£26m scheme to tackle town’s worst housing

Squalid homes: A home previously inspected by the council in South Shore. Below, Couns Gillian Campbell and Tony Williams

Squalid homes: A home previously inspected by the council in South Shore. Below, Couns Gillian Campbell and Tony Williams

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A multi-million pound cash injection is set to help tackle a raft of squalid rented accommodation blighting parts of Blackpool, town hall bosses have revealed.

Blackpool Council has set up its own new housing regeneration company, which will oversee the purchase and improvement of rundown bedsits and HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) across some of the town’s most deprived areas.

Coun Gillian Campbell - against Scottish independence

Coun Gillian Campbell - against Scottish independence

They will be upgraded and introduced to the private rented sector – with the council as landlord.

It is hoped the move will eradicate unscrupulous landlords who charge high rents – usually funded through housing benefit – for shoddy accommodation, as well as reducing anti-social behaviour caused by tenants attracted to cheap lodgings.

It comes after hoteliers have repeatedly highlighted the negative impact on their businesses of having HMOs trading nearby.

A blueprint is now being put together to bid for up to £26m of Government cash set aside for the scheme as part of the Growth Deal announced in July.

Coun Tony Williams

Coun Tony Williams

The move comes after a report to the council’s executive committee warned that, without intervention in the housing market, the spiral of deprivation in some of the town’s poorest areas will not be broken.

It says: “Housing market failure within Blackpool is considered to have significantly adverse impacts on the health and wellbeing of residents and on the overall economic vitality of the town.”

There are already 3,000 HMOs in Blackpool, and the report warns there is a “ready supply of struggling guesthouses for which the next most economically viable step is to enter the private rented sector at the lowest end of the market.”

More than 80 per cent of homes in the private rented sector in Blackpool are rented to people receiving housing benefit – compared to around 30 per cent nationally.

Many tenants move to the resort from deprived urban areas in other parts of the UK.

Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “The creation of a wholly owned company takes us another step closer towards further funding to help transform the housing market.

“Improving housing is the key priority for Blackpool going forward and is vital to helping to tackle many of the social problems which have been a barrier for the town for decades.”

The housing regeneration company will buy up property, upgrade it and rent it out.

It is proposing to borrow the money to fund the project at a low interest rate from the Government, and then pay it back from rental revenues.

By offering potential tenants better quality accommodation, it is hoped it will raise standards among all private landlords operating in the town. The exact amount it will cost to buy up the homes and upgrade them, how many will be bought and where is yet to be thrashed out, but will be included in the council blueprint.

But Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on Blackpool Council, while agreeing something needed to be done to tackle the number of HMOs in the town, said he would prefer tougher controls over rogue landlords.

He said: “Yes, we’ll get the rent from these properties but we’ll also get the problems which all landlords face such as anti-social behaviour.

“I would much rather see stronger legislation that forces landlords to do the work themselves or be closed down.

“I would like to see more people helped into owning their own property instead, for example by providing more affordable homes.

“In other areas of the country, councils have sold off terraced houses they own for a nominal £1 fee on the proviso that the buyer brings it up to a specified standard.”

The new housing regeneration company would also be involved in the delivery of 
future public and private sector housing developments including projects already 
under way to build 400 homes at Foxhall Village, off Rigby Road, and the scheme to redevelop Queens Park.

The funding will be used to help further tackle the problem of HMOs and poor quality private sector rented accommodation, which is one of the main root causes of social problems like high levels of transience and anti-social behaviour and fosters unhealthy lifestyles and substance misuse.

The scheme is also part of a wider strategy to tackle the issue of housing and HMOs in Blackpool with Selective Licensing and proactive planning enforcement already being used to drive up housing standards in key areas, and a specialist transience programme being used to engage with residents and help create community.

In order to unlock the funding, Blackpool Council was required to set up a wholly owned company, agreed by the council’s executive.