crumbling asbestos roofing
boarded maisonettes Firgrove Court
damp and mould
balcony propped up by plywood
rotten window frames boarded up windows
Social housing in Aldershot and Farnborough, is what was once the housing stock of the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, the tenants were conned, promised the earth, and became one of the first to be sold down the river.
Tenants, who remember what is now seen as the good old days, rue the day they ever allowed themselves to be conned into becoming a housing association. It also became the last time they were ever consulted on anything.
A warning writ large, to any council tenants being conned into approving transfer of the housing stock to a housing association. If not sure, look to Pavilion, then think again.
Once transferred into what became known as Pavilion Housing Association, things went from bad to worse. Repairs, when they were done, if they were done, were a bodged job.
Four years ago, a decade or so after the sell-out, the Audit Commission produced one of their most damning reports on housing associations.
For years, the Head of Housing at the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor had been saying nothing was wrong. She was proved wrong.
Not only was it as bad as the tenants had been saying, the Audit Commission report showed that it was far, far worse.
The-then chief executive was forced to resign, Pavilion were taken over by a housing association in Eastleigh (to save face it was called a 'merger') and a new holding company formed called First Wessex.
First Wessex has since taken over another housing association in Portsmouth.
The tenants were not consulted on any of these takeovers and mergers. Nor were the tenants consulted when Pavilion decided to sell to a developer a small estate adjacent to Farnborough town centre called Firgrove Court, the tenants to be relocated elsewhere against their will. The housing estate to be turned into a car park for a superstore, part of the unwanted town centre redevelopment.
The Rotten Borough of Rushmoor rubber-stamped the mergers and acquisitions. They were a key player in gaining the approval of the sector regular the Housing Corporation. The Housing Corporation was not interested in the views of the tenants. Like Pavilion, Rushmoor made no attempt to consult with tenants, to seek their views. Peter Sandy, then a Rushmoor councillor, the one councillor who knew what was going on and the implications, who had taken the trouble to seek the views of tenants, was not allowed to speak.
There is no legal requirement to consult with tenants. Once council housing stock has been privatised, there is no further legal requirement to consult with tenants. Their homes become an asset to be sold to the highest bidder. Whole estates are being traded.
For the first six months following the acquisition of Pavilion there was some improvement, some repairs were carried out, some of the worst staff were kicked out (though since to be replaced by far worse staff).
Since that initial honeymoon period, the situation has, according to tenants (and contrary to the views of the Pavilion spin doctors), got considerably worse. Tenants now regard the situation as worse than it was under Pavilion prior to the mergers and acquisitions.
At every open meeting held by tenants, it is the same issues that keep getting raised: antisocial behaviour, vanadalism, crime, drug dealing, lack of repairs.
All the tenants and other residents get from the various agencies, local council, police and Pavilion are weasel words, but no action.
At a meeting with Pavilion last year, tenants and leaseholders expressed their concern at the poor performance by Pavilion, high service charges, shoddy repairs, failure to repair, anti-social behaviour, drug dealing. Everyone was highly critical of Pavilion.
Following a meeting last September, local residents signed a petition demanding action. They wanted their estates cleaned up, antisocial behaviour and vandalism dealt with, more consideration shown to those with mental health problems.
A dossier has been drawn up highlighting some of the Pavilion failings. The photos alone are dynamite and show how bad the situation is.
- crack houses openly operating with immunity
- former crack houses left boarded up for several months
- antisocial behaviour and low level crime
- empty properties left derelict and boarded up for several months
- pathways blocked and overgrown
- overflowing bins running alive with rats
- alleys and paths gated and the gates locked
- elderly occupants with bricks through their windows
- disabled person with bars across doors and windows
- blocked and overflowing drains
- blocked and overflowing gutters
- balconies propped up with plywood resting atop a wall
- leaking gas not dealt with
- ill-fitting new doors and windows with large gaps
- paving slabs left in entrance to flats for several months
- electric cables hanging loose and exposed down walls
- garages derelict rents doubled
- new fascia boards already hanging loose and blowing in the wind
- windows boarded up with cardboard
- window frames rotted and poised to fall out
- damp and mould on internal walls
- failure to deal with repairs
- botched repairs and shoddy workmanship
One family moved into a property to find the gas to the cooker had been cut off. They hired a Corgi contractor to reconnect their gas. Some time later, they learnt from a visitor they had a gas leak. The gas was coming from the pipe now reconnected to their cooker. That was why it had been sealed off, not that that would have prevented the gas from leaking, as gas to the property had not been cut off. The family were not told this prior to moving in, no attempt had been made to repair before they moved in, still no attempt has been made to repair. The family is unable to use their gas cooker.
