Orchard Park PFI

concerns and comments

Brian Williams
Orchard Park, Hull
December 2010




Here are listed some of the questions and concerns that were raised by residents following the announcement on 17 July 2009 of Housing PFI funding for Orchard Park, Hull (subject to an acceptable business case) and during the subsequent public consultation phases. Accompanying comments are based on information as it was understood at the time. The coalition government cancelled all ‘pipeline’ (not at contract stage) Housing PFI projects on 22 November 2010.

When will building start?
A period for the preparation of the Outline Business Case has been extended from June 2010 to December 2010. Then there is the Final Business Case. Procurement can take a further three years. Given such a timescale, site work isn’t expected to commence until 2014 at the earliest. The multi-storey flats will have to be demolished before any building starts.

Is the Council going to demolish my home?
According to the original bid, most of the Danes, the whole of the Thorpes, and the potentially flood-prone (but no other) brick-built properties that join the two villages near Hall Road would be replaced. However, the proposal is in the process of being substantially altered, from an ‘aggressive’ intervention to one more sympathetic to the community.

Why aren't the Courts included?
The Courts urban village contains the earliest built stock and it does seem odd that these properties are not in the bid. The Danes village was included because extensive demolition in the recent past means that some of the preparation work for regeneration there is already done, and the Thorpes area was earmarked for redevelopment under the initial Gateway programme. An official explanation is that a bid for an amount sufficient to transform every part of the estate would have been turned down, even though consultation literature insists on implying the bid is about Orchard Park as a whole.

Subsequent reduction in scale of proposed intervention in the Danes and Thorpes could be expected to allow for Courts inclusion. However, the lack of suitable sites for new build is said to prevent expansion of the scheme into the area. Project leaders believe the Courts will benefit indirectly from the scheme. An impact study referring to communities adjacent to the invervention areas has been requested.

I'm an owner occupier. Will I recover my outlay?
This is the major concern among people who have purchased through Right To Buy. Under the original bid proposals, approximately 250 private properties would be involved within the transformation boundary. The latest proposal discards neighbourhoods where the level of owner occupation is relatively high (purchase and compensation represents a significant cost to regeneration). Whatever, no one should lose out in financial terms from compulsory purchase, and there is a financial help package available. Owner compensation will not be funded from PFI credits but directly by the Council.

If I'm thinking of buying my present home, should I wait?
A lender will almost certainly decline to fund a purchase on an existing property in a neighbourhood facing demolition, and a solicitor would most probably advise against purchase. The Council can refuse to sell once an Outline Business Case has been accepted. As regards remaining neighbourhoods, experience elsewhere shows that property values tend to increase following regeneration within an estate.

Should I put off plans for decoration?
As no home moves are likely to be required within at least four years (except for flats), then go ahead and decorate if you wish. But don’t spend too much on home modifications.

What about people who live in the flats?
Residents of the multi-storey blocks have been individually consulted. The Kinthorpe and Laxthorpe older persons’ midi-blocks are likely the last to be demolished. It is not certain where people will be offered accommodation (previous tower block demolition saw many residents transferred to remaining blocks). Blocks may be subject to theft of fittings and vandalism as they become depleted of occupants.

Will rents be dearer?
The previous government held a full review of social housing finance and an extensive overhaul seems sure to go ahead under the present coalition. This applies nationally and is nothing to do with PFI. Implications for Hull are still being pondered. Council rents in general are increased by a small percentage annually in order that they converge with those of non-council social landlords.

The issue regarding Orchard Park is that new build has the effect of lifting market values, and all properties may then be moved into higher banding. As a result of this alone, rents and Council Tax could be more, though heat efficiencies of new homes are expected partially to offset the rises.

Supposing tenants want to stay, how does this square
with the reduction in Council properties?

