Lewisham councillor smelled drugs in visit to Harlow converted office block

News / Tue 13th Oct 2020 at 05:40pm

By Local Democracy Reporer

Grainne Cuffe

LEWISHAM’S cabinet member for housing smelled cannabis throughout a notorious block of housing the council has placed homeless families in.

It emerged in a recent committee report that Lewisham Council houses families in a block dubbed a “human warehouse” that police received 600 calls from in three years.

The details of the temporary accommodation in Harlow, leased by the council from property developer Caridon, were published in and alongside a review of how living in temporary accommodation affects children and young people.

The council leases 40 flats in two converted office blocks, Terminus House and Templefields House – the latter was the subject of a BBC investigation earlier this year that found drug-dealing, violence, and anti-social behaviour was “rife”, while homeless families were living alongside ex-prisoners and drug addicts.

It emerged in a follow-up report that a cleaner found a decaying corpse in one of the flats in June 2019.

Terminus House was also the subject of a report in 2019, which found crime had soared by 45 per cent 10 months after it opened as residential accommodation.

Caridon runs and owns the buildings, which were converted in 2017 and 2018 under permitted development, and has said it deals with all criminal behaviour “robustly” and that its accommodation was built and managed to the highest standard.

Terminus House is located in Harlow Town centre, whereas Templefields House, where the council leases 16 flats, is further out.

The flats leased by Lewisham are all two-bedroom properties “suitable for families”. The three-year leases end in 2020/21.

Following concerns raised by the leader of Harlow Council, Cllr Mark Ingall, a resettlement officer from Lewisham Council, accompanied by the cabinet member for housing and planning, Cllr Paul Bell, inspected Terminus House in late January, a week before the Panorama episode on Templefields House aired.

According to the committee report, at the time of the visit “there [were] no signs of ASB in the form of smells or signs of drug use, graffiti, urine or congregations of gangs”.

“Upon inspection of Terminus House, it was found the accommodation was suitable and more importantly safe for our residents,” it stated

There is no mention of a visit to Templefields House, but the report, postponed because of the pandemic, is from February and out-of-date.

Speaking to the local democracy service, Cllr Ingall said Cllr Bell did visit Templefields House in September and “acknowledged” antisocial behaviour was present.

Following the council’s visit to Terminus House in January, Cllr Ingall said he and Cllr Bell spoke on the phone a number of times.

“And very recently, about three weeks ago, I insisted that he come up and visit Templefields House.

“During that visit, he accepted a number of concerns that I raised.

“One was about antisocial behaviour, he acknowledged it existed.

“One was about the distance from Lewisham, because Lewisham has something called a 90-minute policy whereby they can house somebody outside the borough if they need to, because they don’t have any in-borough housing, as long as it’s within 90 minutes by public transport.

“Harlow is not 90 minutes by public transport, at least Templefields House isn’t because it’s a 20-minute walk from the station to get to Templefields House.

“In practice, Templefields House is nowhere near being 90 minutes away from Lewisham,” he said.

During the visit, Cllr Ingall said Cllr Bell acknowledged there was a “smell of cannabis about the building”.

But he said he was “really encouraged” by Cllr Bell’s response.

“[He said] he would review the 90-minute policy. He wasn’t happy with it.

“He would review how it’s being applied to Harlow and he would review the use of Templefields House for temporary accommodation,” he said.

Cllr Ingall said, however, that the council needs to go through a process to make any changes.

“I would be astonished if Lewisham were to renew their contract with Caridon,” he added.

The Harlow leader said, as is the case with both buildings, that converting office blocks through permitted development is “wrong”, as developers do not have to get planning permission.

“They should go through planning so that we can enforce proper space standards, so that they can be the right buildings, converted in the right place,” he said.

Cllr Ingall said councils such as Lewisham have little accommodation available at an affordable price in the borough.

“While I don’t want them to be using Harlow, I do have some sympathy for the predicament they’ve been put in by the Government and failed housing policies,” he said.

He added: “When Cllr Bell did come here some three weeks ago […] he listened, he acknowledged the problems, he said he would review the policies, and I’m confident that Lewisham will stop using Harlow for out of borough placements.”

Cllr Paul Bell did not comment on his visit to Templefields House.

But he said: “Like all London local authorities we are experiencing the pressures of a housing crisis with nearly 10,000 households on our housing waiting list and over 2000 families living in temporary accommodation.

“In addition to this we have 700 families currently living in nightly paid accommodation. Following a decade of austerity, the impact and the scale of the housing crisis is being felt across London.

“Wherever possible we endeavour find accommodation for people inside the borough but unfortunately the scale of the crisis means that this isn’t always possible.

“We are working with the accommodation provider in Harlow to find permanent accommodation for these households near to where they are currently placed in temporary accommodation, as most have started to build their lives in the area.

“The council is currently reviewing its housing policies but I am very clear that we will not allow people to be placed on the streets.”

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3 Comments for Lewisham councillor smelled drugs in visit to Harlow converted office block:

David Hughes
2020-10-14 06:47:25

What a load of bollocks it's been known for ages that this property is just a drug den

2020-10-14 18:33:36

I find this policy totally unacceptable when the waiting list for housing in Harlow is leaving. Local people desperately wanting social housing And why has Occasio housing been allowed to stand unused?

2020-10-17 18:43:43

I lived in Templefields for 3 month and the smell of cannabis is the lest of their worries. Cooking up crack was the main thing 2 yrs ago.

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