Many thanks to Sylvia at HOMES UNDER THREAT for the following update:I SEE A WHITE FLAG ON THE MINISTER’S HOUSING BULLDOZER Charles Clover, Sunday Times, 28th October 2012
If your faith in this government has been knocked, prepare for it to be knocked again. For I can reveal that another legal shambles, not so very different from the West Coast main line fiasco, is slouching towards a denouement. Let’s call it Pathfindershambles, or housingshambles. I have picked up signals that the government’s defence is on its knees in a High Court action in which it has been, incredibly, defending Labour’s discredited Pathfinder regeneration scheme to demolish perfectly good homes in northern cities.
Grant Shapps, now Tory party chairman but then housing minister, told the Commons last year that he had killed off Pathfinder. But, inadvertently, he has let the scheme go on. A small charity that claims Shapps and Eric Pickles, the community secretary, acted incompetently and unlawfully appears to be gaining the upper hand in the court case. This was a ministerial decision and someone should resign. You may not hear calls for this from either government or opposition benches, because both are deeply compromised.
The Pathfinder programme, devised for John Prescott by Professor Brendan Nevin, was meant to address the supposedly inevitable emptying of great northern cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, which would lead to derelict boarded-up terraces. Final proof that Nevin got the trends wrong came last summer when census returns revealed that these cities have been growing for the first time since 1945. Liverpool’s population is up 5.5% and Manchester’s has risen 19% since 2001.
Pathfinders advocates asserted that the market had failed and housing was in over-supply, so what was needed was fewer, better homes. People were told they would see a transformation. What happened was that buildings were bulldozed, neighbourhoods torn apart and families trapped in abandoned streets.
Shapps admitted the policy’s failure in the Commons on November 24th last year. He also criticised the demonisation of the traditional British terrace by the previous government. He identified the perverse incentive for councils and housing associations to run down areas to build up land-banks they could hand over to their developer cronies, causing enormous damage to our heritage. He told the Commons he was ending Whitehall’s obsession with demolition, taking steps to refurbish empty homes and winding up Pathfinder.
Then Shapps did something astonishing. He signed off a further £35m of his department’s money, which brought into play £35m of council money – apparently without reading the small print of what this proposed “exit strategy” entailed: the destruction of 5,000 additional homes and the continuation of the most controversial, locally opposed, schemes: in the Klondyke area of Bootle, and the Welsh Streets of Liverpool. When the charity, SAVE Britain’s Heritage objected, Shapps and his officials said that, while technically unlawful as Shapps had not been informed of the demolition proposals, their decision could not be quashed as the state has no power to demand repayment from councils. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them not to send the cheque. Then Shapps organised a photo opportunity to say he had saved Ringo Starr’s birthplace, one of 16 homes saved out of 400 perfectly good terraces that will be knocked down.
So the zombie policy, Pathfinder, staggered on, evicting old ladies from homes in which they were born and blighting half empty terraces that might otherwise have found buyers. All a department spokesman would tell me on Friday was “We are not yet in a position to confirm whether we are, or we are not, going ahead with [defending --> this case.” Privately I gather the department’s defence is suffering.
Why did Pickles authorise spending taxpayers’ money on fighting a court case about upholding his department’s promises to parliament? What does this case say about Shapps fitness to be party chairman, already damaged by the disclosure that he has used a pseudonym to conduct business affairs? Why did Shapps and Pickles send the television architect, George Clarke to try and save the Welsh Streets only for him to be strung along by cynical housing association apparatchiks?
Ministers alas have no idea what to do about Prescott’s baleful legacy of derelict streets, in which many vulnerable people still live. David Cameron went to Pathfinder areas in opposition and said he was baffled by the policy. What has he done? George Osborne, the Chancellor, says housing and growth are priorities, so why is he spending a penny of our money knocking down houses and not bashing his opponent Ed Balls for his disgraceful part in wasting £2.2 billion on Pathfinder? Brave local groups have devised private finance schemes and alternative designs that would refurbish the Welsh Streets and parts of Bootle at no cost to the public. So far Pickles has washed his hands of them.
