Yarmouth council homes to be upgraded

COUNCIL house tenants across Great Yarmouth are set to benefit from new doors, windows, kitchens and bathrooms thanks to a multi-million pound investment programme.

It ends years of frustration particularly for elderly people shivering in sheltered housing and struggling to heat their single-glazed properties.

And for the council’s 6,000 tenants it raises the prospect of refurbishment both inside out as officials work out what they can and cannot do over the long term - and even consider building new homes.

It is the first time the council has had the freedom to plan what it spends on its stock thanks to a new Government “self-financing” regime which comes into force next month. Already it has found just over �3m for windows and doors over three years, part of an �8m major capital works programme for the next 12 months.

Robert Read, council director of community housing, said the money had come from Government changes which allow the council to keep the �22m it raises annually in rent, but had also landed it with a �58m debt.

Overall it meant the council could decide how and when it spent its money on housing and plan for the future rather than wait for its annual allocation which was typically three to four million pounds less that it handed over.

In the first phase of improvements 1,000 properties will be fitted with new pvc windows and doors making life more comfortable for old folk and helping the planet and bills in terms of energy.

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Mr Read said: “One of the things that is very important to tenants is double glazing and doors. These are programmes that when money was tight we had to put on hold. What we have said in the budget this year is that there will be a three year programme to complete the fitting of double glazed units across all our stock, and doors as well.

“What we have said in terms of windows is that we will prioritise those in sheltered housing.

“We are entering a new era called self financing. Before, all the councils in the country would raise the money in rents and it would go in a national pot which would be shared out. What that would mean for Yarmouth is that we were losing three to four million pounds which was going back to the Government. From April it means that we get to keep the money raised from rents. We do have to take on a debt but our calculations show that it will leave us better off year on year plus give us the opportunity to plan for the longer term.”

It also hopes to bring forward a raft of improvements and possibly even build its own homes for the first time in 20 years.

Trevor Wainwright leader of the Labour Group which has badgered the council over the issue, said: “We are pleased that at long last the council house tenants will be able to have double glazed windows and doors where they haven’t already been fitted, in their properties within the next three years.

“For many years the Preventative Planned Maintenance Programme for our housing stock, has been well behind schedule, and we have repeatedly been calling for action to be taken on this matter. Many of our tenants are elderly and in sheltered accommodation, with energy prices at a record high all tenants will benefit eventually from lower bills, once the works have been carried out.”

Great Yarmouth and Norwich are the only councils in Norfolk that still retain their housing stock, other authorities selling it off to housing associations. In Yarmouth tenants voted overwhelmingly against any such transfer in the early 1990s.