Marlborough's dwindling social housing: Guinness Partnership to sell Moffat House
It looks very much as though Marlborough is facing another loss to its social fabric. After the secretive closure of the St Margaret's Mead homeless hostel, the social housing owned by housing association Guinness Partnership at Moffat House on the London Road is to be emptied and sold.
The occupants - including two ladies in their nineties - have been told to find alternative housing.
A letter to residents from Guinness Partnership dated 19 March this year says that residents will be aware that "...we have been reviewing the future of Moffat House following the flooding of part of the property in 2014. Following the review, we have concluded that upgrading or converting the current accommodation at Moffat House is not a viable option."
However Les Hall, who has lived there for 14 years and is now in poor health, cannot understand their reasoning that 'upgrading and converting' Moffat House is not "a suitable option".
Mr Hall, has told Marlborough.News that eight of the nine flats are in good shape and says of Guinness Partnership: "They've been pretty good on the maintenance side." The main excuse for the sale seems to be the flat - No. 9 - that was 'flooded' in 2014 and has still not been repaired by Guinness Partnership and has stayed empty.
The 'flooding' resulted from a drainage backup in a nearby property. And the occupant had warned the office that the Guinness Partnership then had in Marlborough, that flooding was likely, but the warning was ignored.
At present five of the nine flats are let - and three more could be let tomorrow. Two of the empty flats have had new boilers installed.
A later letter from Guinness Partnership (5 August 2016) said the occupants were 'required' to find other accommodation within twelve months. The letter went on: "...it is essential that you make your own efforts to source alternative accommodation via Wiltshire Council...The Guinness Partnership will also continue to make reasonable offers of alternative accommodation to you but if these are not accepted then we will have to consider taking action to take possession of your property at the end of this twelve month period."
Les Hall has alerted town councillor Mervyn Hall and he has written to the unitary councillor for that area, Councillor Stewart Dobson, and to Devizes Constituency MP, Claire Perry [see below].
Mervyn Hall told Marlboorough.News: "I have two major concerns about this situation. One is that the social housing provider is not adequately exercising its duty of care towards these vulnerable residents and that the social housing stock, in Marlborough, is being eroded by sell offs and not being replaced."
"My immediate concern is that these residents are re-housed in Marlborough as quickly as possible and do not suffer stress as a result of this, causing a risk to their health. "
Les Hall's family lived in Ramsbury. He worked for the Marlborough and Ramsbury Rural District Council and for ten years was the landlord of the Cricketers (which later became Coles Restaurant.) He still runs the Kennet Valley Darts League.
He is now 73 and due to his health condition he needs to live in a ground floor flat or in a block with a lift. His fear is that Moffat House will be sold to make way for more gentrification - perhaps flats for weekenders.
Moffat House is made up of a Grade II listed building with seven flats that fronts onto London Road and a much more modern two-storey annexe at the rear with two flats. At one time, Moffat House included a shop facing onto the London Road: a tailors where clothes were made and sold in the town and staff also toured the villages and took measurements for bespoke clothing.
While across the nation the new Planning and Housing Act risks (in the words of Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service) "bringing about the end of social housing as we have know it since the second world war", the situation in the Marlborough area already looks bleak.
In their letters to the residents of Moffat House Guinness Partnership say they have been working with Wiltshire Council to find new accommodation. It would be interesting to know whether Wiltshire Council has carried out any research on the likely future needs of the Marlborough Area for social housing of this type.
The Guinness Partnership have sent Marlborough.News this statement: "We have provided social housing at Moffatt House for 28 years, and it is currently home to five residents."
"Moffatt House is a Grade 2 listed building and would require significant building and refurbishment work to get it up to standard. Steep stairs and uneven floors also make it unsuitable for its mainly elderly residents."
"Because of this, and the ongoing risk of flooding, we have taken the difficult decision to sell Moffatt House. Our number one priority during this time is the safety and wellbeing of residents and we are working closely with them, and Wiltshire Council, to find alternative, quality accommodation which meets their needs."
Les Hall has pointed out that Moffat House need not only provide homes for elderly people and that younger people would not find the stairs too steep.
Later news: Claire Perry has responded to Mervyn Hall's letter: "I was so very sorry to hear that the residents of Moffat House are having to find new accommodation, and can only begin to imagine how very stressful this is for them."
She has written to the Chief Executive of Guinness Partnership and also raised her concerns with Wiltshire Council's Associate Director of Housing, James Cawley.