Wornington Green: Still green for now

This morning, Catalyst Housing were set to chop down 37 trees on the Wornington Green Estate in North Kensington.

Catalyst are not exactly the most considerate and thoughtful of housing associations, having completely ignored the calls from Wornington Green residents, other North Kensington locals and some of our local representatives to reconsider their plans and save the trees (most of which are mature pollution absorbing plane trees), and the housing association decided to turn up with their chainsaws this morning.

But Catalyst probably didn’t reckon on a big turnout of residents, locals and groups , including members of the Labour Party, local Golborne councillor and Leader of the RBKC Opposition, Pat Mason, members of the local Green Party and members of the Kensington branch of Extinction Rebellion, to all be taking their peaceful socially distanced morning exercise out there too.

After a stand off and the Police being called for no reason, “Catastrophic Housing” decided to clear off. The trees are still here.

We thank everyone who turned up this morning in support, and all who shared and posted on social media, including Cllr Pat Mason, Cllr Judith Blakeman and Green Party PPC for Cities of London and Westminster and London Assembly candidate, Zack Polanski.

We especially thank the local residents and campaigners who care deeply about the health and wellbeing of this community and conserving our environment, both now and for generations to come.

But callous Catalyst say they will be back to chop down the trees next week.

So we have this to say to them:

” As long as you refuse to listen to and respect the needs and wishes of your residents and the North Kensington community and as long as you pose a threat to our environment, and as long as you refuse to change your plans, this community will stand together against you.

The fact that lots of people turned out early in the cold, the petition to save the trees gained over 1,000 supporters in such a short space of time, and even the present RBKC Leadership do not support your destructive plans, all ought to be strong indicators that you need to think again.

Members of this blog had planned to be there this morning too, but only due to personal circumstances, we unfortunately couldn’t make it, but THINKers will be out there taking our morning exercise next week, when you have said you will return to chop down the trees.

Do not underestimate the power of community and how we feel about our environment, our trees and our green spaces here – they are invaluable to us – and mean far, far, more to the locals of North Kensington than your luxury flats ever will”

This isn’t over……

The intriguing (and infuriating) case of the RBKC Housing “Secret Suits”

Some might be wondering whatever happened to our Editor’s FOI request back in April last year – as mentioned in this post last June:

https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2020/06/25/the-mystery-of-the-suits-in-the-dark/

A simple FOI request to our council that shouldn’t have been too much trouble.

But tbis basic level of transparency was evidently too much for RBKC as they completely ignored it!

So our Editor requested an internal review in July last year :

Guess what? No response, nothing, nada, zilch,, not a sausage.

RBKC obviously really do not want to tell residents who some senior officers – apart from Doug Goldring , Director of Housing Needs, and Dan Hawthorn, Executive Dorector for Housing and Social Investment – are for some reason…

So we did a bit of digging ourselves just with a few simple online searches….

The mysterious “Andrew L”, Head of Grenfell Housing Services who doesn’t want to reveal his surname, for some reason, now has a picture:

And here are a few other suits that others might be interested in ….

Ruth George, Head of Housing Services:

Zulfiqar Mulak, Head of Housing Needs and Transformation:

Martin Greenway, Head of Housing Repairs:

Anna Benbow, Director of Social Investment and Property:

Interstingly, Ms Benbow was also previously Seconded Assistant Director of Housing Supply at RBKC and at the same time, has been Director of Operations at Capital Letters, which is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and was established by 17 councils in London, which relieves homelessness by procuring and managing social housing from private landlords and letting agencies (all of which is outside our borough)

To be fair, Mr Mulak and Ms Benbow did appear on the most recent RBKC Management Structure chart we saw so they’re not exactly “hiding” but asise from those very familiar with RBKC, seasoned Committee-goers and information junkies (like ourselves) , most residents do not know who theu are and what they do.

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/council-councillors-and-democracy/about-council/roles-and-responsibilities/council%E2%80%99s-management

Rob Shaw, Housing Strategy and Policy Manager

Mr Shaw may be familar to some as he has been at RBKC for just over 12 years and was previously Housing Options Manager in the bad old days when some were facing regeneration.

Our council keeps telling residents to go to their “Neighbourhood Officers” – but the thing is, they fail to provide any details at all and most residents don’t even know who these people are.

So, for residents, here is the top suit with responsibility for Neighbourhood Management:

Stavroulla Kokkinou, Head of Neighbourhood Management

Ms Kokkinou just going on her LinkedIn profile, doesn’t want people to know her last name. We can’t think why, other than that she does not want the finger pointed at her for being in charge of all the Neighbourhood Officers and Antisocial Behaviour Managers. (No, we’ve never met or even heard of an ASB Manager either – despite one of us, a tenant in North Kensington, having suffered from violence and harassment from a neighbour.)

Many other residents , especially in the north of the borough based at Kensal Road which has changed little since the KCTMO days,, are still being failed with regards to little or no action taken over ASB. Ms Kokkinou has been in her post since 2018.

As for providing information, we understand that Robin Yu, arguably the most well known of the council’s Information Officers, departed Hornton Street some time ago. In fact he was about the only suit in that department who communicated regularly with residents over FOI questions and inquiries. So who do we have to ask ?

The council website won’t even tell us who they are and some of councillors do not even know! We’ve had no response, so there is little point in is emailing ” FOI Officers Anonymous” here:

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/contactsdirectory/az.aspx?searchletter=F&orgid=4432

But THINKers are not quitters and we found one:

Jessica Quinn, Information Governance and Housing Officer

Here’s how Ms Quinn describes her responsibilities on her LinkedIn profile:

For the past 9 years I have been dealing with the sole process of all things relating to Data Protection 1998, Freedom of Information 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and most recently The General Data Protection Regulations and Data Protection 2018, for the Environmental Health Department of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoy my work and looking for improvements in the way in which we can be more transparent with members of the public.

More transparent? She has been in her post for 10 YEARS – what a joke.

Many will have questions regarding RBKC and KCTMO information on housing and environmental issues, but we wouldn’t hold our breath for a response….

As for the former KCTMO, our council housing properties, projects, and technical information, perhaps this suit can answer some questions?