One tenant has stayed home on three separate occasions waiting for a repair team from Pavilion. Three days out of pocket. He is still waiting for them to turn up and for recompense for his loss of earnings. The Housing Ombudsman is aware of the situation, but does nothing.
At Firgrove Court, maisonettes have lain empty for years. To render the maisonettes uninhabitable, Pavilion has ripped out kitchens and bathrooms.
During the refurbishment programme to bring the substandard housing stock up to the so-called Decent Homes Standard by 2010, substandard materials were used. Windows fitted back to front, windows so inferior that they warp in strong sunlight and cold weather.
Kitchen units are substandard and not of the quality of those ripped out. In one kitchen, the newly installed cupboards fell off the wall. Tenants have been told that if they want units of similar quality to those ripped out, then they will have to pay £100 to cover the difference. An implicit admission that substandard unit are being installed.
New kitchen sinks are too small, flimsy and prone to warp and bend when in use.
There is no quality control. Tenants are asked to sign off jobs that they are satisfied when the job is not yet complete.
What appears to be outright fraud, tenants charged a service charge (in addition to rent) for the cleaning of communal areas. No cleaning takes place.
Leaseholders in a block of six flats were each presented with a bill in excess of £2,000 for repairs to the roof. This would have provided a new roof! When challenged that the bill was excessive, Pavilion claimed it had been necessary to erect scaffolding around the block. One man had climbed a ladder to replace a few broken and missing tiles!
A mains water pipe burst in a first floor flat. Neighbours had to be called to help bail out the flat. Water poured into the flat below, the door had to be kicked in as the occupier was away. The Fire Service had to be called to cut off the supply in the road. The cause of the leak was a mains water pipe entering the flat held together with mastic before the stop cock and the seal had ruptured. These are brand new flats occupied by tenants under shared ownership. The tenants had been in the flats less than a year. Other flats were checked, and these too had mains pipes held together by mastic. Another flat had a leak under the bath. In one flat the shoddy double glazing is misting up between the panes of glass. Pavilion are refusing to pay for remedial work to correct the shoddy workmanship, are refusing to replace the faulty double glazing, are refusing to pay for the extensive damage caused by Pavilion failing to exercise a duty of care. Pavilion are now even refusing to take phone calls when the tenants call to complain.
The Rotten Borough of Rushmoor and the Housing Corporation gave substantial grant aid for this block of flats to be built. Do they exercise no controls when doling out public money, check how taxpayer's money is being spent? The defects in the building were a clear breach of Building Regulations. Are the Building Inspectors employed by Rushmoor incompetent or are they paid to look the other way? Or is it a simply a matter of Rushmoor and the Housing Corporation doing what they usually do, turning a blind eye to everything done by Pavilion?
At the same block of flats, Pavilion tried to charge the occupants £200 each flat for three washing lines. These must have been high tech washing lines, that reel themselves in when it is raining, then when the washing is dry, reel in the washing, iron it, fold it and leave it in neat piles! Pavilion are also charging the occupants for refuse bins, when occupants of private housing opposite do not pay for their wheelie bins. They are charged for three bins, but have only been provided with two.
Rushmoor turns a blind eye to the large number of Pavilion properties lying empty (and to properties belonging to big developers), and yet fall over backwards to seize property belonging to private individuals, to then hand over to Pavilion.
Pavilion are more than happy to spend vast sums, tens of thousands of pounds, employing their cronies, otherwise known as consultants, and yet fail to talk to their tenants, the very people who are helping to pay their highly inflated salaries.
The sell-off of Firgrove Court should have been seen as a warning. Another small estate, this time housing mainly if not exclusively elderly, has been sold, the elderly to be kicked out of their homes in order that the site can be redeveloped.
Garages leading into Firgrove Court are being demolished. The crumbling asbestos roofs are piled to one side. No special precautions have been taken for dealing with asbestos.
Asbestos contamination is nothing new for Farnborough town centre. Half the town centre has been demolished, then left as a derelict demolition site. During demolition three people were nearly killed. The buildings contained asbestos, but no special precautions were taken. The town centre was covered in asbestos dust. The Health and Safety Executive were aware, but as seems to be the norm these days, turned the usual blind eye.
A group of maisonettes in Aldershot is slowly subsiding! Maisonettes contaminated with asbestos!
To cut down on the number of complaints, Pavilion are refusing to hand out official complaint forms!
