Mayor defends pilot scheme

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HARTLEPOOL Mayor Stuart Drummond has moved to reassure residents that the council is not “chucking” money away on a pilot scheme to transform a problem street.

Hartlepool Borough Council wants to revamp Baden Street, off Elwick Road, by offering incentives to landlords to improve their properties and tackle the problem of empty homes.

The phased scheme could cost up to £500,000. But the council currently has an allocated budget of just £160,000.

The package includes a £110,000 landlord incentive scheme offering owners of empty houses the chance to apply for up to £5,000 to improve their properties and attract new tenants.

Mayor Drummond spoke out to dispel fears that the council would be lining the pockets of private landlords as he said it would be a loan and not a grant.

Speaking at a meeting of the cabinet committee, Mayor Drummond, said: “This is not about us chucking money away.

“Most of the landlords are supportive of the idea and quite happy to put their own money in as long as we can offer some sort of support.

“It needs to be a carrot and stick approach. Of the £160,000, most of that can be recouped through the loan system.

“The perception has been quite negative, but this is an extremely positive step towards improving an area which has fallen into decline in recent years.”

He added: “The key aspect is to bring the empty properties back into use at the very lowest cost possible.”

The street has recently become a target for thieves, vandals and arsonists.

Of the 45 houses in the street, 22 of them are currently empty and the vast majority are currently owned by private landlords.

Labour councillor Ged Hall, who represents the Burn Valley ward, said: “There has been feedback from people that has been very positive, but there are also people that are not supportive.

“I fully support that it should be a loan rather than grant arrangement.”

The pilot scheme could also include more support for tenants and a permanent police or security presence on the street costing in the region of £25,000.

There is also the potential for grants or loans worth £5,000 to improve those properties with existing tenants, at a cost of £105,000.

Meanwhile, a further £200,000 could be spent on improving the road layout and pedestrian access, subject to funding.

The total cost of the scheme could be as much as £465,000, although officers have stressed that is a “ball park” figure.

Landlords are currently being encouraged to sign up, while detailed property surveys are also being carried out.

Council officers have previously said that they are determined to improve the street and will tackle landlords who do not co-operate and tenants who cause anti-social behaviour.

If necessary, the council has the power to use compulsory purchase orders and empty dwelling management orders to take over problem houses.