Stand Down

Posted Thu 20 Jul '17

Speech given to full council meeting on 19.07.2017

Before I begin my address I’d like to say that this petition has been presented by Friends of North Kensington Library, standing shoulder to shoulder with the other community led groups: OneVoice Community Collective, the Save Earl’s Court Supporters Club, the Save our Silchester Campaign, Westway23, Save Wornington College, This is North Kensington, Save Kensington Odeon, Kensington Labour Party, Kensington Green party, RAP23, and the Grenfell Action Group.

Cabinet members since 2010, I am here to deliver a message from North Kensington: we do not recognise your right to govern our community.

Where to start with a Council, whose overblown ego is embodied in this very building that is the result of a criminal act; where the presence of a public to whom you are answerable to is gestured to in the most derisory possible way. That public gallery is smaller and significantly less plush than the Mayor’s Chambers. Our friends and supporters are sitting in a much bigger room that you dare not share with them because you are afraid of being shouted at.

We fear the loss of our homes, our public spaces, our community; we fear your decant policy that makes us homeless, we fear compulsory purchase orders that buy our houses from us and propose to sell them back at double the price. We fear your cozy relationships with developers, to whom you sell the ground from under us. We fear being burned to death in our homes and abandoned by those who we have paid to look after us. You fear being shouted at.

You routinely treat our petitions with derision – Councillors have been heard stating that one hand-written letter has more value to this Council than any petition. If that is your view it is incompatible with the democratic representation with which you are charged, and I invite you, Councillors of the Cabinet, to picture with me the writing on the wall: Stand down.

Ironically, Nick Paget Brown asserted that self-governance in North Ken would lead to chaos mere weeks before he presided over a complete breakdown of the social contract in the area. Councillor, your gesture resignation as leader, and your mealy-mouthed sorry-not-sorry statement, indicts the whole of your leadership. Stand down.

But Paget Brown’s views are echoed elsewhere: Ahern has stated to the planning committee that the people should not be trusted with decisions. Councillor, the gross incompetence of your planning department to oversee basic safety standards in your own buildings, as well as your revolting attitude to those whom you serve means you should not be trusted with Councillorship. Stand down.

Elsewhere Paget Brown’s colleagues share his view that the main problem arising from the massive failure of statutory services to get a grip on the crisis of the last five weeks is an issue of ‘perception’. Coleridge only resigned as chair of the Kensington Foundation because of the problem of ‘perception’. No Councillor, the Foundation is set to handle the majority of donations to the fire disaster that you presided over as cabinet member for housing. The problem here not perception, but your actual culpability for this actual crisis, which makes you unsuitable for any ongoing role in the painstaking rebuild of our community. Stand down.

Those among you who think the challenge of this crisis lies iin public perceptions, stand down. Those who agree with Cllr Weale, that your role here is to hear but not listen, stand down. Those of you who have done the dirty work of developers, stand down. This means you Cllr Moylan, wined and dined by Minerva’s representatives, Terrapin, and coincidentally denouncing the Kensington Odeon building they subsequently bought and demolished. Or you, Cllr Feilding Mellen, handing over public buildings to private schools that you plan to send your own children to. Stand down. Stand down if you think stockpiling huge reserves, Cllr Lightfoot, while cutting costs on estates, facilities and services, Cllr Warick, is in anyway necessary in this richest of boroughs. Stand down if you think cutting corners has nothing to do with community saftey, Councillor Hargreaves.

Stand down if you can not understand that we protest your actions, not because we enjoy the protest, but because of tiny things, Cllr Faulks, like the effects of your decisions on our lives. Faulks’ response on the morning of the fire to hearing a survivors account of barely escaping with his life, from a building he had been warning the council about for years, was to accuse him ‘political point scoring’. Cllr, if you think the trauma of Grenfell is a mere ‘political point’, stand down. All of you who regard residents raising concerns about fire safety as ‘political point scoring’: stand down. This includes you Cllr Campbell, ignoring residents’ concerns back in 2010 about building directly in the emergency vehicle access to Grenfell Tower. Need I remind you that fire crews had to run through several streets before tackling the blaze You are discredited even before you begin, and before we even look at your record of dismantling children’s and youth services – a process continued with glee by you, Councillor Will. It will not take a generation for this community to heal the breach with the council, it will take regime change. So stand down.

Drop the plans that this cabinet have made for the seizure, demolition and sale of our public assets, including estates. End the stitched-up cabinet system and a return to the more democratic committee system. Allow communities to build their own neighbourhood plans, like the one developed for the St Quentin’s and Earl’s Court neighbourhoods. The legislation exists in the 2011 Localism act for communities to become the authors of their own futures and one uncontestable truth that has arisen in the wake of this crisis in North Kensington is that North Kensington is a community more capable of looking after its own. The value you are so determined to sell to the highest bidder has been created by our energy, our diversity and our creativity. So hand over the design and planning of our neighbourhoods that rightfully belong to us. Because this village no longer recognises the legitimacy of your estate.