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Peering through the drizzle….

https://underthefloorboardsweb.wordpress.comIn September 1969,my dad took me to Boundary Park, to see Oldham Athletic, the mighty Latics.

It was my first game, and yes, it was raining. In those days, Oldham were in the old Fourth Division, and in a pretty parlous state(things seem to have come full circle….), having just been through the indignity of re-election the previous season. The manager, a recent appointment to replace the old Burnley star, Jimmy Mc Ilroy, was Jimmy Frizzell, who had been playing for us.

We beat Aldershot that day, 4-2, but that proved to be a rare highlight in a season of struggle. My dad also took me to Old Trafford that season (he’s a United fan…), where I watched Law, Best and Charlton open mouthed…

Yet somehow, I didn’t end up a Man Utd fan. My dad’s shift patterns changed, and I ended up going to Latics with my Uncle Ronnie, a lifelong fan, getting hooked, not least because our supposedly stop gap manager built a team that first managed promotion to the Third Division, and then went on to win the Third Division, in 1973, an afternoon I still remember vividly.

And so the years passed, I grew tall, played rugby in the winter, cricket in the summer, got my first razor, had my heart broken, had fantastic times, bad times, indifferent times, worked hard, travelled….. But through all this was the Latics. I was there, euphoric, the night we knocked six past West Ham to virtually guarantee our first and only Cup Final, the League Cup, against a very good Nottingham Forest side who edged it 1-0…..

The next few years, which saw us get promoted to the First Division, and be founder members of the Premier League, and a couple of unlucky losing FA Cup semis to the dreaded Man U, seem like a dream now from our present position, near the bottom of League 2, with a dodgy chairman and a fans group calling for him to go…. And there I am, watching us nick wins and lose dismally.. Full circle, I suppose…..

Thinking about it, one of the things I get out of it is a sense of place, of being part of a community. I used to live with an ex partner literally next to the ground, so on the bus to the ground, the memories can be bitter sweet. But whilst the past is what roots us, you can’t live there….

I’ve lived in my present home since 2003, and I’m rooted in my Rochdale community…and knowing things must, and will, change, but that some things will stay the same.

What f*****g empathy….. The failure of RBH to understand the circumstances of their tenants….

Around 2012 or so, when the government were using benefit claimants as guinea pigs for Universal Credit, there were three areas in the north west being used in the pilot scheme. The initial results were alarming. Because housing benefit was now an element of the new all singing all dancing benefit, the big idea of Iain Duncan Smith, people found that they were in rent arrears because of the inordinate length of time they were expected to wait.

As a concerned tenant, I attended a meeting where there appeared to be little knowledge of this when I brought up the worrying results of the pilot scheme, and the impact this was having in Ashton-under-Lyne, one of the pilot scheme areas. Because of the length of time claimants were expected to wait – five weeks and counting – often vulnerable people were falling into arrears with social housing, and were being evicted and falling into homelessness.

This has only got worse as the years have progressed, and now Universal Credit has been recognised as one of the major drivers of homelessness.

In addition to this, there has been the impact of benefit sanctions, which has also been a driver of arrears, as people have had their money stopped for months on end for often the most trivial of reasons. This has been a major driver behind the number of homeless people in Greater Manchester.

Then there are people struggling with mental health conditions, physical disabilities, and chronic illnesses, who find themselves having to deal with an often unsympathetic and inconsistent system, subject to assessments that leave them with inadequate money to cover their basic necessities,including rent. For a few years now, RBH has had what they call a ‘rent first’ policy, which hits people in this situation particularly hard, as they are forced to make choices….. Are they going to make sure they are adequately fed, with heating and lighting, or are they going to pay their rent? These are real life choices that people have to make. Paying the rent or feeding the kids? These are the sort of choices that people in poverty have to make.

RBH, despite knowing this, continue to push the ‘rent first’ policy….. Thus the lovely, friendly slogan on this van. Set in the context of the situation as described, it makes them look unsympathetic as an organisation towards the difficulties of their tenants…… I would personally suggest perhaps ‘Need help with your rent’ would be better.

I believe that this particular slogan on the van represents something deeper and more troubling. It represents a lack of empathy that is organisational, and comes from the top. Policy is made by people who, although they often stress their own modest beginnings, are now very firmly bourgeois, and intent on policy informed by that…. Thus the rent policy, often enforced irrespective of circumstance, causing distress to often ill and vulnerable people. I would stress that for the most part, the staff who actually do the work do their best in trying circumstances, often not of their own creation.

