Speech given to Full Council by Cllr Kim Taylor-Smith, 17 Oct

Madam Mayor,

Residents,

Colleagues and fellow councillors.

The Grenfell tragedy has changed Kensington and Chelsea forever.

It has shone a light on the way we manage our estates, on our relationship with our tenants, on how and where we build new homes.

It has been said to me that I’m only here talking about housing is because of Grenfell.

Yes. Absolutely. This is the only reason.

It is the reason I am here, it is the reason Elizabeth is here and it is the reason this council is changing. It has to change.

We face an inquiry. We will embrace its conclusions, criticisms and recommendations.

 However, the inquiry will take time. We must start learning and applying the lessons now. We must ensure that the legacy of this tragedy gives hope to future generations.

The reality is, if Grenfell had not happened, the KCTMO would still be in existence. And homes would still be managed in the way they were before.

However, Grenfell did happen and, as a consequence, we must change and the management and the provision of housing in this Borough must change.

I start with my principal theme of housing management.  This is the heart of what we do. This is where we most impact our residents’ lives – for better or for worse. This is where we have the greatest opportunity to demonstrate change

We can make things good, make things easy, and we can get out of the way.

Or we can be a pain, be an obstacle, force residents to fight for basic services and for their rights.

The single most important thing for our residents is that we manage their homes well, that we are responsive, that we listen, understand, react and change.

No longer is it acceptable for us to assume we know best.

We don’t.

Residents, do.

We have now taken back the TMO. We have taking back a failing service. We have committed to support residents in determining how their homes are managed and while they decide, we have committed to address the shortcomings of the past

And it is working, we can demonstrate this is working and I am confident we can deliver

Residents will have seen some changes and some improvements to their services.

If so, then good.

But this is a journey. We have not reached the point where our housing management can be  adjudged by our peers to be exemplary  – not by a long way.

Our intention is for residents to shape how their homes and estates are managed.

Which is why we are handing back full control of community hubs to residents on their estates.

It is why we are running a borough-wide conversation with residents to co-design a new housing management system.

However, I want to say this: 

I would love it if RBKC got so good at housing management –

so responsive,

so receptive

that residents asked,

demanded, that RBKC managed their homes forever.

But this will be a decision for residents. Not us. And it is dependent on us getting better and better.

In our conversations, what are residents telling us?

One thing that comes through time and again is Anti-Social behaviour. Residents want an end to it.

I have therefore flagged an idea in the discussion paper - a charter to be written with residents which will set the standards they can expect from us, the council, and the standards of behaviour they can expect of their neighbours and must adhere to themselves. 

The charter will be enforced – firmly but fairly. In the past we have not done this – we have let this slip. Incidents that are reported and logged must be actioned

Anti-social behaviour must end.

And again, I take the opportunity to state again that there will be no regeneration of estates, no decanting.

We will refit and refurbish, but not remove and rebuild.

We will consult with residents on how we can improve where they live.

 A Local Lettings Policy is under review

We want to help residents help themselves, decide for themselves, to build their communities, their support networks – without the council being in the way.

So the Discussion Paper raises the idea of a local lettings policy which will support RBKC families and residents to move within and across their estates, taking priority over those from outside the borough.

This means supporting families whose children have flown the nest to move to smaller homes within an estate, and allowing families increasing in size to swap.

We want to keep families together and communities vibrant.

Housing management is about looking after the homes we have better.

It is about putting our residents first

Our residents at the centre of everything we do.

I turn now to delivering more housing.

Waiting lists are too long.

Council housing is in short supply.

 And truly ‘affordable’ housing is for the most part beyond the dreams of anyone on an average income.

But we do not have enough money alone to build enough houses to meet demand.

And it’s not just local authorities who are struggling.

Housing associations rely so much on private sales they are being forced – and some may be over eager – to move away from providing social housing.

Turning instead into private developers.

And private developers fixed on profit and competition prioritise their shareholders over their communities, building the bare minimum affordable homes.

I do not seek to criticise housing associations or developers. They have genuine and serious challenges to deal with.

I offer partnership.

I want them to be aligned with us, to work together with us.

But I do reserve the right to call out bad practice where it occurs and to hold them to account, on behalf of our residents.

I will draw out a few of the ideas in the Discussion Paper to set the debate going

This Council prides itself in our Public Services. Our schools are amongst the best in the Country. Our Adult and Family Services are a benchmark for other Authorities and yet we have lost the trust of many residents and our reputation is of a Borough who did not listen and did not care

It is a tough truth to face into. But face into it we must. The truth will set us free.

There is a housing crisis in London.

The crisis hits all sectors of society.

But it hits the young and those on lower income the hardest.

They work in shops, feed, bathe and clothe the elderly and nurse the sick.

They clean these streets, cook children’s school dinners and tend and protect them in nurseries and crèches.

Without them London would collapse.

