Southend tower block residents living in fear

Angry residents living in dilapidated Southend city centre tower blocks fear “anyone can access the buildings” due to broken doors and smashed windows.

The Queensway tower blocks have become a magnet for vandals and drug takers, with residents claiming they have to squeeze past them on stairwells.

The long-suffering residents have for many years bemoaned the state of entrance doors which allow access to non-residents and have now underlined the issue on social media. It comes as the future of the tower blocks hang in the balance, with Southend City Council going back to the drawing board on plans to demolish the blocks and build 1,700 new homes.

A video posted on social media – shot by resident Mike Smith – features Chiltern tower block resident Ian Ward showing how magnets, designed to keep the block’s main door closed, have been damaged. The film also shows how smashed widows have been left boarded up. In the video, Mr Ward, explains how one of the magnets had dropped out and narrowly missed his foot.

He adds: “I’ve been living on this estate for 15 years and we’ve had lots of trouble. South Essex Homes is not doing their job and they are not talking to use about it either.”

The film, also posted on the I Love Queensway Estate Facebook page, goes on to show the damaged mechanism for an automatic door and a boarded up window.

David Garston, Southend Tory councillor responsible for housing and planning, insisted South Essex Homes was highly responsive when he reported issues, adding: “I’m very surprised to hear that there is so much they think is wrong and going on a long time because as soon as I report something that has been brought to my attention they get contractors to deal with it. South Essex Homes is giving a lot of emphasis to the estate.

People getting in is a major problem and it’s happening because of tailgating. As a resident goes in somebody will follow them in and they are too nervous to question them because they could be risking their own security. You’ve got the homeless getting in and you’ve got people with drugs. I honestly don’t know the answer without having security on every door.”

A South Essex Homes spokesman said staff were aware of the situation with the defective door and outstanding repairs to glazing at Chiltern “both of which are very often the subject of vandalism”, adding: “We have been working with contractors on a cost-effective solution to ensure the system is more robust. Unfortunately, this has not been achieved and our only option, to ensure we have a reliable and robust solution, is to replace the whole door and frame set.

“We apologise for not keeping residents appraised of the deliberations but will ensure we take this away and improve our communication on this matter.”

Drug smoking in stairwells

Malvern tower block resident Mike Smith is on the committee of the Queensway Matters Group. Here, Mr Smith, 75, outlines what it is like living in the towers which were due to be demolished under the now stalled Better Queensway regeneration project.

There are problems that need sorting out. It’s partly because there was a bit of neglect going on in Queensway because they thought if the tower blocks were coming down why should they do any work on them?

Routine things like changing lights, just basic things need to be done every month to keep the place running. Last year one of our lifts was out for about six weeks over the Christmas period and it caused a lot of trouble because if everyone is using the one lift then that gets pressure on it.

Police on patrol in one of the tower blocks

There was a time when we didn’t have a lift at all. That’s very problematic if you want to go out shopping and you have to walk up flights of stairs.

We’ve always had problems with people trying to get into the blocks. There is a fob system you put it against a panel and it opens the door. There are three magnets equally spaced on one side of the door. When you put the fob up it opens the magnets. We’ve got the strongest magnets available in the country on these doors but if someone is strong enough they can yank the door and break them.

That puts so much pressure on it has warped the door in Chiltern and that means one of the magnets isn’t making any contact. People who don’t even live on our estate are coming here and doing this sort of damage so they can get into our stairs and start smoking drugs or sleeping rough.

There are police doing regular visits to the blocks and we’ve got our own security guards who are coming every day now.

They come at 5pm and travel around until about 2am trying to keep people out of the blocks. They also do other areas like the Kursaal so they’re not totally dedicated to Queensway. We have to pay for it through our service charge so it’s not free but it does help.

I they find somebody on the stairs they move them on, but they go away and then come back again.

They are either homeless or just drifters and they target one block and stay there for a few days then they go somewhere else. They are constantly moving to try and avoid being picked up by the security guards.

Rocky road for Queensway plan

The ill-fated £575million Queensway scheme was launched back in 2014 when Southend Council teamed up with Swan housing to deliver the ten-year scheme, which had always been only marginally financially viable.

Four town centre tower blocks were set to be demolished to make way for the project that would have delivered 1,700 new homes along with shops and cafes and community areas.

A new road scheme proposed the filling in of the Queensway underpass but this was met with opposition. When Swan ran into financial difficulties it was taken over by Sanctuary Housing but the council was informed in August that Sanctuary would not be backing the Better Queensway scheme.

The council says it is still committed to the scheme but has indicated it will look at tearing up current approved plans in favour of a smaller scheme. It is also proposed to revisit the road scheme.

Council leader Tony Cox confirmed a four lane, free-flowing road to the seafront must be included in any new plan, whether or not the underpass is filled in.

The move would take the scheme back to the drawing board and it is likely to be some years before any work begins. The council, which has a deficit of £10.7million, would also have to seek outside funding and potentially a new delivery partner. Tower block flats which the council had begun to empty ahead of demolitio nare now being filled once more as a temporary move to help reduce the city’s waiting list.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter