Fireworks on Rowley Way

I saw one of the best fireworks displays I’ve seen in a long time, courtesy of the Tenants & Residents Association (TRA) of the Alexandra & Ainsworth estate – better known to most as Rowley Way, Aisnworth Way and the Boundary Road estate.

Going off with a bang...

The occasion was the TRA’s annual meeting, and it’s fair to say I don’t think there can be many other TRAs in Camden that can command such an attendance, across the whole of the estate, not put on such a performance.   The tenants hall was rammed with kids getting their faces painted, parents drinking mulled wine and eating very tasty puris – in the middle of which the TRA elected its officers and committee for the coming year.

It felt a bit like public meetings must have used to have been like in the days of mass rallies; everyone standing around, the chair shouting to be heard (despite using a megaphone!) above the sound of neighbours chatting and kids running around.  Organised chaos, followed by everyone trooping to the stairwells and walkways across from the hall, to watch a brilliant display of pyrotechnics from the roof of the hall (some pretty poorly filmed footage available here: Clip of A&A fireworks 20 Nov 2010 – I won’t be picking up my Oscar anytime soon!).  Well done to Charlie, Sara and the rest of the Committee for being re-elected and organising such a fun event.

With this in mind, my thoughts turned to the news over the weekend that the ConDem government was going to plough ahead with its plans to end security of tenure for social housing tenants.

The kick in the teeth is that, whilst the proposals floated in the summer talked about eviction for tenants who have a household income above a certain level after five or ten years, the detail now says this will be effectively cut to just 30 months.

It seems the Tories and Lib Dems in Government just don’t – or don’t want to – understand the importance of social mix on council estates in places like Kilburn, indeed across Camden.  The A&A AGM was a case in point; such a vibrant mix of people, from all sorts of background, all of whom love living on this unique estate (Grade II* listed, to boot) as part of a real community.  The estate has huge challenges, for sure, but I know how committed the TRA Committee members, and their neighbours, are to making it a better place to live.

This community would surely not exist under the Coalition’s plans.  Instead, places like Rowley Way would become sink estates, where anyone who earned a decent living would be evicted after a couple of years.  Families would be moved on when someone has the temerity to get a job, or a better job, and being some money into their household.

This is not the way to create cohesive communities, nor the way to incentivise people living in social housing to get jobs or gain new skills, so they improve their employability.

Now, this isn’t to say that reforms like local lettings policies, to help even out mismatches in under- and over-capacity should be applies intelligently.  But such a broad-brush approach of ‘one-wage-and-you’re-out’ will only fracture our communities, rather than address the issue of housing shortage.

Where, in central London, will people evicted from their council homes go?  It is the same mistake as the Coalition is making with its reform of housing benefit from those renting privately.  Rents won’t simply drop because the Government wishes them to.

Some Lib Dem MPs, like Simon Hughes, appear to recognise this.  I hope Lib Dem councillors in Camden (and Tories too) will join him, and us Labour councillors, in opposing these ill-thought through and destructive reforms.

It seems that places like the Alex & Ainsworth estate, indeed all of Kilburn’s estates, will feel very different in a few years’ time, if these changes go through as currently described.  This would be a huge shame – and send such a negative message about social housing, before one even considers the disruption it will cause to people and families who simply want to get on.

I don’t think that’s a vision most residents on the estate would accept the ConDem Coalition’s vision of social housing; I suspect we won’t have seen the last of fireworks on Rowley Way if it presses ahead with these reforms.

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