Concerns Over Freehold Purchases Driven by a Third Party

A situation has arisen on one of our estates that is causing great concern among residents. It is not unique; it has happened in other blocks across Tower Hamlets and more widely across London. The Columbia TRA Committee has written to Mayor John Biggs and other senior managers at London Borough of Tower Hamlets to try and understand the Council’s policy and future intentions.  

Companies, describing themselves as ‘developers’, have been targeting the leaseholders, where they are the majority in a block* and offering to manage the process of buying their freehold from the Council.  In exchange for organising this buy-out process these companies are tying leaseholders to certain obligations, such as insisting that a building management organisation is set up under their control and/or giving them the right to build additional properties on the land and/or building e.g. additional storeys, extensions etc. Leaseholders coming together to exercise their right to buy their freehold (known as ‘collective enfranchisement’), if all in agreement would not necessarily cause a problem but as it has turned out, third-party agreements can create huge issues for leaseholders and tenants living in a block, particularly when pressurised sales techniques have led to some leaseholders signing away their rights before speaking to their neighbours or getting legal advice.

Given that for most leaseholders their home is their biggest life asset all residents should take extra care if approached by a third-party advocating for them to buy their freehold on their behalf. The pitfalls can be huge, including:

  • Hard sales tactics that put pressure of leaseholders to sign agreements quickly without a chance to seek expert advice and speak to their neighbours
  • Divide and conquer – some residents will be for it and some against, fault lines can split a community and turn neighbour against neighbour
  • Verbal promises that any future major works costs will be offset by these companies, but then the contract offered stating that leaseholders will be fully liable for them
  • Contractual promises can be broken if sold on to another company. The company you enter into the agreement with can sell it on and your terms could change
  • Companies without a strong financial standing can easily go bust, leaving residents with an uncertain future

Our advice:

  • NEVER sign any contract or agreement without speaking to a legal professional – Free legal advice, if you need it, is available locally through St Hilda’s and nationally via the Citizen’s Advice Bureau
  • DO take your time – This is a huge decision, do not allow offers or hard sales techniques to rush you
  • DO talk to your TRA – we can help you arrange meetings with other residents and signpost you to expert advice
  • DO talk to your neighbours – do not allow yourself to be divided as a community
  • DO consider council tenants – discuss this with them. Any change of ownership essentially means they have a new landlord which will have a huge effect on their lives
  • DO your research – find out about the company approaching you, look at their Company’s House filings and find out about their other projects and how they have gone;  understand your rights within the law;  speak to an estate agent about how this might change the value of your property.

Contact us is you are approached by a third party suggesting you buy your freehold.

* Where at least two thirds of the property are leaseholders, then as long as a 50% of those leaseholders agree, it is their right to buy this freehold.

Sivill House Grade II Listed by Secretary of State for DCMS

Sivill House has been Grade II listed today following an application by residents wanting to ensure the building’s original design is preserved. The block, on Columbia Road, was designed by leading modernist architects Douglas Bailey, Francis Skinner and Berthold Lubetkin and completed in 1966. Currently undergoing a major works programme, residents have had to fight against Tower Hamlets Homes plans to replace the windows with a new designs that would “destroy the integrity of the composition” of the building as well as other unsympathetic design plans put forward by the management organisation.

The listing application was supported by John Allan (Lubetkin biographer) and the Twentieth Century Society who cited Lubetkin’s “reputation and legacy as one of Britain’s most prominent architects of the C20”, the building’s material palette, its form and plan that “enables light to reach all flats” and its central spiral staircase. They also paid tribute to the success of Sivill House as “gauged by how current residents have sought listing for the block, as well as their ongoing efforts to retain original design features in the face of proposed alterations.”

In their Advice Report, Historic England noted that “As the social housing programme of the post-war years recedes further into the past, the scale and ambition of what was achieved appears increasingly remarkable. Clearly not all of what was built served its cause well, so it is important that those that best did, and which have survived high rates of attrition, are recognised as exemplars in what has proved to be an exceptional period in the history of public housing.”

