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Archive for the ‘Regeneration’ Category

Leigh Park, near Havant, in Hampshire  has a terrible reputation. The website chavtowns.co.uk starts off

“Once the largest council estate in Europe, Leigh Park has a long tradition of chavness and could well be the origin of all Chavs upon this Earth. (were there any evidence that anyone’s moved out since 1959)”

I don’t like the term “Chav” and the website goes on and becomes much nastier.

Leigh Park is the result of re housing families from the WW11 bombing of Portsmouth. 27,500 people live there and the reputation would have you believe that all 27,000 are out setting fire to vagrants on benches as happened a few years ago.

My 14 year old was playing a match against a local Leigh Park team and during his pre match training / warm up I went on a run to explore Leigh Park. Yes the shopping parades are tad bleak in parts, and there is far too much litter, but there has clearly been significant investment in community facilities and there is no excuse for kids to be bored, with  great  facilities, play areas and wonderful wooded areas with streams to play in and den building opportunities a plenty. Yet the youth of Leigh Park have a terrible reputation amongst those that don’t live there.

Leigh Park

Anyhow I came back from my run, thinking that Leigh Park’s reputation as a “hell hole” was not deserved at all. Yes the 50s, 60s and 70s flats and  houses are mostly unattractive (with lots of grim pebbledash), but it certainly wasn’t threatening nor did it feel like it needed raising to the ground as so many people from outside the area often comment it should be!

However the football match clouded my view. In 19 years of watching my kids play football I have never seen anything like it. If some of the local kids’ foul language on the pitch wasn’t enough then the latent violence exuded from the parents and the blatant cheating from the local referee and linesman (who cheered and clenched their fists when their team scored!) was very sad indeed. At times it felt like watching another species. All human decency and morals seemed to have been replaced by aggression, nastiness and a reveling in getting one over “the opposition” at all costs. It seemed sub human behaviour and left me numb and sad and wondering if there was any hope. What had made these these people become so disenfranchised? Whether it’s the equality gap, or just a breakdown in human values, as a society we had better sort it out!

I am not going to elaborate other than to say that I left thinking it may not matter how much money is invested by a council and support agencies in a deprived area, if the parents lead by bad example, the kids are likely to grow into equally nasty people.

Sad sad Sunday indeed.

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I keep reading that there are a million empty homes at the moment in the UK  (and a further 300,000 empty commercial buildings). And we all know how there is a major, growing housing shortage.

I am not suggesting that it is easy to convert all these empty properties into homes but as a nation I don’t think we are doing our best.

Many commentators say that the majority of the empty homes are in the wrong location either in towns where there are no job opportunities or in the “wrong part of town”. But we have a growing creative industries sector (second largest employment sector in the UK), a sector that by its very nature and its early adoption of mobile technologies has made it  more footloose and fancy free than most sectors. Many “creatives” can run their businesses from home using Skype, Microsoft Mobile Office and the like.

What is more, for many of us “creatives” the idea of upcycling an old building is at the forefront of our planning for a home ahead of a new build house.

Could government be taxing empty properties (rather than the present 50% reduction on council tax that is offered to owners of empty properties?)

Could they be encouraging us to bring unloved streets and industrial buildings back to life by reducing (or abolishing) VAT on renovations? In Switzerland VAT on renovations was reduced to 5% and there was a net gain in income as activity rocketed. And doesn’t VAT on renovations bolster a “black economy”.

I have already written about my experience here.

The historic system for salvaging these properties was via the council, but because town halls no longer have money, we need to look at alternatives. We need mortgage companies to really support housing renovation and for the government to back their efforts.

My wife, Gerardine, and I wouldn’t be where we are now without the help we received and the work we put into our first house in Wembley, North London.

We stretched ourselves and got on to the housing ladder. That was back in 1982. That house was also a Victorian terrace and it was practically uninhabitable: it had had no Tender Loving Care since the turn of the century. It didn’t have any lights, the roof was a disaster, it had no heating, the chimneys were all blocked off, there were no proper bathrooms, the plumbing was a nightmare and the electrics were completely unsafe.

But when we bought it, Brent council was giving 90 per cent grants to do that work to kick start these streets back to life. We brought that house back to life. I go past it regularly and it is a thriving, lovely little street. So it worked.

