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Civic society hits out at Gleeson Homes-designed Toxteth scheme


Design experts have slammed a ‘bog-standard’ housing scheme approved by Liverpool City Council

Merseyside Civic Society criticised the green lighting of a 65 home scheme by builders Gleeson Homes for a site off Kingsley Road, Toxteth.

The group claimed that the development, which has been backed by the Homes and Communities Agency, would represent a ‘bleak return’ for massive public investment.

The society’s chair Peter Brown, told the planning committee ‘the demolition of so many fine Victorian terraces in this area is made all the worse when they are to be replaced by what can only be described as the worst examples of bland, low grade, bog- standard housing.’

He added that not requesting contributions for open space in inner city streets went against the council’s own policies, and appeared to lower the benchmark for development in Liverpool’s former ‘housing market renewal’ area.

The objections were rejected by the planning committee. 

Earlier this month, local residents staged a week long picket to block bulldozers from clearing Victorian homes on an adjacent site on Kingsley Road.

They were protesting at a council partnership with social landlords Plus Dane and developers Lovells, who are working on a similar demolition and rebuild scheme to that approved yesterday.

A spokesman for Gleeson said: ‘We constantly survey our customers and as a consequence we fully understand their needs and expectations. We are proud to say that we build and sell homes that our customers have a desire and can afford to buy and live in and we will continue to do so’.


Comment: Urbed’s Jonathan Brown on Toxteth

Toxteth is a national treasure, whose treatment is a national disgrace. Developed as a Hyde Park of the north, Liverpool 8’s Victorian boulevards and Georgian terraces enjoyed a mid 20th century hey-day as the Harlem of Europe, until racist policing and crass housing policies sparked July 1981’s uprising, for which the blighted heartland, Granby Street, still appears un-forgiven.

Thirty years on residents are again rising up, this time in peaceful resistance against decades of housing demolition. People from Granby’s surviving ’Four Streets’ have mounted a daily anti-bulldozer blockade to save large 19th century properties from removal by developer Lovells, Liverpool city council and social landlord Plus Dane.

As the Localism Bill undergoes amendment in the House of Lords, Granby’s spontaneous direct action is a reminder that such places, where communities have long been exploited and governance contested, set the measure by which the true beneficiaries of Neighbourhood Planning will be weighed.

The legislators should take note. L8 residents already represent a triumph of small society over big government. Authorities euphemistically describe Granby as the ‘focus of sustained regeneration activity since the early 1970’s’. In defiance of interminable cycles of top down ‘renewal‘, people have painted curtains on bricked up bay windows, and planted emptied streets with trees, picnic tables and burgeoning vegetable boxes. On the first Saturday of every month they hold the thriving Cairns Street market, complete with reggae sounds, curry stalls and vintage bric-a-brac, a little piece of 1960s Portobello Road in inner Liverpool.

Residents reserve particular mockery for the target-driven Housing Market Renewal (HMR) Pathfinder, whose wasteful spending and myopic statistical mythology of failure and ‘low demand’ is laid bare by a new Land Trust, pushing hard for ‘homesteading’ by households and small firms as an alternative to large social landlord projects. Parodying multi-branded propaganda posters of ‘approved’ neighbourhood investors, residents’ leaflets boast just one logo - ‘Funded by: The People‘.

The key question for regeneration under the Coalition is whether Localism rewards such grass roots neighbourhood initiatives, or simply accelerates their hollowing out.

Does a Neighbourhood Plan offer residents a powerful statutory base from which to resist corrupted plans, reclaim their seized housing market from indifferent officials, and repopulate grassed over clearance sites?

Or will their lack of control over approval of the ’Legitimate Forum’, indeterminate boundaries of non-Parish neighbourhood planning units, and temptingly ‘gerrymander able’ coverage of referendum electorates, actually render communities, especially under-resourced ones, ever more open to manipulation through ‘divide and rule’?

I suspect Localism will swing the balance of neighbourhood power both ways - low towards the people where there is already an enlightened, accountable local authority working with well organised neighbourhood groups, and further up and away where the authority is captive to vested interests. If the CLG rhetoric of localism is accepted as a sincere attempt to reinvigorate participation, it looks painfully sidelined by the Treasury view of planning as a drag anchor, and design as a luxury.

