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pathfinder schemes

Keith Parkins | 14.02.2005 14:28 | Analysis | Repression | Social Struggles | Birmingham | Liverpool

In the name of urban renewal, creating sustainable communities, social cleansing on a vast scale is being pushed through unchallenged.

It sometimes appears that every other week, either Duty Prime Minister John Prescott or our dear leader Bliar, are announcing one scheme or another to tackle social deprivation, or an initiative to deal with socially deprived areas, anti-social behaviour or yet another housing policy.

Only the other week, Bliar wrung his hands and shed a few crocodile tears at the problems facing first time buyers, that they could not afford to get their feet on the first rung of the property ladder. Not, you will note, that they may not have decent housing.

Housing policy in this country is a disaster.

If Bliar was so concerned at the lack of affordable houses, why is he and Prescott so determined to push through the sale of council housing to registered social landlords, leaving the tenants worse off?

Once such scheme, launched a couple of years ago is the Pathfinder scheme. Allegedly an urban renewal scheme, but is it?

What does the Office of the Deputy PM have to say about it (from ODPM website):

"The Market Renewal Pathfinders projects have been established to tackle the most acute areas of low demand and abandonment in parts of the North and Midlands.”

“These problems can blight communities, causing the local housing market to collapse, with the result that abandoned houses are boarded up, business and job opportunities dwindle, and people move away.”

“The aim of the £500 million housing market renewal Pathfinder programme is to turn whole communities around by improving the quality of private, local authority and registered social landlord housing.”

“This will involve clearing poor quality houses for which there is little or no demand, building attractive, good quality new homes, and upgrading existing home to push up their market value.”

ODPM goes on to tell us: 'The Pathfinder programme will also create sustainable communities with strong identities, by making sure that schools, shopping areas, community and leisure facilities, job opportunities and thriving businesses, are also in place.'

The key phase is 'push up their market value', ie in areas of low demand for housing, we will demolish, create scarcity, as we have in London and the South East, and 'push up their market value'.

This once again highlights the insincerity of Blair, when he talks of first time buyers being unable to gain a foothold in the property market. But then that is what it is all about, property markets, not homes that people can afford to live in. It is about creating social inequality, where the rich may prosper and the poor are left to rot by the wayside.

There are nine Pathfinder schemes across the North and the Midlands. These are: Merseyside, Manchester/Salford, Newcastle/Gateshead, Birmingham Sandwell, East Lancashire, Oldham/Rochdale, South Yorkshire, Humberside and the East Riding and North Staffordshire.

February 2003, John Prescott announced a £500 million market renewal fund for investment in the market renewal pathfinders as part of his plan Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future.

October 2003, ODPM Minister Yvette Cooper announced an allocation of £125 million over three years for Manchester/Salford, the first Pathfinder to receive funding.

Funding for two more Pathfinders was announced by Prescott on 2 February 2004, part of the 'Making It Happen: the Northern Way', in which the Government outlined its vision for increasing growth and prosperity in the north of England.

The Merseyside Pathfinder, New Heartlands, is to receive £86 million in new funding to improve housing and tackle low housing demand in parts of Liverpool, Sefton and Wirral.

Merseyside has already received £4 million in early action funding, was used to acquired run-down properties for demolition and to improve community facilities to encourage regeneration and social cohesion. Liverpool is also in receipt of £62 million New Deal funding for the Kensington area of Liverpool. There has also been EU funding, some of which has disappeared without trace and is subject to EU fraud investigation, although no report has been published.

The reality in Liverpool, is that tens of thousands of people are being driven out of their homes, thousands of houses, many of them good properties, are being destroyed, to maintain a property market. This is not creating sustainable communities, this is destroying existing communities.

In the Kensington area, rows and rows of terraced housing are being destroyed. These are mixed communities, 60% are rented (private tenants and social housing tenants), 40% home owners.

As people are being are driven out, houses are left boarded up. Home owners find they are hit by planning blight. The price of their homes tumbles. They are then offered derisory amounts for their homes on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, a fraction of what their homes were originally worth. Insufficient to put the homeowners back onto the property market. If they still refuse to move, the ever obliging Liverpool City Council, is only too happy to serve CPOs on behalf of the developers.

CPOs may only be served to benefit a community, not a developer, but hey, who is worried about these minor technical details in a city as corrupt as Liverpool.

What rankles with the homeowners is that they are being kicked out of their homes, offered £40-60,000 for their homes, a fraction of what they were once worth. New homes, that will be built on the very spot where their old homes once stood, will be offered for sale at £125-150,000.

