Problems with Greenwich Council's Housing Department
Greenwich Council held a meeting last week looking at housing. Well, scrutinising the Housing Department to be precise and the Cabinet member responsible, Averil Lekau. And it looks like they aren’t scrutinising well enough.
For a long time it’s been obvious that council maintained spaces surrounding blocks of flats are generally in poor condition. Greenwich Council’s Housing Department is often the responsible body. Yet talking to some staff as I’ve done in the past, they sometimes give the impression that they don’t seem to know that, which explains the state of many areas of greenery, landscaping, walls, paths, fences and the like. They think only the building is their responsibility. It explains much.
Scrutiny and questions
So when a meeting is held which scrutinises the Housing Department and its work, you’d hope that this element of their function would be covered and questions asked of poor performance. After all it was the first meeting in three months. Well, it wasn’t looking at the agenda.
Go to pretty much any estate or public space across the borough and it’s in poor condition. Often dangerous. Often un-safe and enough to prevent parents letting their kids play. Or such a mess it attracts other issues (fly tipping etc) or even bad enough to put people off walking or cycling. The effects go a lot further than it looking a mess. If it stops kids playing or people walking then there’s health impacts.
Much like Highways Department, who sometimes give the impression that only what’s between kerbs and not the entire street (including paving and other spaces) is their domain, the Housing Department only seem concerned about the buildings themselves and not the space around them they should be managing (and even then that’s debatable).
And the failure of scrutiny panels means this isn’t being tackled.
But it does help explain the crap management of so many areas around estates and housing. Areas like this in Greenwich in the shadow of large new developments:
This patch above is a direct link from the new Creekside flats to Cutty Sark DLR and Greenwich Town Centre station. It should be appealing and attractive to use. It’s vacant and dead land as things stand.
Many walls and fences are falling apart. Pop a few hundred metres west into Lewisham Borough and maintenance and environmental quality is far higher. Here’s Crossfields estate:
Decent quality materials and street furniture are evident here. Most is in decent condition – little of the broken walls, fences, bollards and more that are seen all over Greenwich. Landscaping is good. There’s evidence of some design knowledge. It’s not perfect of course but standards are generally much higher and you get the impression whoever designed this has half a clue.
An appealing play park is located here with well maintained hedges and fencing. Even the simple things like bollards aren’t the nasty wooden ones Greenwich are obsessed with. Incidentally, the crap ones Greenwich use are actually more expensive than 90% on the market and they do love them:
Back to crap Housing Department maintained land, and this is Plumstead/Woolwich:
Here’s a quite typical bit of Housing Dept maintained land in Abbey Wood:
And onto Plumstead now; Google shows the fence was broken for at least three years with no work done. Presumably they aren’t doing basic audits of their assets:
The entrance to estate buildings and external environment is so often bleak and dated. How about using some of the Section 106 millions from developers to improve this like other boroughs have?
But really, you don’t need more pics. Pass many estates and the mess and neglect of open spaces and street furniture is obvious.
This oversight, if that’s what it is, is condemning many of the poorest to conditions that are pretty shameful. And the usual disclaimer before some mention cuts; yes they have happened but this neglect long pre-dates them and Greenwich Council have a hell of a lot more coming in from large-scale housing developments than most Local Authorities to help mitigate. Unfortunately that money is not going to these areas and the spending process is hidden away.
A few other snippets did come out from the meeting:
The first homes built as part of the ‘One Woolwich’ scheme will be ready by February 2017. This is a scheme to demolish estates (Connaught, Morris Walk and Maryon Road/Grove Estates) replacing 1064 mainly council units with at least 1637 homes, of which 35% are affordable. So that’s 573 homes. Quite a reduction.
Targets. The Housing Department are failing a few targets:
- Urgent repairs are fixed within 67% of the expected time against a 98% target.
- Non-urgent repairs are 89% within target against a 96% target.
- The service charge collected from leaseholders compared to amount due is just 50% versus a target of 95% (Revenue)
- Service charge collected from leaseholders compared to amount due: 18% versus a 65% target (Capital)
Council house building
36 new council houses were built last year. A very low number but central government makes it very hard for the council to build.
400 ‘affordable’ homes were built. As affordable is pretty meaningless as a term these days, and the figure wasn’t broken down by type, this doesn’t reveal much.
Pattern of failure
I wrote in my last post about how other Greenwich Council Scrutiny Panels are not holding Departments and Officers to account, especially when compared to other boroughs in the area. The question is why and will this change anytime soon?
It’s something that seems to afflict various panels and panels. Just yesterday I wrote about how the Regeneration, Culture and Transport Committee had an almost empty agenda for their meeting. The only thing they were planning to cover before the meeting was cancelled was access to the Council’s private box at the o2 arena.
Instead of covering numerous issues and providing updates, as Bexley Council Meetings are doing in their equivalent to the Regeneration Committee, the Greenwich meeting wasn’t looking into these issues. And this was the first meeting in three months. Bexley’s meeting provides a lengthy report on regeneration with a breakdown by town and transport scheme, such as:
Why wasn’t this on the Greenwich Regeneration agenda, along with much else?
Click here to see updates on Erith (bids for TfL funding etc), Sidcup, Welling, Blackfen and Bexleyheath. Lots of updates for Councillors and the public on developments, public realm work, shops and restaurants planned etc.
It’s totally different to how Greenwich council are operating at the moment. Minimum oversight, minimum scrutiny and minimal public updates for Councillors and residents.