Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Welsh Streets Home Group (WSHG) (EMP 30)


  The Welsh Streets Home Group (WSHG) are a residents group from Toxteth in Liverpool. It is an informal group, and does not receive public funding.

  This submission should be read in conjunction with the colour leaflet "A New Vision For The Re-development Of Liverpool's Welsh Streets Area" supplied by post. The leaflet shows via a maps and aerial view the considerable value of the land on which the Welsh Streets are built.

  In the light of our experience and the remit of the inquiry, the summary points to highlight are:

    1.  WSHG are concerned that recent proposals for redevelopment of the area are ill informed, poorly delivered and threaten to destroy key, economic, heritage and social assets. It is unlikely that the current strategy will benefit either housing market which is in sharp recovery following Liverpool's designation as European Capital of Culture and Unesco World Heritage Site. House prices have risen across the board, creating fierce demand for low cost entry points into an inflated market. The underlying causes of decline in the area are widely known, but in this case ignored in favour of the combined ambitions of Registered Social Landlords and the local authority.

    2.  There is a clear failure to respond to community strategy approach by private sector, RSL and local government representatives, in particular lack of skills and resources at a local level to perform imaginative area appraisal or develop creative conservation lead regeneration in partnership with local residents and businesses.

    3.  Scant consideration has been given to effective methods of refurbishment. Documents produced prior to "public consultation" reveal there has never been any intention of presenting refurbishment as an option despite its considerable merits over demolition.

    4.  A review of both process and outputs of Pathfinder regeneration via New Heartlands and in turn Include Regeneration Ltd is an urgent imperative. All aspects operations have fallen behind statements of intent. Lack of public accountability, monitoring and evaluation, by independent expert advisers has left this pathfinder without a compass. WSHG seeks greater government engagement and better protection for communities threatened by ill-conceived plans. This would need to include the power of veto for schemes which ignore broad interests.

    5.  Currently we are lurching toward all that is known to fail in regeneration. Yet with the local commitment and research base, and exploiting the available policies, tools, case studies and up-to-date guidance the Welsh Streets could reverse its fortunes and emerge as a test bed for established best practice.


  1.  The Welsh Streets Housing Group (WSHG) is a resident group pursuing urgent and sweeping improvements to what is a highly problematic redevelopment process being imposed on the Liverpool Welsh Streets that sit within a Pathfinder area.

  2.   This evidence presented in this submission is based upon our direct experiences of a Pathfinder scheme and, as such, is highly relevant to the scope and remit of the Committee.

  3.  As residents, we believe we have invaluable insights into and knowledge of the social, economic, environmental and cultural value and potential of our district in ways which extend beyond viewing it simply in terms of land values. In line with Government planning policy and guidance, we also see residents' needs and aspirations as being of equal if not greater importance to those of the majority landowner in the area, the registered social landlord (RSL), CDS Housing.

  4.  As residents living amongst empty homes we fully support initiatives which might benefit the area. However, to date, we have neither been offered a proposal which reflects best practice or our interests, nor do we have adequate mechanisms to amend or critique the existing and only proposal.

  5.   In effect, we believe that the proposal could result in the forced removal of the poorest sector of homeowners from their homes, and the real entrepreneurial "regenerators" from their enterprises. Unchecked, this process threatens to make claimants out of workers and tenants out of homeowners.

6.   The current Pathfinder proposal presented by Include Regeneration Ltd.

  7.   As residents, it is unclear who is responsible for the proposal to redevelop our area or how it can be deemed "owned" by local residents. The company Include Regeneration Ltd, who have put forward the proposal, have not disclosed who paid for it, who wrote the design brief or whether the proposal was produced before, during or after public consultation. They also remain unwilling to release it in print.

  8.  The proposal includes demolition of viable housing stock. The proposal is to demolish 400 homes, of which our independent consultant surveyor estimates only 100 are in poor enough condition to justify clearance. 44 of these homes are three storey town houses in a conservation area. The remainder are workers' cottages.

  9.  The scheme requires the removal of important trees, including two groves of mature London Plane trees which our consultant aboriculturist regards as well maintained and in excellent health.

  10.  Although the proposal asserts that significant energy savings will be made the new homes, our consultant engineers assert that the energy consumed in construction renders these predicted savings a minimal environmental concession.

  11.  The vacated land would be developed by a private developer, Glessons, who plans 350 homes on the site. While it has been asserted that current residents would have priority for tenancy or purchase of these homes, no guarantees or contracts are being offered.

  12.  Overall, the design quality of the new building is not viewed by our design consultants as of a standard the location or government guidance warrants.

