On Tuesday around 100 people crowded into the Epicentre on West Street, Leytonstone to discuss Waltham Forest Council’s plans for Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers.
The council offered residents two ‘options’: Either the refurbishment of the towers or a much more radical plan involving the construction of a third tower and the loss of 70 of the 234 council properties in favour of a number of private dwellings. One of the towers would be wholly private. In reality the council were only prepared to accept the latter option and have done everything they can to impose it on the tenants.
Two residents of the blocks described the way that residents’ wishes have been ignored by the council and Ascham Homes, which manages its housing function, over the last few years. After a fire the gas supply was cut off and electric cookers installed without giving any notice to the tenants. A concierge was put into the blocks on the grounds of security whilst requests for general maintenance went unheeded.
Peter, a retired housing professional, gave his assessment of the council’s proposals. He stated that the refurbishment option was value for money and achievable whereas the council’s preferred option was wildly ambitious and likely to cause severe disruption for several years.
A lawyer from the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers offered his services to the campaign.
Several tenants spoke of their desire to stay in the towers, where they have made their homes and brought up families. Some residents want to take up the opportunity to move away from the towers for a variety of reasons including the need for more space and wanting to be closer to relatives. However it was highlighted that council tenants who currently have a Secure Tenancy, which is a long term guarantee, would, based the current offer made by the council, have to take an insecure Assured or Fixed Term tenancy under a Housing Association. Housing Association rents are also much higher than council rents. It was stressed that good quality housing, especially that suited for families, at affordable rents is in extremely short supply.
Speaker after speaker emphasized that tenants should not sign any document that the council might present to them without taking legal advice, and that unity amongst tenants, regardless of whether they want to stay or leave, is essential.
We heard from campaigns across London including Focus E15, the Carpenters Estate and Boleyn Ground. A speaker from Our West Hendon talked about their struggle and the work of the Radical Housing Network which is seeking to bring together the many housing struggles across London.
The meeting ended with a number of tenants volunteering to join the FredJohn campaign’s committee.
The mood of the meeting was positive. If tenants stand firm and with wider support from local people and other housing activists there is a real possibility that the council’s plan can be reversed.