Mayor of Ashford Cllr Callum Knowles joins Cllr Bill Barrett far right head of housing Sharon Williams 4th left and other officers outside the town centre development

Ashford Borough Council has officially opened Somerset Heights and Stour Heights comprising 109 quality apartments in the heart of Ashford town centre. A large proportion of the lettings have been allocated to keyworkers, honouring a pledge made when the authority acquired the homes from developer Dukelease last autumn.

When the council announced the deal to buy the New Quarter, as it was then called, the £18.5m investment represented the largest ever handover of general needs accommodation to be managed on one site by the council.

The mix of one and two-bedroom open-plan apartments are contained in two blocks built either side of the Panorama building. Stour Heights has 65 homes over five floors and Somerset Heights is split over three floors with 44 homes. Work on Somerset Heights was completed at the end of last year, while Stour Heights was completed this summer and the first tenants have moved in.

In a notable first for the authority, a priority lettings scheme was devised to provide affordable rented accommodation to key workers that have an identified housing need.

The addition of the new homes is also freeing up existing homes through transfers of keyworkers and, where possible, provides vacant units in which to house those in temporary accommodation, or from the housing waiting list.

The acquisition has been an opportunity for the council to deliver on its programme of growing its Housing Revenue Account (HRA) stock amid high pressure for more affordable housing.

Cutting a ribbon to officially the scheme, Mayor of Ashford, Cllr Callum Knowles, said: “Nowhere is the council’s commitment to investing in the futures of our local communities more apparent than in our Housing department. They are leading the way in Kent when it comes to providing more quality social housing for residents.

“I am especially pleased to see that a core aim has been to provide affordable rented accommodation to key workers that have an identified housing need. Prioritising lettings to men and women who have been on the front line during the pandemic is the right thing to do and it’s wonderful to learn that a large percentage of the tenants who have moved in are key workers.

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By Ed

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