Yesterday (Tuesday February 23), the first consultation event was held to discuss the future of three Avenham tower blocks, providing tenants with a chance to share their opinions and concerns.
Richmond, Lincoln and Carlisle House blocks on the Queen Street estate, near Newman College, are run by regional housing association Onward Homes and are facing two options -demolition or refurbishment, with the former being the association's preferred option, allowing the way for new modern housing to be built.
The flats, built in the 1960s, had external cladding removed following the Grenfell Tower disaster, which Onward said revealed "additional structural challenges" and meant they could be liable to damp and mould problems.
If demolition gets the go-ahead, currents residents are not guaranteed a home in the replacement properties but Onward said it would ask the city council if former tenants could be "given priority to bid on any new social housing that is built as part of the Avenham and Queen Street regeneration plans."
Onward also confirmed that those who will have to be relocated will have a "guaranteed offer" that if they want to come back they can, as part of their resident's charter.
Running between 1-6 pm, yesterday's public consultation was the first of three chances for the public to share their views on the future and ask questions of Onward Homes staff.
73 year old retiree, Steven Deacon who has lived in Carlise house for a decade said: "I love the flat I'm in, I don't want to move. It was a blow when they said they might demolish them. My great concern that I came to speak about is that I want to remain in the area, and the ladies have assured me that they’re doing their upmost to ensure that I won't just be thrown out, that I will be supported into trying to get the accommodation that suits me in this area, and if they do decide to refurbish them, that we would be rehoused in suitable accommodation while that was going on, which was another weight off my mind.”
"I was worried that with the council wanting this Stoneygate project, we social housing tenants weren't the correct image for them, and they would build fancy accommodation the likes of me could never afford, but the ladies have assured me that Onward will still have social housing on this site even if they do demolish the flats, because this is a brilliant area to live in, a brilliant location, lovely people, great transport links, so no, I don't want to move. I wish I had never received that letter. I wouldn't have had so many sleepless nights between last Thursday and now, but I do feel more at ease that I'm not just gonna be thrown out."
Another resident, 68 year old Anthony Doyle told the Post that he was a tenant of Moor Park flats when they were demolished twenty years ago, and he hopes that "this procedure goes more smoothly than that did", although he would rather it was avoided all together too.
He explained: "I would prefer that they did them up to the relevant standard so that people could stay there because in fairness, we have a housing shortage in this city and they're not adding to the housing stock, it seems to be an awful big move just to replace like with like- in fact it will be less!
"I feel like they’re not really being straight with us because the decision to knock them down has already been taken and this is just a paper form exercise. It’s not really up to the tenants, it will be up to the housing association as to what decision they take and they will take whatever decision is financially more attractive to them.
"How are disabled people like myself going to manage with packing up the house? How are we going to decorate? I am concerned about the actual effect it will have on individual tenants and I think that all they’re looking at is how fast can we get people out. They should have a dedicated officer who knows the individual requirements of individual tenants and that person should be actively seeking a property, not the tenant. If the housing association wants us to move its the housing association who should find somewhere, not put us in the general option with everyone else.”
Anthony's fellow Richmond tenant, David Smith, 48, who wants to stay in the area to be close to his college, added: "I think it’d be better to do them up because there’s a lot of families around. I don’t want to move, I’ve been here 15 years, it’s the longest place I’ve lived in and I feel safe.
"The main thing I came here to do today is to get reassured about my future, and yeah they’re going to help out with moving and help out with another place to live. I don’t want to move but I trust that they’ll get me somewhere around here, somewhere similar, so that I can still do my studying.”
Although these residents all want to stay in their current flats, other tenants on the day believed it is time for them to be demolished.
Lincoln resident, Denise Rishton, 58, told the Post: “They need knocking down because they’re old now, they’ve had their time, they need modernising.”
Another tenant, 36 year old Sylwia Jurasz said she was at the consultation to complain about the the damp and mould in her Carlisle flat, which demonstrates the need for drastic refurbishment, or demolition.
"I’ve been complaining about my issue with damp and mould for five months and I didn’t get any help whatsoever. I’ve been struggling all winter, my walls are black, there's damp everywhere. I live with a child and this whole thing’s affected our mental health as well, because we feel embarrassed to invite people over- we shouldn’t live in these conditions", she said.
However Sylwia added that she had reservations about the feasibility of relocating all, if any, of the blocks' current residents.
She explained: "I’ve been put on an urgency relocation but there’s an issue with location, I can’t drive so I need to be near public transport, and they’re struggling to put me in any place so I can’t imagine how they’re going to treat other tenants, there’s 66 residents in each block and there’s three blocks that might be demolished so I can’t see how they’re going to move all of us if they can’t move me so I don’t feel very hopeful at the moment."
A spokesperson for Onward told the Post that although demolition is the company’s preferred choice, no decision will be made until Spring, and it will take into account the residents' thoughts so the preferred option may change.
Sandy Livingstone, the Executive Director at Onward said: "I absolutely understand their nervousness, because when any change comes people become uncomfortable, but one of the things about spending time with customers and individually speaking to every one is to try and remove their anxieties. We want them to be involved in the process, and we want to understand their feedback so that can shape how we move forward.
"If we refurbish the tower blocks and reclad them, which is not our preferred option, we would end up with the same amount of housing, the question really is whether that housing, in its current form, suits the needs of the community here, and in the future. So if we demolish them and replace, we will end up with less housing, but what we are doing is working with a number of partners to identify other sites local to here where we can build more houses. Now if we manage to secure those sites, we’ll end up with more housing here than we started with and that’s our objective as a housing association, to increase the amount of affordable houses in Preston.
"Preston is one of the great northern cities, so the opportunity to work here and try and build a better mix of housing back into the city centre is something that we think is really exciting. It won’t be an easy thing for the community as we carry out the work, but if we can do it, it’s something that we think we exist as an organisation to do."