13.   Economic Consequences

  14.  It is assumed that selling new homes will provide lucrative returns for the private developers. However, while such sales are likely to be at a projected market value, sums offered for buy-outs have been under such projected market values.

  15.  Low income workers who are trying to buy their own homes or renting from private landlords will be especially hard hit by the current proposals as they do not have the safety net of housing benefit payments and neither private landlords nor public bodies are obliged to re-house them. Such residents face financial crisis, the stress of an unknown future and loss of vital social networks.

  16.   Hardship will also result for owner occupiers whose equity is effectively wiped out by the demolition without being offered fair compensation.

  17.   Include's loan and shared equity schemes in effect offer people more debt, in order to have the home they want destroyed in favour of a more expensive home deemed more appropriate by a third party.

18.   Public Consultation

  19.  The Welsh Street Homes Group formed by a group of neighbours in March 2004 following a public meeting at which Include's proposal was displayed. Our experience of the process referred to as "public consultation" would comprise of inadequate information, intimidation of opponents to the scheme, and the removal of critics from the communication process.

  20.  Include with LCC, Triangle architects and LCC had previously hosted three visioning days from which it is asserted the proposal emerged. Only people who could attend meetings in working hours on weekdays, or occasionally in the early evening, were therefore consulted. In effect, the views of working people, or parents of young children have been excluded.

  21.  A nearby residents association (WDC) has acted as a community steering committee member for the proposal. However, the demolition zone streets were barely represented on the committee, which unhelpfully stated that street representatives from the Welsh Street area were not expected to actually represent their streets.

  22.   It has been impossible for informed debate to develop in the community steering committee due to this rejection of street representatives with alternative view points to the WDC.

  23.  We view with serious concern informal advice given to us by Include.

24.   Include and small businesses

  25.   Include's Businesses report Survey appears not to quantify accurately the number of incomes generated in businesses arising in the area, nor to measure the number of dependants supported by these businesses.

  26.   We question whether the proposal takes into account the value and vibrancy of its small business network. This Victorian quarter enjoys longstanding mixed use. The density of small business enterprise in the area and the creative working culture is the envy of other new estates.

  27.  Along with the Lodge Lane and Granby districts, this district is one of the few areas in which the truly culturally diverse population of Liverpool is visible as entrepreneurs and business people. All these hard won incomes are threatened by the proposal.

  28.  Indeed, the Welsh Streets Businesses Relocation and Periphary Consultation Report produced by Include in July 2004 shows almost entire dissatisfaction with both the proposal and the levels of consultation.

  29.   Existing corner shops are aware their business depends on being dispersed throughout the area and that a precinct of shops would pose problems of traffic congestion, crime, litter and competition. It is worrying that the RSL's and local authority would suggest such a proposal to be of "high quality design".

  30.  Our own consultation reveals that Include's proposals for business relocation and support are not reflected in their knowledge or ability to deliver, especially from the point of view of self-employed traders.

  31.  As noted with the example of corner shops, is also clear that the brief prepared for the architect has no commitment to continued economic activities for existing businesses.

32.   Where our Pathfinder Might Go

  33.  While the RSL's, local authorities, investors, private developers and specialist consultants would benefit from this Pathfinder proposal, the benefits to residents remain unclear.

  34.  Offers of "like for like" exchanges are questioned in the context of systematic destruction of particular house types in surrounding areas. For example, while mid scale town houses are highly desirable across the UK, here they are threatened with replacement with unimaginative and wholly inappropriate suburban style designs.

  35.  We also question the suggestion that residents are being offered housing choice as housing choice does not extend to choosing the houses we've already got, even if they are sound, attractive, energy efficient, heritage assets set amongst tall trees with friendly neighbours, excellent amenities and transport connections.

  36.  We do not feel the local authority and lead agencies are complying with the emphasis in planning policy and guidance on community-based and conservation lead regeneration of urban quarters.

  37.  At a the most profound level, there remains confusion as to who the Pathfinders Scheme was intended to benefit and how to justify inflating home values beyond the means of existing residents.

38.   Situation in January 2005 move to the end

  39.  "At a loss" pretty much sums up the residents predicament. While we are told that a decision is awaited, we do not know who the local decision makers are or how to make a case to them. The feeling of being caught up in an illogical and undemocratic process the result of which is unstoppable demolition tends to pervade.

  40.  Although a recent survey by Include shows over 70% in favour of the proposals, this survey was neither independent, nor were residents given sufficient information or opportunity to support the alternative notion of creative, conservation-lead regeneration.


