A Reinterpretation of the Rules

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For years High Etherley‘s Red House Estate near Bishop Auckland was a crime and disorder black spot renowned throughout the district as a magnet for trouble and anti-social nuisance. Although the hardcore of the troublemakers are just about under control, the situation was only rectified as a result of the activities of one resolute resident: whose gathering of evidence on those responsible for the systematic running down of large areas of the estate, and diligent logging and reporting of the evidence he had gathered to the relevant agencies responsible, was to bring what had amounted to a ten year reign of terror to an end. A fact acknowledged before witnesses by Bishop Auckland Beat Inspector Martin Peace at a meeting between the Police and a pair of somewhat dissatisfied residents at Bishop Auckland Police Station on the afternoon of Tuesday 6th August 2013. A full ten and a half years after a damning report into anti-social behaviour in the village had appeared in the pages of the Teesdale Mercury.

Although the Police can accept at least some responsibility for a state of affairs that has resulted in much needed social housing being systematically run into the ground, most of the blame for what has happened on Red Houses can be laid at the door of Teesdale Housing Association. With the present Coalition Government’s attempts at Welfare Reform requiring people residing in properties that are considered too large for their needs to downsize into smaller dwellings, flats that should be being used for that very purpose are now largely uninhabitable, primarily as a result of what basically amounts to what some would see as  the deliberate waste of large amounts of tax payers’ money on properties that have been allowed to fall into a state of serious disrepair.

The fact that the flats at Red Houses have entered a near state of dereliction in recent years, in spite of large amounts of money having been spent on them as part of the previous Labour Government’s ‘Decent Homes Standard’ refurbishment scheme, is something for which Teesdale Housing Association must accept almost all of the blame. In the years leading up to the last Labour administration’s nationally funded refurbishment of the existing Social Housing stock, which was intended to maintain the viability of vast numbers of homes for a generation, thus perpetuating the habitation of dwellings in a sector that had been systematically starved of cash by previous Conservative governments, a series of important pieces of legislation were put through Parliament to prevent such a situation to begin with. Pieces of legislation that Teesdale Housing Association, and its predecessor, Teesdale District Council, have essentially seen fit to ignore.

These were to include amendments to the Homelessness Act 2002 giving local authorities powers to restrict access to the Housing Waiting List for people with a history of anti-social and criminal behaviour. It has primarily been as a result of Teesdale District Council’s failure to implement or enforce this nationally adopted government policy in the first place, that was to lead to the situation that the estate is currently in to begin with. Of particular significance, in relation to the matters previously referred to above, is the fact that the then Head of Housing at Teesdale, at the time at which these then newly introduced measures were originally supposed to come into force, was former Managing Director of Teesdale Housing Association Peter Slack. An individual who the late Joe Smith, a former District Councillor and member of the Shadow Board that had supervised the change over from Council to Housing Association management, was of the opinion was in some way related to one of the principal criminal families in the village; the Slacks of Red Houses and Witton-le-Wear.

Another member of staff with whose performance the late Councillor Smith was less than happy with, a state of affairs that he was to raise repeatedly with the then Chair of the North Star Housing Group that oversees the ultimate management of Teesdale Housing Association, before the latter’s death and his own retirement from the Council, was former Housing Officer for Red Houses Suzanne Bellas. One of Bellas’s tried and trusted techniques for freeing herself of any responsibility for the conduct of the tenants who she herself had given access to the properties to begin with, and in breach of the Housing Association’s own policies as set out in its Offer Document at the time of the change over from Council to Housing Association control, was to attempt to fool residents into thinking that the agency responsible for enforcement on tenancy agreements was not in fact the Housing Association, as was genuinely the case, but the Police; when nothing could have been further from the truth.

