Local news in brief

Herefordshire families are faced with ‘unrealistic and unaffordable’ rent costs, a new report has revealed. The report, recently conducted by housing charity Shelter, names the county as the most expensive area to privately rent in the whole West Midlands region. Private tenants spend an average of 40% of their earnings on rent, with the area’s low wages and high transport costs exacerbating the problem. Local housing charities have said they have been inundated with requests for help, with many families and young people struggling with housing and rent issues. Shelter has made calls to the government to stabilise the rental market and to develop policies to bring rents more in line with average earnings. As the government pushes ahead with cuts that will affect local housing services, and squatting rights are crushed, we don’t have very much confidence in them dealing with the situation. We have to act for ourselves and fight for change.

Police have called for a popular Hereford restaurant to lose its license for employing ‘illegal’ workers. The Jalsagor on St. Owens Street has been raided by West Mercia Police and UK Border Agency officials twice this year, once in April, and again in July. They were fined £30,000 and 6 Bangladeshi men were arrested. Two of the men have applied for asylum status and four are currently detained, awaiting deportation. On Tuesday, Herefordshire Council’s regulatory subcommittee held a review into Jalsagor’s premises license. Police representative, Jim Mooney, asked for the alcohol and latenight refreshment license to be revoked. Revoking the license is sure to be an unpopular move in this very popular city restaurant. Four men who were working locally are now incarcerated and awaiting deportation, along with two others who face possible deportation. We believe nobody is illegal.

Big changes are coming for Hereford Heckler. The Heckler is changing to a mainly web-based format, with a new website and online shop coming very soon. We’ll be broadening our content, with more regular updates and more contributions from others. If you have anything you would like us to consider for inclusion, email it over to kay.bulstreet@hotmail.co.uk.

Council’s war on open spaces

Council plans to sell off or build on green spaces in the county are once again hitting the headlines.

In Ledbury there have been fears of a new housing development on the town’s cricket and football pitches off New Street for some time. There are currently major plans to build 800 new homes in the town, most of which will be around the Viaduct to its north. However, there are fears that public spending cuts may force the council to sell off the cricket and football pitches, leaving them to the mercy of developers.

A meeting has been called in Ledbury for Monday 24th January to discuss the town’s lack of parks, and the possible development of the town’s cricket and football pitches. It will be held at the Burgage Hall at 7pm.

Meanwhile, Herefordshire Council has admitted that discussions are underway regarding the sale of the Bishop of Hereford’s Blue Coat School’s playing fields. It is believed an offer has been put in for the site, which could be used to build more houses.

The playing fields are currently used by the school for many sporting activities and also by Herefordians Cricket Club, which plays its Marches League matches on the site. John Escott, a sports teacher at the school for 31 years, has said the plans would ’cause outrage’ if they were to go ahead.

Residents living in Newton Farm have also been dealt a blow in their battle to save a patch of open land near Argyll Rise from development. The near 5-year campaign of the Newton Farm Town Green Action Group to get the area registered as a town green and therefore protected, was dismissed by the council’s regulatory committee last week.

Martin Gilleland from the action group said that the ruling ‘adds to the distrust that communities have with local politics.’ Herefordshire Housing, the landowner, said that it may be some time before the land is built on, but certainly didn’t rule it out.

It is clear that Herefordshire Council’s commitment to protecting green, public spaces and school playing fields is a secondary matter when faced with the prospect of money from property developers. It also shows that all kinds of community resources are being hit as a result of government public spending cuts. We must defend our open spaces, sports fields and school playing fields, which are currently in place for the benefit of everybody!

Empty house is ‘flytippers paradise’

A Hereford house is blighting a community after more than 10 years of neglect.

Neighbours of 1 Quicksets, Redhill, (featured previously in the Heckler), say the empty house lowers the tone of the area and has become a “flytippers paradise”.

One resident has been in touch with the council for two years to try and get them to clean it up. He has even made a protest video, which has been published on Youtube. Outlining the problems to the Heckler, he told us:

o glass from the broken windows is lying in the long grass, injuring at least one child who had to receive hospital treatment

o chemical drums have been dumped in the garden and

o the property is infested with rats. It is now a serious health hazard.

As usual, Herefordshire Council seem to be doing nothing (this is getting like a broken record isn’t it). They should be doing something about the health and safety issue; there are environmental laws to back this up, but there is no action. They should be doing something to take possession of this empty property; there are housing laws to back this up, but there is no action.