“John P” – Technical Systems Manager

Look at what he has been in charge of and how long he has been here and just think ; all the repairs not logged, all those missing housing records, all the KCTMO properties left in state of disrepair over many years – which most of us are paying the price of now – especially leaseholders now facing bills of up to a shocking ยฃ30K for all the TMO”s mistakes amd negligence , all the void properties either left empty for years or let to tenants by the TMO & RBKC in absolutely appalling conditions, not to mention records on poor quality refurbishments and fire safety

No wonder “John P” doesn’t want the public to know his surname.

That’s if he hasn’t departed Hornton Street yet, that is. As it is, we do wonder if this guy might happen to have some useful information on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment to pass on to the Grenfell Inquiry?


THINK have not, apart from Ms Kokkinou, Ms Quinn and. ” John P” , singled the suits out for criticism here, but this blog and many of our social housing residents are still very much in the dark as to who mosr of them are and where their responsibilies lie .

Despite many steps forward; new suits and staff, proactive approaches and improvements to fire safety, more openness at meetings, the return of the Tenants Consultative Committee and more positive attitudes from councillors and suits, there is still a very long way to go .

We would rather the council, rather than all the constant PR which is of very little use, concentrated its social housing communications efforts on letting tenants and leaseholders know who is in charge of what,and who they can contact concerning the many various bousing issues. Most residents do not have the time or energy to sit through hours of council meetings to get relevant information and neither should they have to.

Many are left sending emails to their ward councillors or going to their surgeries when the councillors cannot always help, posting on social media , asking Kim Taylor -Smith about everything, or else banging their heads against a brick wall.

The few residents who know who their housing officers are can go to them, but many of these officers are already overloaded with work, and a few others (especially some of the ex-TMO ones in the north) seem to do little to nothing to help.

Some of us did suggest ages ago that RBKC allocates each resident and gives them contact details of , a housng team – and not put the entire load on one or two officers, when there are obviously others who can help – but tbis fell on deaf ears.

Residents have been failed and are still being failed, by the failure of this council to be open, direct and accountable to the public – and without making reforms to their communications regarding our social housing, RBKC will only be further failing others.

“Guilt by Association” #2: Catalyst Housing

Part 2 of our “Guilt by Association” series of posts on housing associations

Meet Ian McDermott, the Chief Executive of Catalyst Housing.

Catalyst Housing are one of the founder members of the G15 Group of housing associations and are responsible for over 32,000 homes.

They formed out of Kensington Housing Trust (once based locally, at Portobello Road), who merged with Ealing Family Housing Association and Northcote Housing Association.

In 2019, Hertfordshire-based Aldwyck Housing Group (which has homes in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire ) joined the Catalyst fold and Mr McDermott, from Aldwyck, took the top job.

Ian McDermott might have some 30 years or so in the business but as he may not be familiar with our local area. we’ll just alert him to how environmentally destructive his organisation’s regeneration at the Wornington Green Estate in North Kensington is, so here are our previous two posts about it:

Wornington Green: Green no longer? North Ken residents fight to save 42 trees

And

Wornington Green: Not up-to-scratch Catalyst scheme gets hissed at by residents and councillors

Yes, even the RBKC council Leadership disapproves of Catalyst chopping down so many trees

In fact a total of 167 mostly mature plane trees will be lost to the scheme.

We also wonder if Mr McDermott approves of his employees using misleading terms to describe Catalyst projects? Like this, (taken from the RBKC meeting) from Fearghal O’Hara, Regeneration Manager for Wornington Green and who is responsible for overseeing the new builds at Wornington Green
โ€œThere will be huge gains for the community aside from more modern homes as a result of this regeneration. There will be new community facilities, new public realm, and weโ€™re creating a new green space in partnership with RBKC โ€“ thatโ€™s Athlone Gardensโ€

Oh dear. Replacing an existing green space – Athlone Gardens – with a smaller one isn’t really creating a new one is it ? Nor is replacing existing community facilities at the Venture Centure – “creating new community facilities”.

We’ll also go back to what RBKC Labour Cllr Judith Blakeman said at that RBKC Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting regarding courtyard gardens and the part of thr Silchester Estate that was redeveloped (no, not by Catalyst but it’s relevant): She ponted out that the courtyard at the Silchester does not get enough light, all the trees and plants die and residents there are left with a mud bath. Now we’ll point out that similarly sized courtyards, are what Caralyst plans to provide at Wornington Green and unlike the Silchester, these will be at basement level. Good luck growing anything there….

No doubt Mr O’Hara or another one of his colleagues will probably pop up to tell the Wonrington Green residents that they now have a mud wrestling facility for the community or something. It’s the sort of behaviour residents have come to expect from them – and none of this – is in any way, shape or form, any sort of replacement for the mature London plane trees which help fight pollution and mean so much to both the Wornington Green residents and their neighbours in the North Kensington area.

Today we have heard the news that heartless Catalyst Housing have shamefully disregarded the overwhelming views of residents and the local council and have told residents that they will cbop down 37 trees beginning next Monday, right in the midst of Covid -19 when residents are staying at home trying to get some peace and quiet.

Catalyst have won several awards before (actually we think the ritual back-slapping housing sector awards are a complete joke; our own failed defunct ALMO – the disgraced KCTMO has been the recipient of at least one in the past), so here’s another one to add to Catalyst’s collection that they really well and truly deserve:

For pretending that inferior replacements for a park and a community centre are additions, and for having the nerve to say this to people who live there; for assuming our residents are stupid by trying to placate them with darkened basement courtyards and a few saplings and making out that they are in any way an acceptable replacement for plane trees and a healthy outdoor communal green environment – we can only call what they have done and are still doing in North Kensington ecocide ; and for sticking two fingers up to their residents, our council, North Kensington and the environment in general, THINK proudly present “Callous Housing” with a Piglet-Pie Award – and here’s “Mr Shifty” O’Hara to collect it:

Catalyst Housing are in fact the very first housing association to win one of our not very coveted awards, tbough somehow we don’t think they’ll be boasting about tbis “accolade”….

