Between 1990 and 1998 I was Chair of Havering’s Housing Committee, which I enjoyed hugely. Because so many council tenants exercised their ‘right to buy’* this led to a worrying fall in the Council’s housing stock. This especially effected people coming onto the housing market who were priced out. Following a discussion with the Housing Director, Jim Draper he suggested we consider building a small estate within the much larger Harold Hill Estate. I was very taken with this idea and turned it into a policy decision.
A green field site called Wednesbury Gardens was identified, which was a sizeable plot. I did the preliminary work and the boroughs architects were commissioned. We put in for planning permission and when it went to the housing committee they passed the proposal. But once the public notices were issued, hostility to the whole plan emerged. The residents of the houses surrounding the field were up in arms. Quite a proportion of those objecting, were former tenants who’d brought their properties. I agreed to hold a public meeting on the field the following week where the households effected (they weren’t all owners) could hold me to account and see the proposal with detailed drawings. I knew, this wasn’t going to be an easy meeting.
On the day, purely by chance, an old paperhanging table had been left on the field. I put my diary and the rolled up plans of the new build, on the table. The papers were held on the table with some stones I picked up from the grass. I was pleased to see my comrade Labour Councillor, Denis Cook from the housing committee turn up, as I’d expected to have to conduct the meeting by myself. As anticipated, a vociferous group, of about fifty mostly women and children with some men surrounded us.
The language was richly peppered with references to our illegitimate birth status but that didn’t bother either of us. I had to shout to be heard above the jeering, booing, hissing and expressions of contempt. The children mostly complained about losing their playing field. Some parents were vocal about no longer being able to use the field for their dogs. No one wanted more new-built houses on ‘their’ field.
However, when I pointed out,
“at some stage all these properties were council housing and at some point whether you, or the person/s you got or brought the house from, they were all, grateful to be housed by the council!”
All we were proposing was to give other families that same opportunity. That placated a number and stopped the jeering to a large extent. A very few gave weak ‘Here-Here’. After a short Q&A session we finished.
Finally, when rolling up the drawings I noticed my diary had gone missing. I asked in a very loud that “who ever had nicked my diary to return it as was of no use to anyone but me and if whoever cared to glance through the pages, they will see its of no use to them at al.” A boy of about six, (I suspect he took it) said, “Look behind you mister is that it laying on the grass?”
Bless him and all Harold Hill residents.
* For right to buy see https://www.gov.uk/right-to-buy-buying-your-council-home