Hatfield high-rise tenants start 2019 in temporary accommodation
PUBLISHED: 14:10 02 January 2019 | UPDATED: 14:38 02 January 2019
Danny Loo Photography 2016
Residents of a Hatfield tower block have spent Christmas and New Year in temporary accommodation after the 1962 building's lift was put out of action.
The lift, which has been malfunctioning for a while, is now to be replaced by June 20.
The residents on upper floors who cannot manage the 11 flights of stairs have been offered various alternatives.
Some residents, particularly those expecting children, have been permanently re-housed.
Others were offered either hotel accommodation, or £50 a day to stay with friends and family for up to one month.
Residents who can manage the stairs have been offered £520 compensation each.
One resident, who spoke to the Welwyn Hatfield Times on condition of anonymity, said she was “devastated” at the news, which came on December 20.
“I actually cried, because I knew my Christmas wasn’t going to be what we planned,” she said.
Thanks to a medical condition, the stairs are not an option, so she has accepted the offer of £50 a day and spent Christmas and New Year on her friend’s sofa.
It has been very different to how she and her partner pictured the holiday.
“It wasn’t going to be massive, but we were just going to have a nice day at home and look over what we had achieved over the year,” she said.
It had been a good year, as Queensway House was her first proper flat of her own, and she had come off her medical treatment for depression and anxiety.
She had put up a Christmas tree and had planned a roast beef dinner for Christmas day.
“I’m very welcome [at the friend’s house] and all that,” she said. “But I don’t want to impose. [The friend] has got a family of her own.”
Until a permanent solution is found, the resident still has to pay rent on the Queensway House flat in order to keep her tenancy agreement open.
In addition, January’s planned installation of fire safety sprinklers and a ventilation system, has now been delayed until September.
A council spokesperson explained that the original plan for the extractor ducting had had to change as it is too big to get through the corridors.
“We are now looking at putting the ducting through the external walls of the building.
“Like the fitting of sprinklers throughout the block, this is a major piece of work. It will include the lowering of ceilings in each flat and scaffolding around the whole block.”
Because of how disruptive both sets of work will be, the council wants to do both at the same time - hence the delay on both until September.
When this was announced at a meeting on December 2, relations between the residents and the council distinctly chilled at the announcement.
“I thought a fight would break out, they were so annoyed,” said longtime 11th-floor resident John Withers, 52.
As well as council tenants, a leaseholder in the building is also annoyed at the slow pace of renovations.
Having bought the flat he had lived in since 2008, the 44-year-old who would like to remain anonymous became a father two years ago.
He wants to rent his flat out and move somewhere more suitable for a family, but he is held back from making some improvements.
With good maintenance, he said, the damp can be managed, but he wants to install ventilation out of his own pocket to be able to rent the place out.
But because it’s officially the council’s responsibility, he’s held back from doing it.
None of the residents the Welwyn Hatfield Times spoke to have suffered from the worst of the damp and poor drainage that has been reported previously, and the resident who is staying with her friend said she was “relatively happy” there.
Dee Chessum, who has become an advocate for the residents of Queensway House, said: “I am appalled by the complacency of the leaders of the council.
“I have tried to work with officers of the council to progress the repairs which are desperately urgent.
“The leaders of the council have left tenants living in sub standard housing conditions ... Everyone feels very let down, with the council constantly backtracking on agreements made with either myself or tenants.”
A council spokesperson said: “It is important to stress that the issues raised at the meeting, including the fire safety of the building and its overall condition, are extremely important to us.
“We have been working through a programme of works since 2017 to address these.
“We fully appreciate that the change in timetable for some of the actions is frustrating, but want to assure residents that we are working hard to complete these as soon as we can.
The resident who has moved acknowledged the council’s efforts. “I think they’re trying,” she said. “But it’s too late. They’ve let the building go into disrepair. It’s a shame that it’s come to this.”