Why plans to turn Northampton council garages into social housing is dividing opinion

Plans have been submitted to the Guildhall to start regeneration works on garages 1-8 in Preston Court in Lumbertubs.
Plans have been submitted to the Guildhall to start regeneration works on garages 1-8 in Preston Court in Lumbertubs.

Somewhere around the region of 2,500 households are currently wanting affordable accommodation in the town, according to Northampton Partnership Homes CEO, Mike Kay.

Back in March, plans were approved by Northampton Borough Council’s cabinet to build 1,000 new council houses over the next ten years.

And now, Northampton Partnership Homes (NPH), the borough council’s housing management organisation, is putting their money where their mouth is.

But where is the land coming from?

A new ‘Garage Strategy’ was approved at the Guildhall back in 2017 to regenerate 191 council garage sites to make way for up to 200 new council houses across the whole town.

Since this was given the green light – 16 shiny new homes have been built in Spring Boroughs for families in need. But the ambitious building works won’t stop there.

Diane Finnie is giving the project, which is under consultation, her backing.

Diane Finnie is giving the project, which is under consultation, her backing.

Letters were sent to residents in Lings, Lumbertubs and Lakeview last week to inform them of regeneration plans to potentially re-develop 14 garage blocks into 38 homes.

Bosses at NPH say they will review sites one neighbourhood at a time taking into account the condition of the garages, the occupancy levels and the number of homes owned by Northampton Borough Council in each neighbourhood.

These, along with a range of other factors will determine whether or not garages are retained and repaired, demolished for additional parking or demolished for much-needed housing.

Currently there is 191 council garage sites in the borough of Northampton, 3,122 individual garages, and 1,521 of those are not tenanted.

Mr Kay, CEO at NPH, told the Chronicle & Echo that nearly half of council garages are not tenanted.

“If you go back to the 1960s and 70s, when they were built, the owners had little Minis, which could fit into the garages. If you look at cars today, the majority will not fit into those garages.

“Even though we have 1,500 which are occupied, most of them are only used for storage, and that wasn’t the original purpose.”

Mike added that there are families on the council’s waiting list who have children with a disability and NPH can now build to accommodate their needs.

"One of the things we are looking at - some of the sites are only suitable to put one or two properties on. That’s a great opportunity for us to look at where people have got specific special needs.

"So we’ve got a number of families on the council house waiting list that have got special requirements whether it’s the family or whether it's children who have got special disabilities that need a bespoke one off designed home. In normal circumstances that’s almost impossible to provide. We have an opportunity to do some bespoke properties on the garage sites and that’s what we are doing.

Garages 6-17 in Pell Court in Lumbertubs are also up for debate.

Garages 6-17 in Pell Court in Lumbertubs are also up for debate.

"We will look at the demand, what is needed in that area, what will sustain that area and what's the best use of that site and the best configuration of the site."

Great opportunity...or devastating loss?

“Where we live we are a community, all our neighbours will sit out most evenings, with BBQs, paddling pools for the children, with food and drinks and many laughs, like a community should be doing. We genuinely care about where we live.”

This is the view of Jade Johnston, who lives in Thyme Court, Lumbertubs.

Jade received a letter last week notifying her of plans to potentially knock down seven garages in her street to make way for new family homes.

She said the street will object to the homes because of a lack of parking and believes it will reduce house prices in the area.

“Many of the residents have lived in this court for over 40 years, we have children and adults with disabilities who find it calming to live in such a friendly court.

Aerial shots of Lower Bath Court in Spring Boroughs show what the new homes planned for Lings, Lumbertubs and Lakeview could look like, if given the green light.

Aerial shots of Lower Bath Court in Spring Boroughs show what the new homes planned for Lings, Lumbertubs and Lakeview could look like, if given the green light.

“We will not allow their happiness to be at risk because of these proposed plans.”

But Diane Finnie, chair of Brookside Residents’ Association, said: “I think it’s a really good thing.

“It will help to clean-up and tidy-up the area and give much-needed accommodation to those who need it.”

Lings resident, Jade Johnston, is determined to fight the plans as she says her community is stronger without the homes. (Pictured neighbours).

Lings resident, Jade Johnston, is determined to fight the plans as she says her community is stronger without the homes. (Pictured neighbours).