Tuesday 6 December 2011

George Clarke and Channel 4 Catch Up with the Liverpool Housing Scandal

This blog has been in hibernation for a while, but our Madryn Street project is progressing well. We are currently finalising proposals to fully refurbish the SAVE house and we hope to start work early next year. Meanwhile our house guardians continue to improve the property - and seem very happy living there.

It was excellent to see the first of last night's new Channel 4 'Great British Property Scandal' series featuring plenty of footage of Madryn Street - and the Welsh Streets area in general. Click here to watch again. Tonight's episode features the SAVE house and its tenants - click here.

Politically, a lot has been happening since the late summer. While Liverpool City Council has completely failed to produce the Environmental Impact Assessment it needs to proceed with any application to demolish the Welsh Streets, the government has launched a £71m bailout fund for councils to help people stuck in Pathfinder areas. The ministerial statement from Grant Shapps is strongly worded to warn councils off using the funds for further demolition but we remain worried more destruction may follow. Knowing how determined Liverpool Council is to see the Welsh Streets bulldozed, we fear that money from the rescue fund could be used to flatten rather than refurbish these houses.

The problem, as George Clarke showed in the first episode of the new series, is that councils and housing associations in post-HMR areas have shown themselves to be incapable of initiating any refurbishment programmes. SAVE believes the only hope of breaking the cycle of neglect is for council land banks to be broken up and for selective housing stock to be disposed of to other parties - under strict conditions such as time-limits for renovation and guarantees of affordable rent.

Could the tide be turning? Make sure you join the Channel 4 campaign.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

The Map of Doom

Full consultation on demolition plans for the Welsh Streets began in winter 2003. However, it seems the demolition zones in south Liverpool had already been drawn up.

This hitherto unpublished map showing the areas of south Liverpool 'containing potential for redevelopment' was produced by the council in June 2003, presumably to cultivate developer interest. The map is crucial because it shows that the areas for demolition had been defined, before open consultation meetings took place with Welsh Streets residents. 

The areas shown in yellow are those earmarked for potential clearance. The Welsh Streets area is the rectangle of land to the west of Princes Park.

Monday 4 July 2011

Toxteth Riots - 30 Years On

Managed decline? 30 years on from the riots and these council-owned houses in Jermyn Street, Granby, remain tinned-up
Sunday's newspapers carried a number of articles reflecting on the 30th anniversary of the Toxteth riots including a hard-hitting column by Charles Clover in the Sunday Times and a moving piece by Ed Vuillamy in the Observer.

A prevailing theme of the reporting was Liverpool's failure to heal the physical wounds left by the disturbances - principally in the Victorian streets around Granby. Instead of investing in renovation and repair, the council has squandered millions of pounds acquiring, boarding up and demolishing good housing stock in preparation for redevelopment which has failed to materialise. The Vuillamy article in the Observer includes a brilliantly inciteful summary of the situation by award-winning Liverpool-born scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern:

'I'm starting to hope that it is corruption,' McGovern says of the demolitions in Toxteth and beyond. 'At least that would make sense, it would mean someone is getting something dodgy out of it. Because if it isn't corruption, it's real madness. At least corruption would provide a motive. What would be really scary would be if they really are that crap.'

But of course there's the possibility, McGovern continues, 'that this is managed decline. Any fool can see that in Kensington, the bit they 'regenerated' went to seed, while the bit they left alone just got on with its life. People come in from out of town, have their 'regeneration scheme' and fuck off with the money to spend it somewhere else.

The idea is that these areas will only succeed when the people who live here can no longer afford to live here. It all makes sense if you detach the argument from the people - but what about the people? What are you going to do with them? Well, you knock their houses down and ship 'em out.'

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Charles Clover visits Madryn Street

Charles Clover (left) in Madryn Street, with Beatles Tour guide Philip Coppell (right) and taxi driver Dave
Yesterday, Madryn Street had a visit from award winning journalist and Environment Editor for the Sunday Times, Charles Clover. Charles is one of the few broadsheet journalists to have followed the Pathfinder story from the start, questioning the aims of the programme and attacking its failures. Here are two of his key articles from 12 Oct 2007 and 21 Feb 2010.

Charles knows Liverpool well. He covered the Toxteth riots in 1981, visiting the city before and after the disturbances. This Sunday (3 July) will mark the 30th anniversary of the riots.
House guardian Leah, with Phil Coppell
On this visit Charles toured the Welsh Streets, visiting the SAVE house and meeting Leah, one of our house guardians. He also met with residents in nearby Granby and discussed the situation there. Until recently Granby was also under threat of demolition, but the council has recently called for tenders to be submitted to refurbish housing stock. Despite this apparent change of heart, the demolition of 6 large houses in the area was approved by the council just last week.

Tinned up houses in Jermyn Street, Granby. Despite the many tinned up houses, the area is still home to a thriving and proud community
Granby is home to a strong and proud community. The residents, who live in streets where many houses are still tinned-up and derelict, have 'greened' the streets with plants and flowers. They have also started a thriving street market which takes place on the first Saturday of each month.

