Havering has at least 734 long-term empty homes, according to recently released statistics. This means that for every 1000 homes, 7.2 are unoccupied. Although these figures may look shocking, this borough actually fares much better than the Greater London average, which is 10.6 per 1000. The area with the highest proportion of empty properties is the City of London, where there are 42 empty homes per 1000 properties. Southwark has the highest number of empty homes overall – a massive 2,358, which works out as over 17 empty homes per 1000. This data comes from a Freedom of Information request made by the insurance firm Admiral, and can be viewed here.
There are many different reasons why perfectly decent homes are left empty for long periods. In some cases, the reasons are innocent enough. For instance, arranging Power of Attorney when an incapacitated parent moves out of their home is usually a costly and lengthy process – as can be sorting out Probate following a sad death. In other cases, a homeowner with no known beneficiaries dies without leaving a will.
But let’s be honest here, in many (if not most) cases, the reasons are far from innocuous! Property spivs who treat houses merely as ‘investments’ are amongst the main culprits. But sadly, the idea that a residential property is primarily an ‘investment opportunity’ rather than a place to live has taken too much of a hold – as shown by the way house price decreases tend to be reported as bad news. In many other cases, the empty stock is owned by local councils or other public bodies, the original residents turfed out to make way for grandiose schemes which never materialised. Regardless of the reasons – at a time of rising homelessness, ever-increasing waiting lists and more and more families living in overcrowded conditions, is there any excuse for homes to be wilfully left empty?
From personal observations it appears that most shoppers in Romford’s town centre shops are wearing masks. Chattering class types have been promoting the idea that only the lovely tolerant Remainers are observing the requirement about wearing masks in indoor public spaces, with Leavers apparently endangering the future of mankind by declining to cover their mouths and noses. National surveys have also suggested a correlation between attitudes towards masks and views on Brexit (But were you asked? I certainley wasn’t!). The Romford area voted 70% for Leave in the 2016 referendum. And yet its residents are diligently wearing masks when browsing shoes in TK Maxx and buying their teabags in Sainsbury’s. So that blows that idea right out of the water! Please make sure you do not fall for these attempts to create a phoney culture war that distracts us from the real issues that divide our world.
Shortly before the Covid lockdown began (and Havering Special’s hiatus), Havering Council submitted its suggestions for the proposed ward changes to the Local Government Boundary Commission. Whilst looking at the local authority’s submission I (and no doubt many others!) immediately became suspicious about the motives behind the council’s submission. So it is shocking but not surprising that secretly-recorded footage has just come to light of leading Tory councillors bragging that they broke protocol to ensure that any ward changes will work firmly in their party’s favour!
“We’ve come up with a set of proposals that I think are really politically advantageous for us” council leader Damian White is quoted as as saying in the covert recording, before boasting that he and his colleagues were able to influence the decisions of the council Chief Executive Andrew Blake-Herbert. Legally, boundary change proposals should only consider population changes and other practical issues, with party politics strictly off-limits.
The suggestions for the wards in and around the Romford area are one of the main bones of contention. The current Romford Town would vanish, to be divided awkwardly into its various neighbouring wards. A new ‘Gidea Park’ ward would be created to cover some parts of it. As well as being a very odd shape it is also inaccurately-named, as it includes the Brewery and Mercury Mall shopping areas – both of which are firmly in Romford Town centre. Not even the dodgiest estate agent could market those areas as Gidea Park! However, there would be enough homes (and therefore voters) in the actual Gidea Park portion of this ward to strongly influence its future election results. The Romford part has seen many new housing developments imposed on it in recent years, which have both irked existing local residents and also changed the future demographic make-up of the ward. And more housebuilding is on the way… Is it cynical to think these events might be related? After all, in recent years the Havering Conservatives have been relying on the Romford wards to give them enough councillors to maintain control at the Town Hall.
Fans of Blackadder will recall the ‘Dish and Dishonesty’ episode, in which Edmund Blackadder plots with his masters to take advantage of the ‘rotten borough’ scam. That was set in the days of Pitt the Younger, but 200 years later why does this gerrymandering still take place?