Politicians of all parties could do worse than treasure the example of Toxteth as both ’localist’ inspiration and warning. It shows that people are just as keen to use social capital to promote and lead positive change rather than resist it, whilst well-resourced vested interests, if allowed to run rampant, can actually delay investment as disgracefully as any so called NIMBY group.




Readers' comments (5)

  • Great words, but that is all they are from Jonathan Brown, who does not live in the Toxteth area.
    The Merseyside Civic Society is a spent force unfortunatly, and is now used as a platform for people to 'get their name about'.
    I bet each meeting has no more than three people attending.
    I was at the Liverpool planning committee meeting, as was the MCS Chairman, of 19th April 2011 and was suprised to see so many people, who are, residents of the area, openly eclaring they want the place knocked down and re-developed.
    Where is their say.
    I have never before seen a situation where people who live in an area are supporters, declaring they want their houses knocked down..............and it helped change my mind, enough is enough.


    This is a orchestrated campaign by SAVE and a few of MCS but lets hear a bit more from those who dont have the time or the understanding of how to get 'themselves about'.


    We all know the new houses will be shoeboxes, so thats worth highlighting, but Peter Brown who was a open supporter of the godawful Mann Island Development as MCS Chairman should understand that those houses, he is proclaiming to want saved are now dead and buried. As with Ege Lane, It is the ojectors who dont live in an area who are stopping the area being given another chance.
    They may not want to understand these facts and may get upset but, it really is tie to move on.

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  • Submitted via e-mail by an anonymous resident of Toxteth, Liverpool

    As a resident of L8 (or Toxteth as some prefer to call it) I would like to add my observations. I have enjoyed a happy 28 years in this excellent district and agree it is a treasure. A hidden treasure . It's people, parks, varied shops, cultures, events, inventive traders, and of course it's architecture make it a place I am proud to live in. This part of town is near the city centre, and ringed by parks but accessible to people for whom Hyde Park is never going to be.
    I like hundred of other L8 residents expect people from outside the are to make comments , about this unique neighbourhood. After all - it's initial development, later demise, recent re-birth and disputed physical survival are also contributed to by outside forces . So I say it's fine to show a constructive interest in Liverpool 8 either an individual or as member of the local Civic Society.
    Many national organisations such as SAVE, Shelter and Rowntree Trust have also made useful observations and suggestions. If anyone wants to see what these and other group have had to say the recent regeneration offer which now strangles the L8 housing market, damages the built environment, divides communities , and has yet to deliver on it's early promises then many of the reports on the area are linked to locally produced www.welshstreets.co.uk. The web-site is also a source of links to many many LCC and CDS produced documents which show repeatedly and emphatically that there have been widespread calls to look at alternatives to demolition for 7 years.
    That the area should have attracted wide and prolonged interest is testimony to it's heritage social and cultural capital. It also reflects a determined effort by local residents to achieve fair play in public consultations, in representation from local politicians, in services from housing officers and to stand as equals with those residents who have different views.
    I see there has been interest in the planning meeting of 19.4.2011 which may have appeared to the untrained eye to show a group of people insisting on having 'their place' pulled down but I must question anyone's right to agree this must mean pulling someone else's place down. We are informed by senior LCC housing officers that most of the properties in question actually belong to Plus Dane ( ex CDS) .
    Pundits might like to speculate if tenants or owners could anticipate the result of a decision made in 2005 when LCC declared the neighbourhood a Neighbourhood Renewal and announced their intention to cease all repairs.
    Similarly observers might consider why people have apparently been forced to live in damp or substandard houses despite the obligations of this large and powerful landlord to maintain their properties in return for a fair and affordable rent. Bang in FOE request if you want to know what proportion of L8 is owned by big 'social ' landlords and you'll have a clue as to why people who want to live hear try not to fall out of favour with the RSLs
    There is the mystery of how it is that the area in question; The Welsh Streets, managed to go from a mere 6% of unfit houses – below the city average incidentally - to significant proportion of the remaining 116 inhabited houses being in chronic condition, whilst a small fortune went down the drain. I assume like Wayne C has confused Welsh Streets with the Cairns St houses which the Civic Trust and Jonathan B write about in the original AJ article as Cairns St was discussed at a later planning meeting. Doubtless I will be correct by Wayne if he thinks I am wrong.
    If the houses are so bad why do Plus Dane and LCC insist the current inhabitants be made to endure hardship there ? As I remember it those who signed up for demolition did so expecting a new home, and a minimum £3.400 compensation not an 7 year itch and prolonged maintenance problem.
    Either way our neighbours over the road the Granby four streets residents have long and hard called for alternatives to demolition and a majority too and have been put through an unacceptable lack of progress for over a decade. So it's one rule on one side of Princes Ave and one rule on the other. And then there's the divide'n'rule but thats another story
    There are alternatives, there are funds on offer to deliver the alternatives whilst the funds for clearance and rebuilt seem as absent as any design proposal to provide the home sought by a little over a hundred phase 3 Welsh Streets residents held in limbo by HMR. I sympathise with them but sympathy does not cure bronchitis in the same way some leadership and imagination would.
    The structural engineers do not agree that the houses are dead and buried and there remains significant interest in re-occupying the homes. Why not the plan to demolish and redevelop had proven so far to be beyond the ability of those who promised that. It would be better if comments about Toxteth (or L8 as some prefer to call it) attended to the complexity of the situation .
    LCC received many more L8 signatures at the planning committee of 19.4.11 seeking the pursuit of alternatives than it did in support of demolition but ignored this local opinion to agree to tear the place down anyway. The same thing happened at the Executive Board meeting of Sept 05 its all on the record at the LCC. So please be clear that local opinion was at best divided, and at worst ignored.
    I guess I'll withhold my name for fear of being accused of wanting to 'get my name about' although I shouldn't have to apologise for having as keen an interest in my own home as those who think its ok to destroy it.

