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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

An East London Council pause on £56.5 million Victoria Street plan

Plans to demolish a temporary accommodation block to make way for new homes have been paused. Councillors urged the local mayor to reconsider cheaper options instead, with this one costing £56.5 million.

Following cabinet approval in December 2023, the mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz and her Labour cabinet members voted on exploring plans to demolish temporary accommodation at 10 Victoria Street.

They were advised by council officers that refurbishing the building – which would be more than £26 million cheaper – wasn’t ‘cost-efficient’ for the people of Newham or the council. Ms Fiaz and the cabinet went on to approve a report that will see the council explore plans to demolish the 218 tiny studio flats and build 122 new homes for families instead, costing £56.5 million.

However, the decision was the subject of a call in last week (25 January) after members of the overview and scrutiny committee urged Ms Fiaz and cabinet lead, Shaban Mohammed to reverse the plans as they didn’t think it was financially viable for the council. A ‘call in’, as it’s called, is a key part of the scrutiny process and is when councillors pause a decision that has not yet been implemented and discuss it in more detail.

During last week’s meeting, Labour councillors, Anthony McAlmont, Susan Masters and Terry Paul, who had requested the call-in, suggested the council make improvements to the building and use it to house single homeless people or couples only. The building (formerly Focus E15 hostel) was originally designed to be lived in by single people, however, the council began using it to house homeless families as a form of temporary accommodation soon after they bought it in 2016.

Cllr Masters said around a third of the borough’s homelessness applications come from single adults, however, Cllr Mohammed said Newham has a shortage of family-sized accommodation and that it was ‘vital’ to knock down 10 Victoria Street and start again. Cllr Paul argued the council has a supply crisis with temporary accommodation and is already facing ‘severe’ financial challenges, and demolishing the block would ‘undermine’ the ability of the council.

He said: “Why don’t you just spend £7 million doing it up and take the £50 million-odd to go and build family homes, why don’t you do that? You get what you want, and we get what we want.” Cllr Mohammed responded: “…we have a building which again is untenable for families and what I’m trying to say is when we put families there we’ve had singles and couples but we’ve had management issues

“That’s why we want to make sure that we’re making the right decision and it boils down to the fact that we want to make sure that we’re delivering for our residents and [delivering] family homes.” During a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (30 January), Cllr McAlmont who was there on behalf of overview and scrutiny said: “… the committee seek assurance that the Victoria Street building will not be demolished and this option is off the table.”

Cllr Mohammed said the cabinet welcomed the overview and scrutiny’s ‘continued interest’ surrounding the future of the building. Ms Fiaz thanked Cllr McAlmont and said the cabinet will be taking more time to look through the committee’s recommendations before deciding on anything else.

She said: “As per the spirit of a call-in procedure, no decisions proceed until there is a final and clear resolution of the matter that’s been called in.” Cabinet will come back to discuss the future of Victoria Street at a meeting in spring after they have gone through all of the recommendations from the overview and scrutiny committee.

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