Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Knock down prices

Factsheets have popped through their letterboxes telling them their homes will cost too much to maintain, are in unpopular areas or, perhaps, that the design of their estates of high-rises mean they are crime magnets.

The message is clear. As one leaflet prepared for residents in Birmingham puts it: ‘We have identified that one or more of these factors affect your tower block and the best option would appear to be demolition.’

It is not a coincidence that so many of these letters have been arriving within weeks of each other in various towns and cities. The plans for demolitions - more than 2,000 are anticipated in Birmingham and Nottingham alone - are, of course, based on detailed surveys on the viability of stock over the next 30 years. There has, however, been a strong financial imperative for councils to carry out the work. As we reveal on page 1, if councils have firm plans in place for demolition before 2017, the doomed homes will be excluded from housing revenue account calculations. Put simply, fewer homes means less debt for many authorities.

The big question is would these homes have been demolished by 2017 anyway? In some cases certainly. In others it is less clear. David Hall, director of consultancy Sector, who has worked with some authorities on their plans sums up the thought process. He says a number of councils have gone for demolitions ‘where it has been at the back of their mind to do something at some stage and they are bringing it forward to improve the position of their settlement’.

Because the process has been completed so quickly it is hard to tell how controversial the plans will prove in the long term. Heritage group SAVE said it thought the plans ‘seemed crazy’ because of the length of many council housing waiting lists. So there could be national opposition on top of local fights where residents who voted against proposals find their homes are for the chop.

Councils will argue more favourable HRA settlements will enable them to build better homes for the future. But there is no getting away from the strange fact that a reform designed to free councils to build more homes is going to start with a wrecking ball.

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