CROYDON IN CRISIS: What was supposed to be an ‘urgent’ report into the appalling living conditions endured by council tenants in South Norwood is being withheld ahead of local elections. STEVEN DOWNES reports
Hamida Ali, the leader of the council, has been accused of breaking her promises to vulnerable residents and covering up the potentially explosive findings of a report into the circumstances which led to dozens of council tenants having to endure “appalling” conditions in their homes in South Norwood.
The scandal of the flooded and mouldy Regina Road flats was exposed by a television news report a fortnight ago that shocked the nation.
Dozens of tenants, some with young children, were affected, with many complaining that their appeals and complaints had been ignored by the Labour-controlled council, and by their councillors.
Following the broadcast, Ali’s response in her latest car crash interview was to apologise on national television and promise an “urgent” investigation into the affair. She said that the report would be completed in two weeks.
But now she is withholding the findings for at least three weeks – conveniently until after local elections next month.
The report was delivered to the council by independent consultants last Friday. Despite the initial promise of urgency to resolve the many issues arising, now even the Regina Road tenants are being denied access to the report’s potentially damning contents.
The council say that the findings are being kept under wraps because of “legal restrictions regarding the local elections”.
There are five council by-elections being staged in Croydon on May 6, including in South Norwood and in Woodside, the neighbouring ward which Councillor Ali is supposed to represent.
Residents and community activists are furious that Ali has gone back on her word over the report. And even a Labour councillor has broken party ranks and criticised the cover-up.
Clive Fraser posted on social media last night, “I would like to think as a South Norwood councillor, I would have been asked my opinion to publish the report or not! Unfortunately, I was not, if I had been I would have said publish it!”
Residents have told Inside Croydon that Fraser, as one of their three Labour ward councillors, was among those who were contacted months ago about the steadily worsening conditions in the flats. Last night, Fraser failed to answer questions about his own response on behalf of the residents.
Writing on a South Norwood Facebook page, Fraser tried to pass the buck for the delay in publication of the report to senior council officials, including interim chief executive Katherine Kerswell.
Fraser was a trusted member of the controlling council cabal, headed by discredited ex-leader Tony Newman, which has been criticised for its aversion to democracy and transparency.
Last night, commenting on the withholding of the Regina Road report, Fraser wrote, “I am not sure whether democracy and transparency has been best served here. Croydon council tenants deserve better!”
One resident of the council block, who says she has suffered years of neglect at the hands of the council and councillors, responded to the news of the report’s cover-up with a mixture of anger and disbelief.
“I just don’t understand why they can’t release the findings,” they said.
They called the council’s reasoning a “stupid excuse”, adding, “They want to delay the findings because they know how badly it will make them look.
“They’ve ignored us for a year. They need to be shown up for what they’ve done.”
And Emma Gardiner, a member of the South Norwood Community Kitchen group who have helped several Regina Road tenants over the course of the past three years, told Inside Croydon, “We hoped the television news piece would be a catalyst for change. But that has not happened at all.
“Holding back on sharing the independent report on some pretty spurious legal grounds just proves that the residents were right all along – the council doesn’t give a crap about them or their children.
“The majority of the council’s actions so far have been a face-saving exercise and nothing more.”
Jane Nicholl is another community volunteer. She is standing as an independent candidate in the South Norwood by-election on May 6.
Today she said, “How low can this lot stoop? Hamida Ali, you should hang your head in shame.
“The residents of Regina Road have been ignored, insulted and treated like they’re in Victorian workhouses. How dare the council delay the release of the findings with the flimsy excuse of non-existent legal restrictions.
“The contempt with which these callous cowards treat their tenants is criminal. You might wonder how they can sleep at night, but I imagine they probably don’t have to use bedrooms that are cold, with damp and mould, dripping ceilings, and beds and bedding that never smell fresh.
“Shame on the lot of them.”
Read more: Council’s ‘urgent’ inquiry into housing scandal is slow to start
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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