Why Goscote House Must Be Saved

UPDATE: The Council observes: “The decision to demolish Goscote House was made on 24th April 2018, with a forecast date for demolition towards the end of 2019/20. Provision through reserves has already been made for the £3m cost of demolition, of which £0.2m is within the current capital programme.” “Housing Revenue Account Budget (including Capital Programme) 2019/20 to 2021/22,” Leicester City Council, February 19, 2019.

In a city that has a desperate shortage of affordable housing, Leicester City Council has made the controversial decision to spend £3 million on demolishing Goscote House, a tower block which presently provides 134 much-needed units of accommodation in Highfields.

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The pro-demolition argument that has been put forward in the media by the Council’s director of housing (Chris Burgin) is that the 23-story tower block required renovations that would cost £6.5 million, but that “there is no life guarantee over five years” for the longevity of the block. (March 19, Leicester Mercury) This was strange, because writing within the Council’s official Housing Scrutiny report he had something quite different to say: “The [Goscote House] report has concluded that the structure is in generally good condition, this is good news.” The director of housing added:

“The report does not suggest an expected life span of the building but recommends that if the building is refurbished RICS accredited inspections are carried out every 5 years to confirm the continued structural integrity of the building.” (“Goscote House” report presented to City Council Housing Scrutiny Commission, March 12, 2018.)

So even though the building is in good condition, the Council still want to demolish it!?

Here it seems that the primary ‘reasoning’ driving the planned demolition is the fact that it has “come to light that blocks constructed the same in other areas of the county are now starting to show signs of stress fractures and landlords are taking the decision to vacant the blocks as a precaution measure.”

Goscote

That might be the case, but once again, as Goscote House is considered to be in good condition then one needs to ask, why demolish it at all, especially given the cost of demolition? The full Council report unforunately does not provide a reasonable answer to this question. Instead the report states:

“Goscote House was built by Taylor Wimpey [in 1973], there are several similarly constructed blocks across the country, many have been decommissioned because of ongoing concerns about their structural stability. The construction type hit the headlines many years ago, due to the Ronan Point incident.”

But this is pure scaremongering, as the Ronan Point tragedy — that took place in Newham in 1968 — led to popular outrage against Tory profiteering in the construction industry, which led to the adoption of new building regulations in 1970, that is, some three years before Goscote House was even constructed. Thus we certainly don’t need to demolish Goscote House because of what happened at Ronan Point.

As ever, Leicester City Council seem to have forgotten that our city is having to deal with a massive housing shortage, and so I would argue that it actually makes good sense to spend £6.5 million on refurbishing the block (at a cost of around £50,000 per unit). After-all keeping Goscote House is far cheaper than building a replacement tower-block (with an equivalent number of affordable units) which the Council say would cost around £17.3 million.

To reiterate, keeping Goscote House would be positive for a number of reasons: (1) the city would keep 134 affordable housing units; (2) the tenants would benefit from refurbished apartments; and (3) the Council would be able to continue collecting rent from its tenants (which amounts to hundreds of thousands of pounds every year).

We should also recognise that the Council’s own report points out how if the refurbishment is carried out then Goscote House would have an “estimated resale value of £8.35m.” Thus considering that recent valuations have put the current value of the block at only £1.2 million, the £6.5 million refurbishment could easily be recouped (plus some) if the renovated block was then sold on the open market. This latter financial argument provides yet another reason for the Council to not waste £3 million demolishing Goscote House.

FINAL NOTE on a Related Toxic PFI Contract

Within the final pages of the Council’s “Goscote House” report they acknowledge that in 2011 they entered into a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme with a body called the Leicester District Energy Company (LDEC). The Council thus signed a 25-year agreement with LDEC which is a subdiary of Cofely District Energy which in turn is owned by the French multinational corporation, Suez. So even if the tower block is demolished the Council will still be paying for the heating costs that were once associated with the building. As the Council explain: “The demolition of Goscote House will remove an further 135 dwellings from the LDEC scheme, the consequences of which are likely to see a further increase in unit and standing charge for the remainder of Council buildings connected to the LDEC Network.” This provides yet another reason why Goscote House should not be destroyed, unless of course it is ever deemed necessary for the safety of its residents.

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