Saturday, 20 November 2010

Channel 4 Exclusive: Spending cuts have abandoned tens of thousands of people in derelict areas such as Woodnook

Cathy Newman Political Correspondent
Exclusive: Tens of thousands of homeowners are marooned in derelict streets after the government decided to save money by stopping an ambitious housing regeneration scheme.

http://www.channel4.com/news/spending-cuts-leave-homeowners-in-dereliction

Channel 4 Exclusive News Video - 



Graham Jones:  The Government is in chaos on this issue. Any simple introspection reveals a policy of human neglect, political naivety and ideological salesmanship.

Right from the very top there is no clear pathway for progress with the savage regeneration cuts to housing market renewal funding and perverse incentives in the New Homes Bonus Scheme.

The Prime Minister, some might argue cynically, has turned 180 degrees away from every promise he made before the election and his ministerial appointments are standard bearers in the that volte face.

Midstream in to a 15 year clearance programme of some of the worst of the 770,000 unwanted Victorian homes in the North, the Coalition have pulled the plug without notice or any plan B. Contrary, the schemes had been encouraged by positive comments from housing minister Grant Shapps.

Royds Street, Accrington

Swing the axe on all the HMR funding has left councils halfway through schemes and with communities hung literally out to dry with no possible substitute funding. Unwanted and untouchable as far as private finance is concerned, areas partly in private ownership, partly in the local council ownership, blighted with crime misery and excess to local housing need, there are few if any options with Councils facing 30% cuts in budgets.

Areas like Woodnook where midway means the Council own some of boarded up properties whilst many properties in between are not in Council ownership and lie abandoned by their owners. 'Tinned up' either unrentable, unsellable, usually squalid and often the motoring equivalent of a 'write off' they have no value except the estate agents speculative value or worse, the libility of council blight.

Residents living in the remaining houses face at least a decade of misery.
The Conservatives have let down Woodnook which has had £50million of promised regeneration cut. David Cameron on a visit to Liverpool in 2006 'pledged his commitment to regenerating Northern Cities'.
Cameron said "We want to make our cities better for people to live in. It's part of my programme of getting the Conservative Party back in every part of our country and taking cities and urban regeneration seriously."
And in August 2008 David Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to northern housing schemes saying again; “The Conservative Party policy will continue the good work of regenerating cities right across England, including northern cities.” David Cameron MP, 13 August 2008
Broken promises which have left ordinary people living in ghetto's. As one resident put it "although I voted Conservative at the last election and even convinced my friends to as well, I wouldn't vote Conservative again, never."
Grant Shapps housing minister says they can bid the Regional Growth Fund available to every area of the Country. A paltry £1.4billion already ten times oversubscribed on all sorts of schemes from the affluent to deprived, the north to the south.

It's criteria don't even allow for housing regeneration bids and Mr Shapps assertion that the new homes bonus will also fill the gap shows how out of touch he is. For every bonus payment for new build, there is an equal bonus deduction for demolition and Mr Shapps is arguing that in abandoned areas, this will be of benefit? His argument is utterly stupid and clearly does understand what it is he is doing.

Now there will be no demolition and for those homeowners trapped between the rows of privately abandoned properties and those the Council has managed to acquire the next prospects for the next decade seem to nil leaving areas like Woodnook looking like a slum landlord’s ghetto. A paradise for arson, crime, drugs and misery and for those trapped in negative equity, a return to the early 1800's when the working class were dispensable.

It is now paramount we return a Labour Council able to assist in some way with these issues.
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Exclusive: Tens of thousands of homeowners are marooned in derelict streets after the government decided to save money by stopping an ambitious housing regeneration scheme.
 
Channel 4 News has learned that up to 62,000 households are affected by the Coalition's decision to halt a £5bn project to transform housing in towns and cities across the North of England.

Labour launched the so-called Pathfinder programme in 2003, with the aim of regenerating housing in nine areas from the Midlands to Tyneside.

