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Controversial dormant charity tries to sell-off Caledonian Road community asset

July 1, 2014
A for-sale-by-auction sign went up on the building on June 30th.

A for-sale-by-auction sign went up on the building on June 30th.

A dormant charity is trying to cash-in by selling a Cally community building. For over 4 years, Councillors and local campaigners have been trying to bring this building back into use. Now, Councillors and outraged local residents are trying to block the sale. In 2010 Cally Councillors pledged to try and rescue the building from disrepair and disuse.

The charity which controls the building is called the ‘Underdog Trust’ and is effectively a one-man outfit. It has provided no services of any kind to the local community for decades. Run by a Mr Marg McNeil, the charity has clearly been in breach of its charitable objectives for many years.

Despite this, the Charity Commission has failed to step-in and Islington Council has, instead, acted to exert influence over the building’s future and use.

Islington Council had already started to charge full business rates on the building having revoked a 80% concession on business rates that is available to all legitimate charities. When Mr McNeil challenged this in court, Islington Council won. The judge ruled that the charity did not qualify for the discount on its business rates which a genuinely active charity would automatically qualify for.

Cllr Paul Convery comments “It’s bad enough having a rogue landlord on the Cally. Now we have a rogue charity. Selling this building is a scandal.

“The Underdog charity has been dormant for a very long time and has sat on a valuable asset for years. It has rejected demands by local councillors to publicly account for what it does. That’s because it does nothing.

“The charity has been used by one person exclusively to pursue a hobby which is of no use to anyone and is in clear breach of the Trust’s charitable objectives. Now that man wants to sell the building. If successful, the money from the sale will go into this dubious charity’s bank accounts and the asset will be taken away from this neighbourhood. We shall pursue every available route to prevent this happening.

“The building is up for sale by auction on July 17th and we shall warn the auctioneers that Underdog Trust may not have “clear title” to sell; that the particulars of sale misrepresent the building’s permitted use; that the Council has a legal charge against the building; and that a valid permission must be given by the Charity Commission prior to its sale.

“To sell it under these circumstances could be fraudulent.”

Details of the attempted sale can be viewed here. The charity’s entry on the Charity Commission register can be viewed here.

 

 

Rogue Cally landlord up to old tricks, gets caught out, and is finally nailed

June 6, 2014
kember-street-flat

This tiny “studio” flat at Kember Street, advertised online by estate agent, prompted Islington Council to immediately investigate.

The case of a tiny flat offered for rent will finally “nail” a landlord who has previously “wriggled off the hook” of enforcement, say Cally Labour Councillors.

Notorious landlord, Andrew Panayi, has hit the headlines after trying to rent one of the smallest bedsitter flats ever seen in London. City-wide and national news organisations seized on the story of a tiny bedsit letting at 1 Kember Street on the Cally Road for £737 per month. The reports appeared in the Independent, the Standard, the Guardian and in the local papers.

On Twitter and Facebook, the story went viral (as they say) with comments like “this picture says it all about London’s crazy housing situation”.

But to Islington residents, this was another chapter in the continuing battle against a landlord who has turned the Cally neighbourhood into a byword for racketeer landlordism.

1 Kember Street mattress

Mattresses stored in a hallway posing fire hazard and escape route obstacle.

Islington Council immediately sent-in an inspection team to check if it met housing condition rules and to investigate a probable breach in planning permission.  The Council inspectors have found that Kember Street contains other, similar, sized rooms. Prohibition notices have been served and a planning enforcement case opened. Fire Brigade investigators will also be checking for breaches in safety rules.

Local Councillors have been going after Mr Panayi for over 3 years. He shot to fame almost 2 years ago after boasting on a TV programme that he “built first, ask for permission later”. The TV documentary can be seen online in two separate sections: click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

At a very large and very angry meeting in July 2012, around 200 local residents took the Council to task for letting him get away with planning infringements on a colossal scale. At that meeting, elected Councillors and senior officials pledged that Islington Council would bring thorough enforcement action.

The Council hired extra enforcement officers and in Autumn 2012 began extensive investigations into Mr Panayi’s properties which uncovered dozens of unuathorised developments. But many of his unpermitted flats and bedsits had been converted more than 4 years prior to investigation. A bizarre loophole in planning law has meant that many of these substandard and unpermitted developments were therefore deemed legal.

A bicycle left in a hallway obstructing the fire exit door.

A bicycle left in a hallway obstructing the fire exit door.

When the pictures of the 1 Kember Street room became public, Islington Council moved swiftly to inspect the premises and immediately issued a prohibition order against using the room (and others like it) for residential purposes. The building consists of up to 40 rooms of differing sizes all of which are now being inspected by the Council.