Further afield, Catalyst have been a partner in the South Kilburn Regeneration. In 2019 , residents in Merle Court there (former lifetime tenants and leaseholders of Brent Council who were transferred to Catalyst under the regeneration) had to be moved because the flats were covered in ACM flammable Grenfell-type cladding.

This is what Inside Housing reported in May 2019 : “Residents are now in the process of being moved out, but the association has said there is no guarantee that they will be able to come back. As part of the outline agreement, Catalyst will have to pay compensation to residents and buy back the properties from shared owners โ€“ something Mr McDermott says will cost the business โ€œa lot of moneyโ€.

We think it is utterly disgraceful that this giant housing association supposedly worth ยฃ3billion are punishing others for their mistakes and wouldn’t guarantee that all their residents would have a right to return back to their home and community after their ordeal.

But recent reports say that the association has been financially downgraded and as the association has homes all over London and the home counties so theoretically residents could end up anywhere – which could all be a very worrying prospect for Catalyst residents living in more expensive parts of our city who may have to be moved “decanted ” away from faulty properties ….

As for more controversy further out, we have heard that cash-strapped TfL are going into partnership with “Callous Housing” and are planning on building blocks of flats on suburban tube station car parks.

One planned scheme in Rayners Lane, Harrow, is for 126 homes on and around the site of the station car park

They haven’t just stopped there either, they are planning to stick 11 storey tower blocks containing 227 homes by Stanmore Station and 118 homes by Canons Park Station.

While more homes in London are needed, the levels of density, the loss of some trees and greenery – plus obvious beauty – in the areas and the effects on the communities there; are highly concerning, as are parking (in areas where many residents still are dependent on car use) along with the obvious vast increases of pollution and congestion these developments will bring .

Understandably most residents in all three of these locations are opposed to the plans and they have our support . Have a look at this :

Our blog has signed and shared the petition from the residents of High Worple Way to Harrow Council to stop the Rayners Lane development and we urge our readers to join us:

https://www.change.org/p/harrow-council-stop-building-140-flats-at-rayners-lane-car-park-which-is-already-an-overdevelopment-area

We think it is inappropriate and wrong to overdevelop green suburbs with tower blocks, packing in high density flats like sardines in such locations, and we warn the residents there, that if Harrow Council gives this and others the green light, there will be no stopping these schemes.

As for the Wornington Green masterplan in our local area , that was approved by RBKC 10 years ago. It wouldn’t be approved now ; but our council’s hands are tied and legally they have no power at all to halt it.

We were wondering if Catalyst have become less of a housing association and more of a property developer? Things are very cosy indeed between Catalyst and developers Taylor Wimpey – they are not only partners in several schemes , but In 2019, Rachael Dennis, Chief Operating Officer at Catalyst Housing , left to become Regional Managing Director at Taylor Wimpey. Richard Smith, Managing Director at Catalyst Housing since last year, was previously Development Director at Taylor Wimpey Central London.
Philip Jenkins, Group Development Director of Catalyst joined from Taylor Wimpey, Central London where he was Managing Director.

Some of our neighbours in Westminster may remember Philip Jenkins; before he was at Taylor Wimpey and Catalyst he was Executive Director, Property and Development at City West Homes between 2014-17.

City West was Wesminster Council’s troubled ALMO responsible for the management (or not) of its 21,000 or so council bomesย  and was notorious for poor service, poor repairs and complaints and following concerns over poor performance over a number of years. It was taken back “in house ” in 2018, with Cllr Andrew Smith, Westminster’s Cabinet Member for Housing saying : โ€œI believe there is no option now other than to bring the management of council housing under the councilโ€™s direct control. The opposition Labour Group of councillors in Westminster had kept extensive dossiers of residents’ complaints about the ALMO

https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/nightmare-stories-of-westminster-citywest-homes-problems-revealed-3584686

So, how do Catalyst residents rate the services they receive?

Not very bighly it appears. Here’s just a taster of the various negative reviews and postings we found:

Plus this from a former Catalyst employee which just about says it all;

We say Catalyst Housing are “guilty” of being destructive to the environment (not just in our community) , dishonesty, having extremely poor communications,poor repairs,poor standards of maintenance, poor responses to their residents and poor relations with the communities in which they intend to build their developments – shame on them.

Ian McDermott in interviews, seems to want to portray himself as a housing association “Mr Approachable Nice Guy” but the conduct of his association tells a very different story.

We warn other residents and local authorities who may be easily swayed when Catalyst comes promising redevelopments with affordable housing as the “cherry on top” ; their “affordable’ homes here start at ยฃ600,000, relations between Catalyst and the community are at an all-time low and their redevelopment scheme in North Kensington has come at a price of environmental devastation , plus noise, nuisance, and misery for residents – which has gone on for the past decade and is only set to get worse .

Time for North Ken News to be run by North Ken residents?

THINK have lost count of the numerous council publications that land on our doorsteps.

One such is North Ken News – which is delivered to households in our area. It is run by RBKC ‘s PR machine however – which is partly why not very many residents read it.

But rather than scrap the publication, we have a much better idea; have it mainly run by residents.

We think the magazine and its content would be so much better and so much more useful if it was.

After all, who knows more about the community than the people who live here?

Personally, some of us affected by Grenfell have found that writing helps us and we would really love to see others getting involved in writing (though it’s a completely different beast to our blog of course!)

As well as our fantastic local artists (the only part of our community that RBKC’s social media-loving PR team appears to know anything about and the only good part of the magazine that people read), it would be good to hear from local writers, photographers, small businesses and community organisations and so many others.

Council announcements and news are important but many people here have noticed that most of the important council information gets left out of these publications. And some would love to write about other local matters of interest – not everyone’s lives revolve around Hornton Street – and many residents are getting sick and tired of one RBKC publication after another.

North Ken News would not only be so much better if our residents were given some charge of the content of it – and since so many affected adults in our community seem to have been left out of Grenfell Recovery, this would be helpful to them and also be a good way for the council to get to know others better around here and their needs and interests.

