Sunday, 12 December 2010

Woodnook Regeneration - Let's think again about the way forward given the government savage cuts

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The Government have surprisingly axed all housing market renewal funding (HMR) just as Woodnook was about to begin a six year £40million facelift.

A decision that has caught everyone out as it had been anticipated since the election HMR would have faced reductions.

The Housing Minster had talked positively about the scheme and the Prime Minster had stated in a series of speeches and visits that people in areas of urban regeneration would in future turn confidently towards the Conservative Party.

Locally the Council Leader boasted of correspondence he had received giving assurances that funding would not be cut. That letter was never released and is not available to be scrutinised.

So where now for Woodnook?

I will continue to lobby the Government and the minister. There are private capital channels. There is always better and more rigourous enforcement and better advisory services. There remains opportunities to extend the HomeFront Lottery scheme insert up.

Tough us of blight legislation, landlord licensing and an extension of Homewise services.

Current funding remaining from this the last year is £1.5million. There are assets within the scheme, most notably in West Accrington.

The Council's decision was to identify a small redline area and spend this limited funding within that.

In June in the emergency budget, HMR received a 16% cutback resulting in £500,000 funding cut to Woodnook. This reduced the scope of the redline areas. The decision to axe it altogether from April was a further game changer.

The six blocks identified have had to be reduced to four demolition and one compulsory purchase and refurbishment. The block to fall out of the revised limited redline area being Wilfred Street backing onto Augusta Street.

News media have carried the horror stories of residents being told they are being shipped out under a CPO, preparing themselves to move and finding new accommodation only to have all that cancelled and they are to remain. It's been heartbreak and The Council must bare responsibility.

The Council's plan is a large park from one side of Booth Street to Augusta Street with four blocks being demolished. Spending all the remaining budget on one central scheme and holing for a halo effect.

Whilst these streets are the worst, the money would have gone further on lower Royds Street and Cotton Street due to greater demand and better regeneration opportunities.

As County Councillor The benefits of a huge park taking out access along upper Royds Street is a good idea that I had advocated for Cedar Street area had HMR continued.

There is a case to create two squares. To compulsory purchase the original six blocks and leave two back to back blocks in the middle remaining. Royds Street backing onto Augusta Street. The increased cost of purchases along Wilfred Street being a budgetary problem and the Council may have to borrow.

This may be preferential as road management schemes may block off Royds effecting the same neighbourhood home zoning.

The problem with the Councils plan is an untouched Wilfred Street, the backs particularly undermine regeneration of Augusta Street and require spending which will have zero return on treatments on Wilfred Street. Otherwise an eyesore will remain.

Creating two squares allows for holistic regeneration of the two central blocks and makes both blocks desirable as well as extending by a street at least the limited scheme.

The refurbishment work itself will be key.

The Council has a disastrous record in imagination emanating from poor vision at the top and a desire to hand out money. Blackburn Roads like for like block grants, old for new with no aesthetic or design changes was a wasteful exercise running up balance sheet deficit of £millions.

This must not be repeated in Woodnook. Historical renovations are not the enemy of contemporary design. They can and should sit side by side as part of the solution.

Understanding low demand is understand that these properties do not provide enough space inside or out. That back to back terraces are not contemporary or popular. That internally much always needs to be done to modernise, to make safe, to even make desirable and pound for pound these properties are expensive to renovate singularly and expensive per square foot to buy.

By creating outdoor communal space, if done right and I would emphasise many London quadrangles enveloping well maintained high standard park areas as exemplars, we are meeting head on one the major problems.

The properties on Clement Street also need to be considered, particularly reversing the fronts and backs. The land along the school side on Hudson Street will acquire greater value and there is scope for return on considering residential development sympathetic to existing block on Hudson Street.

The buildings themselves need to have a third story and fourth story on the gables to add capital to the square foot curtilage and provide attractive space for loft / study / single bedroom living modern families require.

The slope of the street is viewed as problematic even undesirable. It is for imagination to capture the advantages of such elevation and capitalise on the natural vista.

Economies of scale and symmetric and aesthetically pleasing designs are clearly accomplished only through CPO or total ownership.

New designs must take account of maximum insulation, alfresco living, security for motor vehicles and property both by community design and modern electronics whilst offering the luxury of above ground living and maximising light and energy. Both ground source, wind and solar cheaply.

There must be a mix of tenure and scale of property such as two into ones. Third floor balconies facing south west must be considered as must the modern large, over the pavement balconies to the front.

Car parking should be integral to the building, rear or more adventurously front. Upside down living with backyard space on the first floor above an extended first floor drawing inspiration from Chimmney Pots estate in Salford.

Radical thought given to new extended additional three story rear elevations injecting greater internal space. Internal space which should take on the best contemporary design features of light and open space with long lasting and durable fixes of supplies.

Reused stone and slate from demolitions will help.

All these important points are necessary to overcome a negative image of Woodnook. It may be necessary to lose money on extras but it will be those design extras that make a statement about the area and crucially, gentrifying the neighbourhood.

It is important and in the current housing market that the ideological driven Conservatives do not become tenure blind. A presumption of wholesale private sales may prove folly as it will place a artificial cap on design and cost to drive sales and in the face of sales stagnation, mute the scheme.

With social housing in short supply I believe the Council should retain ownership and new impending regulations permit tenure control and the loss of RTB. Limited tenancies and shared ownership should make up a significant proportion of any mixed tenure community. It is important to prevent any buy to let market developing.

This is could be a bold new adventure. A template. The last chance to be a regeneration pathfinder. We must be brave and we must take it.

It goes without saying that this will remain a pipe dream set against the dreary reality of a Conservative Council lacking any vision, uninterested and wasteful - unless they are defeated at the ballot box May.


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