Cairns Street, Granby where residents have 'greened' the street

Friday 24 June 2011

Let's Talk Numbers - the Huge Cost of 'Managed Decline'

Madryn Street - some of Liverpool's 2191 houses slated for demolition.
It costs as much to decommission and demolish one of these houses as it does to refurbish it.
A few figures for you - it costs Liverpool Council, on average, about £1,700 to 'tin-up' a property. In large clearance areas this means that nearly £1.5m can be spent simply on decommissioning housing stock. In figures obtained from Liverpool Council, the total cost of boarding up houses in Wavertree came to £1,719,916. In Stanley Park the figure was £1,734,524. In addition to this, demolition costs upwards of £20,000 per house, so, in one of these areas nearly £25m would be needed to empty and flatten the housing stock. Add to that the economic impact of decanting neighbourhoods. Local shops and businesses are forced to close through lack of custom, and adjacent areas are blighted by their proximity to the tinned-up or demolished streets. The greatest cost, however, is the social impact of fragmenting long-established communities.

SAVE has now had a quote for a complete renovation and eco-refit of 21 Madryn Street - £25k. This comes to about the same as tinning-up and demolition.

A recent Freedom of Information Request to the council has revealed that it is currently holding 2191 empty homes which were acquired for demolition.

Thursday 23 June 2011

'These are Lovely Houses'

The bedroom at No.21, with boards exposed and walls painted
SAVE visited No.21 today and met Chris, one of our two house guardians. He and his partner, Leah, have already started to transform the place  - stripping wallpaper, painting rooms and varnishing some of the excellent wooden floors. Chris, soft-spoken and thoughtul, was clearly enjoying the project. 'These are lovely houses' he told me.

Seeing what Camelot and the house guardians had achieved in just 3 weeks, the council's deliberate neglect of the hundreds of other tinned-up houses in the street appears all the more shameful. With a modest cash injection - a fraction of the cost of demolition - every one of these properties could be returned to a habitable condition. But the council is not interested in the houses, just the land, even though its developer partner is no longer interested in building new houses. The power, and money, now rests with the Housing Association Plus Dane. Plus Dane is a a Registered Social Landlord (RSL) which owns many of the houses in the Welsh Streets area and stands to benefit from rebuilding. Although it receives millions of pounds of public subsidy from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) it is, like all RSLs completely unaccountable. Since 2005 it has openly colluded with the council in emptying and boarding up properties, instigating blight and contravening its own code of conduct as a registered social landlord - in order to prepare the area for clearance.
Home improvements: within a few weeks our house guardians have carried out more renovation work in the Madryn Street than the council has managed in 5 years, despite millions of pounds of HMR subsidy.

A glimpse through the grilles over the windows of adjacent properties is enough to see the potential of these buildings - stained glass in rear doorways, spacious rooms with simple but well detailed plasterwork and joinery. Thousands of similar houses across Liverpool have already been destroyed under Pathfinder schemes. In many cases their materials are 'harvested' by builders to supply reclamation yards in the south, with some of it used, no doubt, to furnish terraced houses of a similar size in Fulham or Battersea which now sell for millions of pounds.

A shameful waste: houses in Madryn Street boarded up and left to rot in the midst of a housing crisis

The Camelot team in front of No.21

Friday 17 June 2011

New Blow to Welsh Streets Demolition Plans

More good news today. The Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, has responded to a request by SAVE and ruled that demolition plans for Madryn Street and the other Welsh Streets should be subject to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The council will now be required to submit a new, full, planning application for demolition. Permitted development rights - which the council was using to fast-track demolition - have been suspended and the controversial plans will now be subject to the full scrutiny of the EIA process. Most importantly, the council will now be required to properly examine alternatives to demolition, including renovation and refurbishment, something that it has so far refused to do. With permitted development rights suspended under EIA, it will be possible for local people and other objectors to scrutinise plans and to challenge the principle of demolition, rather than simply the method of demolition.
This is a massively important decision which could spell the end of fast-tracked mass demolitions. At last, Liverpool Council’s draconian approach to flattening neighbourhoods without full planning scrutiny, has been challenged. This will finally force the council to look at alternatives to demolition and we hope that this will open the way for individuals, housing co-ops and developers to take on and renovate these houses and reverse years of council-sponsored decline.
In a press statement, planning specialist and Pathfinder resident Jonathan Brown added this: ‘It has been obscene to see authorities acquire, evict, devalue and demolish thousands of Victorian terraced houses without even submitting a full planning application, simply so the land they stand on can be handed to development driven quangos for private profit.

For the sake of over twenty thousand people on Liverpool's waiting list, and millions more in acute housing need across Britain, we must hope this drives away the long shadow cast by the great housing market renewal scandal, and will lead to the renovation of thousands of good, solid Victorian terraces written-off by Pathfinder as obsolete.'