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Hillington Square plan 'not to blame for repair backlog', housing operator insists

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“It’s not Hillington or. It’s Hillington and.”

That’s the message from Freebridge Community Housing bosses after they were accused of putting a multi-million pound Lynn redevelopment project ahead of fixing problems with their existing stock.

Consultations are continuing on the latest £25 million redevelopment scheme for Hillington Square, which the operator unveiled last week.

New multi-million pound plans for the redevelopment of Lynn's Hillington Square have been unveiled (56685200)
New multi-million pound plans for the redevelopment of Lynn's Hillington Square have been unveiled (56685200)

Seventy new homes are proposed, following the demolition of three of the existing blocks on the estate, with 26 more in two other buildings set to be refurbished.

The scheme is envisaged as the final phase of a decade-long regeneration of the estate.

And members of the public can have their say at a consultation event today after a community group backed them earlier this week.

Anita Jones, who will be taking over as chief executive of Freebridge Community Housing at the end of the summer. Picture: SUBMITTED (34391182)
Anita Jones, who will be taking over as chief executive of Freebridge Community Housing at the end of the summer. Picture: SUBMITTED (34391182)

But the plans have been branded a “slap in the face” by one of the operator’s own tenants, who contacted the Lynn News this week.

John Evans claimed existing residents “can’t get basic repair and maintenance work completed because there’s ‘no money’ for them.”

He added: “That money should be invested in the existing housing stock not used for headline grabbing stunts like this.”

Meanwhile, in a separate case, South Lynn councillor Alexandra Kemp claimed Freebridge’s homes were “a danger to residents” after part of a damaged wall fell on a young child, causing a cut to their head.

She said she had reported the matter to Freebridge last month and described their response as “appalling”.

Freebridge officials have acknowledged the organisation, like other social housing providers, has built up a backlog of repairs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But they say they have increased their repair and maintenance budget by more than 60 per cent this year, to £13.5 million, and taken on additional staff to help tackle the crisis.

Speaking to the Lynn News this week, Freebridge chief executive Anita Jones urged tenants who have concerns to contact them directly and said the South Lynn case is being investigated.

But she denied that the investment being made into Hillington Square was stopping them from spending money on other parts of its portfolio of more than 7,000 homes.

She said: “We telephoned every tenant to make sure we understood what the repair position is in every home.

“We understand now the work we need to do. The repairs are the number one priority for our tenants. We know that.

“We are working hard and it’s not Hillington or. It’s Hillington and.”

She added: “This [Hillington Square] is a massive investment for us and we want to make sure that what has been a landmark for all the wrong reasons that the people who live there can see there is a plan and it’s a plan they can get behind and get delivered so the community can benefit from it into the future.”

More than a decade has now passed since a new vision for the estate was outlined by designer Wayne Hemingway.

And millions of pounds have already been spent on renovating much of the area.

Paul Newbold, the operator’s director of development, said the operator is still in regular contact with Mr Hemingway’s company, Hemingway Design, to ensure that what is being proposed now remains in line with the original vision for the estate.

And Ms Jones argued the scheme should also be seen in the context of other major projects such as those contained in the Town Deal bid.

She said: “When Freebridge made the commitment, the thing I would say is we’re staying the course and completing this really important development.

“It isn’t just about Hillington Square. It’s about the regeneration of the town.”

Freebridge says its new plans have increased investment in the area by up to £7 million, after earlier proposals were thrown out by West Norfolk Council last summer.

Ms Jones said that decision had given them the chance to “stop and reflect” and highlighted the planned revamp of the Providence Street Community Centre as one area in which the application had particularly changed.

She added: “We’re really proud of what we’re putting into planning.”

An online survey of public views on the plans has been open since they were unveiled last Tuesday.

And Ms Jones said: “We’ve had around 120 people take the time to give us their views and I think the feeling is, so far, positive.

“People can see that we’ve changed the application. We’re happy with the level of engagement we have had so far.”

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