little means of buying decent, essential furnishings for their home. Across the UK, less than 2% of social housing stock is furnished despite furnished tenancies topping tenants’ priorities for social landlords to tackle their financial exclusion . Research shows that 47% of social tenants want landlords to provide furniture directly and a further 36% would like help with furniture in some way.

Historically across the sector, all furnishings, flooring and window coverings are removed from a property regardless of quality when a customer moves out and the property becomes void.

In January 2017, we ran a pilot project in Stratford-upon-Avon, which tested the process and impact of leaving good quality floor and window coverings in our properties. This included carpets, laminate floors, tiled floors, blinds and curtains.

Under the pilot, a visual inspection was undertaken by the Property Services team and if they deemed the item to be in good condition, customers were given the choice as to whether they would like to retain them. If the answer is yes, Orbit would ensure that the items were professionally cleaned and left for the incoming customer. The customer was asked to sign a form gifting them the items. Positive impact Over the course of the 12 month pilot, 47 customers benefited from gifted items, with the median replacement value in the region of £500.

Here’s what some of our customers had to say:

  • “Nice gesture of Orbit and makes you want to look after the place and take care of it.”
  • “When the housing officer said that we could keep furnishings it was a huge weight off our shoulders.”
  • “I am pretty chuffed…it makes a huge difference and [moving in] a lot less stressful.”

There are clear cost and time savings from a reduced workload on the Property Services team. For a typical three bed property, the savings amount to around £200. There has also been no negative impact on void turnaround times. Following its success, this process has now been rolled out across all Orbit operating areas. This is a small change in process which has a huge, beneficial impact on both customers and the business.”

I have asked Hammersmith and Fulham Council if we could follow this example.

Of course it is something for other housing associations to pursue as well. I remember that when Shepherd’s Bush Housing Association had some flats in Hamlet Gardens residents were dismayed with the frequency with which virtually new mattresses were dumped outside whenever a tenancy changed.

Labour cancel housing meeting “due to insufficient business”

Housing is a huge political issue locally and nationally.  On Hammersmith and Fulham Council the official mechanism for scrutiny of this subject is Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee. The next gathering was due to take place on March 19th. But I was surprised to be sent the following announcement from the Council.

“Please be advised that the Chair of the Committee, in consultation with the Chief Whip, has cancelled this meeting due to insufficient business.”

I have responded as follows:

“I am concerned by this decision.

You say it is due to “insufficient business”.

However as you know the Work Programme had four items for March 19th:

1. Resident Involvement – Daniel Miller To consider the Council’s work to involve Council tenants and leaseholders in the management of their homes. The report will include an update from each of the residents groups on their work to date.

2. Tenants and Residents Halls –  Glendine Shepherd To discuss the council’s work to try to get tenants and residents halls used more.

3. The Council’s home energy strategy and measures to tackle fuel poverty – Nick Austin / Justine Dornan To review the work of the Council to make homes as fuel efficient as possible and how vulnerable residents will be protected during the winter.

4. Communal Heating Charges – Kath Corbett To consider whether improvements could be made to the way in which residents with communal heating are billed.

There were also another seven  “Potential Future Items” – Industrial Strategy, Housing for disabled people, Aids and Adaptation, Mitie Health and Safety Compliance Checks and Culture Led Place Making.

http://democracy.lbhf.gov.uk/documents/s97421/ERHA%20PAC%20Work%20Programme%202018.pdf

Many of these are already long overdue. Are all the officers due to be giving reports on holiday on March 19th? Please may I have an explanation.

The Chairman of the PAC, Cllr Alan De’Ath, is paid a £5,000 a year in an Special Responsibility Allowance to chair six  meetings a year. Now it will be five meetings.

 The Council’s “Governance and Scrutiny” department employs 10.6 full time equivalents. It has an annual budget of £486,100.

In that context the decision seems difficult to justify.”