CROYDON IN CRISIS: More than a year since the ‘appalling’ state of flats in Regina Road caused a national scandal, MPs from a Commons select committee visited South Norwood and Upper Norwood this week. They were shocked at what they saw, as EMMA GARDINER reports
Croydon council tenants at Regina Road in South Norwood have got used to a constant procession of officials descending on to, and into, their homes over the past year. It’s usually all words and no action.
But there was a palpable glimmer of hope this week when MPs who make up the House of Commons’ cross-party housing select committee stepped into five flats across the three tower blocks as part of their inquiry into the regulation of social housing in England.
The visit, organised by the South West London Law Centres, allowed the MPs to see first-hand the kind of conditions that Croydon Council is willing to force people to live in. The committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Clive Betts, was there, in their own words, “to listen and to learn”.
It was part of a day-long tour of this part of south London during which they would cross the borough boundary into Lambeth’s bit of Upper Norwood to view the Central Hill Estate, which the council wants to demolish – against the wishes of the majority of residents living there.
The visit followed Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech which laid out The Social Housing Regulation Bill, intended, the government says, to “ensure better quality and safer homes”. The Bill was originally in response to the dreadful tragedy at Grenfell Tower five years ago, where 72 people died.
But more recent revelations of dire living conditions in Regina Road and in council and housing association accommodation across the country seems, at last, to have added greater urgency to the law-makers’ deliberations.
The Bill follows the government’s social housing White Paper published in November 2020 and aims to increase the powers of the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman in order to deal with residents’ complaints.
The legislation sets out measures to ensure social housing is safe, ensure swift and effective complaint resolution as well as strengthen the standards that councils, like Croydon and Lambeth, and social landlords must meet while creating “a strong, proactive regime” to enforce them.
Tenants will also be able to engage with and hold landlords to account under the plans. Which would be nice.
Among the MPs making the tour of the troubled council housing together with Betts were Darren Henry, Kate Hollern, Ben Everitt, Bob Blackman, Mohammad Yasin and Florence Eshalomi, the arch-careerist politico and former councillor colleague in Lambeth of Steve Reed OBE, the Labour front-bencher who holds significant responsibility for the state of housing on both sides of Croydon’s borough boundary.
At the start of the visit, a Regina Road resident kicked off proceedings by reminding the MPs that “a decent home is not a luxury”.
She said, “The problems in these blocks are so far deep-rooted you cannot get rid of them with a mould wash. They need to pull them down.”
Members of the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group emphasised to the committee members the need for Croydon Council to rewrite its intentionally convoluted 95-page Allocations Policy, under which they dictate that a family of six can live in a small two-bed flat.
They pleaded for the Regulator for Social Housing to hold the council to greater accountability to their commitments to improve conditions since they slapped the slumlord with a regulatory notice 12 months ago.
Betts said that he and the committee will be following up their visit directly with the regulator, asking precisely what they are doing to hold the council to account.
The more clued-up MPs noticed very quickly how bad conditions still are at Regina Road.
“One of the MPs noticed straight away that our doors only have two hinges, which she said was a serious fire safety risk, and would not pass housing regulations,” one of the residents told Inside Croydon.
“If an MP can walk in and notice that within two minutes of being in one of the properties here, then why has it never come up on any of the council’s surveys before now?”
Stories of floods, leaks, months of waiting for repairs, mould, damp and the constant smell of sewage inside properties appeared to leave its mark on the MPs present.
Both South West London Law Centre and Regina Road Residents’ Support Group were invited to a roundtable discussion, where Betts and Henry heard powerful testimonies from Croydon council tenants of being ignored, belittled, made to live in inhuman conditions and suffering both physical and psychological ill-health as a result.
Rebecca Williams, a founding member of the Regina Road support group, said, “After the television news report hit, obviously everyone from Croydon descended.
“But they were still not very helpful, their attitude was still not for the tenants, it was just for themselves.
“It was refreshing and encouraging to be listened to today, to be taken seriously, and hear some commitments to action for once. What with the announcement of a possible Social Housing Bill going through parliament in the coming year, residents feel that the tide is perhaps turning and that they might finally have some rights to decent homes.”
And another member of the support group told Inside Croydon, “If the Regina Road scandal contributed to the catastrophic local election results for Labour in Croydon, then the new administration would be wise to keep their eye on the ball with housing in the borough.”
Croydon’s newly elected Mayor, Jason Perry, one week into his new role, has yet to visit Regina Road.
Read more: This is the stark human cost of the borough going bankrupt
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
Read more: Council’s flats scandal caused by ‘complete corporate failure’
- Emma Gardiner, pictured right, is a member of the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group and works as a volunteer with the South Norwood Community Kitchen
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- By having a comment section, we provide all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content. Details of how this works can be read by clicking here