Thursday, 31 October 2013

Camden house prices up 4.4% in one month but Tories snub Council Tax increase bid for property speculators

Over the summer we highlighted the success of our policy to charge 150% Council Tax on furnished properties left empty for more than 2 years and asked that a double premium (200%) should apply to homes left empty for one year, rather than two as at present, and apply to second homes.

The proposal got widespread coverage on the BBC, national papers and even Voice of Russia.

We said the 150% rate had already helped to reduce the number of long-term empty homes from 248 to 162.  We estimate the further steps we asked for would bring a 190 more homes back into use, a small but significant step. 

I wrote to Pickles arguing: 

"While the additional Council Tax income from premiums is relatively modest and recycles back into the collection fund for the benefit of all taxpayers, its real effect of bringing empty homes back into use can be clearly seen in Camden."

"We would also like to see a change to the law in relation to unoccupied, furnished property to prevent what the press have called buy-to-leave international investors from storing a few sticks of furniture in a property in order to claim it is a second home and thus avoid the premium."


Sunday, 27 October 2013

The kinds of stuff councils do when there are storms

Here's a briefing councillors in Camden got in the run-up to the storms, outlining the actions various arms of  the council are taking to minimise any potential disruption to the borough.
  • Engineering Services have been clearing drains and gullies in areas prone to surface water flooding.  This includes having the contractors on standby to respond Sunday night and Monday. (For example work is currently ongoing on streets in Gospel Oak ward by the River Fleet).  
  • Environment Service have been liaising with Veolia to ensure additional resources are available to clear leaves and debris over the weekend and also Monday afternoon to assist with any subsequent clear-up.
  • Parks and Open Space have briefed the tree surgeon contractors and confirmed they will be on standby in case of any issues.
  • Economic Development have facilitated messages to key contractors working on independent building sites on the borough to make sure they are aware and taking necessary actions.
  • Housing Repairs and Improvements are asking all scaffolding contractors to make sure all building sites are locked down to prevent flying debris.
  • Adult Social Care have facilitated contact with all service providers to raise awareness and ensure they are prepared.
More info and advice can be found here.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Camden Town and busking licences

Given the hysterical misrepresentation told about the council's supposedly "draconian" plans to introduce some licences for street buskers at one of London's most popular tourist attractions in a bid to help residents deal with the new wave of noise generated by some pretty industrial outfits, here are some comments made by residents:

"Busking as we used to know it, is no longer the issue here. The old style buskers have been muscled out. Instead, we're up against “combos”, complete with professional sound systems. As they are totally unregulated , they feel free to operate at any time of the day or night. Mornings tend to be quiet, but from noon onwards, until as late as three or four a.m. the onslaught is an occurrence we literally fear. Can you imagine what it would be like, if you were sitting at a desk working, and suddenly you couldn't hear your own music playing in your own home because a raucous noise had thundered into your space? When this happens, there is no escape, except to leave..."

"Of course we all like the fun and music of Camden Town. But something strange has happened in the last six months since the the City of Westminster expelled unlicensed street performers. It amounts to a new level of aggressive sound, with a disruptive fierceness unprecedented in all our years of living here... This noise makes a mockery of the Council's attempts, long and successful, to regulate the degree of sound generated by licensed premises".  

"Yesterday evening we had an amplified guitarist who responded to my plea for him to turn it down by turning it up and saying that "we should be used to the buskers by now", at the same time there a full band at Britannia Junction, then later in the evening (9ish) an amplified guitarist and pipe player." 

The comments are just a few showing the perception of 'ownership' some have over Camden's streets. Compromise is quite difficult when someone tells you to "Fuck Off" because they don;t want you to move them from their lucrative pitch.

Ultimately greed took over busking in Camden, and it couldn't self-regulate itself anymore.  But Camden's plans don't ban busking (that would be insane) but only introduce a few rules where there were none before, especially with amplified sound.  Claims that there will be no busking in Camden Town after this are totally over-blown (the fees for a licence are only £19/£32 amp a year) - given that the hundreds of thousands of tourists who go to the Market every weekend won't be going away.

Here's the eloquent view of a local resident:
For some time now we've been in touch with Camden Council about the exceedingly stressful recent escalation in busking in the centre of Camden Town. We have always made it clear that we did not oppose busking in principle, but that – like any other public activity in a complex multi-use area like Camden Town – busking had to share the same social and legal obligations as the rest of us here.
You listened and we are most grateful. The Proposal to Licence Busking in Camden has been very well thought through. Tony Hawkes, Senior Licensing Officer is to be commended. We have sent in our responses in the question part at the end, and we said how satisfied we were with almost everything in the document.
But now you will be receiving many letters from the performance side of this issue. We have friends in the singer/songwriter side of the industry, and they say that there are many heated email discussions going the rounds. Much of this discussion, we feel, would benefit from careful reading of the Camden Proposal, which answers, in advance, many of the performers' worries.
But specifically, we as citizens and taxpayers and residents do not respond well to the call for “free” busking, if free in this formulation means not having to pay, not having to contribute to the cost of maintaining, caring for, cleaning Camden Town. So if “free” busking means conducting street performances without licences, without fees, without paying taxes, we oppose that sense of “free”. The Borough of Camden must expect buskers to pay their share, even noting that the proposed fees are modest and more token than not.
Free” has other meanings as well. Some buskers argue that their use of loud instruments (drums, bongos, amplification, karaoke-style sound tracks, etc) is part of the freedom they demand. They cannot be granted this, nor does the Proposal suggest that they should.
  1. Very loud sound is not acceptable in a complex working and living community, a community of narrow streets (Camden Town) very much folded in upon itself.
  2. “Free” cannot describe a privilege restricted to a small group. A busker free to make any sound at any time radically reduces the civil freedom of everyone else within hearing: unlike almost any other behaviour, free busking refuses everyone else the option of not listening.
  3. It is well known among buskers that amplified busking can be highly intrusive upon none-amplified forms of busking. An amplified busker, in other words, much reduces the area in which other buskers are “free” to exercise their trade. (We've noticed on days when there are no drums or amplifications that several buskers of the old school can operate simultaneously in Camden Town, doing their trade and giving pleasure at the same time.)
It is important to remember the fact there had been an enormous escalation since Westminster Council effectively evicted its buskers in September 2012. It was around this time that the online story began to circulate, world wide, of how Camden was the only Council in London that was unable to control busking. Now, as a result, we have people from Spain, Mexico, Germany and France to name some that we have personally talked to. Several of the buskers in last Monday's rather well-behaved protest were in fact from distant parts of England, and were essentially protesting Camden's plans not to (in effect) underwrite their business activities by providing free spaces like Britannia Junction.
And also one of the quite irritating points that the buskers tend to raise is – If you don't like the loud sound, why do you live here? They evidently don't want to concede that many of us have been in Camden Town longer than these young people have been alive. The buskers, especially the ones that come from abroad, know only of the online reputation, and think of this place as free, talent spotting, performance area. Let them join the complex community by taking out reasonably priced licences, and observing civilised agreements about hours of busking, etc.
Finally, as to the coverage of the recent protest, we wish to state that we deeply deprecate the description of people like ourselves and of you, as being involved in “social cleansing”. This is extraordinarily ugly language, which utterly distorts our wish to continue to enjoy our lives in a complex and civil neighbourhood.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Labour in Camden Town Hall

