WORK has finally started on the multi-million pound transformation of the rundown Blacon Parade.
As long as a decade ago Blacon was included in the Neighbourhood Management Pathfinder programme, a government-backed scheme to improve deprived communities.
Redeveloping the Parade area was an integral part of the plan and English Partnerships allocated funding for the ambitious scheme.
But the project stalled during the economic downturn and English Partnerships was replaced by the Homes and Communities Agency, which was unwilling to provide the money.
There were fears the redevelopment would never materialise, but project leaders secured European Union funding and the long-awaited transformation has now become a reality.
Dilapidated buildings will be demolished to make way for new homes, shops, community buildings and a health centre.
A special ceremony was held yesterday to mark the start of the £18m project with the Lord Mayor of Chester, Jill Houlbrook, leading the celebrations.
She said: “There is a massive commitment to make something special here at the Parade.”
Gus Cairns, who has lived in Blacon for 60 years, was among those who attended the landmark ceremony which saw children from The Arches Community Primary School invited to dig a sandpit to symbolise the start of building a brighter future for all.
Mr Cairns said: “This day means everything to residents in Blacon. We have waited for so many years and now the dream is a reality and Blacon is on the map.”
Sanctuary Group, which owns Chester and District Housing Trust (CDHT), will manage the redevelopment alongside Western Cheshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) and Cheshire West and Cheshire Council (CWaC).
Andy Williams, CDHT head of housing operations, said: “This is a special day for Blacon and exciting times are afoot.”
Cllr Reggie Jones, who represents Blacon on |CWaC), said: “This is the start of endless opportunities and is about creating a positive impression of the Blacon community.
“Residents and agencies have worked tirelessly for many years to make the Parade redevelopment a reality. Over the next two years we will see a great transformation.”
More than 60 new affordable homes will be built and a market square will be created while the shops and homes that are being retained will be improved.
Ian McDermott, Sanctuary Group chief executive, said: “This ceremony represents the start of work on a much longed-for facility and the fact it is a reality is a testament to the residents and agencies who have worked so tirelessly.”
The redevelopment aims to breathe new life into Blacon, improving health, welfare, living standards, education and employment opportunities for its 16,000 residents and improving prospects for businesses.
The scheme will have a phased completion, with the housing due to be ready in March, 2015 and the whole project being completed in October, 2015.
Regeneration experts Urban Hope, a subsidiary company of Liverpool Hope University, have been heavily involved with the project, having overseen the transformation of deprived areas of Liverpool.
Dr Martin Carey, chief executive of Urban Hope, said: “This is a brilliant project and will undoubtedly make a massive difference.”