Grant Shapps has again stepped in to delay the demolition of the Welsh Streets in Liverpool. This saga has been dragging on now for seven years. So long in fact that you would be forgiven if you'd forgotten what the point of the demolition was in the first place. So here is Councillor Richard Kemp to explain. Councillor Kemp is the leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government and vice chair of the LGA, a councillor on Liverpool City council and vice chair of a housing association. He is by all accounts a highly respected figure in local government and housing circles. But he has, as one Liverpool resident put it to me last week, “got blood on his hands.” This is of course metaphorical blood. But the polarisation of opinion on housing in Liverpool runs so deep that it would make little difference if it were real blood. Cllr Kemp has not only instigated many of the housing clearance programmes in Liverpool he is actively in favour of continuing the policy of demolishing houses and the Welsh Streets is his next target. In a recent blog post he explains why.
It (housing market renewal demolition) was predicated on a fact – Liverpool has too many two up two down Victorian properties for which there would not be a market to the current extent even if they were modernised.
A worrying start. This isn't a fact, it's an opinion, and one that doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. In areas where homes were modernised such as Chimney Pot Park in Salford the demand has been huge.
Anyway he goes on : We actually went and asked a vital group of people a simple question in 1998, “Why did you move out of Liverpool?” The answer was complex but compelling. They were moving because our services were crap and the housing did not meet their aspirations. They wanted to live in 3 bed roomed detached and semi-detached homes in a nice clean area with a good school. We didn’t provide any of these things.
The comment about crap services is refreshingly honest, but the rest is bizarre. Is this not how cities are supposed to work? People move to the best housing they can afford. They aspire to better housing, and if they can afford it they later move out to semis in the suburbs. The fact people did so in Liverpool is entirely normal. This is not to say that the Welsh Streets were without problems, but it hardly justifys knocking them down. Had the Welsh streets had been left alone another generation of people would have followed. But the Welsh streets were not left alone. Instead the council consulted residents on whether they should be demolished. Cllr Kemp explains:
They (residents of the Welsh streets) overwhelmingly supported limited demolition. In the Welsh Streets for example after a 3 year consultation process 68% of local residents voted for a demolition programme and only 15% voted against. That’s democracy in action.
Note the word “limited” The consultation actually showed 338 against and only 97 in favour of the near total demolition of the Welsh Streets that is now proposed. It certainly isn’t democracy in action. But what would replace the demolished houses? Kemp explains:
In their place we would create demographically balanced housing with different types of accommodation and different tenures for different people at different times of their life. In other words we would build housing inside which communities could form and neighbourhoods would flourish.
Yet virtually no housing has been built to replace any of the houses that have been demolished in Liverpool. There are no plans for replacement houses in the Welsh streets. No subsidy to pay for new affordable housing. So what was it all for?
In Liverpool 8 if you brought up your children well, gave them a good education there was almost an inevitability that they would move out and take your grand children with them. In other words we had housing policies which by accident or design broke up families and communities because we allowed no flexibility of provision.
So the answer is to demolish the houses and move everybody out guaranteeing the community would be broken up?
Kemp's explanation shows the very strange thinking that led to this bizarre policy. On the one hand diagnosing real social problems and yet prescribing answers that only make things worse. Anyway it all ought to be academic now. Not only has the government stepped in to try and stop the demolition, they have withdrawn the funding that paid for the whole programme. This might sound bleak, but there is an answer, It's one I have already proposed to the council, and one I will explain in my next post.