Housing chiefs are facing a £3.5m repair bill almost two years after the collapse of a balcony at council flats, it was today revealed.
Blackpool Coastal Housing (BCH) is having to repair balconies at seven blocks of council-owned flats in the resort after a walkway at Newby Place, Mereside, collapsed in May 2012.
The £3.5m will cover the cost of replacing the collapsed balcony and installing a permanent propping system.
Housing chiefs today insisted the huge cost of the work would not affect tenant rents, and would be met from BCH’s capital funds.
But residents in the flats have told of their frustration at the fact the work still needs to be done and said the situation is causing them upset.
Many people living in Newby Place moved out of their homes after the collapse.
However, those still living in the flats say the constant building work and upheaval surrounding them since the incident in 2012 is distressing and the council’s £3.5m bill for the work must be justified.
Barry Farmer, 69, lives in a one-bedroom flat. He said: “I’ve got to move because the balconies have got to come down, but I’m not happy about it. It’s upset me because I’ve had years of uncertainty.
“I’m upset with the anxiety and the uncertainty.”
He added: “I was here when it all happened.
“I was walking my dog past the building and the next minute I heard a great bang and it all came down.”
Craig Lodge, 40, added: “They would have to justify it being £3.5m because I don’t think it’s worth that much.”
Resident Clive Brewstel, 73, said £3.5m was “indecent”, but added: “They’ve got to do a lot of work still and at the end of the day housing is very scarce these days and it has got to be done.
“They can’t take any chances because if it did happen again somebody might not be as lucky.”
Firefighters had to rescue five residents from the upper floors, and some pets, when the second-storey walkway crashed inward.
Tenant representatives today warned the cost must not be met by raising their rents or putting other repairs at risk.
John Raine, chairman of the Mereside Tenants and Residents Association, said: “Rents are already high as it is and with all pressure on other bills, people are struggling.
“I do fear it will come onto our rents eventually, but it will be hidden. Where else are they going to find the money from?”
Anne Allen, secretary of the Mereside Tenants and Residents Association, said: “It’s a lot of money but we need these homes, and they cannot put anyone else at risk.
“It has to be done, there is no choice. I sincerely hope rents don’t go up but it will impact on Blackpool Coastal Housing’s budget.”
Coun Adrian Hutton, whose Clifton ward covers Mereside and who is a also a member of the BCH board, insisted rents would not be affected.
“The money will come out of a contingency budget for instances like this,” he said.
“It’s not something we would contemplate going on to rents, and I’ve asked about that on a number of occasions.”
Blackpool Coastal Housing chief executive Peter Jefferson pledged the money would come from the capital programmes budget.
He said: “Following the balcony collapse at Newby Place we took the precaution of propping all other balconies with the same design.
“We are now going through the process of installing a permanent propping system in the affected properties. This process has already been under way for the past 10 months and is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.
“Throughout the works we have been communicating with tenants on a regular basis to ensure they knew what was happening.
“The cost of the work is in the region of £3.5m which has come from the capital programmes budget and will not affect tenants rents.
“No Decent Homes work has been affected as a result of this, we are still on schedule to bring all properties up to the required standard by 2015.”
Decent Homes is the long-running programme to replace kitchens and bathrooms at council properties.
Permanent propping systems are also being installed at six other blocks of flats – at Munster Avenue and Bristol Avenue in Bispham, Devonshire Cout, Rodwell Walk and Furness Court in Grange Park,and Stratford Place.
The Health and Safety Executive is investigating why the balconies collapsed. The probe is still ongoing.
At the time of the incident, council chiefs put the incident down to a design fault dating back to when the homes were built in 1966.
They said it was not a maintenance issue.
John Donnellon, service director for the built environment at Blackpool Council, said at the time a structural engineers’ report pointed to a fundamental design flaw and there was no way of predicting the collapse.