Sorry seems to be the hardest word. ‘Politics’, not so much…

15 Oct

On Monday 15thOctober,* six members of the Save Our Homes LS26 group and Cllr Karen Bruce met with Mr Peter Mondon, a representative from Blue Marble. Sorry, Pemberstone. Well, Blue Marble and Pemberstone. And, according to Companies House, a range of other companies to boot: Astwood Contracting, Meteor West Developments Ltd, Meteor Chapel Developments Ltd, Wishaw Construction (Midlands) Ltd, Harper Group Management Ltd, PNM Services Ltd, and Harper Group PLC, J. Harper & Sons (Leominster) Ltd, Harper Group Construction Ltd.

Busy man.

Peter Mondon is the project manager for Pemberstone’s planned redevelopment of our estate and had to face the group of us himself. David Annetts, Director of Pemberstone, had a last-minute emergency that prevented him from attending. Which was a shame, as we have yet to meet someone of Pemberstone proper. And last time we met Peter Mondon (with his Blue Marble hat on at the Sports Centre community consultation last year) we seemed to have different understandings of ‘consultation’. Oh well, you know what they say about community engagement… tomayto, tomato, po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

Anyway, I digress.

This meeting was an important one as it was the first time ever that we’ve sat down face to face. It was not instigated by Pemberstone, but called for by us, in the hope that we might be able to get some clarity and guarantees. And I’m delighted to say that…*drum roll please*… tea and coffee was available throughout the entirety of the meeting. Yes, that was the only concession offered (and it was Council-provided). Maybe that’s not completely fair, but we didn’t get off to the best start.

An ITV journalist who wanted to sit in the meeting was refused permission by Mondon because Pemberstone hadn’t been given prior notice. Well, we hadn’t planned for her to be there either but thought it good for her to see the full discussion after interviewing us outside. Moreover, not only did Mondon conspicuously not say the word ‘sorry’ throughout the meeting (even when acknowledging that Pemberstone got the communication completely wrong in the early months), he was also not able to offer any reassurance about the future for current tenants post-planning decision.

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Pemberstone’s rationale, as Mondon explained it, was that the houses are defective, and are deteriorating as per the results of their survey (see previous post for comments on that). Pemberstone have had to make a commercial judgement based on an assessment of the cost of refurbishment versus redevelopment. The company are adamant that these houses do not have enough historical value to warrant saving and, although some housing associations are interested, these organisations apparently won’t even countenance taking the houses over until planning permission has been granted.

Even the Leeds City Council members present were talking about what could happen if permission was granted. They noted that it might be possible to work on a “local rent policy”, which may would mean that the (over 150) residents could potentially get first refusal on the 11 affordable houses to be built in the estate (do the maths). Neil Evans, Director of Resources and Housing, said that the Council can set up an engagement forum to manage the development and communication between Pemberstone and the community throughout the redevelopment process.

It seems like a done deal!

Except we must have rattled Pemberstone. Mondon didn’t seem totally convinced they were on to a winner.

Maybe it was the campaign t-shirts we wore to the meeting and the protest we made outside. Maybe it was the journalist coming to report our story. Maybe it was the social media mobilisation we have managed to date.

Whatever it was, Mondon seemed rattled enough to state at the end:

“I don’t know if we will get planning permission – it might be refused for technical or political reasons. If it’s turned down and the reason is technical we will address that. Though if it is turned down, then I suspect it will be for political reasons. After that we would have to take stock and appeal to the Secretary of State”. 

‘Technical’ or ‘political’. Apparently, these are the only two reasons why a planning application might get refused. It seems like Mondon missed the memo about social vulnerability being a legitimate concern for overturning eviction threats. Social isn’t synonymous with political.

Here’s the rub.

All Pemberstone sees in this application is an investment. They purchased the estate nearly two decades ago with a view to make money. And – with a rental sector as unregulated as Britain’s – money-making through this type of investment has been as simple as:

  • charging rents
  • undertaking minimal maintenance
  • and asset-sitting until the properties are too expensive to repair, or the land becomes too valuable to sit on.

Any move (especially by a government) against a company’s right to discharge their asset as they see fit is seen as a political move designed to undermine their right to make money. That’s their black and white. But it’s not the only side of the story.

What we hope the council won’t forget in this process of being razzle dazzled by the prospect of new executive housing in an ex-Coal Board estate, is that there are real social vulnerabilities to take into account. And in the face of ever-decreasing council house options for low income families, private landlords must be held to a high standard of tenant protection.

We have heard time and again that councils across the country fear turning a development planning application down on anything other than technical grounds, because the corporation will launch a costly appeal with their army of well-paid lawyers. And in this age of austerity, councils can’t risk their budgets by fighting a losing cause.

But don’t let tricksy words like ‘politics’ fool you. This isn’t a ‘technical’ or ‘political’ binary choice. There is a real human concern behind the redevelopment plans.

Chair of the Resident’s Association Cindy Readman couldn’t have laid out the case better in our meeting when she named a number of families and individuals on the estate who have physical health issues, mental health issues, mobility difficulties, and financial struggles – all worsened because of the anxiety this application has caused. Our neighbours and friends, our own families – people that Pemberstone and the Council don’t know beyond a name on a tenancy contract.

Pemberstone may not have offered us much by the time the meeting was over, but I hope we’ve given them and the Council some important food for thought.

Technicalities, politics, social vulnerabilities. Tomayto, tomato, po-tay-to, po-tah-to, ?

#SaveOurHomesLS26

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Details of the meeting:

Meeting:         Save Our Homes LS26 Residents Association meet with Pemberstone

Date:               15 October 2018

Location:        Leeds Civic Hall, Labour Party Offices

 

*Present:

Save Our Homes LS26 Residents Association

Cindy Readman

Susan Gould

Mavis Abbey

Hazell Field

Robert Walker

Jessica Field

 

Labour

Karen Bruce, Councillor – Rothwell Ward

 

Pemberstone

Peter Mondon, Oulton development Project Manager (Blue Marble/Pemberstone)

 

Leeds City Council

Martin Farrington, Head of City Planning

Sarah May, Housing Growth Team

Richard Lewis, Executive Member for Regeneration, Transport and Planning

Neil Evans, Director of Resources and Housing

 

Apologies:      David Annetts, Director of Pemberstone, who had an urgent issue that prevented him from being able to make the meeting.

 

 

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