  41.  Include are born of CDS Housing an Registered Social Landlord (RSL) together with Liverpool City Council. CDS Housing owns in the region of 74% of the houses in the area proposed for demolition. Given this ownership pattern, it is necessary to investigate the proposition that the RSL's have been deliberately under-investing in the area long period with the aim of deterring individual owner occupiers and achieving the kind of site conditions deemed necessary for wider demolition and redevelopment.

  42.  The City Council have the power to award NRA (Neighbourhood Regeneration Assesment)—status, thus easing the route to Compulsory Purchase Orders. Such legal powers and the resources available to the RSL's and local authority are vast in comparison to resident groups, thus rendering the notion of partnership working with the community highly questionable.

  43.  Peter Dixon, chairman of The Housing Corporation, described in 2004 the investment made in Include. This comprised a £6 million Social Housing Grant, £0.47 million new tools funding, and a significant Community Training and Enabling Grant of between £550k-821K. We would like to know how the effectiveness and accountability of Include, or indeed any of the partner organisations, measured and regulated?

  44.  In particular, and given the ODPM's commitment to taking forward the findings of the Urban Task Force's recommendations, we would draw attention to a clear lack of necessary skills within Include to support genuine community consultation and to foster excellence in conservation-lead and creative urban design.

  45.  We would also like to draw attention to the questions as to whether the Housing Corporation is able to achieve high quality schemes as both the grant giver and the assessor of spending results.


  46.  While the social cohesion and cultural diversity in the area is legendary, unlike the housing market it has no easy measure of value. However, it is important to note that to a large extent this cohesion—the sharing of cups of tea on the step, children playing out, overlooked by many neighbours—is a product of the terrace housing type historic to the area.

  47.  There are many who place a high value on this asset, having no desire for the 20th/21st Century isolation of little gated lawns or doorways placed oppositionally. It seems highly inappropriate and resource inefficient for an inferior built environment to be imposed where it is not needed or sought.

  48.  Critically, examination of tender documents and maps circulated to private developers shows the land "parcelled" prior to public consultation, suggesting a possible exploitation of Pathfinder and other public funding to assist an RSL in site assembly for commercial gain.

  49.  During the consultation process, conflicting information was given to residents about the nature of the proposal. Residents were also told at one point by LCC that residents could only register their views and objections via a judicial review following a compulsory purchase order—an option not available to individuals on low incomes.

  50.  Staff and volunteers at "drop in" sessions seemed unable to receive suggestions or to record systematically comments. This implied a lack of intent to feed back information into the design process.


  51.  We are concerned that the lack of expertise or effective management of in this process has been highly divisive. There confusion as to which people John Prescott was talking about in his statement that "our guiding principle is that people must come first" since residents clearly have negligible power of participation no matter how many years they dedicate to their heritage assets and communities (see Dorothy Kuya and Granby residents association; Ten years and rising)

  52.  We would ask how this proposal complies with the following policy recommendations:

  Urban Task Force

    "Give local authorities a statutory duty to maintain an empty property strategy that sets clear targets for reducing levels of vacant stock . . . There should be firm commitments to take action against owners who refuse to sell their properties or restore them to beneficial use."

  Campaign For The Protection of Rural England

    "If Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder proposals are to comply with Regional Planning Guidance, they must include an assessment of measures to bring empty homes back into use. Funding should be allocated to proposals on the basis of such an assessment being included."

53.   About the perception of low demand and low value

  54.  It is important to note that while the proposal site does not show an abundance of cheap housing for sale, property is rising in value as part of a wider, locally-driven process of regeneration. For example, in 2003 a three storey town house on the threatened Kelvin Grove terrace was valued at upward of £90k. This house had accrued five times it's own value in four years.

  55.  There is demand for buying empty RSL property in the area. The owner of the Kelvin Grove property has kept a dossier of potential buyers who have registered an interest in buying empty RSL property in the street. There's a queue to get in, but the RSL would rather demolish the street than sell it.

  56.  Indeed, the designation of the area as a Pathfinder may be a misleading as there is in fact high demand for houses to buy in this area as in Liverpool 8 at a whole. This is in part because it is an excellent place to live, culturally, architecturally, recreationally socially. It is especially sought after by people who grew up here and wish to remain part of their vibrant and diverse society.

  57.  Little property comes up for sale because RSL's have acquired up to 74% of property in the area either by direct purchase or through receiving stock at cleverly knock down prices from Liverpool City Council. This is not only the case in the Welsh Streets but is widespread in L8.

  58.  The WSHG has in the course of it's research heard numerous concerns as to the ethics and impact of RSL stock transfer. Worries over the growing assets controlled by the RSL's, much of which has been accumulated with public funds, calls for far greater monitoring of the RSL's activities, particularly in instances when they join forces with other agencies.

