By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter
A Lambeth estate is being tormented by ongoing works amid the pandemic, while one elderly woman had a stroke after waiting weeks to be moved.
South Lambeth Estate has been described as a “bombsite”, with residents’ homes encased in hoardings, no direct access for emergency services, and noise starting from early morning.
Homes for Lambeth (HfL), the council’s wholly owned building company, is redeveloping the estate as part of its controversial ‘regeneration programme’.
Most of the estate, except for the ten-storey Wimborne House, is set to be demolished to make way for 362 new homes, 51 for existing tenants and 34 for people on the council’s housing waiting list.
Phase one of the redevelopment, led by HfL, involves a block in the carpark in front of Wimbourne House, providing 30 homes, 18 at council rent.
But residents say the works have been beset by a catalogue of errors, delays, and poor communication.
Lambeth Council promised residents that it would create a rear entrance for Wimbourne House before work began on Phase one at the front.
It started work on the rear – without proper warning – in January 2020 by clearing the carpark and felling some trees.
But despite not having finished the work, which also involves refurbishing the concierge’s office, HfL started work on Phase one anyway in October.
Dr Dreenagh Lyle, chair of the estate’s Tenants and Residents Association (TRA), lives on the ground floor in a purpose-built flat with her daughter, who has profound and multiple disabilities.
She said: “They’ve done the hoardings right up to the front door of the block, so we are completely encased.
“It looks like a bombsite – they won’t explain to us what the issues are and it keeps being delayed.”
Dreenagh and other residents have been asking for information for years after being notified of the planned redevelopment.
The council set up a residents’ engagement panel (REP), which was supposed to keep residents in the loop.
But residents say there is a high turnover of staff and no record keeping of concerns and questions.
“Every month we would turn up and they wouldn’t tell us anything.”
The council set up a mitigation panel, but left it until the works had already started.
“They could have set up a mitigation panel two years ago so that we could have things in place to deal to with the noise,” Dreenagh said.
“We had a woman in her eighties who was ringing them up daily begging them to stop the noise because her place was shaking so much.
“It got to the point of having a mitigation hearing for her and they couldn’t hold it because the noise was so bad. You couldn’t make this up.”
Dreenagh also said the council had to order the workers to stop the noise for the duration of the hearing.
The woman in question was housebound and had previously suffered a stroke.
The day the council eventually moved her out, she suffered another one and ended up in hospital for two months.
Residents say they have no idea of the works timeline, have asked for an equality impact assessment, health and safety report, a fire safety report from the start of the works, and a report on the noise.
The council has only provided a fire safety report dated from December 2020.
People have also reported increased allergies from the dust, while people with respiratory problems have suffered increased infections.
Dreenagh said wheelchair users now have to maneuver down a narrow path and out onto the road if an ambulance needs to pick them up.
Her daughter has also been horribly affected by the works.
“I’ve had to rerefer my daughter back to mental health services.
“She hasn’t been doing this headbutting and lashing out for years.
“We’d actually got her to a really good space and now she’s back to doing it again because the noise distresses her so much.
“She punches herself in the face, she bangs her head in the wall. She bangs her nose violently so the skin rips and bleeds – this is constant.”
Dreenagh cannot move her daughter out as the flat is purpose-built with extra space.
There have also been problems with burst water pipes and delays with repairs.
Dreenagh said: “We’ve got people who haven’t left the building, they’ve been trapped because they simply can’t walk down the walkway that they’ve created.
“Nothing has been done with regards to the residents – it’s been ‘stick your fingers in your ears and just carry on, let them get upset, we don’t care, we’ve got to get this work started’.
“There is an issue about people with disabilities not having their rights met – it’s a human rights issue.”
Mutiat Obanigba, a leaseholder in one of the blocks set for demolition and a representative on REP, described the situation as “shambolic”.
“Lambeth and HfL keep acting as separate entities. It’s been back to back mistakes,” she said.
Mutiat criticised Lambeth’s failure to properly inform residents before the work started at the rear.
“They said they did in a newsletter – but they weren’t circulated properly. Someone just left a stack in the reception area of Wimborne House.”
Residents used the space at the rear as a carpark, but the council also failed to do a parking consultation.
“When the tree felling started loads of cars were quarantined. Imagine just waking up one morning and seeing that,” Mutiat said.
Residents say they were promised a meeting with contractors to they could feed into the works and in particular to look at the mitigations.
“They kick off with Phase 1 without any of that,” Mutiat said.
As a leaseholder, she is concerned about the future of her home.
“I think they’ve been quite successful in pushing people off the estate,” Mutiat said.
Lambeth is offering a Key Guarantee to secure tenants and leaseholders, which gives different options including staying on the estate or bidding for another home elsewhere.
But it’s not clear to residents exactly what the options mean practically and they say Lambeth has failed to explain it properly.
Mutiat believes Lambeth is taking a “divide and conquer” approach to the compulsory purchase order (CPO) negotiations, only speaking to people in Phase 1 and refusing to negotiate with residents in later stages.
“Leaseholders have more power when they work together. They want to fragment everyone – it weakens our bargaining power.
“The biggest worry for us is that nobody knows what’s happening to their house.”
Mutiat has also taken on informing elderly residents without access to internet about what’s been going on.
Melanie Mc Clymont, who lives in Wimborne House, has had several allergic reactions from the dust and suffers from debilitating endometriosis. She was refused mitigation.
“I had surgery in December – my symptoms were so bad they thought it was cancer,” she said.
She said she gets anxious at the thought of leaving her home at all now.
“We haven’t been given a health and safety report.
“I’m a mum first, so this is concerning. We shouldn’t have to be in this position, where we’re asking for basic health and safety assurances,” Melanie said.
She is even more concerned about other residents with more severe health conditions.
“I don’t have a problem with the building going up – it’s progress. But the way that they’ve handled this is quite worrying considering that there are quite a few other regeneration works penciled in.
“If this is how they’re going to treat residents, I’m just really concerned and disappointed.”
Melanie said drug dealers have started using the corridor because the door swings open and hasn’t been fixed properly.
“My kids’ health and wellbeing are at risk having to live in this environment.
“Unfortunately when you’re a council tenant it’s almost like they’re perpetuating the stereotype that you’re the lowest of the low and you don’t have any rights.
“Even though you’re paying your rent and you’re paying your taxes.
“This is our home,” she said.
A spokesperson claimed HfL is in “regular contact” with vulnerable residents.
He said: “We do not underestimate the stress that rebuilding an estate can potentially cause for current residents.
“Residents will receive more information about the timeline for the works at Wimborne House and the noise review results from Block A in due course.
“If a resident feels that their concerns are not being addressed, we urge them to contact the council,” he said.
HfL said it has conducted “all the necessary checks”.
“And we have assurances the building works pose no threat to emergency vehicles’ ability to respond to any call at Wimborne House.
“Furthermore, London Fire Brigade have been informed of the new dry riser location and confirmed it is accessible to their vehicles.
“A temporary means of escape has been erected in the entrance, which will be in place whilst works are completed to the rear.
“This is a temporary secondary fire exit for residents, who should continue to use the entrance at the front,” the spokesperson said.
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