Council estates get the squeeze


Tenants ignored yet again in New Labour plan to demolish garages for housebuilding

Plans were unveiled at the South East Area Committee earlier this month for the redevelopment of fifteen garage sites in Oxford City, including seven areas of Blackbird Leys.

One site, Crowberry Road, was the subject of a dispute at the Area Committee back in January, after New Labour councillor Val Smith claimed she had consulted residents there and had been told they wanted to see the garages ‘bulldozed’. She then proposed that new housing be built on the site.

However, when the IWCA carried out a survey of Crowberry Road residents it turned out that a majority were against the idea of demolishing the garages to make way for houses, with most people preferring the garages to be renovated or at least replaced with parking spaces. None of the residents could recall ever having been consulted by Val Smith on the matter.

Now it appears that the false claims about consulting residents may have been intended to help push through already-existing plans for new housing developments. Any such plans would have been the responsibility of the Housing portfolio holder, none other than Val Smith herself.

While the IWCA is in favour of new housing being built in the city, especially social housing, we have concerns over the way in which the Labour administration is trying to cram new accommodation into every available space on our council estates.

These estates were originally built with a certain density of housing, including space for garages, for a reason. Does New Labour feel that working class people no longer need or deserve the same amount of space that they used to?

The IWCA is also concerned about the way in which residents’ views are being completely ignored by the Labour-run council, as there are no plans to consult residents about the proposed new developments.

However, due to the poor state of repair of many of the garages, some people may well be glad to see them demolished. The Executive Board, in its report to the area committees, states that the garages have become hard to let and consequently have become uneconomical for the council to maintain and manage.

Yet, this year, under the guise of equalising the rents for both council tenants and owner occupiers—in itself a reasonable aim—the Executive Board increased rents for tenants by 17%. This can hardly have encouraged more people overall to rent garages, although the lower charges for private renters may have provided a small incentive.

In fact, some residents have even suggested that the garages may have been deliberately allowed to fall into disrepair in order to make the plans to demolish them appear more acceptable.

We will, perhaps, never know if there is any truth in this, but what is clear is that Val Smith and her New Labour Colleagues don’t intend to let the considerations of Oxford’s working class get in the way of their plans for new housing.

Leys Independent, issue 20, December 2003

 

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Housing portfolio holder and Blackbird Leys councillor Val Smith didn’t include this block of three garages next to her house on Flaxfield Road among the sites earmarked for demolition. However, garages will be knocked down to make room for new housing developments in seven other areas of the estate under Cllr Smith’s proposals.