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Perjured evidence before a House of Commons Select Committee.

It is said History is written by the winners. Committees from both the House of Commons and the Greater London Assembly Committees have held hearings into the Olympics. Apparently subjects are chosen on the basis of who makes the most noise. Amongst the topics discussed by the relevant House of Commons Select Committee has been the relocation of communities, be they residents, allotment holders, businesses or users, from the Olympic Park. The rule of subject choice also seems to apply when it comes to dishing out invitations to give ‘evidence’. Most people are left out of the magic circle and are unaware the opportunity might even exist. Not so those who run these programmes. They get to give their version of events as they either they get asked along or are warned the committee will be meeting and ask to go. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to either set of committees to track down those who were actually moved to ask them how they felt about their eviction and how it was handled.

Among the ‘witnesses’ or perpetrators committing perjury before the Select Committee on the Department of Culture Media and Sport on January 15th 2008.was Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham.

“We had a housing co-op in Newham that had to be decanted, we had traveller sites, other people had traveller sites, we had people on allotments and we have had lots of businesses and very important businesses - a very, very challenging effort. After, frankly, some errors at the beginning, it settled down into quite a well-run operation. There were mistakes made, and I could recount some, but actually the bottom line is, by and large, people were got off the site on time with a reasonable understanding of what we are trying to do. We were very supportive of that process and worked hard at it.”

‘A very, very challenging effort’: Poor him!

‘Some errors at the beginning’: Oh yes! Such as? He doesn’t say.

‘There were mistakes and I could recount some’: Please do, but he doesn’t.

'The bottom line': That old bottom line! How they love it. The bottom line of drawing a line under something that needs a bottom line drawn under it!

‘People were got off the site on time’: Really? The deadline was 2nd July 2007. Neither of the travellers’ sites, the allotments, the ‘housing co-op’, the bus depot or the church in Waterden Road were cleared on time. The eviction process continued for several months after 2nd July. A few residents had to go into emergency accommodation and some are still in temporary housing. The Clays Lane travellers’ move was delayed nine times and they didn’t move until mid-October. Some of the Waterden Road travellers are still in a temporary site on the Olympic Park. The church is now homeless.

A letter recently sent on behalf of Sir Robin claimed 'the decanting of the Clays Lane site proved to be a difficult task in terms of meeting resident's expectations in an extremely limited time-scale.' Residents can only apologise for having expectations and for requiring this to be done in such a short time-scale! Of course it might have helped if the LDA and Newham had done some preparatory work between the summer of 2003 and January 2006 when the relocation programme began.

‘People were got off the site with a reasonable understanding of what we are trying to do’: What does this mean? We understood they wanted us off the site? Yes, we did get that message. Residents were made a number of promises about improvements in their housing, all of which were ‘clarified’ and then discarded. A survey into our needs was simply binned. Allotment holders, businesses, travellers, cyclists all told similar stories.

‘Settled down to a quite a well run operation’: 50 people were still on the ‘housing co-op’ site with a couple weeks to go and the LDA was scrambling around trying to get houses sorted out at the last minute. Among other things residents had to put up with exploratory drilling on their estate and poorly controlled demolition and remediation work at Park Village and the Eastway. There was no monitoring of the relocation process and some tenants were falsely told they didn’t qualify for social housing and ended up broke in private accommodation, while everyone was left a lot worse off financially. The LDA had to appoint a follow up team, which is still at work, to deal with problems left over from the relocation programme.

The allotments were vandalised by contractors while preparing for their move and have ended up on a site which is waterlogged in some places and as hard as concrete in others. Some allotment holders seem to have lost heart and the community is suffering with the stress of the move. Property and plants were destroyed and part of a park in Waltham Forest has been torn up and lost to local residents.

Businesses have closed or left London and jobs have been lost which will not be replaced by the new businesses which are expected to open once the Olympics are over. They have described the obstruction and lack of assistance they experienced. These were well established businesses which fitted in to the local economy and local skills. They were sited away from existing residential areas. Over time this area would have been gradually converted to new uses, mainly housing, allowing businesses to adapt and move.

The Clays Lane Travellers have moved to the Major Road park which has been demolished along with a community centre which housed a nursery school. They are surrounded by a high wall to isolate them from the neighbourhood. They suffered multiple delays while demolition work at Park Village and Clays Lane made their lives a misery. Some of the Waterden Road Travellers occupy a space on Hackney Marshes, in defiance of usual planning rules, which has also impacted on a tree nursery run by local people.

Cyclists at Eastway, who supported the CPO, found their expectations of fair treatment were dashed and now have limited access to a temporary road track in Docklands while they wait for a new site at Hog Hill in Redbridge to be got ready.

KICC, the church on Waterden Road, who were hoping to find a new home in Rainham, now find they are homeless as their planning application for a new development has been turned down.

‘We were very supportive of that process’: Newham refused to grant residents of the ‘housing co-op’ decant status for seven months while they used them as bargaining counters to get nomination rights to Legacy housing. Even the LDA got fed up with their repeated failure to let residents into the Council’s bidding system. The Council also refused to lift a moratorium on the sale of Council land to facilitate group moves and failed to even respond to phone calls and emails about one site. This wasn’t an error or a mistake but policy. Newham supported the LDA against the ‘housing co-op’ in the CPO Inquiry so they were certainly supportive of the process of demolishing our estate and preventing us creating a new community!

‘We worked hard at it’: Sir Robin said he was horrified when I told him residents had been told there would be ‘winners and losers’. I invited him to visit. He said he would come but he never did and we were later told by people in the Labour Party that he had called us ‘peasants’. Our Labour MP, Lyn Brown, also failed to visit despite being invited but told her local party she had been doing so and a local councillor, Richard Crawford, who lived on the estate, never went to any meetings to assist residents. None of our local councillors showed any interest or turned up to support us. The only person who did was John Biggs, the local GLA member, who cracked jokes at residents’ expense and told us we were being well compensated. He said we had to expect this kind of treatment and got annoyed when asked whether this was his idea of representation!

Newham housing department did not send anyone to the estate to help organise our moves until late in 2007 after initially saying they would have staff on site in the summer 2006. Because of Newham’s refusal to grant decant status residents were also unable to use the Choice Homes bidding system to access other local boroughs’ housing. One resident who was put into a Newham emergency flat was told he was in arrears of over a thousand pounds after three weeks! The flat, which was not next to a tube or a park, consisted of a large kitchen which was supposed to treble up as a sitting/dining room but couldn’t accommodate a washing machine, a small bedroom and a good sized bathroom, and was being let for £359 a week!

Newham Environmental Health failed to respond effectively to calls for help when contractors started demolishing the low rise housing at Park Village creating clouds of dust. An inspector who came out was told by the contractors no demolition was occurring, even though a couple of houses had already disintegrated. He was told the concrete floors were being removed! He went away happy and no-one visited the site for almost two weeks while half the estate was demolished with no sprays in use to suppress the dust. He wrote a letter two weeks later saying demolition hadn’t yet started!

Even promises to look out for stray cats were not kept as the ODA failed to allow Celia Hammond’s cat charity to go onto the site to find stray moggies for several months. Oddly Sir Robin fails to mention the considerate and carefully consulted relocation of newts. In their case he really can say they laid out the red carpet!


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