Camden Labour has been voted in to run the Town Hall 41 of the 48 years the borough has been in existence.  It has only been out of power for two short spells: between 1968-71 and 2006-10.

Ensuring that council housingfair rents and inequality is addressed have been hallmarks of successive Labour administrations throughout the years.  We have also safeguarded residents' interests in the face of major national infrastructure developments.  Camden's unique social mix is a result of its varied housing tenure, and is assisted by our excellent Local Education Authority and family of community schools.  Support for council housing and community schools distinguishes the borough from the super-gentrified boroughs to the west: our social mix remains despite changes occurring at an alarming rate over last two decades.   

Famous Camden councillors
Barbara Castle (St. Pancras council) – Labour Minister
V. K. Krishna Menon (St. Pancras council) – Intellectual and activist for Indian independence
Tessa Jowell – London MP and Labour Minister
Ken Livingstone – MP and Mayor of London
Geoffrey Bindman QC – Human rights lawyer
Frank Dobson – Labour Minister and Camden MP
John Mills – Economist and entrepreneur

Beginnings 
1960s Camden formed of three small boroughs of HolbornHampstead (both Conservative) and (Labour) larger St.Pancras in local government reorganisation.  Greater London Council (GLC) created.  Labour wins majority in new borough under leader and railway clerk Charlie Ratchford.  Camden logo of eight linked hands created, symbolising “voting, giving, receiving and unity.” Labour housing minister Crossman approves council plans to build 4250 homes by 1968.  Camden successfully opposes flyover proposals in Camden Town and M1 extension through borough.  

Housing investment
1970s Labour returned to p ower at Camden Town Hall on pro-council housing platform focusing on lower rents and new council housing.  Camden unsuccessfully applies to CPO Centrepoint, large office block intentionally kept empty by property developers during housing crisis.  Council housing acquisitions programme starts buying up ‘slum’ street properties for council housing, making Camden a major landowner.  Last new council housing built until 2013.  Labour party members play part in creation of local amenity groups across borough, e.g. WHAT and tenants movement.    

Thatcher’s Britain
1980s Thatcher’s Rates Act takes away council control over Camden business rates, forcing major cuts to services as Camden faces huge deficit.  Homeless Bengali families occupy Town Hall demanding better housing.  Labour members campaign for council intervention to take-over Arlington House, NW1.  Turbulent Labour Group splits over approach to Whitehall ‘rate-capping’ of council, but finally sets legal Budget.  Abolition of GLC.  Anti-Poll Tax riot and financial instability.    

Turning council around
1990s Beginning of consolidation of council under Richard Arthur and '1990 Group', major focus on stability, council re-organisation and higher quality services.  Continuing government cuts result in massive capital backlog for housing and infrastructure.  First King’s Cross plans defeated by local residents.  New Labour government elected, starts to give more power and funding to local authorities.

Labour Investment
2000s Camden named ‘Council of the Year’ in 2003, gains powers over community safety and early years.   Labour government invests £500m in council housing, beginning to make good the 18 year repairs backlog.  ‘Tackling inequality’ a council priority in Community Strategy, regeneration funds targeted at 10 most deprived areas.   Camden first borough to establish comprehensive Sure Start network. Swiss Cottage complex and Talacre Sports Centre opened and Haverstock school rebuilt.  Camden and Manchester drive new ASBO powers against drug-dealersKing’s Cross regeneration passed and Crossrail green-lighted through Tottenham Court Road but overbuilt plans for Camden Town Tube rejected. Leader Jane Roberts named Dame for services to local government.

Coalition cuts
2010s Camden faces £130m cuts from Coalition government over 6 years, reductions of over 30%, and face massive capital deficit for council homes and schools.   Ends of sales of council homes by auction policy taken by Tories and Lib Dems.  Introduces 20mph zone across the borough, London Living Wage and starts £330m Community Investment Programme to build 1100 new council homes and repair all community schools. First new council homes built at Chester Balmore since 1970s.  Equality Taskforce and Camden Plan put childcare, growth and jobs centre stage.  Primary schools named best in country. Opposes plans to demolish parts of Regent's Park Estate and Camden Town for HS2.