E&E | Council faces £1.5m bill to repair 21 old and ‘defective’ homes




05 July 2012

Council faces £1.5m bill to repair 21 old and ‘defective’ homes

MORE than £1.5m is to be spent on vital repairs to 21 council homes in Exeter which have been deemed defective.

The work cannot be carried out until the properties become vacant, but Exeter City Council has stated that the houses are safe and there is no risk to its tenants even though they are “inherently defective by construction or design”.

The Buddle Lane estate in Cowick is made of up 294 family houses built using the Laing’s Easiform building system in the Twenties and Thirties.

The council and Sovereign Housing formed a partnership in the Nineties with a “trickle transfer” agreement whereby the housing association took the properties on a 125-year lease and refurbished them as and when they became available.

Sovereign spokesman Roy Probert said: “Prior to refurbishment, the properties were virtually un-mortgagable.

“The Laing Easiform method of construction consisted of cast-in-situ concrete cavity walls, most of which have failed over time because of the expansion of steel reinforcement or movement.

“Around 100 properties, worth more than £10m, have been transferred to Sovereign as part of the agreement.

“They were transferred for £1. We then spent between £80,000 and £90,000 carrying out the improvements on each home. With the recent properties we have refurbished, this cost has been met using solely Sovereign’s Recycled Capital Grant Fund.”

The city council has now decided to bring the agreement to an end and it is likely to decide that it will retain ownership of 21 homes, three of which are vacant, and pay out to bring them up to standard.

Sarah Ward, assistant director of housing and contracts, said: “Laing homes were intended to be cutting edge, to be fast and cost effective to build and to meet the nation’s need for housing. But in the 1980s a number of faults came to light.

“These homes require a significant investment to bring them up to the required Decent Homes standard and it was not considered cost effective for the council to do this.

“However, we have reassessed the investment required and the long-term income that we can generate and the fact that, once renovated we can continue to charge low social rents, rather than rents at 80 per cent of the market rate which our partner, Sovereign HA, would be required to charge.”

The council is considering six options with regard to the future of the 21 homes, including selling them on the open market once vacant or continue transferring them to Sovereign while plugging any grant funding gaps, but its preferred option is to retain and renovate.

“We feel that it is in the interests of the city council and its residents to change the way we deal with the remaining few properties,” Sarah said.

“The refurbishment will make them as good as new. The properties are safe but the refurbishment is major work which can’t be undertaken with a tenant in situ.”

57 Newman Road
57 Newman Road

The above article followed a discussion about a report on the Laings Home Refurbishment Review at Exeter City Council Executive Committee on 03 July 2012.

Exec considered 6 options:

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and finally agreed to approve option1 – namely to end the trickle transfer of Laings homes to Sovereign Housing Association, for the Council to retain them as part of their HRA portfolio and for a programme of refurbishment to be put in place as and when Laing homes become vacant.