But, although it was supposed to run for 15 years, it has now been quietly shelved by the Government less than halfway through, leaving tens of thousands of homeowners in limbo.
The spending cut means the demolition of around 30,000 sub-standard houses and the refurbishment of 32,000 will no longer go ahead, according to analysis by Brendan Nevin, a visiting professor at Manchester University, for Channel 4 News.

Stranded

We visited Oldham and Liverpool where residents are stranded in streets of boarded-up houses. In some areas there, the majority of homes have been knocked down under the last Government, but the remaining householders are no longer able to move out, because the new Coalition  Government has decided not to foot the bill for the purchase and demolition of their homes.
"You feel like a prisoner in your own house." Oldham resident Khadijah Sadiq
In Werneth, in south Oldham, the regeneration scheme has seen nearly 100 smart modern homes built since 2004. But now the project has been suspended, hundreds of houses are empty and boarded up, waiting for the council to find the money to demolish them.

In Cambridge Street, all but three of the houses are boarded up. Khadijah Sadiq owns one of those. Oldham Council had agreed to buy her house and she'd found another one. But after the General Election the deal collapsed.

She says the council has broken its promise, and she and her family are now stuck in a house she can't sell. It's so small that she and her two daughters share a single bedroom.

Ms Sadiq told me she had a message for David Cameron. "I would say to David 'Would you like to live in one of these houses?' I think he was born with a silver spoon, not with the one, probably with the two. So he needs to come and have a look around...You feel like a prisoner in your own house. I don't come out at night. I'm thinking 'Who's going to be behind there, my door?'"

She says she's scared, as the area - once a thriving community - has now been taken over by criminals and yobs. And although she voted Conservative at the last election, she vows she wouldn't again because she believes the Government is hitting the middle classes.

The council needs to find the money to knock down 200 houses like Khadijah's to finish the project in Oldham. It has bid for emergency cash from a housing quango to foot the bill and will find out next week if it has been successful.

But the impact of this spending cut can be seen far beyond the streets of Oldham.

Liverpool

In Liverpool, the problem is on an even larger scale. Again, the funding cut means householders are left in the lurch, surrounded by dereliction.
"We just can't leave these people in derelict streets. It's just not fair." Local campaigner Ros Groves
In Anfield alone, housing work will stop within months, leaving 360 householders trapped in boarded-up streets.

Local campaigner Ros Groves told me: "We just can't leave these people in derelict streets. It's just not fair. It's not what we were promised. We were asked to sign up to a commitment, which - yes, it was going to take 15 years to do - and then all of a sudden it looks in jeopardy and we're halfway through a project - well, not even halfway through a project in most places. You just can't do that to a community."

She said that a whole generation of children in the area have grown up in a delapidated urban landscape. Children in her neighbourhood draw pictures of houses with boarded-up windows, she added.

Of the £5bn pledged by Labour to the Pathfinder project, only £2.2bn has so far been spent. Ministers say money from the Regional Growth Fund will go towards housing regeneration. But that Fund is only worth £1.4bn, and it has to be shared out across an array of regeneration schemes. So Ministers admit there won't be enough to cover the housing shortfall.

FactCheck: are the Conservatives the party of urban regeneration?
Competition

Ian Cole, Professor of Housing Studies at Sheffield Hallam University, said there is a "a lot of competition for funding" from the Regional Growth Fund - "and I think housing will come in second place in any kind of bids".
The Pathfinder project was the brainchild of the academic Brendan Nevin. He said that stopping it more than seven years early meant that the billions of pounds already spent could be wasted. Areas where demolition and rebuilding work has yet to be completed are now blighted, he added.

"Failure to complete this would be a disaster for the communities involved...It really is without precedent for us to stop a programme like this in its tracks without having a Plan B agreed between local and central government."

But the Housing Minister Grant Shapps told me the regeneration plan was "dysfunctional" and that he didn't see the point in pulling down perfectly good Victorian terraces.