Despite Mr Panayi’s assertion that he has planning permission, it seems clear that he has made significant changes to what was originally student hostel-type accodomadation. Previously there had been a number of small study bedrooms served by communal kitchen areas down a hallway. Instead Mr Panayi has installed kitchen units into bedrooms thereby making them self-contained.

It is very likely these changes were made relatively recently. In February 2011 Mr Panayi submitted drawings of the ‘existing’ internal layout when he submitted a planning application to add a further 2 storeys to the building. He was refuse. But those drawings demonstrate the building was inits student hostel arrangement at that time. Those drawings can be seen here: (first floor and mezzanine) and (second floor).

The rooms are arranged over the 1st and 2nd floors of the building which has the Co-op supermarket at ground floor level. In a further extraordinary admission, Mr Panayi has owned-up to a communal roof terrace for the building which also does not have planning permission.

Local Councillors have requested that the fire brigade re-inspects the premises after photographs emerged which showed hazards in hallways that could might impede emergency exits.

Cally Councillor Paul Convery comments “It is incredible that this landlord continues to charge extortionate rents for sub-standard accomodation in buildings where he does not have full planning permission. Despite being previously caught-out on a huge scale, Mr Panayi keeps flouting a regulatory system which is designed to ensure minimum standards of living accomodation, safety and amenity in our neighbourhood. The breaches of planning control and housing standards at Kember Street are absolutely shocking. Mr Panayi has wriggled through a legal loophole in the past. But this case will finally nail him.”

Related links to the actions of this landlord, and the Council’s response, are at:

Enforcement action underway against multiple bedsits and over crammed flats on Caledonian Road (June 2012)

Council steps up enforcement action against build first, ask later Cally landlord (July 2012)

Enforcement blitz against planning and licensing breaches on the Cally (November 2012)

 

Labour re-elected in Caledonian Ward with record 61% share of the vote

May 24, 2014
Cally Cllrs with Emily at count 23-05-14-adjusted

Pictured immediately after the result was declared, Rupert, Una and Paul with Emily Thornberry MP

Labour’s candidates Paul Convery, Una O’Halloran and Rupert Perry were elected to represent Caledonian Ward on polling day, 22nd May. They join 44 other Labour Councillors elected in a dramatic landslide for Labour throughout Islington.

The new Council will have 47 Labour Councillors and 1 Green following the defeat of every single Lib Dem. Borough-wide, this election was Labour’s best result since 1974.

In Caledonian Ward, the Labour team received 61% of the vote. The votes were: Paul Convery (2,327), Rupert Perry (1,954) and Una O’Halloran (1,907). The next nearest candidate was 1,237 votes behind Una.

Labour’s candidates expressed their thanks and sincere gratitude to the Caledonian ward voters who backed the Labour team so emphatically.

share of the vote Cally May 2014Paul Convery adds “The voters agree that Labour has run our Council well in the past 4, very difficult years and we’ve stood-up for the neighbourhoods we represent. We have promised to deliver genuinely affordable homes, cut crime, help people into work and provide a shield against the worst effects of a Tory Government’s austerity drive.

“We are also very grateful to the many community activists who backed us in our election and, of course, the team of Labour Party members locally especially Matthew Honeyman, Sue Cartwright, Richard Truscott and Sara Hyde. They and many others helped us speak to nearly 3,000 people between January and polling day.”

The full result published by the Islington returning officer is here.

The Cally gets more new trees in 3 months than in previous 30 years

May 13, 2014
Bingfield Street tree 3 (Rupert and Richard) 20140316_131507 web

Rupert Perry (right) with Council Leader, Richard Watts, outside Bingfield Park. The freshly planted Maple sapling is in a tree pit left empty for over 10 years.

This spring, Islington Council has planted 47 new trees along Caledonian Road and adjoining streets. That’s more trees planted this season than at any time in the past 30 years.

Some of the new trees have been planted in the empty tree pits where damaged or dying trees had been removed over the previous decade but had not been replaced. In the Cally, a significant number of trees get fatally damaged by vehicles, particularly high-sided vans and trucks. Every tree which has had to be taken out in the past 4 years has now been re-planted.

Three quarters of the new trees have been planted in completely new sites – stretches of pavement where local Councillors have argued for new planting. Many of these sites have required careful selection for suitability because electricity, water, gas and other utilities run nearby. But they now bring street trees to stretches of pavement that were previously devoid of any greenery.