  59.  The impact of such an acquisition strategy has impacted especially hard on young people who are faced with the choice of remaining in the rental market in order to stay in this part of town, or of leaving the area in order to find a place to buy.

  60.  Research shows RSL-owned properties in the Welsh Streets are often neglected, poorly maintained or tinned up, or designated hard to let. It could be argued that refusal to renovate, let or sell these properties has collapsed the housing market, whilst allowing tenant the right to buy, would go a long way to allowing the market to find it's own new level.

  61.  The allocations policy of RSL's can at times contribute to a high density of social problems which also contribute to deflating house values.

  62.  Repeated publicly funded regeneration initiative's in Liverpool 8 have over two decades failed notably to impact on the repairs to Victorian assets. We would suggest considering a new approach which builds upon the desire of local people to renovate own, inhabit and work in Victorian town houses.

63.   About The Strategy to raise market value

  64.  The evidence suggests that the Welsh Streets Area does not need demolition and that the city as a whole would experience immense and irretrievable environmental, cultural, economic and crucially social loss if wholesale currently proposed demolition is permitted. It is already part of three existing tourist routes and with little marketing would attract further visitor trade.

  65.  We have found no evidence to support demolition will assist the broad aims of regeneration or housing market renewal. Such a proposal assumes that the new homes will either be affordable to current residents, or of high enough standard to attract wealthier ones. There remains an excess of rented housing in the city and competition is fierce.

  66.  Estates of low cost public housing into which previously demolished Liverpool communities have been decanted now form some of the least desirable sites in town. This reflects failure to recognise or remedy the underlying factors which produce social and economic decline, and the vital importance of maintaining existing communities and social networks.

  67.  These underlying factors have been identified but not addresses within the Welsh Streets area. The Welsh Streets Neighbourhood Plan Survey 2003 revealed that 74.3% of respondents cited reduction in crime to be the main factor which would improve their area. However, the landowner with the majority interest in the area, CDS Housing, has failed to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour via contract changes to tenants, or by tackling problems arising from their past allocations policies.

  68.  It is important to note that the same survey found 71.2% of respondents to be satisfied or very satisfied with their accommodation. It is clear that the problem is not a need for new-build houses.

  69.  Private owner occupiers, despite holding 32% of the land in question, are barely considered in current thinking by Pathfinders, New Heartlands, the Local Authority or the RSLs New Heartlands document "Fulfilling The Potential; The Role of RSL's in Housing market Renewal on Merseyside" presents a depressing picture. Existing owner occupiers being mentioned only in the context of being moved out in order to facilitate site assembly for an RSL.

  70.  In particular, the proposal fails to acknowledge the role of small scale owner-investors such as the local resident Sylvia Amou who renovated a couple of blocks on Princes Avenue, catalysing a remarkable regeneration of the surrounding area.

71.   Action plan

  72.   Political: In our experience, the process of putting forward this proposal is deeply problematic in terms of creative and democratic local planning and development. The consultation process has been flawed on many fundamental counts including timing, scope, remit and management, raising as yet unanswered but profoundly important questions about whether the long term aims of partner agencies are in the best interests of local residents.

  73.   Economic: As noted in paragraphs 57 to 61, evidence suggests that the model of demolition-lead redevelopment is wholly inappropriate to this area. Indeed, what it points towards is the viability of an already functioning model of owner-occupier lead revitalisation and local economic entrepreneurship. While such a model may not deliver quick-fix solutions, with support from RSL, the local authority and other regeneration agencies, it has the potential to be a flagship in truly sustainable and economically resource-efficient urban revitalisation.

  74.   Social: To pursue the proposed demolition-lead redevelopment proposal would be to destroy a multi-cultural community of people who live and work in the Welsh Streets area. This would result in an incalculable loss to the quality of people's lives, especially the older people, families with young children who reply upon local social networks, young people and small business owners.

  75.   Environmental: In the context of global warming there can be no justification for VAT on refurbishment, which given the immense energy cots involved in new build, and public services infrastructure can no longer be deemed a "luxury". Nor can we justify on a local level the destruction of mature trees and green spaces that add so much to city life.

  76.   Next steps: We would like the committee to consider if what has taken place here is acceptable to taxpayers, and if it isn't what steps will urgently be taken to:

    —  Ensure a creative compromise solution is reached within a defined timeframe.

    —  Veto current demolition plans for streets from Gwydir to Kelvin.

    —  Place and enforce controls on public and private sector organisations involved in Pathfinders.

    —  Review the Pathfinder activity with regard to the particular market change which has occurred in Liverpool.

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