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‘Astonishing neglect’: Has Newlon Housing Trust left Barnsbury Estate to rot?

PUBLISHED: 08:05 06 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:12 06 June 2018

A sign for the Barnsbury Estate in Leirum Street. Picture: Siorna Ashby

A sign for the Barnsbury Estate in Leirum Street. Picture: Siorna Ashby

Archant

Newlon Housing Trust has been accused of ‘astonishing’ neglect of the Barnsbury Estate. Tenants in other Newlon blocks elsewhere in Islington have alleged the same. The Gazette asked neighbours and campaigners: ‘What’s going on?’

A fly-dump in the Barnsbury Estate, pictured on Sunday. Picture: Siorna AshbyA fly-dump in the Barnsbury Estate, pictured on Sunday. Picture: Siorna Ashby

Damp flats, cockroach infestations, fly tipping and dangerous stairwells.

This is the alleged scale of neglect suffered by tenants and leaseholders in the Barnsbury Estate.

Newlon Housing Trust, the housing association that owns the estate, has been accused of overlooking it all.

It strongly denies this (see below).

But Islington Liberal Democrats chair Alain Desmier, a regular visitor to the estate for recent casework, said some of the faults were “astonishing”.

The Barnsbury Estate is listed on Newlon’s website as one of its “groundbreaking developments”. Located within Caledonian Road, Copenhagen Street, Charlotte Terrace and Carnegie Street, the 1930s-built estate contains 646 flats.

Newlon boasts on its website how, in 1999, an “overwhelming 82 per cent of residents voted for the estate to be transferred to Newlon” after they had suffered “several years of neglect”.

But Mr Desmier says “neglect” is exactly what Newlon is imposing on its tenants and leaseholders in 2018.

He says: “The conditions I saw were far worse than I could have possibly ever imagined. It’s one of the worst examples of upkeep in Islington’s estates.

Barnsbury Estate 'neglect', clockwise from top left: missing spindles in the stairwell banister, an overflowing dog poo bin, loose flooring and trash left in a hallway. Pictures: Alain DesmierBarnsbury Estate 'neglect', clockwise from top left: missing spindles in the stairwell banister, an overflowing dog poo bin, loose flooring and trash left in a hallway. Pictures: Alain Desmier

“The most astonishing thing I saw was spindles missing on the stairway banisters. A child could have easily slipped through. They could die. Residents said it has been reported multiple times, but nothing was done.”

Mr Desmier, the 2017 general election candidate for Islington South and Finsbury, also said wiring was left exposed and rubbish left for “months on end”.

He also slipped and fell over due to the grip on the metal edge of a step having worn away. Don’t get us wrong, a able-bodied politician in his 30s falling over is amusing. Much less so when it’s an elderly tenant or leaseholder who pays their way.

Mr Desmier said Newlon “wasn’t interested” when he lodged his concerns. And when he suggested neighbours take their stories to the local press, they feared speaking on the record.

One woman from the estate did speak out earlier this year, telling the Gazette in a letter of damp flats, mice and cockroach infestations, faulty boilers and broken CCTV cameras.

She said: “Residents complain all the time about various problems, but they either get ignored or told excuses. The poor conditions of some of the blocks is disgusting. It’s a health hazard to anyone who lives here.

“Many residents can see and totally agree it’s being run into the ground, to be sold off to private investors. Where would that leave the residents? Pushed out.”

Mr Desmier wouldn’t go that far. He said: “Why this is happening, I can’t say. But it’s clear these people are being neglected.”

Further up the road, Newlon owns three blocks across from Caledonian Road Tube station. One leaseholder, who didn’t want to be named, has lived there since they were built a decade ago.

Newlon-owned blocks in Caledonian Road, across from the Tube station. Picture: Siorna AshbyNewlon-owned blocks in Caledonian Road, across from the Tube station. Picture: Siorna Ashby

He claims the service he and neighbours have received from Newlon has been “extremely poor”. Staff, he said, are “rude verging on aggressive” when he has tried to highlight problems.

Issues include safety at the block’s entrance. “It’s down a little alley,” he explains, “and completely sheltered from view from Caledonian Road. When we moved in, it would be lit at night-time by sensor lights in the foyer. Then, after about three years, Newlon decided to turn them off. The alley is in complete darkness.

“So you have people using it to go for a pee, or throw up, before they get the Tube. It’s got worse since the Night Tube came in. It sounds petty, but who wants people pissing on their doorstep?

“There’s drug dealing as well, and all of us are waiting for something much worse to happen.”

He continues: “Over time, there have been three or four attempts to try and get Newlon to do something about it. Islington Council did put up some lights, but they broke. So there are lights there, but they just never work!

“All I have been asking for is to turn the motion sensors on. Their general answer is saying it costs too much and that it will increase our service charge. Hang on, why don’t they tell us how much, and we can consider?”

Newlon, in response, said the sensor light issue has been reported and a “repair has been scheduled accordingly”. It claims it has no records of these complaints.

It owns major schemes elsewhere in the borough, including the Queensland Road flats in the shadow of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

Newlon is also building 19 shared ownership and 28 rented homes in Finsbury Park’s City North development – the only affordable homes in the entire 355-unit scheme.

The BELMO office in Jays Street in the Barnsbury Estate. Picture: Siorna AshbyThe BELMO office in Jays Street in the Barnsbury Estate. Picture: Siorna Ashby

Newlon: ‘We are investing millions and take complaints seriously’

The Barnsbury Estate is managed by Newlon in partnership with BELMO, a tenants’ management organisation (TMO) led by people living on the estate.

Newlon funds BELMO to carry out day-to-day repairs and estate management, and also invests in larger scale maintenance works.

In a response to the claims about the Barnsbury Estate, Newlon said: “If residents have complaints they should report these to BELMO to be investigated and actioned. If they are not satisfied with how BELMO has responded they can contact Newlon.

“BELMO had not seen an increase in the number of concerns from residents about services on the estate and Newlon has not received significant complaints about the services BELMO provide.

“We would ensure these are actioned if required after checking BELMO had an opportunity to deal with them. If any concerns are brought to our attention, we take them seriously and work with BELMO to ensure they are resolved.”

It added: “Newlon continues to invest significantly in the long-term upkeep of the estate.

“There is currently a £1.5million lift renewal programme underway and in the last two years more than £200,000 has been spent on boiler and heating system replacements for homes on the estate.”

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