Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why Pickles Has Suspended Welsh Streets Demolition

The Mayor and Liverpool City councillors are cursing Eric Pickles for suspending their decision to demolish the Welsh Streets. Pickles won’t care about their curses of course, the fact that this is the third time ministers have directly intervened in this decade long saga might say something about ministers commitment to localism, but it also says a lot about the way this case has been handled by the council too.

The council like to paint opposition to the Welsh Streets demolition as outside interference by heritage zealots, but they understate the case. No housing scheme in England has proved more controversial or more divisive, and few can have been as eye wateringly expensive. Whatever you might say about Pickles he is no heritage zealot. The truth is he has plenty of other reasons for questioning the decisions made in this case:

He may well feel that the scheme fails to meet housing need. Demolishing 439 houses and building perhaps as few as 153 is a huge loss of the city's housing capacity. A city with a growing population shouldn't be settling for less. Less housing means fewer homes for people. With household sizes in Liverpool getting smaller and housing association rents rising, demand for larger houses is in decline, small houses are what the city needs. Old terraces may be unfashionable but they provide good homes for people on modest incomes. Without them more people, unable to buy homes, become reliant on social housing.

Pickles may think the scheme fails to promote economic growth. A drop in housing capacity means local services and shops struggle, and people have to drive elsewhere to get the services they need. In a city that should be striving for growth this scheme is the opposite - managed decline.

He may wonder what the scheme has done to the community. Over the last ten years 1200 residents have been lured or driven away. The council may claim community support for demolition now, but the truth is after a decade of attrition there is hardly anybody left to oppose it now. 
He no doubt thinks the scheme is incredibly inefficient. When you add up all the public subsidy this scheme has absorbed over the last ten years it totals £35million. A sum of money that could have easily have paid outright for building twice as many new houses on some of the city’s many vacant plots of land, or a programme of refurbishing 1,000 of its empty homes.

Perhaps he will also pause for thought over what caused the problem this scheme seeks to fix. The Welsh Streets were never a wealthy part of the city, but they were home to a functioning community that was far from being in decline. The Welsh Street's demise was artificial, calculated and imposed from above. The last government's ruinous pathfinder programme paid councils vast amounts of money to buy up and demolish old houses.

Nowhere greeted this policy with more eagerness than Liverpool council. Even the minister in charge at the time, John Prescott thought the council's enthusiasm for demolition was obsessive. "They knocked the whole bloody lot down so you had bomb sites everywhere" he said. The huge scale of Liverpool's demolition programme was far beyond its capacity to deliver and the Welsh Streets are a victim and a legacy of that excess.

Much has changed in the decade since this scheme was first imposed on the Welsh Streets, but the scheme itself has remained rigidly unaltered. To the council’s credit it has, in recent months, sought some more imaginative solutions for dealing with empty homes, but it refused to consider them here.
Its unwillingness to compromise has left a scheme that, if unaltered, would manage the decline of a large community into a small social housing estate. With Pickles picking up the tab, there can be little wonder as to why he is questioning it. Liverpool Council and Plus Dane Housing Association should use this opportunity to fix this flawed scheme, not in order to placate Pickles, but because the people of Liverpool deserve no less. 

This artile was first published in the Liverpool Daily Post


  1. It’s hard to search out educated folks about this subject, however everyone appear to be you know exactly what you’re speaking related to! Thanks..

  2. thanks for sharing such a nice post,......

  3. You need to establish true facts before you publish. You should speak to residents still living in the 4 remaining streets, whose lives are being affected by all the hype from heritage activists, instead of taking the word of one resident from Kelvin Grove.The main focus of this debacle was to save her own property and who now states she has no objection to demolition.

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