The ‘Westminster Extra’ reports:
Around 50 tenants and leaseholders gathered outside nearby Grosvenor Hall in Pimlico as councillors filed in for a housing scrutiny meeting on Monday night. Residents slammed the council for botching a huge regeneration project on the estate, claiming they are being kept in the dark about its future.
Outside the meeting Charlie Walsh, a tenant of more than 30 years, said: “They are treating people like they have no importance. They are acting as though housing is a privilege and not a right.”
Since 2014 residents have been moving out of the estate, as the council planned to redevelop it by knocking down some houses and refurbishing others, as voted and agreed upon by residents in 2013. But over the summer, it emerged the council had gone back to the drawing board as no developer would take on the project as it was not “commercially viable”.
Last month, the Westminster Extra revealed that 87 flats on the estate were empty, in a borough where 4,500 households remain on the council’s priority waiting list for housing. The empty flats figure is understood to have risen since then.
Westminster Labour figures show that, despite not a single brick being laid, more than £35million has been spent on the scheme, mostly on buying back leases.
Cllr Rachael Robathan, cabinet member for housing, yesterday (Thursday) promised all residents would have the right to return, all council housing would be rebuilt and that more than a third of any new homes would be affordable.
But on Monday residents questioned why some people have been sent letters offering them help to move out when the council says it is in a “listening” phase and that there are currently no plans on the table.
Resident Sheila Martin said she felt it amounted to “socially cleansing Pimlico”.
Although Ebury Bridge was not on Monday’s meeting agenda, the chair Cllr Brian Connell allowed campaigners to address councillors before the start of business.
Rachel Reilly, who has lived on the estate for 15 years, told them residents thought the current consultation “feels like window dressing”.
“Whatever the council was hoping to achieve in June, July and August, has not been achieved as far as we are concerned,” she said. “We have received snazzy literature with a dumbed-down message but I am sorry to say we are not dumb. We feel this is a highly accelerated consultation taking place under the radar and we find that unacceptable. We want it extended to the end of the year.”
“Why the haste to clear residents in the railway blocks [which were scheduled for demolition] out? Is the council trying to smoke us out? Because sometimes that’s what it feels like.
“We do not want to be demolished or – to use the council’s word – developed. We would like to have a meaningful refurbishment, meaningful engagement and a meaningful consultation period, clarity and honesty.”
Cllr Robathan told the Westminster Extra: “We are spending the time between now and the end of October listening and talking to the community, and knocking on doors to find out what people want, and how we can help with that. Proposals for the estate could include refurbishment of existing blocks through to building new homes.
“But there are three key pledges I can make now to people living at Ebury Bridge in any scheme that involves new develop- ment. There is a right of return guaranteed for all
secure tenants and resident leaseholders; there will be a full replacement of all council homes, and more than a third of any new homes provided will be affordable for social and intermediate rent. We are also going to address over- crowding and ensure there is good local shopping.
“I know that housing renewal schemes can be unsettling for residents. My firm commitment is that we will work with the community to create pro- posals that will turn the Ebury Bridge estate into an even better place to be, preserving the vibrant and mixed community that makes it a special place to live.”
Churchill ward Labour councillor Jason Williams said: “This could have been the council’s opportunity to try and regain trust on the Ebury Bridge estate. But what has in fact happened is the vacuum they themselves have created has led to rumours, including that the site might be completely redeveloped.” His ward col- league Cllr Shamim Talukder added: “The council have failed to deliver on what was a key cornerstone of their regeneration agenda. People’s lives have been affected and all the Tories can promise is more delays and more uncertainty.”