'I won't be going anywhere' - outcry as residents are told to leave their homes
PUBLISHED: 15:55 18 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:42 19 March 2019
A group of residents have been told they must permanently leave their homes to allow the completion of maintenance work in sheltered housing.
The 10 residents at Avenue Mansions in Lowestoft, run by Waveney District Council (WDC), were told in January they would need to move out in order for the extensive programme of maintenance to be carried out.
Among the refurbishments listed in a letter sent by the council to residents are the replacement of windows throughout, insulation upgrades, re-wiring and the installation of a new heating system - all deemed to be ‘highly intrusive’.
Those living in the building, on Royal Avenue, have therefore been notified of the need to leave and offered a statutory payment of £6,300 to cover expenses.
WDC say the property will not return to its former use as it already operates ‘more sheltered flats than is required’.
Garry Heath, who has lived at Avenue Mansions for five years, says he has long been sceptical about the impending closure and is adamant he will be staying put.
“A few months ago the warden was showing people round the flats,” said Mr Heath, 59. “All of a sudden the viewings stopped and we were told at a meeting the building would be closing.
“They’ve said it won’t be safe for us while the work is going on, but from my perspective they are making up reasons to close. Some of the work, like the rewiring and insulation, has been done in the past few years.
“I’ve got a bad heart and suffer from mental health issues so this is the last thing I need.
“My 82-year-old neighbour has barely eaten and just wants to get his move over with because it has brought him so much stress. We don’t sleep at the moment because of all this on our minds.
“I don’t want the money they’ve offered us. I am not moving and I will not be going anywhere.”
Another resident who will be forced to depart is 65-year-old Gail Boynton, who has lived in Lowestoft all her life.
She says she has no reason to leave Avenue Mansions and is unhappy with how the process has been handled by the council.
“Pretty much everybody here is over 60-years-old and this kind of upheaval is disgusting,” added Ms Boynton.
“This was going to be my forever home and the same goes for so many others.
“We understand work needs to be done from time to time, and if it took place over a few days with a bit of hassle that would be absolutely fine with us. The thing is, there are things listed by the council that we believe have been done recently.
“There are flats here that have been empty for months, even years. They should have moved people in here ages ago.”
For Gina Mackintyre, the problem lies with the manner in which she feels her friends and neighbours have been treated.
“I just don’t see a future for myself here,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned we have been treated with a lack of respect. The council seemed to think people would just roll over and go with it because they are over 60.
“I intended to stay here for the rest of my life, but because of this going on I have applied to move elsewhere. Personally I just want to get out now.
“It means a lot for people to stay here. We’re all good friends and that is what I’ll really miss.”
Upset at the prospect of having to move out of their homes for reasons they dispute, several residents have taken the matter to Waveney MP Peter Aldous.
He has since been liaising with the council to ensure occupants are properly rehoused and provided with the necessary support.
“The crux of the issue is that these people feel aggrieved at being moved out, but WDC saying this work needs to be done,” said Mr Aldous. “I understand why residents are worried and I’ve passed on their concerns to the council.
“What’s important is that the council engages properly with all the residents because many people have lived at Avenue Mansions for a long time and this has really come out of the blue for them.”
‘We are doing all we can’
Despite concerns being raised, WDC says dialogue with the majority of residents has been positive.
A spokesman said: “Unfortunately, from time to time, difficult decisions need to be taken about the accommodation we own and manage. Avenue Mansions requires a huge range of improvements and, due to its intrusive nature, it would not be safe for residents to remain in the building.
“Additionally, because people generally remain in their own properties for longer before considering retired living, we currently manage more sheltered flats than are required.
“The building has high ceilings which make it expensive to heat, a cost which is passed on as a service charges to tenants. This makes it less suitable for residents on lower incomes and, therefore, the building will not be returned to sheltered accommodation.
“Housing officers have met with residents to discuss the new properties they would like to consider and we are doing all we can to ensure their needs are met.”