New £11m twist in Norwich’s Greyhound Opening saga
- Credit: Archant
The saga over Greyhound Opening, one of the most controversial patches of land in Norwich, has taken a fresh twist, after a deal struck to build almost a hundred homes on the site fell through.
But Norwich City Council bosses instead want to spend up to £11m to build new homes on the site, which could see some of the housing rented to private tenants, rather than just to people on the council housing waiting list.
And council leaders said that the innovative move would generate money which could be used to protect other council front-line services.
Greyhound Opening, off Dereham Road, made national headlines in 2008 after it emerged city council officers had moved into the sheltered accommodation vacated by elderly tenants ahead of a planned redevelopment of the site.
While the council had agreed officers relocating to Norwich could go into the homes, so elderly people who had yet to move out would not feel isolated, it was against policy for other staff to move in.
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It sparked a scandal at City Hall, with calls for an independent inquiry, and led to the sacking of Kristine Reeves, the council's head of neighbourhood and strategic housing, who was among those who moved into the properties.
The sheltered housing there and in Goldsmith Street was demolished in 2009 to make way
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for new homes, but more than four years down the line and not one home has been built.
The council said a plan to build on the site soon afterwards had been scuppered because of changes in government policy on grants and funding for social housing.
A deal was then struck in spring last year for the city council to sell the site to Orbit Housing Association, which had agreed to invest £10m to build affordable homes on the site.
However, that deal has fallen through, partly because the current economic climate meant Orbit was finding it difficult to make the scheme viable.
But the other reason is that new rules over how councils are allowed to manage their housing revenue accounts means the city council is now in a position where it could develop the site itself.
That will cost the council £11m, but there is a possibility that money from some of the homes built could be used to protect front-line council services.
While the council has yet to come up with precise details of what it plans to do on the site, up to a hundred homes would be built.
They could be a mix of affordable homes, social housing to take some of the 4,300 households on the waiting list for council houses or, in a first for the authority, homes which would be rented to private tenants.
The money from rent on those private homes would go into the council's general pot of cash, rather than back into social housing, so could be used on other services.
Victoria MacDonald, city council cabinet member for housing, said: 'It's fantastic news, as this will mean new homes for Norwich. We have been relying on the private sector, which has not been able to deliver.
'Now that we have taken on our own borrowing because of the changes to the housing revenue account, we are in a position where we could well do it ourselves.
'That is good news for everyone, as it will mean homes for local people and work for local suppliers. I think it would be remiss of the council not to investigate this option.'
The latest twist in the saga was agreed, with the press and public excluded because of the commercial sensitivity of the discussions, at a meeting of the controlling Labour cabinet last month.
It was agreed at the meeting to approve the building of up to a hundred new homes at a cost of an estimated £11m, to be paid for from the re-financing of the council's housing revenue account.
Officers were also instructed to draw up a business plan over the number of homes, the costings and the mix of the homes. That plan is due to come before the cabinet next month.
The council would then appoint architects and put the contract to build the homes out for tender, with its own planning committee having to make a decision over whether to grant permission for a scheme.
Council bosses said there would be consultation ahead of that and, if all goes to plan, work would start on the site in the middle of next year, with the homes finished a year to 18 months afterwards.
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