"Money that is already committed can continue and we will make sure that all of the contracts that are in place carry on," he said. "And then we need to find a better way of getting money direct to the communities, obviously all set against the background of deficit reduction and trying to resolve the big national problems."
He challenged local authorities to show "innovation and leadership" to help people stranded in derelict streets.

The claim
“Conservative Party policy will continue the good work of regenerating cities right across England, including northern cities.”David Cameron MP, 13 August 2008
 
Cathy Newman checks it out…

Ever since becoming Conservative leader, David Cameron has tried to make friends in the North. Right from the start, he’s committed his party to urban regeneration of the big Northern cities. It was a message which featured in his first party conference speech as leader in 2006, and two years ago he dismissed the idea that some Northern cities were “beyond revival” as “insane”. But an ambitious programme to overhaul sub-standard housing in areas like Liverpool and Oldham has been quietly shelved by the coalition government. The result? Tens of thousands of homeowners trapped in streets of derelict houses. They’d been promised their houses would be bought up and knocked down, so they would be able to move into better accommodation. But with the housing regeneration programme suspended, they’re stuck in limbo. So has Cameron broken his promise to “continue the good work”?


The analysis

In 2003, Labour launched its so-called “Pathfinder” programme, pledging £5bn to regenerate housing in nine areas. It was expected to run for 15 years.

But seven years on only £2.2bn has been spent and the current government will not be providing the remaining £2.8bn. Up to 62,000 households will be affected, Channel 4 News understands.

Axing the funding has meant that the demolition of around 30,000 sub-standard houses and the refurbishment of another 32,000 will no longer go ahead, according to analysis by Brendan Nevin, a visiting professor at Manchester University, for Channel 4 News. Some householders we visited in Liverpool and Oldham are marooned in streets where the majority of homes have been boarded up ready for demolition. Because the project won’t now be completed, these homeowners fear their houses won’t be bought up by the council as promised.

In the Anfield area of Liverpool alone, 360 households will be left surrounded by houses that have been boarded up because they are unable to move on from the area.

The danger is the changes will hit the poor the hardest. According to the Audit Commission, around 43 per cent of the poorest one per cent of neighbourhoods are located in the areas where this housing regeneration was due to happen.

Mr Nevin says over 123,000 of England’s poorest residents will be directly affected by the changes, assuming 30 per cent of the properties set for demolition are vacant and five per cent of the houses to be refurbished are unoccupied. And he claims that the government’s failure to provide the remaining funding will put at risk £4.2bn of private investment and around 17,200 jobs in construction.

It’s true that the Pathfinder programme has never been popular with the Conservatives. They have seized on local opposition to the demolition of Victorian two-up, two-down houses. Back in 2006 David Cameron called it “insensitive”, saying local communities should be in charge of regeneration, rather than central government. He said: “Our response, based on our philosophy of social responsibility, is to trust local leaders, not undermine them. So we will hand power and control to local councils and local people who have the solutions to poverty, to crime, to urban decay in their hands.”

Housing minister Grant Shapps told Channel 4 News today that “money that is already committed can continue, and we will make sure that all of the contracts that are in place carry on…And then we need to find a better way of getting money direct to the communities, obviously all set against the background of deficit reduction and trying to resolve the big national problems.”

He suggested that if councils were short of funding to buy up and demolish houses, they should apply for money from the £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund. But that Fund is shared among a number of different schemes aside from housing, so there won’t be enough money to cover the shortfall. He challenged local authorities to show “innovation and leadership” to help people stranded in derelict streets.

Mr Shapps also pointed out that the money for urban regeneration would have faced cuts under Labour.

Cathy Newman’s verdict

The Pathfinder scheme has certainly been controversial, with many questioning why decent Victorian terraced houses are being demolished and replaced. But there is no doubt that shelving this funding has left tens of thousands in limbo, stranded in inadequate houses and surrounded by dereliction. The housing minister hopes local councils will be able to scratch around for funds to help the neediest out. But that may be very hard to achieve. In the mean time, believing Cameron’s claim that the Tories will continue the “good work” on urban regeneration requires a rather large leap of faith.