Out with the old

Regeneration on a grand scale is improving the standard of
housing stock in the north of England, but the effort has its
detractors, among them those who do not support widespread
demolition. Anabel Unity Sale reports

Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz yearned for her house on
the prairie, sighing her refrain “there’s no place like home”. This
clichŽ may well be uppermost in the minds of thousands of
residents and tenants across the north of England whose communities
are undergoing a dramatic regeneration programme.

Councils’ ambitious housing plans, which include demolition, were
progressing quite smoothly until a fly in the ointment appeared in
the shape of the ITV programme Tonight with Trevor
. Last month the programme makers restored a privately
owned period property in the heart of one of the areas being
regenerated: Powis Street in Liverpool.

Tonight spent £24,350 on plastering, central heating,
a new bathroom and kitchen, damp-proofing and timber treatment, and
renovating the windows and electrics in the terrace brick house
over several weeks. The show says it raised the market value of the
home, which may otherwise have been demolished, by between
£30,000 and £40,000. But as fierce debate raged, both
locally and nationally, over whether this was the best way forward
for local regeneration, Tonight became an unwelcome
distraction to the government’s agenda. A spokesperson for the
show, however, defended its work and dismissed claims the
improvements were purely superficial, saying that the refurbishment
made the house an attractive proposition to the first-time buyers
who viewed it.

Plans to regenerate the housing stock in parts of the north of
England were officially announced in the Office of the Deputy Prime
Minister’s (ODPM) sustainable communities plan in February 2003. A
number of housing market renewal (HMR) pathfinders were created to
explore ways of turning around communities in response to the
lobbying of many northern local authorities that wanted to improve
their housing stock and regenerate their areas.

The nine HMR pathfinders are run as a partnership of local
authorities, local strategic partnerships, development agencies,
local housing associations and other key stakeholders. Each
pathfinder submitted a prospectus outlining their regeneration
plans for local housing stock up until March 2006 and so far each
has been allocated a share of £500m. By 2008, the second
tranche of funding will top £1.2bn for the pathfinders as well
as some other areas affected by property abandonment and low

The HMR programme is a mixture of refurbishment, demolitions and
new build. By March next year 21,000 properties will have been
refurbished, 10,000 demolished and 3,000 new homes built.

But will the HMR pathfinders have a positive impact on the
communities concerned? An ODPM spokesperson thinks so: “In many
places a sense of community is fractured due to large areas of
abandoned housing. In other areas there is no sense of community
due to the transient nature of the population caused by the private
renting of poor quality housing. All of these issues are things the
pathfinders will be tackling.” The HMR pathfinders are working
alongside their statutory counterparts, such as health and social
services, as well as local people to try and create “sustainable
communities,” the ODPM spokesperson adds, which will include jobs,
health facilities and green spaces.

Knocking down people’s homes is not the first thing local, and
central, government is itching to do, according to the National
Housing Federation’s regional manager for the North West, Samantha
Miller. She says demolition is only pursued following close
consultation with local communities and that the areas where the
pathfinders are based have been in decline for a long period.
“There needs to be a much more holistic approach and the
pathfinders recognise the fact that things are linked and all have
an impact.” Regenerating a neighbourhood, Miller adds, cannot be
done in isolation but needs to be looked at on a sub-regional level
and incorporate all relevant services.

Whenever demolition is raised as an option for improving housing
some local people voice their concerns, often wielding placards
adorned with angry slogans. Gill Brown, chief executive of
Potteries Housing Association in Stoke-on-Trent, says this response
is not surprising given the way those in authority handle the
proposals. “People get very edgy and concerned where there is talk
about demolition because politicians aren’t always brave. If people
object loudly then politicians can be more anxious about their
popularity than whether they are doing the right thing for the
majority of the community.”

Communities undergoing large-scale regeneration face major changes.
For this reason, Sarah Webb, Chartered Institute of Housing
director of policy and practice, says the approach has to be
handled sensitively. This hasn’t always been the case. “People
still remember when a six-lane road was driven through the heart of
their community,” she says.

The one thing professionals from all disciplines can do to assist
those living in areas being refurbished is to communicate with
them. Webb says it is vital to take the time to explain the issue
to tenants and residents and actively involve the local community
in creating alternatives for their area, such as designing street

Brown advocates knocking on people’s doors to discuss their
concerns and explain what is going on. “If the response you get is
not positive then you need to find a more effective way of
communicating with people.”

Housing associations often have a long history in particular
neighbourhoods and have developed links with other agencies. Miller
says this connection should be utilised to ensure that local
people’s needs are still met. “When this sort of regeneration is
going on you need to ensure services, such as health, continue to
the most vulnerable people, and housing associations have the
necessary contacts with the agencies supporting these

Clearly, changing the built environment should involve local people
if the government is serious about turning neighbourhoods

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