Yet many struggle to find sustainable, affordable housing and are forced to live and community further and further out of London.

And if this is true for London as a whole, it is worse here, in Kensington and Chelsea where the extreme rich and extreme poor walk the same streets.

Ours is a borough of extremes.

We risk becoming a borough only for the rich. We Must therefore build more council and truly affordable homes.

Tonight I want to announce that we will be building 300 new council homes. Plus 300 new private sale homes.

It is the first time for a long time that this council has built council homes.

I want to be clear – these 300 council homes will be owned by the borough and built by the borough – by our own, in-house teams.

And it’s just a start.

We are working on delivering thousands more homes of all tenures across the borough – private sale, truly affordable and full-on council homes.

We have done a survey of brown field and infill sites across the borough and have identified potential space for thousands of new homes.

One big opportunity is Kensal Canalside.

It has huge development potential and the chance for us to work with landowners to transform the area in the next 15 years from a former gasworks and railway depot into a thriving, well connected community in North Kensington.  It could provide at least 3,500 homes and 2,000 jobs.

But, I stress, the theme of this Discussion Paper – it is about consultation and conversation.

So I am prioritising early engagement with the existing local resident and business communities in order to build a shared vision for this work will begin in the next few weeks. 

We are ready to speak to the local communities on and will give more details on the proposed sites for the 600 new homes in due course.

Officers are looking for new brownfield sites to build more council homes.

But we will never build enough to wipe out our housing list.

And what about key workers? 

Too well off for social housing.

Too poor to afford market rent.

We need to be innovative

I recently wrote to the housing minister with a suggestion for consideration. It was just an idea – an unused and unworkable policy which I acknowledge was pointed out to me by Cllr Judith Blakeman – thank you Judith.

In the letter I raised the idea of tweaking the much-underused Empty Dwellings Management Order – EDMOs – that allows councils to take temporary control of dilapidated, long term empty homes and use them for key workers and those on the housing list.

I have suggested to the housing minister that we extend this for long term empty  investment homes – homes that are in good nick already, bought not to house families but as empty investments.

We – the council – would become managing agents and would incentives owners to put them to use for the benefit of all – those that need homes, the Treasury and the owners.

This is NOT about sequestering private property.

This would be a practical response to a pressing need that will fill empty homes and benefit the local economy – rather than leaving streets and apartment blocks half empty with dying communities.

And leaving local shops without customers.

I raise it in the Discussion Paper as an idea for further debate.

I turn now to private developers.
 

Homes built on the prime land in this borough go for a premium.

Developers stand to do well out of building new apartments and houses.

I welcome that.

Profit is what brings developers to the table.

The state cannot afford to deliver sufficient housing alone.

However, I personally believe that developers in this borough can deliver more. In my discussion paper I put forward the moderate proposal that developers can and must deliver at least 35 per cent truly affordable housing on their new developments.

That is not too much to ask.

Developers take note.

I will also insist on developers applying for planning permission here to open their books.

It is not acceptable to hide behind commercial confidentiality.

If a developer says 35 per cent is not viable, then I would ask them to prove it.

This may be seen as  controversial by developers, but this Borough is open for business. I invite them in to discuss this with me and our planners.

And Housing associations also have a bigger role to play in this borough: 

Their job is to build and manage homes for those in the greatest need, the most vulnerable.

and those who will struggle to pay full market rents or a full market mortgage.

But HA’s in the borough are, in some cases turning away from their core purpose and in some cases becoming all but private developers.

You will all know I am talking about Clarion Housing, the owners of my local and cherished  Sutton Estate  which they wish to knock down the estate with a loss of affordable homes We stand shoulder to shoulder with local residents in opposing this

I think we all in the chamber are untied. This is wrong.

The question is, what can we and ought we do about this and I reach out to residents and to councillors on all sides to come together with ideas and solutions.

Are Compulsory Purchase Orders really a viable option – can we afford to if we wanted to and were allowed to?

 Can we use the Empty Dwelling Management Orders with amendment ?

I draw to a close with this.

I have in recent days been accused  - and praised – for my ‘initiatives.

Let me say to my own colleagues who are concerned that this is a new Comrade Kim, the Kimmunist Manifesto’ – please do not be alarmed.

I am still a Tory.

Conservatism is ideology free.

It is pragmatic.

We take and use good ideas from all over.

And I stress, this truly is a discussion paper to provoke responses and new and better ideas from residents, from my fellow conservative colleagues and fellow labour and Lib Dem councillors.

Normally, at full council meetings, we stand here and deliver decisions that have already been taken.

Tonight is different.

Tonight, I stand up and ask you – fellow councillors on all sides of the chamber and, particularly residents here and across the borough, to take part in a debate about how, and where we will build more houses, how we will reduce our housing waiting list and how we put residents at the heart of running their estates.

Tonight is the beginning – not the end.

Thank you.