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PATHFINDER LEFT ON THE EDGE

AGENDA

John Prescott's massive Pathfinder programme, the series of projects planned to 'sort out' the over-supply of housing in the North through widespread demolition, is beginning to cause big trouble for Two Jags' huge department.

Causing the most problems is a project in Liverpool's Kensington, where the local council and a housing quango plan to knock down 360 Victorian and Edwardian homes ( ajplus 15.11.05).

The Edge Lane scheme, which is currently waiting on the outcome of a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) inquiry looking into the grievances of a host of residents, has garnered opposition that not even world-weary local planners could have predicted.

The main reasons for this campaign are two-fold.

Firstly, the planners made the drastic mistake of failing to recognise that this was not some working-class area that could easily be rolled over, but a strong community with a hefty middle-class element. This is illustrated by the number of architects in the opposition.

And secondly, the council and housing quango rushed forward like headless chickens.

This week the council has even started demolishing some homes, without the result of the CPO inquiry.

While this is not illegal, because the quango - the Liverpool Land Development Company (LLDC) - already has ownership of the properties, it implies a lack of forethought.

If those backing the Pathfinder demolition proposals do not win the CPO inquiry (and everything points to it being a very close-run thing), Edge Lane could wind up looking very odd - a swathe of demolished land interrupted occasionally by the homes of those who won the inquiry.

You don't have to have an MA in masterplanning to realise that this is not the kind of starting point that makes for a successful regeneration.

And there are many other errors, the biggest of which undermines the whole concept of the Pathfinder approach.

Namely that local groups, including planning academics, architects and conservationists, do not believe most of the houses need to be demolished.

At the very heart of the Housing Market Renewal Initiatives - the official name for Pathfinder - is the argument that the vast majority of the homes to be demolished must be unsalvageable. This does not appear to be the case in Edge Lane. If the houses don't need to be knocked down and the residents don't want to leave, then what is the point of the exercise? No-one, including those in the council and LLDC press offices, seems to know.

But most significant is the failure of the Pathfinder supporters to communicate to the residents exactly what it is they are attempting to achieve through the demolition. And one wonders whether they themselves get it.

If this Edge Lane debacle is a microcosm of the Pathfinder approach in general, and empirical evidence does seem to point in this direction, then Prescott is about to find himself in some seriously hot water.

Just what this embattled government needs right now?

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