Cambridge residents alarmed over threat to demolish homes
Residents of a Cambridge estate have told of their shock at council proposals that could see their homes demolished.
The properties could be knocked down under plans by Cambridge City Council to address the housing shortage, build high-quality council houses and make better use of its land.
Those living in Ekin Road were told of the proposals in a meeting, of which they first learned when a leaflet was posted through their doors.
It has caused alarm, although some residents feel some of the buildings are an eyesore and in desperate need of redevelopment.
The council is looking at a number of options from remedial works to the full redevelopment of the site. But it warns that refurbishing the three-storey blocks of flats to bring them up to modern standards may not be possible and would come with considerable cost.
It could demolish the flats and retain the other homes, but says this would reduce the number of properties available for council tenants and it notes there is no “external funding available for ‘replacement’ homes” on a website about the project. Full redevelopment would include demolishing all properties – some of which are privately owned and would be subject to compulsory purchase orders.
One homeowner, who has asked not to be named and has lived on the road for five years, fears he will have to move his family away from the city should a full redevelopment go ahead.
“They’re going to take my house then bulldoze it to build another house in its place,” he said. “Aside from all the upheaval and disruptions to life, it then means we’ll have to buy another house and we can’t afford the same sort of house in the same location or the same size. So it’s either move further away, buy something smaller or take on a substantially bigger mortgage.”
He continued: “We don’t have cars as we’re able to cycle to our jobs, so that’s going to be another expense if we have to move further away. They’re nice houses and there’s literally nothing wrong with them. We set ourselves up here and to be told you can be forcibly moved for something that’s not a national infrastructure project, it’s houses for houses.”
Mother-of-two Emma Biggs, who has lived on Ekin Road, in Abbey ward, for 22 years, said: “I’m waiting to see if my house is still going to stand. It’s a community round here. I’ve got a lot of people here I can rely on should I need help. My kids trust a certain neighbour to pick them up from school if I cannot make it.”
Ekin Road is not the only area that the council has earmarked for redevelopment.
The other areas include Fanshawe Road, which is to be discussed by the council’s housing and scrutiny committee on Tuesday, the Kingsway, Hanover and Princess blocks of flats, and the multi-storey garage on the corner of East Road and St Matthews Street.
For Emma, a council tenant, the biggest concern about moving from Ekin Road is for her two young children, aged six and 10, who both have special needs, with her youngest on the autism spectrum and her eldest having left-sided hemiplegia, cerebral palsy, and a chiari malformation.
Emma has already spent 12 months looking for a more suitable home for her family after the council would not commit to building an extension for a wet room.
Over that period of time, there were no suitable houses available for her in Cambridge with her children’s complex needs making moving to another area difficult.
“I’m not moving them, end of,” she said. “The change for them would just be detrimental. The upheaval of moving to a new area will have a huge impact on my son. This is our safe haven. It’s not only the move, it’s the moving schools and setting up help again in school. It’s awful, it’s like this impending doom.”
Emma fears that if she is forced to move to a new-build property then the council will increase rents, which cannot be afforded by those on low incomes. She added: “It feels like the council is clearing up the poorer residents to make way for the richer ones.”
Her concerns were echoed by another resident, who also asked not be named, and has lived on the street for almost 40 years. The tearful resident explained: “It’s not my house, it’s my home and I don’t want to move. I go to work, I come home and I go into my garden with a cup of tea. It’s my sanctuary, it keeps me sane.
“I had nothing when I moved here and I used to be depressed all of the time, but I’m not any more because I have my sanctuary.”
Emma said: “We’ve been here 20-plus years and there’s nothing wrong with the houses.”
The city council says that it will give people a year to move from their properties but that most will leave within six months.
It says tenants can move to a new location and then return to the new development or choose to stay where they are. They will get a ‘home loss’ payment for having to move and the authority will also foot the removal bill.
Council tenants will also be given priority on the authority’s home bidding site where it will aim for “like-for-like” house type moves. For people who own their properties, the council will pay the market value of the home.
Teresa Newson, who works for the homelessness charity Jimmy’s and has lived in Ekin Road for 31 years, questioned where the council was going to house tenants during the works.
“All we want is for the council to be totally honest with us about what’s happening. My husband has a heart condition and the stress it’s putting on him – it’s diabolical. He’s having panic attacks,” she said.
She continued: “I work with the homeless and if the council hasn’t got homes for them, where are they going to put us? And I know there are other developments around Cambridge which they’re going to do, so where are they putting them? There’s not enough social housing.”
Currently Cambridge City Council has 2,141 people on their housing list, according to latest statistics.
Cllr Gerri Bird, executive councillor for housing at the city council, said: “There is an opportunity at Ekin Road to provide new sustainable homes and an improved environment for residents, but nothing has yet been decided. We really want to hear from local residents which is why we are consulting now ahead of any decision.
“I would encourage all residents of the Ekin Road estate to complete our survey. A number of options are being considered – from remedial works to maintain existing council homes, to a partial redevelopment of some areas, or a full redevelopment of the site. We have to consider which options are feasible and which provide the greatest benefits.
“We understand people are concerned about the possibility that they will have to move but it is just too early to say. What we can say at this stage is that, if redevelopment goes ahead, we will work with every household, taking individual circumstances into account. One of our aims in consulting is to build up a better picture of the needs of local people.
“If council tenants do have to move they will continue to have the option to be secure tenants of the council. We will work closely with tenants to best meet their needs; we expect this would be from the homes the council owns in the area but some tenants may want to move further afield.
“It may be possible for some tenants to return to the Ekin Road estate as it is redeveloped. People who own their homes would be offered the market value of their homes through sale back to the council. There is also a compensation package for both tenants and owners and financial support for the costs of relocating.”