When Labour regained control of the Council in 2010, the new leadership promised to make sure that areas like Cally got a better share of Islington Council’s investment in highways improvements and environmental upgrade.

Cllr Paul Convery says “during the years when the Lib Dems controlled the Town Hall, all the Borough’s ‘streetscene’ investment seemed to go the already ‘leafy’ bits of Islington and nothing got spent in neighbourhoods like ours.

Over the past two years, the Council has adopted the ‘Cally Plan’ which will bring better design standards, less street clutter, investment in pavement upgrades and environmental improvements. We’ve used the Cally Plan to fight for extra cash for trees in the neighbourhood. It’s taken a while and we’ve still got a long way to go but these new trees are already making a big difference adding much needed greenery to our streets”.

Click here to see a list of all the sites and the types of tree planted. The main species that have been chosen are: Acer usually known as Maple, the Sorbus family or Rowan (Mountain Ash), Betula or Silver Birch, Laurus nobilis which is a Bay Laurel and Tilia platyphyllos usually known as Large-leaved Lime or Linden tree.

Veteran and community leader, Bill Millett, has died aged 95

April 21, 2014

Former Royal Navy man and lifelong servant of his community, Bill Millet passed away on Good Friday.

Bill pictured after receiving his award from the Mayor of Islington, Cllr Phil Kelly on March 15th

Bill pictured after receiving the Civic Award award from the Mayor of Islington, Cllr Phil Kelly

The son of an engineer, he was born in Ecclesbourne Road in Canonbury in 1918 and left school at 14 to work in Chapel Market. He got the call-up and decided to join the navy to see the world.

Bill served in the navy throughout World War 2 firstly aboard a warship that helped rescue British soldiers from the Dunkirk beaches and later saw action protecting merchant convoys.

In 1942, his ship, the cruiser HMS Arethusa, was torpedoed by Italian aircraft escorting a Mediterranean convoy. When the ship was hit, Bill was in the engine room. He escaped with his life although about a third of the crew did not.

Bill was one of the founding members of the Islington Veterans Association and turned out with colours for every ceremony on Remembrance Day and Armed Forces Day. He was awarded the MBE in 2003 for his charity work.

After serving in the navy he spent his career working for Metropolitan Water Board.

In 1974, Bill was the first person to get his keys and move into the newly built Westbourne Estate. He lived the rest of his life with his wife, Edith who died two years ago, on Mackenzie Road.

After he retired, Bill worked tirelessly as Chair of the Westbourne Tenants and Residents Association for many years, as well as chairing the Housing Panel, the Safer Neighbourhood Panel and was chair of the Westbourne Community Centre Board.

Bill Millett and comrades Armed Forces Day

Bill alongside his comrades and previous Council Leader, Catherine West, outside the Town Hall at the first Armed Forces Day ceremony

As chair of the Safer Neighbourhood Panel, Bill took his role very seriously, and would patrol the Westbourne at 1am with a torch, making sure the estate was safe.

Cllr Charlynne Pullen said “I met Bill first at the Westbourne Community Centre because he organised my surgery. At our councillor induction, someone mentioned ‘council protection’ could come and help with our surgeries. That was not needed because, every month, Bill would set out the sign, arrange the forms, shepherd people in to see me, and work as the protection at my surgery. Bill was a fine man and an inspiring example of public and community service, a true Westbourne legend. We were proud to have known him”.

In March 2012, Cally Councillors successfully nominated Bill for one of the Mayor’s civic awards at a Town Hall ceremony.

Anti-social behaviour by a minority of boat owners is causing misery on the Cally section of Regent’s canal

April 8, 2014
Double and triple parked boats along the entire length of the canal ... often moored for months at a time

Double and triple parked boats along the entire length of the canal … often moored for months at a time

An unusual and serious form of anti-social behaviour is blighting the neighbourhood adjoining the Regent’s Canal between the canal bridges at Caledonian Road and Maiden Lane (York Way). It is caused by the behaviour of a small number of people who have begun to moor boats semi-permanently on the canal, contrary to the rules of the Canal and River Trust and in breach of environmental protection laws.

Some of the current group of people who are semi-permanently moored on this sensitive section of canal, run engines, generators, burn smoky fuel, play music, dump rubbish on the towpath and put effluent into the water. In late March, a mature plane tree on the towpath came down and some boaters have been cutting it up to burn the wood in their stoves.

Smoke from wood-burning stoves is polluting the many homes alongside the canal – including the Council and Housing Association estates at Tiber Gardens, Treaty Street and York Way Court – and the playground and classrooms at Copenhagen Primary School.

