Both Brockley and Ladywell councillors have had a fair amount of casework recently from Council tenants and leaseholders affected by the Brockley housing PFI.
Leaseholders have been concerned about the estimates they have been receiving for repair works and have formed a leaseholders association to work together and ensure their rights are respected. Brockley councillor Darren Johnson and I recently met with members of the association and Darren is hopefully arranging a meeting with the Mayor to enable leaseholders to discuss their concerns with him directly and agree a way forward.
Meanwhile a number of tenants feel that their views are being ignored or ridden roughshod over. We have had several reports of bullying behaviour from Higgins contractors, which we are following up on and hope will be swiftly stopped.
A further concern is the way in which in certain instances the wishes of leaseholders and tenants are being played off against each other. There was a vociferous campaign led by leaseholders and Ladywell Society and supported by local councillors, against plans to rip out the original features of Victorian properties in Ladywell and install UPVC windows. After lengthy discussions, we secured a small victory in that 38 Victorian properties in Algiers Road, Veda Road, Vicar's Hill and Ermine Road are now being treated as if they are in the conservation area.
However, the contractors, Higgins, are now telling tenants in some of the effected properties that they won't get double glazing 'because someone from Ladywell Society objected'. They are being told that their wooden sash windows will just be repaired (not even any draught-proofing), and if the window needs replacing it will only be replaced with single glazing. The tenants, who like the rest of us face rising fuel bills are understandably p*ssed off.
The Council's housing team are telling me that this isn't the case and that these properties will get double glazing, as will the conservation area proprties, but I'm still waiting for a definitive answer, with details of exactly what work is being done to improve the thermal efficiency of these Council homes. Clearly, in an age of rising energy prices and fuel poverty, to be missing this opportunity to insulate homes and reduce fuel bills would be scandalous.
It is also a big mistake to play off the wishes of those wanting to preserve the character of the area against the entirely understandable wishes of tenants to have warmer homes. Whoever is spreading the rumour that Ladywell Society are the villains of the piece for daring to oppose all the applications for UPVC windows in Victorian properties in Ladywell is wrong - they were entirely right to question the wisdom of ripping out original Victorian features from properties that are likely to be included in a future conservation area and replace them with UPVC windows (which have inferior thermal qualities to wooden-framed double glazing and are an environmental time-bomb). No one was ever suggesting these properties shouldn't have double-glazing, just querying the wisdom of UPVC.
It would seem that when drawing up the 20-year PFI contract, in all the 1,500 pages of legalese, the Council's Housing team didn't get round to specifying exactly what thermal improvements to homes would be made. Unbelievable, but, this, it would seem, is what often happens when the legal teams of private consortiums run rings around the Council's lawyers.
I hope to be proved wrong on this, but I am concerned about how things are currently progressing with the PFI. Balancing the rights of leaseholders and tenants is always going to be a tricky thing, but it seems that the contractors and Council between them are currently managing to annoy both. We urgently need clarity on what improvements to thermal efficiency those 38 properties, and those in the conservation area, are going to get, as well as dramatic improvements in communications to leaseholders.
Green councillors in Lewisham consistently opposed the Brockley PFI scheme from when it was first proposed to when it was signed, as did many residents, but New Labour ploughed on with it, and the deal was finally sealed, several years later than planned. Since then we have been working constructively with the Council's housing team, contractors and residents, to see that residents rights are respected and repairs and improvements are carried out to a high standard and we will continue to do so.