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Pavilion Housing Association in Crisis

Keith Parkins | 25.08.2004 15:45 | Analysis | Repression | Social Struggles

Following a damning report on Pavilion by the Audit Commission and his forced appearance before a committee of Rushmoor Borough Council, Pavilion chief executive Mervyn Jones tried to pull a fast one by inviting the committee back to his place where he could brief them away from public gaze. Only problem was, it all backfired and Jones was left humiliated wondering if by the end of the week he would still have his job left.

Pavilion Housing Association was formed ten years ago from the privatisation of Rushmoor council housing. In essence the tenants were conned, if they knew then what they know now, they would not have voted for privatisation.

Rushmoor consists of the towns of Aldershot and Farnborough in north east Hampshire on the Surrey-Hampshire border.

In the last ten years, Pavilion tenants have seen their homes deteriorate as repairs are not carried out, or if they are, it is a botched job, rents have gone up, yobs are terrorising the estates. Where people were once proud to live, they are now ashamed. This is the legacy of privatisation, and it should serve as a warning to any council tenants contemplating privatisation.

July 2004, the Audit Commission published a damning report on Pavilion. The same month, Mervyn Jones was summoned to appear before a Rushmoor committee. Everyone was to blame bar himself, who had the full backing of the board, and in any case it was not that bad, it was really the press painting them in bad light, the Audit Commission publishing a report that treated them very unfairly, and their tenants having expectations that were far too high, ie expecting to have a decent home to live in.

Jones was given a fairly easy ride, but there was a catch. He had to draw up an action plan and report back to the committee in September.

Jones then pulled a fast one. He invited the committee to meet at Pavilion's head office in Aldershot, where he and his staff could talk to the councillors out of sight of the local press and the public.

Invites were sent out to all councillors with the promise of a buffet.

The meeting took place Monday night, food was available and the booze flowed. The board was there, as was senior officials from Rushmoor who could be guaranteed to back Pavilion, as they have done for the last ten years.

Only it did not go as Jones had planned. One troublesome councillor turned up, local community activist Peter Sandy, and he challenged every single lie that poured forth.

Jones claimed Pavilion were on top of anti-social behaviour. How many ASBOs had been served in the last year, he was asked. Jones did not know. He had to ask one of his staff. One was the reply. Gangs of 50 or more yobs are terrorising the estates, and only one ASBO has been served.

Not of course for want of trying. Several applications had been made to the Courts, all had been turned. Maybe, Pavilion should have made a better case.

A problem with not enough housing, Jones complained.

There are around 100 empty flats sitting empty in Farnborough town centre, owned by KPI who are trying to redevelop the town centre and KPI are keeping them off the market.

Not true, Alison Whitely, Rushmoor head of housing, exclaimed, jumping in to rescue Jones. She claimed there was only three or four and the owners KPI were refurbishing them for eventual sale.

The truth is: around 100 sitting empty, they may one day be refurbished and be available for rent, Christmas is the said date but no sign of activity, they are definitely not for sale.

What's this got to do with Pavilion, Jones wanted to know.

Around a dozen maisonettes are sitting empty at Firgrove Court, in the town centre, owned by Pavilion, trashed by Pavilion, to make them uninhabitable. Bathrooms and kitchens have been ripped out to make them uninhabitable.

The shortage of affordable housing locally, or the artificially created shortage, is hitting local people hard in many ways. Homeless people are living on the streets of Aldershot, but according to the Council they are not homeless, thus there is no obligation to house them and they fail to appear in any official statistics. Rachman landlords are making killing by cramming people into bedsits for which they lack any planning consent and would not have got it had they applied. The Council is turning a blind eye and failing to take any enforcement action as to do so would make these people homeless, with an obligation on the Council to house them. Rachman landlords are cashing in by charging extortionate rents. A Chinese migrant worker is paying £70 a week to share a room with another girl. I say a room, it is in reality a corridor in an attic into which two beds have been crammed with all her possessions in a box under her bed.

Jones said Firgrove Court was earmarked for demolition as part of the town centre redevelopment. Partially true: Pavilion are selling the estate to KPI, to enable them to be demolished for a car park for a superstore. Half the town centre is to be demolished for the superstore. Outline planning consent has been granted.

In a letter to the local paper, Jones said Pavilion were making no money selling Firgrove Court.

This statement defies all logic. Firgrove Court is 28 maisonettes arranged around a large grassy area, another large area as you go onto the site, garages, open grassy area behind the maisonettes. Prime real estate in a town centre, that is wanted by a developer for a £75 million development. A site that is so critical that the redevelopment cannot go ahead without it. And yet, Jones expects us to believe that all he is getting in return is two blocks of 30 flats on an old industrial site, with no open area for the kids to play.

The tenants do not want to move but they are being forced to move by a combination of 'persuasion' and their homes being allowed to fall into disrepair.

Jones claimed in his letter to the local press, there had been widespread consultation. When challenged on this he lamely said: 'my door is always open.'

The tenants say there has been no consultation, not unless telling them they have to move is now classed as consultation.

KPI have signed a legal agreement with Pavilion, which KPI claim protects the interest of the tenants at Firgrove Court. Setting aside for one moment the important point that Pavilion, as landlord, cannot sign away tenants rights on behalf of their tenants, the tenants are not even aware of this agreement, let alone had sight of its contents or agreed to the contents. KPI refuse to disclose the agreement on the grounds that it is 'confidential'.

