Tuesday, February 02, 2010

House for a pound

The story of houses being sold for a pound in Newcastle on Tyne has become almost legendry. I couldn’t count the number of people who have asked me whether you can still buy one. You can’t! Or the number of TV producers who think it would make a great subject for a TV programme. It would! So I’m almost ashamed to say that it wasn’t until last week that I actually went to see them. The picture is Mr Naeem the proud owner of one of the houses. Mr Naeem in fact bought two Tyneside flats for 50p each six years ago and knocked them into one house, as did his five nearest neighbours. The result is remarkable. In 2004 Mr Naeem’s road in North Benwell was struggling. There had been riots, there was a worryingly high vacancy rate, and many other indicators that people had lost confidence in the area.

Selling the ten flats was an inspired idea. Mr Naeem and his neighbours signed up to stay in the area for five years and help get the property into good condition. The ethos of these new residents was the reverse of what was happening to the area. They had a stake and a hope that the area was going to get better. The remarkable result appears to be that when enough people think like this it becomes self-fulfilling. North Benwell today is not an area without problems, but it is a normal functioning residential area in one of the UK’s finest cities. There are no riots, crime has dropped dramatically, and the vacancy rate is no worse than any normal city suburb. Of course many other things have been done to help, not least a city warden service that looks out for people and sorts small problems out quickly. But there are plenty of other similar places where these services don’t work. Selling houses for a pound was a brave move by the property owner – local housing association Home housing But the results have paid off handsomely. What they have bought for their investment is hope and confidence the two most valuable assets in regeneration.

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