Housing association under fire as students forced to move

Residents have had to evacuate their homes after housing association Notting Hill Genesis couldn’t guarantee their health and safety.

Paragon Estate is popular with students and is a development of six blocks containing a total of 1,059 homes in Brentford.

Pre-existing building performance issues and fire safety issues brought to light in the aftermath of Grenfell triggered a series of new safety checks at Paragon, which uncovered further issues with the development.

University of West London students have been told they will be relocated in Wembley with shuttle busses between their accommodation and university campus.

University of West London student Rachel Sutton, 19, said: “These developments have left me with seriously heightened levels of anxiety.

“Notting Hill Genesis has not kept me informed, most of what I knew about the problems with the building was derived from news articles.”

Sutton, who is studying criminology, policing and forensics, moved to Wembley yesterday having lived in Paragon for just over a year.

Helen Bridgwood, the mother of another student, said: “The building my son lives in has been shrouded in scaffolding for two years.

“When he first moved there I asked him not to go on a high floor because the image of Grenfell burning was in my mind.

“The plans to move students over to Wembley made me flip my lid. You cannot herd 400 students a day on to shuttle busses when education is seeing the highest number of Covid-19 cases.

“How can my son be on a bus with 40 other people and then come and sit next to his vulnerable disabled sister over Christmas? We haven’t been anywhere or done anything since March.”

Notting Hill Genesis chief executive Kate Davies said: “I want to say how sorry we are to residents that we have had to take this action and disrupt their lives. As a not-for-profit housing association, our priority is to provide safe, affordable housing.

“I understand that Paragon residents may feel angry or alarmed by this news, as they have every right to be.

“We have identified safe accommodation for everyone to move into this week.

“This is a complex situation and we don’t yet have all the answers.”

The University of West London announced they would provide students with superior accommodation in Wembley, as well as an initial £50 for food.

A university spokesperson said: “UWL’s sole focus has been on identifying suitable alternative student accommodation and to put in place a comprehensive package of measures to support our students.

“All residents affected were communicated with directly at 11am today. Alternative accommodation has been secured for all those affected.  

“Extensive support plans are in place to facilitate the smoothest possible transition to the new accommodation. The University and the Students’ Union are working closely to ensure the wellbeing of our students and to ensure any disruption is kept to a minimum.”

A spokesperson for Notting Hill Genesis added: “All residents were informed in writing on the morning of 19 October and then caseworkers visited all residences to communicate this news face-to-face.

“We then held calls and meetings throughout the day to which all residents were invited, to explain the situation and answer any questions that they had.

“We have worked with Public Health England to ensure that students who are self-isolating will be moved safely, with full PPE, to accommodation where they can continue to self-isolate safely if necessary.

“All students have a dedicated caseworker who can answer any questions that they may have.”

The six blocks range from four to 17 storeys and house 688 students from UWL and Imperial College London.

It was also home to 105 shared ownership leaseholders as well as 65 key workers who pay a discounted rent.

The site was developed by Berkeley First, an affiliate of Berkeley Group and was acquired by Notting Hill Housing from the former Presentation Housing Association in 2009.

Notting Hill Housing became part of Notting Hill Genesis group in 2018 and has attempted to address risks as they have arisen, including establishing waking watches and temporary alarms, and introducing simultaneous evacuation procedures.

Berkeley Group declined to comment.

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