Peter Moyle, Rushmoor Tory deputy leader, said Pavilion were not being tough enough on their tenants, not as it used to be in his day when they were council tenants. He did not like it when Peter Sandy said he would get his action group down into his ward and leaflet how he treated tenants.

Nor did Moyle like it when Peter Sandy rubbished Moyle for the unwanted town centre redevelopment, or when Sandy said I am not saying any councillors are corrupt but some behave as though they are.

Peter Moyle at every opportunity launches vicious attacks on objectors to the town centre redevelopment and says no one is going to get in his way. On whose behalf is he speaking? Moyle has for some time been engaging in secret negotiations with the developers over the town centre. On whose behalf is he negotiating? At every opportunity Moyle promotes the unwanted town centre redevelopment on behalf of KPI. Why?

As the planning authority Rushmoor has to be completely impartial to any planning application. Impartiality is the one word that does not immediately spring to mind.

Jones claimed their multi-million pound investment in student accommodation at Surrey University was a huge success. No, came back Peter Sandy. It was money that should have been spent on social housing, it was also an example of Pavilion reneging on a promise made at the time of privatisation that all income would be ploughed back into social housing.

Jones welcomed that Pavilion had a stake in a massive new housing development on the old Boots depot in Aldershot. Tenants from some of the worst Pavilion estates in Aldershot would have priority if they wished to move to this new housing. Very crafty, responded Peter Sandy, move all the tenants out from an area like Denmark Square, and then redevelop. Do you intend to redevelop these areas, Jones was asked. Jones looked extremely uncomfortable, it could be said he looked shifty, but then he always looks shifty. We are looking at it, was all Jones would say, and that was like extracting blood from a stone. Or in other words, as Jones refused to deny it, they have every intention of redeveloping parts of their estates in Aldershot. The last people to know, will be their tenants when they are told to move.

Denmark Square was recently identified as one of the most deprived areas in the country. The Audit Commission used it as an example to highlight the failings of Pavilion. All this on the Surrey-Hampshire border, one of the most affluent parts of the country.

Pavilion are no different to any private developer. The only big difference is there is even less accountability.

Jone said Pavilion will be reporting a massive loss in excess of £20 million pounds in their Annual Report due out in September. This follows a £3 million pound surplus last year when they were in a panic to convert to a charity to avoid a tax bill of £1 million. Where the money has gone is not known, other than Pavilion has borrowed money at too high an interest rate.

Another reason to avoid privatisation: RSLs borrow money at a higher rate than public authorities. At the end of the day it is the tenants who pay the price, either in higher rents or poorer services, or usually, both.

Jones is pushing for a merger with Atlantic Housing Group, based in Eastleigh in Hampshire. There is no benefit for the tenants of Atlantic, not unless they wish to sink to the level of Pavilion.

Yet another example of empire building and RSLs acting as property developers. The only beneficiaries will be Jones and his fellow directors who will award themselves a hefty salary increase.

Pavilion cannot satisfactorily manage the housing stock they already own, let alone take on more. Jones could not even manage a Welsh whelk stall.

If Jones was hoping for an easy ride, he got a shock. As did all his cohorts on the council.

The following day (Tuesday), Pavilion management were in crisis talks all day.

The next trick will be to try to claim at the Rushmoor scrutiny committee in September that there is no need to discuss these matters again as we went over them in August.

The local community is openly calling for Jones to be fired, for the board that is backing Jones to be fired, and for the industry regulator, the Housing Corporation, to take over the running of Pavilion, for all Rushmoor grant aid to Pavilion to be suspended, and for Pavilion to cease to be a strategic partner in any new housing development. Privately, many councillors are saying the same thing, but only Peter Sandy has had the guts to stand up and say so publicly.



Inspection report: Pavilion Housing Association, Audit Commission, July 2004^1628&ProdID=4109FA2E-0E86-4771-974F-1DFC98221507

Mervyn Jones, Housing association's objectives, letters, Farnborough News, 6 August 2004

Mike Lane, Homelessness will be on the increase!, Indymedia UK, 24 August 2004

Lisa Millar, New bedsits cause uproar, Farnborough Mail, 24 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Town & Out II, Corporate Watch, 14 January 2004

Keith Parkins, Social landlords are deviating from their intended purpose, Indymedia UK, 20 January 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing landlords the new corporations, Corporate Watch newsletter No 17, January-February 2004

Keith Parkins, Registered social landlords – the new corporations, Indymedia UK, 18 February 2004

Keith Parkins, Sell out of Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 5 June 2004

Keith Parkins, Delivering the final death blow to Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 2 July 2004

Keith Parkins, Audit Commission savage Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 27 July 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing under attack, Indymedia UK, 5 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing crisis, Indymedia UK, 12 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Privatisation of council housing, Indymedia UK, 16 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Homelessness in Rushmoor, Indymedia UK, 19 August 2004

Keith Parkins, What a load of gibberish, letters, Surrey-Hants Star, 20 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Crisis meeting at Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 24 August 2004

Pavilion criticised, Aldershot Mail, 27 July 2004

Mike Roberts, Look back at privatisation, letters, Farnborough News, 6 August 2004

Karen Waller, Disgusted and astonished at Pavilion, letters, Surrey-Hants Star, 29 July 2004

Keith Parkins