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Fewer council homes expected in revised Ekin Road proposals

Fewer council properties could be built at a redeveloped Cambridge estate under new plans that would prioritise large family homes over flats.

The emerging proposals include knocking down all the homes on the Ekin Road housing estate and replacing them with an increased number of three and four-bedroom properties.

The Ekin Road estate Picture: Keith Heppell
The Ekin Road estate Picture: Keith Heppell

The council says the latest proposals will “deliver a mix of affordable and market sale properties” with the authority exploring a 50/50 split.

But ward councillors say residents are getting “more and more worried” about where they are going to live after the redevelopment.

Independent consultant Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) told Cambridge City Council earlier this month that full redevelopment, with 100 per cent affordable housing, was the “least worst” choice, compared to repair or a partial redevelopment.

However, it said its financial viability must be “seriously considered” – and warned it would leave the authority with a £16million bill.

JLL added that “with this in mind alternative development or delivery options should be explored with a development partner, should this option prove not to be financially viable for Cambridge City Council”.

The council says its latest plans are “in direct response to these findings” and also to reduce the financial risk to the authority.

But Cllr Naomi Bennett (Green, Abbey) told the Cambridge Independent: “What upsets me most about this is the impact this has had on the Ekin Road residents, who are in limbo. They waited more or less patiently for the JLL report that was supposed to have the answers to their questions. But as soon as the report was published, the council announced it was doing something else.

“Residents who want to move – mostly in the flats – want to know when they can move. Almost anyone can go on to the council’s waiting list. But unless you are in the top priority band, you have very little chance of moving. Even in the top band, it can take years. Residents who don’t want to move – mostly in the houses – want to know how long they can stay in their homes before the bulldozer turns up.

“Both groups of residents are getting more and more worried about where they are going to live afterwards. Some are already on the waiting list and are well aware of how limited the options are.”

Green group leader Cllr Bennett said they would like to see partial demolition back on the table.

The Greens argue that the JLL report cost £300,000 and delayed the project by nearly a year. During that period, building costs have continued to rise, adding millions to the cost.

The estate currently comprises 122 homes, made up of a mixture of maisonettes, flats, bungalows and houses.

Some 98 homes are in council ownership, but some are privately owned. The home owners would be paid a market value plus 10 per cent under full redevelopment plans.

Under the emerging plan, the council is proposing the estate be made up of 22 one-bed, 13 two-bed, 91 three-bed and 29 four-bed homes. The one and two-bed properties will be located in a block of flats. Of these homes, a total of 78 would be council-owned.

The consultation documents state: “The design approach we are showing today would increase the number of three- or four-bed family homes compared to what is currently available on the estate.

“This would support people who are currently in overcrowded one- or two-bed flats to have opportunities to access larger family homes in the area. This may mean fewer but larger council homes to meet housing need. At least five per cent of homes will be wheelchair-adapted.”

A spokesperson for the city council said: “As we have previously stated in our full response to the JLL report, we commissioned JLL to investigate options available to the council to bring about homes at Ekin Road that are modern, sustainable and comfortable places to live with much greater energy efficiency, with consideration of the potential economic, social, environmental, financial, and strategic benefits to each option.

“The JLL report considered three options for the Ekin Road estate – refurbishment, partial redevelopment and full redevelopment. JLL concluded that one of these options, the full redevelopment with 100 per cent affordable housing was “the ‘least worst’ option [but] the financial viability of the option must be seriously considered”, and that “with this in mind alternative development or delivery options should be explored with a development partner, should

this option prove not to be financially viable for Cambridge City Council”.

“In direct response to these findings in the JLL report, we are considering full redevelopment, but with an alternative approach, as recommended. The intention would be to provide a mixed tenure development that reduces financial risk to the council, which also addresses the significant need for larger family homes in the area as the emerging proposals now prioritise more three-bed and four-bed council homes, alongside a range of low-energy one-bed and two-bed flats. The next period of extensive consultation with residents on these emerging designs for the housing at Ekin Road has now started and continues until 3 May, and contact with freeholders and leaseholders affected is under way.”

The council announced in June last year that it had appointed JLL to assess three potential options for the Ekin Road estate.

These include the partial redevelopment of the site, with 20 houses to the south and east retained, and full redevelopment of the site. The other option would be to retain the existing buildings and undertake essential repairs and retrofitting.

The assessment was part of the council’s wider programme of work across Cambridge to improve accommodation standards for people living in existing council homes, as well as build additional council homes and address wider housing supply issues.

The estate was identified for assessment because some of the homes have significant maintenance and structural issues and are well below the current standards the council applies to new developments.

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