'Nowhere else is there a view like that' - looking back at Portsmouth's condemned tower blocks

'I THOUGHT the view was fantastic, it completely sold it for me' - a former resident of one of the city's condemned tower blocks said he had been 'sad' to leave his home but was hopeful for the future of the site.

Saturday, 12th October 2019, 1:00 pm

Ex-taxi driver Peter Burton remembered his first impression of the two-bedroom flat on the 16th floor of Horatia House in Somers Town that would be his home for seven years.

'I was 16 storeys up, overlooking the Spinnaker Tower and I thought nowhere else is there a view like that,' he said.

'I'm glad I lived there, I did have some really happy times there.

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Leamington House and Horatia House (left), Councillor Cal Corkery (top) and former resident Peter Burton (bottom)

'I do miss it. When I first went to see the flat I thought the view was fantastic, it completely sold it for me.'

The 64-year-old lived there with his partner Jane and son Casey before being told in June 2018 that there were weaknesses in Horatia's concrete and every resident would need to be evacuated. The same was true for its sister tower, Leamington House, and a total of 272 households needed to leave both blocks.

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Peter said: 'I wasn't surprised because I thought they had been run down for a couple of years. The blocks had been there since the 60s, they weren't going to last forever. I'm glad the council found there was a problem when they did.'

Leamington House and Horatia House aerials

Peter and his family were found a new flat two months later, in Hornbeam House in Ivy Close.

The 'brand spanking new' ground floor flat was perhaps better suited to Peter at this time since a condition he had lived with for 20 years - neuropathy - meant he had started using a wheelchair.

'I was a little bit upset and sad to be leaving,' he said.

'I thought we won't get a view like that again and we had friendly neighbours.

'But the council has put us in a beautiful brand spanking new flat. And there are a few ex-Horatia and Leamington residents in my road.'

Peter was one of the 655 people and groups who responded to a recent council survey about how the area should be redeveloped when the two towers are deconstructed.

Among the feedback many were keen that social housing was provided on the site as well as green spaces and better parking facilities.

He said: 'I am all for making sure there is social housing. I would like to see four blocks that are eight storeys high on the site and green spaces. Green spaces outside would be good for the parents so they could let their children play there.'

Resident Sue Broughton, 62, who lives in nearby Edgbaston House in Sedgley Close also attended a public event to find out more about the future of the area. She was keen that the council take on board comments from the public. 'I don't want it to happen that we tell them (the council) our views and they just go ahead and do whatever without listening,' she said.

'I think we should have one block for older people, one for younger people and one for families. In our building we have a mix but I think it would work better separated.'

Labour housing activist, Councillor Cal Corkery, agreed. He said: 'One of the key things that I hear from a lot of people is that they want to feel involved and actually listened to, rather than just consulted on and then that feedback may or may not be used.

'In other places there have been design panels where residents can sit with architects and councillors.

'My main point is it should be 100 per cent social housing, so we'll see when it comes to it. That should be the starting point because we have people on the housing waiting list who can't afford to live anywhere else.'

More detailed public consultation events will run next year based on residents' feedback.

A history of Leamington and Horatia House

Following the Grenfell fire tragedy in June 2017 Portsmouth City Council began work to remove cladding from the blocks. They were found to be two of 158 social housing buildings across the country that failed cladding safety tests.

The cost of removing and replacing the cladding was estimated to cost about£10m in total, which central government had pledged to cover.

Almost exactly a year later structural reports on both the buildings, which were built in 1965, unveiled weaknesses in the concrete used to construct them. This cast doubts over the high-rises’ ability to absorb shock from a major incident like a gas explosion.

In June 2018 the council made the decision to evacuate all 800 residents of the towers. The process saw people moved into other social housing stock owned by the council across the city and in Leigh Park. As part of the decision, all tenants were entitled to a home-loss payment of £6,100 per household, at a cost of £1,653,100 to the council.

All 272 households have now been re-homed.

In February 2019 a decision was made to deconstruct the towers as the estimated cost for repairs was £86m. Proposals were made to replace them with at least 272 new social homes.

A consultation launched in June this year, asking nearby residents, charities, businesses and organisations about how the site should be redeveloped.

That feedback has now been processed and made public.

What happens next

Now the results of the public survey have been processed a more detailed consultation will run at the start of next year, which will include different options for the land.

Further feedback will be gathered from this to allow the council to consider the best use of the site.

Deconstruction of the towers is planned to start in the middle of next year and is predicted to take 18 months.

The blocks will be deconstructed rather than demolished due to their proximity to other buildings and roads. It is not considered safe to knock them down. As part of the deconstruction process they will be taken apart in the same order they were put up. It is thought this will cost up to £6m.

Once the towers have been deconstructed the land can be redeveloped. The council has pledged 'at least' 272 social homes on the site.

A budget has not been set for the redevelopment.