How should Labour approach regeneration?

As a Cllr in Brent I’m not going to lay into the Cllrs on either side of the Haringey dispute despite the fact that there’s so much to say. I’ll leave that to their local party. Likewise, this is not a post about Brent, but local government generally.

What I will say is this: whether or not Labour’s local regeneration policies will now be set nationally – something I don’t think should ever become normal – we do need a settled view of what ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ regeneration looks like, how we test that locally, and what steps should be followed by councils as best practice for regenerating communities.

We need to renew our vision

We could sure as hell use come conciliatory local group leaderships who will listen to Council members and local parties to provide oversight, drive compromises, and make sure support can be brought on side. That said, it would be pointless doing that if local Councillors and Party members are not ready to apply themselves to practical limitations in regen and housing. Local Labour Parties really need a two way deal.

There are definitely Labour councils who (in my opinion) do regeneration badly. But because we have not provided positive ideas about alternatives, we now appear to be creating a limbo. Instead of auditing and improving policy at the level of the national Party and LGA group, we are letting political crises build locally and then taking remedial action. This needs to be the other way round.

Partly as a result of this some large scale regen developments blatantly gentrify, pushing out low income residents, and do so without sufficient compensation to them or to the host community. Disappointingly, Labour Councillors have often failed to show solidarity to these communities. This is shocking and politically suicidal locally given that my colleagues rely on working class votes. For me the first principle for Labour taking on developments should be to not socially cleanse the areas. But an equal truth is that we as a party should never have allowed such instances to happen in the first place and should have set a clear shared Socialist vision in opposition to such schemes.

But that’s only one side, isn’t it. We also need to reject the idea that all regeneration projects are bad or unsupported, especially by working class residents and social renters. That’s not true for most examples we come across, as community consultation responses in many areas will indicate. Our people want good quality housing and more of it. Consultations are often maligned as a hoop to jump, but in this case they are a good indicator, if not the best. We shouldn’t blanket oppose regeneration when many examples are actually well supported locally.

Surprisingly, a significant number of left activists are nevertheless blanket opposed to regeneration, or close enough, perhaps because we are more used to spending our lives trying to stop stuff rather than making it happen. In part, it’s also the common mistake of substituting loud or organised opinion for views which are representative, a phenomenon not restricted to Lib Dem leaflet writers. In reality, existing residents often favour regeneration plans, as long as it treats them well and meets their concerns.

This said Councillors representing existing residents is merely adequate, rather than good.

Labour should be about working people as a whole – in that spirit it should be noted that its not just people who already live on site that local Councillors have a moral duty to consider. We need to think about people on housing lists, and that means building social, but also affordable places that can be used to free up social capacity. Our people, especially our younger voter base, want higher quality housing, and lots more of it.

The challenges

If a guiding position on regen is set nationally, Labour does need to bear in mind that we have a housing crisis, with local and national targets to meet for building, even though we aren’t in government.

Cities are already very low on virgin public sector owned land and intensification is the only answer we have apart from sending people away. This is perhaps the key reason why blanket opposition to regen might work for activists but can’t work for people responsible to the whole public locally.

In meeting those needs, regen schemes will create great difficulty for some people who don’t want to move or experience the massive inconvenience of rebuilds. I am not sure how local policy is supposed to deal with this, especially again if we are talking about meeting housing targets in dense areas. If our only answer is to tell people to put up with it, we have a gap there too.

Given all of these points I have had a rethink about the proposed principle of local referenda on regeneration projects, particularly as we tend to get quite positive reposes from wider feedback where I am, though certainly not without opposition. I was previously sceptical about these simply turning into middle class NIMBY campaigns which would stop us housing people in need. On reflection, I think it would do the opposite and provide a mandate to most proposals.

But actually, if we built on this suggestion to reflect the full range of interests, and also had a voting pool based around people on the housing list and gave full knowledge of affordable provision, if anything it could help us pressure developers to give us more.

Can we really say that giving a voice to people with housing but not those without it is the right thing to do?

The biggest risk of the referendum proposal is that people in building which have become totally substandard might just become too emotionally attached to them for things to move move on. We’d need to be able to go around them for accommodation which is physically crumbling, impossible to maintain, or environmentally offensive.

As I said, I think by far most ballots would be won, in Labour areas anyway. But the most obvious problem is that it can only restrict building levels compared to projections. Labour should only press its referendum policy once we’ve changed the law to get councils building council houses again.

Big questions

  • In the hypothetical situation that Labour blanket opposed regen schemes, how should it answer people in crumbling accommodation or without housing?
  • How should Councillors deal with local or mayoral housing targets, especially those set by Labour politicians with a public mandate for them, like Sadiq Khan?
  • Given that councils don’t have in-house architects, development teams, building firms etc., what role do socialists feel private developers should play in meeting the housing targets?
  • If the Labour left is against any land sales in principle, how should councils fund their housing targets with half their 2010 budgets?

