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Emotional scenes at Harlow Council as plans to demolish flats in Sumners move a step closer

News / Fri 16th Feb 2024 at 02:26pm

THE plans to demolish a number of homes in Sycamore Field took a step closer on Thursday night.

There were a number of emotional scenes as residents at the meeting had to wait for hours for the item to be discussed.

At one stage there was a risk that it would not be discussed until after midnight.

That was until Sumners and Kingsmoor councillor. Russell Perrin asked for the item to be brought forward.

Even the it was close to 9.45pm when it was discussed.

There were a number of questions tabled by the Harlow Alliance Party (Karen James and Alan Leverett).

The difficult decision, which was made last night (15 February), due to the increasing costs of Fire Safety works and the Essex Fire Service enforcement notice served on the Council which expires in October of this year. Over £5.5m would be needed for further fire safety measures and the leaseholders who live in these blocks would be charged over £110,000. Even with these works, the blocks would never be insurable and there would be no guarantee that the blocks would pass further fire inspections.

Since December 2020, the council has implemented a range of improvements to the flat blocks following recommendations from the Fire Service. These have included improving non-recycling chutes and building new stores for recycling bins, closing the car parking under the flats, and introducing a waking watch to alert residents to any incidents and assist with evacuation. A full fire detection system throughout the building has also been installed. These improvements have cost over £300,000 with the waking watch alone continuing to run up a bill of £4,000 a week.

Further intrusive investigations of the buildings have taken place as homes have become vacant and have revealed that the external wall system doesn’t provide adequate fire protection. Investigations have also found that the issues run deeper in that most structures in the building do not have the right compartmentation to stop the spread of fire. This means the entire wall system and structure would need upgrading. The issue is further complicated by asbestos in the walls which would require removal during works. In addition, residents would need to be moved out for the works to be carried out, causing huge upheaval.

Although the works would contribute to further improving fire safety, the waking watch and closure of car parking may have to remain in place permanently.  

The fire service has served an enforcement notice on the council which expires in October this year and therefore, the Cabinet approved the recommendations to move residents and to demolish the blocks.

All residents are being offered the opportunity to meet the council to discuss their individual circumstances. The moving out process will take place gradually over several months, with council tenants given the highest priority band for other council homes and receiving financial compensation. Leaseholders will be fully compensated so they can buy or rent another home. The council is also committed to supporting the private renters where we can, and those residents will receive housing advice as part of their individual meetings. Further communication will also be going out directly to residents.

Legislation is in place to financially compensate and support both council tenants and leaseholders who find themselves in this difficult situation and all tenants and leaseholders have been offered individual meetings.  Further communication following the decision will be going out directly to residents. 

Councillor Dan Swords, leader of Harlow Council, said:

“This has been a hugely difficult situation for the residents of these blocks to deal with and this is not a situation anyone wishes to be in. Ultimately, we must deal with the facts of the matter which are that no matter how many millions of pounds is spent, how many hundreds of thousands of pounds leaseholders are charged, these blocks would never be insurable again and would likely not pass future fire safety reviews. Therefore, we have had to take the very difficult decision to move all residents from these blocks and demolish them. However, I make a firm commitment that this council will do everything humanly possible to help and support these residents.

“When we first announced proposals to move residents out of these blocks and demolish them, I said that council tenants and leaseholders will be fully supported by the council, be protected by law and through the compensation policy that we will develop. We are now working to implement that policy and will be with those tenants and leaseholders every step of the way as the moving process begins.

“We know that this decision also affects those private renting, not just our tenants and leaseholders, and we will be working to provide what support we can by providing them with relevant housing options advice.

“I want to reassure residents that, although this decision has now been taken, the existing safety measures such as the waking watch and closure of the car park under the flats will remain in place for their safety.

“We will now begin the process of meeting individually with council tenants and leaseholders to understand their own circumstances and help them take the next steps in that process.”

================================

The Conservative-run Cabinet recommend the following.

A.The disposal of the buildings known as 154-189 & 190-207 Sycamore Field and the
associated vehicle parking known as carports 154-163, 164-171 and 201-207 Sycamore
Field and hardstandings 172-189 Sycamore Field due to fire safety remediation
requirements that cannot be achieved.

B. The commencement of decanting residents from these properties in line with the council’s
allocations policy.

C. The payment of home loss and disturbance payments as appropriate.

D. Commencement of negotiation with leaseholders for the repurchase of properties with
approval to complete purchases delegated to the Director of Housing in consultation with
the Assistant Director for Housing and Property.

E. The use of Compulsory Purchase Powers under Section 226 Town and Country Planning
Act 1990 should this become necessary.

F. Service of a demolition notice under Section 138B and Schedule 5A of the Housing Act
1985 which will confirm the council’s intention to demolish the buildings and suspend the
obligation on the council to complete right to buy applications on the two buildings in
question.

G. The negotiation and settlement of any statutory compensation claims made by residents
as a result of the service of the Initial Demolition Notice delegated as set out in
recommendation D above.

Film of the full agenda item is below.