Amongst a series of sound files currently lodged with Clark Willis Law Firm at Darlington, some of which may well turn out be incriminating and to which a number of interested parties have likewise been given access, is an item consisting of a telephone conversation between Bellas and one of her former tenants which was recorded in November 2009, when the anti-social behaviour which has since resulted in the wholesale exodus of tenants from the area of the Estate that has been most run down was still very much on going. The previous year the Local Government Ombudsman had conducted an investigation into the situation on Red Houses and recommended that action be taken against those tenants responsible for causing the trouble to begin with. Amongst those interviewed was a pensioner referred to during the course of the above mentioned conversation, who expressed concerns that the estate at High Etherley was at that time even worse than the one in Sunderland from which he had previously moved some three years earlier. In spite of this, not only was no action taken, but what appears to have amounted to a wholesale cover up of the affair seems to have been implemented by the Housing Association Management Structure, at the highest level, as a means of denying any responsibility for a situation that had been created as a direct result of its own maladministration.

The documents embedded directly below, which were obtained from the local area Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator, attest to the situation on the Estate at the time, and immediately leading up to, when the recording was made; and clearly prove that the allegations at that time being made by the complainant were in no ways without foundation. In spite of this however, a Housing Association survey into Anti-Social Behaviour on the Estate, which had itself been conducted by staff members clearly anxious to restore their own reputations in the wake of the Ombudsman’s less than complimentary report to the then Chief Executive at Teesdale District Council, appears to have deliberately misrepresented the pensioner’s grounds for complaint; in spite of the fact that the complainant in the recording had obtained sound recordings and other hard evidence in line with the findings of the compilers of the Neighbourhood Watch newsletter.

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Planning for Destruction: Corruption and Criminality in Social Housing

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When former Chair of Durham County Council, Alderman Andrew Cunningham, was jailed for his part in the Poulson Corruption Scandal back in nineteen seventy two, a key factor in the bribes for contracts scam that was eventually to send him to jail had been the so called ‘Category ‘D’ Demolitions policy, initiated by Durham County Council back in the nineteen fifties as part of a professed initiative to improve social housing. In reality, however, a great deal of sturdy well built nineteenth century housing stock, which could have been upgraded and improved for a fraction of the cost that demolition and new build always entails, was designated as unfit for human habitation and subsequently bulldozed instead. And, as one would expect with any scam that had principally been designed to put large sums of money in the top pockets of the councilors and civil servants directly involved in the commissioning of the new build projects intended to provide replacement housing stock for the communities that they supposedly served, much of what was subsequently thrown up to replace the long since flattened terraces that had previously been laid out by conscientious and God fearing Quaker mine owners, whose community minded approach to the work force that they employed is a well known fact of historical record, was little more than sub standard architecturally flawed ‘Jerry Build’.

Interestingly enough, many similar flaws to those known to have been inherent in the County Durham Category ‘D’ initiative, with particular reference to the wholesale reorganization of communities and the lack of proper compensation to those owners and occupiers ultimately destined to lose their homes, were to be built into the system once again in relation to many of the so called ‘Pathfinder Schemes’ initiated by former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott‘s lumbering Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions during the early years of the Blair government. One vital fact in relation to this similarly flawed scheme for supposedly regenerating communities, at vast cost to the tax payer in relation to what was actually provided, is that at the time when much of what Prescott was involved with was actually being implemented and followed through, Tony Blair’s Cabinet ‘Enforcer’, Jack Cunningham, was none other than the son, and ultimate successor, of ex-jailbird and disgraced former Chair of Durham County Council Andrew Cunningham.

In addition to the implementation of the highly controversial Pathfinder Schemes, in which former Northern Rock Chief Executive Leo Finn appears to have played a pivotal role, Prescott’s office were also responsible for the national upgrade of the entire social housing stock as part of the last Labour Government’s ‘decent homes standard’. This considered, it is perhaps significant that in Andrew Cunningham’s native County Durham Teesdale Housing Association appear to have been involved in a similarly corrupt scam of their own every bit as criminal in intention as the one that sent the former Chair of Durham County Council to jail back in nineteen seventy two.

According to the current Chair of Etherley Parish Council, he and his colleagues were informed that Teesdale Housing had planned to demolish a block of twelve flats on High Etherley‘s Red House Estate well before it had taken the funding to have eleven of them fully upgraded. As one would expect with a project of this kind, much of the money spent on the upgrade was to involve the installation of brand new gas fired central heating systems; complete with large quantities of copper piping of a specific quality and quantity to be of particular interest to professional criminals engaged in the kind of wholesale metal theft that has become an every day part of life in contemporary Britain. Given the alleged links between Andrew Cunningham’s one time Criminals’ Mayorality and a number of top level gangland hoods, it should come as little surprise that just over two years on from the 2010 upgrade of 56-67 Red Houses two sections of the block are completely uninhabitable as a direct result of the wholesale stripping of boilers, metal, fixtures and fittings by a network of criminals allegedly linked to a former Head of Housing at T.H.A.

