Council brings the house down in estate facelift

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GOING, going, gone.

So ended, in a dramatic few seconds, 50 years of history on Hull’s Orchard Park estate when the tower blocks Ashthorpe and Milldane were demolished by controlled explosion yesterday.

A sharp crack on the stroke of noon heralded the demise of Ashthorpe, albeit after a short pause before a rapid series of further explosions brought it tumbling down.

Seconds later Milldane disappeared, the two towers leaving large clouds of sand-coloured dust that enveloped those watching from a grass mound between them. The clouds sent many running for cover.

Terry Geraghty and Julia Conner, the two ward councillors who were there, had differing views on the destruction wrought by the 6kgs of detonating cord in each tower.

“It’s sad in a way because when you see the multi-storey blocks on the horizon you know that’s Orchard Park,” Coun Conner said, although she said she was pleased and “excited” that the area could now be regenerated.

“Good riddance,” said Coun Geraghty.

“They’ve been a bit of an eyesore in recent years. I know people who have lived there most of their lives.

“But they haven’t been maintained properly and they had to go.”

And it is not just those who considered the blocks unsightly that will have welcomed their destruction, but also those responsible for the council’s budget.

A combination of years of under-investment and the spectre of demolition – the previous Liberal Democrat administration had wanted to remove all seven tower blocks on the estate – drove many residents away, and by the end the flats were so under-occupied that they were costing the authority about £1m a year in lost rent and maintenance.

The remaining residents left a month ago and have been relocated elsewhere in the city.

The flats’ clearance now kick-starts a £15m regeneration scheme by the council to improve the area’s housing stock, and it is long overdue.

There was a chorus of dismay in November 2010 when the coalition Government pulled the plug on a £160m house-building and home improvement scheme for Orchard Park under the Private Finance Initiative.

This was after the authority spent £1m of its own money working with residents to agree the details, and meant the scrapping of plans to build 500 “eco homes” on the estate and refurbish existing properties.

Instead, the council is now implementing a smaller scheme that will see the development of 60 one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom flats, 25 two-bedroom council houses, and a further 15 houses developed in partnership with Riverside Housing Group.

There will also be further changes to the city’s skyline.

Of the remaining Orchard Park tower blocks, Laxthorpe and Highcourt are to be demolished, comprising 157 flats in total, while those in Gorthorpe and Kinthorpe will be refurbished.

The process of relocating Gorthorpe and Kinthorpe residents is nearly complete and it is expected that the improvements to these two blocks will be finished by spring or early summer next year.

Homethorpe was demolished on July 31 last year.

A planning application for the former Bridgeman House block at this site has recently been approved, which will see 52 new homes developed in partnership with Riverside.

Work on this scheme is expected to start in the autumn and be completed by the winter of 2014, the council said.

The new buildings will meet the Level 3 standard of the Code for Sustainable Homes.