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