Of further significance still perhaps is the fact that the current Head of Housing at Teesdale Housing Association, Diane Smith, was not only fully aware as early as July 2008 that a number of known criminals, who had been allocated properties in the block in breach of locally adopted housing policies previously implemented by the now defunct Teesdale District Council, were directly involved in the wholesale theft of metals from the surrounding district a full two years before the upgrade, but neither she nor the then Housing Officer responsible for the Red House Estate took any action whatsoever to ensure that tax payers’ money was properly protected. A digital sound file of a discussion between Diane Smith and Suzanne Bellas of T.H.A. in the company of a local resident activist, which took place on 1st July 2008 in relation to the above referred to matters and is currently lodged with Clark Willis Solicitors, Darlington, would appear to constitute incontrovertible evidence that this is indeed the case.

Given the fact that the Independent Housing Ombudsman Service has seen fit not to take any action whatsoever against Teesdale Housing, in spite of the large sums of money that appear to have been deliberately wasted by a number of key players within its management structure, it is perhaps significant that the previously referred to sound file was one of the pieces of hard evidence that the I.H.O.S. refused to look at. In a future posting we shall examine some of the proven links between Teesdale Housing Association and its parent organization Endeavour Housing with Cherie Blair; with particular reference to the legacy of Andrew Cunningham’s Criminals’ Mayorality in the former Bishopric. And, in so doing, we shall present hard evidence of Housing Association Staff providing cover stories for known criminals provably involved in metal theft from the vandalized flats at Red Houses.

Corruption in Housing: A National Overview

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With the imminent implementation of the much hated ‘Bedroom Tax’ right the way across England, the current situation in the Social Housing Sector has entered the mainstream political dialogue and consciousness on a level largely unseen since the introduction of the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme under Margaret Thatcher’s government more than three decades ago. With more attention being given to Welfare Reform, and the Bedroom Tax in particular, by street level political commentators and activists on the Left of the political spectrum at present than to any other legislative development since the much hated Poll Tax of the early nineteen nineties, some of the most significant changes in how social housing in the country is organized, which have taken place in the last few years, have surprisingly gone largely unnoticed. Indeed, in spite of the fact that since the Coalition Government came to power in 2010 constraints upon social landlords generally, which had hitherto forced them to act and to operate within the law, have effectively been almost entirely removed altogether, very little as regards the overall effects of this have found their way into the mainstream media.

One of the principal human agencies responsible for a whole range of changes to the system, which have led to, amongst other things, the winding up of the Tenants’ Services Authority, which, following its replacement by the Housing and Communities Agency in April 2012 had been responsible for, amongst other things, keeping Housing Associations on the straight and narrow, was the controversial Conservative M.P. Grant Shapps, whose business activities in America in particular have led to calls in Parliament for a proper Police investigation.  Amongst the allegations being circulated with regard to what basically amounts to Mr. Shapps’s apparent ‘sharp practice’  in relation to an internet business that he was running under the name of Michael Green, is supposed to have involved what is claimed to have been breach of copyright on a grand scale.

This considered, it is perhaps significant that since the demise of the Tenants’ Services Authority the Homes and Communities Agency have found themselves embroiled in a serious corruption scandal apparently linked to the embezzlement of H.C.A. Grant Funding by Swan Housing. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time that Swan Housing have managed to attract controversy to themselves in relation to what is alleged to have been a less than ethical methodology in their business dealings. A valid case in point revolves around what seem to have been a series of interesting, and some would say inappropriate, connections between certain individuals directly involved with Swan Housing and the Independent Housing Ombudsman Service which some complainants have claimed has prevented the latter organization from acting independently. In the next posting we shall examine the wider implications of these allegations, some of which are elaborated upon more fully in the embedded YouTube link below, in considerably greater depth; with particular reference to the South West Durham area.