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Future in doubt as hope sinks on the Ocean Estate

PUBLISHED: 21:48 19 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:48 05 October 2010

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LONG-delayed plans to improve life on of one of London’s most neglected public housing estates have been dealt a blow this week as consortiums bidding for the regeneration contract pull out. A large-scale renovation is now in question on the East End’s huge Ocean Estate

LONG-delayed plans to improve life on of one of London’s most neglected public housing estates have been dealt a blow this week as consortiums bidding for the regeneration contract pull out.

A large-scale renovation is now in question on the East End’s huge Ocean Estate, as David Williams has found in this special report:

THEY have been talking about regeneration’ for almost eight years, ever since Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Stepney’s Ocean Estate when he pledged £56 million to improve the decaying housing complex in this area ravaged by drugs and crime.

Since then, the 'Ocean' has seen a rising tide of neglect, with any residual optimism left over from the Blair visit long since evaporated—unlike the dampness in many overcrowded properties.

One man who’s seen it all and the health problems it causes is Mohammad Ali, an interpreter for the NHS.

“There are respiratory problems from rising damp in ground floor flats,” he tells you. “I’ve seen the damp patches which the tenants treat themselves.

“They’re council tenants, but it’s like talking to a brick wall getting Tower Hamlets to sort it out.

“One family had to chuck out a wardrobe of clothes that went mouldy.”

One of the mums on the estate, Tracey Hedges, has no faith that the council will ever remedy the problem—so she paints over the mould herself in her home once a month.

Many two-bed and three-bed flats are too small for the large families renting them.

SPIRAL OF NEGLECT

There are few public facilities—only two run-down shopping parades to anchor the community.

But the area is falling into a spiral of neglect, according to one of the caretakers on this 1950s sprawling housing mass.

“People leave litter on staircases because they don’t care any more,” he says. “There are rats anywhere.”

Today, the contract to renew the Ocean Estate is worth around £200m to bring hundreds of homes up to the Government’s decent standard’ criteria.

But a joint bid by Guinness Partnerships and Lovell house-builders has been withdrawn, along with another by Willmott Dixon construction and its partners Circle Anglia Housing.

The sole remaining bid left on the table is a consortium of Bellway and Wates construction firms, First Base regeneration specialists and East Thames housing association.

Tower Hamlets Council blames the global financial crisis for a serious downturn in the building industry.

Nevertheless, the council wants to press on with the last remaining consortium, its housing and development cabinet member Marc Francis revealed.

“This regeneration is crucial,” he told the East London Advertiser.

“It’s symbolic and fundamental for our housing policy as we have to deliver decent homes for people on the Ocean estate.”

No deal had been finalised, he added, but there is a contingency plan’ being drawn up in case the last consortium backed out too.

The redevelopment begins with refurbishing 1,000 properties, demolishing 12 blocks of flats, building 340 affordable homes’ and putting up 530 for sale. Later, the consortium would take over the day-to-day management of 1,240 council-owned properties on the estate.

Tony Blair’s visit in 2001 and the fleeting hope he brought for the 6,500 souls on this sprawling mass just off the Mile End Road might just start to become a reality as the former showpiece’ estate opened in 1951 moves towards its 60th anniversary.

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