By Kris Jepson
One year after residents living in the former colliery village of Horden told ITV News Tyne Tees their community was “broken and dying” because of a decline in social housing, we can reveal a multi-agency operation is underway to clean up the village’s oldest streets of terraced houses and a “masterplan” is being discussed by Durham County Council to regenerate the area.
Residents living in what is known locally as Horden’s “Numbered Streets”, have welcomed the work, led by Durham County Council, to rebuild the community after the disposal of more than 150 social houses by the housing association, Accent.
Watch @krisjepson's report here:
Pat Barnett of the Horden Colliery Residents’ Association told ITV News “the council have finally realised we needed help and now we’ve got it!”
The Residents’ Association has financially supported the multi-agency work, which has provided bins to people who do not have them, pest control and the closure of open drainage systems.
Durham County Council and partners including Durham Constabulary, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, have so far carried out two operations on the numbered streets to address issues, including large amounts of rubbish being left in alleys and back yards. This involved teams of waste disposal workers going through each of the numbered streets, removing rubbish from back yards and alleys.
The council has installed new security fencing to protect empty yards from being targeted by fly-tippers, vandals and arsonists and has erected vinyl facias to replace boarded up windows and doors of houses left empty following the auctions of 2015/16.
Oliver Sherratt, the council’s head of direct services, said this project helps lift the appearance of the area and brings back some pride to the area.
Last year we reported Accent had invested £9m in its properties in Easington Colliery and modernising its bungalows in Horden, but had withdrawn an improvement programme on Horden’s terraced houses, claiming it was “unable to deliver these improvements”.
At the time, Accent told this programme, the properties in question on the numbered streets saw a “huge decline in demand”, due partly to the “bedroom tax” and partly to them being "unsuitable for families” and therefore, despite trying to let the empty homes, they were “not sustainable”.
Accent has now confirmed it sold 152 properties on the numbered streets between 2015/16 and reinvested the money into other areas outside County Durham, where it claims there was a “higher demand” for social housing.
ITV News Tyne Tees has obtained figures from a Newcastle University study by Professor Rachel Pain, published in December 2017, which suggests only 22 per cent of the houses sold at auction are back in use, with more than 120 properties still empty.
The study reveals that, of the 265 private landlords who now own the properties in the numbered streets, 148 of them or 56 per cent, are “absentee” landlords “based in other UK regions or outside the UK”.
This is one concern which residents are raising at the Hub House on Seventh Street, a new drop-in centre.
One tenant said “I live on the end house here and there’s five empty houses before anybody else and they (landlords) haven’t done nothing. They’re just up for sale and that’s it. And they haven’t done no improvements on them. So they need to do something about them.”
Accent sold the hub house to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust as a concession amid concerns over the auctions. It doesn’t directly deal with the empty housing problem, but residents can vent their frustrations there, get advice on social and financial issues and say it is helping to rebuild this community.