Northwold Estate: People still don’t know if their homes will be demolished
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
It’s been almost 18 months since people on the Northwold Estate were told their homes could be demolished – and they still have no idea what is going on.
Landlord The Guinness Partnership, which wants to redevelop the Upper Clapton estate, has been silent for four months after relaunching a consultation in June – causing anxiety and confusion among tenants and leaseholders.
The housing association has this week apologised for the silence, and promised a letter in the “coming days”. But that’s scant consolation for the people who have been left not knowing if they will be forced out of their homes.
One tenant, Deborah McMenamon, said: “The insecurity since we first heard about this is very hard to deal with and we never know what’s coming next.”
Guinness was sent back to the drawing board in December after its initial consultation was panned by just about everyone.
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In May last year it unveiled three options for the regeneration of the 580-home estate mostly made up of council flats: full demolition, partial demolition and building in green spaces (infill).
But campaigners believed bosses had their hearts set on the second option after finding documents from prospective contractors that pre-dated the consultation detailing work of that nature.
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Guinness later admitted partial demolition was its preferred choice but mounting pressure from campaigners and even Hackney mayor Phil Glanville led Newman Francis, its own consultants, to urge a rethink.
In June, Guinness launched a new consultation outlining four new options, none of which involved demolishing the whole estate.
The first would see only infill and create 100 new homes, while the others all involve partial demolition.
Guinness planned to whittle those options down to two by September with new proposals put forward by the end of the year.
But no one has heard anything from the organisation since a newsletter in August, which revealed nothing of any significance.
Ms McMenamon added: “Things were moving really quickly at the start, and then we’ve had long gaps with no information or communication at all. It feels like our lives are on hold while Guinness decides what’s going to happen to us.”
Another tenant, who asked not to be named, said: “We do not know where we stand and how much our impact will be weighted. Consultation group meetings have been shambolic and tenants are not represented at all.”
A leaseholder, who bought her flat six months before the project was announced, added: “My flat is blighted and my future is in the hands of developers.
“This is not what I signed up for when I bought my home. The uncertainty and long silences are becoming too stressful to deal with.”
The campaigners met last week with ward Cllr Michael Desmond and Cllr Guy Nicholson, head of Hackney’s planning committee.
Central to their concern is that on the Guinness financial review for last year, it states that its focus on income includes maximising rents – which it does by converting social homes to affordable rent.
They also say questions about the future of their homes have gone unanswered for months and a steering group, created to improve “engagement”, actually features no tenants.
Others believe the estate is being neglected. Damp flats and fly-tipping are real problems and cleaning services have been cut from five days a week to one, meaning blocks are dirtier. There’s no housing officer on site either, but service charges have still gone up.
Leaseholder Emily Jost said the lift in her block has been covered in urine for five days now and questioned why the cleaners were scrapped when Guinness had reserves of £663million last year.
Guinness denies neglecting Northwold and said it was working with Hackney Council to combat fly-tipping and looking at installing more CCTV.
A spokeswoman said: “We’d like to apologise for the delay in sending the latest letter.
“It has taken longer than anticipated to collate and analyse the feedback from the consultation, which we are carefully considering.
“We will be sending another letter out in the next few days updating customers on the current position.”
She added a decision on the regeneration plans would be made early next year.
Guinness erected two portacabins on the estate to serve as an “information hub” during the ongoing consultation.
That was more than a month ago – but the temporary buildings are still empty due to health and safety concerns.
That’s not the most reassuring thing to hear for people whose homes could be demolished and rebuilt but the housing association.
Leaseholder Emily Jost said: “The ‘information hub’ is a joke. It was supposed to have a grand opening and be the place where we could all discuss proposals and find out what’s happening.
“Instead it’s just sitting there, empty and apparently can’t open because of health and safety issues!
“Guinness want to do mass scale demolition and building and can’t even safely open a portacabin. You couldn’t make it up.”
Guinness said it was working to get the hub up and running as soon as possible. A spokeswoman said: “Once the information hub is operational staff will be on site to assist customers and provide information. Customers can also continue to access the latest information on the dedicated Northwold website.
“In the meantime if customers want to raise any issues they can do so on 0303 123 1890 and we will do everything we can to resolve the issues.”