Southall Green developer partly paid for former housing boss's trip
Peter Mason - former lead councillor on housing in Ealing
Ealing Council’s former housing boss has admitted he “made a mistake” by accepting sponsorship to pay for a trip to the South of France from developer Berkeley Group, which is building the controversial Southall Green Quarter regeneration site.
Southall Green councillor Peter Mason apologised to local residents and campaigners, members of Clean Air for Southall and Hayes (CASH), in a public meeting where councillors were asked to explain themselves for appearing to “do nothing” to help their constituents.
Residents living near the Southall Green Quarter, the former gasworks site, have raised repeated concerns for years claiming toxic odours from the site are affecting residents’ health.
Angela Fonso, a founding member of CASH, said, “To me, it’s quite galling the councillors know how bad it is, and knew how bad it was in 2018.
“Peter Mason said what residents were having to deal with was supremely bad but in 2019, he was accepting sponsorship from Berkeley Group.”
In the meeting on April 20 to address a range of issues in Southall, residents expressed their anger at the political framework in the area and the increasing will to stand independent candidates in the local elections next year.
Angela added, “I also feel quite strongly that Labour are complacent, they couldn’t give two hoots about what’s life in Southall as long as high rises are going up and more council tax is coming in.”
Cllr Mason served as Ealing’s housing and planning cabinet member from 2018, before resigning in September 2020 in the aftermath of council leader Julian Bell surviving a no-confidence vote within the Labour Party.
In March 2019, he accepted joint sponsorship for a real estate conference in Cannes, with his entry ticket, flights and hotel amounting to nearly £3,000 paid for by Berkeley Group and a number of other companies such as A2 Dominion, British Land, St George and Imperial College London.
Explaining to residents, Cllr Mason said: “There are plenty of decisions I’ve taken and been party to that I regret, I’m a human, I make mistakes and I’m sorry for those mistakes.
“Some of those mistakes I’ve been party to as part of the cabinet in Ealing. There’s been plenty of decisions that we’ve taken and things I’ve tried to do from within to try and influence decisions that ultimately have not worked.”
And on Berkeley Group he added, “I know I’ve made mistakes, one of those mistakes was by accepting sponsorship from the Ealing and London branch to go to MIPIM [real estate conference] in 2019 after I took over as cabinet member for planning, as what I found in terms of what I thought I was going to do was very different from the experience.”
Speaking for the first time publicly regarding his resignation, he said that it got to a point where “the road had run out”, on being able to influence from within the cabinet.
“I know how difficult it is to listen to me say retrospectively the things that I disagreed with but I did that inside the camp and the Labour Party agitating from within, to try and get things changed,” he said.
“And when on a range of issues whether it was the gasworks, regeneration or active travel I felt the road had run out I couldn’t make any more impact from within, I decided my time was up and I resigned from the cabinet.”
Councillor Jaskiran Chohan also apologised to the group amid their anger at the lack of councillors’ actions, and said she tries to constantly help CASH’s voice get heard which is not always in a public setting.
Issues in Southall she said she has been flagging include environmental racism, high rise developments and urging for air quality monitoring on every planning application for the area.
She added, “My only aspiration is to be a Southall resident to serve my constituents as best as possible, to serve my fellow residents. If there are shortcomings, I’m human. I make mistakes, but I’m always willing to fess up when I make mistakes.”
Residents in the meeting also voiced concerns over inadequate housing in the town, overcrowding and unaffordable high rise flats being built which is pricing young people out of the area.
Life-long resident Janet Griffiths described the state of “scrupulous landlords” creating “beds in sheds” in the back gardens to put new families in, and how herself and a number of her neighbours are considering leaving the area as they see “no future” here.
CASH member Sufiyan Abdul-Qayum added: “I feel like I’m being priced out of my area, it’s not just Berkeley Group, probably 10-15,000 new houses are going up. Personally, I wanted to move out last year, my 19th birthday, but I’ve not been able to.
“I have a substantial amount of savings but even that won’t cut it to put down a deposit for a studio. Where does that leave us as the youngsters of Southall?”
Ms Fonso also shared what it was like to live in a one-bedroom flat with her two daughters, turning the living area into a bedroom each night, and packing away the folded bed each morning.
When her neighbour, a dad-of-two, contracted Covid and had to self-isolate, she added, “I didn’t dare ask him what it was like to have Covid in a one-bed flat with four people, it must have been absolutely horrendous.
“That is my reality and it drives me forward. I look at flats going up. You need £400,000 for the privilege of living in a studio with a pull down bed.”
Cllr Mason said there are “deep structural things” that are why Southall is in this situation and said a paper on the private rented sector regulation shared to councillors on April 20, found 54 per cent of properties in Southall Green were in the private sector, yet 25 per cent of properties were deemed to be “substandard”.
He added, “Yet you will continue to pay high rents in Southall Green when the average income of people living in Southall Green is £16,000.
“In Southfields on the other end of Uxbridge Road it’s £40,000. That deep inequality that exists in terms of people’s income is as much about structural racism as it is about people’s ability to access skills, employment and jobs, that’s a fact.”
But he believes “it’s still possible” to turn around certain things happening in Southall such as regeneration, the high street, employment and the private rented sector.
The next meeting on Southall Matters: Why Aren’t Our Voices Being Heard is being held on 20 May. To sign up click here.
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
April 24, 2021