Kevin McKenna, a Sivill House Resident and Chair of the Columbia Tenants and Residents Association, said, “The listing of Sivill House will protect a building that is incredibly important to all its residents and which is of undoubted architectural merit. Sivill House anchors Lubetkin’s Dorset Estate to Columbia Road and has an important place in the long history of the fight to provide decent homes for ordinary Londoners.”

Mark Sullivan, who made the application on behalf of the Sivill House residents group, said “I have been staggered at the support that this application has generated. Sivill House is clearly valued as much by the general public as it is by those who live in it. I hope that the listing of Sivill House will remind the council that, going forward, it should involve residents in the decisions that it makes, rather than forcing through unnecessary, costly and divisive changes regardless.”

In summarising their decision Historic England went on to say “We have carefully considered the architectural and historic interest of Sivill House, and conclude that the overall composition of this important post-war public building type, its meticulous planning and detailing, and its importance as a late work by Lubetkin, confers special architectural and historic interest.” The full Historic England listing report can be read here.

Press enquiries to vicechair@columbiatra.org.uk

CTRA Statement on Government Plans to Re-Open Outdoor Markets from 1 June 2020

Columbia Road Flower Market sits at the centre of our community. It is a colourful, vibrant London market and we are lucky to have it on our doorstep. The fact that the Covid-19 lockdown, quite rightly, closed the market for so long jeopardising the livelihoods of the traders, some of whom have owned pitches for generations, has been a great cause for concern locally.

The Government’s announcement on Sunday 25 May 2020 that outdoor markets can start to re-open from 1 June 2020 means that Columbia Road Flower Market may re-open from Sunday 7 June 2020. Given how busy and tightly packed the market can be on a usual Sunday, we urge the Council and traders to work together to find a safe solution that allows and enforces social distancing to safeguard local residents, visitors and traders alike. If no safe solution can be found then, sadly, we would prefer to see the market stay closed for now.

We await to hear plans for this reopening from representatives of London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Online Local Planning Committee Meetings

With the announcement that, in light of Covid-19, planning decision meetings will move online a group of interested stakeholder organisations, namely Just Space, CPRE London, Friends of the Earth and London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies have made a joint statement to highlight the potential risks virtual meetings and closed committees could have on the community’s role in the planning process.

Their review found that Councils are interpreting the new rules in very different ways and that while some are moving their meetings online others are making major planning decisions behind closed doors. They have gone on to call on the Secretary of State and Local Planning Authorities to safeguard the role of local communities in the planning process by asking them to respect six key principles. You can read their entire statement and these six key principals here.

Following this statement and given that we have some important decisions coming up locally, the hotel on Hackney Road for example, Columbia TRA has put it’s name to an email sent by local representative of the Just Space network Lucy Rogers to the Tower Hamlets Planning Committee asking that they respect nine key principles for virtual committees. The full email can be found below. We await a response to this email.

Virtual planning meetings for Tower Hamlets will start on 21 May 2020. Columbia TRA urges residents to attend these virtual meetings from the comfort of their own homes to strengthen local democracy in local planning issues.

Details of this first meeting can be found here the meeting can be accessed here.

🌈 CTRA CHILDREN’S ART COMPETITION 🌈

You may have noticed that some lovely new notice boards have appeared on our estates. They have been installed at our request and, while we are in lock down and not posting information on meetings, we want to use them to brighten up our estates and thank our key workers. So, and for the time being, we would like to fill the notice boards with rainbows and messages of support.

All kids (under 16s) living on our estates are welcome to enter. All they must do is draw, colour, stick, craft a poster (no bigger than A3) that includes a rainbow and a message to residents and/or key workers. Parents/guardians can then take a photo of the poster and email it to vicechair@columbiatra.org.uk by no later than Sunday 3 May 2020 ***DEADLINE EXTENDED UNTIL THURSDAY 7 MAY 2020*** . The email should include the artist’s name and age and an address of where the poster could be collected from.

