£26m plan to bring Redbridge Council homes up to scratch

Redbridge Council is planning to spend £26million on bringing its 4,400 homes up to standard following a warning from a housing regulator last year.

In September last year, the council came under fire from the Regulator of Social Housing after an investigation found it lacked up-to-date records of safety checks in many of its buildings.

Council leader Jas Athwal later admitted “indefensible” errors had been made but argued his officers had been focusing on “other jobs” during the pandemic.

Although Cllr Athwal insisted most inspections had been undertaken, it also emerged that more than 3,000 fire door replacements were overdue.

To address “legacy shortfalls” and “multiple complaints”, the council is now planning to spend £26m on internal upgrades such as new boilers, replacement roofs and window repairs.

Cabinet member for housing and homelessness Vanisha Solanki said £26m is needed in the coming financial year – £15m more than the previous year – to “achieve and maintain” legal standards for social housing.

Safety “compliance” work will pay for 2,500 replacement fire doors, new emergency lighting, electrical repairs, water tank “renewals” and a new lift in one high-rise block.

Testing carried out late last year found 300 homes needing electrical “remedial work” and 900 homes in need of new smoke alarms, heat detectors and protection from electrical surges.

According to a report on the housing budget for 2023/24, more than £6m will be spent on nine “non-decent” blocks, which have leaks and need replacement roofs and repairs to “failed windows”.

The report adds: “This will begin to address the legacy shortfalls and promote a fabric-first approach”

A further 150 homes are “subject to multiple complaints and disrepair cases” for external issues such as roofs and windows, that will cost £3.3m to “begin” addressing.

The council will also spend more than £4m on new boilers and central heating in 350 homes and new kitchens and bathrooms in 300 homes.

Eight blocks will also need repairs and decoration as they are in “very poor condition” and £1.6m has been set aside for ad hoc “disrepair, mould, damp and decorative” works.

Gemma, a mother of three who lives in a mouldy flat on Redbridge’s Orchard Estate, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service she is “not surprised” about the scale of work planned by the council.

She added: “The guttering and the boiler is probably where all the leaks here are coming from… everything that’s been mentioned I’ve had issues with.

“The electrial testing has not been done… I’ve had six leaks in two years, it’s coming from somewhere inside the walls.

“These fire doors, we’ve been waiting for them for three years – if there was a fire today, we would not be safe until the fire brigade got there.

“The lift is constantly breaking down and I know a neighbour was stuck in there for two hours recently.”

For at least three years the council has spent less than half the budget it allocated to improving its housing.

Last year the council had budgeted £25m for “works to existing stock”, but spent only £10m by the end of the year, and in 2021/22 it spent about a third of the £23m it had budgeted.

This does not include the £7-8m budgeted for repairs and maintenance each year.

Conservative group leader Paul Canal suggested that Redbridge is unable to manage its houses “safely and effectively” despite having the “lowest number” in London.

He added: “The housing director’s office seems to have been fitted with a revolving door – we have had more housing directors than Leeds Football Club have had managers.

“There is no effective management, no accountability, no serious plan.”

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter