COLPAI Construction Work, Lockdown & The Democratic Reform Of The City

The failure to suspend construction work on the City of London’s COLPAI project during the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown has generated enormous anger among residents of this local authority’s Golden Lane Estate. This is hardly surprising given these residents found themselves stuck at home a few metres from non-essential but ongoing noisy building work. Critical blogs on the subject by local councillors Sue Pearson and Graeme Harrower have been avidly read. Some of the comments beneath them are heart wrenching, such as this one from Sue Pearson’s post for the Golden Lane Residents Association website Alderman Luder Justifies Work On COLPAI During Lockdown, written by the father of a sick child whose entire family must remain in isolation due to the high risk the pandemic poses to his youngest boy:

I live on the ground floor of Hatfield House within 12 metres of the site. I am trying to work at home as we are having to isolate as my youngest son is being treated for cancer. Our living room, where I have to work because of the size of the other rooms, faces south and gets hot as soon as the sun shines. Luckily we have the big, vertically sliding window that give lots of ventilation. Unluckily we can’t open it due to the intolerable noise from the site and the dust and petrol fumes that it generates.

I have written to the COLPAI Team several times and never received a proper reply. I know that they read my emails because they cut and pasted some of the questions that I asked into a flyer sent to residents. What they didn’t do was properly give answers, giving what I can only describe as political double speak.

We have heard of the plight of the children who will be denied their new school building for a couple more weeks. Perhaps the City should have thought before opening a new school without a building to go into. They should also tell us why these children are more important than children living next to the site on the Golden Lane Estate.

We have also been told, perhaps conveniently after construction started, that Islington Council got its figures wrong and a new primary school locally is not needed. I think that we need to know how long the City knew about this and if they knew of it before the school opened why was there a rush to enrol children before the new building was constructed as local children could presumably be accommodated in existing schools. Tim Godsmark, 6 May 2020.

There are comments from other Golden Lane Estate residents beneath both the Alderman Luder blog and others explaining why this non-essential building work during lockdown is so detrimental to their wellbeing. However  it is also important to highlight the contributions of two Cripplegate councillors – who live on The Barbican Estate rather than Golden Lane – to the comments on Sue Pearson’s Luder post.

The City had an opportunity of showing real moral leadership by delaying the COLPAI construction work during this difficult period of lockdown. It has failed to do so. It is clear that families confined to their flats with their children and some parents having to work from home with all this noisy daily work so close to their properties is intolerable and is affecting their wellbeing. Susan Pearson is the only elected Cripplegate Ward Member resident in Golden Lane Estate and I fully support her advocacy in seeking the cessation of work during this lockdown period. My disappointment is the City has not responded more responsibly in dealing with this important resident matter. Mark Bostock, 5 May 2020.

And:

I strongly support Sue Pearson’s position. A small delay in the work on COLPAI is justified in view of the enormous disruption its continuation causes residents during lockdown, as well as the potential health implications. City of London Common Councilmen, such as Sue Pearson and myself, clearly stated at the time that the construction timetable was unrealistic. Delays are deeply unfortunate, but at this difficult moment people must be put above construction. If the City of London, and many of the critics of Sue Pearson, were serious about their concern for social housing, they would inquire as to why a block of housing for key workers on the other side of Golden Lane (Bernard Morgan House) was bulldozed to be replaced by luxury flats. They would also do well to campaign for social housing to become a top priority for the City of London, which it is not and has not been for a long time. Patience, and flexibility for the short time that lockdown remains, is essential at this moment. William Pimlott, 4 May 2020.

Graeme Harrower, in his Golden Lane Estate Residents Association website posts, examines some of the broader issues that connect to the immediate problem of how unbelievably unreasonable the City of London council is being as regards continuing work on COLPAI during lockdown:

Golden Lane Estate has the largest concentration of social housing in the City. Support for those in need during the lockdown has been largely provided by a group of resident volunteers, led by Sue Pearson and Jacqueline Swanson, working closely with the Square Mile food bank run by Barbican residents Liz King, Melissa Ramos and Antonia London.

The City Corporation has described them as “our” volunteers whom it is “utilising”, thus implying it is controlling front line support on the estate, which it isn’t. It often hasn’t even met requests for limited assistance from the volunteers on a timely basis (although an individual manager has been as helpful as he can). When name tag lanyards were requested for volunteers making deliveries on the estate, it took a whole week and a tussle with bureaucracy to get a batch from the Corporation, which has an abundant supply currently unused in the Guildhall.

The Corporation has praised itself for making a currently unused community centre available to the food bank, and for eventually providing it with some funding, the amount of which is less than 4% of what it plans to spend on a communications campaign to persuade uninterested business voters to register in the Corporation’s unique electoral system. The purpose of this campaign is to avoid “reputational and political risks” for the Corporation, as only 40% of eligible businesses bother to register, and of those that do, typically less than half of the employees they nominate bother to vote. For more information on this system that escaped the Electoral Reform Act of 1832, see: THE LORD MAYOR AND THE ELEPHANT.