Last year, due to serious illness, I was in hospital for over four weeks with serious infections that affected my mobility particularly badly…… Now whilst in hospital, benefits stop, and because of this, I found myself in rent arrears. I was hooked up to two drips when one morning I received a call from RBH regarding the arrears. I explained as best I could given the circumstances I was in, and the reply was unsympathetic. As you could imagine, this did not help, although later it was eventually resolved after I complained…. But I shouldn’t have had to.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say this, but RBH are failing their tenants…. The recent (absolutely spot on) criticism by Councillor Meredith and Councillor Blundell of the way the management of RBH have made fundamental mistakes in their management of the supposed regeneration of Lower Falinge and College Bank, including the treatment of tenants.

The slogan on this van is symbolic of their failure.



The saga continues……

The recent criticism by rochdale councillors of RBH plans for Lower Falinge and College Bank is something I would cautiously welcome. I say cautiously because Iam unsure about what, practically, they would be willing, or able to do to help.

Certainly, the recent revelation of massive pay rises for RBH execs, at a time when they are continually restructuring and expecting staff to do twice the work at a time when their wages are static, hardly inspires faith in their avowed commitment to the values of the mutual. In fact, I would maintain that it directly contradicts those values.

These attitudes are reflected in their treatment of the residents of Lower Falinge and College Bank, which has been marked from the early stages by a remarkable degree of disingenuousness, and an arrogance in dealing with the justified criticism of their plans by the residents of the two estates.

This arrogance, I’m afraid, also applies to the way some vulnerable people have been treated by RBH personnel, who have not had their needs addressed, and have been left distressed and fearful as a result of the way they’ve been treated, with no proper consideration of their conditions or appropriate help given.

The repeated claims of consultation of the communities are wholly unconvincing. Hiring a firm of consulting architects for over a hundred thousand pounds, with ready made plans, does not constitute consultation. They should have involved tenants at the inception of the project, instead of which they were presented with a fait accompli.

There are also technical issues involving the space of new properties compared to the existing properties. This is particularly significant to people with disabilities, not only people with physical disabilities, but also people on the autistic spectrum. The uncertainty has also had a negative effect on mental health.

A continuing issue is the number of properties available to people who are having their present properties demolished. RBH maintain that everyone who wants to stay in the town centre area – the definition of which seems to change by the week- can do so. And yet the number of properties on RBH’s homesearch site available in the town centre area appears to be vanishingly small. I’m sure that RBH have an explanation for this discrepancy, if they could be bothered to provide one.

The neglect of properties on Lower Falinge has led to properties rife with mould and damp and no longer fit to live in. There are other blocks that are still sound that are also being demolished when they should be refurbished.

It is also unclear how many new properties will be available for social rent, which is the area of greatest need. My suspicion is that private developers will be ‘partners’ with RBH, with a decreasing number of homes being for social rent.

Personally, I regret ever having voted for RBH to become a mutual now…… Although it certainly had serious faults when it was an ALMO, and before that when it was council housing, at least there was independent tenant representation, something RBH never wanted, which is why we are left with a toothless representative body that only members can vote for, who constitute a fraction of tenants, and disinfranchises most of them.

So, as per usual, it’s the tenants that lose out. The question is now what are we, as tenants, prepared to do about this situation?

The air that we breathe……

I live in the centre of Rochdale. This does have its advantages, with transport links and access to community facilities, for example.

However, it also comes with some distinct disadvantages. Statistically, I live in one of the poorest areas for its size in England, not just Greater Manchester. An important aspect of poverty is, of course, health.

A study published by Transport for Greater Manchester in October 2018 was particularly worrying. It showed that there were 150 roads in Greater Manchester with illegally high levels of nitreous dioxide, a gas produced mainly by diesel vehicles, and a major contributory factor to 1200 deaths in Greater Manchester, deaths associated with bronchitis, asthma, heart problems and cancer. Children and older people are particularly susceptible.

Three of those illegally high polluting roads are literally on my doorstep – St Mary’s Gate, Whitworth Road, and Spotland Road.

Now, Transport for Greater Manchester and the Mayor for Greater Manchester have published tentative plans for congestion charges for the most polluting vehicles, and the replacement of diesel buses with ‘green’ vehicles, but this isn’t, as you might imagine, going to be easy, certainly not in the short term.

An additional factor in my area is regeneration, part of which proposes to build new roads. Not perhaps a wise move in an area that already has three of the most polluting roads in Greater Manchester, and which will take away quality green space – which is recognised as helping to offset carbon emissions – and replacing them with vastly reduced and poorer quality green space.

There is a particularly egregious Twitter presence calling themselves Create Roads, who despite suspicions of some clumsy satirical intent, is apparently serious about this, which without serious long term commitment to anti pollution measures backed by strong legal powers, will not improve the situation.

If they seriously believe any of what they say, I would seriously suggest a vigorous head wobble is in order. As if people didn’t already have enough to worry about with the high handed and arrogant redevelopment plans for Lower Falinge and College Bank, which in themselves have the potential to cause serious environmental problems, there is the short sighted pursuit of something that is already causing worsening health problems.

