PLANS to demolish hundreds of homes as part of a multi-million pound regeneration scheme in Northumberland's biggest town look set to be radically revised because of changing circumstances.
A masterplan for the redevelopment of the former Bates Colliery area of Blyth includes proposals to knock down 245 council-owned houses on the rundown Hodgsons Road Estate, and replace them with new homes at a cost of £24.8m.
The plans – first drawn up in 2008 and confirmed last year – are aimed at contributing to the overall regeneration of the town’s quayside and riverside areas, and would leave only 50 of the existing 295 Hodgsons Road homes standing.
Now a new report to county councillors recommends a major re-think of the scheme, which involves flattening only 56 of the homes and retaining and improving the remaining 240.
Officers at County Hall say problems with financing the original scheme, changes in Government funding arrangements and amended development plans for nearby land mean mass demolition is not now considered the best way forward for the estate.
They say there are “no longer good reasons to demolish fundamentally sound houses”.
Next week executive members will be asked to approve the new strategy – which aims to maximise the availability of affordable housing in Blyth, bring the Hodgsons Road properties up the Government’s decent homes standard and improve the environment for tenants.
The Hodgsons Road scheme is part of a wider regeneration programme which includes plans by the Banks Group to build 300 homes and a new school at the old Bates Colliery site next door.
The estate is now the only one owned by the council where properties don’t meet the decent homes standard, but improvements have been put on the back burner for several years because of the demolition plans. In the report to the executive, housing officer Kevin Lowry says there is now a “satisfactory alternative” which involves only selective demolition of homes which are considered too expensive to upgrade. Consultations have already taken place with people living in the 56 properties now earmarked for demolition, on plans to re-house them or purchase their homes.
Mr Lowry says the case for knocking down and replacing most of the houses has been considerably weakened by the Port of Blyth’s decision to use nearby riverside land for employment purposes, rather than housing development.
This means the original vision of a large, mixed-tenure waterfront neighbourhood is no longer relevant.
In addition, the original proposals would now require at least 30% of any new homes built at Hodgsons Road to be sold on the open market to cross-subsidise the cost of providing the social rented housing. This would result in a reduction in the number of affordable homes. Another significant financial issue is the potential loss to the council of £600,000 a year in rent income from the 245 demolished houses.
All 56 homes now earmarked for demolition have been visited by council officials and Mr Lowry says most tenants were pleased that plans are moving ahead and were supportive of the proposals.
Only five said they do not support demolition. In addition, talks are continuing with all residents to explain how the revised plans will benefit the whole estate.