Minutes belie mutiny

In her latest column, Marlowe Road resident Michelle Edwards hits out at the handling of her estate’s redevelopment

Marlowe Road Estate

Outdoor play areas in Marlowe Road have been fenced off as the rebuild progresses

Residents are normally brought up-to-date with the latest on the council’s regeneration of Marlowe Road Estate at regular steering group meetings. Roughly speaking, they occur monthly or bi-monthly.

The first such meeting was held way back on 4th April 2012 following ‘a period of canvassing’ to find people to form the steering group itself. According to council blurb, the composition of the group “includes interested tenants and leaseholders, local councillors, and officers, to guide the engagement process and the development of a range of options to be considered”.
With each attendance, it becomes obvious that the group isn’t particularly effective, nor regarded as anything more than an evening chore by council officials and Countryside, the development company. The three ward councillors don’t even turn up. For the past three years, I have attended as a concerned rather than ‘interested’ tenant in order to guarantee a suitable channel of communication exists between us and the developers.

In December 2012, housing magazine Inside Housing published an article headed The sound of silence following new research published by the Building and Social Housing Foundation which found that many tenants believe their local authority landlords are ‘silencing or marginalising dissenting voices’ and abusing their position.

As a frequently dissenting voice, I can qualify the research. I am beyond exhausted with pointing out various legalities and broken promises, challenging how the council allows Countryside to make such ill-informed and ill-considered decisions without reference to tenants.

One example is the unexpected closure of the entirety of the area covering the now-demolished basketball court located in the middle of the estate and the surrounding areas of Northwood Tower. The plan was always to stagger the project for minimum disruption. In actuality, Countryside created a chaotic chain of events by what appears to be an extension of the notified closure. One week there was walkway access through Northwood Tower to accommodate the closure of the basketball court, a fortnight later that access was withdrawn. No signposts or alternative route suggestions, not an arrow in sight; it was left for tenants to figure out how they enter and exit the estate.

Minutes of the meetings hardly ever reflect any disquiet, even when repeated multiple times. Had I not attended over the years, I would have been left with the impression that all parties involved are holding hands, singing ‘kumbaya, my lord…’. And, ever since I started sending them back corrected, the final set of minutes no longer appear on the council website, possibly in order to convey the false impression that the project is progressing nicely.

In the last meeting held on 9th March this year, two Countryside representatives showed complete disinterest in the concerns of residents. One, a manager, reacted angrily when I raised a concern on behalf of a local business. Having suffered a significant drop in takings since the closure, the proprietor bought an ‘open for business’ sign and asked if they could position it on the Countryside noticeboard. They refused the request on the basis that the sign didn’t fit their ‘branding requirements’ and was reserved for marketing purposes only. To say it kicked off is an understatement – it remains to be seen how the showdown will be documented in the next set of minutes.