But would Kim Taylor-Smith and Elizabeth Campbell ever entertain this possibility? It would be a popular move with some around here and just one tiny little thing that might at least show the council wants to listen to community voices and move on from the bad old days if they did . Just a thought.

North Kensington, Grenfell, our blog, some people and some points

Yesterday the 14th of January 2021 was 3 years and 7 months since our 72 members of our community lost their lives in the fire at Grenfell Tower and our first thoughts were with the 72 and their loved ones, relatives and friends.

Yesterday was a difficult day for so many of us around here – the 14th always is. It’s even more distressing in lockdown without friends and family and not being around others in our community.

Here is an advance warning: We have a few points to say here. Not everyone may wish to hear or will be comfortable with what we have to say but here goes :

– A few seem to forget affected residents in the immediate area around Grenfell and how they are feeling – and astonishingly sometimes this doesn’t always come from some at the RBKC Leadership or the Government. We cannot help but find ourselves offended when some people tell us that they are doing this or that for Grenfell and this is what affected people think – whilst seeming to completely forget who we are and and where we live.

– The opinions expressed in this blog are not just those of one or two people, they are views that a large part of our community and nearby share. This is a community blog, not a personal one and the vast majority of the blog posts come from what others around us in the community think, feel and are interested in.

– Our posts are not of an offensive nature, are not intended to cause personal offence and we are not responsible for others taking offence at our blog posts .

– This is a topical local blog and not a puppet show. We do not take kindly to people who think they can pull the strings here. Our blog doesn’t go around kissing people’s backsides – sorry. Life would be probably personally easier for us if we did but our output would be lame and meaningless. Again, nothing we say here is truly meant to cause personal offence. If some politicians take great offence about our posts that is their problem – we say if they can’t handle a bit of criticism, then they shouldn’t be in politics in the first place . Also the points above, if we criticise some and/or their policies, then they ought to be aware that it is not just the blog’s opinion. If some people do not think we go far enough in some of our posts on the other hand , nobody is stopping them from writing blogs themselves.

– There is a troll sending comments and emails about some councillors some of which are racist and some of which are homophobic. This anonymous person posted some very hateful comments on a couple of our blog posts some time back and they were immediately removed. Our blog condemns these trolls and does not tolerate that sort of behaviour. Any further comments will also be removed. We suggest that if people are directly receiving abusive emails, that they contact the Police. What really also hurts is that sadly a few people seem to have got it into their heads the crazy notion that any of this comes from us.

– Some further unnacceptable behaviour we have seen in recent times has been some who email us – also anonymously – to needlessly lash out at RAs, other community groups, volunteers, and even some of the Grenfell survivors and the bereaved – yes we hate to say so but sometimes we receive a lot of this sort of thing and we received some unpleasant emails again this week. Not everyone can get along with each other and we suggest that if people have personal disputes with others, that they discuss with the people in question and not go around spreading rumours, and stop bothering us with this. These appear to be separate from the abusive comments and emails having a go at some of our councillors – but this is also unacceptable and the same person or persons have also been trying to fill our comments section with this bile – needless personal snipes at other North Kensington residents. This is also not welcome here. and the comments were also removed as soon as we saw them.

– Everyone is having a difficult time right now; this why we are not going to name some people who have issues with us on here. because under these circumstances people are going through bad times themselves and it wouldn’t be very fair or indeed very kind of us to do so. It’s not helpful and doesn’t achieve anything.

– It would he good if some would discuss things properly like grown- ups and not block, exclude, backstab and snipe and behave as if we are in a school playground.

– We didn’t want to write this post and we hope we never have to say all of this all over again in future posts, but some of the behaviour from some who ought to know better leaves us with no choice but to speak out and say enough is enough .

– Regardless, most of us in North Kensington, despite the odd disagreement, are on the same side, and it’s important to remember who the “enemies” really are; the people who want us to return to the bad old days where North Kensington, our issues and residents’ voices are ignored and pushed to the back again.

After all, most of us (trolls excepted) are and will always be, part of the North Kensington community together .

.

Wornington Green: Not up-to-scratch Catalyst scheme gets hissed at by residents and councillors

Residents living on the Wornington Green Estate have been campaigning against plans by Catalyst Housing to chop down 42 trees – as we reported previously in this post:

https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2020/12/04/wornington-green-green-no-longer-north-ken-residents-fight-to-save-42-trees/

The Wornington Green redevelopment scheme had been given the green light (but only just, by a majority of one) by the RBKC Planning Committee back in 2010.

Over 1000 people – including 160 Wornington Green residents – have signed the petition to save the trees and to call for meaningful consultation over this. Catalyst Housing have said some of the trees will need to be removed in order to build new homes, but campaigners and North Kensington locals , including us, believe the trees to be crucial to the public realm and the environment and to the wellbeing of the local residents.

Aftter New Year, the trees are thankfully still here – well for now anyway.. Last month, some of the residents and campaigners addressed the RBKC Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Also there were a couple of representatives from Catalyst present. Here’s what happened:

Keith Stirling, resident of the Wornington Green Estate: “We are in-a very very precarious position In fact regarding the felling of trees, our oxygen and the Ozone Layer. Chopping down trees, doesn’t help. The people of Wornington Green and the wider area need their trees.” He pointed out that the area is deprived of trees and that London plane trees supply the most oxygen. He said that Athlone Gardens was being regenerated as well and that it was a perfect place to transplant the trees – he had looked into it.

Constantine Gras, multimedia community artist and campaigner, who started the petition : “I”ve just heard that Catalyst have been listening to residents – they’ve just posted a newsletter to us. I think they’ve revised their plans to fell 42 trees down to 37″ Well that’s a start….

Constantine said that the Royal Borough “from posh squares to green housing spaces loves its trees and looking at the trees and listening to the birdsong – more so now as we’re stuck at home under Covid-19 restrictions”.

