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High-rise hell of the mad axeman

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John Ruddock (AJ 13.5.99) correctly puts his finger on management as one of the major problems of high-rise housing.

One bad tenant in a 22-storey tower block can, and will, cause misery for everyone who lives there, often making them prisoners in their own home. When I used to attend tenants' meetings in 1985 at James Sinclair Point, a huge multi-storey block straddling Upton Park Market near West Ham Football Ground, I thought the ta members were exaggerating when they told me about the 'mad axeman' roaming the long corridors. It was no exaggeration.

I would endorse everything John Ruddock says about the abuse of lifts, noise levels, rubbish-throwing etc.

Throughout the uk I have seen doors, the odd tv or fridge, carrier bags full of disposable nappies, unwanted furniture and the occasional dog, all dropped from great heights.

For every Trellick Tower full of happy smiling occupants there are 40 or 50 dismal blocks elsewhere. When I carried out my research into what was wrong with Ronan Point where six people died either falling or jumping in despair from the tower blocks of Newham in the first three months of 1984, their deaths went unreported in the national press. Two of them were children.

There was very much a sense of deja vu at the opening of the exhibition at the Museum of London, the same meticulously constructed models and photographs you might have seen 30 or more years ago in County Hall in the days of the lcc/glc.

There is a huge scale model of the renovated Holly Street Flats in Hackney. Each flat cost in the region of £120,000 to refurbish. When I raised whether that was value for money and was joined in my questioning by Tony Bird, former housing manager for Trellick Tower and Holly Street, the eager thirty-somethings in the audience and those on the platform with me who had been enthusiastically talking-up the values of their newly acquired 'niche' properties, swiftly back-pedalled saying: 'Oh we couldn't possibly comment on that, we are not accountants'.

There is always a temptation to look to the quick architectural/political fix for the easy way out of the housing problem. In the 1950s and 60s it was the tower block, slab block and large-panel system building.

Judging from some of the recent correspondence on this subject in your letters columns we seem about to plunge headlong down this path yet again.

When will we understand there is no simple answer and that we have to have the overall knowledge to frame the questions first?

Sam Webb


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