Leaseholders’ fury as Camden councillor admits he is ‘embarrassed’ to hear complaints
08:00 19 October 2016
Anger spilled over last night as Camden leaseholders confronted councillors about the “arbitrary” and “unfair” charges they say they are being clobbered with – as one councillor admitted it was “embarrassing” for him to hear their complaints.
Cllr Meric Apak appeared sympathetic to the plight of the leaseholders – many of whom are being charged thousands for work they claim is sometimes unnecessary, often poorly executed and done at extortionate costs by contractors.
Cllr Apak, a Labour councillor who represents Kentish Town, told them: “To sit here as a councillor, as a former chair of scrutiny, is embarrassing”.
Dozens of leaseholders – who own former council properties where Camden remains the freeholder – flocked to the town hall to share their stories of how having the council as their landlord is leaving them with “totally unjustifiable” bills for repairs and service charges.
Four councillors from the Labour-run local authority were present, including Camden’s housing chief, Pat Callaghan.
Cllr Callaghan said she was there to listen to their concerns rather than provide answers, but she admitted of the quality of workmanship being reported: “In the private sector, it wouldn’t be tolerated… They (the contractors) would be sacked.”
But she said: “I can’t comment any more as I don’t know the cases.”
Cllr Callaghan’s decision not to provide answers during the meeting provoked anger from many leaseholders.
Sarah Astor told her: “We’ve waited a long time. Answers should be presented and they don’t have to ne long. I don’t think it’s good enough.”
Stalwart councillor Roger Robinson said the situation showed that outsourcing by the council to the private sector was not efficient in the long-run.
Cllr Robinson, who represents Somers Town, said: “It’s much better to have a direct Labour force…I’ve been on the council since 1964, when workers were accountable, they were trained to be first-class tradespeople…I am appalled by some of the work we see today.”
Cllr Danny Beales said the council has changed its procurement process recently so that large contracts are no longer being given to contractors such as Appollo and Lakehouse - who then sub-contract the work out themselves.
Cllr Beales said there were clearly still “issues” in giving proper notice of works to be carried out and a breakdown of charges – but one angry leaseholder told him: “That is the last refuge of the scoundrel to say there are problems with communications…there are problems with the work and with procurement.”
Leaseholder Ian Dewar, who lives in Albert Street, Camden Town, said he welcomed the change in procurement, but claimed the lack of consultation from the council with leaseholders was unacceptable.
He said: “We all have horrendous experiences…HS2 are better at consultation than Camden Council.”
He told the councillors present that they were being taken advantage of by exploitative contractors and “incompetent” officers – and suggested that corruption might play a part.
Mr Dewar urged the councillors: “You elected people need to grow some teeth and some balls” – to which Cllr Callaghan replied: “I’ve got teeth, I haven’t got any balls, but I’ve got a really strong backbone.”
Leaseholder Rosemary Ibrahim, who lives on the Whittington Estate in Highgate, said she is “furious” with the council which she claimed is failing to abide by the terms and conditions of its own covenants in its treatment of leaseholders.
She said residents there are now in “formal dispute” with the council over the fitting of new heating after they experienced “leaks, floodings and delays” and were then hit with a charge of £15,000 for a system “not fit for purpose.”
She urged Cllr Callaghan to investigate the situation “urgently” and warned: “You cannot just dream up figures and expect us to start paying.”
Highgate leaseholders threatened virtual insurrection, saying they would withhold payment of the charges until Camden investigates and provides a full breakdown of costs.
Cllr Callaghan promised to “look carefully” at the many concerns raised and to provide answers at the next leaseholders’ forum in January.