Councillors accuse stock transfer organisation of risking housing crisis
Coventry councillors have clashed with the housing association created to take over Coventry's stock, saying its plans to demolish 500 flats would plunge the city into a housing crisis.

At a meeting last Wednesday, councillors from across the political spectrum condemned Whitefriars Housing Group's plans to demolish eight of the "Hillfields 12" estate's 12 blocks of flats. Whitefriars, which took over Coventry's housing in September 2000, describes the homes as old-fashioned, ugly and unpopular.

The councillors argued that rocketing house prices, an increase in the refugee population and a rising homelessness problem meant Whitefriars could not afford to reduce its 20,000-home stock.

Socialist Alliance councillor Rob Windsor said: "If the flats are demolished without anything done to fill the gap in the meantime, we anticipate that Coventry will face housing problems."

According to research carried out by the Housing Quality Network, Coventry will have to accommodate 1000 new households of refugees and asylum-seekers every year for the next five years. And the number of homeless households requiring accommodation is expected to reach 500 this year.

Stephen Rudge, Coventry council's head of housing policy and services, said that with total vacancies currently capable of housing just 1600 households, the city's social housing was "stretched to the limit".

Proposals to demolish 1300 homes were included in the Whitefriars' business plan before stock transfer, but it was not specified that such a large proportion of the Hillfields 12 estate would be affected.

Rudge said that although he expected the demolitions to take place, the figure of eight blocks was open to review depending on subsequent increases in demand.

Conservative councillor Dave Arrowsmith said that although the Hillfields 12 flats had been unpopular in the past, demand for them was now rising and would continue to do so unless more homes were built. "The flats should be refurbished rather than demolished," he said. "They are structurally sound and the tenants living there are reluctant to leave."

Alison Hadden, Whitefriars North executive director, said the flats were not appropriate for housing refugees, and would require £36m of refurbishment to meet the decent homes standard – an unviable figure. But tenants opposing demolition say the figure needed to refurbish the flats is closer to half that.

Whitefriars is in discussions with the council about providing more social housing, which could lead to the redevelopment of a tower block previously used by Coventry University as student accommodation.