There were chaotic scenes outside the block of council flats on Regina Road this afternoon as tenants were being hurriedly evacuated from the building by Croydon Council staff.
Some of those being moved complained of heavy-handed tactics, as they clutched official warning letters compelling them to move out of their poorly maintained homes at virtually no-notice.
One community activist said, “Some of the tenants are in total panic. The letters they have been given use the language of a bailiffs’ letter – it is as if they are being evicted.
“None of the tenants have done any wrong. They are the victims in all this, living in appalling conditions, but now that the council has been shamed into finally doing something about it, it is – being Croydon Council – being handled very badly.”
Less than 24 hours earlier, the South Norwood building had earned national notoriety as the worst in Britain following an investigation by television news journalists had exposed the damp, mould and lack of repair in several properties.
The tenants featured in last night’s News At Ten reports had already been moved to temporary accommodation over the weekend – the council only reacting after months of delays after they had been contacted for an interview by the broadcasters. Today, following strong criticism from across the country, the council was seeking to remove other tenants from the 11-storey building in order that repairs might finally get underway.
Council officials and even a couple of Labour councillors, who residents claim they had never seen before, were on hand, among them Clive Fraser and Patsy Cummings, Labour’s candidate for Croydon and Sutton in the London Assembly elections in May.
The community worker told Inside Croydon, “When I arrived, it seemed like every person who works in the housing department was in the block. And every one of them had a different and usually conflicting account of what is going on – one said that the leak was coming from one tenant’s flat, another said it wasn’t. One said that the tenant needs to move out, another saying that they don’t.
“It’s chaos and the council is seriously panicking.”
Some tenants were taken off to the council’s housing offices to sign forms agreeing to being placed in B&B accommodation for two or three nights. They were not allowed to pack or take their possessions, nor were they allowed to visit the accommodation they had been assigned.
The notice letter, from the council’s head of tenancy and caretaking, Sharon Murphy, was headed with “Warning of forced entry – serious leak” in bold capitals.
“Do not ignore this letter,” it stated ominously, also in big, black letters at the end.
Written in officialese and quoting clauses from the tenancy agreement, the letter states: “Our repairs operative will be attending today after 12pm. You are required to give access to them to carry out the necessary repairs. Failure to do so will result in forced entry taking place to gain access.
“If this becomes necessary, you will be recharged for lock changes and all associated costs incurred.”
ITV News was on site this afternoon, too, and has now – nearly a week after they first requested an interview – been told that Hamida Ali, the leader of the council, will answer questions on camera.
Anyone not already familiar with Councillor Ali’s style of (not) coping with incisive questioning might want to listen to her appearance on BBC Radio London’s Vanessa Feltz programme from last year, shortly after she had taken over the top job at the bankrupt borough:
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