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Rise in homeless blamed on project.

Byline: By Paul James

A flagshippounds 73m Government housing project is backfiring and triggering a shock rise in homelessness in the North, campaigners claim today.

New figures reveal the number of homeless people in the region has almost doubled in the past six years ( the highest rise in the country.

In a damning report, homeless charity Shelter blames the Pathfinder scheme, designed to regenerate parts of Newcastle and Gateshead, for adding to the problem.

Charity directors say the project, funded by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, is merely filling the pockets of property speculators and adding to the problems faced by the region's first-time buyers.

It is calling for an urgent review of the two-year-old policy, which it claims is already out of date and based on the belief there is low demand for homes in the North.

The report reveals the 1998 figure of 4,850 homeless people in the North-East has shot up to 8,350 this year ( an increase of 91pc.

But Mr Prescott's office last night claimed the charity's report was "misleading and inaccurate".

The Bridging NewcastleGateshead programme has already demolished and improved hundreds of properties on Tyneside.

Shelter director Adam Sampson said: "Although we support the aims of the Pathfinder programme, Shelter has grave concerns about the costs of their success in fuelling price rises.

"With rapidly rising levels of homelessness, an urgent review is needed to prevent money that has been intended to regenerate areas for the benefit of local people effectively ending up in pockets of speculators."

Bridging NewcastleGateshead is one of nine housing market renewal Pathfinders set up by the Government to tackle "low demand housing."

It includes areas such as Byker, Fenham and Kenton in Newcastle, and Bensham, Saltwell and High Fell in Gateshead.

But investors and buy-to-let agents have already spotted opportunities and have begun picking up homes in those areas.

The region's rising housing market has seen flats in areas such as Bensham, Gateshead, quadruple in the past six years from pounds 20,000 to pounds 80,000.

Dan Lockhart, residential valuer for Sarah Mains, said: "There's quite a lot of buy-to-let and people buying for investments in areas where they wouldn't have touched in the past."

North-East Euro MP Martin Callanan said: "This is another example of this Government wasting an appalling amount of public investment, and another example of John Prescott's incompetence."

Greg Stone, Newcastle councillor for development and regeneration, said house price rises and the loss of public sector housing was at the heart of the homeless problem, not the Pathfinder scheme.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 10, 2004
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