Tenants ask why council won't put locks on doors to keep drug addicts out

Come on in: Main external doors to council blocks all over the city have no locks. 

Come on in: Main external doors to council blocks all over the city have no locks. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Council tenants fed up of kicking drug users out of their buildings have asked why the city council will not install locks on their front doors.

A massive £7m rollout of improved door security, under  way since 2017, is shrouded in secrecy with the council unwilling to say how the order of works has been determined, which buildings can expect upgrades next, why the new doors cost the equivalent of £18,000 per building, or why no interim measures have been put in place.

Mark Bramwell*, who has to throw crack addicts out of his stairwell several times a week, said: “Years and years go by and nothing is done. They won’t tell us when we’re getting a new door - but why can’t they just put a lock on the door for now?”

A crack addict lights up his pipe in December 2020 in a stairwell in Ebenezer Place, Norwich

A crack addict lights up his pipe in December 2020 in a stairwell in Ebenezer Place, Norwich - Credit: Archant

Weeks of investigation by this newspaper have revealed the misery still faced by residents of drugs troublespots in Norwich, especially in social housing blocks with unsecured entry doors.

And while Norwich City Council says it is making concerted efforts to address the issue, city dwellers are still struggling to cope.

One young family in Ebenezer Place have contacted the council 46 times in six months, plagued by addicts shooting up and smoking crack in their stairwell, defecating on their stairs, and passing out against their front door.

An elderly couple in Causeway Close have complained that they are frightened in their own home after the city council let a flat in their block to a known drug dealer - after the previous occupant, another drug dealer who had made their lives miserable for years, died.

In these cases and others from around the city, the housing blocks are unprotected by security systems, or even a lock on the front door.

Janet and Peter Walker, 74 and 75,

Janet and Peter Walker, 74 and 75, said they had given up calling the police and council - Credit: Archant

Norfolk Constabulary has snared more than half of the drugs gangs importing crack and heroin into the county from London in recent months. They have made more than 2,000 drug arrests since 2017 and handed down 110 years of jail time in the last 16 months.

The drugs team is using mobile phone data to secure faster convictions and many residents even of most afflicted areas say they have noticed a marked improvement in police action, and reduction in street dealing and drug misuse, over the last year.

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It comes as Norwich starts to receive special government funding of £5m over three years for Project Adder, a new multi-agency approach to drugs, focusing more on treating addicts, providing healthcare and housing and job training, in order to combat demand for drugs.

The city has invested around £3.25m since 2017 installing and upgrading door entry systems in around 400 blocks owned by the council. The new systems are highly secure and durable, with metal doors controlled by electronic key fobs, and a “trade” button function allowing postal deliveries on weekday mornings.

The new secured doors to flats with a telecom system. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The new secured doors to flats with a telecom system. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

But one source who has been working on this issue for several years told this newspaper: “It just isn’t clear why some places have had them, but other places where residents have been crying out for them for years have not. The whole process is just so untransparent.”

The current programme is due to finish this year, with a further consultation scheduled to start soon and a further programme of installations slated to commence from April 2022.

We asked Norwich City Council which properties could still expect security doors in this current run of works, but the council said it could not resource our request.

The next project has a budget of £3.6m for 200 blocks - an average of £18,000 per block.

A council spokeswoman said she could not comment on the cost of the entry systems but said the coming programme will require completely new installations and purpose-built frames, with ongoing maintenance costs built in as well. She added that each installation requires consultation with residents.

One of the main doors to flats with no security locks in place. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

One of the main doors to flats with no security locks in place. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

According to council correspondence seen by this newspaper it will take “several years” for the coming rollout to be completed. Residents have asked why no interim measures can be put in place.

We asked the council why it was not possible simply to put a lock on the external doors of buildings in the meantime, but the council said it would not answer the question.

The council is working on a priority order for these next works, which will be informed by a public consultation and factors including complaints of anti-social behaviour and suitability of the buildings.

Green councillor Jamie Osborn, who represents Mancroft ward in the city centre, said: “After years of failing to adequately address antisocial behaviour in council properties, the city council needs to get better at responding to these very urgent problems. 

Green city councillor Jamie Osborn. Picture: Jamie Osborn

Green city councillor Jamie Osborn. Picture: Jamie Osborn - Credit: Jamie Osborn

“It is incredibly frustrating that, when residents report anti-social behaviour to the council, they often get a fobbing-off response or inconsistent information telling them that it is not a council matter.

“The council must urgently bring forward a clear and evidence-based programme for installing security doors where they are needed. 

“They have to be clear about the criteria used to decide where security doors are installed next. Residents can't just get told to keep on reporting incidents with no ensuing action and no means of holding the council to account.

“Green councillors will also be looking closely at the council’s programme for security doors to ensure that it provides value for money.”

Sally Morpeth*, who lives in Clifton Close which has had its doors upgraded recently, said: “It hasn’t made everything perfect but things have definitely quietened down.

“People used to use the blocks as a cut-through, and you could tell which flats were trouble because people were coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

“Sometimes now you do still hear the buzzer ringing in the night, but at least there’s more security, and the police have been around a lot more because if people are coming, I guess they’re coming to get a fix, they have to wait on the street they can’t come inside. So there haven’t been as many.”

Janet Walker, 75, told this paper her front door bangs “all night long” from addicts looking to score a fix from her upstairs neighbour, and asked why Clifton Close had new security systems while her flat in Causeway Close just a hundred yards away did not.

She and her husband have not been told when or if their block will be upgraded.

A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council said the council worked in partnership with other agencies and had an important part to play in tackling antisocial behaviour when it affects council tenants and the properties they live in.

She said: “To date we have already invested about £3.25 million through installing or upgrading door entry systems at about 400 blocks in Norwich and have a programme to install up to 200 more.

“This is a complex programme which involves each block having to be individually assessed for suitability as well as each resident consulted on the proposed work. But we remain committed to doing all we can to be part of the solution in addressing the problem.

“We continue to urge residents to report any incidents of drug abuse to the police.”

*Names have been changed at the request of interviewees who wished to remain anonymous.

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