Birmingham news 'They told us not to attend meetings drunk' - tenants' anger at council insult PremierLeague-News.Com
PremierLeague-News.Com - Fury is mounting in Druids Heath over the way a regeneration project is going - with fears it amounts to 'social cleansing'
PremierLeague-News.Com - Breaking Sport Transfer News ! Angry residents in doomed tower blocks in Druids Heath have accused the city council of being 'insulting' and treating them like 'second class citizens' over the area's £43 million regeneration plans. "One council official referred to us as 'stock'. We are not cattle, nor are we numbers to be moved around and dispersed at will. We are people, we are beautiful families, and people trying their best," said Tamika Gill, a mum-of-two who represents residents of tower blocks at the heart of the multi-million pound redevelopment. The council also warned residents not to attend meetings 'while drunk or high' in proposed terms of reference for a new partnership board. Six council blocks on the estate are to be demolished as part of a massive revamp of the area. The 'insulting' line was removed after residents and local councillor Julien Pritchard fiercely objected. The council has confirmed the phrase was in 'an early draft of the terms of reference' and was aimed equally at tenants and officers - but was later dropped. Tamika Gill and Esther Brown, standing up for the residents of the blocks at Druids Heath (Image: Jane Haynes/Birmingham Live) Said Tamika: "It's insulting. Do they think because we live in tower blocks we are all crackheads and alcoholics? It is frustrating that they are telling us we are partners but they are not treating us like equals. "This kind of thing sets the tone and adds to our belief that ultimately this is about social cleansing and gentrification of this area." Tamika lives on the eighth floor of Barratts House with her daughters, aged eight and 12. It is one of the six blocks doomed under the project. She is a resident representative on the Druids Heath Partnership Board, set up last year after residents rose up to protest about the way the project was being handled. Barratts House, one of the blocks in Druids Heath earmarked for demolition (Image: Jane Haynes/Birmingham Live) But in the months since it started, says Tamika, there has been a mounting sense that council officials are paying lip service to their needs - with all the power lying with the council and developers and none with residents. That had been shown by the recent threat to forcibly evict Ezekiel Hermon, 46, who is the last resident left in neighbouring Saxelby House, she said. That block is also due to be demolished in the first phase of work. First phase of £43 million housing plans for Druids Heath The first phase of regeneration in Druids Heath will consign six high-rises and the former Baverstock School to the bulldozer to make way for hundreds of new properties. Three other tower blocks will be retained and refurbished during the process which is expected to take around six years. The redevelopment with take place on 18 acres of land predominantly to the north of Druids Lane. Hillcroft, Kingswood, Barratts and Saxelby houses will be demolished along with the Brookpiece tower on the south side and Heath House. Heath House has already been bulldozed, with Saxelby and Kingswood next. Work to clear the former school is already under way. Another block, Kingswood, is also being emptied, with around ten households still living there. A third block, Heath House, was demolished last summer. Said Tamika of her neighbour Ezekiel's standoff with the council: "He is a hero. When the council started this project they promised we would not be 'done to' but would be partners, that we would be heard and our concerns listened to. "They sold us a dream that our lives would get better, but for many that is not how it is turning out. Ezekiel Hermon is the last person left in Saxelby House tower block in Druids Heath. (Image: Birmingham Live) "We always worried this project was about gentrifying the area and forcing us out, dispersing us around the city, and what we are now seeing and hearing suggests that is the aim," she claimed. Mr Hermon, 46, is refusing to leave his flat because he claims the alternative offered to him by the council is worse than where he is now. He turned down one-bedroom properties, saying they will be too small for his four children to stay over, and refused to move to another high-rise after spending 25 years in the Kimpton Close block. In November last year, he had a notice seeking possession from the council, and the case is now being taken to court. "I worry that they are saying one thing but they are displaying in their language and actions another. I did not partner up with the council to watch them evict people, that is not what I am about," said Tamika. Read More Related Articles Last man in Druids Heath tower block fears he'll be stuck for 'months' Read More Related Articles BBC TV crime drama starring Bafta-winning star being filmed at doomed