He’s one of those guys who always smiles. Whatever he is saying.

Larry Martin is describing how police raided his neighbours. It is serious stuff but he is laughing, his jet black top-knot bobbling on top of his head as he does so. “This,” he points, “is the door the cops opened with a big red key.” 

He means a battering ram. 

The 50-year-old brims with gallows humour and good spirits - he grew his hair out for a lark during the lockdown. The flat he is talking about, he says, was a brothel.

Neighbours tell stories of what they say were punters climbing in and out of first-floor windows, of eight foreign women of various nationalities coming and going. 

Police, pursuing a warrant, put in the door of the apartment late on the first Friday of February. A man, now 30, was arrested for immigration offences. The supposed sex workers have gone. But all is far from quiet.

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This is Millcroft Road, in the South Carbrain district of Cumbernauld. Here there are of 169 private flats and 57 lock-up garages split in to three blocks: C, D and E.

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Decades ago, when they were put up by the old new town corporation, they were dubbed “penthouses” by locals. Now a different word is used: “slums”. 

The buildings are wrecked. There are long copper green tears of damp down their outer walls. Windows in common areas are smashed, their frames rotten. Wires are exposed. Tiles, some glass, hang loose.

Bin chutes are sealed. Home printed flyers tell residents not to use them: and adds that if they do not understand this notice they should try Google Translate.

The Herald: Larry Martin lives in the condemned Millcroft Road. Photo by Gordon Terris.Larry Martin lives in the condemned Millcroft Road. Photo by Gordon Terris. (Image: Newsquest)

A long elevated walkway above the garages links all three blocks. Its bricks are crumbling like biscuits. And everywhere there is rubbish: broken masonry and glass, fly-tipped sofas and, in one close blackened by fire, what police coyly call “drug paraphernalia”.

The flats are so bad the local council, North Lanarkshire, has issued a compulsory purchase order. The authority wants to bulldoze the entire development and put up social housing in its place. 

Notices are taped to every door: they say, when translated from legalese to normal language, that Millcroft Road has been condemned.

This is no surprise to Monika Kuczora. “I have seen all the letters,” she explains. “But, yeah, I would like to move. I don’t feel safe, not at night.”

The Hungarian smiles self-consciously as she tries to find her words. “There are some - how to put it? - not nice people around here,” she explains. “People who use drugs, people who shout.”

Why is she here? Because, she say, her rent is low, her landlady nice and her parents, who do not speak English, nearby. 

Like Mr Martin - and the alleged brothel - she has one of the bigger ground floor properties with their own front doors opening on to a desolate courtyard.

The Herald: Resident Monika Kuczora says she doesn't feel safe at night. Photo by Gordon Terris.Resident Monika Kuczora says she doesn't feel safe at night. Photo by Gordon Terris. (Image: Newsquest)

One day she could not get out: somebody had dumped a mattress on her doorstep. 

It is the noises after dark that scare her.  She talks of a recent evening when there was a loud smash and the police came, their lights flashing through the night. She did not want to find out what had happened.

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Police Scotland recorded 338 crimes in a one quarter mile radius of the condemned Millcroft Road blocks between August of 2021 and October of last year. They also clocked up some 1127 “incidents” they were called out for. 

According to North Lanarkshire Council, which published these figures as part of their legally required Statement of Reasons for their CPO, the “highest-ranking reports were for crimes related to drugs, vandalism and assault.”

The local authority’s own anti-social response team investigated a dozen cases between November 2021 and September 2022. The condemned blocks are not alone on Millcroft Street. But they blight an entire community.

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Over the road a housing association, LINK, has decent, renovated homes which, it admits, it struggles to let because of the state of the now condemned flats opposite. 

“Flytipping and associated vermin continue to be a feature of the estate,” it said in a September 2022 statement supporting the CPO.

The piles of rubbish are dangerous. Council workers at the height of the pandemic in 2020 had to intervene to clear out “vast amounts of waste” and then seal off bin chutes and stores because of “fire risk and public health issues”.

The Herald: Crumbling and condemned - Millcroft Road. Photo Gordon Terris.Crumbling and condemned - Millcroft Road. Photo Gordon Terris. (Image: Newsquest)

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service - which was called to the flats 11 times in the year through September 2022 - has been warning about Millcroft Road for years. 

In a 2018 survey it cited multiple concerns, including the state of bricks and timber, compromised security, frequent vandalism, debris in escape routes and “multiple areas where… combustible materials have been allowed to accumulate”.

Alexandru Cristian Lipan sees this every day. The Romanian - he makes boxes for whisky on the night shift - is rubbing his eyes as he opens the door to his maisonette. 

Inside his home is spotless. But his shared landing reeks of burning and trash. “I want to paint it,” he says looking at the smoke-black walls and explaining he has just woke up. The stairwell is covered in litter. Among the take-away boxes there are used vials and syringes. 

A few floors above Mr Lipan there is another perfectly appointed apartment. Here, behind a door protected by a camera bell, lives a Polish decorator and his family. He swears in English before his schoolboy stepson, asked to translate, helps him. “It is just so ugly here,” he says.

A few closes along stays Abidemi Otti. The 42-year-old warehouse operative is paying £600 a month for the flat he shares with his wife and two children, 10 and 5. He only moved to the area in September last year, from Lagos, Nigeria. It has been a tough winter. 

“This house is not conducive to family life,” he declares. “I am moving out. It is very cold and it is very damp.”

Experts agree. Back in 2019 surveyors from Hardies LLP inspected the blocks. They found the skylights in each close had missing or cracked panes and loose seals, that external rendering was worn, that window frames were rotten, that door entry systems did not work, that wall plaster was defective, that floors were damaged and moist, that common lighting was damaged. 

The firm concluded that fixing just the common areas would cost each owner £9500. It estimated that fixing internal problems in the flats would be even dearer, another £15,000 per property. The council, in its own investigation, said that the bill today would be “significantly higher”.

It is not clear how many people live in the flats. Some appear abandoned. Most remain occupied, some overly so. Neighbours whisper that they are aware of homes where migrant workers sleep in shifts. 

The ever-cheerful Mr Martin understands the problems and accepts the flats will have to come down. But, still grinning, he admits to some sadness. “I’m upset,” he explains. “It’s home.”

Part two on Sunday: People deserve better