If Pontius Pickles wants true localism, he needs to help local people help themselves and stamp his authority on mega-councils who don’t care about residents and build up land banks to get power and money. Pickles should use his powers to make councils sell homes to ordinary people provided they do them up. A good street has many owners, not one.
The left is having a wrecking ball in Ringo’s streetCharles Clover Published: 3 June 2012
I wish I didn’t have to write about this again. But I have learnt enough about the business of holding politicians to account to know that sometimes, as ministers come and go and bureaucrats and quango chiefs take early retirement, we scribblers have to embody the folk memory about certain subjects. So I must write one last time about what has long seemed to me a scandal, for its endgame has begun.
Let me take you to Madryn Street in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, which has been under threat of demolition for eight years.
Madryn Street is now uninhabited except for one house that has been acquired by Save Britain’s Heritage and has a couple living in it. Liverpool’s city council has systematically forced all the other owners and residents out, and its agents have taken off the downpipes and even the lead from the roofs. Yet, as before, every 15 minutes or so a taxi pulls up outside No 9 and people get out and take photographs. For this is where Ringo Starr was born.
It says something about Liverpool council that it has been trying to destroy a revenue-generating piece of its own history for so long. But this is not just a local matter. Over the past eight years the Welsh streets, as they have become known because of their names, have come to symbolise the front line in a bitter ideological battle against a failed policy, known as Pathfinder, which involved demolishing whole neighbourhoods and rebuilding them at public expense.
As Grant Shapps, the housing minister, described it, Pathfinder involved “bulldozing buildings ... desperately hoping someone might come along to reorder the rubble”. Often the money ran out, so all over the Midlands and the north there are sad patches of grass where there used to be houses.
Under the policy, still defended by most Labour MPs, about 40,000 homes were emptied (most remain so), 10,000 were demolished and only 1,000 were rebuilt. The elderly, the inarticulate, the ill and the unemployed were thrown out and forced into more expensive accommodation. Neighbourhoods were divided over whether schemes should go ahead, then torn apart by demolition. Some £300m was spent in Liverpool alone.
Shapps told the House of Commons last November that he had stopped Pathfinder. We now know otherwise. For, incredibly, this is an ideological battle in which one side appears to have forgotten how to fight.
First, Shapps approved a £35m transition fund, supposedly an exit strategy from Pathfinder. This included money to demolish the 300 houses in the Welsh streets, which he said last year he would prefer to see refurbished, and a further 2,369 homes on Merseyside by 2018. He seems not to have read what he was signing; or perhaps he has been misled by an official. Shapps admitted, when the decision to hand out the money was judicially reviewed, that the way it was done was “flawed”.
In an attempt to make up for this disaster, Shapps appointed George Clarke, presenter of Channel 4’s Great British Property Scandal and a campaigner on empty homes, to try to mediate with the council and persuade it to renovate the Welsh streets instead of knocking them down.
Clarke, an architect with both an agent and a publicist, declined to take my call, adding to my suspicion that he is not the man for the job.
I gather a deal has now been struck that will “save” Ringo’s house together with a scrap of Madryn Street and most of nearby Kelvin Grove. But hundreds of perfectly good homes will be demolished at twice the cost of doing them up. This is without any guarantee that anything will get built. This, I am told, will be hailed as a victory by Shapps and Joe Anderson, the new Liverpool mayor.Someone is going to have to tell Shapps that this mostly demolished compromise is not the victory he thinks it is. So I will. The design of the new scheme — which neither Shapps nor I have seen — apparently alters the street pattern with its delightful plane trees and long views of the great Anglican cathedral. It involves the wasteful demolition of publicly owned property. Worse still, saving Ringo’s house but dooming the rest of this pleasant, historic area will reward failure and allow Liverpool to remain a no-go area for sane governance.
You would think a Conservative minister would be fighting to get Liverpool council to divest itself of its property and to stop controlling the lives of its citizens through subsidised schemes and housing associations in a way reminiscent of the old days in eastern Europe. Strangely not.
