Flats at 50p are drawing crowds

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The Independent Online
THE ESTATE has been hit by riots and housing blight and it is notorious for vandalism and crime. None of this, however, has deterred more than 4,000 people who have inquired about flats for sale in Benwell, Newcastle, after the council offered the properties for just 50p each.

The sale of 10 flats in Hampstead Road for conversion into family homes prompted a flood of inquiries. Since Newcastle City Council put the properties on the market a fortnight ago the housing department has been swamped with potential buyers. More than 4,000 people jammed the switchboard and at least 100 signed up to view, putting demand on a par with the South-east where 11 buyers are chasing each London home on the market, according to a recent survey.

But the flats have remained unsold, probably due to stringent conditions imposed on potential purchasers. Buyers will have to take two flats for a total of pounds 1 and be prepared to contribute at least pounds 12,000 towards renovation. They will be eligible for up to pounds 25,000 in conversion grants from the city, which is hoping to kick start the area's housing market.

Among those with serious intentions, according to a council spokeswoman, are a London-based web page designer who is trying to escape the housing boom of the South-east and a Yorkshire businessman looking to relocate his upholstery business. "There is a careful assessment procedure to weed out those who are intending to make a fast buck. We want people to actually live there and help improve the integrity of the area," she said.

But the scheme has been criticised by some as a gimmick that will not provide an answer to the problems of void housing and inner city regeneration. The Chartered Institute of Housing is one critic. A spokesman said: "It all sounds well and good on the surface but it does not address the issue of regeneration in areas like this and it will take more than some enthusiastic DIY."