The prospect of community break-up was a major issue among residents during the first phase of public consultation. This rather contrasts with a view held by some project designers that people could not wait to leave Orchard Park (desertion of the Danes was cited, though it might be argued that poor estate management has also played a part in the area’s partial abandonment). The revised bid takes into account the degree of concern, showing a net gain of council houses (the loss of 587 units of accommodation by demolition of the multi-storey flats is not included in PFI figures). Current understanding is that everything will be done ‘to ensure any residents affected by demolition who want to stay in the area are able to do so.’

Can I expect like-for-like as regards house size?
Allocation of a Council property type (essentially defined by the number of bedrooms) depends on family size, and this will apply when new homes are ready. So, yes, there will be some adjustment, though house layout should be better. Owner occupiers will be able to choose from what is available, subject to affordability.

During the work, will local people be employed?
Under EU regulations, no legal obligation on a contractor to employ local labour can be imposed. However, assurances have been made that local labour will be favoured. (One concern cited by John Prescott regarding the North Hull HAT project was that ‘workers were shipped into the area, depriving the community of work.’)

Many of today's problems are a result of misguided planning
of previous decades. How can we know that the new design
will genuinely serve the community and not simply be
to use up the money?

It would be a tragedy if the next generation were to look back at present planners with the same scorn as many today regard the planners of the past. Residents must think about what they want in practical terms and planners must get from behind their desks. To be avoided are initially impressive but ultimately useless ‘monuments to PFI’. Consultation has to mean more than merely being invited along to learn what’s already been decided. Comprehensive engagement with the local community is a condition of a funded scheme of this type.

Comprehensive engagement – so no repeat of 2002?
In Autumn 2002 the rumour spread that everything north of Hall Road was to be cleared, presumably to make way for another Kingswood. The Council’s poor handling of the situation left an aftertaste of suspicion and mistrust among residents of Orchard Park which still lingers. Circumstances were much different then. Evidence indicates that lessons have been learnt.

How will residents be represented?
The Orchard Park PFI Advisory Board includes community representatives as voting members. Its chair (a Council tenant) sits on the Project Board. The Northern Area Housing Board acts on behalf of all residents. Three ward councillors are available, and neighbourhood representation is through residents associations.

Are residents to be offered any training in big project participation?
The community role is vital to success. Residents have a long-term interest in the outcome, and they are the ultimate judges. But they may not have the required skills, knowledge, or confidence for meaningful participation. Opportunities for involvement in the design process are being developed through a Design Champion initiative, assisted by Groundwork.

Does the Decent Homes programme continue in areas
that face demolition?

When the Decent Homes programme was started, the policy was to tackle worst properties first. Consequently, a lot of improvement work was carried out in houses that may be demolished as part of the transformation scheme. There are no formal plans for any recovery of expenditure through the disposal of fittings.

Will services likewise continue into the project?
The announcement of a large renewal project may precipitate ‘pre-regenerational neglect’ within neighbourhoods. Residents and service providers alike begin to question the point of maintenance. When the period between announcement and actual start of work is measured in years, pre-regenerational neglect tends to accumulate. There could be perceptions of deliberate neglect by authorities aimed at driving existing residents out in order to reduce compensation payments. Hull City Council has confirmed its duty to continue the provision of services in Orchard Park.

Is there enough money for the scheme as bid?
As mentioned above, the original bid was tailored in order to be considered. Accordingly, one potential threat was that of an emphasis on demolish-and-build with little left over for the environment and for social improvement. Another was that the credits would be used up before the project was finished in terms of areas covered (Housing PFI has a history of budget overrun).

The latest proposal is for a reduced intervention. Not all the money may be needed in the programme for the Danes and Thorpes. For the reason that no suitable sites exist for new build in the Courts, there could be spare capacity in the PFI funding. Project leaders have been looking at ways to repackage the bid and retain unused credits for the city, though the HCA has indicated a wish to retain area focus. Whatever, an assurance has been given that the Orchard Park scheme will have priority in the allocation of funding.

