Attack on plans to demolish the Seven Sisters after report warns Rochdale’s housing services are ‘at a tipping point’
Date published: 21 February 2020
Photo: Reece Horton Photography
Rochdale’s iconic ‘Seven Sisters’ tower blocks at College Bank
Plans to demolish Rochdale’s iconic ‘Seven Sisters’ tower blocks have come under renewed attack after a ‘shocking’ report warned the borough’s housing services were at ‘a tipping point’.
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s controversial regeneration plans involve demolishing four of the landmark towers, which have dominated the town centre skyline for decades.
RBH have said that renovation is too costly and - come the end of its 15-year-plan - there will be no net loss of homes, just a better ‘mix and quality’.
Yet RBH has come under fierce and sustained criticism, with both councillors and residents accusing it of putting profit before people while failing to provide clarity over its ‘masterplan’.
Councillors renewed those attacks following the emergence of a report laying bare the scale of the housing crisis facing Rochdale.
The document, by consultants Futuregov, states: “Rochdale housing services are at a tipping point where demand is increasing for social housing and temporary accommodation.”
It adds that the increase in demand for temporary accommodation is being met by putting people up in B&Bs – which has a particularly negative impact on families.
Figures in the report also spell out the worrying extent of Rochdale’s housing problem and how, in many ways, it has been getting worse over time.
People spent 3,653 nights in B&Bs in 2018/19 – almost four times the number in 2016/17, just two years prior.
The proportion of families in temporary accommodation in 2018/19 was 81% – slightly higher than the national average of 74%.
Worryingly, the number in B&Bs was 22% – nearly six times the national average.
Speaking after the report was presented to Rochdale council’s communities, regeneration and environment scrutiny committee, Councillor Tom Besford described the figures as ‘shocking’.
He turned his fire on RBH, which has stopped letting flats at the Seven Sisters – aka College Bank – while it ‘works through the detail for each block’.
He said: “We have a massive need for social housing and the fact we have the Seven Sisters over there, I still find it astounding RBH is considering knocking some of those blocks down, when we have this very, very obvious requirement for social housing – which is growing.”
The council transferred its social housing stock to RBH eight years ago, but Councillor Besford urged council officers to bring as much pressure to bear as possible.
He said: “We need a very quick solution to social housing, and it feels to me like we’re looking at it (ie the Seven Sisters) and I can’t understand why that doesn’t happen’.
The report also states the reliance on B&Bs is a ‘symptom of a system’ that isn’t acting early enough to support those threatened with homelessness.
This is costing the council an extra £200k a year on top of the £600k RBH contract.
This point was highlighted by committee chair Councillor Danny Meredith, a long-standing and vociferous critic of RBH’s regeneration plans.
“We have all these empty flats in the Seven Sisters, why is the council forking out all this money when RBH is knocking down this viable housing?
Councillor Meredith said that around 2,900 people were on the waiting list for a one-bedroom flat – yet RBH had ceased renting out apartments at College Bank.
He also suggested it could be more cost-effective to convert them into two- and three-bedroom apartments, to meet demand, rather than demolishing them.
He echoed Councillor Besford’s call for the council to engage with RBH over the issue as a matter of urgency, claiming it was ‘not listening’ to elected members.
He said: “I think it’s absolutely crazy what we are doing in Rochdale right now. It’s not the council’s fault, but senior officers do need to start going to RBH now and saying ‘this is what councillors want, this is what you need to do’.”
A spokesman for RBH said it shared councillors’ concerns over the number of families being place in temporary accommodation, and was committed to providing the right homes to ‘meet the demand from local households’.
He said: “Our proposals for Rochdale town centre are all about meeting this need and improving the quality and the mix of homes available.
“There is a particular need to increase the supply of family housing. Both the council and RBH have been clear for many years that we do not believe that families with young children should be rehoused in high-rise flats.
“We also know that without massive investment, we cannot guarantee the long-term quality and safety of the flats at College Bank. Our proposals include over £30m of investment in the full refurbishment of three high-rise blocks to provide great quality homes for the next 30 years.”
He continued: “As we build more much-needed family homes, this will help to relieve the pressure on those families currently struggling in bed and breakfast accommodation – and make sure they have access to a high quality and affordable home for the future.”
RBH says its door is always open to any councillor who wishes to speak to its chief executive or director of growth about its plans.
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporting Service
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