Residents on a ‘very run-down’ estate in Birmingham could be allowed to return to the area following its regeneration, in a policy being considered by the city council.
The Druids Heath council estate is due to be redeveloped in a £43 million scheme over the next few years, with five high-rise tower blocks in the area being demolished to make way for 250 new homes.
Hillcroft, Kingswood, Barratts and Saxelby houses will be demolished along with the Brookpiece tower on the south side of the road, while Heath House is also set to be cleared following cabinet consent earlier this year.
The new development would result in 50 fewer homes on the estate, but the city council has argued that the quality of housing on offer will be far superior to what it is now.
During a cabinet meeting today (October 8) to discuss the business plan for phase one of the redevelopment, councillors questioned the fact that those living in the area were not guaranteed the right to return once the regeneration had been completed.
Conservative councillor Robert Alden went as far as to argue for a change in council policy toward the issue.
“In terms of a right to return we had this problem in the Abbey Fields area, where the community was very clear that they wanted to be able to come back and the council didn’t give them that ability,” he said.
“And I think that’s something that absolutely should be done for this project, but then should be picked up for a policy city-wide. Because particularly if you’ve made someone live in a very run-down estate for a number of years, you should at least get the benefits of it having been done up afterwards.
“But then also you get the issue that you break up local communities. So I do hope that, before we get to the demolition stage of this, we have a chance to go away and put together a right to return policy for it, because I think that’s absolutely vital.”
The business plan was eventually passed by cabinet, with leader of the council Ian Ward assuring councillors that work was ongoing which ‘may lead’ to a change of policy in relation to the right to remain.
Green Party councillor Julien Pritchard is the local representative for the Druids Heath and Monyhull ward, and has been vocal in his concerns over several aspects of the redevelopment scheme.
And he says that, while he is glad that the right to return issue is now being considered by the council, there are still several issues that have not yet been addressed.
“The decades-overdue investment in Druids Heath is something to be welcomed, but regeneration must be done in the right way – it has to be done in partnership with residents,” he said.
“The sad truth is that many people feel like the regeneration is just being done to them.
“During the consultation, residents weren’t given the full facts, and even now there are still too many unanswered questions.
“People in Druids Heath tell me they’re worried that the plans will break up the community, and that people will be shunted to other parts of the city, away from friends, family and support networks.
“I’m pleased that a ‘right to return’ is being considered. The questions now are when will this be decided and how will it be done? We need to see swift action to confirm this and set people’s minds at rest. Any resident who wants to stay in Druids Heath should have that right.
“On top of that, I’m not happy about the loss of 50 homes in phase 1, considering the housing crisis and lack of housing in the city – and the potential that we’ll lose many more homes in phase 2 is a real concern.
“Birmingham City Council needs to get much better at working with residents. Keeping this community together has to be top priority. But the council also needs to be very clear that this regeneration means more than just building new houses.
“True regeneration means investment in our streets, shops, education and jobs so that people have more opportunities to get on in life.”
However Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods, Cllr Sharon Thompson, said that the residents of Druids Heath were overwhelmingly in favour of the new developments.
She added that there have been ‘substantial’ changes to the proposals as a result of resident feedback.
“It’s fantastic to see the regeneration of Druids Heath moving forwards in this way,” she said.
“The result today is a reflection of the past two years’ worth of work which included extensive consultation with the local community for which when asked, overwhelmingly 88 per cent of residents in Druids Heath, including the Housing Liaison Board, responded to say that they were in favour of demolition.
“We want residents to be proud of the area where they live and so throughout this process, our priority has been in doing what is best for the local neighbourhood.
“Residents have been listened to and different opinions welcomed. This has resulted in plans been substantially changed as preferences have become known.
“With just 3 per cent of residents not in favour, we will now look to continue to these discussions to ensure that this figure continues to fall and that the regeneration lives up to everyone’s hopes and expectations.”