In response, Islington Council is working-up a series of enforcement measures against people causing noise nuisance and, most significantly, creating pollution by static diesel engines, generators or burning smoke-producing wood. Formal warnings have been given to some boaters requiring them to cut down noise especially from generators and static engibnes after 8pm.

The Council is also very firmly demanding that the Canal and River Trust (formerly British Waterways) must enforce mooring rules which are a condition of each boat’s license.

Paul Convery says “The people living on the boats have little regard for the places they have moored alongside. There is a group of anti-social boat-dwellers who believe they can pursue alternative lifestyles without any regard for the impact their presence has on residents by creating noise and smoke nuisance.

Rupert Perry adds “The canal is a pretty big space so there is no need for boat owners to moor adjacent to peoples’ homes if that causes a problem. Most moorings are for a temporary period and permanent moorings require planning permission. The planning process enables issues such as proximity to houses, noise, pollution and impact on short term moorings etc to be considered.”

Cally Councillors do not say that all boaters should be removed from the canal. The main purpose for the Canal and River Trust in maintaining the country’s canals is to provide navigable waters for cruising boats.

But we do want stretches of the canal kept clear of moorings so that other canal users can carry on doing the enjoyable things historically we have done for years: fishing, feeding the ducks or just enjoying proximity to the water. It is one of the Trust’s principal objects that it maintains the canals for (a) towpath walking and (b) “recreation or other leisure-time pursuits of the public in the interest of their health and social welfare”. Endless lines of moored boats mean that is denied to thousands of towpath users.

On stretches where mooring is reasonable, we want the rules to be respected and the towpath used short-term by people who are cruising the canal for recreation. And we want these short-stay boats to comply with the 1993 Clean Air Act and the 1995 Environment Act by not making noise or fumes from burning, static engines or portable generators. In return we believe, that CRT should provide proper facilities for those visiting boats, such as fresh water, mains electricity and regular refuse collection along the towpath.

For reference, there are two main types of moorings on Britain’s canals:

  • Short term: either “casual moorings” where boats may tie-up for 14 days (unless otherwise indicated); and “visitor moorings” which are places designated for shorter periods only, e.g. Islington Visitor Moorings at Noel Road where the maximum permitted stay is 7 days with a £25 per day charge thereafter.
  • Long term: these are often called “home moorings” and specified in a boat’s license where a boat is kept when not used for cruising. These will be authorised residential moorings, leisure moorings or other commercial moorings (all of which must have planning permission).

Building new affordable Council homes on the Cally

March 20, 2014
Lyon Street site sign 20140225_164510

The new flats are being constructed to the highest energy-efficiency standards

The next 20 new homes for Islington Council tenants are being built just off Cally Road on the Lyon Street site, formerly the neighbourhood housing office.

The new homes will be mainly 2 bedroom flats in a development that is located on the corner of Lyon Street and Carnoustie Drive. Planning permission was granted in late 2012 and work began following demolition of the old housing office in 2013.

Every flat will be genuinely affordable and let at a “social rent” and the Council has also determined that these flats will not be subject to “right-to-buy”. This guarantees that they will always be available to tenants at properly affordable rents and will not slip into the hands of private landlords.

All the flats will be allocated to people aged over 55 with first preference given to tenants currently living on the Bemerton estate, particularly those in homes that are family sized. The aim is to help free-up larger homes that are now under-occupied by older single people or couples whose children are now grown-up and live elsewhere.

Islington Council’s top priority is to help several hundred families living in difficult overcrowded circumstances. By freeing-up some of the under-occupied homes, the Council can then re-house overcrowded families. The policy is also aimed at helping some people who are hit by the “bedroom tax”.

To keep new tenants’ energy bills down, the new homes will be built to the highest energy efficiency standards and the whole development is expected to be plugged-in to the Bemerton estate’s communal heating system.

Since May 2010, the Labour Council has directly provided more new homes than were built in the preceding 25 years. And despite Government funding nearly coming to a halt, the Council has helped Housing Associations to build on new sites and, using planning powers, has extracted affordable housing from numerous private developments.

In Caledonian Ward, where land is very scarce and extremely expensive, the Council has identified a number of sites already owned by the Council where new homes could be built. Last Summer a development of 17 new homes was opened at Vulcan Way after the Council converted a string of former garages into 15 ground floor flats and 2 new family sized houses. Both Vulcan Way and Lyon Street are examples of the new “local lettings” policy where tenants already living within the vicinity of a new development will be first in line for the new homes.

For more details, the Lyon Street planning report is available by clicking here.

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