CROYDON IN CRISIS: ‘My kids suffer so badly with their breathing. I am scared for this winter.’ The words of one mother as she and other residents in the damp and mouldy flats in South Norwood face sky-high heating bills, while their children’s asthma and breathing problems get steadily worse
Stephen Tate, the “director of growth, employment and regeneration” at Croydon Council, told Regina Road residents at a recent meeting that the external cladding of the blocks “had failed in places” and that it “does not provide the level of insulation it should”.
What with the “failed” windows and the blocks’ heating systems also “needing updating”, residents living in the “appalling” council flats exposed by ITV News earlier this year are now facing an unimaginably tough winter ahead, as they try to adequately heat their homes.
It was March when the conditions endured by council tenants in Regina Road caused a national scandal after being shown on television. An independent investigation found evidence of systemic failure and incompetence at Croydon Council.
The council’s public pronouncements that it would provide much-improved dialogue with previously ignored residents has not been honoured: the council has managed to hold only one in-person meeting with the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group; Alison Knight, the council’s £800 per day exec director for housing appointed in May, has never bothered to meet the support group.
More than six months after the TV news reports and damning inquiry findings, and despite solemn promises from the council to repair the leaks and damp or rehouse the worst affected, conditions in many of the flats remain dire.
Now, an investigation by Inside Croydon has discovered that residents across the three blocks have been putting up with extortionate heating bills as a result of poor insulation.
One resident, a young man with mental health difficulties, last year received a heating bill of £1,300, more than £100 per month, for his small flat.
His mother is desperate for the council to provide her son and all other residents with adequate, affordable heating. “The results of their own survey said that the heating source in the Regina Road block was inadequate,” she told Inside Croydon. “Yet my son, who has poor mental health, is facing another winter with original storage heaters that are totally inadequate.
“I’ve been trying to be positive but he is convinced that whatever we do, nothing will change. It’s quite sad that he feels like that. So far, he’s not been wrong.”
Another mum with a toddler living in the flats told us that over the last year, she was paying up to £160 per month to heat her flat – nearly £2,000 over the whole year – and yet it still felt cold.
Parents of young children are dreading the winter as they know it will make their children’s breathing difficulties and asthma even worse.
A recent report by Asthma UK found Croydon to be the worst place in London for asthma sufferers, with poverty, poor living conditions and high levels of air pollution all contributing to higher rates of hospital admissions due to breathing difficulties, and more deaths, than anywhere else in the capital.
Inside Croydon spoke to 10 families with children affected by asthma, breathing difficulties and sleep apnea across the three Regina Road blocks. All cited the poor living conditions as a significant factor in their children’s breathing conditions.
When the flats get especially damp, some children’s asthma becomes so bad that their parents have to take them to A&E. Two of the families were both in A&E earlier this year in the same week, when heavy rains made living conditions in the flats even worse.
“My kids suffer so badly with their breathing,” one concerned mother said. “I am scared for this winter. The GP has told us the likely cause is the mould in the flat.”
As one resident put it at a recent meeting with the council- ‘would you let your children sleep here?’
Council chief Tate was unable, or unwilling, to answer that question.
But at least Tate turned up for the meeting to look the Regina Residents in the eye.
Residents are yet to hear what steps the council will take next.
A meeting with residents to share the full findings of the survey across all three Regina Road blocks was promised for September 30, but was cancelled by the council. No alternative date has yet been set.
Read more: Investigation into housing scandal finds systemic failure and incompetence
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: £104,000: astronomical pay deal for housing troubleshooter
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