Havering Council have quietly shelved their plans to make savage cuts to the borough’s library service! Had the minority Tory administration got their way, employees in five of Havering’s libraries (Collier Row, Elm Park, Gidea Park, Harold Wood, and South Hornchurch) would have been handed their P45s – and then replaced by unpaid locals.
The consultation the Council ran attracted a much higher response than they expected, and the message from the respondees was clear – ‘save our libraries!’. Had the plans gone ahead, it is highly likely that opening hours in those branches would have been reduced to only three or four days a week, as has been the case in neighbouring Barking and Dagenham. No doubt this was one of the main reasons why Havering people were dead against the proposals.
In a complete turnaround the Council have now pledged an extra £200,000 for our libraries, in order to reverse the reduction in opening hours that most branches have suffered in recent years. As libraries play such a vital role in community life, this is a rare bit of good news for our area.
Before Havering Special went on its unplanned break, we reported about Havering Council’s proposals to build on Gooshays Green, a vital and much-cherished piece of green open space in Harold Hill. Fortunately the Town Hall bods have now seen sense and have abandoned that plan! Another positive story regarding Havering’s green credentials is that the borough now has one of the lowest air pollution mortality rates in Greater London. However, all this is now in peril – although this time the potential threat is not from within our own borough, but instead from a neighbouring area.
To the south-west of our borough, the Secretary of State is currently considering plans submitted by the Cory Group for its ‘Riverside Energy Park’ in Belvedere. Although greenwashed by Cory as a way of reducing landfill, the electricity-generating incinerator it wants to build has – understandably – caused a huge outcry from local communities. There is already a small incinerator at the site, but the proposed one is much larger. Of particular concern is the amount of nitrous oxide the incinerator will emit.
As Rainham is just across the Thames from the energy park, its MP John Cruddas has become one of its most vocal opponents. Last year, the Romford Recorder reported on Cruddas’s visit to the existing incinerator. “We could clearly see Dagenham Dock, South Hornchurch and Rainham from the plant and (Cory representatives) agreed that the prevailing wind direction was towards my constituency” the MP commented.
Priti Patel, the current Secretary of State, is due to announce her verdict in April. Let’s hope that Cory’s plans are thrown into the dustbin!
When Harold Hill was first developed in the 1950s, the town planners put a big emphasis on the provision of open green spaces. They were considered by many Harold Hill residents to be the ‘lungs’ of the estate, and local people were assured by the powers-that-be that they would never be built on. Although there has been a lot of new housebuilding in the area over the years, they have largely kept their word about not destroying the green spaces. Until now, that is! Havering Council announced plans earlier this year to build 64 houses on Gooshays Green in Gooshays Gardens.
Although we cannot deny that there is an urgent need for new housing, the proposed development on Gooshays Green appears to be poorly thought-out. As well as the fact it will deprive locals of a much-cherished green space, the development itself seems to be extremely cramped and out of keeping with the surrounding area.
As you can no doubt understand, there has been quite some consternation about these plans. Local residents have got together to form the ‘Save Gooshays Village Green Group’. They have a Facebook group which can be found here. There will also be a protest outside the Town Hall under the banner of ‘Save Our Greens’ – in which opponents of the Gooshays Green plans will stand alongside those protesting against plans to build on Dovers Farm in Rainham and the Pitch and Putt site in Upminster. It will take place on Wednesday 25th September at 6:45pm.
Damian White’s a right-wing extremist who oozes machismo fuelled malice whilst inflicting spending cuts. His tragic lack of political aspiration only extends to keeping, “council tax increases as low as possible..”(2) (my emphasis)
Damian reduced Havering’s budget by £2 million when he defied government approved increases. The two million would have saved the library service and kept Chafford pool open.
Damian presents his political choices as though they’re inevitable.
“The funding Havering Council gets from central government has reduced by over £29 million since 2014/15 and £7 million more will be lost over the next two years.”(3)
This seems to tell us that cuts have been inflicted by the government. They haven’t. If the government’s proposition had been followed, libraries would have been saved. The 1,196,805 library users were sacrificed because they aren’t valued by Damian.
