Housing association blasted for ‘ignoring people suffering on the Barnsbury Estate for years’

David Henderson, director of Newlon's housing service, takes questions at a heated meeting. Picture:

David Henderson, director of Newlon's housing service, takes questions at a heated meeting. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

A housing association was blasted for “ignoring people suffering on the Barnsbury Estate” – after it hastily “sacked” the management organisation that has looked after it for 20 years.

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

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

Newlon Housing Trust won’t be renewing its contract with the Barnsbury Estate Local Management Organisation (BELMO), employed to look after the estate, and will assume full control as of February 1. But at a public meeting on Thursday, bosses didn’t want to talk about it

Housing chiefs told angry neighbours they were “intervening” after two independent inspections identified issue with gas certificates and fire safety at the heated debate, dubbed a “PR exercise”, in the Barnsbury Community Centre.

“We are here to listen to you even if you want to disagree with us,” said Newlon’s director of housing services Bill Henderson.

“We are not here to talk about BELMO who have tried hard to deliver services.”

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

The BELMO office in Jays Street in the Barnsbury Estate. Picture: Siorna Ashby - Credit: Archant

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He said life was easier for BELMO 20 years ago because there was “less regulation, less scrutiny, less compliance”.

“We intervened because we felt we had to. We don’t really want to talk about it but we know it will come up.”

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But people were upset Newlon hadn’t consulted them before canning BELMO’s contract and said the meeting had been called at “short notice”, meaning many couldn’t make it.

Mr Henderson said: “I’m not trying to scaremonger here, that’s not what we do, but in Kensington and Chelsea a few years before what happened [at Grenfell] all the residents were asked who they wanted to be landlord. 83 per cent voted in favour [of the council] and that meant something bad.”

David Sherman, of BELMO, asked if the estate had flammable cladding. Mr Henderson said Barnsbury doesn’t but other properties owned by Newlon do and this was being addressed.

Asked if neighbours will see bill hikes, Mr Henderson said: “I have to say, whoever has spread that rumour about rents and service charges should be ashamed of themselves.” He was heckled for suggesting people’s fears were shameful.

One neighbour, who wouldn’t give her name, said: “I remember you standing here about a year ago saying you were going to extend their contract.

“How come all of a sudden they’re not good enough?”

The Newlon boss said the housing association had “increased intensity in [its] checks”.

The main problems identified were faulty boilers, possibly “dangerous” asbestos in the blocks, poor cleaning and people “smoking up in the hallways”.

Sharmin Ali said she’s been “suffering” from damp problems in her flat for 17 years but, despite frequent call outs, the problem hasn’t been resolved.

“I wish one of the members of Newlon would come and stay in my house for one night,” she said. “And then you will see what it looks like.”

Sharmin said the communal areas often flood and both her and her young children had slipped and fallen over in the passageways.

Newlon acknowledged it needs to invest at least £12million in the estate over the next 10 years and the meeting was, in part, about finding out where neighbours want this cash to go.

“When it snows and rains it pisses in my house,” said one woman. “I’m having to live with my dad with my three kids and my brothers.”

Bill said: “We need to take a look at those buildings.”

Karren, who recently suffered from a heart attack, told the Gazette she was expected to walk up 98 steps to get to her flat because the lift was “broken for five weeks”.

Newlon asked what people liked about how the estate were being run. The first answer was “nothing”.

“Nobody listens to us,” added another neighbour. “In the past 20 years I have not seen Newlon improve anything.”

Mr Henderson said Newlon hadn’t carried out major works on the estate for 20 years and reiterated that it intends to do so.

“The only reason you’re saying this is because your getting bad press in the newspapers,” the neighbour added.

“Do Newlon have any plans to sell of any part of Barnsbury Estate to make money?” asked a neighbour.

Mr Hendrick said: “At no point are we going to turn up and say we want to decant that block, sell it off or knock it down and offer it to a private developer – we want to expand our stock.”

Those currently working for BELMO, and the subcontractors employed by it, are unsure whether they will keep their jobs. Newlon needs to assess their resources “to get a handle on the number of staff and what they are doing”.

Speaking after the event, Cllr Jilani Chowdhury told the Gazette: “It was a good meeting and dampness and boilers are clearly the biggest problems on the estate.”

He said his support for the Newlon takeover “depends on how they listen to residents’ concerns and provide a service”.

Sean, who works as a caretaker on the estate, blasted the meeting as “a PR exercise for Newlon to see how volatile residents are”.

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