Members were briefed on the report that sought approval for the development of the proposals for the Blackshots estate for consultation with residents.
Councillor Mayes thanked Julian Wain for the report.
Councillor Redsell stated with some frustration that the development proposals were not moving quickly enough as she had been fighting for this for nearly 20 years and wanted to see this come to fruition. Councillor Redsell questioned why Chapel Farm, land south of Stanford Road and Horndon recreation ground had been identified as potential options. Referred to the land around the flats and the 56 acres of fields that should be included into the specification. That it was not right to let these three buildings remain which were not fit for purpose and which the council had said were not fit for purpose. The survey confirmed that residents liked where they lived, they just did not like what they lived in. Julian Wain stated the intention of the report was about clarifying the principle of demolition and starting at the beginning of the process. Members were informed there had been a number of council sites examined but to date no consideration had been made of private sites. This was partly because of location and redeveloping the local area. It was also not wise to add the cost of purchasing private land to the cost of the scheme. In terms of the Fields in Trust land, should replacement be necessary all suggestions were welcome.
Councillor Liddiard asked for clarification that the aim was to repair and upgrade the high-rise blocks and then put a redevelopment plan in place to knock the flats down and put those tenants into new buildings. Julian Wain stated rather than spending large amounts of money on doing that, a scheme would be developed for knocking the flats down and replacing them with the housing department committed in the short term to maintaining them.
Councillor Liddiard suggested that some high-level discussions take place to discuss the project plan and finances that the whole council could agree to, not just this committee. That a decision should not be made until discussions had taken place with planning, the leader and all members. Julian Wain stated this report would go to cabinet for a decision and stated that whatever development was agreed would also go to Cabinet and would be subject to planning permission.
Councillor Mayes stated the reason for the report was to move forward and although this was a cabinet decision all members wanted the best for their residents.
Councillor Hebb stated the high-rise flats were a failed post war experiment that did not work in Thurrock or nationally. Councillor Hebb suggested that members visited and looked at some of the issues first hand which would be helpful to understand. The report contained a strong indication of viewpoints and was relatively balanced so there was a will but questioned was the skill in the Council. Councillor Hebb stated members needed some assurances that this project would be different to other projects embarked on by the council that had not always gone to plan. Julian Wain stated that the Council would build a team for the development, appoint advisors to undertake design, independent tenant advisors to help tenants through the process in terms of being comfortable with the specification and in terms of movement, decanting in and out of buildings and having advisors in terms of managing the project. The delivery of the scheme would require a good quality project plan and a good property program. Ewelina Sorbjan stated that the sum of £200,000 was required in order to buy in expertise to help the project be delivered and for the shaping of the scheme. Councillor Hebb reiterated that assurances were required to ensure this was done right and needed proper ownership and capability.
Councillor Hebb referred to the five-week consultation starting in winter 2022 which would be looking for a cabinet decision by the middle of March 2023 and questioned whether that was sufficient time to undertake this consultation. The council was embarking on an ongoing consultation process, not necessarily as a defined period as one of the roles of the independent tenant advisor would be that source of advice and source of relationship with tenants. They would also facilitate and conduit their concerns into the council.
Councillor Worrall stated she was pleased that we had got to this stage and that members wanted to see this happen as soon as possible. Although, it had to be acknowledged that housing development had stalled with no building being undertaken. Concerns that the housing waiting list would be stalled even further due to the families that would need to be decanted from those flats, which in turn could cause a snowball effect on the housing waiting lists. It also had to be acknowledged this was a difficult time for the council to be embarking on this massive redevelopment. Councillor Worrall would like to see the consultation happen but acknowledged this project would not be undertaken next year.
Councillor Redsell stated another survey would just give residents hope, the project had to move forward as residents did not want to live in these flats for another year.
Councillor Liddiard stated that lessons could be learnt from other authorities who had undertaken similar projects and those that were still decanting residents.
Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee commented on:
1.1 The proposed approach to developing proposals for the future of the Blackshots estate.
1.2 The requirement to carry out essential remedial works to the Blackshots tower blocks.
1.3 The principal of redeveloping the estate to deal with the issues affecting the existing blocks, to provide good quality housing and to enhance the available stock of housing in Thurrock.
1.4 Note that a consultancy budget of £200,000 had been identified from within the existing Housing Revenue Account feasibility reserve to develop proposals for the future of the estate including appointing Independent Tenant Advisers.
1.5 The proposal to commence detailed design and planning for a proposed scheme to consult on with residents and the proposed approach to consultation.