Archive for June, 2011

by Natalie Bennett

I made it to three picket lines this morning to show solidarity with the strikes (and Camden member Jim Jepps also had a letter of support in the CNJ) – and prize for the greatest creativity in getting the message across definitely goes to the baker at the PCS picket at Euston Square, where tax department workers were on strike (and there certainly weren’t many people going into the building).

strike cakes

There was also a good turnout at the UCU picket at Westminster Kingsway College – and a cheerful atmosphere even rather early in the morning…

I also visited the Unison picket at the Camden housing repairs department. It was not about pensions, as the other strikes, but an astonishing situation that’s reported today in the Camden New Journal. The “Jamestown 11” were given five days’ notice after accepting compulsory redundancy in a Town Hall review – but Camden council is, the CNJ reports, employing 25 agency staff in the same department. (I didn’t take any photographs there – but it is an issue about which we’ll certainly hear more about.)

I’m sorry I didn’t make any ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) pickets – it would have been interesting to talk to members given that this is the first time the union has been on strike in 120 years!

Finally, I saw the end of today’s march in Westminster, joining up with trusty Camden Green Party banner carriers Charlie and Jim…


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by Natalie Bennett

Report from tonight’s London Federation of Green Parties London’s Housing Crisis meeting

Dave Smith from London Citizens told us about East London Community Land Trust and its plans for the St Clement Hospital site in Mile End, which hope to provide permanent affordably housing for the community. He said the chief threat to the project lay in the government’s refusal to recognise the public good it would deliver – the trust would have to compete against private developers on the open market to buy it.

He explained that with all of the talk now about “affordable housing”, London Citizens was conducting comunity research to consider: “what does affordable mean in terms of housing?” Olympics construction was supposed to provide 35% affordable housing, but this was defined in part in terms of local market prices, while his group was trying to synthesise a new definition, working from what people can afford to pay. (Based on the same principles as the London Living Wage.)

Robert Taylor from the Camden Federation of Private Tenants set out the changing balance of housing. Now 70% of households own, while 30% rent, but after the Second World War 90% rented. London has the highest proportion of private rented accommodation – 690.000 households, or 20.2%. The England average is 12.2%. Those are 2009 figures; they would now be higher.

There was a lot of talk of a new category of private tenants,’generation rent’ – who can’t afford to buy. “This is being seen as negative thing, but it should be seen as positive. There needs to be a culture shift that final end of “housing journey” can be renting.”

One problem in the sector, he said, was that it was functioning as a “cottage industry” – in 2006 73% of properties were owned by individuals and couples, who typically owned 1-4 properties. Standards could be lot more professional.

Unlike the situation in the past, when tenants had mostly dealt directly with owners, now 60-70% of lets were via agents, who frequently charged large admin fees to tenants. Again regulation was needed.

But the biggest issues now were short-term insecurity, with tenants always at risk of being tossed out of their home on two months’ notice, and rent inflation, which was now 8-10%, reflecting an imbalance between supply and demand. Four tenants are seeking every property. “Choice doesnt exist in private rental sector.” Robert suggested that tenants should acquire more rights as the tenancy continued – this could benefit both sides of the transaction as landlords frequently complained they wanted more stability in tenancies.

Rachel Orr from Shelter said that the government had replaced social rented housing with “affordable model”, with rents set at 80% market rate. “The government won’t subsidise assets but individuals through housing benefit.” Local authorities were placing homeless people into private sector housing, but it was itself a huge cause of homelessness.

She said huge cuts were coming that would create a housing crisis. A quarter hostels in London would have to cut hugely or close in coming years, and cuts legal aid had been proposed that meant tenants would only be able to get help when faced with imminent homelesness, not when problems first arose.

There was a huge problem in a change in approach. Housing was seen as one of pillars of welfare state, with the others being education and health. The last two were regarded still as essential public provisions, but people generally saw housing as an individual not a collective problem.

“We need to shift public perception. Everyone knows about university tuition feeds and the threats to the NHS, but I dont think people understand that massive changes are coming in housing, particularly for low-income households.”

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* London’s Housing Crisis: An open meeting hosted by the Green Party
Thursday 16th June, 7-9pm, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn. All welcome

London faces a chronic housing shortage, with hundreds of thousands of families on council waiting lists – and more than 6,000 council properties standing empty. Also rents are climbing, and a recent survey showed those hoping to buy do not expect to do so until they are 38. Where do we go from here? What is to be done to help renters and first-time buyers, and stop buy-to-let landlords cashing in?

Speakers: Rachel Orr – Shelter; Dave Smith – London Citizens; Katy John – Priced Out; Robert Taylor – Camden Federation of Private Tenants
Chair – Alastair Milne – West Central London Green Party

* Environmental Films at Open City London Film Festival, Friday, June 17, from 6.15pm at Torrington Place, Bloomsbury. More.

* Join Transition Belsize, Transition Primrose Hill and other local groups and churches for a Midsummer Picnic to celebrate the summer solstice. Bring local homemade food to share on Sunday 19 June at Primrose Hill, More details at http://www.transitionprimrosehill.org

* Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association: Environment and Human Rights Day on Saturday 25th June – open to all in the morning, youth focus (workshops) in the afternoon. More

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We’ve had a lovely weekend at what was Camden Green Fair – although this year it has had a well deserved promotion to London’s Green Fair no less.

Large numbers of attendees came to Regent’s Park and enjoyed the fair in the baking sun most of yesterday and in, well, more varied weather conditions today. The Green Party had a stall as usual with quite a few of the local activists helping out through the weekend.

It’s good to see so many people interested in green ideas and wanting to make a positive difference to their community and planet. It’s also good to see the great variety of ways people are finding to make their own little difference to the world. We certainly don’t agree on everything but we certainly all agree that we need to get active for change and that we need to focus on the practical steps weneed to take.

Lots of people, lots of sun

Green Party activists hard at work at the fair

Jenny Jones, Ken Livingstone and others regale us with their thoughts

A cycle powered gig taking place

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