Will there be sound scrutiny?
Current contractor performance regarding repairs and maintenance of the existing housing stock along with Decent Homes work is well scrutinised. A reasonable degree of transparency will be expected within the bounds of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

Can a change of landscape really change the people?
Some regeneration projects are solely about property. The deprivation is simply moved on. An illusion of social improvement occurs because new people fill the neighbourhoods. In the declared philosophy of Housing PFI, property is one part of the regeneration package; the other is social regeneration. Improvement of the lives of existing tenants is a factor along with developer profit.

The concept of mixed tenure, the model for the original bid and an unproved example of social engineering, predicts that self-perpetuating concentrations of low esteem and expectation within the original community are broken up. Dispersal of deprivation, though, is not necessarily eradication, just as the replacement of physical structure is not necessarily an automatic cure-all for social blight. A change of landscape may be welcome and appreciated but it does need to be viewed as a basis for transformation rather than the finished job.

Is PFI a good thing?
The pros and cons of the Private Finance Initiative as a form of funding for large housing projects are beyond the purpose of this page. What has been heard repeatedly in recent times is that PFI is ‘the only game in town’. This indeed looks to be the case locally and for the present.

How does a change of government affect the scheme?
Orchard Park’s transformation project is unlikely to be postponed or cancelled through politics alone. The Private Finance Initiative as a concept was introduced in 1992 under a Conservative government and was embraced by New Labour. How cost-cutting by the Coalition Government might affect unsigned PFI schemes is not known with certainty. For a changed bid as applies to Orchard Park, the Outline and Final Business Cases will need to be convincing. Other large schemes in the area (Extra Care PFI for a sheltered housing complex, the building of a Northern Academy) are to go ahead.

And the recession?
Officially, the economy is out of recession, though a difficult era lies ahead. The environment will undoubtedly be a test for project leaders as they seek to attract the right business partners as well as co-ordinate and maximise resources.

Orchard Park PFI going well?
It could be argued that the original bid was a little hasty in its preparation, there being an acknowledged pressure of time. Perhaps as a consequence, the bid was also over-ambitious in terms of what could be realistically achieved, more so given the current economic climate. Nor was it particularly resident-friendly: quite apart from implications of doubtful social engineering, a project of this nature may be perceived as positioning corporate attraction to funding and possibly officer career advancement before full consideration of the people whose homes and lives will be affected.

The people of Orchard Park can be excused for saying they are weary of consultation and promises of a better tomorrow. Another programme of consultation (in three phases, as it turns out) was therefore unlikely to be accompanied by as much delight and smoothness as team planners might have envisaged. Nonetheless, the Orchard Park PFI consultation process would appear to have been influential in bringing the scope of the scheme within practical ambition. In the revised plan, there is no net loss of social rented homes (high-rise flats are not part of the PFI scheme). Also, the project team has stated that ‘every effort will be made to enable residents to stay on Orchard Park if that is what they want.’ Of course, people power alone does not drive a multi-million pound project, and the effect may to a degree be illusory, but to have residents properly listened to rather than placed merely to do the listening is a welcome advance.

Partial clearance and new build of an estate is bound to be divisive. Not everyone will be pleased with the final plan. In this sense, there will be a notion of winners and losers, though with careful implementation the impact can be minimised.

Treasury confirmation that PFI credits are to be released depends on a sound business plan, still in the making. Investment from the private sector is at an early stage of being sought. Then there is the spectre of Government cuts. Yet confidence and energy are in good supply. Transformation of Orchard Park by Housing PFI is proving to be an interesting journey for all concerned.

Will the collapse of Connaught affect the project?
The social housing maintenance division of Connaught went into administation 7 September 2010 and Hull City Council served notice to cancel its repairs and maintenance contract with the company a week later. The contract covers council-owned housing in Orchard Park as well as other areas in the north and west of the city. There will be no direct impact on the PFI scheme. However, the implication is that future similar contracts (and Housing PFI is as much about long-term maintenance as it is new build) will need to look towards value for money and confidence of delivery rather than directing the greater attention to obtaining the lowest price.


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