In case you haven’t seen the news over the last week this is 9 Madryn Street in the Welsh Streets Liverpool L8. It is special because for a short while seventy years ago it was the home of Ringo Starr the least celebrated member of the most celebrated band in history. And the reason Ladbrokes are taking an interest is because the house has the misfortune to sit within an area of four hundred houses that are due for demolition. Or at least they were until housing minister Grant Shapps dramatically intervened last week.
The Welsh Streets are built on a ladder pattern in inner south Liverpool. The roads apparently take their names from place names in Wales (although I’ve never heard of anywhere called Madryn) For most of their history they provided decent homes for people and as recently as 2005 were more or less fully occupied. There were problems, this has never been a wealthy area and a hundred years of wear and tear take their toll. Thirty years ago the Toxteth riots took place a few hundred yards away, and investment was promised. In fact it was another twenty years before Liverpool Council started consulting on the future of these roads. The Government had just introduced its Housing Market Renewal Programme and here it seemed was the source of the funding and the vehicle for renewal. The 2005 consultation focused on one question- should the houses be demolished?. As these interviews with residents ,by the ever brilliant Ciara Leeming, show, some people thought so and some were against. The council’s paperwork, which I have in front of me, shows roughly a third in favour of demolition and two thirds against. In Madryn Street itself the split was 35 against and 1 in favour of demolition. But inexplicably the council decided to press on with the demolition option and claim that a majority were in favour.
As is so often the way with housing regeneration it takes years for decisions to be turned into action. Like an unwanted nag in the knackers yard the Welsh Streets were left to haemorrhage residents until today just two or three people remain. Last September, five years on from the demolition decision, I took what I thought would be my last sight of the houses. The bulldozers were set to roll in October. But they never came.
A last minute, and highly effective campaign from local campaign groups, SAVE Britain’s Heritage , and Beatles fans appears to given the houses at least a temporary reprieve. SAVE asked English Heritage to list 9 Madryn Street, as it had done for the birthplaces of the other Beatles. It declined. Apparently poor Ringo isn’t famous enough. It recalls the time when in their Beatles pomp a journalist asked John Lennon whether Ringo was the best drummer in he world. “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles” he quipped. Not to be beaten, SAVE issued a PROD a little known legal tool to request the secretary of state intervene to investigate why publicly owned homes are being left empty. The Secretary of State is Eric Pickles, but it was his housing minister Grant Shapps, never one to shy away from a populist cause, who responded. Commenting on the proposed demolition of 9 Madryn Street he said “It’s for the nation to make a decision”. Presumably meaning localism is on hold while I decide on behalf of the nation. 'Many people consider the birthplace of the drummer in the world's most famous band to be a culturally important building,' he added, presumably meaning I’ve already decided. And in case you were in any doubt he went on to say: “There are some concerns about the way the whole demolition programme is working .. this might not be the right way forward.”
So to go back to my original question; what’s so special about this house? The answer is, it may have brought an end to the whole “demolition first” way the country tackles housing regeneration. And very welcome that is too. Of course poor Ringo, who famously ran down his place of birth on the Jonathan Ross show a couple of years ago has had nothing to say about it. He’s just been the populist peg on which this whole debate has been hung. But his role is not over. The next debate has to be how can we get these houses back into use. What better way of advertising them to potential residents than using the Beatles connection again, so I’m afraid your work is not yet done Ringo.