Not that even the preventable deaths of vulnerable people would be enough to wipe the smirks off their faces.

Public Space Protection Orders:Targeting the Vulnerable /the_pspo_who_is_manchester_forIn 2017, I wrote an article for the Manchester Meteor about the (then) proposals by Rochdale Council for a PSPO (Public Space Protection Order), for the town centre.

PSPO’s are an instrument that can be used under the provisions of the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. At present, consultations are taking place on proposals to introduce a PSPO covering Manchester city centre.

One of the key provisions of the Rochdale PSPO is aimed at what they call “aggressive begging”, and there are powers under the provisions of the order to impose £100 fines, with the possibility of further action resulting in £1000 fines.

Both Rochdale and Manchester councils maintain – somewhat disingenously- that this isn’t targeted at homeless and vulnerable people, although it is difficult to see who else these orders are aimed at.

Last year, because I live in the area covered by the Rochdale PSPO, I agreed to bring a action against Rochdale Council challenging the legality of the order. Unfortunately, because it wasn’t possible to obtain legal aid, it reached the point where I would have been at risk of having to pay considerable legal costs had the case gone against me, and Liberty, whose lawyers were acting on my behalf, advised me that the personal financial risk was too great, and I reluctantly agreed to drop the case.

I also got very ill last year, ending up in hospital, which was an additional factor in dropping the case.

However, although this was obviously disappointing, it also meant that whilst the legal process was continuing, Rochdale Council could not use the provisions of the order. A freedom of information request I made revealed that prior to the action, there had been a grand total of three ‘on the spot’ fines.

One of the reasons I decided to take legal action was an article written by a Rochdale councillor – the Cabinet member in charge of regeneration, no less – that I found distasteful in the contemptuous and dismissive attitude the article took towards vulnerable people, people he labelled as “aggressive beggars”. This attitude can also be seen in the Manchester proposals. I have to say, I would normally be reluctant to use the term “social cleansing”, but it is difficult to view these orders in any other way.(There is a link at the start of the article about the Manchester proposals).

It is clear that commercial and business reasons are motivating these orders and proposals. The first phase of the shopping centre that is intended to revitalise Rochdale town centre opens next year. I hope that Manchester City Council decides not to go ahead with a PSPO, although I don’t hold out too much hope that they’ll do the right thing. /2017 /05 /15 /it-beggars-belief-rochdale-council-plans-to-punish-the-homeless-and-restrict-civil-liberties

Above is a link to the article I wrote for the Manchester Meteor on the Rochdale proposals in 2017.

Mutual benefit? RBH and the chasm between PR and the truth.

In 2012, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing became a mutual.

This was promoted as unique. They were the first housing organisation to do so. Tenants and employees could become members and control the direction of the organisation. This was something to be proud of…. Tenants, employees, management, all striving together to build a future……..

So what went wrong?

Here we are in 2019, with the ongoing farce/tragedy (delete as applicable), of the demolition of four blocks of College Bank, and now the first phase of five blocks of Lower Falinge. The management of this process by RBH has been little short of an incompetent disgrace, involving bogus consultations of tenants, hundreds of thousands paid to’consultants’, disingenuous statements from executives and management, and now possible industrial action by RBH employees rightly sick and tired of year on wage reduction whilst seeing the chief executive’s salary rise to £120000……

Nice work if you can get it, eh Gareth?

If I was a member of the Co-op, I would have a vote over whether or not I wanted an executive…?

No such chance with RBH…….. So much for being a mutual…

And where are the people presently having to live with the ongoing threat of losing their home going to go?

Because it isn’t clear that there will be enough properties, enough properties that are suitable, for the dispossessed to move into. A lot will be rent to buy, so called ‘affordable’ housing…. That we know….. Far from clear how many for social rent……

Here’s my educated guess….. Not enough!

And the sheer environmental stupidity of demolition and rebuild over refurbishment of existing properties……

Of course, years of neglect have left some properties in a poor state, prone to damp and mould and unfit to live in in their present state…. But we don’t know the extent because there has never been proper building surveys of either Lower Falinge or College Bank….

What I am sure of is that it is NOT so bad as to justify the extent of the proposed demolition!

Recently, Rochdale Council published a document with their proposals for the centre of Rochdale……

The section concerning housing was explicit about favouring private over social housing, although to be fair there was a few vague lines in there about social housing….

And it’s the local council elections today….Local councillors have been vocal in their criticism of RBH..

But have they the courage and integrity to challenge their leaders, who approve of these plans, what with RBH being their partners…..

Don’t know about you, but I’m thinking we can’t depend on any of them to defend our interests….. We’re going to have to do it for ourselves……