Call for action on problem flats

Riversdale House at Stakeford. Picture by Jane Coltman
Riversdale House at Stakeford. Picture by Jane Coltman

Older people living near a problem block of flats where drugs are rife are scared to sit in their gardens due to the constant police presence in the area.

Councillors heard that several police vehicles often spend much of the day at Riversdale House, in Stakeford, where empty apartments are left open to vermin and the area around is used as a dog toilet with fly-tipped waste and soiled sanitary products strewn around.

Residents living nearby are at the end of their tether after 30 years of problems and are calling on Northumberland County Council to take action.

Speaking at the Castle Morpeth Local Area Council on Monday night, Marjorie Glass, who started a petition, said: “Any tenants are those who deal drugs or who use drugs and drink heavily and the unfortunate few (law-abiding tenants) who are left.”

She explained that residents nearby, the majority of whom are older people, live in fear, but ‘selling up is not an option because there are very few buyers when they see the state of the flats’.

“We want Northumberland County Council to take ownership of this problem and take all necessary action to resolve it.”

A report to councillors explained that one of the difficulties is that the properties are in multiple private ownerships.

But Phil Soderquest, the council’s head of housing and public protection, told the meeting that there is a new agent for one owner who has 15 of the flats, who ‘seems to be taking a more pro-active approach’.

Asked about the possibility of using a compulsory purchase order, Mr Soderquest said that it is an option, but that he would not be confident about the council being successful at the moment.

For now, the council’s private-sector housing team will continue to work to support the landlords with tenant vetting, while the environmental enforcement team will visit on a weekly basis.

Coun Julie Foster, ward member for Stakeford, said that this had been an issue from before she became a councillor as well as during all the time she has represented the area.

“I feel like we have been hitting our heads against a brick wall,” she said. “Finally, thankfully, Phil (Soderquest) has taken ownership, but I hope it’s not going to be a patch – we need a solution, not a patch.

“When you hear about soiled sanitary products and soiled underwear being left around, it’s unacceptable for people who have to live there.

“There’s older people who are scared of being in their own gardens and sometimes even in their own homes because of the police presence there.”

She thanked Mrs Glass and her husband, who went out getting names for the petition during the severe winter in January, adding: “These people don’t deserve to live near a property like this.”

Councillors also agreed that the issue should be reported back to the local area council on a six-monthly basis to ensure progress is being made.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service