‘Long overdue scheme’ to start

David Johnson Andrew Howstan and David Jones from Homes from Northumberland
David Johnson Andrew Howstan and David Jones from Homes from Northumberland

A major scheme to refurbish the Alnwick area’s oldest set of council houses to tackle a long-term problem is due to start in the next month.

Homes for Northumberland is about to embark on a project to tackle the water-ingress issues related to its 20 properties on King Street, which date back to 1905.

The Gazette spoke to Homes for Northumberland’s Alnwick housing officer, Andrew Howstan, and project managers David Johnson and David Jones, who explained more about the plans.

Mr Howstan said that historically King Street has been plagued with issues relating to damp and water ingress and that while there’s hearsay evidence about underground streams, they don’t know exactly why it’s been a problem for the houses in this area.

Each property is to be stripped down to the brickwork internally to install a membrane, which is guaranteed for 10 years, with the team satisfied the ‘belt-and-braces approach’ will solve the problems.

“Over the years, they have tried various things,” said Mr Jones. “We have trialled this system and it seems to be working well.”

But the work doesn’t stop there.

At the same time as installing the membranes, the properties will be given new kitchens, bathrooms, blinds and carpets. The new carpets are needed because the membranes mean that the walls are brought in by 50mm all the way round.

“They are getting a new flat really and, to be honest, it’s about time they got a new flat,” said Mr Jones. “Certain properties in the street have been really badly affected.”

Mr Johnson added: “Every one will be checked so when we hand the keys back, it will be all done.”

Due to the extent of the work, the tenants cannot stay in their properties so the refurbishment will be done in stages with tenants ‘decanted’ in and out of the street’s seven empty properties – a major logistical exercise.

One of them – number 43 – has been done already as a show home and all of the tenants have been able to have a look, with an overwhelmingly positive response. They are also able to choose different kitchen units and tiles for the bathroom, etc.

Tenders for the work were due in on Monday with the hopes of starting the work in May and a completion date in November.

All of the firms bidding are local, with the furthest afield based in Cramlington.

Needless to say, it represents a significant investment for Homes for Northumberland in what are straitened times, but the actual cost is balanced against the human cost of tenants living in damp homes.

Mr Howstan said: “It’s been a significant exercise in allocating funds really, but I would love to be able to say we could do every property we have got.”

Coun Gordon Castle, ward member for Alnwick, said: “This is an excellent scheme that is long overdue for King Street where water-ingress issues have long been a serious problem and have impacted severely on the lives of occupants over many years.

“It is a good example to its other tenants that Homes for Northumberland does value them and will undertake serious investment in its properties when necessary, within the inevitable financial constraints that we all work under.

“Several local contractors have been invited to bid, so this does appear to be good news all round and I congratulate Homes for Northumberland for its work, especially the planning and involvement of tenants, each one of whom is being briefed and will also be able to make choices about materials.”