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Tear down these flats and you'll rip the heart out of Hillfields; A PLAN TO DEMOLISH EIGHT BLOCKS OF HIGH RISE FLATS HAS BEEN CONDEMNED BY PEOPLE LIVING THERE, WHO SAY IT WILL WRECK THEIR CLOSE COMMUNITY.

Byline: SAMANTHA CLARKE

A HILLFIELDS woman whose home will be reduced to rubble as part of plans to demolish eight high-rise blocks of flats said the move would 'rip the heart out of the Hillfields community'.

Grandmother Dorothy Senior spoke out after Whitefriars Housing Group announced it was demolishing eight of the 12 blocks of flats which have stood in the area since the early 1960s.

The company said it was demolishing the flats to pave the way for high- quality homes for its tenants. The blocks set to be demolished are Joseph Halpin, Michel, Pearl Hyde, Phoenix, Selina Dix, Stevens, Unity and Thomas King houses. Residents have been told they will be demolished within two to three years.

Mrs Senior has lived on the third floor of Joseph Halpin House for more than 20 years.

She said: "I am still stunned by this news, and deeply saddened. Whitefriars must have known about this before they took over 18 months or two years ago. I do not believe this decision has just come out of the blue.

"These are peoples' homes we are talking about. It affects their whole lives. It is just not on." Mrs Senior added: "Where I live is central to everything. It is a nice two-bedroom flat.

"What are they going to offer me in return? And where are they going to put me? The residents in these flats are a community in their own right. They are ripping the heart out of the Hillfields community. It is devastating."

Maureen Walsh, aged 49, of Pearl Hyde House, has lived in her flat for 13 years. She said she was disgusted with Whitefriars' decision.

"It is absolutely terrible," she said. "Only six or seven months ago Whitefriars said they would do up my flat and they have not done anything at all yet.

"I have put up with a leaking pipe in the toilet for more than a year and that has not been fixed. They said I could have a new kitchen which I'm still waiting for six months later. It is obviously to do with this demolition scheme.

"This is dreadful news, and my neighbours feel the same. It is absolutely disgusting."

Harry Millard, aged 68, has lived in Pioneer House since 1977. The block has not been scheduled for demolition but Mr Millard said he believed it was just a matter of time.

He said: "I am not surprised at Whitefriars' decision and as far as I'm concerned, as long as they find everyone somewhere to live - somewhere better - it wouldn't be a problem."

Dee Kirk, aged 33, lives in Pioneer House with her partner. The couple are expecting their first child in the new year.

They were hoping to move to a larger flat later this year. Miss Kirk said they didn't want to move from the estate, but now they may be forced to.

She said: "We are living in a one-bedroom flat but we really need two bedrooms. We were looking at moving to Pearl Hyde or Michel. Now we may have to move from the area altogether, which we are not happy about."

Decision has been on the cards

COUNCILLORS and tenants' representatives have also reacted angrily to the news of the demise of the tower blocks.

Cllr Rob Windsor, (Socialist, St Michael's), lived in Michel House for seven years. He said he was fuming.

"Hillfields used to be one of those places where people said they didn't want to live. But I lived in one of these flats for seven years and I really enjoyed the time I spent here," he said. "It is close to the city centre, it has its own little community, it is an ideal place to live."

Michael Gilday, secretary of the Hillfields 12 Tenants' Association, said he believed Whitefriars' decision had been on the cards for a long time.

He said: "Whitefriars have not been making an effort with the flats they have let out to people. We suggested to them that they should make an effort, saying they would get more of a response, but it's like they didn't want to let them out.

"Then we find out that these demolitions are going ahead. We just wish they had been honest from the start.

"A lot of these residents have been living here for 30 years and this is a massive wrench for them."

Mr Gilday said members of the 12 Tenants Association were to meet with the tenants to find out what they wanted to do. He said: "We will be canvassing them and if they want us to fight this then we will."

Farid Noor, chairman of WATCH - Working Actively to Change Hillfields - said the news was devastating.

Mr Noor said the group had invested more than pounds 1 million into the estate's concierge scheme. He said the money could have been better spent elsewhere, and the demolition would mean the loss of more than 30 jobs for people who worked on the scheme.

He said: "Had we known what would have happened, we wouldn't have invested that pounds 1 million. I just hope we get something good out of this, like affordable homes for future generations."

Traders concerned over disruption

NEWS that eight of the 12 blocks of flats in Hillfields are set to be demolished has prompted mixed reactions from traders in the area.

Babu Garala, postmaster of Hillfields Post Office, said he believed it could be good for the area, although he was expecting business to suffer while the work took place.

He said: "There should have been a policy with regard to these flats years ago, instead of saying now that they are surplus to requirements.

"There will be a lot of disruption in the area, but it might be good for us once it picks up again.

"The fact that the work will take some time is quite worrying because we will suffer disruption, but the post office is at the heart of this community and I think once the work is over we will be back to normal."

Surjit Bala, who owns K S Fashions, said: "We have been here for 17 years and have built up some loyal custom.

"We do get a lot of trade from people who are just passing through but I know a lot of our customers who have been coming to us for years live in those flats.

"Although I know we will lose customers, I'm not sure how much we will be affected, and that in itself is extremely worrying."

'Single people will be easy to move'

MORE than 450 tenants are set to be re-homed as part of Whitefriars' demolition programme.

The re-homing programme is set to start within the next four weeks and Whitefriars Homes' bosses say it will be completed within a year.

Whitefriars executive director Alison Hadden said: "The vast majority of our tenants are single. A lot are asylum seekers, and many are pensioners, or people who live on their own.

"Less than 10 per cent of our tenants in those flats have families, so they will be easy to re-house.

"The refurbishments will start next month, and once they are complete, we can move the tenants straight in. Unless they want to move out of the area, we expect all the tenants will be able to stay in the four remaining blocks of flats."

Most tenants found out about the demolition when a Whitefriars' newsletter was delivered on Friday night.

CAPTION(S):

HONEST: Michael Gilday; FRONT PAGE NEWS: How we broke the story on Saturday; STUNNED: Dorothy Senior has lived in the flats for 20 years; NO SHOCK: Harry Millard; DISGUST: Maureen Walsh; NOT HAPPY: Dee Kirk; WORRIED: Babu Garala, and (above) Surjit Bala
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:1293
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