Housing provider urged to sell off mothballed West Norfolk homes

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Dozens of social houses in West Norfolk are being mothballed because nobody wants to live in them, it has been claimed.

Around 40 properties, currently owned by Freebridge Community Housing, are thought to be affected.

The group says it is keeping the future of the properties under review.

But its bosses have been urged to sell the homes altogether and invest the proceeds in similar provision in more suitable areas.

Critics also claim the issue has far-reaching implications, not just for social housing provision, but for wider plans for future housing development in the borough.

Freebridge currently owns 563 units in supported housing schemes for vulnerable people, across the borough.

It says around seven per cent of those properties are currently not being rented out.

But Norfolk county councillor Alexandra Kemp claims the number affected is significantly higher and should be urgently reviewed.

She says that up to 60 sheltered housing units in the villages of Harpley and Upwell, more than 10 per cent of the total stock, cannot be let, because they do not have suitable services, such as a shop, public transport links or other amenities nearby.

She said: “The units should be sold off and proceeds reinvested into redesigning existing sheltered housing sites which could support more units, with a better quality of design in the town, where people do want to live.

“Mothballing sheltered housing sites is a monumental waste of public resources at a time of huge cuts.”

But Freebridge chief executive Tony Hall said: “We always work closely with both the local community and the Borough Council to ensure that we build and manage homes in places that people want to live in.

“When there is consistently very low demand for homes in certain areas we have to look at the best way to use the resources we have. Spending money on properties that people don’t want to live in makes little economic sense.

“We continue to monitor and evaluate the empty properties we have in places such as Upwell and Harpley, and by doing this we can invest in new homes in areas where there is a real desire to live from the people in our community.”

However, Miss Kemp believes the sites could be better used to provide new homes as part of West Norfolk Council’s plans for future development instead of what she terms the “highly risky” sites proposed in her division.

One such area is the Gravel Hill land in West Winch which was reinstated in the authority’s development framework in September, despite strong local opposition.

She claimed Freebridge should have put the lands forward for the long-term plan, which is currently being examined in a public inquiry, because it is “clearly surplus to requirements”.

And she said she would be raising the issue with the government planning inspector who will have to assess whether the plan as a whole is sound or not.

She said: “He should be aware that there are legitimate alternatives to building in the floodplain.”