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Remaining empty Howe Barracks homes in Canterbury snapped by London borough

By Gerry Warren

The last batch of redundant army homes at the former Howe Barracks will again go to London families, KentOnline can exclusively reveal.

The news marks another blow to the city council, which previously lost out in a bidding battle with Redbridge Borough Council but still hoped to secure the remaining 32 empty properties in Sobraon Way for local tenants.

But it has now emerged the London borough - which outbid Canterbury for the major allocation of almost 150 homes in 2016 - also had 'first refusal' on the houses.

Boarded up former Army homes in Sobraon Way, Canterbury (8112226)
Boarded up former Army homes in Sobraon Way, Canterbury (8112226)

They have now been handed back by Ministry of Defence to property giants Annington, which says Redbridge has decided to lease them.

The scandal of the abandoned and vandalised properties, some of which have been unoccupied for almost five years, was first highlighted by the Kentish Gazette in October last year.

City council bosses were furious they had been left empty for so long when there are more than 2,500 people on the authority's housing waiting list.

Leader Cllr Simon Cook even accused the MoD of “utterly negligent behaviour” because of the delay in getting the much-needed homes back into use for desperate families.

The street's abandoned state was revealed in October

In January, he said the authority was anxious to do a deal with Annington but yesterday admitted he was unaware that Redbridge had first option on the remaining houses under the terms of the original contract struck with the borough in 2016.

"It is very disappointing but I personally didn't know that Redbridge had first call on them and if that is the case, there is nothing we can do about it," he said.

"I'm surprised Annington didn't mention it to us but it may have been commercially sensitive.

"We did put pressure on the MoD to release these homes because it was unacceptable they had been empty for so long.

"Obviously, we would have loved to have had them for our own tenants but at least they will now be put to use for other families."

The empty homes and street had become a target for vandals and flytippers (7275358)
The empty homes and street had become a target for vandals and flytippers (7275358)

But Cllr Cook insists the council is doing all it can to create new social housing.

"We have an ongoing process to look at every scrap of land in our ownership to see if it can be used for new council housing and I am very confident that will start to deliver more homes for families in the near future," he said.

In a statement issued yesterday, an Annington spokesman said: "Under the terms of the 2016 contract, Redbridge had first refusal over further homes released at Howe Barracks, and last week informed us that it wanted to exercise this right over these 32 homes.

"These homes, many of which have been empty since 2014, will be returned by the MOD this week.

"They will be refurbished by Annington and leased to Redbridge, enabling new families to move in as soon as possible.

"We are pleased that these semi-derelict homes are being returned to use."

It is expected the bill to refurbish the properties will run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Derelect and damaged homes in Sobraon way (8112229)
Derelect and damaged homes in Sobraon way (8112229)

City council spokesman Leo Whitlock added: "When the council criticised the Ministry of Defence in October last year, we were negotiating directly with them.

"At the same time, we had signalled our interest in the properties to Annington itself should the MOD ever hand them back and they would then become available for us to use.

"We only discovered this week that Redbridge had first refusal and have since been pressing for a decision either way as our interest in using those homes to house local people had not waned."

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

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