Council tenant Michelle Edwards casts a sceptical eye over new moves to ‘engage’ residents on her estate
The new Marlowe Road Estate development in Walthamstow is becoming more visible by the day.
A seven-storey-high tower block now dominates the site together with three huge white commercial cement mixers. Countryside, the developer, has also started work on the ‘energy centre’ and the new Co-operative supermarket. As of September, 117 residents have moved away from the estate, and now 109 properties are being used as temporary housing. Only 58 long-term tenants remain.
Yet, creating a ‘harmonious community’ on the estate has apparently now become a top priority for Waltham Forest Council. In a recent issue of our tenant and leaseholders’ newsletter, Residents News, the council announced they were developing “a new way of engaging with residents”. This comes after they scrapped the long-running Waltham Forest Tenants Council in May. They are now seeking to replace it with three new groups: a strategic tenant and resident panel, resident complaints panel, and resident scrutiny committee. This hasn’t been met with glee on the estate – the tenants council was a notoriously robust outfit and council staff and members often left with their tail between their legs, so to speak.
But the council now contends that tenants’ meetings “had been poorly attended and it was not representative of all the council tenants and leaseholders that live in the borough”. In order to play a part in shaping housing services going forward, tenants were directed to attend three drop-in information sessions at Highams Park, Leytonstone, and Waltham Forest Town Hall, during the second week of September. The turnout was terrible. Only one person turned up at Highams Park and six at the town hall. I attended the Leytonstone session and only one other person showed up.
I’m told there was a cock-up with delivering the issue of Residents News which plugged these meetings, so it’s possible few actually knew anything about the meetings. My worry, given the council’s history of ‘flawed’ consultations, is whether the lack of attendance will be noted as disinterest and used as an excuse to push forward unfavourable proposals.
Someone somewhere seems to have accepted that there is a worrying disconnect between the council and its residents, which might be headed off by a new staff appointment. To that end, a new housing engagement officer joined the borough in August with a remit to support tenants and residents associations and launch project ideas that may be of interest to the area.
I’d be lying if I said that my suspicions hadn’t been aroused, but I’m prepared to afford the new officer a chance. Only one though – I’ve been fooled way too many times before.