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  • Posted by Jean Grant, L8 resident
    'May be I am one of those perceived as “who don’t have the time and understanding to get themselves about?”
    I have lived in the Granby/ Princes Park area of Liverpool all my adult life. I am one of a group, many of whom still live in the area, who were helped to buy a house in the first phase of city council mortgages, the understanding was that this was encouraging people to actively put down roots in what was officially seen as an unstable uninhabitable area In fact it was a very vibrant multi cultural area I am a member of the Civic Society Council as a representative of my Liverpool 8 area, founding chairperson of the Friends of Princes Park and an early member of Growing Granby, an organisation in the Granby Triangle supporting the need for residents to be properly consulted about development in their area. And their wish to make Granby more sustainable.
    The Welsh Streets, the Four Streets Granby Residents and Cullen Street Green Harmony association all support retention of houses, and better maintenance and developed planning for the area. Two weeks ago residents formed a group of thirty picketing on Kingsley Road for a week, they successfully raised media coverage, negotiating meetings in the Town hall and setting up better communications with the council. The four streets have formed a community land trust and are also running workshops and a market. And as they have done for many years they continue working on their streets making them some of the most beautiful in the Liverpool.
    Growing Granby, which aims to include a wider area, have started our first community garden and are beginning a play scheme. In September we are arranging events for residents to develop a people plan developing practical ways we as residents can sustainably improve the dereliction.
    Growing Granby’s own objections to the Gleeson estate were well thought out, backed up by our own long experiences of living in different parts of the area and visiting examples of good practice in Liverpool and other parts of the country over the last three years. We had an afternoon’s consultation and discussion with the Planning officer; we asked various bodies for outside support regarding the Gleeson estate, this is why a letter of support from the MCS was sent to the planning committee. Most recently, recorded at the July Council meeting was my request that the Merseyside Civic Society support the Granby Liverpool 8 area by developing a panel of civic society members to support areas in need of a design review. This was agreed and more will be announced at the next meeting. Does Wayne Colquhoun also live in Toxteth? If so please support the activities of the local residents, planting picketing and campaigning. We have more active residents groups in our area than anywhere else in the city; many of us are conservationists ardently working to preserve the buildings and our splendid spaces. Where ever we live in the area I am sure we can all agree that our long term suffering from Pathfinder demolitions, has been a form of civic vandalism, at vast expense destroying more property and bringing about more problems for those of us wishing to stay than the current problems we are having with young people from outside our area. I would also add that due to demolition we are small in number compared to the more salubrious areas of the city
    From the sixties land lords, up to the current housing associations and all the political changes in policy I have watched this community being manipulated by the press, politicians and landlords. There is little evidence of a political will to develop a firm basis of long term inclusive community involvement. There is a lack of proper facilities for inclusive debate but encouragement to rabble rousing this is counterproductive.
    Because we live in a devastated area does not mean we are blind to its beauty. But rather we do not want to move to these small shoe boxes with no decent design. Although we may not have experienced the best education and often have health problems we are well aware of our needs and creative ways we could provide for them Of course we understand that our most beautiful areas have been compulsory purchased, we have gone through HMRI and now seem to be in a last minute fury of undisciplined demolition. Our area has been subject to these problems for such a long time; if moving house is the most psychologically upsetting experience in a person’s life time; imagine what 20 years of upheaval is like? Not only the boarding up but the years of clearance to the new towns and estates on the city edge, and more recently to closer new estates.
    If you have lived in an HMRI area you may understand that there is a period of 20 years when what had been a nice street with a good community is increasingly boarded up it is difficult to remain loyal, it is difficult for people to talk down to you because you want to stay in that beautiful house with its family memories It is difficult to insist you are not daft but have made a complicated aesthetic judgement. And then, often because of illness or change in circumstances beyond your control you take the persistent offer to go and live in a shoe box, not even designed by someone with a love of the materials they are working with, you are made to feel you need to be grateful to your housing representative for coping with the badly placed plugs and rats and druggies so you politely say how nice it is and indeed in some way it is a relief not to be surrounded by HMRI dereliction and isolation
    This turmoil means that inevitably we have lost our heritage of a spatial memory; it is not a simple situation and should not be demeaned by in fighting.