Druids Heath tower block Tamika, originally from Jamaica, settled here 20 years ago and has lived in Barratts House for six years. A qualified teaching assistant, she has been a strong advocate for residents since. "We are not opposed to regeneration - the blocks are deplorable, they need regeneration. But none of how it is done makes sense." She is now waiting to learn her fate, along with her neighbours, over when their turn to be evicted will come - but says nobody should have to accept a move to 'just anywhere', nor accept poor living conditions. Tamika Gill looks out over Druids Heath (Image: Birmingham Mail) "I fight for other residents but mostly for my children. They live in this community and go to school here, it is all my youngest has ever known. We have friends, neighbours, a network, and like everyone else we face being dispersed to another area and having to start over again. "They promise we can come back one day when it is all finished, but in reality it's just not going to happen. "One of our residents was here for the whole life of her block, she was moved into a new area, away from all her friends. Other families have been moved away from their schools, their families. "One of our families was sent to a shocking place, I would never take my kids in there but she felt she had no choice but to accept. "Some can't wait to move, they are desperate to go, some are happy with their move. "But it is a lottery and too many are losing out. Barratts House, one of the blocks in Druids Heath earmarked for demolition (Image: Jane Haynes/Birmingham Live) "Regeneration should be uplifting and positive for everyone. The council sold this as a way to raise our lives, to make our lives better. That is not what many of us are seeing so far." She added: "As we are seeing with Ezekiel, the council make a limited number of offers to people of new places to move to, but at the end of the day if people refuse they are forcing them out. That is not right. "We are telling residents to stand their ground." Esther Brown, 34, has lived in Druids Heath all her life, and her brother lives in Barratts House. She is a member of Druids Heath and Monyhull Residents' Forum. "The only motivation we have is we want residents to be heard, we are voices and people, not just numbers and spreadsheets. "The council are saying we are working in partnership, but it is not a partnership because we are not equals. We have become victims of change, and people are losing hope." Esther Brown, left, from Druids Heath and Monyhull ward forum, resident Matthias, and residents' representative Tamika Gill (Image: Jane Haynes/Birmingham Live) Barratts House resident Matthias, who lives on the first floor, is waiting to hear his fate too.
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. He says his boiler was stolen, along with most of his possessions, when his flat was ransacked while he was away for a week, and has not yet been replaced. It means none of his young kids - he has five - can come and visit, he said. His dingy flat, with sheets up at the windows and the barest hint of a kitchen, with a table top two plate hob, costs nearly £400 a month in housing benefit. The rent has just been put up too, by 1.5%, as part of the city-wide rent rise introduced by the council last month. Matthias, who asked us not to use his full name, is a barber by trade and says he's keen to work but the pandemic year has made his prospects very difficult. "I do like it here but we have all been left in limbo. We don't really know what to do next. The people are good people, I have no problems with my neighbours, it is good here." Becki Winson, senior organiser at the campaigning organisation New Economics Foundation, has been supporting the Druids Heath residents for three years. She helped them to draw up a list of seven demands, presented to Cllr Ward and MP Steve McCabe at the December 2019 meeting, which resulted in the creation of the Partnership Board.
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Their seven asks were: 1. Build before eviction 2. Full refurbishment of every dwelling to Decent Homes Standard 3. Minimum £10,000 home loss compensation payment to every householder 4. All homes to be energy efficient 5. 10% increase in total number of social dwellings 6. All single person households to be rehoused in single occupancy dwellings 7. All have right to return "Residents were dubious that anything would be different, but were prepared to give it a go," said Becki. "But the first terms of reference they sent through included a line to say that residents should not come to meetings drunk or on drugs. It was utterly insulting. "In the period since the council has warned residents that in order to provide more than 300 social homes, the number needed to rehouse everyone in the blocks back here, it would be necessary to build a higher number of executive and private homes to fund it. "It is very frustrating. Nobody wants this to fail but some of the council officers appear to be displaying open contempt."