He emphasised the environmental benefits of trees here: “Trees in North Kensington, they really are a matter of life and death – the carbon emissions here are among London’s highest. The RBKC air quality climate change action plan has reported that 7.6% of all deaths in the Royal Borough are attributed to air pollution. Green spaces and trees are vital for filtering out toxic particles, so every tree in the borough, especially these 50 year old mature London plane trees on Wornington Green Estate they will help the borough become carbon neutral in 2040; I believe that is a council commitment”

As a community artist who has worked on social housing estates in North Kensington, Constantine Gras knows that residents really value their trees and green spaces, so he was been shocked to hear over a month ago of Catalyst Housing’s plans to chop down the trees as part of the next phase of redevelopment and that most of the community were unaware of this. “There seemed to be no consultation on this – how is this possible in this day and age? It’s wrong on every level. Just imagine someone walking down Wornington Road and all of a sudden all the trees have been cut down. Is this the type of regeneration that creates a sustainable community? ”

Constantine had looked at the planning applications from Catalyst – about 20 of them, the most recent one was last October – all of which had a tree plan from 2009 attached, which had never been followed and was obviously out of date regarding the information contained – disgraceful.

He questioned the legality of the process as to whether the council would let development be carried out that wasn’t in accordance with the submitted plans and without updated environmental assesssments.

Residents had carried out their own assessments of how many trees had already been lost. In phases 1 and 2a of the redevelopment 55 trees were removed, 10 retained and just 27 new sapling trees were planted with only 8 in the public realm. For the whole of the redevelopment there will be a whopping 167 trees lost – mostly mature trees – and less than half of them will be replaced.

As we said before, we think that Catalyst are partly renaming the estate “Portobello Square” because there will likely be very little “green” left when they are done….

It was stated that as well as the impact of construction and demolition, there will also be new roads – which will increased traffic flow and will have a major environmental impact. Residents expect Catalyst Housing and RBKC to monitor measure and offset the carbon footprint of this redevelopment.

Constantine also pointed out that as Catalyst are worth around ยฃ3 billion and half of the new homes are or will be for private sale, that it won’t put too much of a dent in their profits to build fewer private luxury flats. (prices start at ยฃ600,000 for a 1 bedroom flat) and put their resources into building an innovative development around the trees. “Just who is benefiting from this regeneration? ”

Fearghal O’Hara from Catalyst Housing, who is a Regeneration Manager for Wornington Green and who is responsible for overseeing the new builds at Wornington Green, responded: “We understand the concerns about removal of trees. We understand that this is a concern at the moment when people are spending so much more time at home. around the local community appreciating the local green space.”

He said that Catalyst Housing try to avoid tree removal, and whenever they can, “buildings and streets are designed around trees” . Really? That’s not exactly reflected in the number of trees lost, from what Wornington Green and nearby residents tell us, or indeed viewed on our own visits to the estate…..

Mr O’Hara::”Unfortunately we do need to move trees in order to build more homes. We accept and share the view os the petitioners that there is a climate emergency. However, we also recognise that there is a growing demand for modern efficient housing in London and in this phase of development (2b), we are bulding 230 homes 108 of which are social rent homes.to energy efficient standards amd to reduce environmental impact” Sorry Mr O’Hara, but we’re far from convinced as to how large scale destruction of trees and greenery reduces environmental impact.

He went on: “There will be huge gains for the community aside from more modern homes as a result of this regeneration. There will be new community facilities, new public realm, and we’re creating a new green space in partnership with RBKC – that’s Athlone Gardens”

No, we cannot excuse this from Mr O’Hara, saying that Catalyst are creating community facilities, – they’re not; they’re replacing them. -. We think he has some downright nerve to say this to people who have been in or around the local area for years.

He did say that the regeneration since 2011 has brought an additional ยฃ1million to fund community development projects including services, jobs and training opportunities as well as after school clubs and funds for the Venture Centre.

Mr O’Hara said the tree plan had been agreed by RBKC in 2010 and as many new trees should be planted as possible and as many as possible should be retained. He said it would have been looked at carefully when the masterplan was designed.He said with regards to consultation, the masterplan was widely publicised at the time and while this was 10 years ago, the masterplan remains the blueprint for the regeneration and that subsequent planning permissions were given by RBKC in 2014, 2017 and 2019. Catalyst had according to him, held a number of events both online and in person and that the RSG – the Residents Steering Group that the housing association sees as integral to the project to represent to views of residents and helps to choose designs and recently helped with selecting a contractor and keeps the organisation close to comnunity opinion apparently.

He said that they were proposing to plant 16 additonal trees in the public realm, bring the total of new trees in the development to 69, but failed to say how many of the 69 trees would be in the public realm and how many would be plane trees

Cllr Johnny Thalassites Lead Member (cabinet] for Planning, Place and the Environment thanked Constantine for the petition and said: “We need to save as many trees as possible. I welcome the commitment to retain two additional trees and to plant some more. I’m grateful to Fearghal and his team for working with us on that, but I think the key thing I would say is that I knew from campaigns in my own ward saving trees in Holland Park Avenue just how emotive and valued trees can be in a community, and that they can be a real green lung for for a neighbourhood”

“So I really believe that we should work harder to protect the more of the trees. I tend to think we’ve not gone far enough yet, I think there’s work to do.”

He said that they needed to go further to work to saving the trees and implored Catalyst to keep wotking with council officers to save more of them and while more social housing provided was a good thing, he regretted the fact that the council could not do anything about the Planning decision made 10 years ago (before he was a councillor), he would want to retain the treet but his hands are tied as Catalyst has no legal compulsion to follow his directions.

“The mood in the council and the Leadership is certainly to protect community, to protect trees and to support local residents and in the north and across the borough.”

Cllr Marie-Therese Rossi (Conservative, Redcliffe) – and Chair of this very Committee asked Catalyst if there was any way that Catalyst could look at the plans again to try and save the trees.

Cllr Greg Hammond (Conservative, Courtfield Ward) asked for more clarity on the planning permission, as he understood that there was a time limit on planning permissions “Or is it because the development has already started planning permission is deemed to still be in existence because the building work was started?”

Martin Lomas Strategic developments Manager, RBKC Planning and Place; ” Planning permissions, effectively once they have been implemented, they exist in perpetuity and developing countries that planning permission out so when we grant planning permission they’re subject to a condition that requires them to commence within three years. But if they do commence within that time period, then effectively the permission is then available to the developer in perpetuity to carry out that development in accordance with that planning permission.”

