Row deepens over move to evacuate Portsmouth tower blocks which may put future council homes at risk

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KEY city regeneration plans won’t be jeopardised by a bill to fix two unsafe tower blocks – but efforts to build new council houses will be hit.

Those are the claims as a political row between city Tories and Lib Dems deepens following the move to evacuate 800 people from Leamington House and Horatia House.

Leamington House in Portsmouth

Leamington House in Portsmouth

Experts concluded the Somers Town buildings suffered from weak concrete that could put lives at risk if a gas explosion were to occur.

Based on this warning, Portsmouth City Council’s Lib Dems decided to begin an evacuation of the ageing high-rises to allow workers to strengthen the buildings.

But Conservative chiefs have said the move was ‘rushed’ and could cost £35m, potentially threatening regeneration plans like the £60m city centre road.

Councillor Luke Stubbs, the Tory’s housing boss, said the costs would be ‘astronomical’, adding: ‘Every major project in the city is now at risk.’

Cllr Darren Sanders, the city’s housing leader, said the repair cash would never come from regeneration budgets.

He insisted the £35m cost figure was wrong, claiming he had been briefed on a sum that was ‘considerably less’, although he failed to reveal what this was to The News.

He said: ‘Although it is far too early to provide any detailed figures about how much the work will cost, the indicative figures we have seen would cost the council considerably less than the £35m mentioned by Cllr Stubbs.’

Asked if the council would have to take cash from other projects to fund the repairs, Cllr Sanders said ‘no’, adding: ‘As with the decladding last year, we will be talking to government about recovering all costs for this work.’

Doubt was last night cast on whether Whitehall would stump up the cash to fix the buildings, with a source telling The News it was unlikely.

Portsmouth does have a £44.4m pot called the housing revenue account that is used to pay for repairs to the city’s 15,000 council-owned homes.

On top of this, the council holds a reserve of £17.5m to support future years’ budgets which can guard against any unforeseen events across the city’s £115m housing budget.

Cllr Sanders said this account is where the money would come from to fix the flats if Whitehall doesn’t help.

But Tory boss Donna Jones feared if the cash is taken from this, plans to build new council houses would grind to a halt.

‘It this does happen, the Liberal Democrats will end plans to build new council houses in the city for a decade’, she insisted. ‘This would be an absolute travesty, it’s completely wrong.

‘This was a poor decision, taken in haste, without knowing what the costs were.’

Council boss Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson conceded it was ‘inevitable’ an impact would be had on the city’s future council housing.

But he said: ‘Cllr Jones is right, you can’t spend money twice. It’s inevitable if you spend on one thing you can’t spend it somewhere else.

‘But she is wrong to say we should just ignore the risk when we know there is one.

‘If we can learn anything from Grenfell it’s that when you know there’s a risk, and a risk that you can reduce, you need to take action.

‘We cannot look at Grenfell and leave residents in a building where we know there’s a risk without taking action.’

The evacuations will continue until spring 2019.

when repairs will begin.