Tuesday, 24 February 2015

'Transformation' or 'social cleansing': Residents of Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers face 'Option 3'

Tenants of Fred Wigg and John Walsh worry about their future
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Bits of paper fly around the Epicentre.
These Housing Application Forms clearly upset and anger many of the 100 or so tenants of the Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers gathered inside this Leytonstone community centre.
They're holding an action meeting on a chilly east London evening (Tuesday 24 February).

Zip back to 11 November 2014. 
The majority of 225 council tenants in the two 16-storey towers on Montague Road have already expressed their preference for Option 1 - refurbishment of their flats so they can stay in their homes.

But Waltham Forest councillors vote to decant residents from both towers in favour of Option 3 - 'Comprehensive Improvement' - later to become known as the preferred 'Transformation' way forward.

Waltham Forest says the Fred and John towers, built in 1966, 'need investment due  to age and design flaws'.
Option 3 'Transformation' involves striping Fred Wigg and John Walsh back to their concrete frames.
Rebuilding the flats internally.
Building a smaller 'infill block' to increase the estate's density but incurring a net loss of council homes in the process.
'Transformation' also involves moving tenants out during a 'rebuild' that Waltham Forest says will be completed in 2021.

Sonia, tenant of Fred Wigg tower for 22 years
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2015

Move out
Back to the action meeting.
Sonia (above) says the Council recently sent her a Housing Application form - even though she's been a John Wigg tenant of 22 years.

Of tenants being asked to move out during the rebuild, she says: "I asked the Council at a previous meeting 'why haven't you allocated homes for people to move straight into?' 
"To this day, I haven't had an answer."

Saima Hussain, Fred Wigg tower resident
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015

Estate agent Saima Hussain (above), a Fred Wigg tower resident for 17 years, says the Council promised to rehouse people in other council properties within Waltham Forest.
But none are available in a borough with a long waiting list for council homes.
Only housing association properties offering less secure tenancies arise.

The Council says the housing application forms help it to assess residents' 'housing needs'.
'We think that it is unlikely that most residents will have to move out permanently if they wish to remain in their homes,' says Waltham Forest.
'The Council is looking at ways in which residents could move to other areas in the borough if they choose to.
'Obviously the available social housing in the borough is limited and in high demand so this might not be possible.'

The Council has a long waiting list for social housing and very few council homes are advertised as available each week.
Hence, Fred Wigg and John Walsh tenants worry they will be forced to look for private landlord homes or to apply to housing associations for less secure tenancies.
"We are being bullied to fill housing application forms," says Hussain.
"I wouldn't want to stay whilst a regeneration programme goes on. 
"But I'm not going to fill in that form.
"Is the Council going to try and push us outside of London?"

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2015

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