Semilong: ‘We’re begging for real action’
HMOs, flytipping and rubbish blight the lives of local residents
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By Natalie Bloomer
When Cathrine Russell became unitary councillor for the St George ward in Northampton the issues she found in the area of Semilong were overwhelming.
“I was the representative for Kingsley before and although it’s not far from here and in some ways quite similar, the problems in Semilong are much greater.
“I knew it was important for the new ward councillors to work together to tackle the issues. We’re working really strongly as a team and things have improved greatly in the last year but there is still so much to do. A lot of what we have done so far has been reactive rather than proactive.”
The other unitary councillors are Winston Strachan and Muna Cali. On Saturday NN Journal joined all three for a walkabout in the area to hear about the problems in more detail and speak to local residents.
It was quickly evident that rubbish and flytipping is a major issue in the area. So many of the narrow terrace streets that run through Semilong had mattresses, old furniture and rubbish dumped along them.
“It’s about tackling ‘broken-window syndrome’, the way to stop this is to pick it up as soon as it’s reported so people can see how much better it looks and feels when it’s tidy. We’re let down massively by the statutory services. I think that’s perhaps because the new council has been so busy setting up new systems and getting everything in place that service delivery isn’t there yet,” Russell says.
As we stood outside the local Co-op we were approached by Dave who has lived in the Mill House block of flats in the area for 29 years.
“All the hedges around the flats are filled with rubbish. You see old hoovers, toys, any old junk. As soon as it’s cleared away, it’s back again. I often feel like putting up a sign saying ‘Welcome to Scumsville’,” he says.
Other than several blocks of council flats, most houses in Semilong are privately owned and many are rented out. The community has become quite transient, with local residents saying their neighbours change regularly. HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation) are also common here, including illegal ones that are not licensed.
Rick lives on one of the terrace streets and says HMOs are the biggest problem in the area.
“We’ve lost any sense of community here and some people are just not considerate. Our neighbours are always changing, one landlord owns loads of the houses over there [the opposite side of the road] and people come and go. Double parking is also an issue, sometimes you can’t get out because of it.”
Both the unitary and town councillors for the area have been calling on the local authority to do more to tackle the problems here. Earlier this month a three day multi-agency operation took place to identify poor housing conditions, unlicensed HMOs, fire safety concerns and flytipping.
50 properties were discovered by housing enforcement officers which they believed could be unlicensed HMOs and are now carrying out further checks on them. Other houses were also identified where conditions were so dangerous alternative accommodation had to be found for the residents.
The action has been welcomed by the councillors but they say more needs to happen.
“This area was cleared during those three days, Veolia collected all the flytipping but look around, you can see there’s more everywhere now. Work without purpose is soul-destroying, if officers come out, see the problems, write a report but nothing changes people will become complacent. Satisfaction is not reading a good report, it’s seeing real action. The council is not saying what happens next here. We’re begging for real action, for delivery,” Cllr Strachan says.
Cllr Russell believes that if Semilong was a Conservative area the Tory-led administration would make tackling the problems a priority and says instead it had to be pushed to take action. The local councillors now want to see more CCTV, more dedicated environmental wardens for the area and quicker collection of rubbish and flytipping.
“I could tell some of the council officers were shocked by what they found here, one house had 14 people living in it, I could see the shock in the officer’s face when he spoke about that. The people in this area pay their council tax like everyone else and they deserve for these issues to be dealt with,” she says.
Speaking about the multi- agency operation deputy leader of the council Adam Brown and portfolio holder for housing, said:
“People in rented accommodation deserve to live in safe and properly managed homes. Whilst most landlords in West Northamptonshire take their responsibilities seriously, there are those who do not, and we are committed to identifying those landlords and taking action where appropriate.
“Working with our partners on operations such as these offers an important opportunity to improve conditions for residents, and to speak to people about any issues they may be facing so that we can work together to tackle them.”
Police constable Polly Egerton-Scott, said the days of action were a great opportunity to learn more about local concerns and to gather intelligence.
“One of the really positive things that came out of it was hearing from the community that things have gotten much better recently, in terms of crime levels and the amount of anti-social behaviour they are seeing. This was really heartening to hear as it shows that we are making a difference.
“I hope it reassures people that we are out and about, showing a police presence in their local area, and that they will feel more empowered in the future to report things to us as a result.”
Scott Richards, head of protection at Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service said:
“Fire protection officers used this opportunity to provide residents and landlords with fire safety advice and support, as well as reinforcing fire safety legislation. A number of premises were flagged as falling short of fire safety regulations and action was taken to address these.
“We want to work with businesses and landlords to ensure that people are safe and properties are protected, but we will also use our authority to issue notices when fire standards pose a serious risk to life.”
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