CAN’T PAY, WON’T PAY…
Earlier in the meeting last Friday, a member urged the Corporation to establish a Covid testing facility in the City. The idea was rebuffed, because it would entail the Corporation “entering into a world that central government has not yet opened up”. The member replied:

“Central government is not the ‘be and end all’. I think we sometimes have to take the lead…the Corporation is big enough to do something like this… let’s be very bold.”

The Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee remarked:
“We don’t want to be big and bold and broke. We are suffering our own significant financial loss…”

That remark reveals the chasm between the Corporation’s leadership and reality… only 18 months ago the Corporation planned to start and finish an external refurbishment of Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s palatial residence, before it even began the decades overdue replacement of decaying windows on Golden Lane estate…

Going back to the Policy Chair’s concern about the Corporation incurring a “significant financial loss” during the lockdown, it needs to be put into the perspective of the Corporation controlling £1.4 billion in its “City Fund” (for public authority purposes), £1.5 billion in its “City Bridge Trust” (for charitable purposes) and £2.6 billion in its “City’s Cash” (for non public authority purposes). It uses “City’s Cash”, among other things, to:
– fund the promotion of the UK financial sector, which can well afford to pay for itself;
– fund the promotion of vanity projects, including the proposed Centre for Music, which will be located only a few hundred metres from the existing concert hall in the Barbican;
– host a range of banquets in the Guildhall and Mansion House for local and foreign dignitaries, with no measurable outcomes;
– subsidise, at a quarter of million pounds a year, the “Guildhall Club”, to which all elected members of the Corporation belong without subscription, and which provides them with free or subsidised meals and drinks in spacious private facilities in the Guildhall; and
– provide a number of bedrooms for elected members to use in the Guildhall for free or at nominal rates.

When people everywhere emerge from this crisis into an economically devastated landscape, and discover how much money the Corporation has and how it’s spent, it’s hard to imagine that the Corporation will be able to return to business as usual.

The City Corporation Continues To Fail Residents by Graeme Harrower, Golden Lane Estate Residents Association website, 27 April 2020: http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/profiles/blogs/city-corporation-continues-to-fail-residents

And in an even more recent blog:

Another Soviet-style characteristic of the Corporation is its reliance on propaganda. The Corporation’s oppressive treatment of Golden Lane residents, including social housing tenants and schoolchildren, consists not only of letting them suffer intolerable construction noise during lockdown, but also of insidiously making them feel bad about objecting to it.

The Corporation’s latest COLPAI project newsletter reminds residents that:

“…our priority is to complete the new primary school, ensuring [its] children and staff can move out of their temporary accommodation into new state-of-the-art facilities…..we are committed to providing social homes for local people on Islington Council and City of London Corporation’s waiting lists….We understand that this is a challenging time for all and appreciate that residents will be at home….we thank you for your continued cooperation during this time”.

Delaying this three year project for a few weeks obviously doesn’t justify the suffering of the Corporation’s existing social housing tenants and schoolchildren during lockdown. So any communication by the Corporation about the COLPAI work must:

– distract attention from this fact,

– say something that sounds good – and what can be better than social housing and education? and

– imply that anyone who objects to what the Corporation is doing opposes social housing and education, and is therefore bad.

The Corporation’s current messaging on this topic has quietly dropped any reference to the alleged financial consequences for it of suspending work during lockdown. Could it be that it doesn’t sound good for a public body that controls billions of pounds to save a relatively small amount of money at the expense of the welfare of people it is supposed to serve?

One resident wrote to the Corporation in response to this latest communication saying:

“Your newsletter was an insult….I am not in any way opposed to increased provision of social housing on this site….your public communications are appalling, cliché-ridden drivel. If you want a less hostile relationship with local residents, do better.”

A constant theme in all the Corporation’s propaganda is virtue signalling. The newsletter mentioned is full of it. The “Rules for the Conduct of Life” [attributed to an 18th century Lord Mayor], however, admonishes those who invite others to share their self-praise, saying:

“But take not praise to yourself of anything which you do….the praise of men is an empty bubble, and so far from being of any real benefit, it serves only to puff up those who are fond of it with pride and vanity, and thereby make them odious to God, and despicable in the sight of even those who praise them” (Rule IX).

This prompts a further suggestion for a replacement of the Corporation’s motto with one that is more accurate… Money and praise direct us.

City Corporation’s Propaganda Against Golden Lane by Graeme Harrower, Golden Lane Estate Residents Association website, 11 May 2020: http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/profiles/blogs/city-corporation-s-propaganda-against-golden-lane-1

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