Pavilion are refusing to deal with appointed representatives if the representative is effective and not to their liking.
A report in the local press suggested Pavilion were unable to attract quality staff because of their bad reputation. A claim the Pavilion spin doctors tried to deny.
Copies of the dossier have been sent to local councillors, the the industry regulator the Housing Corporation, the Housing Ombudsman, and not one iota, one big nada, absolutely shit all has been done to improve the situation.
Well actually not quite true, Peter Sandy, a former Rushmoor councillor, one of the few councillors to get off his backside and do anything, has been threatened by Pavilion for daring to criticise them and helping residents to draw up the dossier. They threatened him with court action, threatened to serve an Asbo for saying their estates were slums and ghettos, for saying there was a problem with antisocial behaviour, for saying their newsletter was a comic. And just to make sure he got the message, a local plod acting as errand boy for Pavilion telephoned to repeat the warning!
This is not the first time Peter Sandy has been threatened by the bully-boys at Pavilion.
Before he was elected as a councillor, they threatened to have him thrown out of his home. When he was a councillor, they lodged complaints with the Standards Board for England to try and get him removed as a councillor. But even the Standards Board saw it for what it was, a cheap smear campaign, and threw the complaint out without any further investigation.
Pavilion were not the only ones to run a smear campaign, the Police and the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor tried. The Police smear campaign went as far as an investigation by the Standards Board, but got no further when they found the allegations failed to stack up. The smear campaign by the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor based on a biased report by the Standards Board went as far as a Tribunal. Peter Sandy with no qualified legal representation was cleared of most charges. The Head of Housing at Rushmoor was exposed as a liar and left with her professional reputation in tatters. She resigned a few months later.
What though has thoroughly pissed off the bully-boys at Pavilion, is the distribution on the streets of The Truth in Rushmoor, a SchNEWS-type newsletter, exposing the failings at Pavilion.
The threats from Pavilion, behaving like a playground bully, are so childish and pathetic that it would be laughable, except for the fact it is decent human beings who are forced to suffer for their failings.
Very, very late in the day, the local council seems to have woken up up to the fact that something is wrong, very, very wrong. The majority of councillors are clueless idiots, they don't know what is going on and rely on their officials who treat then as gullible fools and feed them a load of rubbish. The Head of Housing who could not see anything wrong, has to the relief of most people who ever dealt with her resigned. Too much stress was the 'official' reason, apparently she could not handle the criticism, like the demand that she did a hard day's work. She has moved sideways to another local authority, closer to where she lives. At a Tribunal last year, she was exposed as a pathological liar and walked out with her face as black as thunder and her professional reputation in tatters. Her resignation was expected to soon follow. That she has gone, may make a difference. That the council is prepared to criticise Pavilion and their failings is a step in the right direction. Or is it because we are rapidly approaching the May local elections and councillors have to be seen to be doing something to earn their right to keep their snouts in the trough?
Councillors, who in the past, have fallen over backwards to back Pavilion, are now falling over backwards to criticise them. What's going on, have councillors suddenly woken up to the fact that they are there to represent their constituents, have actually talked to constituents, or is it simply a matter of the May local elections less than a month away?
Andrew Lloyd, chief executive of the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor and a keen fan of Indymedia UK (it's the only way he finds out what is going on), badly let the side down, by trying to claim things weren't really that bad. How would he know? When was the last time he got out of his office and walked the slums estates, talked to the residents?
To counter the charge of piss-poor performance, Pavilion have come out with some pretty remarkable figures for repairs: 99.7% of emergency repairs completed within 24 hours, 98.3% of urgent jobs carried out within a week and 98.4% of all other routine repairs carried out within four weeks!!! They must be having a laugh. Try walking round the estates and find anyone who has had their repairs carried out within these timescales. If it was nigh on 100% of repairs were not carried out within these timescales, then yes, the figures would be believable. Several years ago, in a meeting with myself and others, the-then chief executive Mervyn Jones was ridiculed when came out with remarkable similar figures. Pavilion must be employing Robert Mugabe's spin doctors!
Even when repairs are carried out there is often the need for return visits due to the use of substandard materials and shoddy workmanship.
It is not as though the tenants are asking a lot. All they are asking is to be treated as human beings, to be able to live in homes fit for habitation, to be able to live in their homes in peace and quiet, to be able to walk the streets without fear.
A government minister was recently pictured walking her constituency wearing a flak jacket and requiring a police escort. To visit a Pavilion slum estate she'd need a scout armoured car and an army escort!
As one tenant said of the slum estate they live on: 'Welcome to Beirut'.