Community Together newsletter: Summer 2020

This week, residents will receive their summer edition of “Community Together” – our newsletter for local residents in College Bank and Lower Falinge. You can download a PDF and plain text versions of the newsletter below. This edition includes:

  • An update on new homes, and plans for refurbishment
  • The latest news from our New Pioneers Programme
  • Information about our town centre lockdown survey
  • How tenants and employees have worked together to support each other during the pandemic

Download your copy of “Community Together” now:

Our caretaking service standards in College Bank and Lower Falinge

A number of residents have asked us about the caretaking service provided by our Neighbourhood Environment Team.

We set our how our team operates – and how we respond to reports from residents – in our service standards:

If you need to draw something to the attention of our Neighbourhood Environment Team, please e-mail us on customerexperience@rbh.org.uk or call us on Freephone 0800 027 7769.

Survey work in the Underwood block

In the summer of 2017, RBH set out long term proposals for improving the quality and mix of homes in College Bank and Lower Falinge. These proposals included four blocks at College Bank which would be demolished as part of the redevelopment (Mitchell Hey, Dunkirk Rise, Tentercroft and Town Mill Brow) and three blocks at College Bank for which we said we would explore the options for refurbishment and modernisation (Underwood, Holland Rise, and Mardyke).

We have been working hard since then to take our proposals in the town centre forward. We are now at a point where we need some more detailed technical information to inform the refurbishment and modernisation of the three blocks so that we can progress these options in more detail with the community. In order for us to do this, we need to undertake some further technical survey work and this work will be carried out in Underwood on Wednesday 8th, Thursday 9th and Friday 10th July between 8.30am and 5.30pm.

Last week we wrote to all residents in Underwood to let them know about the survey work. If you would like to know more about the work, click here to download a copy of the text of our letter to Underwood residents.

We all want to see a thriving Rochdale town centre

A message from Gareth Swarbrick, RBH Chief Executive

We all want to see a thriving Rochdale town centre, with more homes, and the right quality and mix of genuinely affordable apartments and houses for current and future residents. This goes together with a retail, cultural, and leisure offer that encourages people to live, work, play, and invest in Rochdale. As Chief Executive of RBH, I know that I have a responsibility to work together with the Council and the community to deliver on that vision.

We are proud to be a pioneering mutual, in the home of the co-operative movement. Our tenant and employee members collectively own our 12,000-plus homes. Our members elect our Representative Body, and in turn, our elected tenant and employee Representatives appoint our Board.

I have never been prouder to be Chief Executive of RBH than I am right now. I have seen how our teams have continued to deliver essential services throughout the pandemic, and how our tenants and employees have worked together alongside the Council and community groups to support those who needed help the most.

We know that Rochdale Borough continues to face challenges – including housing. These challenges cannot be ducked or ignored, and not everyone will agree on the solutions. Our heart is in Rochdale and we will always act in the interests of our communities – our member owners would never allow us to act any differently.

We all know that Rochdale town centre will not thrive without genuinely high quality, affordable housing – and a mix of housing types that provide for every household type and every family unit. Residents have consistently told us that they want to see more family homes with gardens, but they are in short supply. Some people really value high-rise living, but demand for these homes is consistently low. The blocks at College Bank are over fifty years old – without enormous investment, they will not continue to provide safe, high quality homes over the next generation. Independent analysis puts the cost of refurbishing all seven blocks at over £90m.

It is with this backdrop that we have been working together with the community over the past three years. We know that not everyone will agree with us, but we are disappointed that a small but very vocal minority continually seek to make false and misleading claims about the motives of our team.

Our proposals aim to provide great homes for current and future residents of the College Bank and Lower Falinge neighbourhoods. We know that this is difficult and unsettling for some residents, which is why we have put in place dedicated professional support, and guaranteed that all residents who wish to stay in the town centre area can do so – with the same tenancy conditions and rights.

We have recently held constructive discussions with senior Councillors. Our door is open to anyone who wants to work with us to deliver what we all agree on – genuinely affordable, great homes for current residents and future generations in Rochdale town centre.

