Who owns Brent Housing Partnership and does it matter?*

Who owns Brent Housing Partnership and does it matter?*

Notes on the South Kilburn Estate Regeneration Masterplan

Kilburn is part of Brent, a large borough in north-west London. For a number of years Brent was viewed as a traditionally working class area, containing large numbers of economic migrants from Ireland, the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent and more recently Eastern Europe. Since 2004 the borough has undergone a number of regeneration plans, the majority of which have involved properties managed by Brent Housing Partnership, an “Arm’s Length Management Organisation” which Brent Council was legally obliged to create in 2003 as part of the then government’s “Decent Homes Programme”. All of the redevelopments – the South Kilburn Estate, the Stonebridge Estate, the Barham Park Estate and renamed Craven Park Estate – have been “mixed tenure” housing, where Housing Associations have acquired many of the properties for shared ownership schemes or private purchase. On the South Kilburn Estate (SKE) this has meant that many former council tenants have been contractually transferred across to the private landlord system. Craven Park only contains properties for partial or total sale.

Residents of the South Kilburn Estate (SKE) have regarded the redevelopment of the multiple sites under the current masterplan as a classic example of the arrogance of housing developers, and a lack of due diligence and oversight on the part of Brent Council. Housing Activists view it as following the currently fashionable pre-gentrification policies outlined by sociologists such as Loïc Wacquant, under the title “territorial stigmatisation”: where locales, and their residents, are deliberately allowed to fall into disrepair with social and economic consequences that allow for Brent Housing Partnership to invoke radical plans to resolve “problem estates”.

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Under the remit of improving the area, and adding a planned 2,400 homes along the approximately 1km length of the estate the Council and its appointed developers have wrought destruction amongst the local community.

After the 2004 Masterplan was revised in 2009, the Council finally began the redevelopment and began the process of “decanting” tenants, owners and other occupiers from the Estate through the use of forced rehousing, compulsory purchase orders and either leaving inhabitable flats empty and allowing them to fall into disrepair, and finally by initiating a system of short-term temporary subcontracting wherein new occupants could be moved on at a month’s notice.

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The two photographs above show the same room in the Fielding House block after a) it had been left empty for approximately two years, and b) two months after a temporary contract was signed for the contract. The properties were obviously still suitable for habitation.

A Freedom of Information request sent to Brent Council dated 11th November 2011 regarding the planned demolition dates shows how poor the Council’s oversight has been – for example Fielding and Bronte House were due for demolition in June 2013, yet the hoardings around these two blocks were only erected in December 2013. The previous section, Phase 1b, was due to be completed in November 2013, yet it is still only half-built. This is a source of major concern for those being decanted. It’s not just a question of being forcibly decanted from your home, or from suffering from the mud, dirt and noise that comes from living alongside a building site… there are no longer any local places to rehouse existing tenants due to the ongoing delays. Tenants are being decanted out of the borough, or being moved into “temporary” accommodation in other sections of the regeneration scheme(s). This has to be perceived as a massive failure on the part of a Council who has consistently made claims that it is working towards creating 3000 affordable new homes by 2018 to try to resolve their housing crisis.

Those tenants who have been successfully rehoused in the new properties have found that they are now in smaller flats with contracts run by the independent Housing Associations involved in the scheme: Network Stadium, Genesis, London and Quadrant (L&Q) and Catalyst.

As Pete Firmin, a local housing activist, points out this will disenfranchise former Brent tenants from direct involvement with the Council’s Housing section and place them in the so-called “affordable” housing market where they have a new private landlord who has been able to charge up to 85% of the current market price. The current market price is easy to work out as the one of the two completed sections of the redevelopment is already partially up for sale; Bourne Place, which consists of 134 apartments has 75 “general needs” flats, 29 shared ownership homes and 30 private sale properties; a one-bedroom flat will start at £284, 950. This is roughly equivalent to a cheap single bed property in the St John’s Wood or a similarly flat small flat in Maida Vale or Queen’s Park – traditionally “desirable” property ownership areas that form a triangle around the SKE.

This mix of affordable homes and private sales homes, further adds to the lack of truly affordable housing in the borough; in the Phase 1b sector mentioned earlier Catalyst Housing and the construction company Willmott Dixon will only be constructing 122 properties for existing residents – and 86 flats for outright sale. Given the “market rate” indicated above it is perhaps not surprising that in April 2013 the “Welfare Rights Advisory Team” from Network Stadium told two Brent Housing Action activists that the introduction of the Benefits Cap (which arrived in the borough in September of that year) would mean they would be unable to house claimants in their three- or four-bed flat as they “would immediately fall into arrears”. The policy of “affordable homes” now also applies to those still managed by BHP. On 26th February 2014, SKE residents in Watling Gardens, one of the last remaining Tenant Management Organisation owned by Brent started a campaign to protest a rent rise of £300 per annum.

So how does this relate to MIPIM? Only Catalyst and Willmott Dixon, who are also building the private development at Craven Park in Brent, will apparently be present at this year’s event (and Quintain Estates who are about to start a similar project with L&Q). However, the communities mentioned here have already been subjected to the MIPIM “effect”. In 2010 Andy Donald, who is currently the Strategic Director, Regeneration and Growth made the following statement at MIPIM:

“What I’ve learned is, when times are good, the big scale projects work well, but when times are not so good, it is best to try and present projects to politicians in a more chunked-up way, where they can generate momentum. Once things have started and momentum builds up it is really difficult to stop it, for funders to walk away. So as local authorities we try and take more responsibility to get things started, which might mean acting as a developer, to take things through planning ourselves, which builds confidence.” [My emphasis]. (Source)

It should also be noted that Brent has signed a new ten year agreement with BHP, soon after the ALMO signed up Tom Bremner, formerly of L&Q, as chief executive. This January BHP appointed two new directors, one of whom was Keith Harley who came from Willmott Dixon. On his appointment Mr Harley commented:

“One of the key aims over the coming years is to increase the number of affordable housing to rent and buy and help deal with the chronic housing shortage in the borough.” (Source)

Brent are also currently holding a consultation on whether to declare three of the borough’s wards as “anti-social areas” with the purported intent of issuing “Selective Private Rental Licenses” (an extension of the existing Mandatory and Additional Licenses for House in Multiple Occupation properties) for private landlords in these areas. This will give the Council the option of taking out Compulsory Purchase Orders on those who are deemed to rent propertied that are “not up to code” in a new set of standards being issued by the Council. The policy of territorial stigmatisation in the poorest regions of Brent continues.

*The title is adapted from a MIPIM debating session at this year’s “UK afternoon”: “Who owns the UK and does it matter?” which is seeking investment opportunities for “new prime locations”.

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