Friday, 3 June 2011

Camelot to the Rescue

Madryn Street even in its tinned-up state is strangely beautiful. We arrived there on a cloudy June morning. The pavement was overgrown with weeds but the fine street trees and simple but elegant houses showed this was once a dignified neighbourhood. No.21 has a rebuilt front and prior to purchase it had been targeted by vandals - windows were smashed and the door was kicked in, an inevitable result of its isolated position. 

Thankfully, I was accompanied on this first visit by Tony Brennan of Camelot and his assistant Paul. Camelot is a property management company with a difference. It specialises in finding guardians for empty buildings, people who will inhabit and look after places until a long term use can be found. They will consider guardians for virtually any property and, to my amazement, Tony was not put off in the slightest by the sad condition of No.21. The front door was barricaded and the house full of black bags of rubbish, and there was a strong smell of gas. Paul dealt with the front door, whilst Tony called the gas board, and contacted both house clearance company and his friendly firm of builders. They did a quick audit of the property and identified the minimal changes that would be needed to make it habitable (hot water heaters etc). They reckoned on recruiting two house guardians by the following week.

Paul deals with the broken door
The Madryn Street houses are deceptively large. Two rooms, plus a kitchen and bathroom on the ground floor and three bedrooms upstairs. Although the front wall had been rebuilt, good interior details survive including original joinery, staircase and plasterwork. There were no serious signs of structural weakness and (although the back bedroom was a little damp) no leaks. 

I left Tony and Paul to it, taking time to look at the other houses in the street. I noticed that the roofs of many of them had been renewed recently - probably just before the houses were condemned. I walked round the corner to Kelvin Grove, another street earmarked for clearance (but with only one side of it falling inside the demolition zone) with fine 3-storey, bay-fronted Victorian houses. It was tragic to see such superior housing stock tinned up and stripped of exterior detailing. These houses have a value of £120k-plus but they are still destined for landfill. Welcome to the insane world of Pathfinder.

From there I walked towards the centre of town along the majestic Princes Avenue (listed buildings and a conservation area). Occasionally, I glimpsed streets of boarded up and demolished houses behind - as if the grand avenue was a stage set just one house deep. As ever I was left wondering why, if we could get 21 Madryn Street improved and inhabited for the price of a second hand car, thousands of other properties in post-Pathfinder Liverpool were still being left to rot. Housing waiting lists in the city have doubled in the last 5 years and yet the council is still flattening excellent housing stock.

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