. . . . . . . coincidence?

Posted: December 27, 2012 in Health and wellness, Neighbours, People
Tags: , , , , , ,

2004
"Well what do you make of that?"
Amazing, a coincidental collision extraordinaire!
I am hurriedly walking home, staggering actually from the supermarket really weighed down, when I spot the ‘suits’. Not difficult really as half a dozen ‘off the pegs’, look a little out of place on my pre-WW2 Council estate. They are obviously having a good look around and I recognise the Borough’s Housing Director in the lead with a stranger, to whom the Director is obviously being very attentive and supplying answers to specific questions. The stranger has a cord and tag around his neck in Corporation colours, so definitely a special visitor. Behind them struggling up the gradient of our hill I recognise the Neighbourhood Housing Manager, the Contracts Manager and another face that I know from meetings. To make their visitor happy, comfortable or even impressed they have worn their best threads today!

Watching them climb through the enclosed forecourts I dawdle, pondering and I think……Why the hell not! This is my manor too, and rudely whistle at the Housing Director as I pass near the steps, see the suits are very sharp and ignoring the expensive fabric say to the Contracts Manager as he is about to climb the stairs, “how many more times are you going to walk this estate Mr. Brown”. Then quickly pass him and go down the steps to shake Paul’s hand and say hello as welcome. He has recently returned to our Neighbourhood Office now promoted to Manager, of this inadequate housing stock, in this now politically labelled "deprived area" a couple of miles from a set of private schools, but that’s London?
I could always rely on this guy to help with anything for my neighbours. A friendly man with a happy face. He was previously deputy manager to Susan, one of the most competent, active and clever managers of our homes, within budget of course. Paul quickly lays a heavy hint on me, there has been some organising of who the "Inspector" should or should not talk to round here. His smile explains everything when he suggests that I should give the Inspector "a wider point of view"? The Inspector is a Councillor from Portsmouth City Council they say! Pompey !!!! I say loudly in sheer astonishment. He is about 20 yards away now with the Director but his pirouette tells me he is a little worried. "I grew up there" I explain to the group in introduction and I get to take over from the Director of Housing who also nods and smiles.
The Inspector immediately asks "is opposition to some demolition here to assist in the funding of improvement to the majority of the homes, as strong as I have been told by your neighbours?" – a tester! I surprise myself how quickly I slip into committee mode. I reply "are you here because 3 public consultations and 3 sets of proposals have produced nothing? Nothing has happened to improve this estate since 1999”? He doesn’t explain exactly what he is "inspecting" but I am encouraged it was HIS idea to come and see the 770 household estate in need of “Regeneration”.
I tell him the majority of my neighbours have just had enough. The estate completed in 1939 just in time to have bombs dropped on it (I say pointing at the concrete air raid shelter entrances still visible in the grass), is frozen, in a suspended limbo by consultation itself one of the mainstays of the regeneration legislation. All major Council maintenance budgets had been suspended for 5 years until a decision was reached and the place was literally falling apart and showed him where gutters had fallen 4 floors, where scaffold held up communal balconies. I said, that this hillside is literally freezing even on a cold summers day if the wrong wind picks up. That "regeneration" for many tenants had become a dirty word and also an anxiety in itself, as no one outside a certain circle of people had been told anything concrete for years. Information had to be dug up by the individual. Council Committees did not believe the activist neighbours claims that this was some sort of Eden to be saved because of the "structurally sound" buildings or the "thriving community". Petitions had been gathered by standing on doorsteps telling people they were to lose their homes in this garden!
I tell this Portsmouth Councillor that the previous Tenants and Residents Association had secured the Regeneration funding with the MP and local Councillors assistance. Over the years we had replaced all the external lighting with something less expensive but simpler to maintain that was brighter and more secure, got everyone’s Council Tax reduced by pursuing one case as premise after over-evaluation of the properties. Replaced or refurbished the playgrounds with planning gains from the newly built supermarket over the road and helped with individuals housing problems. But most important we talked to Council Officers, they were not the conspiring enemy! Some were bad at their jobs some very good.

"Are you one of this group"? he asked. I explained that very late one night minutes from an emergency meeting were put through my door. The minutes explained that I was too unwell to help the people of this estate in this emergency situation and so a new Chairperson was elected. I knew nothing of the meeting and they obviously didn’t want me around.
I explained that Regeneration had been going fine that the central Governments promise of consulting who lived in the properties for refurbishment was kept until a group of my neighbours came from nowhere. (Proposals supplied to Housing Committees are required to have all sensible options for consideration which of course, the Inspector knew. Option 5  in one document was to “demolish all estate and sell land to help regeneration budgets elsewhere”! That’s where this group came from ignoring the other 4 options). It was ironic I told him, because many neighbours with big problems like damp often said to me "they should knock this place down!" This new group was composed of the politically active right through to the simply sentimental who had lived here many years whose entire family were here or those who had purchased at low price or spent a lot of money on their places, whatever their reason THEY, convinced themselves, indeed believed they should not be moved. That the whole place was coming down, because of a small part of a document prepared for committee that everyone had access to.
Prompted by his questions I told him the group had rapidly lost the funding for a staffed Community Centre now closed and the indecision on the "Regen." had now put the Nursery and the Mothers Clinic existence in doubt. These people, claimed to represent but did not hold regular open meetings and supply neighbours with information. The group contained some very intelligent people at different times living in a perfect location for transport, education needs, social, retail needs at an extremely low rent, some self-employed working from home, so any demolition for them was out of the question even if it would secure for the majority warm and sanitary conditions. This was all fired up by an actual demolition on the estate of a block that was simply unsafe to live in, years earlier in the "pilot project". It had cracks in communal staircase walls you could put your hand into. Yet the main claim of the “representative” group was "structurally sound buildings should not be demolished"?
Just as we were walking the estate, I told him that about 10 years ago I had walked it with the then Chair of Housing, a Labour Councillor. He said then to his staff, in front of me, that £10 million would not be enough to refurbish the estate. The Housing Department, 7 years later still thought £10 million would be enough. In the same year contracted consultants concluded and calculated £25 million !! was the minimum amount for basic regeneration. Proposal no.1 in that document of panic actually costed the entire demolition and rebuild of the estate at £55 million with the contemporary occupants having first option to return to the new homes after decantation.
I invited the Councillor up to the flat, I could show him some of the fundamental problems with the ‘abodes’ particularly inside where the problems really lay. He could inspect my Belfast or Butlers sink and its wooden draining board and the pantry perhaps? But he is behind schedule and has other estates to visit and inspect and then he explains he is to write up a report from a neutral perspective, from a different city and environment.
I say, "well, please say hello to Pompey for me", he replied in goodbyes and handshake "Fratton Park is in my Ward you know!" (Pompey is also the nickname of the football team whose ground is named after the industrial estate in which it stands as many clubs originally did.) I respond, shouting now as he is 30 yards away down my road,  "I saw my first football match there!!!"……. he waves and returns to the suits who throughout have very politely kept their distance out of earshot. I go upstairs and put the food in the fridge and freezer and out loud ask myself
"Well what do you make of that"
Play up Pompey,
Pompey play up!
chimes the tenant to his London kitchen wall.

(I have changed the names of all above for obvious reasons)

dwk

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