We’re sticking to our guns: the place should be squatted! While a lot of time is wasted on legal bureaucracy, a family could be in there with next to no fuss, keeping the garden tidy and making the necessary repairs to the house. It could turn an eyesore into well-maintained family home. Something to consider.

Watch the Quicksets protest video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEW1MJFdbnk

Three years on… Houses STILL standing empty

A stand-off between Herefordshire Housing and an insurance company has left two houses standing empty for three years because neither party will take responsibility for the cost of repairs.

In a report compiled for the Heckler, Herefordshire Housing told us how tenants from the houses in Lloyd Street, Hereford were first moved out in 2007 because of a major subsidence issue, which is now beginning to affect the neighbouring properties.

A claim was made with their insurance company who offered £25,000 for an underpinning system. This was rejected.

What it now means is that Herefordshire Housing are refusing to pay for the repairs on their own property, whilst their insurers are refusing to cough up the full amount as well. What’s that figure we keep repeating? Five thousand people waiting for a home–get it sorted!

We first reported on the Lloyd Street properties in our last issue, encouraging people on the housing waiting list to squat them; our position being, if the housing authorities won’t find you a home, take matters into your own hands and do it yourself.

Within days, grilles were put on the doors and windows of these two houses to prevent anyone gaining entry–the first bit of work that had been done to them in years!

Despite the danger, no safety notices were displayed up on the properties. This is still the case.

We asked Herefordshire Housing what actual work had been done to the Lloyd Street properties over the course of the three years and when proper repair work was due to start. They failed to answer.

And keeping schtum seems to be the order of the day: we also contacted Herefordshire Council to ask why another empty house we featured in our last issue in Quicksets, Redhill, has also been left standing empty and in a terrible state of disrepair for years. They refused to comment.

So let’s repeat it again: there’s thousands on the housing waiting list! There’s people in temporary accommodation waiting for somewhere permanent. There’s people who aren’t even allowed temporary accommodation because housing officers tell them they’re not entitled to social housing. There’s people who are literally homeless! And all this while landlords like Herefordshire Housing are too stubborn to pay for the repairs themselves.

What we urgently need is housing to be controlled by the tenants, for the tenants. Kick out the incompetent bosses on their fancy salaries, we can do a better job ourselves.

Councillors deaf to all objections

Should next year’s local elections change the rotten-to-the-core Herefordshire Council, the autocratic authority’s all-powerful Central Planning Committee should be the first to get a thorough clean-out.

Two disgracefully lop-sided decisions were whistled through this Spring: the fatuous ‘link road to nowhere’ and a lacklustre housing development in the grounds of the listed Caradoc Court, near Ross-on-Wye.

After ruling that It’s Our City founder, Cllr Mark Hubbard, had ‘a prejudicial interest’ in the outcome and expelling him from the Brockington debate, the 14-person committee (10 Tories, including the chair and vice-chair) took less than three hours to nod through the £14-million road, despite the committee receiving an unprecedented 83 letters of objection.

Even more scandalous was the planning department’s contemptuous treatment of Hereford Civic Society’s 32-page technical analysis of the follies of the Link Road, which had taken the society over 250 member hours to research, write and publish–its existence warranted a mere eight words in the committee papers!

One member of the public who was given leave to speak under the three minute rule was local photographer Keith James, whose business premises directly faces the new road’s junction with the A49. Mr James–who was never sent a formal notification of the planning application–said that despite his constant barrage of letters to the road’s promoter ESG, he was first paid a visit by planners just 48 hours before the Brockington meeting!

No fewer than six planning committee members raised the matter of the horrendous traffic problems which the new cross-city road will impose on residential roads such as Barrs Court and Bodenham. But the two people who should have been present to speak up for their constituents, Aylestone ward councillors Nick Vaughan and Brian Wilcox, were conspicuous by their absence.

Two weeks later the committee was back to give the green light to a complex of six bland, executive-style detached houses, to be built in the grounds of Caradoc Court, the partially-restored 17th century mansion at Sellack, which was mysteriously gutted by a fire in 1986. Even a 300-signature local petition failed to impress the committee, which approved the scheme … submitted by the property’s owner, local Tory county councillor Harry Bramer.