Pat Mason (Labour,Golborne Ward) Leader of the RBKC Opposition is one of the local councillors for the estates and said he was there objecting at the Planning Committee 10 years ago and at the time the consultation was a “complete joke”

“Kensington Housing Trust that morphed into Catalyst had a history of having absolutely dreadful consultations that even the council at that time said were not sensible, were not representative of what residents think. I have the planning application in front of me as it happens . The planning application noted that there was a 540 signature petition against the application and there were 53, other main objections, including the local councillors, and these were on 40, different main points, and these included, the loss of trees, the removal of Athlone Gardens, because that was mentioned here, the road layout and speeding traffic”

He said that Lady Hanham, a former Leader of RBKC for 11 years, had objected to the scheme saying that ‘I’m voting against because I do not believe this application benefits the people of Wornington Green’ and we made a big fuss at the time about the fact that Athlone Gardens was going to be erased and replaced and it was going to take years and years for these trees to be knocked down, but the prevailing majority on the committee with the casting vote of the then Chair (former councillor Terence Buxton) voted for this, and we were horrified because you can’t cut down. nearly 100 trees, and not expect an environmental problem so I think they should redraw the masterplan”

He said the development was 60% private housing because Catalyst needs this to stand up financially: “It’s not about helping our people. Overwhelmingly we need social rent housing in Golborne, which is the poorest ward in England. We do not need more housing for the rich here”

“I think that they should redraw because they have a very unhappy community there, and very unhappy councillors, and they are adding to the desecration of the environment and I’m not persuaded by the soft platitudes of officers from Catalyst who are now speaking to me who were not there then. And who will be gone as soon as this development is built living up the mess that they created”.

Kim Taylor-Smith RBKC Deputy Leader and Lead (cabinet) member for Grenfell, Housing and Social Investment said he was grateful to Catalyst for looking again at the issue with the trees and also said that overall , the scheme provided more homes for social rent.

“The impacts in terms of obviously having improved housing and what that does in terms of the environment and I think we mustn’t forget that. We really are looking for as many socially rented homes as we possibly can. ”

He said he supported whar Cllr Thalassites was saying and that all of the trees should be looked at again and talked of the possibility of the borough “adopting ” the trees that cannot all go in Athlone Gardens and suggested that they could go in other parts of the borough.

David Lindsay (Conservative, Norland Ward) asked Catalyst to explain the nature of the consultations that Catalyst had with residents living in the area and nearby and to expand upon that because an observation of his, as a councillor was “when I have planning issues in my ward, typically, the person who is putting in the application testifies that they have given and spent a great amount of time, consulting with their neighbours when in actuality some neighbours don’t believe a word of it.”

Fearghal O’Hara responded by sauing thay Catalyst had been consulting with residents over the past few years and held numerous events, including a “Party in the Park” event at Athlone Gardens, where they presented their proposals for Phase 3. Catalyst had held many consultation meetings in relation to conservation and proposals on designs for Athlone Gardens which they had held in collaboration with RBKC. Catalyst hild monthly meetings with the RSG – Residents Steering Group- and he said they endeavour to keep the RSG abreast of upcoming proposals and actions. “In addition to that, personally I strive with my communications team to keep the locals updated as to what is happening in terms of construction and anything we believe will impact on the residents’ wellbeing.”

Cllr Lindsay asked residents if anything what Mr O’Hara had said then, bears any resemblance to their experience of consultations.

Keith Stirling:”I was a member of the steering group and have recently resigned over this business with the trees I was a member of that steering group for many, many years. And the consultations that passed, basically paying lip service to the residents on Wornington Green ” and that “Catalyst were going to do whatever they were going to do”.

Keith told the Committee that as far as the steering group went, it was around 4 to 5 people and didn’t really represent the whole of the estate. He had argued that more people should be involved with the RSG but that some did not want to belong to it as they didn’t belive what Catalyst was telling them. When he found out that Catalyst were going to chop down the trees, he was horrified and resigned because “I’m not going to sit in a room with people that are going to do this sort of damage to my environment”.

David Lindsay: “I think its abundantly clear that Catalyst have not taken their residents with them. ”

Cllr Rossi: “I agree. I think that the whole thing. You know it’s a 10 year old planning permission and that people are saying they only just found out in November, that this is is going to happen. In terms of communication, something has obviously gone very badly wrong”.

Cllr Janet Evans (Conservative, Courtfield Ward) said she thought what Kim Taylor-Smith had said on moving the trees elsewhere was a good idea as was concerned that if some were moved on site at this stage , they might not survive.

She asked Catalyst “How would you mitigate on the loss of the trees? Because people do need them, especially now. They need a psychological environment of beauty, and what can you give, in terms of a happy space?” And she asked Constantine if he would be happy with this.

Mr O’Hara replied that part of what Catalyst are proposing will be two blocls of flats surrounded by trees in the public realm and in addition to that, each block will have a courtyard, whereby residents on the blocks can look out upon gardens which are below ground level. He said that Catalyst see Athlone Gardens as a potential jewel in Wornington Green, “so at the end of the regeneration, it will be a green public space for all to enjoy”.

Constantine: “These trees are here, they’re Wornington Green trees, theu are quite fragile and precious, so I mean it’s a very last resort to contemplate doing that. I could imagine an environmentally sensitive architect who would be connected to the scheme could look at the plan. attempted to build the new blocks around the site of what’s here. So we have the ability of building, what’s here as a footprint, and that might give us the ability to try to build around the trees. Now, I don’t think it’s rocket science to look into that. I wish that was being explored. Just seems to be about, people often come into an area, developers, and they just want erase what’s there, and not take stock of the value of what’s there.”

Keith: “The green spaces on Wonington Green that we have at the moment are quite precious to us, we really do need them. Everybody on my estate here, we talk about it all the time, how how much we love those trees and how much we love the wildlife that lives in those trees.

He said it was a wonderful thing to get up in the morning and see birds and squirrels when you’re going to work. But they’ll all be gone and it will take away from out environment What are we doing? I remember there was a song about putting trees in a tree museum. Is that where we’re going? To pay to come and see trees?”

