Leaseholders at a Southwark estate plagued by damp will no longer have to pay tens of thousands of pounds for cladding – but residents are still against it.  

Kingswood Estate in West Dulwich, built in the 1950s and home to 700 council tenants and private owners, has suffered damp problems for years.  

Southwark Council is planning to install external insulation to fix the problem – which it originally wanted to charge leaseholders between £20,000 and £40,000 for – but residents are not convinced it is the right move.  

Although they welcomed the U-turn on charging leaseholders, at the Kingswood Estate Tenants and Residents Association annual general meeting last night (Thursday, November 14) they demanded the council bring in an independent surveyor to gather evidence of the best way forward to target the damp.  

Tensions were high at the meeting, where residents told of “deplorable” living conditions and weeks-long waiting times for repairs.  

It was clear many residents did not back the cladding proposal and vice chair Alex Diwar said “whether [the insulation] is a cure for damp is something that’s a matter of debate”. 

He said: “Firstly EWI (external wall insulation) is regularly botched and there are plenty of case studies where it’s actually made damp worse.” 

Mr Diwar called for “an independent, nationally recognised, external wall insulation damp and historic buildings expert” to scrutinise the plans.  

He said: “If you’re spending millions on the project then may as well spend a little bit more to make sure it doesn’t get bungled in the first place.” 

Councillor Kieron Williams, cabinet member for housing management and modernisation, told residents that he would go back to the council and ask for “the best independent expert we can get”.   

He said: “I hope it feels like we’ve been listening to what you’ve been saying, changing our approach and moving forward providing you with the information you want.” 

He said the council would provide evidence from other estates where the cladding was fitted and was effective in combatting damp.   

Cllr Williams said Southwark aims to provide 11,000 council homes and suggested some could be built on top of existing ones in the estate. 

One resident said: “I would like to first of all second what Alex said because I think one of the problems we have is where Southwark do major works and things go wrong and then we’re left with that.  

“If you have as much interest as you say you have then that’s what you should be doing. 

“This issue about putting extra housing on the estate, you had lots of land that you sold off that you haven’t used for council housing so why are you now coming to us and expecting us to bail you out? That’s wrong.” 

Cllr Williams said the council was asking every estate if they wanted new homes but added that “really importantly, we’re not going to do it if people don’t want us to”.  

As well as the doubts over whether the cladding would be effective, people were also worried about whether the material was safe.  

Chair of the association Lara Daniel said: “Please don’t put your eyes on our estate.  

“We are concerned (about the cladding) because of Grenfell Tower but now because you want to shut us up you say leaseholders are not going to pay. 

“We don’t want the cladding. We need an independent person who knows everything about cladding …. this is our home, we don’t want it in flames. 

“The people in Grenfell Tower were told it was safe.” 

Cllr Williams said the cladding was not flammable and Grenfell residents were lied to.  

He said: “I absolutely understand why anyone would be worried about putting something on the outside of a building after Grenfell. 

“But it’s really important to say that what the officers are proposing to put on the building is nothing like what was on the outside of Grenfell. 

“EWI is a completely non-flammable substance, you could put a blowtorch against it for 20 minutes and it wouldn’t set fire.” 

The state of disrepair in homes was a serious issue for residents.   

One woman said the conditions people were living in were “deplorable” and that no one was getting any air in their flats.  

She said: “I’ve been phoning up for weeks for someone to come up and do something but nobody has come up.  

“How can we live in a deplorable condition like that?” 

Cllr Williams offered to personally look at the issue.

He said: “I’d be more than happy to come with you to the estate and have a walk around to see what your specific concerns are about. 

“In terms of the repairs issues if you want to catch me at the end and let me know what they are in detail we can make sure someone comes around.” 

One resident told how there was toxic black mould in his home and that he believes his wife died as a result of it.  

Brian Joyce, 77, who lost his wife two years ago, told News Shopper: “It’s been going on since we moved in 40 years ago. 

“My wife started having chest trouble, she ended up in hospital and died in the end.  

“I’m starting to have breathing problems now.” 

A letter from a GP acknowledged that Mr Joyce had raised concerns about the cause of his wife’s death.  

He had documents to show the mould had been tested and was indeed toxic. 

Cllr Williams offered to have officers look at the report  

He said: “The work that we are looking to do on the estate is primarily about reducing damp, if you would like me to get someone to come around and look in your home then I’d be very happy to.” 

On the lack of response for repairs he said the council was working on training multi-skilled repair workers and improving service systems.  

He said: “We completely acknowledge that there are things we can improve and are looking at doing more for you.”