‘WE ARE PREPARED TO FACE THE BAILIFFS AND BULLDOZERS TO DEFEND OUR ESTATE!’ say ‘Worried Tenants Group’

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JIM BLACKENDER with his wife outside their home on the Excaliber Estate
JIM BLACKENDER with his wife outside their home on the Excaliber Estate

‘Bailiffs and Bulldozers, is the only way Lewisham Council are going to remove us’, is the motto of the Worried Tenants Group who are fighting to stop Lewisham Council from demolishing the two bedroom bungalows of the Excaliber Estate.

Known to locals as the Bungalow Estate, Baldwin Road in Catford, tenants and council workers have mounted a determined fight to stop the estate becoming the next victim of Lewisham Council and the Labour Party’s drive get rid of council housing.

Jim Blackender, a tenant and spokesperson for the Worried Tenants Group said: ‘The majority of the tenants are opposed to demolishing this estate.

‘Our aim is to try to save the estate and get the necessary funds from either Lewisham Council or wherever to get the estate refurbished.

‘We did put in an application to English Heritage for a Grade 2 listing as this estate is a historical legacy for the wider community.

‘Their report is recommending listing to the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), but we don’t know if it will be Grade 2.

‘If we get listed it will stop the demolition, but that will not stop the destruction of council housing as a whole.

‘We are prepared to face bailiffs and bulldozers to defend our estate.

‘The council in Lewisham is passing on their entire stock of Council Housing to Housing Associations, and once they pass on the stock, the government will then clear the massive debt which Lewisham have incurred, something in the region of £267 million.

‘These prefabs were put up as a temporary solution to the housing crisis just after the Second World War.

‘They were erected on open space, which belonged to Lord Foster who created a park in memory of his two sons who died in that war.

‘He asked for assurances from the LCC at that time that on removal of the prefabs, the land would revert back to parkland.

‘So there is also a moral obligation to retain it as open space if the prefabs are demolished.

‘We have these letters but somehow the Lewisham Council have managed to turn it into building land.

Blackender continued: ‘It is not just our homes we are protecting, we are defending a historical icon which shouldn’t be destroyed.

‘In addition despite being bungalows, the housing here is detached, and there is plenty of space. It’s like a village estate.

Basically with very little funds it could be refurbished, but the estate has been starved of money for over the 20 years in the hope that residents wouldn’t want to live here.

‘But it has backfired on Lewisham Council because tenants have put their own money into their homes and now won’t want to move.

‘They want us to exchange our 2 bed bungalows, for a high density housing estate.

‘We feel we have been abandoned by a Labour government, ever since they were voted into power we have had very negative incidents.

Howard Davis, a housing officer explained the issues facing tenants: ‘The main issue for the tenants is that the offer made by London and Quadrant is to knock down the 189 bungalow council houses, and replace them with 470 units, building up two or three stories.

‘These proposals will increase the density of the population, with all the stresses of overcrowding and lack of services.

‘Tenants are campaigning on their estate for a No vote on the proposals due to be put in a November ballot, but are wary that Lewisham Council may proceed regardless of the outcome.

‘There is a European Union policy to ensure that all government properties are up to certain standards by 2010.

‘It is called the Decent Homes Standards, and what that means is that all properties should be weathertight and windproof.

‘But the local authority claims it hasn’t got the money to maintain the properties or to bring them up to the required standard.

‘Councils who can’t afford to do this have to follow a government policy to seek other means of finance or tender them out to private interests.

‘It’s a government initiative. Some people say the government is not too happy with council housing and would like housing to be moved to private.

‘Councils now have to pay their rents to central government, who in turn give them the money back and tell them what to spend it on.

‘But some councils are lucky to get 50% back.

‘The rent money is redistributed I’m told, but we are not actually told who it goes to.

Davis added: ‘So all councils who have a negative side on their balance sheets have to follow proposals, to see if they can transfer properties to a third party or put out their properties to ALMOS (Arms Length Management Organisations) or Private Finance Initiatives (PFI).

‘The tenants on the estate were told that the Management Committee was contacted to see if they wanted to transfer to a new landlord, and the committee have gone into meetings, picked a new landlord and have negotiated an offer document.

The offer document is now out and tenants will be voting on it in November.

‘But the proposal to knock down an estate of 189 pre fabs and replace with more than 460 units is going to increase the density of people on the estate. They will build up two or three stories.

‘While the council have given an undertaking to keep the rents the same, obviously housing associations will increase their service charges as well.

‘It is a worrying time when ever anyone’s home is under threat. There is a cloud hanging over them,’ Davis concluded.