IT WAS an ambitious multi-million pound scheme to transform Southampton’s run-down estates.

Hundreds of council tenants were promised new homes and revamped communities.

But today the Daily Echo can reveal the plans to completely overhaul estates in the city have been scrapped.

Labour council leaders say they will instead look to identify the city’s worst blocks of flats and replace them, one-by-one.

They say they have had to make the “radical” change due to government changes that have left their housing budget hundreds of millions of pounds short.

But they have been accused of “failing” the areas due for regeneration, such as Millbrook and Maybush, with residents saying they feel “betrayed”.

Labour have also been criticised for handing back hundreds of thousands of pounds to the government while pleading poverty, and setting aside almost £5m to buy existing homes and turn them into council properties.

As previously reported, Millbrook and Maybush had been the next area due for regeneration, with initial plans for 500 new homes, rebuilt shops and public spaces.

But the estate regeneration project has now been axed, with the council instead set to pick blocks in the worst condition across the city and replace them.

Council leader Simon Letts, who recently took over the estate regeneration portfolio from housing chief Warwick Payne, said the change had been forced on the council.

He said government social rent caps had left them with £30m less for the housing budget every year, with Cllr Payne estimating it would deprive the council of £493m over the next three decades.

Asked to spell out the council’s estate regeneration vision at a meeting of the full council, he said: “What we picked up was a situation with funding streams that were available but have largely been stamped out, so we have to be radical.”

Saying the council would review 1960s-era council housing, he added: “Once we have worked out which blocks are worse, the estate regeneration will shift from looking at it for one area to one that says ‘these are the worst ones, the ones that are most expensive to live in’, and work through them systematically.”

Cllr Letts told the Daily Echo the council would set up a panel of residents and then design apartment blocks and houses that could replace old properties.

As well as looking at the blocks that are most expensive to maintain, he said the council would look at all of the land around it, and potentially increase the number of flats on sites.

He said a number of funding methods would be considered, including working with pension funds and insurance companies who would partially fund new flats, receive some rent from them and then eventually pass them back into the council’s ownership.

Other options will include funding from the Homes and Communities Agency for starter homes and part-rent, part-buy homes.

The new blocks would have a mixture of council tenants and those owning properties in starter home and part-rent part-buy schemes.

Cllr Letts said the first part of the Millbrook and Maybush plan, an extra care home and some housing in Wimpson Lane, would still go ahead.

Saying sites would be developed in “small lots”, he added: “We’re doing it in a more sophisticated way.

“Estate regeneration had to end at the point when the Conservatives decided to change the rents.

“If that surplus disappears overnight we have to think about how we do it differently.

“We will do it in bite-size chunks, which is what residents have told us they want.

“Largely we are reacting to what people are telling us they wanted there, rather than some grandiose scheme.”

However estate regeneration was attacked as “Labour’s greatest failure” by Conservative opposition leader Jeremy Moulton, who added: “It is dead under Labour.”

Party housing spokesman David Fuller added: “The estate regeneration in this city is now dead, changing whole areas and the environments they live in that really drives up peoples’ living standards, has now fallen by the wayside and no longer exists.”

He told the Daily Echo: “It’s a lost opportunity for our city, a terrible shame for hundreds of our council tenants who won’t be able to move into good quality housing but now won’t be able to, and the life chances of many have been diminished by this decision.

“I think the people of Millbrook and Maybush have been massively let down, they have been led up the garden path, told this was going to happen and consultation held, only for it to be completely abandoned.”

He claimed Labour’s claims over the social rent caps were “nonsense”, saying housing associations hit by the same rules were still building properties. 

The Conservatives also criticised the council for setting aside £4.785m to buy houses and turn them into council properties, and the decision to hand back £216,000 in Right to Buy receipts to the government.

The money had been part of £600,000 of funding intended to be given to Aster Housing for a development on the site of the former Bush Inn in Wimpson Lane, but could not be used alongside other funding from the HCA.

Cllr Payne said the housing association had been prevented from spending it due to a government “veto”, and said the scheme to buy new properties had been launched because the conditions about what Right to Buy receipts could be spent on were too complex.

A third of the money that will be used to buy mostly family-sized city properties to turn them into council properties will come from proceeds of the sale of council properties through the Right to Buy scheme.

He accused the government of “moving the goalposts” on policies that meant major changes had to be made, adding: “A lesson I have learned from estate regeneration is never say never, and you have to get the best deal you can with the government of the day.

“Sadly we have a government that doesn’t seem to value affordable rented homes.”

He added: “We still want to regenerate our estates and provide better homes and, in spite of Westminster, we will seek to build a better Millbrook and a better Southampton.”

However Cllr Fuller accused Labour of buying the properties as a “token”, saying the numbers would be only “about 20” in comparison to the hundreds created through estate regeneration.

Redbridge Independent councillor Andrew Pope said: "Labour has had over four years to deliver Millbrook and Maybush Regeneration.

"So far all they've delivered to residents is anger and confusion, and a set of proposals from expensive consultants that are extremely unpopular."

Mo Simmonds, block representative for Millbrook Towers and a member of the consultation group for the estate regeneration project, said: “We have meeting on meetings on meetings. You have a meeting, nothing happens, and then you have another meeting and then nothing happens.

“I feel they are dragging their feet.

“It’s let people down and it’s betrayed the public.

“What about all of the money that’s been spent on the plans for the different areas, what a waste of money.”

And Eugene McManus, landlord of The Saints pub and chairman of the Redbridge Residents’ Association, said: “They stirred up a hornet’s nest and they have given some false hope.

“Some of the proposals were quite controversial and may have caused some unnecessary worry for people on the estate.

“The new plans make sense, but it would have been far more beneficial for all involved had they secured money and then put ideas out there.”