Shami Chakrabarti calls conditions at Hatfield's Queensway House 'shameful'
PUBLISHED: 16:57 15 February 2019 | UPDATED: 17:07 15 February 2019
Residents and Labour activists gave Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, a tour of Queensway House in Hatfield yesterday.
The Labour peer and civil liberties campaigner visited the tower block as part of party efforts to highlight council housing conditions nationwide.
Labour prospective parliamentary candidate Rosie Newbigging joined the Baroness along with residents, Hatfield Town Council leader Lenny Brandon, and councillor for Hatfield Central, Maureen Cooke.
Several residents invited her into their homes and spoke about issues such as windows that would not open properly, uncovered electrical wiring in a communal hallway, rubbish poking out of a disposal area, security issues, and mouldy ceilings caused by lack of bathroom ventilation.
A campaign has sprung up in recent months, led by advocate Dee Chessum, around existing conditions in the building as well as problems arising as part of safety renovations that have been under way since 2015.
READ MORE: Queensway House residents tell of damp and mould in renovations
The lift at the tower block is currently being replaced, so the pack of councillors, residents and the Labour peer all took in 12 flights of stairs on their visit to the properties.
Dee pointed out to Baroness Chakrabarti the cement infill work on the bathroom windows, which was done as a response to safety concerns after the Grenfell Tower disaster.
“No plastering, no making good, no nothing,” said Dee.
A ventilation system is planned to be installed, along with a fire sprinkler system, in September 2019 - two years after the windows were filled in.
One resident said that, ironically, he had to unplug his fire alarm every time he showered because the steam from his bathroom sets it off.
READ MORE: Queensway House fire safety and improvement works continue
Councillor Brandon believes that the building has reached the end of its life expectancy.
“here has to be a tipping point where it is uneconomic and not cost-effective to spend vast amounts of money, trying to fix what ultimately is unfixable,” he said.
“After yesterday’s inspection of the building I would challenge anyone who said differently.”
Baroness Chakrabarti said she was “embarrassed” by what she had seen.
“As you know, back in Westminster at the moment everybody’s in a sort of Brexit paralysis as Mrs May runs down the clock,” she said.
“But in the meantime there are people all over this country - this is just one example - who are living in enormous hardship which is, I’m afraid, frankly being ignored by the current government.
“This is one of the wealthiest countries on earth and nobody needs to live like this, let alone in public housing.
“Housing is a basic human right.
“You know this is not a developing country.
“And this place is so close to London.
“So this is Mrs May’s Britain, the most divided country in terms of wealth inequality in Europe, and it’s an absolute disgrace.”
She also said she believed some of the blame lies with central government.
“They have been starving councils of whatever colour all over the country.
“I think there’s too much looking the other way, and contracting out, and kicking the can down the road.
“How can people live in dignity with these kind of squalid conditions?
“It’s really shameful. I’m really embarrassed. “
On February 4, Ms Newbigging raised the ongoing complaints of residents and asked in a council meeting: “Does the leader of the council think this is an acceptable way for people to have to live and does he take full responsibility as leader of the council for the abject failure of this Council to ensure that Queensway House is fully fit for for human habitation?”
The council leader, Tony Kingsbury, referred the question to the portfolio holder for housing, councillor Nick Pace.
Cllr Pace apologised that residents feel concerned about issues relating to the block.
“The council ifs fully aware of all these concerns and has remained in regular and comprehensive communications with residents about these issues prior to, and since the terrible tragedy of Grenfell Tower.
He reiterated that the bathroom window infill work had been done urgently in response to Fire and Rescue service recommendations
“Whilst the infilling windows before a new ducted extractor system is being installed may be causing some incidents of condensation in bathrooms, the council’s first priority will always be to ensure the safety of residents,” he said, adding that officers have been working with residents and had handed our dehumidifiers.
“Any individual concerns about sanitation are managed by council officers upon request and the council has clearly communicated contact details for residents who remain concerned,” he said.
Regarding security issues, he said that the council has received no complaints since doors were fixed in December 2018, and that the council was working closely with police, adding that there have been six incidents of antisocial behaviour reported to police in the last 18 months, all of which were investigated.
In response to Baroness Chakrabarti’s comments yesterday, a council spokesperson said: “We are working hard to ensure that Queensway House is as safe and comfortable as possible for all our residents, and provide timely updates as often as we can, including monthly newsletters.
“But alongside this, there may be issues that we have not been made aware of.
“We are keen for residents to raise any concerns with the council directly, so that we can address anything that isn’t currently being investigated or worked on.”