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  • What has happened on Edge Lane and in Granby - under Lib Dem and Labour - is gangsterism. Beautiful houses demolished and replaced with new-build tat. Somebody somewhere must be making a packet out of it. There is no other logical explanation.

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  • Jonathan Brown is right. As a respected urban designer in a firm widely acknowledged as being the first in the UK to adopt "urban design" principles he is vastly experienced and objective in this field. His opinions are formed by academic qualification, professional experience, client respect, observation, empathy, and an awareness that the economic, and community capital “sunk” into the Granby Road (and the Welsh Streets ) are as valid to the urban experiences as far more recognisable “civic” buildings. Thus his argument to resist HMRI is valid and ethical.

    He is also right to comment upon, and develop, some of the ambiguities of our planning legislation. In pure planning terms the economics of a development form no consideration to the granting of planning consent. Yet in strategic planning terms HMRI presents the almost impossible, and incomprehensible, idea of predicting demand as a rationale for strategic planning. The two are ambiguous as HMRI suggested there was none, and HMRI supporters still perpetuate this myth, despite the overall increase in Liverpool and L8 house prices and demand from student and key workers for affordable housing. Then there are the 23000 people (2010 figure) on the Liverpool housing list. But as housing demand increased post HMRI, as did local GVA, so too did measures of social deprivation, de-population (outside the city core) , de-industrialisation, and even de-servicing, the latter being the golden sector where UK PLC put all its eggs. And it is likely that the finance, tourism, professional, and retail services sector will get worse, over time, due to financial and environmental complexity.

    IN essence, HMRI presents the absurdity of theorists and politicians applying economic solutions to social and community problems, and when economist and politicians get it wrong, it is society that pays the price. In simple terms call it blight and that is what HMRI has done. It's blighted vast areas of Liverpool at a time when UK house building and mortgage financing require “renewal initiatives” of their own. I’d also add to that there simply aren’t enough bikes in Liverpool, or enough jobs in London, for us all to shut up shop, put the lights out and move south, as some of the more extreme economic think tanks, like the Policy Exchange, would have us do. But what we can do is refurbish our neighbourhoods along non-consumption focussed models in an incremental fashion to create green homes, better jobs and the circulation of local money.

    Division and complexity ought to engender creatively and resourcefulness. A coming together if you like of bright minds, and not so bright minds to find solutions. Liverpool has the people, and in terms of Development Trusts, Community Trusts, Co-op's, employee owner schemes, and the legal and intellectual tools to explore how. But I’d add that it is futile to save local houses if you can’t mend the local economy. So programmes to alter or defend the urban character of Liverpool must consider localised economic initiatives as part of a broader solution. Certainly this is what I am trying to do with my life, right now.

    In closing, I do wonder, when it was ever necessary to “live in an area” in order to have an opinion. It is an utterly infantile comment. And nor does it help to denigrate organisation, individuals, and others whose interests are mainly expressed in their own time and without financial reward. I don’t live in the proposed Liverpool Waters, London Olympic Village, or in an Aberdeenshire
    sand dune affected by Donald Trumps proposed golf course but I celebrate living in a democracy where I can talk about them.

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