In 2011, the Ladywell Village Improvement Group ran a determined campaign to have the empty flats above the Coral betting shop on 228-230 Algernon Road renovated and brought back into use.
With the involvement of Nick Long, the council’s empty homes officer, and the help of TV celebrity Phil Spencer, LVIG’s campaign seemed to be making some headway.
E Coomes Ltd, the company which leases the building to Coral, agreed to improve the long-neglected flats.
That was more than eight years ago. But guess what … the flats are still standing empty.
“With pressure mounting for affordable homes across London it seems astonishing that these two flats can be left empty for around 20 years,” says Cllr Liz Johnston-Franklin.
“Two perfectly good properties should not be allowed to go to waste in an area where there is so much demand for housing,” she added.
With growing numbers of families in temporary accomodation and on housing waiting lists, housing charity Shelter says 1,2m homes are needed in Britain for younger families who cannot afford to buy.
Around 3m new social homes must be built over the next 20 years, it says.
LVIG first raised the alarm over the empty two bed properties in 2008.
The landmark flats above Coral on the corner of Ladywell and Algernon Roads had been empty for around 10 years at that point.
They were in a poor condition, with broken windows, peeling paint and a deteriorating roof. They were reported to be infested with pigeons.
The council served an environmental health order on the properties due to the pigeons.
Mr Long also sought an interim empty dwelling management order in a bid to force E Coomes to repair and let the property.
LVIG had been writing to Coral and Coomes to complain about the property but to little avail.
Then in November 2011, LVIG’s campaign became the subject of a short Channel 4 programme hosted by Location, Location, Location’s Phil Spencer.
The coverage of the campaign and the pressure seemed to do the trick.
Coomes said it was looking at improving flats above three betting shops in the borough – 228-330 Algernon Road, 347-349 Lee High Road and 357 Sydenham Road.
Coomes indicated that it would start work on six flats above its Lee property. Once completed, rental income from these flats would be used to renovate the flats above Corals in Ladywell.
Some work did take place on the Algernon Road flats.
The windows were repaired and painted, roof repairs were carried out and there was unconfirmed talk of toilets and baths being carried into the properties.
Bur since then nothing has happened.
Mr Long says Coomes have told him again that once the Lee High Road scheme has been completed and is generating an income they will turn their attention back to the Ladywell flats.
Eight years have passed since LVIG’s campaign elicited a response from Coomes and some work took place. But there is little sign of any further progress being made on the Ladywell flats.
“Hopefully they will resume work and complete the stalled project,” says Mr Long.
“I have no issues of disrepair, fly tipping or nuisance being caused by these flats – no real complaints from local traders. I have a very poor hand to play on this one,” he adds.
It seems that until the local community (residents and businesses) takes determined action to force change nothing very much will happen.
Adds Mr Long: “I will ask my colleagues to ensure these two units are brought back into “rating” as the dwellings have been substantially improved and should no longer be given an exemption.
Lewisham “can charge them 300 per cent of the council tax – hopefully this will focus minds.”