Cll Will Pascall (Conservative, Stanley Ward) and Chair of thr RBKC Environment Select Committee asked Catalyst specifically to follow up on what Kim Taylor-Smith had said, if they would he open to looking again at the trees that have to be cut down and seeing if there can be any modifications made to the design to allow some of them to stay and for others to be moved elsewhere locally He said that as London plane trees have specific benefits and these ones were old and magnificent. He spoke of planting the trees for the future and that several trees would need to be planted for each one taken down.

“Now, it seems to be in this situation there is no answer that will fulfill what Catalyst, want to do. What they’ve got planning permission to do on one hand, and what the residents, particularly the two people who brought this petition, have expressed on the other hand, that what Councillor Lindsay pointed out, is that what is missing from here is some kind of working together, and I think that what Councillor Kim Taylor Smith suggested was a very good suggestion towards that possibility. And my question is really as to whether Catalyst would be prepared to look at it seriously and to put some money behind it?”

Fearghal O’Hara: ” I have been working with a team of architects and landscape architects and structural engineers over the past months. We are not just brushing the concern aside and we have investigated the layout of the buildings and of the public ground, but the problem is these trees were planted with the layout of the estate” He said it’s almost impossible to build the buildings in the same layout and build around the trees. He said they do recognise the benefits of London plane trees and they are proposing to plant some on the scheme.

Cllr Pascall then re-asked part of his question ” part of the question which I don’t feel has been answered” regarding are Catalyst prepared to take on board what Kim Taylor-Smith said and look at the trees and which ones can move moved locally and which ones cannot, if and if they cannot, can be moved elsewhere in the borough and for additional extra mature plane trees to be planted in addition to what has been reported and on top of that engaging with borough officers and residents and to put some money behind it.

Mr O’Hara replied that it was subject to approval within the various departments at RBKC….

Cllr Pascall:”.and to plant some new ones”

Mr O’Hara said that Catalyst feel that they are at capacity with planting additional new trees on the street because root systems, plus the daylight issues that additional trees may create could become a factor.

Cllr Pascall: “So you’re prepared to look at it, the question is are you prepared to look at it with the borough officers and residents because as Councillor Lindsay said one of the key components here is a meaningful consultation with local residents. On this particular issue that does not seem to be a meeting of minds”

Cllr Max Chauhan (Conservative, Queens Gate Ward ) asked Mr O’Hara why only 3 trees when the company spoke to specialist contractors “it was put in section 3.16 that this is being explored, implying it hasn’t been explored. Can we see more exploration and see if these trees can be identified to transport to Athlone Gardens or adopt in the wider borough”

Mr O’Hara said that Catalyst would be prepared to explore that further.

Cllr Judith Blakeman (Labour, Notting Dale Ward) :”We heard today that the regulator of social housing has just downgraded Catalyst’s financial position. So I am concerned that we have no guarantee either that this development will ever finish, because it’s already been delayed,- all that after the trees have been destroyed. This destruction of trees goes against all the council’s new policies.”

Christine Dingle, Wornington Green resident: “I think everything needs to be relooked at, reassessed and replanned., and I think it’s just so devastating and upsetting to think about, cutting the trees down, and all that time to grow, and are part of our lives”.

Abbas Dadou, Notting Dale resident, Cahir of Lancaster West Residents Association said that the community was being treated as a commodity “these people, they come and buuld and they go” He had issues with the planning department “you know, you people are supposed to be our guardians” referring to 200 square metres of green space in Lancaster West Estate, he said that planning officers and an architect had referred to it as a “useless bit of green” “We have 4 beuatiful palm trees there. For over 20 years , that green space is very important to us and they want to build a nursery beteeen two blocks forcing in a building, and leaving 4 metre gaps. So I can understand and I feel their pain . These companies who make huge money at the expense of the community who has been through a lot since 2017”

Isis Amlak, resident Norland Ward and community campaigner : “The plan to me does not seem that it’s any longer fit for purpose. 2010 was a long time ago and as we all know, one of the things that the Grenfell Tower atrocity has shown us is that it’s vital that communities are listened to. And I believe there is a commitment from the council, that we would do things differently, , and that going forward, the voice of residents, particularly in the north of the borough would be heard, far more loudly. ”

Isis said she lived in a part of North Kensington that was abundant in greenery, but when you head further north, particularly in Golborne, there is a lack of trees and a lack of green space.

She mentioned toxicity in the environment, found in the soil after Grenfell, and that the trees are vital to removing pollution and they provide so many environmental benefits besides such as helping to avert the risk of flooding. The trees also bring psychological benefits – “it’s just more beautiful with trees” and she said that ” a clever committed architect will find a way to build around the trees and incorporate them into modern building designs.”

Isis also had tbis to ask Catalyst: “How have you taken the impact of the Grenfell Tower atrocity and all the multiplicity of issues that is caused into consideration in your plans? Can you evidence that because I’m horrified to think that this plan went through 10 years ago, Grenfell happened three years ago, and no one sat down at Catalyst and reconsidered how they’re going forward.”

Feaghal O’Hara said Catalyst now recognise the sensitivities in North Kensington, especially since the Grenfell tragedy ( meaning they didn’t recognise them before?) and that’s why they were committed to keeping residents informed and involved.

Judith Blakeman: “Keeping residents informed is not engaging with the residents and you don’t have to live there afterwards, after you’ve chopped down the trees. We have a salutory example on the Silchester Estate, where they put small trees in a courtyard as you said, and none of them flourished because of the lack of light. They’ve now got a mud patch. ”

Pat Mason: “Residents are just being palmed off with platitudes and you think we are stupid, you think our residents are stupid. You think they have nothing in their heads now that can’t be palmed off with any old story,

That’s what the residents said 10 years ago. That’s what they’re saying now. Councillor Blakeman is right, being informed what’s going to happen is not consultation and that’s what has happened

You will be gone just in a couple of years, leaving us with the mess behind, environmental mess, trees cut down, you move on to some other project, we hear this and that, we hear these stories all the time from people like you in five years time, you won’t be here, you will not be here, you will leave us with the mess you’ll leave the council with the mess”

Maybe Catalyst had expected an easy ride from the council that once approved their scheme? They certainly did not get one and finally, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Cllr Marie-Therese Rossi (who has gone up tremendously in our estimation) , got her claws out and said this: “To sum up, I have something to say to Catalyst. Something has gone very badly wrong here. You’ve got a planning permission, which by the sound of it, you got by the skin of your teeth, 10 years ago. You have not been engaging with the residents. And something I learnt a long time ago. I used to work with the urban regeneration agency and rule number 1 for regeneration is that you don’t impose it. It’s got to be bottom up. You have got to take people with you. And it really seems in this instance that that is not happening.”

