Thursday, 25 February 2010

Doing Away With Derker!!!

The Massacre of the North by Labour Party Loons & Ambitious Academics

This was in the most recent Sunday Times - another indictment of the demolition of Derker, Toxteth, Edge Hill, Bootle, Anfield, etc. Please distribute and comment (and don't forget to click 'recommend')

From The Sunday Times: February 21, 2010

LIVES are being bulldozed and no one listens Charles Clover Elijah Debnam is a plucky 89-year-old who served in the Royal Engineers in Gibraltar, Normandy and Germany during the war. He haslived in the same house in Derker, Oldham, since 1954. He loves his house, which was built in 1937 and which holds memories of his deadwife, Alice. The house has central heating and a garden where he can sit in the sun. Elijah would like to die in it. But now it looks as if that is not to be.

Elijah used to drive bulldozers when he was in the army: now the bulldozers are coming for him. His home and the terrace of five houses like it are to be knocked down, even though all of them are in perfectly good condition. He is to be removed from his neighbourhood and the network of neighbours who look after him. It is unlikely to do him any good.

Oldham borough council won a battle in the High Court just before Christmas to impose compulsory purchase orders to sweep away Elijah’s home and 467 others for a “pathfinder” scheme where private developers are given land that was once someone else’s to build on. The theory behind the pathfinders is that this will “renew the housing market”, make the remaining homes more valuable and make more people want to live in the area.

Unfortunately, the recession means no developer is likely to want to build, free land or not, so the areas the council has cleared so far are being grassed over and planted with cherry trees. So in a country which has run out of money and where housing is in short supply, good houses are being knocked down and not replaced at public expense. It’s a disgrace, but nobody’s listening.

If this had been a Tory government sponsoring private developers to chuck people out of their homes across the Midlands and the north of England, instead of a gigantic piece of social engineering dreamt up by left-wing academics and implemented by a Labour government with the aid of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors and housing associations, you can be fairly sure you would have heard more about it on the BBC. There would have been talk of the vulnerable, their rights and about the people — there are dozens — who have died during the years of distress and bureaucratic intimidation by threat of compulsory purchase.

The other day I watched a film by Nick Broomfield, the documentary director, called Who Cares (1971). You can find it on YouTube. Broomfield filmed the felling of Liverpool’s elegant Georgian terraces and the forced removal of the people who lived in them to a brave new World of tower blocks where they lost touch with friends and neighbours. Nearly everyone in the political class today would regard what happened to town centres in the 1970s as a tragic mistake. So you wonder how the whole thing could happen again.

An as-yet-unpublished account by David Webb, a Newcastle academic, explains what happened and it goes back to Liverpool. There, a group of housing academics called the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS), based at Birmingham University, were trying to explain what to do about the depopulation of the late 1990s, which resulted in boarded-up homes. The group, led by Brendan Nevin, formulated a theory, based on Liverpool, called housing market renewal. This said that 400,000 homes across the north of England needed to be demolished if northern towns were to be revived again.

CURS sold the idea to John Prescott’s sprawling department. Nevin was brought in as an adviser. Parliament and press were never properly consulted — otherwise there would have been an outcry. The idea was buried in a paragraph in Prescott’s 2002 Communities Plan. Prescottgot the money from Ed Balls at the Treasury, whose wife, Yvette Cooper, came to preside over the 12 pathfinders as housing minister.

Nevin is now acting chief executive of New Heartlands, the pathfinder which is ripping the heart out of Bootle and Edge Hill and is about to start on the lovely “Welsh streets” in Toxteth, where Ringo Starr was born. But his ideas are increasingly under fire. The theory of housing market renewal identifies the cheapest housing as a problem requiring state intervention. It ignores the welfare of the people affected, the quality of their houses or how well they fit into the cityscape, the environmental impact of demolishing them and the blight that the threat of demolition imposes on an area.

The theory may be discredited but it bulldozes on through the lives of thousands of people like Elijah. Pathfinder has cost £2.2 billion to date. It has demolished four times more homes than it has built and the few homes it does build are often of worse quality than those that came down. It has also trampled our freedoms — the Homes and Communities Agency now has powers to compulsorily purchase any private property for the purpose of regeneration (undefined). There is no longer even the 1970s test that property has to be unfit, unsightly or underused.

The Tories have said they would stop unnecessary demolition and overhaul the pathfinder schemes. But I’m not sure they have fully understood the electoral opportunity, for the tinned-up houses and bulldozed wastes of Labour’s heartlands could not be a more photogenic example of broken Britain.

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