THE housing group at the centre of an old people’s apartments closure row has been accused of snubbing the chance of a takeover and putting up “hollow” arguments to justify the shutdown.
Brian Japes, a parish councillor in Wylam, Northumberland, is demanding answers from Anchor Housing over the removal of tenants from Blackett Court in the heart of the village.
Mr Japes says Anchor failed to respond to interest in a takeover from fellow social landlords Milecastle Housing, or advertise vacancies, proving that “the path towards closure had already been established”.
Yesterday Milecastle backed the case, insisting it had expressed clear interest in Blackett Court following an original approach to them by Anchor – but they heard nothing more after initial inquiries. But Anchor claimed there had been no further interest from Milecastle or any other potential landlord and closure was the last remaining option.
Last night a Milecastle spokesman said: “Milecastle Housing was approached by Anchor Housing more than 18 months ago with a preliminary inquiry about the potential for acquiring their two properties in Wylam and Allendale.
“The Milecastle board requested that further details should be provided to the managing director to allow the board to make an informed decision on the proposal, but we did not receive any more details and did not pursue the matter any further. There have been no discussions with Anchor Housing since this time.”
But Anchor regional manager Julie Shuter said: “We fully explored a number of options before reaching the decision to close Blackett Court as part of a detailed review and this did include the option of a tenanted stock transfer. However, there was no interest from Milecastle or any other registered social landlord in pursuing this particular option.”
Milecastle say they also offered to help relocate Anchor residents as part of the Northumberland Homefinder scheme, but heard no more.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman is to meet Anchor Chief Executive Jane Ashcroft at the House of Commons tomorrow to thrash out the issue and says: “I will be seeking detailed explanations from Anchor as to their reasons for closing Blackett Court.” A second MP, Andrew Griffiths, will join the meeting to question a similar closure issue involving Anchor in his Burton constituency.
Ms Shuter said all options had been fully explored but in a letter sent to her this week, Mr Japes wrote: “I can only assume that your statement is as hollow as other arguments that have been put forward in support of closure.” Mr Japes is also challenging the housing group’s pledge that Blackett Court will not close until suitable alternative accommodation has been found for the remaining tenants. He said: “‘Suitable accommodation’ is too vague a phrase.”
A statement from Anchor said: “We carried out a thorough review of Blackett Court, taking into account its age, location, design and ability to attract new tenants in the future. Sadly, we have concluded that we have no alternative but to close the scheme.”
Residents and campaigners claim that apart from some external window frames, the 34-year-old complex is in good order.
Retired magistrate Ken John, who lives opposite Blackett Court, says the site was left to the elderly and needy in the 1970s from the estate of the late Squire Charles Blackett, and the land and Brewery House was later donated to Anchor while the former Tynedale District Council gave Anchor a loan to develop the site.
Mr John, who has played a leading role in the campaign to keep the complex open, says moral issues are at stake. “One has to ask if it is morally right to close a property in which so much public and private generosity has been vested,” he said.