On Wednesday 15th December 2021, Rochdale Council will consider a motion about the future of the flats at College Bank. Our Chief Executive, Gareth Swarbrick, has today written to all Rochdale Councillors ahead of the meeting. In line with our commitment to sharing information with local residents, we are sharing a copy of this letter below.
An update from the RBH Chief Executive
I want to take this opportunity to write to you ahead of the forthcoming Council meeting motion on College Bank.
First, I want to remind you of the offer RBH made to Councillors when a previous motion was tabled in March 2020. If the Council believes that it can properly fund the investment required to provide good quality and safe homes in College Bank, we will happily agree to the Council taking on responsibility for the seven blocks. This offer, first made some twenty-one months ago, still stands.
Our current estimates of the cost of refurbishing all seven blocks at College Bank is over £90m – a figure confirmed by an independent report commissioned by the Council and shared with senior Councillors last year. To put this in its proper context this is equivalent to ten years of RBH’s annual investment programme for our 12,000 homes across the borough.
Any decision to spend over £90 million at College Bank would necessitate RBH stopping all planned investment in kitchens, bathrooms, windows, doors, heating systems, and new roofs in all our other homes located in the wards you represent right across the borough for a decade. This is something RBH is simply not prepared to countenance.
Until such time as the Council shares with RBH a credible, worked-up plan for College Bank then we will continue to take forward the current proposals for the future of the blocks. This includes continuing to rehouse tenants and residents and finalising plans for the estimated £12 million plus refurbishment of the first of the retained blocks, due to commence in 2023.
You may also remember that in 2020 RBH identified building safety issues relating to works carried out by the Council to the blocks in 1998. An expert report commissioned by RBH has confirmed that these works did not meet the required legal standard at the time they were carried out. This contradicts legal warranties provided by the Council to RBH as part of the 2012 stock transfer, and as such the Council will be liable for the costs incurred by RBH both in remedying the defective work and in mitigating the associated risks until remedial works are undertaken. RBH will be formally writing to the Council regarding this in the New Year.
The motion that has been submitted to the Council meeting refers to current rehousing register figures. I know that there is pressure on rehousing, but flats across the borough continue to have relatively high turnover. This means that those in genuine need of a flat are likely to be offered a home that meets their needs. In contrast, the impact of the Right to Buy on the amount of family housing available, together with very low turnover, means that many families with children on the waiting list are unlikely to ever be able to access a social rented home that meets their needs. This is especially true for larger families or those with disabled children. We need to work together to address this and to ensure that the quality and mix of homes meets our highest, true housing need.
From the outset, we have worked hard to balance the challenges associated with the huge investment requirements of the blocks, associated with their age, design and construction method, and tenant and resident views on options for the future. Therefore, following consultation at the earliest possible stage, we pursued the option of retaining and investing in three of the seven blocks whilst demolishing four others. To put it bluntly – any decision taken purely on financial or value for money terms would not involve any retention of blocks.
In taking forward our plans RBH is making a huge financial commitment to improving the quality of homes on offer in the town centre area. We have sought to work closely with the community at every stage and have put in place dedicated professional support for every resident who needs it. We’ve also guaranteed that every resident who wants to stay in the town centre area will be able to do so – and we’re delivering on that promise.
We are a mutual housing society, owned by our tenant and employee members. Our member owners all live or work (and in many cases, both) within the borough of Rochdale. Our elected Representative Body, the majority of whom are RBH tenants, set the direction for our society and provide oversight for all our plans – including our town centre regeneration proposals.
It is very disappointing that at a time when residents need as much certainty as possible Councillors Ali and Meredith have chosen to table this motion which does not add anything to the previous motion of March 2020. Until there is a viable, detailed plan from the Council, the only impact of this motion will be to raise false hopes amongst residents about the Council’s ability to change the position regarding the future of the blocks. This is deeply unfair to residents.
Both myself and our Director of Growth Clare Tostevin are available to speak to any elected member who would like to ask further questions – please reply to this email and we will arrange a mutually convenient time.
Gareth Swarbrick – RBH Chief Executive