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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Bulldozing for change: East London council’s plan to replace ‘slum-like’ temporary housing

Debating the fate of homeless families in east London's 10 victoria street – balancing costs, viability, and resident well-being

An East London council is planning to bulldoze and build new homes at the site of a ‘slum-like’ temporary accommodation block where homeless families have lived in cramped conditions for years instead of refurbishing it which would be more than £26million cheaper.

On Tuesday morning (5 December), Labour cabinet members at Newham Council approved a report that will see the council develop its ‘most preferred’ option, which is to demolish the 218 tiny studio flats and build 122 new homes at 10 Victoria Street [also called Brimstone House].

The council had looked at refurbishing the building, but officers said in council documents that it wouldn’t provide a cost-efficient solution to Newham’s residents and that there would be little play space and outside space for residents.

However, the same council report currently estimates that the new-build option could set the council back £ 56.5 million while refurbishing the building could cost £ 29.8 million.

Council officers said in documents: “The refurbishment approach has a very strong point to be considered in that it would have a shorter construction period.

“It is by default a less expensive option however, the structure of the building may only have a 20-year lifespan, and this had to be considered in the viability model.”

Council officers had been advised by consultants that the final refurbishment cost to the building could go up because it did not know ‘the full extent of work’ that might need to be undertaken.

The demolishing and rebuilding of homes is expected to be completed by January 2028, while the refurbishment option will be completed by September 2027.

Originally known as the Focus E15 hostel, the council bought the site from East Thames Housing Group in 2016 to prevent it from being snapped up by a private developer, which according to then-Newham mayor, Robin Wales feared would become ‘unaffordable for local people’.

The building 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.

However, for a number of years the local housing campaign group, Focus E15, have demanded all families be moved out of 10 Victoria Street because they argue they are forced to live in a ‘slum-like, overcrowded, damp, cramped, unsafe building’.

In May 2022 Focus E15 campaigners stormed a full council meeting over the conditions which saw the mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz pledge that by May 2023, all of the families would be moved out of the block. As of December 2023, a number of families are still living in the tiny studio flats.

Back at the meeting, which wasn’t live on YouTube due to technical issues, cabinet members approved the report which will see the council continue to work on the demolishing and new-build option for Victoria Street.

One Focus E15 campaigner who was in attendance yesterday tried to challenge the mayor over the refurbishment option however Ms Fiaz said she could speak with her about the plans once the meeting had ended.

Councillor for Newham Independents, Mehmood Mirza, told the LDRS that he empathised with their campaign ‘to get justice for all residents’.

A spokesperson for Focus E15 told the LDRS that the group remained worried for the families who still reside at 10 Victoria Street.

They said: “What then for the remaining families with children who according to the Mayo in May 2022, would be all moved out within the year by May 2023?

“Many families with children remain there, in overcrowded, mouldy, unsuitable housing, with no time-scale at all for when they will live decently.”

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