This piece first appeared in the Feb 12-18 edition of Big Issue in the North. For more information visit my website.
To those fighting the clearance of 117 homes in Goole, East Yorkshire, however, it’s anything but.
Local campaigners believe the run-down Suffleton district has become the latest front in an increasingly bitter battle to put common sense back into national housing policy.
A war, as they see it, to defend decent terraced housing from unwarranted demolition by their council – and others across the country.
Sandwiched between the diminutive town centre and the banks of the River Ouse, Phoenix Street and Richard Cooper Street, adjacent, would be unremarkable were it not the dereliction.
Just a handful of properties are still lived in; the rest tinned up at a cost of hundreds of pounds a time.
Alan Wilson, of the anti-demolition Goole Action Group (GAG), and a landlord with a property on Richard Cooper Street, says: “It’s a disgrace. Goole’s an area of acute housing need yet dozens of properties now owned by the council are empty.
“They are structrally sound and would provide good, affordable housing yet will be knocked down to clear the way for new homes.
“The whole scheme will be costly and environmentally damaging. Renovation would be a better use of public money.”
Phoenix Street and Richard Cooper Street were condemned – along with a neighbouring warehouse site – by East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) in 2004, after being deemed unsustainable in an assessment.
Under Advance Goole, the town regeneration plan, the land will be cleared, sold and redeveloped for new housing, while homes on 53 other streets will be renovated.
A sum of £9m – coming from the council budget, regional housing board and registered social landlords – was earmarked over three years.
On Phoenix and Richard Cooper Streets, housing association tenants moved out first, followed close behind by owners, who took voluntary acquisition as the rot set in. Maintenance is poor and anti-social behaviour has increased.
Meanwhile, housing pressure in the town is pushing up prices.
GAG members are suspicious of council motives and unhappy with how the process has been handled. They claim most residents are against demolition and say that while some properties may look shabby, they remain sturdy and could be completely renovated at a fraction of the cost.
The refusal by councillors to consider alternatives has led to speculation that Shuffleton may have been singled out for its riverside location and high land value.
They’re accusations ERYC hotly denies.
The council believes it has widespread support and says GAG is simply a small but noisy group who want to hold back regeneration for selfish reasons.
Plus the debate comes two years too late. After all, it adds, the decision to bulldoze has already been made.
GAG chairman Kevin Flynn, a Goole town councillor whose 76-year-old mother-in-law reluctantly sold up following pressure from relatives, says: “We are suspicious. The riverfront views make Phoenix and Richard Cooper Streets an ideal site for an executive redevelopment.
“Renovation has never been on the agenda, whereas on neighbouring streets where housing is very similar properties are being done up. We can’t help but wonder why.”
Demolition talk began partway through 2004, after a neighbourhood assessment singled the two streets out as non-sustainable.
Reasons included low demand, poor housing condition, a bad reputation, vandalism and dog fouling.
A survey was sent to residents to gauge public feeling and council leaders agreed on clearance in December that year. So far properties have been bought up through voluntary acquisition process. But compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) are likely to be used on refusniks over the coming months.
While Advance Goole’s funding comes from a range of sources, officials say it is modelled on the government’s Housing Market Renewal Initiative.
Known as Pathfinder, the publically-funded scheme aims to prevent housing market collapse in urban areas, many of which are in the North.
It has sparked controversy for encouraging widescale demolition of pre-1919 terraces, many of which could be rescued. Up to 400,000 are thought to face demolition nationwide.
In Goole, a handful of residents and landlords are hanging on and have vowed to do whatever it takes to push the clearance policy off track.
They warn it only takes one appeal against a CPO to trigger a public inquiry. And GAG has other tricks up its sleeve – including legal options – which members believe could yet force ERYC to reconsider.
Their preferred alternative would be sympathetic renovation of the 117 properties, as proposed by developer Malcolm Kitching, based in nearby Askern.
His firm Westdale, which has carried out estate regeneration projects across Yorkshire – including parts of East Riding – already owns six properties on the two streets and has developed potential plans for the area.
Malcolm says the homes could be brought up to the standard of new builds inside and out and put on the market at £90,000 – with a £25,000 discount for former street residents or first-time buyers.
Back alleys would be removed, giving properties a larger yard, and the homes would be opened up – with attics converted into living spaces and even the creation of in-built garages to reduce the need for on-road parking.
He says he would welcome debate on the idea, adding: “I tried to show my plans to the council but they say the money can only be used for demolition and rebuilding.
“From a builder’s point of view there is nothing wrong with the existing houses. There is not a crack on them. The council doesn’t understand the potential of modern building materials.
“Demolition will cost about £1.7m, plus the cost of acquisition, plus security. We could probably get four streets done for that price.
“Our plan would improve the area greatly and could become a flagship development. But they are very short-sighted.”
Sally Burns, ERYC’s head of housing and public protection, insists Westdale’s proposals do not stack up. But in any case, she points out, clearance will be going ahead – it’s just a matter of when.
Over the coming months, the authority will apply for outline planning permission for the site and will look for a preferred partner to carry out the development.
“Advance Goole is all about improving the town for local people,” she says.
“Shuffleton was becoming a ghetto of high crime and low demand so something needed to be done.
“We believe most residents are behind us. It is a small group of people who are vehemntly opposed, and most of those have financial interests in those streets – either as landlords or developers.
“So far we have secured about 90 per cent of properties on Phoenix and Richard Cooper Streets, which is extremely high. We have written to the remaining owners to ask if we can help with anything else.
“After that we will use CPOs if we have to. This will delay the whole regeneration process for Goole, which is a shame because ultimately it’s the town which is going to suffer.”
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