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Waiting for a home in Brighton and Hove
Almost 16,000 people are on the housing waiting list in Brighton and Hove – and the number is getting bigger by the day. But grand plans to revamp estates have remained blueprints while smaller schemes appear to have hit brick walls and are taking years to complete.
TIM RIDGWAY reports on the hunt for homes for city residents.
When she became pregnant for a second time, Katie Stevens knew she needed a bigger home to raise her family.
But after putting her name down on Brighton and Hove City Council’s waiting list, eight years on she is still in limbo.
Since then, the 32-year-old of Wilfrid Road, Hove, has had a further two children with her partner.
This means there are two adults and four children currently sharing a modest two bedroom home with little living space and even less hope of the situation improving soon.
Katie is one of more than 15,700 people on the council’s housing waiting list – about 4,000 more than there were in 2010 and now in excess of the number of actual homes, 13,500, that the council owns.
But attempts by local authority bosses to start building have not quite reached the lofty heights expected.
Among the projects yet to get going is a plan to create 29 homes on vacant garage sites.
Three years after it was first approved by councillors, a contract with builders has still not been signed, never mind a spade entering the soil.
Council chiefs have allocated an extra £286,000 to the scheme for the next financial year to get it moving, with 2015 a planned completion date.
Elected councillors of all parties have urged staff to “get on with it” and ensure there are homes built for some of the most vulnerable in the city.
"All four children are currently sleeping in the same room"
For Katie, progress cannot come soon enough.
She said: “All four children (aged two, three, seven and nine) are currently sleeping in the same room.
“I’ve had to have a triple bunk bed made so the girls can sleep in there.
“My partner and I are in what is the box room and quite often our little boy ends up with us.
“We have very little room and there’s no room for a dining table.
“We have to eat at separate times otherwise the kids will be eating on the floor.”
Plans to redevelop eight garages into homes were first brought forward and approved under the previous Conservative administration’s cabinet in November 2010.
Despite a shortage of housing in the city and homeless rates increasing by the day, no contracts have been signed for the work.
The deal is now being retendered as the local authority looks for a developer to take on responsibility for the eight plots of land.
Former council leader Mary Mears admits the delay is unacceptable.
She said, in addition to the extra £286,000 just put into the project, £1 million had already been allocated.
Coun Mears said: “A lot of money has been put into it and it just hasn’t moved forward. I’m worried that time is just ticking by.
"We left this project to the Greens and they have just sat on it when there is a critical need to bring it forward.
“It’s no use waiting for your own plans. We continued some of the previous Labour plans as we knew something had to be done.
“I really believe in housing as the absolute plank in the foundation.
“It’s cost-saving to adult social care, children’s services and other departments if the council is getting housing right and there are families in proper homes.”
Among the garages to be built on is a plot in Harmsworth Crescent, Hangleton.
The buildings there were demolished two and a half years ago but nothing has happened.
Ward councillor Dawn Barnett, pictured above, said she had been consulted twice on what she would like to see on the site.
Coun Barnett said it was “completely unacceptable” when people were waiting so long for family homes.
She added: “It’s far too long – they have sat on their hands.”
When discussed at a recent town hall meeting, Labour councillor Leigh Farrow said: “I’m concerned as we have a housing crisis in our city.
“This is a small contribution but the sooner we can make that contribution the better.”
Committed to homes
Green councillor Liz Wakefield admitted there have been unacceptable delays in the garage plans, adding: “I’m trying to chivvy the officers along as much as we can.
“We’re committed still to get as many homes built as quickly as is possible. There’s no slowness in the political point of view.”
Tenant representative Stewart Gover said: “There’s no money. The people understand that there’s no money but they are fed up with what is being spent on unnecessary improvements to the city.
“People are giving up on getting a home as the rigmarole and procedures behind applying are just so lengthy.”
THE PLANS ....
To help ease the housing shortage, Brighton and Hove City Council has just signed off on its estate regeneration programme.
According to bosses, this will “provide new sustainable and affordable homes in the city and improve some of our most disadvantaged estates”.
It adds the programme will “maximise opportunities” to build new homes on its land while redeveloping existing estates where necessary.
To lead it, the council has created a new team – the city regeneration unit – which took charge of the project in January.
This will go towards the council’s aim of providing 500 affordable homes by 2030, as agreed in the City Plan.
It will include three phases:
1) 29 homes on vacant garage sites
First signed off 2010, it should be complete by 2015.
The plots, which are spread across the city, have been identified, cleared and secured.
However, a contract with a developer has not been signed and the council now claims it will not be able to deliver everything.
As a result it has agreed to go back out to tender with an additional site.
The council is looking for a private or social housing provider to work with to build the homes.
2) Infill sites and vacant land and buildings
Work has just started on this with a planned completion date of 2017.
There are currently no details on the number of sites or how many homes could be provided.
Among the possible sites are the former Whitehawk Library, the Manor Place housing office and land behind 243 and 245 Preston Road.
Whitehawk Library remains unsold three years after the new library was built.
The council has earmarked £1 million to come from the sale of the site – deemed by many to be an over-valuation.
It could also include “self build” where the council helps people create their own homes on its land.
3) Wider estate regeneration
Work will start in May, with completion date of 2020.
There are no details on the number of homes it could include.
Members of the committee told The Argus this could involve the demolition of existing council estates.
Among the areas that it could involve include the Bates Estate.
However, existing tenants would have to be relocated while rebuilding work went on.
The council said it will welcome suggestions from residents and councillors on which sites it should include.
THE WAITING LIST
According to recent figures, Brighton and Hove City Council has 15,751 people on its housing waiting list.
This includes all homeseekers, including first-time applicants and transfers.
Band A and Band B are “priority” bands, such as for people with urgent medical needs.
Band A: 392, 2.49%
Band B: 1,004, 6.37%
Band C: 9,912, 62.93%
Band D: 4,443, 28.21%
TOTAL: 15,751, 100.00%
Number of ‘Lets’ in each band for the last 12 months
Band A: 257
Band B: 124
Band C: 137
Band D: 3
THE SUCCESS STORY…
The first new council homes to be built in the city for decades are due to open soon.
Contractors are currently putting the finishing touches to Balchin Court in Wellington Road, Brighton.
This sheltered scheme, built on the former Ainsworth House, will include three family homes, and 12 flats for vulnerable people.
Two properties are designed for households with wheelchair users.
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