CROYDON IN CRISIS: Nine months after the conditions in council flats in South Norwood caused a national scandal, and after spending £104,000 on one director who never bothered meeting the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group, the council has got around to forming a housing improvement board. BARRATT HOLMES, housing correspondent, reports
Croydon Council has named Martin Wheatley as the independent chair of its new housing improvement board.
The council cabinet agreed in May to establish the board, in the wake of the scandal of the mouldy walls, dripping ceilings and dodgy electrics that were exposed by ITV News reports from council flats in Regina Road, South Norwood.
It will be December before the housing improvement board’s first public meeting will be held, at Stanley Halls in South Norwood.
Wheatley is a Croydon resident with more than 20 years’ senior experience in housing and public services, most recently as the research director at the Commission for Smart Government.
According to Croydon Council, Wheatley, “will lead the board in scrutinising the council’s wide-ranging programme to improve housing services”.
The board is supposed to focus “on understanding tenants’ experiences”.
The council’s announcement this morning does not include the name of a single Regina Road resident or any of their supporters or representatives among the members of its supposedly tenant-focused board.
In a statement issued by the council, they say, “Meeting every other month, the board will provide evidenced, fair and honest feedback to the council’s cabinet on a quarterly basis, examining how the council is delivering its programme of housing improvement works to meet targets set by the independent ARK report.”
In announcing the long-delayed formation of the housing board, the press office at Fisher’s Folly said, “Council tenants will form an important part of the board, ensuring residents’ voices and experiences are heard and ensuring they have much greater say in how housing services are run.”
Other members appointed to the board include the chair of the tenant and leaseholder panel, representatives from London Councils, the Local Government Association and the government-imposed improvement and assurance panel – so plenty of local government suits, and not much in the way of tenants.
The council does say that it “is also looking for voluntary sector representatives to ensure the involvement of the voluntary sector and those they support”. Which is good of them.
Hamida Ali, the council leader who failed to respond to emails from Regina Road residents for six months before Croydon’s shortcomings were exposed on national television, this morning claimed that Croydon is “totally committed to improving our housing services for all our residents”.
Councillor Ali also spoke of how Wheatley will bring “strong oversight and scrutiny to our work”. Of course, the council already has a scrutiny and oversight committee, chaired by Sean Fitzsimons.
Wheatley said, “As a borough resident of many years, I am very glad to be able to offer my experience to help support the vital work of the board in scrutinising the council’s plans to improve its housing service and make sure it addresses the unacceptable performance being experienced by tenants.
“For that to happen, listening to tenants and offering them the service they are entitled to expect as paying customers must be at the forefront. The board is a strong team, especially drawing on the insight and appetite for positive change of its tenant members.”
The board’s inaugural meeting is on Tuesday December 7, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm at Stanley Halls. The meeting will be livestreamed – click here register to receive a link to watch.
Anyone from voluntary groups who is interested in serving on the housing panel can get more information and apply by clicking here.
The council’s previous responses to the Regina Road crisis have not been entirely successful. The latest edition of Private Eye magazine has reported on how “Dr” Alison Knight “has scarpered from the benighted borough”, £104,000 better off for six months’ “work” thanks to Croydon, despite never once meeting the residents’ group at the centre of the Regina Road housing scandal.
Clearly, Knight won’t be around to discuss her achievements with the housing improvement board.
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