The Buddle Lane housing estate [centred around Newman Road and Merrivale Road] in Cowick is made of up 294 family houses built using the Laing’s Easiform building system in the Twenties and Thirties.
The Laing Easiform method of construction was intended to be cutting edge, to be fast and cost effective to build and to meet the nation’s need for housing and consisted of cast-in-situ concrete cavity walls.
These 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 and many have failed because of the expansion of steel reinforcement or movement. That said, there is no risk to tenants.
The homes required 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.
So ECC and Sovereign Housing formed a partnership in the Nineties using 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.
5.11 The Council has negotiated a ‘trickle-transfer’ process for the Laing homes whereby empty homes are given to a housing association to refurbish, along with a small amount of grant. In some cases the Council provides additional grant funding so that the transferred property can be extended to create a four-bedroom house or have extensive disabled adaptations incorporated for a specific family in need. This work costs the Council tens of thousands of pounds less than paying for refurbishment itself. The Council will therefore continue to pursue this approach where possible.
And still the Laing Easiforms remained empty.
That was until a plan was hatched and presented to the Executive Committee on 03 July 2012.
By this time, the tenure mix of the Laing Homes was21 owned by Exeter City Council, 104 transferred to Sovereign Housing Association and 169 purchased under the Right to Buy scheme.
The Executive considered 6 options, summarised below:
The review concluded that the best option for the Council would be to retain the ownership of these homes and refurbish them using HRA funding (Option1). With “self-financing” of the HRA, the Council would have access to the funding necessary to carry out the refurbishment work that it hasn’t had in the past.
This option would mean that the ownership with the Council and ensures that these properties are let at Social Rent levels.
It was recommended that Option 1 be adopted: 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.
But still they stayed vacant…until work started in the winter of 2013.
By the winter of 2014, not only were they completed but they were being short-listed for awards – the Best Energy Efficient Building Scheme in the prestigious Green Energy Awards 2014 organised by Regen SW.
However, the story doesn’t end there…7 more are now vacant and in need of attention.
Pressure on the Housing Revenue Account [principally in the form of £2m needed to tackle the damp ingress that occurred during the winter storms of 2014] has meant the planned programme was delayed.
And new pressures on the HRA, has meant that the refurbishment programme has had to be radically rethought.
This week, planning applications were submitted for 7 of the 20 Easiform properties [one other being sold off in December 2014]:
Each application is for the demolition and reconstruction of the existing property.
The aim of the proposals are to demolish the existing properties which have been structurally condemned and replace them with new properties which comply with modern day standards and are more thermally efficient.
The front elevation will remain mostly unaffected in terms of appearance and the layout has been developed to provide each property with a ground floor WC, kitchen/diner, lounge, first floor bathroom and 3 bedrooms.
After going out to tender, it is hoped to start work on site at the beginning of August 2016
It is anticipated that the total works period will be 18 months – it will be a rolling programme with a staggered start: 1 property every 3 weeks, with a total works period of 18 months.
To complete this programme there will be a need to have 10 vacant properties at any one time. This will be achieved with a combination of permanent and temporary moves outside of the estate, and then temporary moves within the 17 properties being worked on.
During the period from when I first became interest in this group of Laing Easiform properities, they have always been described as being in St THOMAS rather than COWICK.
Now this past of the old Cowick ward is becoming a part of the new St Thomas ward, it was a shock to read in the Design and Access Statements accompanying the planning applications:
‘The property to which this statement relates is situated in the EXWICK area of Exeter.”