Croydon Council has been roundly criticised for its failures to act over the chronic and dangerous water leaks and long-term damp in its block of flats in South Norwood.
The appalling conditions – described as “the worst I have ever seen” by the head of a housing charity – brought condemnation for Croydon’s bankrupt council from Labour and Conservative politicians, but utter silence from the MP for the area and local councillors.
The leader of the Labour-controlled council, Hamida Ali, who represents the neighbouring Woodside ward, claimed that she knew nothing of the appalling conditions in the flats on Regina Road until the council was approached by ITV reporters last week.
Robert Jenrick, the housing minister, said last night, “People living in social housing must be treated with dignity and respect. And their complaints handled effectively.
“I’m appalled by what has occurred in Croydon and will be seeking urgent answers from Croydon Council.”
It is Jenrick, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, who recently approved a £120million bail-out for bankrupt Croydon Council. So Jenrick’s conversation over the housing conditions in the borough could prove interesting.
Croydon will also have to provide answers to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, one of the biggest funders of housing provision in the borough, who was also critical of the appalling conditions.
In a statement issued to ITV News following an early evening broadcast and ahead of the News At Ten, the Mayor said, “I am shocked and deeply disturbed by the appalling conditions faced by these residents.
“It is completely unacceptable. I have contacted Croydon Council to request they re-house the residents immediately. Nobody in our city should have to live in such accommodation.”
Meanwhile, Jon Trickett, a Labour MP for Hemsworth in Yorkshire, tweeted his disgust last night. “No one, absolutely no one, should be forced to live in these conditions, especially so in the UK which is the fifth wealthiest country in the world.
Another Labour MP, Zarah Sultana, described the TV report as “extremely upsetting”.
She tweeted, “No one, in any part of the country, should be living in hazardous, unsafe and undignified conditions like this.”
But neither of Croydon’s two Labour MPs, Steve Reed OBE nor Sarah Jones, had made any public comment by the time of publication. Jones was until recently Labour’s shadow minister for … housing. Reed, the MP for Croydon North, represents the area where the flats are located.
Reed had been contacted for help by his constituent featured in the TV news report, and he did take up their case with the council, by writing a letter. There was no further intervention from the MP after that.
The ward councillors have also been oddly quiet on the matter. For Jane Avis was the cabinet member for housing, but resigned as a councillor last week. Her resignation was not connected with the TV news report. South Norwood’s other councillors are “Thirsty” Clive Fraser and Patsy Cummings, Labour’s candidate for the Croydon and Sutton seat in May’s London Assembly elections.
Today, Chris Philp, the Tory MP for Croydon South, described what he had seen on the television news as “sickening” and “shameful”.
Philp said, “The Croydon Labour Party has left people living in squalor due to their neglect and indifference. They chose to spend nothing on providing decent homes for the borough’s most vulnerable.”
The ITV News report included an interview with Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, the homelessness charity, who said, “Can you even imagine having to live like that in lockdown, I mean not in lockdown there’s absolutely no excuse for it at all, but at the times we are living through as well?
“You can’t overstate the level of stress and lack of mental wellbeing it causes for parents and especially for children.
“This is really bad, I mean it’s probably the worst I personally have ever seen, I’m not sure if it’s the worst Shelter has ever seen, but it’s definitely the worst I have seen. Just in terms of the sheer unliveability of it, there isn’t really any possible way that those properties are fit for human habitation, so there’s absolutely no excuse for it at all.”
And Dame Judith Hackitt, the former chair of the Health and Safety Executive who led the government’s independent inquiry into building safety and regulation following the Grenfell Tower fire, told the broadcasters, “When I talked to residents in the wake of Grenfell, when I talked to residents in other tower blocks as part of my review, one of the common complaints from residents was ‘nobody listens to us – we express our concerns and nobody acts on it’.
“That, I’m afraid, is typical. That is one of the fundamental cultural issues we’ve got to get over – where someone actually feels responsible and takes responsibility for fixing things.”
Last night, Patricia Hay-Justice, Croydon Council’s new cabinet member in charge of housing, issued a public apology to those affected by the appalling conditions in their homes, and confirmed that the tenants had been moved to safer environment and would be re-housed. There would also be an investigation, she told a council cabinet meeting.
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