CROYDON IN CRISIS: After waiting six months, residents of what was described as some of the worst housing in the country finally got to meet senior officials. But the council’s head of housing had gone off on holiday.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
After being promised a face-to-face meeting with council chiefs since ITV News exposed the “appalling conditions” which many of the residents in council-owned blocks in South Norwood are having to endure on a daily basis, Regina Road residents finally got to look senior officials and councillors in the eye last week.
More than 30 residents gathered at the Stanley Halls for the long-awaited meeting, organised by the recently formed Regina Residents’ Support Group.
But missing from the gathering was Alison Knight, the £800 per day interim director for homes, who was hired by the council chief executive, Katherine Kerswell in May with a brief to quickly fix the many and deep problems within the council’s housing stock.
Knight, the disappointed residents were told, was away “on annual leave”. Knight was appointed on a six-month contract…
When independent consultants delivered a report in May on the state of the Regina Road flats and the council’s poor maintenance record, around the time Knight landed her lucrative job, one of their core criticisms was “a lack of care and respect for tenants”.
In Knight’s absence, emotions were running high at the meeting, with residents, some accompanied by their young children, demanding swift action from the council after a damning independent report found Croydon’s housing services to be failing abysmally.
“We know that the service we provide has been far from good,” was one admission from the council officials who had bothered to attend. They included Hamida Ali, the council leader, and Patricia Hay-Justice, the cabinet member for homes.
The ITV News investigation, it is now clear, managed to discover a range of shortcomings with the council.
During the meeting, Stephen Tate, the council’s “director of growth, employment and regeneration”, admitted that almost half of the repair jobs on the properties failed to be completed within the contracted time frame by the council’s repairs contractor. Contractors Axis’ deal with the council, it was suggested, could be reviewed next year.
Residents were clearly unhappy at the snail’s pace of progress that has been made, supposedly towards Croydon Council becoming “the best landlords in the country”, a far-fetched aspiration thrown around at a recent Town Hall meeting.
And not all the figures brought forward by officials at last week’s meeting stacked up, either. The council claims to have spoken to more than 200 residents from Regina Road’s three blocks. But many of those attending at Stanley Halls said that no one had come to speak with them, calling into question the council’s own record-keeping.
“Would you let your children sleep in a place like this?” one young mother, clearly frustrated at her situation, asked the meeting.
Many spoke passionately about the realities of bringing up two, three or even four children in the small flats, with no privacy for teenagers and parents, no space for children to study, or for babies and toddlers to develop, while the endless cycle of mould and damp was damaging everyone’s health.
The council has committed to reviewing their homes allocations policy, under which families are currently expected to use their living room as an extra bedroom if they do not have enough space for everyone to sleep in.
A Regina Road Residents Support Group representative said, “Residents tonight have finally had their voices heard.
“We hope that the council meets the demands that they have committed to at this meeting. We will be holding them accountable for these actions in the coming weeks and months, and look forward to working towards building back the trust that has been so badly damaged.”
Read more: Investigation into housing scandal finds systemic failure and incompetence
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