COUNCIL chiefs at Warrington are blaming the government for forcing them to go-ahead with a housing scheme condemned by objectors as “the rape of the village.”
The scheme involves selling a piece of land valued at £400,000 for just £1 – although it will result in the town receiving a package of benefits worth more than £2.7 million.
More than 360 angry villagers from Croft attended a public meeting when the project was first revealed.
Nine members of the borough council’s executive board voted in favour of demolishing Croft House, a 38-year-old sheltered housing unit in the village, to make way for 15 three-bed houses and five two-bed bungalows.
The tenth member – deputy leader of the council Keith Bland (pictured) – abstained from voting.
He said he had always felt Croft House should be retained and modernised. This had been the original intention – but the government had refused to make funding available.
Villagers wanted it retained – in fact he had never known such a reaction from the people of Croft who had described the scheme as “the rape of the village.”
Coun Bland said the matter had been referred to the Local Government Ombudsman and suggested a decision be deferred until the Ombudsman’s report was received.
Coun Sheila Woodyatt said upgrading Croft House was a non-starter because the government would not make funding available.
Elderly people today had higher expectations than when the unit was built. They would no longer accept bedsit accommodation.
Despite a presentation from the Croft Preservation Society, who claimed Croft House was structurally sound and should be retained, the board decided to press ahead with the sale of the site in Birchall Street.
Members were told the sheltered unit was no longer fit for purpose and was difficult to let. It needed £640,000 spending on it, excluding day-to-day repairs. More than 20 per cent of its bedsit flats were empty.
The site would be sold to the Arena Housing Association for £1 – but Arena would pay for demolition , contribute £600,000 from its own resources and also borrow £1.1 million for the project.. In addition, the Housing Corporation would make a grant of £1 million towards the cost of the scheme.
Coun Bob Barr, executive member for planning, regeneration and housing said it was inaccurate to say the council was selling a £400,000 site for £1 because of the package of benefits the council would receive in return. This included enhanced nomination rights for the council, affordable housing development in Croft and the possibility of future affordable housing funding from the Housing Corporation.
The government would not make funding available to upgrade and modernise Croft House and the cost would be too high for the council to meet.
“The council finds itself between a rock and a hard place,” he said.
Council leader Ian Marks said the scheme was very much in line with the council’s policy of local homes for local people. There were too many instances of children being unable to afford to buy homes in their own areas.
He pointed out that if a decision was delayed, the offer of £1 million from the Housing Corporation would expire.
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