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.
ABOUT WSHG AND
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
A FLAWED DESIGN?
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 cohesionthe sharing of cups
of tea on the step, children playing out, overlooked by many neighboursis
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 orderan 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.