The super-rich deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council that has been a driving force of social cleansing in the borough. Judy Cox reports.
Rock Hugo Basil Feilding-Mellen is the deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, a part-time position which pays him £50,000 a year. He is the lead member for Housing, Property and Regeneration, so Grenfell Tower is one of his responsibilities.
This is his family home, Stanway House. The Jacobean manor house sits in 5,000 acres of land and boasts a 300 foot fountain, the largest gravity fountain in the world. Members of the public can visit the grounds for £9.00 a head.
Stanway House belongs to Feilding-Mellen’s mother, Lady Neidpath, and his step father, the 13th Earl of Wemyss and the 8th Earl of March. The Countess can trace her own family back to Charles II. Her hobby is trepanning (drilling holes in her own and other people’s heads).
Regeneration for the rich
Feilding-Mellen has been the driving force behind handing over public assets to the private sector and social cleansing in the name of regeneration. The Grenfell Action Group call Feilding-Mellen the Council’s ‘trigger man’ and said he was launching a, ‘vicious assault on the North Kensington Community that will see social housing destroyed so that the council can replace traditional working class homes with unaffordable “affordable” housing and penthouses and apartments of the “buy to leave” market.’
Last year, the council leased the North Kensington Library to the Notting Hill Prep School (fees £6,100 a term). This gifting of the library to the elite private school was recommended by Feilding Mellen. He had put his children’s names down for the school and was accused by local residents of a conflict of interest. A council report found that, although Fielding Mellen had failed to inform the council of his interest in the school, it did not breach the Code of Conduct.
The Westway Information Centre once housed council offices and the Citizens Advice Bureau but Kensington Council have leased the building to the Notting Hill Prep School on the recommendation of Feilding-Mellen. In addition, the council agreed to spend £1million on doing the Centre up, according to a Freedom of Information request obtained by the Grenfell Action Group.
In 2014 the Alpha Plus Group spent £1 million to get the lease for another public property, the Isaac Newton Building on Lancaster Road. Alpha Plus runs a chain of private schools including Chepstow House and Wetherby Prep, Princes Harry and William’s old school.
A formal complaint was launched by the Grenfell Action Group against Feilding-Mellen after he bought a property off Latimer Road and then voted through a regeneration package which could lead to property prices in the area rising substantially. The Action Group claim he may have used his position on the Council to identify regeneration sites prior to purchasing a property next to the Silchester Estate in North Kensington.
The Council’s policy towards social housing tenants forced to move as a result of ‘regeneration’ has been described as ‘cruel’ and ‘brutal’ by local tenants’ organisations. Their new ‘decant policy’ no longer includes a ‘guarantee’ to rehouse tenants in their original communities. Feilding-Mellen wrote in a local free paper that he and the council were actively, ‘trying to wean people off the expectation of being put up in prime central London locations’. Back in 2014 Feilding-Mellen oversaw changes to the Borough’s tenancy agreements which ended life-long tenancies, moving tenants out of the borough, refusing tenancies to old or disabled people who need a room for a carer and forcing homeless people or those forced to move out due to major works to accept accommodation outside the Borough.
Feilding Mellen was a trustee of the Westway Development Trust. In the 1970s the forerunner of the trust was dedicated to compensate the local community for the Westway by using the derelict land under it, focusing in particular on setting up playgroups. Over the years, the charity has developed into a leisure empire with an indoor tennis club and night club. The Trust received a £125,000 grant from the then Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson, a sum matched by both the council and the Trust. Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation which ran Grenfell Tower is a partner of the Westway Development Trust. The survivors of Grenfell Tower were put up at the Westway Development Trust leisure centre. In 2015-16 the total income of the Westway Trust from all sources was £8.07 million and their total expenditure was recorded as just under £8 million. The Trust holds total assets, including property and land, of £47 million. However, nearly 50 percent of Westway Development Trust’s income is spent on staff costs, including huge salaries for the charity’s executives.
Socially Ruthless Capital
Lady Neidpath, Countess of Wemyss, is a major shareholder in one of Feilding-Mellen’s four companies, Socially Conscious Capital. The company does not live up to its name. Socially Conscious Capital depends on Feilding-Mellen’s aristocratic contacts. It has recently applied for planning permission to build 450 homes on the family’s Scottish estate in Longniddry, East Lothian. This is Gosford House, the Feilding-Mellen family seat in Longniddry.
The Listen To Longniddry group strongly opposes the development. They wrote,‘the only thing that will be sustained in this “sustainable urbanist” development is the rate of profit to the Wemyss and March Estate. If this application is approved it will lead to permanent loss of Grade 2 agricultural land (some of the very best in Scotland, according to a professional agronomic analysis commissioned in 2013). How the enthusiastic obliteration of this farmland and its replacement with concrete could ever be seen as “sustainable” is beyond us’. If there is no environmental justification for the development, there is no social one either as there are currently 25,000 empty homes in East Scotland.
Socially Conscious Capital has also drawn up plans to build homes on estates owned by the aristocratic Mayhew and Meath Baker families near Norwich. The first scheme to build on the land was knocked back when campaigners had a local wood designated as an ‘ancient wood’ and thus protected. Feilding-Mellen wants permission to build 300 homes in the middle of the wood – protecting the woodland by building on it, as local campaigners describe the plans.
On the run
The Mirror has reported that Feilding-Mellen had to flee from his £1.2 million property in Kensington with his family amid fears for their safety. The council announced, ‘Following threats and vandalism outside his house, which has been reported to the police, he had to relocate his family – at his own expense-during the course of last weekend’. Hundreds of council tenants evacuated from unsafe tower blocks are sleeping on airbeds in sports halls. Feilding-Mellen has warned that it could take Kensington and Chelsea Council up to two years to rehouse the Grenfell Tower tenants. Feilding-Mellen will not be sleeping in a sports hall tonight – he has plenty of more attractive places to stay. He has left behind one empty property that could be requisitioned to house the survivors of Grenfell Tower.
Judy Cox is a lifelong socialist writer and speaker. Now a teacher in East London, Judy was on the editorial board of International Socialism and has written amongst other things on Marx’s theory of alienation, Rosa Luxemburg’s economic theory, William Blake and Robin Hood.
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