A cautionary tale from the Pembury Estate

Submitted by Janine on 6 July, 2006 - 9:56

by Kevin O’Hanrahan, Boxley House

In March 2000, Hackney Council handed ownership of Pembury estate to the Peabody Charitable Trust.

The transfer process was hardly an exercise in democracy. Residents were offered two options: a Yes vote for transfer, with the release of funding for estate improvements, or a No vote with no improvements. No third option of self-management, or fourth option of direct investment in council housing in line with Labour Party conference policy, was on offer.

Peabody, with Council backing, ploughed a small fortune into the campaign to secure a Yes vote. Leaseholders were offered the inducement of massive discounts on their contributions to improvement works.

Since the transfer, it is hard to tell to whom Peabody’s charitable nature extends. It certainly isn’t the tenants. Rather, it appears the estate is run in the interests of the construction industry, with whom Peabody has close links. The estate has become a building site, with all the disruption, dust and noise this entails.

Meanwhile, tenants are treated with contempt. Much-needed internal improvements are carried out only if tenants agree to grant access to contractors for up to three months, while the tenant continues to live in the property and contractors work around them. Tenants lose the use of their kitchen, bathroom and lavatory for long periods.

Although a commitment at the handover was no change to the tenants’ conditions, Peabody has changed existing tenancy agreements from secure to assured, with the consequent loss of rights.

Peabody now plans to privatise estate cleaning and get rid of dedicated resident caretakers. Due to contractor incompetence, we have had a situation where raw sewage flowed freely on the balconies for weeks on end.

The two play areas of the estate have been closed and handed to private enterprise. An area of land adjacent to the estate is being developed with no benefit to the community which once owned it.