The mass exodus has begun

In her latest column about life as a council tenant, Michelle Edwards laments the loss of neighbours choosing to leave Marlowe Road

Marlowe Road construction

Demolition of the existing Marlowe Road Estate (left) and construction of the new estate (right) – dubbed ‘Feature17’ – is progressing rapidly

While rebalancing the contents of my supermarket trolley, from a stack of junk food to fruit and vegetables in a branch of Tesco, I received a missed call on my mobile from one of my neighbours on the Marlowe Road Estate.

Sensing bad news because of the lateness of the hour, I immediately hit the redial button. “Michelleeee! I have some good news,” came the screaming female voice. “I’m moving.” I dropped the smoked mackerel fillet strips. “What? When?” I screamed back. “In a few weeks,” came the reply.

The caller is a fellow council tenant who has been a source of great strength and encouragement to me over the past year, having endured the same ongoing difficulties. We met at a steering group meeting, but she vowed never to return after witnessing the hostility of a senior manager from the estate’s developer, Countryside, as he tackled questions from various residents.

She is a lone mother-of-four who fears for her children, daily. For as long as I can remember, she has been telling me that she wants to leave the estate. The feral youth and drug dealers who now frequent my part of the block used to disrupt hers. When her son saw her trying to speak with one of the disorderly youth, he asked her if she wanted to die.

That question has haunted her ever since and was the final push to leave ahead of the development of her part of the estate. In a matter of months, Waltham Forest Council found her a three-bedroom property elsewhere in the borough and she moved in the first week of January.

In an attempt to rid the estate of residents with ‘secure’ (lifetime) tenancies, the council is no longer waiting for them to actively bid for properties advertised via the ‘choice homes scheme’ and is now writing to them directly with offers, seemingly from nowhere.

No amount of persuasion on my part was able to change things. While conducting a walk-around of the estate, I bumped into the son of a neighbour who told me that pressure was being applied to his father to move, but he, like me, had made it plain that he would not relinquish his legal rights and entitlements.

As of 12th January, the total figure of households moved from the estate was 131, out of 217 in total. Just one person has exercised their right to return – guaranteeing them a home on the estate once it is rebuilt.

This data goes against the results of a survey conducted among residents prior to the council’s decision to demolish and rebuild the estate. In May 2013, of the 76 percent of all residents surveyed, eight out of ten were in favour of demolition if there were an opportunity to build new homes but with a similar number saying they wanted to move back to the estate afterwards.

Of course people can change their minds, but this development is in private hands. It’s operating using a familiar template up and down the country; increase the number of private homes, decrease the number of social rented homes. The local authority wants to demolish the estate entirely, creating a very different community in its place. Council tenants will not be at the centre of it.