‘Morally in the doghouse’ – MP slams housing association in wake of sinkhole

Hemel Hempstead sinkhole being filled with concrete on February 21, 2014. Pictures provided by Dacorum Borough Council
Hemel Hempstead sinkhole being filled with concrete on February 21, 2014. Pictures provided by Dacorum Borough Council

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning has slammed the actions of a housing association in the wake of a sinkhole which has left tens of his constituents still unable to stay in their own homes.

Mr Penning has taken his fight against Hightown Praetorian and Churches housing association – which offers shared ownership properties in Oatridge Gardens where the 35ft -wide cavity opened up in February – to BBC television news in a bid to have residents’ rent payments suspended until the problem is resolved.

MP Mike Penning

MP Mike Penning

He said: “I was deeply disappointed, but I am now angry with Hightown. I am not going to sit back and let my constituents be treated like this.

“If you asked me six months ago to recommend a housing association, I would have said Hightown, but they are destroying their reputation by being so belligerent to their residents.”

Of the 48 households affected by the phenomenon – believed to have been caused by the building of homes on a former brickworks – 10 families have returned to their homes, six are in permanent alternative accommodation, 22 are in hotels and 10 have chosen to stay with friends and family.

Mr Penning has arranged for legal advice to be provided to the tenants free of charge through town-based solicitors Underwoods. He says that because insurance providers are covering the costs of putting up affected tenants in temporary accommodation, the housing association is not out of pocket.

He said: “They should simply say while you are out of your homes we won’t charge you for the rent. What they are doing is legally right, but morally they are in the doghouse.”

A spokesman for Hightown explained it is normal practice for householders to continue with mortgage and rental payments for their property in these circumstances, and that the organisation is a charitable one which uses rental income to pay for more affordable homes for those families which might otherwise struggle to afford suitable homes.

The company’s chief executive David Bogle said: “Our top priority is the safety and well-being of the tenants and shared owners of Oatridge Gardens. Since the sinkhole appeared we have been doing everything possible to maintain the site and get families back in their homes as quickly as possible.”

A month-long programme to stabilise the site is currently being undertaken, with up to two more weeks expected for utility companies including BT and gas and electric providers to restore supplies.