I’ll start this story in a tenants association hall in Myrtle Road, Harold Hill. I used the small bar for a pint or two in the 1980s when I heard that the chair had decided to resign. I put my name forward. To my great surprise I won. I was completely out of my depth. My Committee was quite large with a number of spirited individuals. I was 37 years old and considered by many to be a young pup. A lot of the Committee were in their 60s/70s. One character was an ex-Councillor named Jim Driscall who enjoyed confrontation.
Betty Strathern was resolute however that power lay in the hands of ordinary people using the association hall. Many politicians saw we had a big membership and wanted to utilise it for their own ends. Betty and I agreed that this was an opportunity for the local community.
Funnily enough, around that time a particular event happened. I had formed a group called Home Owners Protection Group. The group was formed from the people who had exercised their right to buy their homes under Margaret Thatcher’s relatively new Right to Buy Act. This was only a vociferous group of twenty people.
Our group HOPG learnt, because Betty and I had engaged an independent accredited building surveyor, that the homes bought under Right to Buy had many faults. They had serious structural and other faults because of the way the GLC had managed the building construction programme. O.K. they were cheap. Most mortgages were for 10 to 15 thousand pounds, but when I made the results of the surveyors investigation known, all hell erupted.
I contacted our MP Sir Nicholas Bonsor and invited him to a meeting of residents in the hall one Wednesday night. Well he had no idea what was awaiting him that evening as he started to address the meeting. I was chairing the meeting. After a suitable period of time when he was fearing for his life and I suggested he might arrange for a small delegation of our buyers to meet the Housing Minister. He leaped at this and promptly removed himself from the meeting, promising that he’d be in touch very soon.
We met the minister, Ian Gow, who was pompous and arrogant. His first words, “It’s caveat-emptor – is it not?” (Let the buyer beware.) He didn’t appreciated what six home buyers thought of his housing policy before that night. He did by the time we left. When I argued that these were people buying their homes at both the behest and encouragement of his Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The complicit deviousness of the GLC to conceal the inherent faults was, “not only fundamentally wrong but tantamount to fraud.” It seemed to me the GLC off-loaded their responsibility for future repairs onto people who couldn’t afford it. I said I would make this clear to everyone on Harold Hill. I also said I’d publicise this to anyone considering taking up Right to Buy nationally.
We were ushered out by two burly security guards, but much to my amazement we received a letter a few days later from the Chief Executive of the GLC. We were informed that as the GLC was in the process of being subsumed by Havering Council. They would be responsible for complaints about alleged faults on properties defined as the fourth phase of the Harold Hill development programme. Senior Havering and GLC Officers discuss our concerns at another meeting in the Myrtle Road hall the following Wednesday.
The Havering team arrived in good time but the GLC delegates were very late. Councillor Bert James, chair of Housing, tore into us in a quite unexpected tirade. He accused us of exaggerating the problems. He had no intention of giving us any more of his time and was therefore leaving the meeting. Storming to the door he collided with the representatives from the GLC who’d been held up by an accident on the A12. Councillor James looked like a fool and clearly put him on the wrong foot subsequently.
I showed photos of poor workmanship and building faults our surveyor had identified in his private report to us. As photos was handed round the meeting I emphasised to Councillor James how my fertile imagination had exaggerated the problems.
The long and the short of this was that a few months later the then home owners were offered a one-off £2000 payment but no further claim could be made against the Council or the GLC. When you consider the houses were selling for £10-15 thousand it was a very good deal.
So the end of this story is never give up. When faced with bureaucracy, especially from the Council or Government, fight on.