Redevelopment of iconic Balfron Tower leads to housing uncertainty

07:00 21 December 2010

Joan O

Joan O'Brien in her Carradale House home


Residents of Poplar’s iconic Balfron Tower and Carradale House buildings head into the New Year facing uncertainty over where they will soon be living.

Andrea Baker, Poplar HARCA's housing director and Harj Dhillon, HARCA's housing project manager in front of Carradale House

Both Grade-II listed housing blocks in St Leonards Road, designed by celebrated architect Erno Goldfinger and home to around 700 people, are facing massive redevelopment works costing £30m.

Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (HARCA) needs to empty both of all residents, including their tenants as well as leaseholders, to bring the structures up to modern design and health and safety standards.

So its occupants must find a temporary home for the duration of the works.

Joan O’Brien, 78, has lived in Carradale House for 43 years but needs to leave her home by July 31 next year and has been unable to find new accommodation so far.

She said: “HARCA have been helpful, but it’s very disruptive for people. It feels like we’re being turfed out and we’ve got nowhere to go, so it is upsetting.

“I know some people in their 80s who’ve said I want to die because I can’t stand the upheaval. It feels like there’s no room at the inn.”

The imposing Brutalist-style 1960s architecture hides a number of problems for residents, such as flooded walkways, unreliable lifts and frequent heating and electricity shutdowns.

As a result, consultant architects PRP propose new lifts, windows, gas-fired boilers instead of oil and upgrades to HARCA tenant homes and some leaseholder flats, including new kitchens and bathrooms.

Work on the 11-storey Carradale will start next summer and last 18 months while the 27-storey Balfron redevelopment should start in 2012, dependent on planning permission, and could last two years.

Andrea Baker, HARCA’s housing director, explains: “Both blocks are at the end of their lives.

“The works are part of a promise we made to residents under the Decent Homes initiative.”

Discussions with PRP led HARCA to decide that residents couldn’t stay during the redevelopment.

Ms Baker said: “The whole area will be a building site.

“PRP spoke to fire safety experts and told us there is no way you can mitigate the risks.”

At the same time, the housing association says it must sell 130 homes, the majority of which will be in the more lucrative Balfron, to pay for the works, so HARCA tenants are unlikely to be able to return there.

The housing association is committed to moving them into Carradale when the work is done, with the same rent charges.

Ms O’Brien was also told, on December 17, that she will be able to return to her home and a similar promise has been made to all Carradale residents.

But the anxiety over finding a temporary home remains.

Ms O’Brien said: “I want to live in the Poplar area but there are no one-bedroom flats available.”

Some have already chosen not to return though.

Shalina Begum, who shares a one-bedroom flat with her husband and two children in Balfron, prefers to take a home-loss payment of £4700 and find a new permanent home.

She said: “Most people want to move, but some have been here for 20 or 30 years so it is harder for them. But I’ve already been on the housing register for two years.”

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