Sunday, 7 June 2009

Decent Homes - One Year On

Yesterday I attended the Homes for Haringey Review of Year One of the Decent Homes programme. The programme is intended to bring the council homes in the borough up to the Government’s ‘Decent Homes’ standard – which is in fact quite a low standard, but would be an improvement on how things currently stand in terms of living conditions for many residents.

Claire Kober, leader of the Council, told us that whereas a year ago 42% of council homes were ‘non-decent’ (should that be indecent?!), that figure now stands at 36%. Almost 1,600 homes have been brought up to the Decent Homes standard, many benefiting from new external doors, new windows, kitchens and bathrooms, plus some other improvements.

Sounds promising. We then heard from each of the four contractors who have been assigned the job of doing the work: Apollo, Lovell, Mullaley and Wates Living Space. I was particularly interested to hear from the latter contractor, as readers of this blog will recall I posted a piece here in February about Norman Court in Stroud Green. It was the weekend and the block was part way through having the contractors in to do the work. Heras fencing, equipment and building materials were splayed all over the grass, along with litter and other waste.

The representative from Wates Living Space told us that their surveys showed that 97.5% of residents were satisfied with the work that had been carried out. Conversely, however, he claimed that, and I quote, “Tenants moan like buggery.”

Homes for Haringey are trying to encourage the contractors to ‘do their bit’ for the community. Wates Living Space held a community day last year at Carlton Lodge, which the above smooth-talker claimed was “a bit half-hearted if I’m being honest.” They plan to do better this year.

I stood up and asked what the procedure was for ensuring that things were left tidily and safe on a night and at the weekend. I was told that there “should” be a tick-sheet, but that “I am sure you are now going to tell me that isn’t happening.”

I confirmed that was indeed what I was going to do. I held up some photographs (one of which is posted at the top of this piece) of the mess at Norman Court on Sunday 8th February. I showed them briefly to the audience and then took them up to the front to give to the Wates Living Space representatives. One of them came and spoke to me later and said that things would be improved. Sadly too late for Norman Court residents.

All four contractors spoke of improving communication with residents. A resident of Norman Court I spoke to a few weeks ago complained to me that the tone of the letters had been aggressive and demanding from the start, and that coordinating access to the flats with the builders had been a logistical nightmare.

Another area the contractors have fallen short on is the amount of local people they have managed to employ. Obviously it makes sense to employ local people on many levels: it boosts the local economy, it means less far to travel for workers and local people have local knowledge – always helpful.

In terms of environmental impact of the Decent Homes programme, it was all very vague. Wates Living Space boasted that they had been voted 29th in The Sunday Times Best Green Companies list, and that only 5% of their waste actually went into the ground. (I take it that 5% doesn’t include the stuff pictured above outside Norman Court!).

Many residents had their chance to speak today, although they were often fobbed off with stock answers. It’s good to see residents coming out to have their say – I’d like to see more people involved in this way. I just hope we were listened to and that the second year of the Decent Homes programme goes more smoothly.

Maybe there’s something to be said for being on the final year of the programme – my estate won’t be touched until 2012. By which time the contractors will be exemplary in every aspect, I’m sure…

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