'Not on my watch!' - No repeat of St Michael's Gate problems promises Peterborough City Council as action taken to help homeless families
Problems discovered at the St Michael's Gate estate in Peterborough will be a thing of the past, a senior city council officer has promised, after action was taken to improve the lives of homeless families living there.
Service director for community and safety Adrian Chapman made the personal pledge after revealing the wide-ranging measures implemented by the authority in the wake of criticisms about the standard of some of the homes.
Inspections of all but one of the 72 properties leased by the council from private housing firm Stef & Philips have revealed a "wide range" of repairs which need to be carried out, but each property remains habitable it was declared at last night's meeting.
Homeless families living on the estate have complained about the properties being very cold due to poor quality storage heaters, which was borne out by the inspections. But it was revealed during the meeting that the council has won funding to install central heating and to connect homes to the gas network both in St Michael's Gate and in other places across the city, albeit this will not begin until March next year.
Stef & Philips will also carry out a survey for replacement doors and windows at the start of December, it was stated.
St Michael's Gate hit the headlines more than two years ago when the Peterborough Telegraph revealed that the families living on the estate were being evicted by landlords Paul Simon Magic Homes through their managing agents Stef & Philips.
The latter than signed a deal worth nearly Â£1 million a year for the council to rent the vacant properties as temporary accommodation for its homeless families.
The council insisted that if it did not agree to the deal another authority would have moved its homeless families into the estate instead.
Monday night's meeting was chaired by Hazel Cottrell from the Parnwell Residents Association, who told Mr Chapman: "This was a horrendous situation for the residents and mistakes were made. How can you make sure this won't happen again?"
Mr Chapman replied: "This won't happen on my watch. You have my personal commitment this won't happen again."
The council had agreed a 12 point action play after listening to concerns at a public meeting in October.
Updating the tenants who came to the meeting at Club Caliente in Saltersgate, after the meeting had to be moved last minute, Mr Chapman revealed residents now had a dedicated email address and phone number with the council to raise concerns, while weekly drop-in surgeries have been held on the estate.
The council is also now providing an occupational therapist to provide medical assessments when needed, while local school Lime Academy Parnwell is to receive a full-time family support worker for a year to help with the demand for early help assessments for its pupils.
Mental health support for the school is also being looked at.
Mr Chapman, who was joined at the meeting by several council officers, and council deputy leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, also claimed previously raised concerns about an increase in crime in the area were incorrect.
He said: "There's no element of increased criminality in Parnwell other than what we are seeing elsewhere in the city. I've spoken to (Peterborough's police chief) Andy Gipp and we are confident there are no issues."
Rumours of Stef & Philips allegedly converting some of the homes into five-bedroom properties - which would allow them to charge more money - were also raised.
Mr Chapman said: "I really hope that's not the case and is a myth. We have no need for more HMO accommodation at St Michael's Gate. We have heard the rumours and are not aware it's happening."
There was also good news on the housing front with the number of people placed in temporary accommodation outside of Peterborough now down to five from a high of the mid 60s.
Mr Chapman said: "There has been some good movement across the city in all of our temporary accommodation. We have increased our number of private long lease accommodation which we are then able to offer."
One of the former tenants at St Michael's Gate, who was delighted to have recently been given her own home, was present at the meeting.
Mr Chapman also revealed that the council is considering whether to make a bid for the homes after they were put up for sale.
Cllr Fitzgerald said he wants the same standards to be in place at all temporary accommodation across Peterborough, and not just at St Michael's Gate.
He told the audience: "I think the team have done a fantastic job in such a short time in addressing all the issues.
"The properties in St Michael's Gate, the vast majority have nothing wrong with them."
Stef & Philips was invited by the residents association to attend the two recent meetings but did not respond to the invitations, it was also stated.