The questions above can very easily to lead to completely impractical conclusions if we are to renew housing stock and fight the housing crisis, if I am honest. If the answer to each was never to engage, our answer to demand for housing or housing improvement would absolutely suck.

It becomes clear that most relevant question for socialists to address is whether to treat housing and regen as a practical problem as well as a political one. So:

  • Is it actually the fact that some of the trends above are things we can take into account and deal with if core objectives (such as keeping current residents at the same rent via 1:1 replacement) are achieved?
  • What are our core objectives anyway? How do we make sure that Labour Councils follow ‘good’ or ‘sustainable’ regeneration, meaning minimal disruption to local communities, enough building to meet the crisis, high rates of social and affordable, high quality shared space and amenities, environmental sustainability?
  • How do we balance those? Is it even possible?
  • How do we make sure that regen processes are transparent and accountable?

Stepping back: understanding the debate itself:

  • If you think this area has worthy simple answers, you are wrong. Politically and practically. We can not afford to hide from complexity.
  • Local government in 2017 involves all sorts of competing priorities for socialists, and a lot of external limits and standards. In this case these include the housing crisis, decaying social stock, land scarcity, build targets usually set by our own politicians, finance shortfalls, social and affordability rates, lack of decent community space, viability issues, place making and community safety. It’s complex and it demands trade offs.
  • There are very few party-based experts on regen and house building as wider public policy, though I’d advise people to read Red Brick. It’s better than Facebook.
  • It would be helpful for the left to have some principles expressing what type of regeneration and house building it is in favour of – what is good regen?
  • It would be helpful for Labour to clarify the role of the NEC and other parts of the Party against group decisions (especially if it intends to challenge policies from local manifestos).
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Intervening early to stop domestic abuse

I’m very proud to announce Brent Council’s new domestic abuse early intervention service. Our new team will complement our existing IDVA advocacy service, and will be crucial to getting survivors of domestic abuse the help they need, as soon as they need it.

Speech on the launch of Brent Faith Covenant

It is a momentous time. This year we mark the anniversary of the October revolution, which sparked on of the greatest repressions of religion and faith in history. But let us remember the inspiration for this comes from a profound misunderstanding or religion’s role within society and the words of Comrade Marx. He is famous for invoking religion as the opiate of the people, but to take this in isolation means the opposite of the point made. Religion offers us an escape route from the relentless ethos of consumerism and profit, the hard edge of soulless types of logic at the expense of spiritual and material wellbeing. This has been a frequent theme of Pope Francis, but it is present in the logic of the reformation, in the epics of Hinduism, in the Exodus story of Judaism and in the logic of the protestant reformation as it brought religion closer to the people it was always there to serve.

It is a means of community resistance in the face of the things which divide men and women from our brothers and sisters. The famous line about being the opiate is preceded by the words “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” In this sense, faith is a respite and a guiding point; even as a secular humanist myself, it is very plain it is important for us as humans to have something to live for and something to live by.

This time is also momentous because of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. The EU is intricately bound up with the ECHR, and has therefore stood as a barrier between religion and the state in a way which is positive for faith.

Article 9 ECHR – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

We might be losing our relationship with the EU, but this ethos is one which we will preserve in Brent at all costs. All people have a right to their faith and we will protect that.

And the final part of what we celebrate today is not the rights that accompany faith, but its obligations. The golden rule that we treat others as we would wish to be treated is the foundation of the ethics, laws and spirit of faith – the beating heart of faith itself. Regardless of our own relationships with god or morality, we find ourselves bound to it, and compelled by the spirit of these ideas to carry out good works – something also represented in the Jewish term tikkun olam – the idea that we must act to heal the world. It compels us to work together and to respect each other.

I often look to the Christian socialist concept of the brotherhood of man – a notion from faith which expands beyond any individual creed. Locally in Brent and in the world more widely, we look to people of faith to provide leadership in creating a world which is just, sustainable, and better for the soul. We look to you to help us build a place where relations between faiths and ethnicities are tolerant and rich. The people of Brent expect this from leaders of faith, and in the spirit of the faith covenant, together we must make the shared commitment that they will not be let down. Thank you all for coming.

A wildflower meadow

Helping Brent become cleaner and greener

In my role as the cabinet lead in Brent for stronger communities, I find myself covering areas like crime and safety, arts and heritage and community cohesion. These are all pretty fertile areas for someone on the left to throw around ideas and implement their vision, along with that of the Labour Party. One minor frustration though is that in roles like this you can never really reach a full expression of what your politics is about.

I’m a convinced environmentalist. I believe that global warming is the major threat our entire species faces. Further, when you consider the impact of global warming on food and habitation, some of the issues of migration and war we have seen for recent years will impact heavily on people in temperate climates. In my opinion, it’s not good being a social democrat or a socialist if you are not also ecologist in your thinking – a rose must grow green if it is to flower red.

