ANGRY residents claim they have been misled by council bosses after it was revealed some would see their rents more than doubled under plans to rebuild a Southampton estate.
The city council this week gave the green light for work to start on the first phase of a £100m redevelopment of Townhill Park.
The scheme for the rejuvenation of Meggeson Avenue and surrounding areas will see 675 new flats and houses built, 450 of which will be owned and run by Southampton City Council.
But is has been revealed that once the new homes are built the authority will be charging the maximum it is allowed under Government rules – in some cases more than double the current rent.
An extensive consultation exercise was launched in September by the council where residents were apparently told of the hike in rents – prompting not one single objection, according to a report to the authority.
However, when the Daily Echo spoke to residents living in Meggeson Avenue they said they had not been told that rents would rise by at least 67 per cent.
Pensioner George Wardell was one of the original Townhill Park tenants when the homes were built in 1959.
The 90-year-old told the Daily Echo that no one from the council had visited him to inform of the proposed rent hikes.
He said: “I can’t get around that well, so I rely on people knocking my door and putting leaflets through the door, but I haven’t had any of that from the council.
“I don’t think I’d be willing to pay double what I am now, but what choice do I have?”
Ivor Sivier, 44, who has lived in his Meggeson Avenue flat for 11 years, added: “The council haven’t mentioned anything to me about rent.
“They are just trying to recoup their outlay on the development as quickly as possible, which seems unfair and unjustifiable.
“I thought this was supposed to be affordable housing?”
Another angry resident, Alex Lake, added: “The council have misled us. It’s as simple as that. Call it what you want, misleading, being economical with the truth, but they have not told us that our rent would be doubled.
“I’m stunned really. I had two people from the council sat on my sofa six or seven weeks ago and a rent increase was not mentioned.
“I wouldn’t be able to move back even if I wanted to now because I couldn’t afford it.”
Another neighbour, who asked not to be named, slammed the “crazy” rent increases and claimed he would now be seeking to find a permanent new home elsewhere in the city, while another resident dubbed the council’s conduct “a joke”.
Geoff Davis, from the Townhill Park Community Association, said: “This is complete rubbish. I’m actually horrified.
A lot of people that live on the estate are on benefits and struggling with money, so why would they agree to that?
“When Labour took over, a lot of the houses were going to be run by housing associations. At the time they said that if housing associations took over then rents would be much dearer.
“The council decided to rent their own stock and run many of the new properties themselves.
“We thought that would lead to lower rent costs, but now this has happened. I’m shocked.”
Jo Proctor, a community development worker in Townhill Park, said: “From what I saw at consultations, various posters were put up giving examples of rents, showing what people would be paying if they came back here. But none of these said that some rents would be doubled.
“It begs the question: Will the people that move out during the regeneration come back?
“Does this mean we will be left with a load of empty properties? That’s not going to be any good for Townhill Park.”
A city council statement said officers were given a script in which they were told to outline the increases if tenants expressed an interest in returning to their homes after the refurbishment.
The authority added that boards showing the increases were also displayed during the public consultations.
However, the figures used did not directly compare current rents to what the new figure will be.
Housing boss Cllr Warwick Payne said the Daily Echo’s findings put him in “a difficult position” as officers’ feedback was that no concerns had been raised over the issue of rent increases.
He said: “Aside from no one contacting me directly with any concerns, I also have the officers telling me that no objections were raised yet your own findings are telling me another,” he said.
Cllr Payne said of the 115 residents who would be moved out in the first phase of the scheme, his understanding was that 90 had been spoken to by council officers who reported that the residents were “unconcerned” by the new levels although some had anticipated an increase of some sort.
However, he admitted that no detailed responses had been compiled as part of the consultation findings report.
Cllr Payne pointed to a previous regeneration project at Hinkler Parade in Thornhill where the majority of residents who were moved out to allow the rebuild, had not returned.
He said he didn’t think the lack of objections was unusual as it was likely most of the residents did not see themselves returning or believed they could cover the increase themselves or through their benefits.
But his Conservative counterpart Cllr Peter Baillie branded the findings “bonkers”.
He said: “I can’t believe that when told their rents would be going up by double that no one in their right mind wouldn’t raise an objection.”
Example of rent increases (if in effect as of 2011/2012, council’s own figures)
One bedroom flat
- Current rent: £60.72,
- Estimated new rent: £101.54
- Increase of 67 per cent.
- Target rent if run by housing association: £73.11
Two bedroom flat
- current rent: £67.83,
- estimated new rent: £120 –
- increase of 77 per cent.
- Target rent if run by housing association: £84.25
Two bedroom house
- current rent: £75.48,
- estimated new rent: £144 –
- increase of 90 per cent.
- Target rent if run by housing association: £89.69
Three bedroom house
- current rent: £80.44,
- estimated new rent: £166.15
- – increase of 106 per cent.
- Target rent if run by housing association: £101.92
Additional reporting by Luke Tugby