Exclusive: Marie Curie residents forced to move over fire safety fears – but to where?

Katherine Johnston (18 August, 2021)

If work is to start on time the block would need to be mostly empty by the end of 2021

45024Marie Curie, one of the blocks in Southwark with a waking watch

Just five out of 98 households forced to move out of their Camberwell tower block ‘by the end of the year’ over fire safety fears have secured new homes elsewhere.

The figure was shared in Southwark Council’s latest newsletter to residents in Camberwell’s Marie Curie block, part of Sceaux Gardens Estate and a ‘sister building’ to Lakanal House.

The document, published on August 13, explained: “As of this month, thirteen residents have successfully bid for a new home, which they have viewed and five of them have accepted their new home.”

As the News has reported, fire safety defects – similar to those found and resolved in Lakanal after a fire in 2009 that claimed the lives of six people – were then discovered in Marie Curie through invasive surveys toward the end of last year.

A series of London Fire Brigade callouts had uncovered that smoke was moving between flats, rather than being contained.

The entire building was then put on a ‘waking watch’ and fitted with new fire alarms and heat sensors and, in June, we reported that residents were told that all 87 tenants and eleven leaseholders would have to move out for at least a year due to the extent of work required.

The earliest work is slated to start in January 2022, and earliest it could complete is September 2023. If work is to start on time the block would need to be mostly empty by the end of 2021.  Months ago the council said it would start the rehousing process immediately, but it appears limited progress has been made so far.

TRA chair David Lewis told the News that some residents, including himself, still did not have access to homesearch, the council’s website for making bids on new homes.

As part of the deal offered to tenants, the local authority has moved all of them into band one but – so far – refused to guarantee everyone will be rehomed within the borough.

It is also unclear how much flexibility families will be offered when it comes to staying near schools and workplaces, especially given the short supply of suitable homes. The council has, however, pledged to provide ‘like for like’ homes when it comes to size.

In a tenants fact sheet, the council had previously explained: “We will work with residents to look at all options for housing, however we aim to use existing homes in the borough where possible” while leaseholders will be negotiated with on a ‘case by case basis’ with buy back offers also on the table.

According to the council’s latest newsletter ‘73 tenants are now registered for rehousing’. It is unclear why the remainder are not.

“I did my homesearch application over two months ago and still don’t have access, and there are at least six or seven people telling me the same,” David told the News this week.

“People are panicking a bit and it is unsettling. I don’t want to move. I have been here 35 years.  But if I am honest, I’ve had enough now. If you’d told me in 2009, when Lakanal happened, what it would be like since I would have asked to move. It’s been one renovation after another, and then everything has been made worse by Grenfell.  There are so many projects going on in the block and estate, at one point work was going on for three years almost constantly, it ruins your quality of life. It’s a nightmare.”

Sceaux Gardens is also one of many estates across Southwark to have new housing blocks and garages redeveloped into housing. Around 80 new homes are being added to the estate but not all will be ready until 2024.  Twenty-eight that have been completed are now open for bidding with Marie Curie tenants having priority. They are made up of  fourteen two-bed flats and six three-beds.

“Hard copies of available homes are now coming through our doors and this week there were two two-bed properties,” David continues.  “We aren’t on the top of the list in isolation, we are there with lots and lots of other people who are in severe housing need. We have no idea how long it will take us to be rehoused.”

Karen Connolly says:

There is 81 Property new development on the adjacent site to this block just gone on the open bidding 8 I bedroom properties a bidding system in crisis lots of people wrongly banded also 50% of which gets offered to existing residents however it makes me sick supply doesn’t meet demand or need and worse is the Council address these issues on public criticism not priority need. We are all in Fire Risk danger admitted our estate by this fiasco Council but less you live in a Tower Block it’s a case of pot luck hope for the best year in year out! Something seriously needs to change though and it should start with City Hall and Council accountability!

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