But the environment is not all about big stuff. For that reason, developments like the coming together of local pressure group Clean Air for Brent are entirely welcome – around 1300 people per year are dying prematurely in London due to breathing pollution. Our environment matters because of the impact it has on our surroundings and our every day lives. So I thought I would divert slightly to talk a little about what we are doing on the Council to increase biodiversity and promote cleaner air, via the work of the Labour Party and my colleague, Cllr Southwood. Continue reading

A message for Labour Party members

I am running to be reselected as a Labour candidate in Willesden Green. I have seen plenty of Councillors in a number of Boroughs taking their status for granted, and I think that works out terribly for those involved. Below is the statement I will be circulating to members.

 

Tom Miller

I have been honoured to serve as a Councillor since 2014, and Cabinet Member for Stronger Communities since November 2016. I would like to thank members for the support, ideas and inspiration you have given me since I was first selected. Now I hope to win your backing again.
Before becoming a member of the cabinet I worked for the mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness, where my job was to campaign against government cuts and for decent support and services for people with mental health problems. I am a socialist and an active GMB member. I now spend my week on council work, representing Willesden Green, and putting in place policies to make the whole of Brent safer.

If you support me I will fight for the following priorities:

• Against government cuts – I will be a political voice against austerity and inequality and I will fight for policies which give the most protection to our diverse community. I will continue to work with trade unions to get a fair deal for local workers.
• Hard work: I will support a campaigning ward party which involves members and uses their talents, and I will continue to take casework on for residents treated unfairly by the council or other services
• Cleaner, greener, safer: I will continue my fight against illegal dumping, irresponsible landlords, drug dealing and anti-social behaviour. I will work with local people for local regeneration with greener public space, modern public buildings, and a vibrant, high quality high street offering.

But what have I actually done?

Since first being elected in 2014 I have worked hard for members and local residents. I have taken on a number of new casework items every week, fought successfully (as promised) to get the Council resurfacing and not just filling potholes. I have improved our relationship with community groups such as the Town Team. I was part of the campaign to save the Queensbury Pub and appeared at planning to help make the case. Later I was successful in winning a new pub protection policy in our planning rules. I campaigned alongside other Councillors to get new paving in Willesden High Road. I have successfully fended off proposed cuts to children’s mental health. I have authored a scrutiny report setting out over 20 recommendations for working better with housing associations.

As a cabinet member, I have won investment to introduce a complete overhaul of CCTV this year, and have allocated money to bring 12 new Police officers under our control in Brent. I have funded work to reduce violence against women and girls. I have put in place a strategy for working with community libraries, a covenant for our work with faith groups, and will be working on new plans around gang violence and community cohesion later in the year.

I need your support more than ever. I hope that working hard has been enough to persuade you. I am a solid campaigner, and I have put in many hours in order to bring change to our community. Please help me to continue this work.

How to dispose of your Christmas tree (and other Christmas leftovers)

Christmas Tree Recycling
From 9 to 15 January 2017, residents will be able to recycle their real Christmas trees at one of 21 drop off points in parks or open spaces across the borough. A full list of sites can be found here.

Posters will be placed at each location to assist residents in dropping their trees at the correct place and to ensure that other park users are not affected. Veolia will collect all trees from the parks from the 16 January 22 January.

In addition, residents are able to take their Christmas tree to the Reuse and Recycling Centre, Abbey Road, London NW10 7TJ for free, or use their garden waste bin, if they are signed up to the service. Trees must be cut into manageable pieces and placed inside the garden waste bin; not left next to the bin.

Garden waste renewal
From the 3rd January, residents will be able to sign up and renew their garden waste service for the 2017/18 collection year which starts on the 1st April 2017. The cost of the service for 2017/18 remains at £40. The easiest way to sign up is to visit www.brent.gov.uk/gardenwaste and reminder e-mails will also be sent to existing subscribers from January.

Recycling and Waste Collections
There is very little change to the collection of recycling and waste collections over Christmas and the New Year. There will be no collections on Monday 26th December; however collections will take place one day later for all residents for that week. If a collection is due on Monday 26th, it will take place instead on Tuesday 27th. If a collection is due on Friday 30th, it will take place on Saturday 31st. Collections revert to their correct day from the 2nd January. Residents who do not have a copy of their collection calendar are able to find their collection day by using the ‘Find Your Collection Day’ search facility at www.brent.gov.uk/recycling.

Food waste
There isnt much changed about this, the one reminder for residents is that it’s a bad idea to tip fat down the drain! This can cause expensive damage to pipes, and could leave you with a pretty unpleasant cleaning job. It’s best to let fats harden and remove them as normal food waste.

Recyclopedia App
And finally, if residents are unsure about what items they can recycle or which bin to use for their food waste over the festive period, they can use the Recycleopedia search facility; available at: www.brent.gov.uk/recycleopedia.

We also have a guidance video on how to use the app on www.brent.gov.uk/recycling.

Happy recycling, and for those of you celebrating it – Merry Christmas.