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Ebury Bridge residents urge council not to knock down their homes

Residents voice fears over homes future as regeneration plans go back to the drawing board

28 July, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya

Jennifer Jones who lives in Westbourne House said the council is ‘taking us all for a ride’

RESIDENTS on the Ebury Bridge Estate have issued a desperate plea for their homes not to be demolished. The Westminster Extra went to the estate in Pimlico this week and found that many people were fearing for the futures of the flats they have lived in for years.

Just last month, Westminster Council stunned the estate with an announcement that its original plans, agreed in 2013 with residents, were no longer “viable”. The estate had voted on a plan that would see a large section of the estate demolished with five blocks – Rye, Victoria, Bucknill, Westbourne and Doneraile – retained and refurbished.

But now the council says it cannot guarantee that the remaining homes will not be knocked down.

Jennifer Joseph, who has lived on the estate since 1981, said: “I was in the RAF nursing. It is going to take the whole army and navy to get us out of this house.”

She added: “I’m 68, I’m coming towards my twilight years now and I want to live them comfortably. “My son is 35 years old and he has Asperger’s. I am his sole carer.

“They are taking us all for a ride. They want to get us out and get the rich people in. They should just regenerate and do what they said they were going to do without moving us out. I am not going to go to my grave worrying about my son.”

Westbourne House resident Kari Haslam, said she was “shocked, worried and angry” and urged the council to “not demolish the block”. The 56-year-old, who volunteers as a peer trainer for the NHS mental health services, said her flat on the estate was the first place she felt “secure and happy” and she “couldn’t imagine” moving somewhere else and starting again.

She said: “I moved here in 1994 and before that I was living in crummy old bedsits, going from place to place, sleeping on people’s sofas. “When I first got this place I felt at last I was secure, I had a home. I have put every penny into making it cosy and nice.I am disabled and have a mental health problem and Jennifer Joseph outside Westbourne House some mobility problems.

“Living here has transformed me. This must be the friendliest balcony on the whole estate and a fantastic community that makes life worth living. I just couldn’t imagine being transported to God knows where and starting again.”

She spoke of her shock after attending the meeting, on June 28, when the announcement was made. “We were told for years that it wouldn’t affect us. We need to find out what is happening and to stop the demolition which is the worst thing that can happen. I think the council should come clean and tell us exactly what their plans are.”

The council said the original scheme had proved not to be commercially viable and they are now drawing up a new plan and would be consulting residents. Some residents in other blocks were not aware that plans had changed. Churchill ward councillor Jason Williams said the way the council has handled the situation was “appalling”, particularly after waiting for more than four years for the original plans to go ahead.

He said: “It is perfectly understandable that people are very concerned because the way the council have handled this has been very poor. It is a situation where there has been no communication and people are thinking anything could happen – that blocks could be knocked down.”

The Labour councillor added: “Are we talking about wholesale demolition? Are we talking about refurbishment? People need clarity. The way the council are being so opaque about the whole thing adds to the rumour. The council have just made things worse.”

When residents voted on the original plans, they had expected the retained blocks to be refurbished, but this had not happened. Christina Pasantes, who has lived on the estate her entire life, said: “It’s been five years and in the interim it has fallen apart. There has not been any investment in these blocks because they said they were waiting for the refurbishment. It’s the lack of everything, the lack of information, that is really frustrating.”

“They are saying they don’t know what will happen. But they have known for ages that the first proposal was not viable and it’s just not on. “It feels like social cleansing. I’ve lived on this estate my entire life and quite frankly don’t want to move.”

Catherine Hoolihan, 63, who lives in the same block said the delays and lack of clarity were “disgraceful”, adding: “I have lived here for a long time. I like my flat.I have been here more than 30 years. I am worried because you don’t know where you’re going to go. People have memories in their homes, they have brought up children and grandchildren. It’s like we have no say in anything. It’s like whatever they say, we have to do.”

Westminster Council’s housing chief Cllr Rachael Robathan said: “To date, 60 households have moved off the Ebury Bridge Estate to enable the council to move forward with the regeneration of the estate.

“All households have been rehoused within Westminster. Twenty-four households have decided to move on a permanent basis and 36 on a temporary basis with the intention of moving into a new home at Ebury Bridge once regeneration has been completed. The council continues to work with residents on the estate to find suitable alternative accommodation within Westminster for those who wish to move. There are no guardians on the estate.

“The council is working with residents to develop a range of exciting new proposals for the estate which could include refurbishment of existing blocks through to building new, modern, energy-efficient homes of all sizes and tenures, new community facilities, improved public realm, and a new retail offering.

“Our community engagement team is in the process of speaking with every household to gather their views on what they would like to see from the regeneration.

“Ebury Bridge will form part of the council’s wider regeneration programme that will deliver 1,850 affordable homes across the whole of Westminster by 2023.”

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