A STAFFORD councillor has branded a move to block plans to restore seven empty homes “a scandal”.Tom Harris, the Green Party councillor for the town centre Forebridge ward said Staffordshire County Council was failing taxpayers and residents.
Councillor Harris called it “extraordinary” that there were around 1,500 homes in Stafford officially registered as long-term empty and almost exactly the same number of families and individuals registered as needing somewhere to live.
“It is a scandal that Staffordshire County Council is letting these homes rot.
“About 25 years ago a route was announced connecting Newport Road with Chell Road, with the path shaving off a corner of Castletown,” he said. “At the time residents had a chance to sell their homes at the market value, which several did, some were occupied on and off and a couple still are, but seven homes have now been empty for up to ten years.”
Councillor Harris said two years ago Stafford Housing Co-op, a local organisation aiming to provide affordable homes, presented a busi- ness plan to the county property department, showing they had the financial backing and the know- how to bring the homes back into use.
“However, county highways chiefs put a stop to negotiations, saying they could not lease the properties long-term in case a decision was made to build along the original route,” he said.
“The decision was made despite plans for an entirely different route having already been submitted to the government for the new Western Access Road.”
Tony Pearce, the chairman of Stafford Housing Co-op who had been leading negotiations called the decision “absolutely appalling”.
“Staffordshire County Council clearly don’t give a damn about people needing homes, they are not bothered about taxpayers seeing council assets lose value by the day and they don’t care about the Castletown residents who are being forced to live with a blight on their community.”
Councillor Harris said: “There is an urgent need for more good qual- ity affordable housing in our borough.
Staffordshire County Council has a moral duty to do everything it can to serve the public, so ignoring this opportunity from the Housing Co-op is absurd and sickening. Highways chiefs must act and act fast.”
Staffordshire County councillor Mark Winnington, cabinet member for environment and assets, said: “Providing more affordable homes is a national issue and we are doing our utmost to bring these properties back into short term use, without compromising proposed transport plans for the area.”
He said the county council had held discussions with residential social landlords but had been unable to progress them further at this stage.
“We are concerned about the properties and would like to see a solution as soon as possible,” he said. “The properties were acquired as they lie in the way of plans for a new road for the Stafford Western Access Route previously known as the Castlefields Link Road.
“We need to provide this route for a proposed new housing develop- ment included in the Stafford Borough Council Local Plan.”
He said the county council was negotiating with developers to deliver part of the road on an alternative route from Martin Drive to Doxey Road for proposed new housing in Castlefields and Burley- fields.
“We cannot formally abandon the old route through Castletown until we are certain that this preferred route will go ahead - and this is unlikely to happen until the Stafford Borough Local Plan is approved.”
Plans for the local plan are currently out for consultation and will close on February 28.