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Kelly saves Liverpool homes from Pathfinder threat

Ruth Kelly has saved a row of derelict Victorian villas which had been earmarked for demolition under the controversial Pathfinder programme.

The new Communities Minister has forced Liverpool City Council to sell off the large family homes overlooking the historic Newsham Park, effectively taking the future of the properties out of the local authority's hands.

The sale has been ordered under a little-known piece of planning legislation known as PROD - a public request to order disposal - which requires authorities to release publicly owned land if there are no plans for its use.

Local campaign group the Friends of Newsham Park had accused the council of 'sitting on' the villas for nearly 10 years, with the possible outcome of the homes being 'demolished by stealth'.

In a letter to Liverpool City Council - sent through the Government Office for the North West - Kelly said: 'on the basis of evidence so far available- it appears that the land is not being used by the council for their performance of their functions; and further more, [I am] not satisfied that the council has any firm plans to sell, develop or bring the land into use within a reasonable timescale.'

Kelly's decision has been welcomed by critics of the government's contentious housing market renewal initiative (HMRI) and gives hope to residents in other areas threatened by bulldozers.

The move also signals a possible change in stance towards Pathfinders by Kelly, just weeks after taking over from John Prescott as head of the programme.

Ironically the houses which will now be sold off are on Prescot Drive.

Adam Wilkinson, of conservation group SAVE Britain's Heritage, said: 'This is excellent news and will force through the sale of these properties - even though they would have been demolished under the Pathfinder programme.

'It was pretty awful that the local authority sat on these houses for years and let them fall into ruin.'

by Richard Waite

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