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Call for ex-Tower Hamlets council estates to 'come home' over Circle Housing merger plans

PUBLISHED: 14:15 09 March 2016 | UPDATED: 14:46 09 March 2016

Cllr Marc Francis (inset) addresses Old Ford Housing tenants'  meeting

Cllr Marc Francis (inset) addresses Old Ford Housing tenants' meeting

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Families fed up with "bad maintenance" on former council estates run by one of London's big social landlords are calling for all public housing management to "come home" and return to local authority protection.

Hundreds of tenants are signing a petition this week to get a Parliamentary debate on the future of Old Ford Housing in London's East End.

Old Ford Housing tenants sign petition calling for Parliamentary debateOld Ford Housing tenants sign petition calling for Parliamentary debate

It follows a call by Tower Hamlets councillors at a packed public meeting for troubled housing associations to be “reigned in” with the move to deregulate council housing that started 12 years ago now coming into question.

The petition follows Cllr Marc Francis resigning and storming out of the Old Ford Housing management board—revealed in the East London Advertiser last month—in protest at the planned merger by its parent Circle Housing Group with Anglia Housing to form Europe’s biggest social housing conglomerate.

“We want Old Ford to come home,” Cllr Francis told the paper. “Old Ford can stand on its own feet, out of Circle Housing Group.

“We should also explore the option of returning to Tower Hamlets council.

“Putting former council housing under ever-bigger housing organisations like Circle has failed.”

Cllr Joshua Peck addresses Old Ford Housing tenants' meetingCllr Joshua Peck addresses Old Ford Housing tenants' meeting

The petition launched at Saturday’s tenants’ meeting held at St Paul’s Old Ford parish church calls on the Housing Minister and the Housing Regulator to investigate Circle’s merger plans to incorporate 500,000 tenants up and down the country, making what critics fear would end contact with housing officials at neighbourhood level.

The plans include winding down local management boards like Old Ford, Cllr Francis has discovered, as well as closing neighbourhood housing offices such as Roman Road—the nearest to east London would be in Kent, the meeting heard.

The petition is being presented to the Mayor of Tower Hamlets later this month, while talks are planned with Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanra Ali to get a Commons debate on Old Ford Housing’s future.

Several East End housing estates are directly affected, including Tredegar, Montieth, Lefevre, McCullum, Ranwell and Lockton.

Cllr Francis told the meeting: “There’s a struggle to get Circle Housing to deliver the basic fundamental of any landlord for proper repairs and maintenance, that when tenants phone up and report a fault that they should get someone round, instead of excuses.

Cllr Rachel Blake addresses Old Ford Housing tenants' meetingCllr Rachel Blake addresses Old Ford Housing tenants' meeting

“Circle Group forced its Old Ford subsidiary board to get rid of its original maintenance contractor and bring in another—which was the worst-managed contract I have seen in 20 years.

“The Housing Regulator stepped in last year and downgrade Circle Housing because it failed to look after its residents.”

Circle Housing has since dumped the contractor which had been slammed over its gas repairs—but has kept them on to continue annual boiler maintenance.

Dozens of families have been left without heating for weeks and even months this winter, the meeting heard.

“Circle Group plans to wind up Old Ford and other subsidiary housing associations,” Cllr Francis added. “It’s been on the stocks a long time, back to a project called ‘Fast Forward Circle’ a few years back.”

Old Ford Housing tenants at public meeting at St Paul's parish churchOld Ford Housing tenants at public meeting at St Paul's parish church

Tower Hamlets cabinet member Joshua Peck questioned if the planned merger was right for the families.

He told the meeting: “I have no confidence in the merger. Where is the ‘bread and butter’ of providing good housing service? It just doesn’t exist in this merger plan.”

Cllr Rachel Blake also challenged the merger with Anglia and claimed it was “a wholesale takeover of Old Ford which doesn’t serve residents”. She added: “The values for a community-based organisation being accountable, responsive, with residents at its heart are not improving with the merger.”

Circle Housing has a “recovery plan” in place after last year’s downgrading and has ended its gas repairs contract with Kier, although keeping the annual boiler maintenance agreement.

It had “acknowledged problems” and was half-way through a governance shake-up, while insisting it was “committed to local scrutiny and local panels”.

Circle Housing is merging Old Ford with eight other housing associations in London, the South East and Midlands to cut costs, it said, because of £50m in government rent supplement being taken away next month.

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