Binney: 'Ministers must stand up to bullying councils over Pathfinder-by-stealth'
The president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage Marcus Binney calls for the refurbishment of homes in the former Pathfinder zones and the end to ‘back door’ demolition
SAVE has been fighting the destruction of the 400,000 so-called Coronation Street houses due for demolition under John Prescott’s Bulldoze the North, Concrete the South ‘Pathfinder’ programme for nearly ten years. Many of these may look plain outside - though quite a proportion come with stone fronts and generous bay windows - but inside they contain well-proportioned rooms, which make attractive dignified homes.
Our current biggest battleground centres on the 480 houses in Liverpool’s Welsh Streets built for their families by the Welsh artisans who created the City’s golden age of Architecture.
Mrs Justice Lang’s recent High Court decision gives Government and local authorities a chance to ensure that £35 million allocated to bring the Pathfinder juggernaut to an end is not just used to finance more destruction but actually to create much needed family homes.
The demolition and hidden wrecking goes on.
In the Welsh Streets SAVE has secured 16 houses in Madryn Street for refurbishment. Leading Liverpool surveyor and estate agent Paul Sutton has shown that the refurbishment of these cruelly battered and abused houses (which include Ringo Starr’s birthplace) is viable in purely commercial terms without subsidy if blight is removed from surrounding streets. And if just a fraction of Liverpool’s £9 million allocation of the £35 million transition funds (still unspent according to the Council’s affadavit) is allocated as grants for repair, these houses would all be ready to occupy within months.
Last week a brilliant exhibition organized by local resident Nina Edge showed a series of alternative ways of renovating the Welsh streets – ranging from straightforward refurb to innovative linking of houses, both side to side and across back yards to create larger family homes. A reliable developer stands ready with finance to carry out the scheme, designed with local practice ‘Constructive Thinking.’
So far SAVE has mounted several legal challenges to Government and local councils to stop Pathfinder’s appalling blight. Thanks to skillful preparation by environmental lawyers Susan Ring and courtroom advocacy by Richard Harwood QC we have had great successes. Yet still the demolition and hidden wrecking, such as arson, removal of gutters and downpipes and lead flashing, goes on.
If the Government can finally stand up to the juggernaut of demolition driven by the Homes and Communities Agency, a huge programme of neighbourhood refurb can begin. In Liverpool the housing waiting list has doubled to 22,000 over the decade while up to 15,000 houses have been left standing empty.
In contrast to continental Europe where so many live in apartments the English like to live in houses and the standard terrace house makes the best use of scarce land.
New homes can be created more quickly through refurb than by adding to the already vast landbank of planning permissions hoarded by developers who are not interested in building now but only when the market is right (and bank finance is available for any other than top bankers’ salaries).
Government likes to talk of the green shoots of recovery. Nowhere can these grow quicker than in Liverpool. Grant Shapps and his fellow Ministers have already conceded in Court that they were wrong. The question is whether they are men enough (and we are talking men here in contrast to the brave band of women like Nina Edge and Elizabeth Pascoe who have fought on in their homes against the Stalinist bulldozers) to stand up to bullying local councils and demand refurbishment begins.