If the homeowners and tenants still refuse to move, criminal gangs can be relied upon to winkle them out of their homes.

An arterial route runs through the blighted area from the M62 to the city centre. Using the pretence of a road widening scheme (the road is being widened by 10 feet), hundreds of houses alongside the road are to be demolished.

Who is benefiting from this profiteering, certainly not the homeowners, nor the social/private tenants, who are being kicked out of their homes. For the social/private tenants, they are also being kicked out of the community.

The new build will only have 30% or less of homes to rent. These are being offered on first refusal to homeowners as an encouragement to sell up, either to let or on a shared-ownership basis with a housing association. Meanwhile the tenants are being offered social housing on rough estates elsewhere, outside the area of urban renewal. Properties that RSLs are finding difficult to let. Refuse a couple of offers and you are evicted, out on the street, homeless, with no obligation to re-house.

The area is being cleansed of the private and social housing tenants. Social cleansing on a gigantic scale

Within the redevelopment area, tenants of existing housing associations find they are being handed over to Riverside Community Seven. They have had no say whatsoever in this change of landlord.

No one knows what is going on. Tenants are seeing their homes left to fall into rack and ruin. Small businesses in the area are seeing trade disappear and their businesses become worthless.

The decision to destroy hundreds of homes, thousands of lives, was taken by ten executive council members, together with a handful of officials. For once, the officials did not even have to tell the councillors how to vote as the decision had been taken before the meeting.

There has been so little public consultation, that to call it consultation, would be to abuse the English language. The meetings that have been held, were packed with housing association and council cronies to ensure the right result was delivered.

Misinformation and intimidation is the norm. Tenants find they are stone-walled and their questions not answered. The local RSL, which is one of the beneficiaries of this scheme, refuses to answer or reply to any queries from the local tenants action group. They now find, even their e-mails to Riverside are blocked. Mike Lane, a vocal critic and chair of the local tenants action group, has recently had his car fire-bombed.

The only beneficiaries of this scheme are builders, RSLs, the councils and the usual entourage of carpet-bagger consultants who seem to be attracted to these schemes like flies to a rotting carcass.

Off the record, in private, never to be repeated conversations, local councillors say it is not us, it is Prescott and his department who are wielding a big stick and forcing us to force through this unwanted and unpopular clearance.

The one group of people who are certainly not benefiting from this scheme are the local people who are being bulldozed out of their homes.

The local paper, the Liverpool Echo, far from exposing the injustice taking place in their own back yard, has the occasional foray, the occasional whimper, or chooses to remain silent.

If you want to create sustainable communities, you invest in those communities, help them to fix what is wrong. You don't create sustainable communities by leveling what is there and carrying out social cleansing on a grand scale. Or are we to believe that the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbs in Bosnia was an attempt at creating sustainable communities.

What we are seeing, is neo-Nazis stamping out a community with their jackboots. Nazi Germany at the height of the World War II bombing blitz, was not able to achieve this level of destruction in Liverpool.

What is happening in Liverpool is not restricted to Liverpool. In Newcastle, swathes of housing is being leveled under a process of gentrification. The same again in Sunderland. In Sunderland, homeowners are left abandoned in an area of boarded-up and burnt out housing. Their property price plummets. The RSL then offers a pittance for their homes. If they still refuse to see the light, the obliging local council steps in with a CPO.

In Farnborough in Hampshire, a small estate of social housing is earmarked for demolition to make way for a car park for a superstore. Part of an unwanted town centre redevelopment. The local council is only too happy to collude with the developers and give them anything they want. The social housing tenants are being helped on their way by their RSL refusing to carry out repairs. As I was told by an employee to my query what will happen if they refuse to move, he told me the property would be left to fall down around their ears. A clear admission of harassment by neglect, a criminal offence. The RSL has been offered two blocks of flats and six houses for the land. The houses will be let on shared ownership, when sold expected to realise in excess of a £1 million for the RSL. If the RSL is happy, the fate of their tenants does not count.

In Deptford in East London, social housing tenants are being kicked off their estate and out of their community under the guise of 'redevelopment'. One tower block is to converted into luxury riverside apartments, other blocks are to be demolished and the land redeveloped by Hyde Housing Association for let as shared ownership. It is no coincidence that the parts of the Pepys Estate to be redeveloped occupy a prime riverside site on the banks of the River Thames, overlooking Canary Wharf, with stunning views upstream to central London and downstream to Greenwich.

