Matt Davies, independent councillor for Fortis Green (Haringey) - below you'll find a bit of the four things above
Friday, 23 October 2009
Decent housing has to mean safe housing
I have already blogged a little about Monday night's meeting of Full Council. Not mentioned the failure to stick to an agreed ban on domestic flights, but you can read about that here.
I did do a speech about the safety of Haringey's housing, in my new (since May) role as opposition housing spokesperson. Have to admit I didn't deliver it very well... just wasn't feeling too great and so read out a speech I'd written beforehand, which never makes for the most inspiring listening experience. But the points I was raising were sound.
The choice to cover housing safety in our 'opposition business' slot was based partly on follow-up from the tragic fire in Camberwell earlier in the year. I met with the Council at the time and was reassured that none of Haringey’s blocks posed the same risk to residents. There are six blocks in Haringey recently named by the BBC as ‘high risk’, which are actually the top end of 'medium risk', having been scored by Haringey as 6 out of 9 - and I asked the Cabinet Member if there were any plans to reduce this risk further. Although he didn't answer that part, he did confirm that six more blocks the BBC said had no fire risk assessment in place - Cedar House, Daphne House, Kenley, Northolt, Reed Road and Trulock Court - had now been reassessed.
Homes for Haringey has also identified two additional sites which have some of the same design problems as in the Camberwell tragedy – some blocks on Campsbourne and Broadwater Farm. On Broadwater Farm, some original fire doors have been replaced by non-fire resistant doors - in some cases actually by the Council, according to a Homes for Haringey briefing, although this was denied by the Cabinet Member .
There is also an issue with escape hatches which have been blocked by residents for understandable security reasons (the idea that a fire escape which needs to be kept available should be through someone else's property does seem bonkers). I asked what alternative plans have been made to address this - as I asked a lot of questions during my speech, I have now followed up in writing with those that the Cabinet Member was unable to answer on the night, including if he will consider installing smoke alarms across all council properties.
I also covered the vast number of people Haringey is housing in temporary accommodation and the unsuitability of some of that accommodation. Picking out just a few pieces of casework involving temporary accommodation raised by my Lib Dem colleagues Cllr Carolyn Baker and Cllr Karen Alexander in Harringay ward, there are families living with serious damp, collapsed ceilings, mice infestations and inadequate security (other residents in the same block being able to freely access each other's properties). In addition to housing that is just not fit-for-purpose, repair work done also continues to throw up problems - with wires and pipes left exposed and some problems remaining unfixed for months or years.
The third area I talked about was how safe Haringey's housing is in terms of crime, in particular antisocial behaviour. As an example, my Lib Dem colleague Cllr Nigel Scott had told me about Bolster Grove in Alexandra Ward. There are problems with anti-social behaviour in the area, exacerbated by people hanging around in stairwells of the blocks and it seems that often the perpetrators are not residents there. So one obvious way of helping would be to install an entry-phone system. But when Cllr Scott asked for this to be done, he was told there is no funding for it – despite this basic security potentially making a big difference to residents’ lives.
Another example from Harringay ward – a resident in a ground floor property next to a public path, with broken window catches and so no security. She pointed this out to housing officers before she moved in, but they had still not been fixed well after she had moved in.
Basically, I said that no resident should be put at an increased risk of fire or of health problems through being housed by Haringey and no resident should have their chances of being a victim of crime increased through being housed by Haringey. That doesn't seem too much to ask, does it?
One of the biggest campaign issues since I became our housing spokesperson has actually been the installation of digital aerials. It might not be an issue of life or death, but is symptomatic of the way that Haringey treats leaseholders and is having a big financial impact on them and on local taxpayers. But I'll blog properly next week with the latest details on all that and what I have been doing on it over recent months - actually, was at the AGM of the Haringey Leaseholders Association last night.
In the meantime, if you already know the issue well from direct experience or from our press coverage, then you can sign our petition here.