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Knocking down Cambridge’s Ekin Road estate and redeveloping it ‘is best option’ say independent advisers

Independent advisers have told the city council that knocking down all the homes on the Ekin Road housing estate in Cambridge and redeveloping it is the best option for its future.

They say a full redevelopment could create a “modern, cohesive estate” in Abbey ward with “areas prone to anti-social behaviour” removed – but warn it will leave the council with a £16million bill.

A report on the possible redevelopment of Ekin Road has been published
A report on the possible redevelopment of Ekin Road has been published

The council described the option as the “least worst” choice, compared to repair or partial redevelopment, and said its financial viability must be “seriously considered”.

It pledged to discuss the findings of the report by Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) with residents before consulting on emerging designs to increase the number of three and four-bedroom homes on the estate, which comprises 122 homes – a mixture of maisonettes, flats, bungalows and houses.

Most of these 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.

The report comes as the council announced a wider discussion about Abbey ward, where investments worth a potential £100million are in the pipeline.

Responding to the report findings, Cllr Gerri Bird, executive councillor for housing and homelessness, said: “The Jones Lang LaSalle report makes it clear that refurbishing the existing buildings isn’t an option that would provide long-term solutions, and should be ruled out. JLL also makes it clear that there are substantial financial challenges to redevelopment.

“We’re now considering what options are available to us that will best meet people’s needs while also being affordable for us. There are no easy or financially risk-free options here.”

The Save Ekin Road group was originally founded to campaign for all of the homes to be preserved and for the Labour-run city council to upgrade and repair the buildings.

The group said there had been concerns that many people could lose their homes “unnecessarily and against their wishes”.

However, after further conversations, the group moved to advocating for the flats to be demolished and replaced, but for the houses to be retained.

In response to the JLL report, the group said: “Save Ekin Road is appalled by the recent JLL report, and council response. We completely object to the demolition of any houses on the estate. JLL and the council have ignored recent survey responses, where an overwhelming majority of house residents opposed losing their homes. They have also engaged selectively with residents, seeking reasons for full demolition while systematically ignoring good reasons to retain the houses.

“We also object to the forceful acquisition of freehold properties – family homes – on the estate. This should be worrying for all homeowners in Cambridge: no house is safe from the council. While we agree that plans to demolish the flats are warranted and long overdue, the houses shouldn’t be caught up as collateral damage.”

Cambridge City 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.

The JLL report, published on Monday, states that there is a case for change, as there are issues in relation to fire safety, health and wellbeing as well as “numerous incidents of anti-social behaviour”. However, it says, the estate is in a “fair condition”.

The report states: “However, the non-traditional construction flats have been identified to have met the end of their useful life with signs of cracking, poor thermal integrity, and risk of structural degradation from the effects of carbonation. Many residents have stated they are experiencing mould and condensation problems that are impacting the health and wellbeing of residents.”

Ekin Road residents outside The Guildhall before the councillors meet to discuss the proposals. Picture: Keith Heppell
Ekin Road residents outside The Guildhall before the councillors meet to discuss the proposals. Picture: Keith Heppell

It says “significant investment” would be needed to improve the accommodation across the estate.

The report reveals that none of the three options is financially risk-free, with all options resulting in a loss.

JLL found that full redevelopment of the site, with 100 per cent affordable housing, provides the “least-worst financial outcome as all options produce a deficit”.

“The best, or least worst, performing option is the full redevelopment of the site with 100 per cent affordable housing at -£16,063,546, with the partial 100 per cent affordable housing closely following at -£19,201,497,” the report states, but acknowledges that a ‘do nothing’ scenario is not an option with refurbishment of the existing estate to cost the council more than £21m.

“Consequently, a more appropriate barometer of financial performance is a comparison to this appraisal and the other options. The 100 per cent affordable housing options result in improvements of £5,301,625 and £2,163,674 respectively,” it says.

The report goes on to say: “This option (full redevelopment) will offer significant long-term improvements at a lower financial deficit. The highest number of additional units can be created alongside providing the greatest improvement in the quality, accessibility, and safety of housing across the whole estate. A new green outdoor space can also be provided.”

It continues: “While it may have the greatest adverse immediate impact on residents’ health and wellbeing due to the need for relocation, the long-term benefits are substantial. This option would enable a comprehensive positive transformation of the whole estate, with all buildings being redeveloped in phases into modern, high-quality housing that aligns with sustainability and accessibility standards.”

The report adds that by “removing the outer houses, a significant number of units can be provided in their place”.

An independent resident survey was conducted as part of the report and found that many residents, particularly those in the flat blocks, are unhappy with their current living conditions.

The survey was completed by 63 households, with 42 stating that they are experiencing issues with mould, damp, condensation as well as accessibility issues (17 respondents).

“57 per cent of responding households to the survey expressed support for a redevelopment of the estate, with some in opposition (41 per cent). 49 per cent of responding households voiced a preference for a full redevelopment, while 24 per cent preferred partial redevelopment,” the report states.

The report also highlights the problems with anti-social behaviour in the estate’s alleyways and circulation routes where visibility is low.

“This is a security concern as these areas can be prone to anti-social behaviour which directly impacts the safety and enjoyment of the residents and their visitors,” it says.

There is also a known issue of fly tipping on the estate and more than five tonnes of waste were cleared during a community day in July.

The report also notes that there is a housing crisis in the city and the council takes its responsibility seriously to deliver the best housing outcomes for the people of Cambridge.

A statement by the council in response to the JLL report said it accepts the findings within the report that refurbishment cannot “resolve the long-term issues”.

“The council there accepts that the benefits of refurbishment are too limited to justify the investment. Regarding the partial or full redevelopment, the council also acknowledges that a full redevelopment scheme would deliver the greater benefits compared to a partial redevelopment option.

“However, there would be significant financial pressures for the full redevelopment option and the council would need to consider what would deliver best value for residents and council tenants.”

The next step is to discuss findings with the Ekin Road Liaison Group on 4 March. After that, the council intends to consult residents on emerging designs, which it says would increase the number of three and four-bed homes on the estate.

Cllr Bird (Lab, East Chesterton) said: “We know some of the homes at Ekin Road have significant maintenance and structural issues and are well below the current standards we apply to new developments. It is our duty to address this for our tenants, as part of our wider programme of work to improve accommodation standards for people living in council homes across the city.”

She continued: “We’re now considering what options are available to us that will best meet people’s needs while also being affordable for us. There are no easy or financially risk-free options here.

“The next steps include discussing the report with the Ekin Road Liaison Group on 4 March, and then consulting with local residents from 11 March.”

Residents will be consulted on the emerging designs from 11 March to 3 May, and can access information at ekinroad.co.uk.

There will be consultation events at Barnwell Baptist Church on Saturday, 16 March, from 10am to 1pm, then on Wednesday, 20 March from 4pm to 7pm. There will also be an online event on Monday, 18 March, from 6pm to 7.30pm. To register, visit ekinroad.co.uk.

Paper copies of the consultation material will be available at Barnwell Road Library and Abbey People Hub, from 12 March.

There is also an opportunity to hear about the wider plans for the ward and to help shape the future of Abbey at a meeting being held on 13 March from 5.45pm to 7.30pm at Christ The Redeemer Church.

To see more planning applications and other public notices for your area, visit publicnoticeportal.uk

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