On the Pepys Estate in Deptford, a handful of tenants and homeowners who exercised the right to buy are refusing to budge. They have since been joined in their fight by squatters who have occupied one of the doomed blocks. Like their fellow residents, the squatters too, are refusing to leave. Not that is without putting up a massive fight. In the meantime, the squatters are helping their fellow resident to improve the estate. A wildlife area has been created and there are plans in the spring to start a community garden.

The action by Lewisham to destroy the Pepys estate, to kick people out of their local community, will lead to a net loss of social housing in an area of acute social social deprivation. Like decisions taken elsewhere, the decision was taken by a handful of executive councillors and their officials against the wishes of the local community. Consultation was non-existent.

In Clapham in south London tenants are being 'persuaded' to agree to privatisation of their council housing, whilst at the same time, New Deal money is being poured into the area. No one knows where the money is going other than it seems to be disappearing into a black hole. Their worst fear, is that half of one of their estates is to be cleared of social housing to enable the land to be used for redevelopment to build housing for sale.

It is no surprise that a member of the Liverpool tenants action group has called RSLs an oppressive force operating in our communities.

Have no lessons been learnt? We went through the same exercise in the 1960s. Areas were cleared, longstanding communities were destroyed. These communities were self-policing. The new estates, where nobody knew anybody, where the tenants (and they were always tenants) had no commitment to the community, were remote from friends, relatives and workplace, become ghettos of social deprivation, breeding grounds for today's problems of anti-social behaviour. Are memories so short?

The federation that represents and supports RSLs has recently published a neighbourhood strategy. In it, they recognise they are not popular. An understatement if ever there was one. In their strategy they say: We will put neighbourhoods at the heart of everything we do; We will promote neighbourhoods where there is a place for everyone, with positive support for diversity of people and places; We will work in partnership with local people, councils and other agencies, and will champion local needs.

The antithesis of what councils and RSLs actually do.

It took two years to produce this strategy, a document that contains empty fatuous statements and little else.

The strategy is a crude PR stunt. The opportunity for RSLs who adopt it to create an illusion that they are doing something useful in the local communities in which they operate.

No one is fooled, especially the local communities that suffer. The reality is that RSLs, like local councils, are a force of of oppression in the communities in which they operate.

The real commitment to change, will be when local communities are put in change of RSLs, when tenants run their own estates. Only then, will 'neighbourhoods be at the heart of everything' RSLs do.

At the end of January, Prescott published his latest initiative, it followed hard on the heels of the government's housing strategy that had only been launched the previous week.

In an ODPM press release Prescott said:

'We want to offer new opportunities for neighbourhoods everywhere. We want people to help shape the local public services they receive, and we want them to become more involved in the democratic life of their community. By action at the neighbourhood level, people everywhere can make a significant difference to the quality of our country’s public services. In this way, local people, working with local councillors, can play their part in creating sustainable communities.'

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.



Nick Coligan, Residents unite over Edge Lane expansion, Liverpool Echo, 26 January 2005

In Business for Neighbourhoods: Action for Change Manifesto, In Business for Neighbourhoods, National Housing Federation

Mike Lane, Whole communities will be decimated through gentrification!, Indymedia UK, 2 September 2004

Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution, October 2003

Keith Parkins, Social landlords are deviating from their intended purpose, Indymedia UK, 20 January 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing landlords the new corporations, Corporate Watch newsletter No 17, January-February 2004

Keith Parkins, Registered social landlords – the new corporations, Indymedia UK, 18 February 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing under attack, Indymedia UK, 5 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Privatisation of council housing, Indymedia UK, 16 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing privatisation scam, Indymedia UK, 2 November 2004

Keith Parkins, Scandal of Pepys Estate, Indymedia UK, 9 February 2005

Prescott unveils plans to give communities more say in local decision making, press release, ODPM, 31 January 2005

Michael Rosen, Road to ruin, The Guardian, 3 December 2004

Tenants Action Group, Powerless Residents!, Indymedia UK, 5 February 2005

Tenants Action Group, Fight for Your Homes: New Thinking, New Kensington?, 2005 {52-minute video documentary on DVD}

Hilary Wainwright, Reclaim the State: Experiments in Popular Democracy, Verso, 2003

Matt Weaver, Landlords 'deliberately running down estates', The Guardian, 10 February 2005

Keith Parkins


Display the following 3 comments

  1. Why the statue? — m
  2. Oppose House Crusher — steve radford
  3. Rowner Destruction — Bryan Lawrence
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