Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The trouble with EC1

I've been meaning to deal with this for ages, but it's always been easier to focus on something else. Now that I think about it, I'm sure that's an attitude shared by many who currently hold positions of power at Islington council, even though I don't doubt for a second that they're all hardworking people.

My problem concerns the front door of the block of flats in which I live. Quite simply, the lock has been broken for nearly a year, which means that anyone who wants to come in off the street is free to do so. It's a boring, unglamorous problem, and one that the council finds easy to overlook in favour of more exciting (and completely worthy) projects such as recycling and 'community awareness'. But basic security and a sense of safety for the people who live on these estates surely has to rank as a fairly high priority for the council, when it is the council who actually owns the buildings in the first place.

Not so. The key words to notice above are "for nearly a year", and there's no sign of it being fixed any time soon. Why? A quick call to my local TMO revealed that all the repairs money for 2005 has already been spent, and they have no more to pay for a company to carry out the works until "some time next year". And that's the best they can offer, despite the dozens of phone calls and letters of complaint written by residents, despite all the little old ladies who live on their own in my block who are terrified of being mugged, and, worst of all, despite the fact that an armed robbery took place at a neighbouring estate just five minutes' walk down the road from mine last month. We're talking guns here, not slingshots.

As if all this weren't bad enough, we've got EC1 New Deal to contend with. What started out as a seemingly noble programme by Labour to bring much-needed funding and improvements to some of the most deprived council estates in Britain has now fallen prey to the twin perils of meeting targets and making profit. Both are bad news for council tenants.

A blurb on their website says that EC1 New Deal will see approximately 52.9 million pounds invested in the EC1 area between "now" (whenever it was written) and 2011, although it doesn't specify where exactly this money will be coming from. Last year we found out that a significant chunk of it was to come from us, the tenants. Put simply, the plan was to slap a 10,000-pound charge on every council household over the next five years, to help pay for "security and environmental upgrades."

Putting aside for a moment the fact that many on the estate plainly can't afford to shell out an extra 2,000 quid a year for the next five years, isn't the main issue here that these are council estates, and that the council tax we already pay is meant to cover upgrades such as these? Then again, if there isn't enough money to install a new door (apparently just fixing the lock is out of the question - the door's busted so badly they need a whole new one), obviously the money collected from the council tax isn't enough to cover our basic needs. Either that or it's going to the wrong places. Hmmm...

Member of the EC1 New Deal board met several weeks ago to cast a final vote on the controversial £10,000 fee, and by the looks of it, were genuinely surprised that more than six or seven meeting-junkies bothered to show up. There were easily over 100 people there that night, all of them furious. To be fair, the majority of the board were sympathetic to our cause, and they ended up voting to scrap the environmental fee altogether and reducing the security fee to £1,500, meaning a more manageable (but still annoying) £300 per household per year.

It means that I won't have to look for somewhere else to live, which is nice. But I sincerely hope that a portion of the money I do pay them will end up going towards essential repairs that have been neglected for months, such as my front door, rather than installing CCTV cameras all over the place. The buck has to stop somewhere, but with the council pasing on responsibility to the TMO, and the TMO claiming the council budget isn't big enough, and with most repair services contracted out to private firms, it isn't exactly clear where this is.

In the meantime, we wait. And with every loud BANG that rips through our flat and causes the entire block to tremble as someone lets the front door slam shut without thinking, we get more pissed off. I can't help but notice that Turnpike House, a mammoth estate just over on Goswell Road, has been completely shrouded in plastic and scaffolding since the spring, with no visible signs of progress being made. Has the money for that run out as well? I can't help thinking that if someone were to jump out of their 12th-storey flat out of sheer desperation (the construction company has kindly covered up any holes cut out of the plastic sheeting by residents eager to see a bit of sunshine) or if someone in my block was killed or raped by a stranger lurking in the stairwell, the money would be coughed up soon enough.


At September 02, 2005 10:24 am, Blogger Paulie said...

Having a quick whip round and fixing the door yourselves would be worth thinking about.

And then speak to the local papers about why you have to pay a fortune every year and even basic repairs can't be covered.

It would be the best £100 or so that you've spent in a long time.


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