Fringe Box



Long Awaited Repairs to GBC Housing Not Expected for Another Six to Nine Months

Published on: 18 Mar, 2024
Updated on: 18 Mar, 2024

Wodehouse Place

By Emily Dalton

local democracy reporter

“Stressed” council tenants and leaseholders have called on Guildford’s Council’s new Chief Executive Pedro Wrobel to meet them “so that a clear plan of resolution can be initiated”.

Residents at Wodehouse Place, a block of flats owned by Guildford Borough Council (GBC), had emergency safety works paused after a fraud investigation into the council’s housing department was launched in September 2023. Residents say they have since been left with exposed wires and holes throughout the property’s hallways.

Cllr Julia McShane

Wodehouse Place Residents Association (WPRA) said: “Cllr Julia Mcshane assured us that the block was safe, but having now received copies of the electrical certification, this confirms our concerns and we note that the work is certified as “unsatisfactory” and this should be a priority for the council to resolve.”

See also: Risk Assessment Required Work To Be Done to Reduce Fire Risk

The group added: “With the new leadership and executive oversight that Pedro Wrobel brings to GBC we call on him to come and meet residents at Wodehouse Place, and to see the extent of the issues for himself so that a clear plan of resolution can be initiated.”

Informed at the end of August 2023, residents were told “emergency” fire safety works must take place in the next fortnight. New fire safety requirements, including fire doors and emergency lights, were being introduced from October 1 for blocks of flats as part of the government’s response to the Grenfell tragedy.

See also: Council Leader Apologises to Tenants ‘Left in the Lurch’ by Fraud Investigation Delays

Residents did not say they felt “unsafe” but that there’s a constant feel of “stress” and “chaos” in the apartment block. They say they are exposed to wiring in the corridors, unsure if they are live, and there is emergency lighting and fire safety work left unfinished.

“Where you live is supposed to be a sanctuary,” WPRA said. “But [we’ve] got no control.”

A spokesperson for GBC said: “Wodehouse Place has been subject to a full electrical test by a qualified electrician. The inspection of communal spaces shows these have been certified as safe.

“Three minor remedial actions were identified. These do not impact on safety and this work to rectify these actions has been instructed.”

Cllr Maddy Redpath

Cllr Maddy Redpath (R4GV, Castle) claimed: “[Council officers] are using the fraud investigation to hide behind, in my opinion, to not finish repairs, or not start it.”

She said there has been no support or response from the Council, citing officers not answering phones and not replying to emails, and officers taken on the Wodehouse Place issue then getting suspended.

Cllr Redpath claimed the council tenants and leaseholders are being treated by council officers as “second-class citizens” and that they should be “lucky” to have a house. She complained about having to argue it’s not reasonable to have lights on 24-hours a day in a property.

Communal hallway lights are on constantly as motion-sensors were not installed. Residents claim artificial light seeps through their doors which they say is “intrusive” and makes them feel like they are in a “hospital” or “prison”.

Lighting remains on at tenants expense 24-hour-a-day.

Some residents said they had difficulty sleeping and one even referred to the lighting “like Blackpool illuminations”.

“We feel like our voices are not getting heard,” WPRA said. “How would you feel if this was in your house?”

As the lights do not turn off, leaseholders end up footing the electricity bill for work they had not agreed to in the first place.

A spokesperson for GBC said: “The cosmetic works associated with the electrics to Wodehouse Place are not considered to be emergencies and are not impacting on the overall safety of the building.”

Government guidance states those living in council accommodation should be informed several weeks in advance of any works being done. Usually, GBC would consult residents on intended works but due to the “emergency” nature of the fire safety measures this was not possible.

Yet six months down the line, Wodehouse Place and the council are at a “standstill” over the ‘urgent’ repairs residents were not consulted over.

After not having a voice in how or what works were being done, the WPRA said: “This isn’t a fraud that has happened at the council, but in our homes.”

… incompleted wiring and trunking…

GBC housing officers had said they are working on a solution to the repairs and new contractors are hoped to be deployed between six to nine months from now.

WPRA said it was a “ridiculously long amount of time for emergency works.”

Residents at Wodehouse Place said they felt that GBC departments have had an “entrenched attitude” towards them with “communications often going ignored and commitments remaining unfulfilled”.

Cllr Redpath argued the council “can’t have it both ways”. She said: “Either the fire safety works are urgent and it gets done [as soon as possible], or they aren’t and don’t charge the residents.”

Built in 2004, the block is made up of council tenants and leaseholders. As an affordable housing block, it was originally designated as key worker housing for doctors and nurses, fire and rescue services, teachers, to help them get on the property ladder.

A spokesperson for GBC said: “We are facing a challenging and complex situation in our housing service and understand that delays to some repair works are frustrating.

“We’ve started a comprehensive plan to deal with outstanding work and are working hard to continue providing our housing maintenance services with limited disruption completing delayed work as soon as possible. We remain committed to providing high-quality services to our tenants at all times.”

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