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Petition presented over the future of Ekin Road estate

The city council has been told not to forget that its plans to redevelop a Cambridge housing estate involves demolishing people’s homes.

Councillors also heard that a number of the homes on the Ekin Road estate have condensation-related mould issues.

Future of Ekin Road..
Future of Ekin Road..

A petition signed by 66 people urging the authority to “properly assess the impact of the current proposal options” on residents was presented to Cambridge City Council last week.

Rachel Chiodo, a spokesperson for the Save Ekin Road group, said: “We understand that the council has responsibilities regarding the provision of housing, but it also has a responsibility to do this fairly.

“What we’re asking is that you meaningfully consult with residents and keep an open mind to the available options.”

Independent advisers Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) recommended that the council take forward three options for the future of the Ekin Road estate earlier this month.

These include the partial redevelopment of the site, with 20 houses to the south and east retained, and full redevelopment of the site.

The third option is to retain the existing buildings and undertake essential repairs and retrofitting. However, this option was deemed “financially unviable” by JJL.

Her husband Maurice questioned a point in the report brought to councillors – that a 2022 review saw 77.5 per cent of residents surveyed strongly agreed or agreed with redevelopment. The survey returned 63 responses from 58 households, out of a total of 122 households.

Her husband Maurice added: “That is one data point from one survey carried out one year ago, completed by less than one quarter of residents – and based on one word ‘redevelopment’. We told you at a meeting last year that this word was widely interpreted as ‘fix up’.

“It seems you’ve predetermined a preferred option for demolition and are working backwards to justify it and this is deeply unfair.”

He said residents felt that decisions were being rushed “leaving residents no time to digest and respond”.

“The overall consequence of this unfair process is that far too many options have been removed prematurely without proper scrutiny, meaningful consultation and with no understanding of the impact of residents and their particular characteristics and qualities,” Maurice concluded.

If the council opts to redevelop the whole estate then council tenants would be rehoused and property owners would be subject to compulsory purchase orders.

The estate is made up of 122 dwellings, which includes 72 flats, 32 houses, 10 bungalows and eight maisonettes.

Ekin Road has been home to many of its residents for more than 60 years. It was originally built as a council estate in the 1950s.

One resident, who lives on the estate with her mother and little brother, was visibly upset as she read her statement: “This is our home and we do not want to lose it. You talk about building a community and you are going to destroy our community in the process.”

She added: “We have many residents who have been in their houses for over a century, several will be displaced and we have families with school-aged children, many of whom will lose their homes, and these children may need to be pulled out of school, which can have long-term consequences on their mental health.”

Another resident, however, expressed support for redevelopment. Referring to those who are against the changes, he said the loudest voices do not necessarily represent the majority.

“The state of the flats is only getting worse, with some residents living in difficult conditions and having to face at least one more winter without being able to afford adequate heating – in a lot of cases. As a resident of the flats who has spoken to other residents, I urge the council and the community to prioritise the wellbeing of the majority of residents and move forward with the best option – to make improvements through partial or full redevelopment with urgency,” he said.

Cllr Richard Robertson (Lab, Romsey) said: “My understanding is the flats are not insulated in any way, or not in any substantial way, and that there are problems. People’s health is at risk.”

He added: “The group claiming to represent the majority of residents in the area expressed in their petition their concern for the health and well-being of all the residents. The council is also very concerned for their health and well-being and is determined that the damp and mould problems encountered by residents will be dealt with.

“Upgrading the existing buildings will be explored to see how effective it would be. It may be that it will be better to replace the buildings though, so two options for providing very high quality new homes will also be explored. Even if the upgrading option is decided on residents may have to move out while it is done.

“Having to move out of your home can be difficult to face but we are intent on finding ways to enable the community to stay together even if they move. For instance there should be opportunities for Ekins area residents to move to new homes due soon to be built by the council on the corner of nearby Newmarket Road and Barnwell Road. Those new homes should be available about the time when the project for the Ekins area is ready to start.”

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

Ben Binns, assistant director of development, explained that 17 reports of condensation-related mould from homes in the development had been made since December 9, 2022 – though he described ‘anecdotal evidence’ of more cases. He said the 17 reports relate to 12 flats, three houses and two bungalows.

Cllr Robertson responded: “So there’s clearly a problem in the buildings on that estate and that does underline that we need to take some action.”

Cllr Anthony Martinelli (Lib Dem, Market) said: “I’m sympathetic to the council’s overall goals in terms of housing and the environmental aspect of the housing stock, but I just think we need to do a better job of taking people with us on that.

“I think sometimes there’s a danger that the executive forgets that these are people’s homes that we’re talking about and I think we need to be more sensitive to that in our approach going forwards.”

Six councillors voted in favour of progressing with the three Ekin Road options, with one voting against and two abstentions.

The motion also included support for a £300,000 revenue budget for work to fully consider the options. A decision on a preferred option will then be made in 2024.

Cllr Gerri Bird, executive councillor for housing and homelessness, said: “With any repairs we worry and we do know there’s lots of problems on that estate. And that is one of the main things that we need to do. We need to sort out getting these flats at a decent standard if not rebuild. We have not decided anything yet. We’re going through all the motions of the consultations, trying to keep it completely up-to-date, we’re not hiding anything from you, we’re all compassionate.

“We do understand that if you’ve lived somewhere for all those years then it is hard. But we take every single resident’s issues to heart.

“If you come to us and say you need an accessible property that’s what we’d look for. That’s every single resident. Whatever you need, we will look for it.”

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