We are just starting work on Chimney Pot Park: the restoration of 350 Coronation Street-style terraces in Langworthy, Salford.
The locals have christened it 'Goneanation Street' and it's not hard to see why. By and large, anybody who was able to (ie, anybody in employment) has voted with their feet and moved out.
This was once a thriving part of Greater Manchester.
It was largely first-time-buyer territory, but in the '70s and '80s first-time buyers generally chose 'modern' houses and Langworthy became populated by renters, many of whom were students. In the early '90s, many of the students moved out to purpose-built blocks and increasingly the people who moved in were those on benefits who couldn't find anywhere else to live.
The area got a reputation for antisocial and criminal activity. Negative equity led to an increasing number of houses being abandoned.
The council was put under pressure to do something and started by buying the empty houses. This only added to the problems, leaving more properties boarded up.
I was first introduced to Langworthy when talking at a conference about Urban Splash's work in Salford city centre. Some clever so-and-so would always ask the question:
'Yes, but transforming the city centre is relatively easy, what are you going to do about Langworthy?' My stock answer was: 'I have no idea, Urban Splash is not here to answer all the world's social problems!
We are a private-sector developer and you would never ask such a question of Barratts, Wimpey or Bellway.' It was Hazel Blears, the Labour MP for Salford, who finally got us involved in Langworthy. She asked Urban Splash on several occasions to have a look at the project as she was chairing the local Partnership Board. We were reluctant to get involved, but Blears is not a woman who takes no for an answer.
We went to have a look and discovered that the council's plan was to demolish all the houses it had bought and build half as many 'modern houses' to replace them. When asked why, and what form these 'modern' houses would take, nobody was quite sure.
In Didsbury, a couple of miles away, similar terrace houses are being sold for £250,000 each. In London, they are called 'mews' and sell for millions of pounds. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the architecture; in fact it's quite attractive. The homes needed some practical solutions to do with kitchens, living accommodation, bathrooms, parking and gardens, but most of all Langworthy's problem is one of perception.
The problem wasn't actually that nobody wanted to live in a Victorian terrace;
it was that nobody wanted to live next to hundreds of boarded-up houses.
We hope our solution will bring new life, new people and a sense of excitement and revival to this part of Salford, so that new and existing residents can enjoy the attractive Victorian streets once again.
Our homes go on sale early next year, so I will let you know whether or not our hunch that Langworthy can be restored is right or not.
Last month's fee went to Disability Aid Fund. Any suggestions for this month's fee will be greatly appreciated.