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'They are just units': Architect George Clarke slams South Woodford housing scheme for homeless families

PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 August 2019 | UPDATED: 12:14 02 August 2019

South Woodford's temporary accommodation for homeless families featured on Channel 4's George Clarke's Council House Scandal. Picture: Channel 4

South Woodford's temporary accommodation for homeless families featured on Channel 4's George Clarke's Council House Scandal. Picture: Channel 4

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Architect and TV presenter George Clarke has criticised Redbridge Council's temporary accommodation for homeless families in South Woodford in his latest programme on council housing.

South Woodford's temporary accommodation for homeless families featured in George Clarke's Council House Scandal on Channel 4. Picture: Channel 4South Woodford's temporary accommodation for homeless families featured in George Clarke's Council House Scandal on Channel 4. Picture: Channel 4

During the first episode of George Clarke's Council House Scandal, aired on Channel 4 on Wednesday, July 31, he said: "Just look at it. It's not great, is it? This is not good quality, permanent housing for families to live in, grow and have a sense of community.

"They are just units - that awful word the housing industry uses when they talk about the numbers needed to re-house people."

Pointing to the 30-unit three-storey temporary housing scheme for homeless residents in Chigwell Road, he said: "It's 100 years since the Addison Act, when it said we needed to create good quality homes for those most in need - truly affordable ones.

"100 years later, we're building this."

Redbridge Council said central government policy has put it in a position that "forces" them to build homes like the scheme in South Woodford, but it is "stepping up with the largest council housing programme in decades".

During the programme, George spoke to Mark Coleman, a father of five who spoke to the Recorder in 2016 about how he and his family lived in a one-room flat "infested with vermin" in Balfour Road, Ilford.

The Recorder saw evidence at the time of cockroaches, fire doors with gaps and broken fire extinguishers, but the council denied there were any problems with the property.

Mark told George they became homeless after he and his family lost benefits, fell into arrears and were evicted.

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"It went bad very quickly. I'm just a normal person, nothing special about me, it can happen to anybody," he said.

He said the family were forced to sofa-surf and sleep in the car until they were offered temporary accommodation.

"They put us in a hotel B&B - we're talking cockroaches, hundreds of them, we're talking mice, rats. I wouldn't let a pet stay there, that's how bad it was," Mark told George.

"We will be in temporary accommodation for years. There's no council houses. There's no point in knowing my neighbours. There's no point in me putting roots down because next week I could be somewhere else."

A spokesman for Redbridge Council said Redbridge residents are suffering from a "housing crisis that was made in Westminster".

"By cutting benefits and slashing council funding, ministers have put our communities in an impossible position," the spokesman said.

"This is compounded by spiralling private sector rents, historic under-investment in affordable housing in Redbridge and much-needed council housing lost forever to Right to Buy.

"With less than 4,500 units we have inherited the second lowest council housing stock in London.

"The council is stepping up with the largest council housing programme in decades, including 600 genuinely affordable council homes by 2022. This will make us the largest provider of new social homes in the borough.

"We are doing our bit but national policy makers are leaving too many vulnerable people without the accommodation they need.

"Central government has put us in a position that forces us to build homes like the scheme in South Woodford so that we can provide safe and secure accommodation for families who would otherwise find themselves in hostels or bed and breakfast, often outside the borough."

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