UPDATE FROM LEADER OF THE COUNCIL
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Update from Leader of the Council Cllr Ian Gilbert
Our first priority is the existing residents of Queensway. Usually major changes provoke worry and uncertainty, but my sense of every gathering of existing residents is the a large majority want this scheme to progress, and quickly. That is partly testimony to excellent engagement work, and partly a measure of how dissatisfied residents are with the estate as it in now.
All existing residents will have the right to a property in the new development on the same terms and conditions as now. The promises include a community concierge and other benefits which will make a massive difference to people’s quality of life in one of the most deprived areas in town. Having spoken to residents they really believe that this is a fresh start for them. Every dwelling, of whatever type of tenure, will have out-door amenity space be it a balcony or terrace garden.
The value and cost of replacing the existing properties in 70s tower blocks with limited lifespan with the same number of units that meet the best modern standards should not be underestimated. We simply cannot do this without a mechanism to make the scheme financially viable in the round.
The version of the scheme put forward by the Conservatives this time last year included 512 ‘affordable’ homes. It was clearly unacceptable as it was. In opposition I negotiated some practical mechanisms by which the council could work to increase the proportion of genuinely affordable housing as the scheme progresses. Today I can announce that with those mechanisms we can go up to 612 ‘affordable’ homes and that a large majority of them will be social rented. Having negotiated a 100 extra units in nine months, I’m absolutely confident we can go much further over the lifetime of the scheme.
There will be an element of shared ownership properties within the definition of ‘affordable’ as well. Whilst I am entirely focussed on maximising social rent, I do think there’s an increasing appetite for shared ownership (the Holybrook development adjacent the Civic Centre is very popular).
We are well aware of how controversial the highways changes are, and have gone back to the drawing board and looked at all the assumptions regarding the underpass. We have no viable scheme that retains the underpass. (1) we lose development land and (2) we still have a disconnected community with unpleasant physical infrastructure, so we receive no uplift in value. (3) Raising the Queensway to grade WAS accepted by the Conservatives as meeting the council’s minimum requirements. Setting this aside means starting again.
We are still looking at whether slip lanes or other changes to the road layout in the vicinity will help traffic movement. This will continue to evolve over the next few months.
The quality of the built environment around Queensway is frankly poor, and we owe it to residents of the Estate and to the wider community to change that. We are committed to meeting the highest environmental standards in construction and living within the new estate. A more connected community will mean fewer car journeys.
A large modern development close to the High Street will contribute to the regeneration of the Southchurch Road end of town and support local businesses. At a time when the High Street is struggling this investment will be a serious boost to business confidence, and demonstrate that we are council that can get things done. If the scheme makes profit, that will be split between the Council and Swan Housing, and we can reinvest that in the additional social housing that we know we need by partnering with a housing association rather than a profit-making developer we can ensure the focus remains on delivering housing.