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Cllr Julien Pritchard, who represents Druids Heath and Monyhull, said he had been working alongside residents on the project. "Birmingham City Council needs to put the needs of all residents in Druids Heath at the front and centre of the regeneration. "The council has struggled to work in partnership with the community to move regeneration forward. "Historically it feels like the council is only able to do regeneration to communities. In Druids Heath the council needs to learn how to move it forward working with the community." He added: "Accommodation being offered to residents in the rehousing process has often been poor. "I've had several cases of residents being offered replacement properties with significant issues which the council said would only be addressed once residents moved in, leaving myself and residents spending months chasing the council and their repairs contractor to sort those issues. "It is frustrating that the council hasn't yet managed to build trust with the community." He said the council was asked years ago to consider putting up new social homes on vacant land first, move residents out and then demolish a block, before moving onto the next block. That would mean residents would have only faced a single move - but that way of working was not deemed viable or preferred. "I think that history is part of this growing frustration now - residents don't see any signs of things being built or improved."
Neighbouring councillor and social homes activist Olly Armstrong, who has also been supporting the residents, said: "If people in power say they are doing something for a community, but don't put that community at the heart of their decisions, then it's a token gesture...it is not real engagement, but fake." He added the eventual project needed to be full of social homes, to meet the needs of local people, supplemented by homes that are truly affordable to those already living there. "Otherwise, it is not regeneration, it is gentrification and deliberate displacement." Druids Heath largely remained unchanged for more than half a century and is the only large council estate in the city that hasn't been subject to major redevelopment. The area, mostly developed in the 1960s by the council, has already seen part of its skyline demolished as part of the seven-year makeover.
Incredible drone photos mark end of era for some of the Druids Heath flats
(Image: Martin Cooper)
Following consultation in 2017 and 2018, six tower blocks will be bulldozed - Saxelby, Hillcroft, Kingswood, Barratts, Brookpiece and Heath. In August last year, incredible drone pictures captured as Heath House was torn down - with former residents' wallpaper and painted walls exposed as the exterior walls were ripped away. Baverstock School, a place which holds many fond memories for former pupils, was also approved for demolition in the same regeneration plans. Harrison House, Parker House and Middlefield are set to be retained and improved.
Birmingham City Council response in full We asked to interview officers involved in the project, and put a series of questions to the city council. In response we received this statement: "The Druids Heath Partnership Board [DHPB] has been working together over the last 12 months to look at regeneration that doesn’t just include new homes, but focuses on community facilities, jobs, training and enables the residents of Druids Heath to flourish. "The Terms of Reference have been created together with members of the DHPB. "They do not include the phrase or a line that “participants should not attend drunk”." When further pressed, the council confirmed wording to that effect "was present in the first draft of the Terms of Reference" and added: "The behaviours were part of the early Terms of Reference discussion and taken from standard behaviours within Housing Liaison Board Terms of Reference that apply to all HLB members, both officers and tenants. "Going forward the board felt they were not explicitly needed so it was removed."
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The statement went on: "Birmingham City Council has made a commitment to work with the DHPB to increase the number of social homes delivered through the regeneration. "At present nothing is set in stone regarding the number of homes and the split which will be decided by DHPB after a full financial appraisal and with full engagement with the wider community. "This will include looking at the investment required for existing Council Homes." On the issue of the state of the properties, they added: "Our properties are maintained by our Repairs contractors and we are continuing to review these to ensure high standards are met. Individual property concerns can be raised with them directly or the local housing officer who will work with the customer to resolve any issues. "We are due to contact all residents in the three remaining blocks to discuss the timing and programme for rehousing. The information due to go out to residents has been drawn up in consultation with the DHPB."
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