More new homes underway at Lower Falinge

CGI of the new homes at Lower FalingeWork is underway on the latest set of brand new homes in Lower Falinge after we secured vital funding and identified a specialist construction partner to deliver these houses and apartments, all for genuinely affordable rent.

Entering into contract with ENGIE, a national regeneration specialist, has enabled us to secure £2.53m in grant funding from Homes England, the Government’s housing agency – part of our long-term investment to improve the quality and mix of homes in Rochdale town centre.

The latest construction work formally started on the site in March 2020 and is a key phase of the new housing to be delivered as part of the high-level master plan developed with residents and local partners in 2017.

This scheme includes 55 new houses and low-rise apartments in the heart of Lower Falinge as well as a new community green space; improving the quality, mix and choice of housing for current and future residents.

The new homes are a mix of 19 two-bedroom houses and three houses with three bedrooms, together with 20 one-bedroom apartments and 13 two-bedroom apartments. All of these will be available at a genuinely affordable rent under the same tenancy conditions as existing RBH homes. Rents will remain fixed in line with the local housing allowance, to ensure the new homes remain truly affordable for all in the long term.

Clare Tostevin, Director of Growth at RBH, said:

“Being able to live in a good quality home has never been more important.  This scheme of 100% affordable homes is all about providing the right mix of good quality homes for local people, offering more choice for the existing community in central Rochdale as well as for future generations. The community worked with us to design these homes to ensure they met local need.

Partnering with ENGIE and Homes England on this scheme is the latest important milestone in delivering the modern homes and amenities which the community told us are so greatly needed in the town centre.”

Jackie Jacobs, Director of Affordable Housing Grants at Homes England, said:

“Despite the current challenges affecting the country, supporting new housing remains our number one priority. We will continue to do business with partners like RBH, who are committed to building vital new homes.”

Ed Carroll, ENGIE Head of Major Projects, said:

“We’re excited to be working with RBH to take forward this much-needed development. As a business, ENGIE is focused on working with partners to improve the environment we live in and we’re delighted to be bringing our construction expertise to this project. These new and modern homes will be a fantastic addition to Rochdale town centre and will complement the area’s wider regeneration.”

An update from Gareth Swarbrick

We understand and appreciate the concerns raised in the recent open letter published by the small campaign group. We continue to welcome any constructive discussion about the future of the town centre and its residents.

We have always taken a collaborative approach in developing our plans for College Bank and Lower Falinge, from the hundreds of face-to-face and online conversations conducted with the local community since our consultations began in 2016 to liaising with senior council officials and local Councillors.

These ongoing discussions lead me to believe that we are all, in fact, striving for the same long-term goal. We all want the security of more, affordable homes in central Rochdale suited to a wide range of current and future residents, of the standard that local people and families deserve. We need a mix of homes for older people, couples, single people, and families, for those in the highest levels of need, for key workers and most of all homes that people choose to live and stay in as their long term secure affordable home.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has brought the importance of good quality housing into sharp focus. While we rightly suspended all new home moves for people affected by our proposals before the Government’s instructions, our resolve to increase the number of homes and diversify beyond the limitations of high-rise living has only been strengthened.

RBH’s recent, well-received development of family houses and bungalows in Lower Falinge was the first new housebuilding in our town centre neighbourhoods since the 1960s. Overall demand for our high-rise, ageing flats has reduced over a long period, while demand for family homes continues to rise, and outdoor spaces to enjoy are especially important in the current circumstances.

Since 2016, we have repeatedly reviewed the potential investment required to refurbish our existing high-rise accommodation at College Bank, to deliver decent homes that will stand the test of time. The latest independent, technical report puts the cost of refurbishing all these seven blocks at over £90m, which RBH has no means of raising in the foreseeable future.

We met with senior Councillors last week and stated again that if Rochdale Council can demonstrate a way to undertake the necessary renovation works at College Bank, we would be happy to look at alternative solutions that guarantee the current residents and future generations a good quality home. However, since 2016 the small campaign group has not offered any alternative that can guarantee this.