If Shapps or his boss Eric Pickles had the courage, I am sure he could force the council to do up the Welsh streets — as the four remaining resident families want — by placing conditions on Liverpool’s share of the £145m shelled out last week by the government to tackle empty homes nationally. Better still, he could force the council to sell the properties to Toxteth’s working classes at low prices on the condition that they do them up — as a scheme is already doing in Stoke-on-Trent.
No one should be under any illusion. This is a key ideological battle and anything less will be seen as a humiliating defeat.
Lives are being Bulldozed and no-one listens
Sorry, folks - the article shown above now subject to paywall inflicted by The Times.
Click on the date to show the news article
- 29/03/2008 - "Me and My Place"
- 22/03/2008 - The SLOW HOME Movement
- 21/03/2008 - Old Houses v. New Build
- 02/12/2008 - LIFE IN MY OBSOLETE TERRACE
- 12/12/2007 - Communities Against Demolition Report - Publicity
- 05/12/2007 - Communities Against Demolition - Anne Power, LSE Housing, CASE; Annexes: Adam Wilkinson, SAVE Britain's Heritage; Martin Edwards, Barrister (How to Resist a CPO); and Planning Extracts.
- 27/08/2007 - Closing the Deal
- 18/10/2007 - Chavez Ravine Los Angeles USA
- 01/10/2007 - Goole Action Group legal action against demolition
- 09/07/2007 - Affordable Housing
- 27/06/2007 - Communities Under Threat Think Tank
- 16/06/2007 - BATS?
- 21/05/2007 - Sustainable Development
- 14/05/2007 - Kevin Flynn elected Deputy Mayor
- 04/05/2007 - Election Results
- 30/04/2007 - End of the Path??
- 19/03/2007 - Response to 'Low Demand and HMR Pathfinders'
- 17/03/2007 - Terraced Houses see the biggest price rises
- 16/03/2007 - "Once they called it Rachmanism. Now it's being done with taxpayers' money"
- 06/03/2007 - The Price of Property
- 28/02/2007 - Understanding Housing Demand in Rising Markets
- 27/02/2007 - Goole Action Group has reported a fantastic response to their latest exhibition
- 26/02/2007 - Modern Slavery - in Goole
- 18/02/2007 - The Big Issue in the North
- 14/02/2007 - Agency backs fight against compulsory purchase
- 02/02/2007 - BBC Radio 4 - You and Yours
- 13/12/2006 - Sign of the Thames ...
- 01/12/2006 - Victory in Liverpool!
- 01/11/2006 - GAG want problem streets to be SAFE AS HOUSES
- 27/09/2006 - Woman wins home demolition fight
- 09/10/2006 - Battle to save homes in the North
- 20/09/2006 - Market renewal funding is 'inadequate'
- 18/09/2006 - 94% Support Renovation!
- 14/09/2006 - Open Day at Goole Leisure Centre
- 10/08/2006 - Resident fears she will be forced out of 'unsafe' home
- 01/08/2006 - Goole Town Council accepted discussions on alternative renovation schemes
- 16/07/2006 - Project Manager of 'Advance Goole' in refusal to discuss renovation
- 15/07/2006 - "Prescott's troubled £3bn demolition plans face enquiry"
- 07/07/2006 - Simon Jenkins on Prescott
- 26/06/2006 - Renovation ideas to be presented to Goole Town Council
- 02/06/2006 - Interesting news from Birmingham Pathfinder
- 23/05/2006 - Blogging David Miliband gets us noticed
- 22/05/2006 - Neighbourhood Renewal Unit - IPSOS MORI survey
- 20/05/2006 - "Majority doesn't want old houses to be demolished"
- 18/05/2006 - Correspondence with ERYC - Answers and Questions
- 15/05/2006 - How Master Planning is done elsewhere
- 07/05/2006 - Cartoon Reality - Andrew O'Hagan, writing in SHORT CUTS
- 06/05/2006 - David Miliband and Jane Jacobs
- 05/05/2006 - David Miliband's Blog
- 03/05/2006 - Painting the place ORANGE!
You and Yours
Demolition of homes not inevitable - Goole Courier - 09/02/06
Street talks are farce says group - Yorkshire Post - 25/01/06
We can save homes, claim action group - Goole Courier - 30/10/05
Case against demolition strong - Goole Courier - 08/07/05