“So I would urge you Catalyst to go and look at your plans again and just see by building a few less houses or flats that you can actually save some of those trees. Because that is what the residents want, and as they have said, they are the ones who have to live there for years to come.

And Catalyst cannot just dump a project on residents and expect them to be happy about it because they would like to keep their trees. My sympathies are with the residents. I would urge you, Catalyst to look again, because it can’t be right, this level of protest against what you are doing and that you have not engaged with people down the years.”

THINK’s view

So, it appears that quite a few of our councillors do not think the Wornington Green masterplan is the “cat’s whiskers” and neither do we

As a supposed charitable housing provider with local roots , Catalyst really ought to be caring more about this community and .their social housing residents. Instead these residents are, in the words of one of them who spoke to us, , “treated as an afterthought by Catalyst and in the way of the luxury flats” .

It’s all very well to build homes, but residents in the area deserve to feel comfortable and happy in their homes , and to look out of their windows or step outside and see trees. and wildlife, and not just see grey buildings and roads.Residents’ health will suffer as a result of this scheme, with more pollution, extra roads and far fewer trees,

This blog also has to tell Catalyst that if their plans lead to the immediate area lacking in trees, greenery, playspace and beauty , it might not attract the sort of buyers that would want to live there to set up home and to be part of the local community and instead would appeal more to buy to leave investors only interested in the high land value and lessen the close knit friendly community feel in the area.

This, along with less trees, green space and playspace would give the neighbourhood more of a transient, and less of a green, pleasant, neighbourly and welcoming aspect and would also likely bring an increase in antisocial behaviour and crime

We do take some encouragement from the responses of RBKC now (a huge difference from when the plans got through) We thank Johnny Thalassites in particular.

While we think the climbdown from Catalyst over the fate of 5 of the trees is a bit of good news, their whole conduct over this has been deplorable.

We too say they need to revisit their plans and not just plough ahead regardless and not put hefty profits above the health and wellbeing and needs of the local community. We also suggest that Catalyst looks into providing more additional green amenities, such as roof gardens for the residents , which would make the developments more pleasant and attractive for all residents – those in social housing, and also prospective buyers looking to set up home in North Kensington and be part of the local community rather than absentee investors whose main interests are in the land value (land banking) .

Listening learning and understanding the needs of the residents and community is key, but Catalyst do not seem to care, Another Wornington Green resident said this to us: ” Catalyst could use this as an opportunity to show they are adaptable and change and adapt their masterplan to fit the 21st century. They could listen to residents, work with an imaginative environmentally friendly architect and create a beautiful innovative redevelopment that works around the trees we love and need.

This blog thanks all the inspirational residents and campaigners who are pushing for a better, healthier and considerably more environmentally friendly way forward for all.

We will leave our readers with some essential viewing – this link (which also links to some of Constantine’s other work) – a video of the brilliant “Wornington Word” film, a wonderful, but also bittersweet documentary showing residents from the Wornington Green Estate, their personal views, memories and experiences of the estate and the regeneration. We strongly recommend that our councillors and suits – and especially the officers, suits and directors at Catalyst Housing, watch this too;

https://www.grasart.com/film.html

Clap for Heroes: Why we won’t be joining in this evening

First of all (before we get a load of angry emails) we will just state that we fully support our health workers, key workers, doctors, nurses, teachers, volunteers and all who have helped save lives in the fight in the Covid-19 crisis this country is faced with.

Secondly, we will also say that we supported and joined in the first “Clap For Carers” effort last year because it was a gesture of public support and thanks and we felt it was the good and right thing to do at that time.

While THINK knows this is very well intended – we genuinely mean no disrespect or offfence to the founders or supporters or indeed any of our heroes, but we will not be joining in this evening.

Lots has changed since last Spring:

The good news regarding the two Covid vaccines available:

Pfizer:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-55227325

and Oxford AstraZeneca:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-55525542

Last week over 300,000 people had received Covid-19 vaccinations,

But there are concerns over the delay in gaps between doses of the Pfizer vaccine:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jan/05/unease-among-doctors-as-follow-up-doses-of-uk-covid-jab-delayed.

And here, when we are back in lockdown again, is the really bad news:

To date, in the UK, there have been 2.84 million cases of Covid-19 and 77,346 deaths.

We have heard that many NHS frontline staff in hospitals have still not received the vaccination – unacceptable.

Also our “future heroes” – some student doctors and nurses training in hospitals do not even know when they will receive the vaccination – also unacceptable.

Our Government ministers are very keen to join in the clapping for our heroes , but we’d rather they focus on making sure that our heroes are fully protected against the virus.

Some heroes tell us they feel the clapping, especially from Boris Johnson and his ministers amounts to an empty gesture . This Guardian article briefly touches upon just a few of several reasons why:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/10/boris-johnson-year-of-u-turns

Most NHS professionals we have spoken to have said that they feel that the best thing people can do right now is to follow the rules, rather than go outdoors applauding.

So we say here’s how to thank and show appreciation for our heroes instead :

Stay at home and follow the rules; practice social distancing and wear a mask in shops and busy areas. No parties, no gatherings and no “conspiracy” or “freedom” protests please.

Show support for calls for better pay and conditions at work as well as protection against Covid-19 for all our heroes, (especially those who work on the frontline saving lives) .

Let’s save the clapping for when, eventually, we are living in better, and safer times than now.

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