Saints are living in such bad conditions that it may be best to knock down the worst government properties and start again, the island’s housing chief has warned.
It will cost £6.5 million to sort out problems after years of neglect, housing executive Andy Crowe told fellow-professionals in the UK last night (19 September 2013).
One in ten homes still do not have an inside toilet, he said.
But in a speech at the National Housing Federation conference, he said work to transform living conditions for Saints was well under way.
And he said he wanted to bring in a housing benefits scheme to help the poorest people – though he gave no further details.
In a blunt address – which had been seen by Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff – he said public housing had “never been the highest priority” before his arrival on St Helena in November 2012.
“Until last year there was no housing strategy and no real leadership or focus for the service.
“With social rents an eye-watering £17 a week there’s been little or no money for repairs. Homes which were fit for purpose in the 1950s now fall well below modern standards.
“One in ten public sector homes lacks an inside toilet and none of them have a hot water supply.
“Most roofs are made of asbestos and are starting to fail.”
But he admitted that few Saints grumbled about their conditions. “I have met elderly tenants who have got no complaints about homes with kitchens across the courtyard and the toilets around the corner next to the hens,” he said.
“Insufficient time has been spent collecting the rent and managing tenancies, with some front gardens looking like breakers’ yards.
“New homes are needed both to meet the demands generated by tourism and to meet the needs of a population which for the first time in many years is growing.
“Until very recently, town planning, construction standards and a housing market had been non-existent.
“It’s a reflection of a school of planning which is best described as willy-nilly.
“The process of creating a coherent service is well under way. I’ve got a housing manager who is a Saint who started in the post a month ago.
“An improvement plan was adopted in January and we are well into it. A house condition survey was completed in July and we now know we need to spend six and a half million pounds just to bring the homes up to a newly adopted minimum standard.
“We have to ask, if we can get the funding, whether it would be better to replace, rather than repair, the homes, and sell the vacated homes off for homesteading.”
Andy acknowledged that the need for better housing was recognised well before he arrived on the island.
“The first housing strategy was enough to persuade the Department for International Development to invest in a programme of exemplar housing, for which we are very grateful,” he said.
The reception at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre was held to honour the winners of an international competition for architects to come up with new designs for affordable housing.
Andy submitted plans for the first tranche of homes at Half Tree Hollow just before he left on annual leave, to be considered by the island’s planning board.
Once built, they will be used to re-house tenants at Ladder Hill Barracks. Andy said they had been invited to decide the colours of their new homes, and even choose their new neighbours.