The best posters will be collected and placed in our notice boards and the best three, as judged by the CTRA Committee will receive a small crafty prize. 

Advice on Covid-19

The NHS website and 111 service is the best place to get up to date information on Covid-19. Their dedicated pages include information on symptoms, self-isolation / containment and treatments – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

Advice on Covid-19 in other languages can be found here.

Tower Hamlets Homes has the following advice for residents on their dedicated information page:
“If you are self-isolating because of suspected Coronavirus please send us a DM on Twitter or call us on 020 7364 5015 so that we can take appropriate measures in the event that we need to visit your home.”

It is important that, as a community we support neighbours who need to self-isolate. Please consider checking on and offering to shop for older neighbours or those who have underlying health conditions who can’t get out.  Don’t forget to avoid close contact if interacting with those who are vulnerable to the virus.

The CTRA is working with other community groups across the Weavers Ward to provide a community volunteer-led Mutual Aid Service to bring essential items to people self-isolating. Further details can be found here – http://www.columbiatra.org.uk/mutual-aid/

The group has also compiled a list of resources for people to reference during the pandemic. This includes a list of government support lines, emergency support for vulnerable residents, online children’s activities and a list of local businesses providing delivery services –
https://weaverswardcovid.org/resources

A local community group has set up a Facebook Group for Tower Hamlets residents looking to help each other out during the Covid-19/corona virus pandemic. It is not a medical advice group. They will be looking to help people access food, complete errands etc – particularly those who are elderly, disabled and/or immunocompromised

Other agency Covid-19 information pages: Tower Hamlets Council | UK Government | Universal Credit | Government Business Support

Fed Up with Seeing Sights Like These?

We are!

We’re fed up with seeing piles of rubbish left on our estates. We’ve heard anecdotal evidence that some of these deposits are coming from non-residents, some tips may even be related to organised crime. Yet it costs residents £140 for every pick up arranged by Tower Hamlets Homes.

We would like to see Tower Hamlets Homes and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets make a concerted effort to tackle the route cause of these daily dumps. To encourage that we have started tweeting photographs of these daily dumps to THH and LBTH using the hashtag #FlyTipofTheDay. You can do your bit by:

  1. Reporting any fly tips you see directly using the Tower Hamlets Council Love your Neighbourhood app.
  2. Taking a photo on your phone and sharing it on our Residents WhatsApp Group, so we can create a picture of where the key fly-tipping spots are and how often dumping occurs. It also lets us keep track of how quickly the council takes away the rubbish.
  3. Retweeting our #FlyTipofTheDay tweets to hammer home our message

Waste management is being taken “in house” by the council in April. It will no longer be outsourced to Veolia, so that creates an opportunity for the CTRA and residents to put pressure on the Council for a better bulk rubbish and pavement cleaning service.

The Bishopsgate Planning Application – Have Your Say

Whatever the future of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site, it will have a profound affect on our estates. A revised planning application is in with London Assembly and we urge you to respond.

The Weavers Community Action Group has summarized the application in the document below and included ways to respond. Further information can be found on our campaigns and consultations page.

Jonathan Moberly and Weavers Community Action Group Recognized at Tower Hamlets Homes Annual Community Partnership Awards

The amazing efforts of Jonathan Moberly and the Weavers Community Action Group (WCAG) were recognised at the Tower Hamlets Homes’ OutStanding Contribution to the Community Awards (OSCCAs) last night.

Jonathan Moberly, CTRA Secretary and founder of the WCAG was awarded the Community Champion award for bringing the community together to campaign against drug-related antisocial behaviour in Weavers Ward. While The Weavers Community Action Group were finalists in the Community Safety Award category.

Jonathan and the WCAG’s work to tackle issues associated with escalating drug-dealing and drug use in the area are well documented. The CTRA Committee is delighted that this hard work has been acknowledged with this award.