Rowner. A word that became synonymous with decay and deterioration.
The former Ministry of Defence housing estate in Gosport attracted headlines for all the wrong reasons.
It was among the top 20 per cent of deprived areas in England and came to be regarded as one of the worst estates in the south east. One of its buildings was nominated as among the worst in Britain on Channel 4’s Demolition programme back in 2006.
But that was then – and this is now. Because the old, stigmatised Rowner has been transformed into Alver Village and is looking forward to building a much more positive reputation.
The £145m regeneration project hit a milestone at the weekend when a ceremony was held to mark completion of the first phase. So far 100 homes have been built out of 700 planned by 2017.
It’s hoped that rebuilding the area will make Gosport a more desirable place to live and will consign to history the negative connotations attached to Rowner.
Thirty-three residents have now moved in and a further 46 are expected to join them by the new year.
It’s all a far cry from the bad old days, which began in the 1980s when the MoD sold off the estate and many of the properties were used for social housing or private renting.
The area suffered from a lack of investment and the buildings began to deteriorate. Social problems developed and Rowner was bedevilled by crime, vandalism, drink and drugs.
Heather and Tom Farniss have moved from their two-bedroom property in Coventry Court into a brand new two-bedroom house in Howe Road.
It really is a new chapter for the couple, as they moved in just weeks after Tom celebrated his retirement.
They both say regeneraton is vital for Rowner.
Heather, 64, says: ‘When we first moved to Rowner 10 years ago, there was a lot of trouble. There were drugs and all sorts.
Tom, 65, adds: ‘It was something that had to come. The area was looking very neglected. It’s been neglected by different landlords. The houses needed replacing.’
He adds: ‘I always found the majority of people in Rowner were fine. But once they started boarding the housing up it was very depressing.’
Heather adds: ‘Once they started moving people out, for more than a year we had no neighbours. We had people taking copper and people were breaking into houses. It was terrible.’
When the couple were first informed about the regeneration of Rowner, they admit they had mixed emotions.
Although they agreed that the area needed redeveloping, they had to come to terms with the fact that they would be leaving the house which they had made their home for 10 years.
‘It was just a matter of accepting the fact that at one stage or another we had to move,’ says Tom.
And in August they made the move and sold their property to First Wessex. They are now renting a brand new two-bedroom property, paying £352 a month to First Wessex.
‘It was strange,’ says Heather, remembering the first few days in their new home.
‘I felt a bit like fish out of water. I was pleased I had a nice brand new house but I couldn’t get my furniture how I wanted it. But I have got used to it now.’
And Tom has no doubt that the project will make a huge difference to the area.
‘I think it will improve it, especially with other amenities coming in and a supermarket,’ he says.
‘There is plenty of stuff for youngsters to do as well. I think this sort of thing should be happening all over the country. There are more areas that need regeneration.’
He adds: ‘I think it will do wonders for Rowner. I have never understood why people would say ‘‘oh, you live in Rowner’’. There is nothing wrong with Rowner apart from a reputation which only a few people have given it.’
ROWNER REGENERATION PROJECT
The project is made up of five members: First Wessex, Gosport Borough Council, Hampshire County Council, the Homes and Communities agency and Taylor Wimpey UK Ltd.
Phase one delivers 125 affordable homes and 94 private homes.
Phase two includes 101 new apartments, a residential tower, a Tesco supermarket and three smaller retail units which will bring jobs to the area.
This will see 20 affordable homes and 81 private homes, which should be completed by mid-2013.
Further phases are planned and the project is expected to be completed by 2017 or 2018.
A total of 507 homes will have been demolished by the time the project is finished, with 700 new homes built.