Tory councillors have no Plan B for Kensington when the property bubble bursts. But Labour do.
Emma Dent Coad is a Labour councillor for Golborne in North Kensington
Kensington and Chelsea is a borough full of surprises, and I don’t mean the range of delis and flower shops.
My ward in the north of the borough, where Portobello Market stops in sight of Trellick Tower, is the joint poorest ward in London on extent measure. This means that every part of the ward is equally poor, including around 50 per cent of its children.
Other wards in North Kensington also have poor estates, of say 40-45 per cent poverty, but in Golborne it is the most widespread.
This is a huge surprise to many people, who might wander up Portobello Market to find the hot food stalls and Moroccan, Portuguese, Indian and Lebanese restaurants on Golborne Road. But even if you wander away from the market, you would never guess how poor it is.
I teach a bit at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, and there’s a trick I play on the students who come on a Friday walkabout. ‘There’s an estate round here’ I tell them, ‘that is in the poorest 5 per cent in the entire country’.
Eyes like saucers, they ask to see it, expecting gangs of hoodlums and burnt-out cars. ‘Gotcha, it’s right here’ I tell them. They look around the wonderfully swept and pruned and cleaned-up award-winning 1970s Swinbrook Estate, utterly confused.
The council is good at sanitising poverty. But it is all a façade, part of stage-set Kensington.
Behind closed doors mothers are economising on food and heating to pay the rent; there is malnutrition, rickets, and early death from preventable diseases.
There is a gap of 18 years life expectancy between the south and the north of the borough – greater if you take in the whole range of 89 for a British woman in Chelsea, and 62 for a Moroccan man in North Kensington.
Kensington and Chelsea is a borough of extremes, and inequality is growing.
I’ve lived here most of my life, and while Paulton’s Square where I was born now houses the rich, it is the mega and mega-super rich who are destroying the borough: the plutocrats, the Far Eastern oil magnates, the ‘buy to leave’ foreign investors, some of whom, if we are to believe Simon Jenkins, are laundering dirty money.
The council does little, caught between need and greed.
The council’s complicity in overheating property prices is so blatant they don’t even bother to deny it. With £170m in Reserves they believe they are untouchable.
Having trawled through the 2011 census figures for anything interesting, I was genuinely appalled to discover that somewhere in Kensington and Chelsea was an estate even poorer than Swinbrook.
After a hunt, I found it. Henry Dickens Court, which I had leafleted several times during a by-election, is even better maintained than Swinbrook and I’m told is used by the council to show off to visiting dignitaries and national politicians to demonstrate how well they care for their ressies.
So here it is. Henry Dickens Court, an estate of cc500 homes, right next to the beautifully preened and utterly Tory Norland Conservation Area, suffers from 58% child poverty. Some 26% of its residents have no formal qualifications whatever; health is appalling; work is manual, if any.
To counter this the council encourages ‘entrepreneurialism’, and if you don’t know what that means, it’s making cupcakes and selling them on the market.
So actually the council isn’t rich at all.
It is simply not spending where money is most needed, and is instead chucking money at the near £1m/yr loss-making Opera Holland Park, nearly as much again for the loss-making Leighton House, arts strategies, and last year, the completion of the frankly disgraceful expense of £23m of Council taxpayers’ money on repaving Exhibition Road.
Did South Kensington need regenerating? I had no idea!
This is the key of course. Kensington and Chelsea council has no idea what regeneration is. Regeneration is translated as pimping unsightly areas to make poverty palatable, tidying up ‘grot spots’, planting odd corners and sticking substandard corporate art and up-lighting on flyovers.
And their plan for actual people, for the poor for whom they have statutory duties? Move them on.
This can’t last. The ‘Royal’ borough is blessed with old-fashioned Tories who, despite their dodgy politics, despise the self-serving faction on the council.
Then we have nine hard-working Labour councillors who are watching their every move. And of course our wonderful residents, loyal and supportive, waiting and working for a better chance at life.
At some point, the property bubble will burst. They have no Plan B for stage-set Kensington. But we do.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.