Almost three months after the appalling conditions of flats in South Norwood were exposed, and the council has stuffed letters through the residents’ front doors to say that they are only now about to start doing something about it. Though not very much.
The council has variously tried to claim that only a handful of tenants were affected by the black mould, damp and water leaks that caused a national scandal when filmed by ITV News. Then the council implied the leak was just in one of the three blocks.
In fact, council tenants in all three of the run-down and poorly-maintained 1960s-built residential tower blocks have experienced similar issues over several years, as was made plain in a report by the independent consultants who found systemic failure and incompetence in the council’s housing department and with their repairs contractors.
Only a handful of Regina Road tenants have been moved into temporary or alternative accommodation by the council, while the majority of the 100-or-so households have been left to continue picking mushrooms off their walls, taking torches into their darkened bathrooms or unwittingly staging cockroach races along their skirting boards.
That Ark report was published more than a month ago. The council received the report a month before that (but they kept it out of the public gaze for four weeks on the premise that it might have had an influence on the outcome of local by-elections).
Among their key findings, Ark Consultancy said that there was “a poor operating culture with a lack of care and respect for tenants”, that there are senior managers at the council “who do not appear to know what is going on”, and “a lack of capacity and competence” in the council’s housing department.
Nine weeks later, and the council has told Regina Road residents that chartered building surveyors and structural engineers will be knocking on their doors come Monday to have a look and find out what all the fuss is about.
The council letter is signed by Patricia Hay-Justice, the councillor who inherited the Town Hall cabinet brief for homes (note: not for housing) from the disaster area that was Alison Butler.
The other signatory is Alison Knight. “Dr” Knight is the council’s new £800 per day “interim executive director for housing”, who was hired on a six-month deal with the intention of fixing the problems in the Regina Road tower blocks.
She has booked Woodstock-based Ridge and Partners to survey the tower blocks. “The surveyors will be identifiable by their high visibility clothing and ID badges,” Knight’s letter patronised the residents.
“Whilst the surveyors will focus on the overall condition of the block, they may also request access to your home so that they can see the visible areas of your property such as walls, ceilings and floors and services.”
The council promises to give residents “as much notice as possible”, and there is no obligation on tenants to allow access to their homes.
Residents remain underwhelmed by the council’s response, or lack of one.
“It’s just waffle, isn’t it?” one said.
“It gives the appearance of doing something, while actually doing nothing.
“The day-to-day experience of hundreds of residents has not changed since March. They are still living in appalling conditions. It doesn’t take a chartered surveyor to see that – and how long before the surveyors complete their reports and the council ponders what to do then?”
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