Council opts to demolish blocks at centre of squalor scandal

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

Set to be demolished: one of the three blocks in South Norwood

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.

Shocking: how ITV News’s report from young mother Fransoy Hewitt’s Croydon council flat caused a national scandal

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…

Housing director: Susmita Sen

“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.”

Wider impact: the demolition of the tower blocks may yet have an effect on nearby 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.

Costly business: one of the tables from today’s reports that weighs up the options

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’

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in Business, Croydon Council, Housing, Mayor Jason Perry, Regina Road Residents' Support Group, South Norwood, Susmita Sen and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Council opts to demolish blocks at centre of squalor scandal

  1. Les Parry says:

    At last a final decision will be made in the future if the tower blocks and that will be made by tge people via a legacy required ballot. In addition the people will know the terms if either permanent relocation and have options and the same for leaseholders. To me this should of been done more than a year ago but wasn’t due to poor Labour Leadership and inadequate Management. The current Management and Political leadership have taken only 6 months to do the right thing in the right way that to me is good Management and Good Political Leadership by ensuring the people are involved and make the decisions on their future.

    • Lancaster says:

      6 months to make a decision is, ” Good Political Leadership” ?

      Let us hope these people don’t have to manage a crisis, a bankruptcy situation, or battlefield strategy ! God help us.

  2. Chris Harding says:

    Presumably they’ll be rehousing the existing tenants prior to demolition starting…

  3. Don White says:

    Is there anything in this report to suggest who might have been responsible for allowing these buildings to get into such a state that now they ‘may’ and ‘might’ be demolished, at a cost to Council Tax payers of some £14million (plus Fairfield supplement – so, say £28million)?
    Or any mention of the cost in global climate terms of demolition and rebuilding?
    I also find it difficult to believe that 1960s-built accommodation comprised more meagre indoor and outdoor space standards than today’s allowances. And that no one can say for sure if the current buildings meet fire safety standards.

  4. Peter Underwood says:

    I would be suspicious of any plans to demolish these blocks and build new properties unless there is a cast iron guarantee that the new properties will be social housing available at genuinely affordable rents to Council tenants. We have seen too many Councils demolish social housing just to build private properties that they could sell for a massive profit and I suspect there are many in Croydon Town Hall who would happily do the same here.

    • derekthrower says:

      Well there is a huge stock of unused council property available to provide replacement tenancies for the people who will be decanted from these buildings from the era of Taberner House. It’s called Brick by Brick.

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    it would be nice to see the Regina road saga over and those affected properly re-housed, including those with leaseholds taken in good faith.

    Are they seriously telling us that to rebuild 44 flats in Croydon will cost £14million?
    Are they having a laugh? The market value of a bed flat is between £220K and 270K and that is already built.
    You could buy 14 semi detatched houses and turn them into flats as they have allowed countless dodgy landlords to do and have at least 42 flats and 14 studio flats with 28 accessible. They will be good for about 60 – 120 years if looked after. You would still have change from £11 million.
    (Ask said landlords of all those ”developments” how to do this. You might not like the answers – but as Planning said – they are ”perfectly legal developments” and house many Council tenants via third parties.

    There are currently 556 1 bed properties on the market in Croydon and within a mile of the center. This Council could buy 44 for about £9million and many have longer life spans than 60 years.
    Our Mayor Jason Perry, blamed the state of the flats on “years of under investment in Regina Road” which has meant “residents have faced unacceptable disrepair and housing conditions”. Wow no shit Sherlock! -so when Mr Fisher was pissing up our cash on a monolithic shithole and not investing appropriately in Council tenants homes was he cheering him on or arguing that the money should be spent on Regina road?

    Seriously if that is the level of expertise in Croydon then we are in serious trouble with respects to building property, maintaining property and housing tenants, not just now, but for decades.

  6. derekthrower says:

    A note that such buildings in the 1960’s only had a design life of 30 years and we still have huge amounts of infrastructure in active use remaining from this period. The work in the late 90’s was clearly an attempt to extend the useful life onward and it is shocking that the records of such major works and investment have been lost by the Council Housing Department. This indicates the problems of this Council are not something that happened overnight or in one period of party control, but reflects a long term managerial malaise at the Council.
    Secondly a large number of these Wates blocks remain unaffected unlike the failure of the blocks at Regina Road. They too had the same renovation work undertaken but are apparently in still good order for the residents. It of course could be that higher quality control of building standards took place at the other blocks. In previous times there were huge levels of corruption in the awarding of contracts of council high rise and no real effective measures in place to insure good quality construction standards were undertaken since speed of development was prioritised to meet building targets. Poor quality construction methods at one site are a feasible explanation for what has happened at Regina Road.
    If you fail to retain records of construction and comments by the construction technical staff of the time you have very little chance of providing an explanation. This is a culture that still afflicts this Local Authority today.

  7. Lewis White says:

    A couple of thoughts……
    I wonder how residents in the many other refurbished blocks of the same design, borough-wide, feel about their flats? Do they love them or hate them, or what?.
    Are they having the same condensation problems- or not? If not, why not?

    I have read over the last 20 years repeatedly that modern space standards are less generous in room sizes that were the flats of the 1960’s, built to the “Parker Morris standards”. What really would the modern “refurbishment v rebuild” result be…. lower ceilings to upgrade the insulation, and keep the existing flat, or have new flats…. with slightly higher ceilings and possibly …… smaller flats?

    Looking at the wider architectural and landscape design, when these blocks were built, the design philosophy was that rather than have low-rise housing with small amounts of open space, they would build high-rise blocks of flats set in big open grassy spaces.

    The latter sounds lovely, and sunny, and green, but in reality, these landscapes were generally impersonal places, many worthy of the term “green deserts”, sometimes with play grounds, but not very cosy, nor where people (residents) and their children could enjoy sitting out for long periods. Dogs would roam, or dog owners would let their animals run off the lead and poo at will. Not nice to play in such places–dangerous and dirty. Toxicarea canis.

    About 6 months ago, I attended an on-line seminar listed by the Town and Country Planning about the redevelopment of council / social housing.

    The most impressive ones I saw were highly relevant to sites like Regina Road.
    New, mid and low-height blocks were built, surrounding inner, well-sized , well-landscaped spaces, where children could really play, and people could tend their own garden plots and raised beds. The concept was “all age developments” where younger singles and couples, and retired people could live in smaller units, near to (but not right next to) family flats where a family of 4 or 6 might live.

    No doubt, to succeed, in 5 years time, ten or 50, every single development needs an investment by the council in good management, good and timely maintenance.Not easy, when government funding is strangled, year on year

    It must also start with good design, not just of good looks, but designs that are well put together, and are easy to maintain, as well as well insulated and cheap to heat.

    Plus –a point drawn from the report– must be built properly. Which means constant oversight of the builders. Easier said than done.

    Good aspirations are not good enough.
    Decisions on design and maintainability have a long time shadow………. they either work well, work OK, or fail, in part, or totally, and l–what ever the case– last 100 years. 100 years of joy or misery are possible.

    And the residents have to live with the results.
    Hence, I just hope that they are given a range of good development options to choose from, and are allowed to go and see existing examples, and talk to people like them who live there, as well as designers.

    Will the Croydon Design Panel look at this too?
    If so, are the high-profile architects and other designers on the panel balanced by people who are grounded in building communities, and in housing management and maintenance? A certain humility is appropriate, bearing in mind the architectural design failures of every decade. Does the panel have it?

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