19th Sep, 2018

EXCLUSIVE: Lucrative Wisteria Lodge children's home site to be sold for social housing

By Steve Chilton

THE site of Coventry children’s home Wisteria Lodge – which was demolished seven years ago and is mired by historic sex abuse allegations – is set to be sold for social housing, we can reveal.

The way is clear for the city council to sell the half-hectare plot – valued at about £1million – on the leafy fringe of upmarket Earlsdon, after years of legal wrangling over a restrictive covenant.

That issue has been resolved, the council has confirmed to us, and a ‘joint venture’ proposal agreed with Whitefriars Housing.

If the sale wins approval from cabinet leaders, it is expected Whitefriars will submit plans for up to 12 new homes, in arguably the most sought after location in the city.

The plot is bordered by private homes to the rear in Warwick Avenue costing upwards of £500,000, and front-faces Kenilworth Road spinney, part of the Styvechale Common conservation area.

Private developers were thought to be queuing up with bids in excess of £1million with the intention of building a small group of “executive-style” detached houses in the sylvan setting.

It was briefly advertised in the local press four years ago inviting offers, but was mysteriously withdrawn without explanation.

Later, it emerged that there was a covenant on the land, bought by the council in 1921 along with the rest of Styvechale Common, restricting its use to parkland.

Wisteria Cottages then stood on the site and in 1970 were demolished to make way for Wisteria Lodge.

How the lodge slipped past the covenant has never been officially explained but it came back to haunt the council’s legal advisers when the plot was marketed for housing.

Whitefriars, a not-for-profit social housing provider, took over all Coventry’s ‘council house’ stock 18 years ago and is now landlord of more than 30,000 homes across the West Midlands.

As well as managing existing housing stock including the city’s tower blocks, it develops new estates offering rental or shared ownership options to help people get on the property ladder.

A council spokesman said: “The site does form part of a Whitefriars Joint Venture – between Whitefriars and the council. The covenant issue has been resolved.

“The next step is to take a report to Cabinet (acting in its capacity as charitable trustee) to authorise the sale of the land.”

Two years ago, in a report to the council’s cabinet, the likelihood of a deal with Whitefriars and its implications was explained.

It said: “Whitefriars will enter into an option agreement for the relevant site and thereafter submit a planning application. The market value of the land is to be agreed and established by the District Valuer.

“Completion of the sale of the land will generally be conditional on the grant of planning permission however with the disposal of Wisteria Lodge it has been agreed to defer the capital receipt until the homes have been sold.”

A spokeswoman for Whitefriars declined to comment on the proposal.

*The former home has been in the headlines recently over allegations of historical abuse relating to 15 children between 1981 and 1997.

Seven men are on bail waiting to appear Warwick Crown Court on November 23 accused of causing physical harm or sexual abuse. An eighth man faces charges including child rape and three indecent assaults.

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