And so the Battle for Joyce Brooks House appears to be over. The nine residents in the Oxford Road sheltered accommodation have finally resolved their differences with Colchester Borough Council and agreed to move on.
This has been an incredibly messy piece of manoeuvring by various cabinet members at CBC. Claims and counter claims have been made about the closure in the local press. The truth has often gone absent during the debate.
Residents in the local authority owned accommodation first found out about their imminent fate through the local paper. It is therefore perhaps fitting – if slightly tragic – that the final straw in this gossip and rumours issue should still be shrouded under a cloak of legal closure by CBC.
The hyperlocal group Colchester Defend Social Housing Campaign has issued a press release, attempting to explain how it is that the Battle for Joyce Brooks has ended. Reading between the carefully constructed lines, you get the impression that not even half of the story has yet to be told:
“The nearly year long saga regarding the closure of Joyce Brooks House appears over with Colchester Borough Council coming to an agreement with the residents through the residents solicitor, Yvonne Hossacks. But the agreement is subject to a confidentiality clause.
It does seem certain the sheltered housing scheme will be sold off, and the residents will have to move to a new home. It is not clear whether the residents will be kept together in their new home.”
This has been the main objective from the remaining residents all along. Appearances at Full Council and Cabinet meetings have continually requested that the residents be treated respectfully and to be able to continue living together as a close community.
The fear for the Defend Social Housing Group is that the Battle for Joyce Brooks will be but the start in a longer war against local authority closures.
Andy Abbot of the group stated:
“We can’t forget this whole affair has disgraced our council throughout, and the capacity of the town’s sheltered housing has been cut, just to make a fast buck. And with a further five sheltered housing schemes now ‘under review’ of closure, we fear more of this is to come in the future. Yet the residents stand has been inspiration to local people, and just might make the council think twice before any further sheltered housing cuts.”
That stand included the brave attempt by Joyce Brooks resident Bobby Hunt to unseat Labour’s Cllr Tina Dopson during the recent round of local elections. Bobby finished a distant second, but still won the respect of many for sticking to his principles.
Cllr’s Dopson’s reward for fighting off the Greenstead Uprising was to inherit the portfolio for Housing. It may yet still play out to become a hollow victory.
The Battle for Joyce Brooks House has left none of the three main political parties in Colchester looking dignified. New Labour has not only propped up the LibDems in forcing the sell off, but also appeared to take some enjoyment out of the eviction.
The LibDems have appeared weak, especially so Cabinet member Cllr Martin Hunt whose Christ Church ward includes the Oxford Road housing.
Cllr Hunt said at the December Cabinet meeting:
“I have not visited Joyce Brooks house recently because I can’t find the compatibility between being a ward Councillor and a cabinet decision maker. I will not express any further public views, but I will continue to express private views.”
Which rather begs the question what is the actual point in holding political power if you won’t articulate your views in public?
The Colchester Conservatives meanwhile have enjoyed taking a back seat, happy to head nod whenever a Have Your Say speaker rages against the LibLab coalition, yet too weak to actually do anything constructive to help the residents.
As for the *real* story behind the Battle of Joyce Brooks House?
That’s just an FOI request waiting to be answered…