Level of service will not do

Writing as a local councillor, I would like to describe to you the “Decent Homes”programme as experienced by tenants in my ward.

On the Popham estate, I regularly get calls and e-mails from tenants because they can’t understand how the contractors work out whose property needs re-wiring, and whose doesn’t. Wiring “tests” are carried out, but the results are kept secret.

Some people are told that their wiring “passed” and that it doesn’t need replacing, then I am told by HfI that all the wiring needs replacing because the wiring “wears out”.

Residents receive letters from HfI threatening that unless they allow access within 14 days for works to be carried out, their homes will be accessed by force. But these letters arrive without any previous attempts to contact residents by more civilised means. I have heard stories of pensioners reduced to tears when they receive letters of this sort.

Then there is the question of surface-mounted trunking, which is being installed as part of the re-wiring works, and whether it is required. I have been shown many flats where the trunking runs all over walls and ceilings, light switches are replaced three inches away from where they were, ruining decorations, and ceiling roses fitted three inches away from light fittings. with a bit of wire between the two.

So I asked to be shown a flat where HfI considered that the amount and routing of the trunking was acceptable, and surprisingly, most of the wiring had been pulled through the walls and ceiling, and what trunking there was had been discreetly positioned next to door frames and skirtings. If this flat can be re-wired intelligently, why weren’t the rest?

And then to Cluse Court, where a tenant asked me to visit them after their home had been flooded three times while the decent homes work was going on.

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I visited, and got down under the sink to see whether the pipe where one of the floods happened was still leaking. It wasn’t, but I noticed that the new drain pipe to the sink had been installed so that part of the pipe went up instead of down, as it ran away from the sink, which does not comply with Building Regulations, and guarantees persistent blockages of the pipe in the future.

I pointed this out to HfI, who immediately had the pipe re-fitted, and then took disciplinary action against the fitter.

Why does it take a local councillor visiting to spot this kind of unacceptable workmanship, and what would I find if I visited all the other flats in the block?

Then to cap it all, the same tenants tell me they had to get the emergency repairs team out on the following Saturday night because all the walkway drains had blocked during heavy rain. The cause of the blockage turned out to be plaster emptied down the drains.

Clearly the level of service experienced by residents is pretty poor, and does not reflect the “three star” rating that the Liberal Democrats are even now still boasting about in council meetings.

What is beyond doubt, is that things cannot, complacently, stay as they are. – Councillor Martin Klute, Labour member for St Peter’s ward and chairman, health scrutiny committee; vice-chairman, central planning committee, via e-mail.