Friday, June 03, 2011

Witham House

We had notice today that the planning application for the new building is being submitted on Friday (tomorrow).  There's been confusion and disappointment surrounding the plans for the site almost since the day that it was transferred to Erimus Housing, now part of the Fabrick Group.
Briefly, Stockton council owned the house which was past its best structurally.  Government rules set by successive Labour and Tory governments meant it was difficult for the council to get the money to rebuild.  The answer that was reached was to transfer the assets i.e. buildings to a registered social landlord which could put in the investment needed.  Unfortunately for Eaglescliffe the best business plan anyone could come up with was to demolish Witham House and build flats for sale on the site, thus releasing money that could be used to refurbish the other sheltered housing schemes involved in the transfer.  Presumably good news for  the other schemes, but not for Eaglescliffe.
Some robust debate ensued with the Eaglescliffe councillors and we managed to get agreement that at least a proportion of the flats built would be for rent. 
Many delays later, all the residents had moved out in anticipation of work commencing but nothing happened.  Eventually Erimus demolished the house to avoid problems with vandalism.  Still nothing further happened.  We had meetings and heard sob stories of how the market had collapsed and now they were left having spent the money on the other schemes but unable to recoup it.  We suggested building some sheltered housing - they'd soon have filled it if it was marketed at the right price.  But no, only flats for sale would do.
Now we have the plans submitted.  Despite the consultation event there doesn't seem to be a significant change.  People will have the opportunity to buy a flat at a yet to be determined price, if they're over 55.  There'll be no garden worth speaking of, a shortage of parking spaces if all the flats are occupied, no communal space in which to meet up and have a cuppa together or a game of whist or bingo or a discussion with councillors about issues arising like there was in the old building.  "People want the costs kept as low as possible" is what we're told.  Well maybe that's so, but people also need to get out and see something other than their own 4 walls, and this doesn't offer much opportunity for that.
A sad loss for Eaglescliffe.

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