Click below for more details.

https://moderngov.harlow.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=25238

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14 Comments for Emotional scenes at Harlow Council as plans to demolish flats in Sumners move a step closer:

Alderman Durcan
2024-02-16 19:16:15

This is a very difficult moment for the Tory run council. Sadly due to other housing debacles there is very little confidence and trust in the political leadership of the council. They have already admitted the communication has been poor which has lead to extra and unnecessary stress and anxiety. They admitted vital evidence has not been shared with residence or even fellow councillors. They are now being provided with warm words but no answers to serious questions.. The Tories have no plan B after demolition. Surely a positive option would be to knock down ,redesign ,rebuild and offer those effected first refusal. This has worked in the past and would provide some level of assurances that the Tories are not just about warm words but firm commitments.

Molly Buckle
2024-02-16 22:09:17

Alderman Durcan, do you expect to be even taken seriously. Your incompetent administration built virtually no council houses in almost a decade, wasted £ hundreds of thousands on consultants on projects that never saw the light of day and left a record backlog of environmental and housing repairs . "No plan B", you and your party have no plans, full stop. Harlow Labour is an incompetent sham, an embarrassment to our town; woe betide the day you and your fellow circus clowns are ever re-elected. You are trying to make cheap political capital from the misery of Sycamore Fields residents and leaseholders, knowing full well the current administration is in no way at fault for these most unfortunate circumstances. You show yourself as nothing more than a total charlatan, exploiting the misfortune of others. You are shameless.

Hey Big Spender
2024-02-16 22:24:05

Well said, Molly.

Tony
2024-02-17 03:46:22

I'm with you molly l lived in one off these flats years ago under labour council needed new kitchen flour were water kept coming in frow badly design flu council tryed to put new flour over rotting wood needless to say had to come back do job properly after endless complaints and the design off roof wot a joke and they were fairly new back then. l just feel sorry for the people who live there now. Labour back in Harlow be careful whot you wish for Harlow residents. And the rest off the country remember how Tony Blair left this country in a right old state

Emma blakey
2024-02-17 09:10:13

It's worse for us as we private tenants... we don't get any home loss payments and we disabled we are even fighting with council to get a home .. any landlord out there that can help

Nostradamus
2024-02-17 09:48:08

Sorry Molly but the record of the Tories is abysmal. Knocking down things and destroying the environment, crocodile tears and wanting to turn the town into a mini city seems their strategy. It's no use blaming Labour: as with other areas of the country people are waking up to realise Labour and Conservative are just different sides of the same coin. Neither party has it right about the environment or housing. National policies are converging and on major issues that directly affect local government they both are on paths to failure. There are other Parties for whom we will vote. If you want my vote stop batting with Labour and come up with policies that work. As for repairs and fire regs the problems have been well known for years, it's only as 2nd May and all seats are up for grabs that suddenly there's money and promises of action. "Decanting residents" sums up the attitude, it smacks of tipping excess liquid, building better and rehoming the community first would be better. People can not be "decanted".

Matthew Kirkbride
2024-02-17 10:41:00

Jay Jay and Nostradamus are both partly right. If we limited migration to a bet 100,000 per annum we would not have a housing crisis, our NHS, schools and infrastructure would not be under so much pressure. Nostradamus is right that Labour and Tory are two sides of the same coin. Time to vote for a genuine patriotic British party. Only Reform UK will deal with this . Bring back Nigel Farage!

Woke Your Harlow off
2024-02-17 10:52:16

When people actually realise that YOUR HARLOW is actually NOT YOUR HARLOW we will see a proper Harlow news…. In fact why don’t we create our own news channel

Nicholas Taylor
2024-02-17 10:57:20

At the heart of this matter is the fact that whether it was when Labour where in control in 2020 to 2022 or since the Tories have been in control in 2022, the resident have not been adequately informed about what the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and others have found and said about these two buildings. To date they have not been given a copy of any reports, but in a meeting with residents after the Council meeting they have finally agreed to do so. The council report said at the outset that it was proposed to dispose of the buildings, hardstandings and carports as council assets but when Alan of the Harlow Alliance Party asked Cllr Carter about the Council selling off of the buildings etc once all the tenants have left, his response was that they were disposing of them not selling them. Does anyone have any idea of what the the difference is? And what of a plan for the future for this site, clearly the Tories do not have one, Cllr Carter explained this could be years away, just another boarded up site for years to come? It has to be acknowledged that this is a very difficult situation for all concerned but the Council never seems to be up from with residents.

Nostradamus
2024-02-17 11:45:16

Matthew, Reform? A one man party that's even further off beam! As green as a bulldozer. So principled that it's erstwhile leader was happy to accept a salary from the EU whilst railing against it. You obviously jest.

Matthew Kirkbride
2024-02-17 12:12:58

Nostradamus, you were the one who said that Labour and Conservative were 'different sides of the same coin ", so you clearly don't support either of them. Neither the Greens not LibDems are going to tackle immigration. They are both complete useless, unpatriotic wokes. Reform is growing and Farage would garner huge support across the nation.

Nicholas Taylor
2024-02-17 15:44:19

Typo on my last post at the end, should have read , upfront with residents.

Michael Price
2024-02-17 18:54:03

The block of new flats at Burnt Mill should be first priority for those affected by Sycamore Fields demolition , and NOT to accommodate the homeless from London Boroughs

Nostradamus
2024-02-17 20:57:18

Matthew without immigration this country would fall apart. Eg NHS. The UK hasn't trained our workforce. Meanwhile Michael; great idea.

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