The South Norwood flats which were so badly maintained that they caused a national scandal ‘are no longer fit for purpose’ according to a report from the cash-strapped council. By STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon Council wants to demolish the three tower blocks on Regina Road that were at the centre of a national scandal last year because of the appalling living conditions caused by mould, leaks and damp in the homes.
A report has been published this morning ahead of next week’s council cabinet meeting in which Susmita Sen, the council’s relatively new director for housing, on considering the state of the 1960s-built tower blocks, says that, “An appropriate conclusion might be that the tower blocks are no longer fit for purpose and that the most effective remedy may be to demolish.”
The report prepares the way for resident consultation, as well as approaching the Greater London Authority for a grant to pay for a survey of all those living on the estate, as required by the Mayor of London when considering estate demolition. If the report is approved by cabinet, that survey is likely to be conducted between February and May next year and, if the demolition plan is approved by residents, then work would begin on site around March 2025.
According to the council’s own figures, the three, 11-storey blocks, each with 44 one-bed flats, are currently home to 106 council tenants and three leaseholders.
Any decision to demolish and modernise the blocks on Regina Road could have significant implications for Croydon’s other council tenants: there are thought to be another 10 similar-aged, Wates-built blocks at other locations around the borough.
All the blocks were given a refurbishment, with panelling retro-fitted to the exteriors, in around 1999, although the council says that as far as the Regina Road blocks are concerned, it no longer has detailed records of how that work was conducted.
Regina Road was thrust into the national spotlight in March 2021, when ITV News reports shocked the nation by showing the “dangerous squalor” and slum-like conditions of some of the council flats there, where leaks had been reported months before but which the council’s maintenance contractors had failed to repair.
Independent consultants, in the weeks immediately following the television news coverage, found systemic failures and incompetence in the council’s housing department.
The council’s immediate efforts to repair the flats, off South Norwood High Street, as well as to reform its housing practices, have not been entirely successful. Inside Croydon reported in August how attempts to repair and refurbish some of the blighted flats had failed to deliver satisfactory improvements in the living conditions endured by council tenants.
According to today’s report to cabinet, “Since December 2021 £370,000 (excluding on-costs – £8,410 per unit) basic refurbishment works have been carried out…
“Refurbishment is likely to cost more than like-for-like rebuild and that there will be substantial liabilities for leaseholders. When considering the options to refurbish [versus] rebuild, it is worth noting that a key point arising from refurbishment is the potential charge to leaseholders. This charge would not arise with rebuilding, where leaseholders would be able to realise market value.”
Elsewhere in the report they say, “It is not known without major and invasive structural investigations what reasonable remaining life might be achievable on these tower blocks which are now nearly 60 years old.
“To rebuild as 44 x 1-bed flats were estimated by [structural consultants] Ridge to cost £14,105,000. However, the new build would be to current standards and have a life of at least 60 years.
“On quality of outcome, refurbished flats would fall short on some current space standards, have lower ceilings, no outdoor balcony space, probably not meet the new Pas2035 retrofit standards for thermal comfort, and have limited life.
“The carbon cost of refurbishment, plus poorer insulation relative to new build, may also be higher – a detailed assessment is being progressed. There are no family-sized homes in the tower blocks, nor wheelchair-adapted homes.”
The report also indicates that the council is aware of new housing and building regulations standards, with a Building Safety Regulator due to come into force in 2023 in response to the Grenfell Fire tragedy.
The Regina Road blocks would struggle to meet the demanding requirements of the new licensing system without more costly refurbishments, possibly even structural work that would require all residents to be rehoused off-site during the works.
The report also considers the impacts on the wider estate around Regina Road, which includes 42 flats in four medium-rise blocks close to the towers and additional two-storey housing “some of which are included in the scope of this report for consultation on redevelopment”.
Of the tower blocks, Sen’s report is blunt: “The flats in the tower blocks – particularly in nos 1-87 – have suffered in recent years from a variety of issues including water penetration, condensation and mould that have proved difficult to rectify. This unsatisfactory situation has developed over recent years because these key maintenance issues, highlighted by residents, were not addressed in a timely way.”
According to the report, the council hasn’t got a Scooby how the appalling conditions have developed – they even suggest that South Norwood might have some kind of “micro-climate” caused by local ground conditions…
We have not made this up: “It would be very difficult to establish exactly why there is persistent mould growth at Regina Road. Most likely it is a combination of circumstances.
“It might be linked to modern living practices within a building that was built in an earlier era with low-cost energy when such buildings were more comprehensively ventilated. Or it might be related to the original 1960s design that has been adapted over the years to provide increased insulation and different heating systems.
“Interstitial condensation might be occurring unnoticed within the structure of the building and causing hidden mould growth which then spreads with air movement. There might even be local factors such as a particular microclimate around Regina Road involving, for example, differing air movement and temperature patterns arising from localised ground conditions and nearby buildings.
“An appropriate conclusion might be that the tower blocks are no longer fit for purpose and that the most effective remedy may be to demolish.”
It is a view that some of those who have had to endure the conditions in the flats had reached even before the shocking television reports.
The council propaganda department in their bunker at Fisher’s Folly issued a lengthy press release this morning which mentions the demolishing option only once, in passing.
“Exact details on options for the Regina Road estate will be developed in due course, weighing up resident feedback alongside considerations such as cost and meeting evolving building regulations,” they dissembled.
“The council will ensure every resident moved or decanted from their homes during possible refurbishment or redevelopment work will be guaranteed to return to the estate if they wish to.”
Jason Perry, Croydon’s £81,000 per year part-time Mayor, after 12 years of Tory austerity, blamed the state of the flats on “years of underinvestment in Regina Road” which has meant “residents have faced unacceptable disrepair and housing conditions”.
“As I said on my first visit to Regina Road, it will take some time to make significant and lasting change for tenants,” Perry said.
“This is why our focus must now turn to the longer term – ensuring we treat our tenants with respect in every interaction they have with the council and bringing our housing stock up to standard now and for generations to come.”
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
Read more: Council’s flats scandal caused by ‘complete corporate failure’
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