The chairman of the housing association at the heart of a scandal focused on a newly built East London residential development has announced that he is standing down.
Sir Robin Young, a former high-ranking civil servant during Tony Blair’s time as prime minister, was appointed chair of the newly created Clarion Housing Group when it was formally created in December last year but will now depart in April.
The news that he is leaving his role comes three weeks after the Guardian reported on Orchard Village, a so-called “flagship” estate in the London borough of Havering whose residents describe it as a “living hell”, complaining of an array of problems, from damp and mould to allegedly dangerous levels of toxic gas.
Orchard Village was built at a cost of around £80m, just over £30m of which was public money. A residents’ campaign has resulted in a pledge from Clarion to buy back houses owned by freeholders. Compensation offered to Clarion’s tenants has so far amounted to £100 per household.
Sir Robin had previously served as the chairman of Circle Housing, the housing association that owned and ran Orchard Village, prior to its merger with the Affinity Sutton housing group to create Clarion, the UK’s biggest housing association.
The new organisation is in charge of some 125,000 homes across England. The latest move comes after the departure from Clarion of its deputy chief executive, who was also a former senior figure at Circle.
In an official statement, Sir Robin said: “I have very much enjoyed my time in social housing and after over eight years as chairman, it’s time to stand down.” Clarion refused to comment on whether his departure was linked to recent official criticisms of Circle’s legacy and the issues facing the Clarion Group, or the Orchard Village scandal.
The issues that face the Clarion Group also include a range of problems in the borough of Tower Hamlets. In October 2016, the area’s MP, Labour’s Rushanara Ali, said that residents there had experienced leaks, faulty heating and hot water systems and damaged walls and ceilings that had been left unrepaired. She warned of a “trend towards bigger, more remote and less accountable housing associations with multi-million pound turnovers and substantial assets and reserves behaving like companies that are not serving their communities”.
In response to Sir Robin’s departure, Ali told the Guardian: “He was the chair of Circle, and Circle has been shambolic, and treated hundreds of people in my constituency as if their problems don’t matter. Frankly, he should have resigned a long time ago.”
In December last year, the official housing regulator the Homes and Communities Agency announced that Circle had “breached the regulator’s home standard” and “risked serious harm to its tenants”. These findings led the agency to issue the new Clarion group with a warning about the potential of “serious detriment” to its residents.
In another development, the Guardian has learned that the HCA has considered new complaints about Clarion’s response to problems experienced by vulnerable and disabled tenants at Orchard Village, including mould, leaks and properties inundated with sewage, but decided not to act. In official correspondence, the agency said it acknowledged that issues such would cause “distress, worry and frustration” but that “responsibility for addressing the problems with the Orchard Village development… now rests with Clarion.”
Clarion previously said that its “dedicated project team has already made significant progress in tacking the build defects at Orchard Village”, and that during that time, it has ensured that “residents receive a swift response and action [sic] to any defect or general repair issues as it was clear that has not always been the case previously”.
When it comes to allegations of health-threatening levels of toxic gases, Clarion says that it is “taking residents’ concerns extremely seriously”. It says it has now instructed “ground investigation specialists to undertake rigorous scientific tests”.
This article was sourced from http://thenewstewart.com