Success on land and sea

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IT’S always nice to get a bit of good news in these times of constant doom and gloom and in the last week Hartlepool has received two great pieces of news.

Yesterday we found out that we have been successful in our bid to the Government’s empty homes pot. We will be getting nearly £2.7m from the total pot of £145m which is entirely the amount we bid for.

The quality of our bid and the fact that we have an extremely robust and ambitious empty homes strategy and can show that it is already working has led to our success and I’m delighted that it will now give us real momentum and ability to be able to bring a large number of empty properties back into use.

We have around a thousand empty houses in the town in total and this funding, along with some of our own that we have built up over the last year, will allow us to bring one hundred of these back into use.

I have written many times about how this is a priority of the council and, since the disappearance of housing market renewal schemes, we have shifted our focus into making some of our older terraced streets a desirable place to live once again.

There was a bit of criticism over our plans for Baden Street when we announced them last year and questions were asked why we should be ploughing public money into private houses when a lot of landlords should be dipping into their own pockets.

Well that actually is happening and the only amount of public money that is not potentially recoverable is around £30,000.

What has happened in Baden Street is that landlords and residents alike have started pulling in the same direction, crime and anti-social behaviour levels have dropped considerably and houses are being lived in again.

I personally think that thirty grand is a small price to pay for bringing a street back from the brink of no return.

We used this model as an example in our bid to Government of how we would look to spend the money and the fact that they have given us the most money in the North-East out of the pot shows that they have the faith in us to deliver.

There is absolutely no reason why we can’t replicate the Baden Street model in other parts of the town and really make a difference in the physical and social regeneration of communities.

There are some fabulous spin offs with our approach. Young people are being trained and skilled and given apprenticeships which in some cases is leading to full time employment.

Landlords are becoming much more cooperative. Most really want to work with the council because they will reap the benefits. Those that refuse are starting to feel the full extent of our enforcement powers.

If they do not want to play their part in improving our communities, we will make sure that they are hit in their pockets until they do.

Most importantly, residents are starting to call their house a home again. As crime and anti-social behaviour levels continue to fall, areas are once again becoming not only habitable but desirable as well.

We have only seen the tip of the iceberg with regards to success on tackling empty homes – this funding announcement will help us to make a major difference in our communities.

The other fantastic news for the town recently was winning the Event of the Year at the Visit England tourism awards for the Talls Ships races in 2010.

I am immensely proud that nearly two years later, what I called “the biggest party Hartlepool has ever seen” is still getting national well deserved national accolades.

We were up against some pretty stiff competition including the Grand National at Aintree and the International Balloon Festival in Bristol and when you consider that last year’s winner was Royal Ascot you can understand why I had a feeling that a horse-related entry might win. That wasn’t the case though and once again Hartlepool hit the headlines for the right reasons.

I was pleased to be joined at the awards ceremony by two of the guys from Sail Training International, the organisation that run the Tall Ships races.

They were keen to see Hartlepool apply to be a host port again in the future and the next opportunity we will have will possibly be in 2018.

Nothing would make me happier than to be ready to apply again in 2018 and I think we should pull out all the stops to be in a position to do so.

There are of course many unknowns at the present time not least the availability of funding. With a bit of luck, there might be some public money around that we can apply for nearer the time but, if not, we are in an extremely strong position to be able to approach potential sponsors who I’m sure would be interested in being involved in the best event in Britain.

More importantly however, we do not know what the land availability at the port will be in 2018. With a fair wind, we hope to have at least one major wind turbine manufacturer located there by then it will take a bit of planning to make space available for more than sixty ships.

As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way and following the success of 2010s event, there is certainly a will to be a host port again in the future.