Last year, the Grenfell Recovery Task force was set up by then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid.
One of its tasks was to “support the council to significantly improve housing management including addressing weaknesses in the tenant management organisation”
Well this might appear to be old news, but one of the four members of the Grenfell Recovery Taskforce is Chris Wood (pictured as a cat above). Mr Wood has previously been Chief Executive at Newham council.
In 2011, David Cameron’s Government introduced the Localism Act which among many things, gave local authorities “Power of Competence” to generally enable them to do anything that an individual can do unless specifically prohibited by law. The Act allowed councils to set up their own housing companies with power to borrow to build homes with caps restricted and power over setting tenure and rents. This has enabled councils to set up their own commercial residential housing companies.
Just as we have seen the ever increasing pattern of some housing associations moving from their once commendable and charitable roots in providing housing to people in need, and instead moving on to develop housing for profit at the real expense of those most in need, this has been happening with some other local authorities too.
Chris Wood is Chair of Red Door Ventures. This is the commercial residential company wholly owned by Newham council. RDV was lauded back in 2014 by controversial then Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales as a way of providing desperately needed homes in the borough. Actually many of the homes that RDV ended up providing were not to those who desperately needed them and was more concentrated on chasing profit (this was around the same time Newham was trying force residents in social housing not only outside the borough, but also outside London.
Red Door Ventures has now been placed on “review” by Wales’ successor (after he was deselected), recently elected Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz.
Mr Wood was also chief executive of London Borough of Ealing’s Ealing Homes for a short time and also a board member at Meridian, the housing company of Greenwich Council which lets out most of its’ properties at 80% of market rent. Not exactly helping those most in need of a home then.
In fact all of these local authority companies that Wood has been involved with in recent times have had or are working on regeneration plans which are moving away from social rent into the misnomer of “affordable” rent and shared ownership schemes.
Chris Wood is also group director of Altair Ltd a management, housing and finance consultancy.
His profile on their website reads:
Property, development, regeneration, commercial sectors, project management, leadership, growth and change guidance.
Chris has worked in consultancy for 10 years with numerous local authorities and a broad range of public and private sector housing organisations on strategic regeneration planning, asset management and capital programme delivery.
Prior to working in consultancy he held Director of Housing posts in two London boroughs and was the CEO of the London Borough of Newham.
Recent projects that Chris has been involved in include:
▪ Establishing and running a commercial build to rent company for a London Borough
▪ Devising merger and acquisition strategies for two large RPs operating in the South East
▪ Lead residential adviser on ‘Project Riyadh’ for the Saudi Municipality
▪ New development business opportunities for private sector clients in London and the North West
▪ Assisting in the registration of an Essex-based for-profit RP
▪ Providing private rental sector strategies for RPs and property developers”
And for anyone still in doubt as to the motives of Wood and his colleagues can read Altair’s report on ALMOs here :
THINK know that RBKC – who aren’t exactly regarded as “competent” in their handling of social housing to say the least – already has its own housing development company and it is fair to assume that some are looking to Chris Wood and his “ventures” for some directions in where to take this council next.
Last year our blog posted about the regeneration in Tower Hamlets and how we though that a similar thing could happen here:
Back when Mr Wood and his Grenfell taskforce colleagues were appointed to their posts last year, some residents were unhappy that they would be based at Kensington Town Hall, rather than near Grenfell, around the Lancaster West Estate, a real concern of some was about the taskforce members being not very well acquainted with the local community and the issues here.
Mr Wood may not be all that familiar with our community but he is not so unfamiliar with some at Kensington Town Hall – his other half is Lesley Seary, who is now Chief Executive at Islington Council. Prior to that she was at Lewisham Council, under our now current RBKC Chief Executive Barry Quirk.
Also, Head of Strategy at Lewisham Council under Barry Quirk and around the same time Ms Seary was there, was Robyn Fairman – who is now at RBKC as Executive Director of the Grenfell Team – how very cosy this all seems…..
THINK believe that Chris Wood’s involvement here points to one thing. With refurbishment on some parts of the Lancaster West Estate being needed and there being some talk of some regeneration plus Mr Wood’s involvement with the taskforce, THINK are highly concerned aa to what possible ideas for regenerating the estate Mr Wood and some at both the Government and RBKC may have in mind…..
Looking at RBKC’s general reluctance to take the management of the housing of former TMO properties in the borough back “in house” in the traditional form of council housing should really give others all across the Rotten Borough real cause for concern that a much bigger role for the commercial company and collaborations with other commercial partners plus housing associations will likely be on the cards.
Former RBKC Leader Nick Paget-Brown and his former Deputy, Rock Feilding-Mellen once had regeneration plans in mind for North Kensington and while Nick and Rock’s political careers may be dead in the water, the same ideas and notions sadly are not. We believe our local community is still very much under threat.
Under the powers of the Localism Act many local authorities and Kensington and Chelsea in particular simply cut their council housing waiting lists simply by removing many people from the list and changing the rules and criteria for eligibility to be housed there . RBKC’s rules now mean that tenants placed out of the borough for more than two years will then come under the responsibility of the council where they are placed and RBKC will not house them.
Not only could fixed term tenants (after the same Cameron Government put an end to lifetime tenancies) be affected, but other residents could lose their lifetime secure tenancies under changes of rules that could come about. This has already happened to many under other regeneration schemes in London. The lack of space on which to build new homes and the lack of temporary homes available in RBKC means that some residents could very likely be moved out for good.
Ironically, if similar regeneration projects to Mr Wood’s previous activities with an emphasis on housing for profit (which would more than likely have got the nod of approval from “Nick Piglet- Pie” and “Jailhouse Rock” ) end up going ahead here, these quite possibly will be made behind closed doors at even around the same time there will be difficult questions over Nick and Rock’s roles in North Kensington, regeneration and Grenfell at the Inquiry in the full glare of the public.