Noel Park is a great place to live and work. I am proud to represent this ward where I grew up and my parents continue to live. Quite a number of properties have pre-fabricated bathroom pods at the back that are now past their shelf life. They might have asbestos making it unsafe for residents in those properties. In September 2020, 76 leaseholders received estimates from Homes for Haringey for major works including the replacement of bathroom pods. The estimates were rather exorbitant. Some of the estimates were so high that you could buy a house with that price in other parts of the country. The whole issue proved to be rather controversial for understandable reasons and residents who are affected have raised the matter with the Council repeatedly.
The Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel carried out a scrutiny review in the issue and made a number of recommendations. I gave written evidence to the Panel which I have set out below.
- There is an admission from Homes for Haringey (“HfH”) and the Leader of the Council that the Section 20 Notice to leaseholders was framed inappropriately. In my view, the timing and the content of the Section 20 Notice were hugely problematic. The Section 20 Notice did not make it clear that it was just a consultation. Instead, it had the words “major works bill” written at the top with a two-week deadline to come up with a payment plan. This is completely unacceptable especially given the unfortunate timing that it arrived in the middle of the global pandemic. I would like the Section 20 Notice to leaseholders to be withdrawn until all of the concerns can be addressed some of which I have set out below.
- My understanding is that leaseholders were sent estimates of works that may be required to their properties. Some of these estimates exceeded £100,000 which is an exorbitant sum of money. These estimates may go down when a detailed survey is carried out. Equally, there is a possibility (albeit unlikely) that the cost of works could go up. It is not reasonable nor is it fair to expect leaseholders to come up with funds when there is such uncertainty about the costs. Therefore, in my view, a detailed survey should be carried with a meaningful input from leaseholders before proceeding any further. It is only fair that leaseholders also have a say about which contractor will carry out the works. My understanding is that leaseholders had no input into how Engie was appointed as a contractor.
- There is a significant concern that the cost of works may be high because of a lack of proper maintenance and repairs by HfH over the years. This should be properly investigated. It is no fault of the leaseholders if there is evidence that HfH had failed to repair and maintain these properties in a timely manner. Therefore, it is my view that leaseholders should not have to pay any increased cost that could be attributable to a lack of timely repair and maintenance.
- Leaseholders have also expressed concerns about the proposal to replace a bathroom pod with another bathroom pod. It is felt that other options may not have been considered more carefully such as a permanent brick extension. One leaseholder has written to me with a proposal not to have their pod replaced at all. They live on the first floor with a council tenant on the ground floor. The leaseholder has no objection to the ground floor pod being replaced, but they could incorporate a bathroom within the existing internal brick structure of their flat without needing a pod on the first floor. This option should be considered and where appropriate, it should be given to leaseholders.
- Leaseholders have also told me that previous estimates they were given were much lower. In some cases, previous estimates were less than a quarter of the estimates that they were sent recently. It would be good to understand how the estimates could have gone up so significantly. Again, the question of whether the delays to these works might have increased the costs cannot be ignored.
- Some leaseholders do not agree that all the proposed works are necessary. Before requiring leaseholders to pay for works, there should be a process to ensure that the leaseholders are entirely satisfied that the works are absolutely necessary (not just desirable). It does not appear that what constitutes “absolutely necessary” has been set out with any clarity to the leaseholders.
- An amicable resolution to the current stalemate should be found so that the leaseholders are satisfied and that there is no adverse effect on their wellbeing. In a recent scrutiny meeting, representatives of the leaseholders mentioned the enormous psychological impact that all of this happening in these uncertain times. We must not lose sight of the human impact of the decisions we make. It is particularly important that we take into account people’s wellbeing before proceeding with any decisions.