The Seven Sisters are a series of apartment towers in Rochdale. Credit: Google Earth

Could the Seven Sisters be saved? Rochdale awaits

The path has been cleared for the council to once again own and manage social housing, following a government decision to allow it to open a housing revenue account.

Not only could this mean developing new council housing stock, it could mean an alternative solution to the controversial plans by social provider Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to demolish four of the “Seven Sisters” College Bank high-rise blocks.

Plans were put forward by RBH, which took on ownership and management of the Seven Sisters in a 2012 stock transfer, for the redevelopment of College Bank and Lower Falinge several years ago, with the search for a development partner announced in May 2019. Residents of four blocks were told their homes would likely be demolished within seven years.

Opposition has always remained strong, with a local residents support group and a cohort of councillors making the case to protect the buildings as essential to the local community – in 2020, Cllr Faisal Rana wrote to the housing minister asking for an intervention over the matter.

Architectural critics too have rallied behind the campaign to save buildings that were built in the 1960s as a higher standard of council accommodation with the specific intent of attracting young professionals.

With the housing revenue account avenue now open, Rochdale has commissioned reports into its options at College Bank and as to future council housing elsewhere.

At the weekend, Cllr Danny Meredith, cabinet member for highways & housing at Rochdale Council, told ITV News: “We need to be tackling the housing crisis head-on and bringing back the Seven Sisters into council control would be one of the greatest ways we could do this.

“We’ve got nearly 8,000 applicants on the waiting list right now, that’s the equivalent of 22,000 people that we have on our waiting list. We can’t have that in Rochdale borough.” Meredith added that Rochdale’s current Labour councillors have a commitment to seeing council housing return to the borough.

The possibility of the Seven Sisters returning to public ownership was described on the College Bank Facebook page as “a huge step forward,” paying tribute to ward councillors and the Greater Manchester Tenants Union.

RBH responds

For its part, RBH – a tenant and employee co-owned mutual housing society – maintains that the cost of refurbishing the blocks, estimated to be between £70m and £90m, is beyond the council’s means, and their partial replacement by modern lower-rise housing is the best solution.

The organisation says the plan is still to start refurbishing the first block in 2023.

In a statement provided to Place North West, RBH said: “We have not received any proposal from the council on an alternative funding approach for College Bank. This is something that some Councillors have been talking about for the last two years, but nothing has come forward.

“It is misleading and unfair to the remaining residents to suggest that there is an alternative plan to invest what is needed to keep the blocks safe and decent when no plan is forthcoming. If the Council does have any viable and funded alternative proposals, then these need to immediately be shared with both residents and RBH.

“Although the council plan to reopen their housing revenue account, which is a common step for many local authorities, they have not explained how they intend to fund this account. An empty bank account cannot provide the quality of homes that local people need in College Bank.

“We are working hard on the details of the multi-million-pound refurbishment of the Underwood block which is due to start on site next year. This refurbishment has a budget of £12m. This will address the essential issues with the fabric of the block, including rainwater ingress, and will modernise services including heating and water to ensure the block can provide good quality, sustainable homes for current residents and future generations.

“We want to work alongside the council and fellow housing associations to increase the supply of social housing in Rochdale Borough. We welcome the council looking at all options that increase the overall number of good quality new social homes delivered in the borough.”

Your Comments

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I am very pleased that Rochdale Council are in favour of increasing social housing stock within the borough. This is a positive step to ensure people can afford good social housing accommodation.

By Peter Blackburn

What is the plan for the remaining residents of college bank if the buildings are to remain as they are, do we still get a choice weather or not to move and will we still get the compensation

By Anonymous

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