Tower plans leaving residents ‘in dark’

James Cracknell reports on the latest social housing estate redevelopment being planned by the council

Montague Road

The Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers in Montague Road, Leytonstone

Residents of a council estate planned for redevelopment have demanded a bigger say in their future.

The Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers in Montague Road, Leytonstone, are set to undergo a £40million overhaul, but Waltham Forest Council has been criticised for agreeing to sell many of the new homes privately.

Social homes on the estate are set to be cut by nearly one third, from 234 to 160. All residents currently living there have been promised a new home in the towers if they want one, but many remain unconvinced and are demanding answers.

On a visit to Fred Wigg tower, famously used as a missile launch pad by the military during London 2012, residents told the Echo of their concerns.

Aysha  Karim has lived on the Montague Road estate with his family for 15 years. He said: “The council told me I could stay and move into the new block when it’s built, but we don’t trust them.

“I’ve been to many meetings about it but we are fed up, it’s the same old story, waiting for answers.”

Another resident, law student Jordan Ajayi, said he wanted the council to be open about what lay ahead.

“For this project  to succeed we need more dialogue,” Jordan told the Echo. “They shouldn’t keep us in the dark. It’s only because we’ve made a  fuss  that the council have told us anything at all.”

Montague Road plans

Draft plans for Montague Road in Leytonstone

Residents were first asked for their views on a potential redevelopment in early 2014. Asked if they’d rather the towers were refurbished or rebuilt, most said they’d prefer a complete demolition and rebuild. However, the council ruled out this option over cost. Instead, the council decided  to strip the buildings and use the same structures  to build bigger, higher quality homes.

A third block will be built to house residents who make way for the private homes planned. Jordan added: “These  towers aren’t the best but they are better than many other places, and it’s one of the last places we can rent cheaply around here.

“It’s all very well building nice expensive flats, but we can’t afford them.”

Depending on how many agree to leave the estate, some residents who wish to stay will be “decanted” during the improvement works – likely starting in 2018.

The council is also encouraging people to leave the estate permanently by  giving them priority on social homes elsewhere in the borough, when they become available. A council spokesman explained that the process of talking to residents about what they wanted to do was still ongoing.

He said: “Some residents are chronically overcrowded.  A lot of people are desperate  to leave and go elsewhere.

“These buildings are 50 years old and need some work. The number of social homes will go down but compared to the number we are building across the borough it is small.

“We are confident we can give everyone a new home who wants one.”

This year the council’s new housing  plan set an ambition for 12,000 homes to be built in the borough over the next five years, including  4,000 designated as “affordable” and 2,000 council homes. By the end of next year 431 housing association homes are due to be built.

Waltham Forest’s housing waiting list, at around 16,000, is among the largest in London.

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