Thoughts on the Great British Property Scandal

By David Bartlett on Dec 5, 11 10:50 PM in Regeneration

I suspect George Clarke will have reached hero status among many housing campaigners across the country.

I have had the privilege of reporting on communities in both Merseyside and Lancashire touched by the Pathfinder project and have heard virtually all sides of the debate.

Supporters always tell you that more houses are renovated then demolished, the figures even back this up.

It is also true to say that in some areas people were living in substandard housing and wanted action to be taken and wanted to move.

But this was by all means not everywhere, and for every supporter of Pathfinder or Housing Market Renewal Initiative (HMRI) I will show at least one opponent (probably many more).

But even that misses the point. As George touched on tonight in the Great British Property Scandal on Channel 4 the problem is the way communities are destroyed in the process.

It is the way homes are boarded up and left empty for years in the name of regeneration.

Well intentioned plans have in many places come to nothing, and thousands of homes sit empty.

Thousands of homes were empty before Pathfinder came along, so all the blame cannot be placed at its doors.

Remember when Warren Bradley admitted that the city council had turned many areas into war zones. It was just before the local elections that saw the Liberal Democrats dumped out of power. It may have been an admission that came late in the day, but he was right. It is a theme George repeated tonight when visiting Liverpool.

The council bit off too much, and now the money has dried up rows of houses will sit empty for years. It's alright to blame the government, but the problem is so much wider than that.

But tonight on Channel 4 we have seen just a glimpse of the problems that are faced when you try to do something about it.

Councils are not willing to just hand over houses, even to people like George. We saw the prospect of a council that might knock down houses because it was given a government grant to demolish them, and in the absence of any other solution could be forced to take it.

Right at the end George pointed out that Liverpool council has set aside £2m to bring empty homes back into use (as previously reported HERE).

Though we should be cheerful about that, it is a drop in the ocean in comparison to the problem. If an average of £20,000 were spent on each property, it would spread to 100 homes.

As George showed tonight Liverpool council spent £1.28m securing empty properties before he took a tour of the Welsh Streets.

The way he was able to walk out of Eleanor Lee's back gate into an alley strewn with rubble and a bulldozer rumbling down it, was probably one of the most powerful and vivid parts of the programme. Unsurprisingly it moved George, and led to another reference to war zones.

Ultimately the housing scandal is one of a lack of imagination, a lack of joined up thinking.

Who is sitting down and doing the maths between the wasted money of government, councils, and housing associates? Each organisation will see their own budget in isolation and for one year. A long term joint evaluation is seldom made.

The fragmentation of social housing (in the wake of councils being forced to hand their stock over to housing associations) is certainly one cause of the problem.

It's easy to see why councils, starved of any real ability to raise money and not trusted to borrow to invest in housing, jumped feet first into HMRI. As is often the case with UK government schemes, it was the only game in town. If you want government cash you get on board. With that comes a lack of control and a one-size fits all approach.

But there is also a lack of imagination in dealing with problems once they arise. Rockfield Terrace in Anfield is the one of the few shinning examples of what can be done when minds are applied to the problem.

Yet we are always told that it is virtually impossible to replicate the approach elsewhere. Why? What was so special about the formula that worked there and will not work elsewhere?

George Osborne wants pension funds to invest in the nation's infrastructure, why not expand that to empty homes too?

We hear a lot of talk about localism from the government, but when will local people really be empowered to run their communities. When will modern technology be used to genuinely engage people in a discussion about what they want?

If you missed the Great British Property Scandal you can catch it on Channel 4 On Demand HERE.

7 Comments

Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the challenges.
It was truly informative. Your website is very helpful.

Thank you for sharing!

Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the challenges.
It was truly informative. Your website is very helpful.
Thank you for sharing!

Bee Komarek said:

Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It's the little changes which will make the most significant changes.

Thanks for sharing!

Dale Street Associates

David Bartlett

David Bartlett

City editor of the Post and Echo covering politics, regeneration, and urban affairs.
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