THE future of a stalled regeneration scheme in East Yorkshire has been thrown into fresh doubt after a Housing Minister blocked its funding at the 11th hour over concerns about the number of homes being demolished.
Hull West MP and former Home Secretary Alan Johnson reacted with undisguised fury after the Minister for Housing, Grant Shapps, unexpectedly put the brakes on the release of vital funds for the Keepmoat regeneration project in the Newington and St Andrew’s areas of the city.
The Minister’s move will come as a bitter blow to local residents who have waited years for the regeneration of what remains one of the city’s most run-down areas.
The project was awarded £8m through the Government’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF) as part of a plan to regenerate crumbling housing which dates back nearly a century.
But more than a year after the RGF Bid was accepted, the money has still not materialised – and it has now emerged Mr Shapps has intervened over the number of demolitions involved.
The Tory MP –- tipped for promotion to the Cabinet – wants to see more homes refurbished instead. “It’s been drawn to my attention that the scheme, if it were to proceed, would result in 600 homes being demolished,” he wrote in a letter to Mr Johnson this week.
“Demolition is environmentally, economically and socially wasteful – it can be cheaper and quicker to refurbish empty homes than to build from scratch.
“The Government therefore wants local authorities to consider how to reduce proposed demolitions and instead refurbish houses at reasonable cost.”
The regeneration project started under Labour’s Pathfinder programme, but stalled when the Coalition pulled the plug – leaving rows of boarded-up homes and the project half-completed.
Local MP Mr Johnson has now written to the Prime Minister and Business Secretary Vince Cable to outline his concerns over the way residents are being treated.
“I am absolutely furious about this,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“These proposals have not changed one jot since the bid was accepted. For starters, it is only 120 houses that will be demolished, and we have restored hundreds more as part of the programme – this was the absolute minimum.
“This means so much to my constituents and he is just throwing it all back into the melting pot.”
In a blistering letter to the Housing Minister yesterday, Mr Johnson describe his intervention as “completely unacceptable”.
The Hull MP wrote: “First the Government leaves hundreds of Hull residents stranded in boarded-up streets and half-demolished communities by summarily ceasing the funding for Pathfinder.
“Then they give fresh hope by approving an RGF Bid that is clear about what is to be renovated and what is to be demolished.
“Thirteen months later, with residents still having to exist in these intolerable conditions and no sign of the funding the Government promised, you have it ‘drawn to your attention’ that the plans involved demolishing some of the worst housing in the country.
“Spare me your naive ideology... This is a crucial redevelopment initiative that seriously affects people’s lives – not a sixth-form school project.”
But last night a spokesman for Mr Shapps would only reiterate the position set out in his letter.
“We cannot afford to waste public money if there is a better way to improve the condition of housing stock through refurbishment,” he said.
“My officials are investigating the proposals in relation to demolitions and we hope to resolve the issue, and bring certainty to the residents in Hull, very soon.”