CROYDON IN CRISIS: The council leader talks about damp and mould in two flats in South Norwood. Community workers have found the same problem widespread throughout three tower blocks, where residents are ‘belittled’ by officials and are left ‘feeling worthless’.
EXCLUSIVE By STEVEN DOWNES
There’s mounting anger among residents in South Norwood as the council attempts to diminish the scale of the problem in the damp and mouldy flats on Regina Road which have created a national scandal.
Last night, Hamida Ali, the leader of the Labour-controlled council, issued a statement which seemed to suggest the issues were confined to just two flats in one of the 11-storey blocks.
But community activists say that they have discovered similar problems of water leaks and widespread damp and mould in all three of the 1970s-built blocks on Regina Road.
And while Councillor Ali has said publicly that she first learned of the appalling conditions in the flats when contacted by journalists from ITV News a week ago, on Friday March 19, Inside Croydon has had sight of emails sent to the council leader about the state of the council homes in November 2020, nearly six months ago. Councillor Ali never acknowledged it or responded.
The TV news programme which shocked the nation was broadcast last Monday. It was not until Wednesday, March 24, that Ali, a councillor for nearby Woodside ward, first visited the block featured in the report. According to her latest statement, even then she only bothered to inspect one of the affected flats.
By then, dozens of residents in the block had already been evacuated to temporary accommodation by council officials.
Last night, Ali said on the council website, “You may have seen the images in the news this week of appalling conditions in two flats in a council block in South Norwood that had been caused by a water leak.”
One activist who has been offering support to affected residents in other flats said that they are “outraged” by the council leader’s remarks.
“It’s fundamentally untrue, and Councillor Ali knows it is untrue. She knows that the problems affect many more than just two flats,” they said.
“It’s dissembling and intended to deceive. Hamida Ali is making what is already a bad situation worse with these outright lies, published on the council’s official website.”
According to Ali’s announcement, “We have also conducted a full inspection of the building which was found to be safe, we have located the water leak and fixed it, and repairs are now beginning.” Better late than never.
Also in her statement, Ali said, “There is absolutely no excuse for the situation we put those residents in, and, for that, I am truly sorry. What is clear is that it must never happen again in our borough and to make sure that it doesn’t I have launched an independent investigation.”
In Ali’s car-crash television interview broadcast on Tuesday night, she told ITV News that the independent chair of the inquiry would be named “tomorrow”, meaning Wednesday. As yet, four days later, there has still been no formal announcement of the identity of the inquiry chair.
Ali had been expected to appear as a guest on Vanessa Feltz’s BBC Radio London
programme yesterday morning, but in the event did not make an appearance – possibly to avoid a mauling similar to the one that the radio host meted out to the councillor when she first took on the role of council leader last October.
Certainly, under proper questioning, Ali is unlikely to be allowed to get away with such self-serving contradictions as appeared in her website statement.
Members of a community group who have been helping residents in the blocks for some years say that the focus on just two of the flats in one of the blocks is a deliberate attempt to minimise the issue and mislead the public about the true scale of the problems.
One of them posted a photograph on social media. “This is not how a child’s bedroom should look,” they wrote.
“We visited two of the other blocks on Regina Road today. All experiencing the same issues with damp and leaks. It’s heartbreaking to see how hard the residents have fought to get their voices heard and are still not being listened to.
“They have been made to feel worthless and belittled by the system and as if their lives don’t matter. We stand with Regina Road and anyone else in our community struggling for a safe and decent home.”
And another posted a reaction to Hamida Ali’s weekly council leader’s message, calling it a “fib-athon from Hamida, or some idiot PR person who should get the sack”.
They wrote, “There are way more than two flats that were affected by the damp and the leaks. All the residents I have spoken to from that block have suffered the same experiences with damp. Nobody has been interested in the residents’ concerns until now.
“That one block in Regina Road is not the only one with these appalling living conditions. Two other blocks had the same conditions with damp and leaks. And hey, guess what, same record of repeated emails and phone calls to the council complaining and asking for help.
“Last week, in the wake of the sudden interest by ITV, guess what? The council came round with bleach to clean off the visible mould! All to look presentable.”
Inside Croydon has repeatedly asked Councillor Ali for an interview since she became council leader. She never acknowledged or responded.
So, as a very poor second best, here’s another chance to listen to Vanessa Feltz’s interview with the council leader from last year:
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: ‘Is it because the council don’t care? Where is their humanity?’
Read more: ‘Why do you appear not to know the answer to anything?’
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