1,196,805 users of the libraries are victims of Damian’s obsession. His choice over Chafford…
Another day, another public consultation! This time, Havering Council are asking for our opinions on its library service provision. The biggest proposed change to the way it runs our libraries is to make five of them ‘community run’ – meaning that they will be staffed by volunteers instead of paid employees, but will still receive some “financial and strategic support” from Town Hall.
The five libraries affected are Collier Row, Elm Park, Gidea Park, Harold Wood, and South Hornchurch. The ‘community run’ library model has been adopted by many councils across the country in recent years. This includes our neighbours in Barking and Dagenham – although that council also closed a number of its remaining branches at the same time, something which Havering is not proposing to do. Yet!
Speaking to the Romford Recorder, Romford Civic Society head and one-time Conservative councillor Andrew Curtin said he was “hugely concerned … about the destruction Havering Council is seriously planning on wreaking on our hugely under-pressure libraries. Bearing in mind what libraries can do for mental health and the phenomenal impact on young people, what they’re proposing – it’s not clear enough”. And he is very right about the lack of clarity in these proposals! Even the Council’s consultation document admits that until a volunteer group for each branch is formed, “it is not possible to determine how many hours per week these libraries would be open, nor how many library staff and at what grade would be needed to provide ongoing support”.
To get an idea of what the opening hours for these community-run libraries might be, we can take a peek across the border into Barking and Dagenham. How have they fared? Well, Marks Gate Library (serving an area to the west of Collier Row and to the north of Chadwell Heath) is open for only four days a week, from 10am to 5pm. It does not open at all on Saturdays, which means that residents who work conventional hours do not get a chance to visit it – unless they take a day off. As someone who grew up in a family who owned very few books but frequently went to the local library (one of the branches affected, incidentally), I share the concerns that Andrew Curtin and many others hold about these proposed changes.
The consultation can be accessed here, and closes on September 18th.
In the 2018 council elections the three Conservative Party candidates for the Elm Park ward received 1953 votes between them, a pathetic figure when you bear in mind that the three victorious Residents Association candidates got an average of over 2000 votes EACH! Yet the people of that ward are now lumbered with a Tory councillor, following the defection of Sally Miller to the party of food banks, Brexit dithering and soaring knife crime. Quite how anyone can be “impressed” by the current Tory-lead administration in Havering is hard to fathom, yet that is Cllr Miller’s excuse for betraying her voters.
You may recall that Ms Miller is not the first turncoat from the one of the borough’s Residents groups. After all, a handful of dissident RA councillors are currently propping-up the minority Tory administration. But the icing on the cake is surely Cllr Michael Deon Burton, who in the 2018 elections was voted in on an Independent/Residents Group ticket for the South Hornchurch ward – only to switch to the Tories when the ink on the ballet papers was barely dry!
Havering does not appear in the national news very often, but that changed recently for all the wrong reasons. The fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Jodie Chesney in a Harold Hill park is a stark reminder that even suburban areas such as ours are not immune from the scourge of knife crime. A lot has been written about the possible causes for the recent rise in fatal stabbings (and we won’t be adding to that discussion right now), along with various ideas about how to stop it. The latter has typically involved greater use of stop and search by the police, an increase in council-run youth clubs and related services, and harsher sentences for anyone caught carrying a knife. And what do these all have in common? They are all top-down responses, as if this is something only ‘they’ (i.e the government) can deal with – “not my problem, guv’nor!” But this is an issue that can affect any one of us, so should we merely sit back and wait for a solution to magically appear? Of course not, and a number of residents in Harold Hill think the same – they have got together and founded a group called ‘Take a Knife, Save a Life’.
Volunteers from the group have begun patrolling the streets of Harold Hill – not as plastic police or hardnut vigilantes, but in a much more positive and affirmative way. One of the chief aims of ‘Take a Knife, Save a Life’ is to give knife-carriers the chance to hand in their lethal weapons anonymously. It is still early days, but this initiative deserves our support.
They can be contacted via their Facebook group here.