It took us 18 months. We were just normal young couple and there are tens of thousands of normal young couples now like we were then who are willing to put in the effort. They would do exactly what we did if given the chance. But the problem is funding. We’re not talking about vast sums though. The irony is that banks would lend a young couple £100,000 for a new flat, but not £50,000 for an old house and a further £35,000 for renovation. I understand why: there’s a risk the couple would just pocket the £35,000.

So what we need is draw-down mortgages where banks release funds for each stage of repair. Yes, it would be hard work for the banks, but it would be worth it. The same applies to people in the same situation as Gerardine and I almost 30 years ago.

Putting that effort into your own home is part of learning to grow up and settle down in life. Most couples would jump at the chance of giving up a couple of nights out a week to work hard on getting a good home.

Our first house in Wembley

The mess it was in…

Twas great fun doing it up

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I SHOULD know: fashion can be a double-edged sword. Quite often, it is human nature not to appreciate something until it’s  almost too late or it’s gone. My mum wishes she’d said more nice stuff to my Nan before she died and there are  things you’d have loved to have done in life, but you didn’t. You do it with human beings and you also do it with possessions and with buildings.  Frequently, there’s a rush for newness, a thinking that a new way is  better.

So in the Sixties we had slum clearances that paved the way for concrete tower blocks that didn’t work. At the time, people thought it was  a brave new world, but actually it was about greed: knock down one house and  build three or four properties in its place. Although the experiment  failed, it was repeated in the Eighties and Nineties when policy makers and architects again thought any kind of high density housing was the only solution to an urban renaissance. The policy was exploited by  developers and abetted by banks and their ridiculous 125 per cent mortgages. The effect was an unsustainable housing bubble and that caused the mess we find ourselves in now. So in Liverpool and elsewhere, thanks to short-sighted and often stupid planning authorities, we  have perfectly lovely streets that are earmarked for demolition.

We’re in  danger of repeating past mistakes. Just about  everything, including the Welsh Streets where Ringo Starr was  born, and those noble streets around Anfield is  sustainably salvageable—particularly in this  economic climate when building new rarely makes money. It’s been absolutely proved that most people – young and old  – would prefer to live in a house than a flat. So in Liverpool, we have  houses on a street with an outside space: the basics of  liveability are in place. The historic system for salvaging these  properties was via the council, but because town halls no longer have money,  we need to look at alternatives.  We need mortgage companies to really  support housing renovation and for the government to back their efforts. My wife, Gerardine, and I wouldn’t be where we are now without the help we  received and the work we put into our first house in Wembley, north  London. We stretched ourselves and got on to the housing ladder. That was  back in 1982. That house was also a Victorian terrace and it was practically uninhabitable: it had had no Tender Loving Care since the turn of the  century. It didn’t have any lights, the roof was a disaster, it had no heating, the chimneys were all blocked off, there were no proper bathrooms,  the plumbing was a nightmare and the electrics were completely unsafe. But  when we bought it, Brent council was giving 90 per cent grants to do that work  to kick start these streets back to life. We  brought that house back to life. I go past it regularly and it is a thriving,  lovely little street. So it worked. It took us 18 months. We were just  normal young couple and there are tens of thousands of normal young couples now like we were then who are willing to put in the effort. They would do  exactly what we did if given the chance. But the problem is funding. We’re  not talking about vast sums though. Liverpool City Council says the houses in  the Welsh Streets are worth at most £50,000 and that it would cost another  £75,000 to renovate each one. I just don’t believe that. That might be what  someone is quoting the council, but doing it yourself with the right builder would cost a maximum of £35,000 in my view.

The irony is that banks would  lend a young couple £100,000 for a new flat, but not £50,000 for an old house and a further £35,000 for renovation. I understand why: there’s a risk the  couple would just pocket the £35,000. So what we need is draw-down  mortgages where banks release funds for each stage of repair. Yes, it would  be hard work for the banks, but it would be worth it. The same applies to  the young couple. Putting that effort into your own home is part of  learning to grow up and settle down in life. Most couples would jump at the  chance of giving up a couple of nights out a week  to work hard on getting a good home. Not only would it bring streets back  to life, it would also create communities. Investing sweat into your home is a  shared experience; you make friends and you help each other out. When you  put that much into something, its human nature to love it  and cherish it. What’s more, it creates bonds and longevity in a  relationship. I know it cemented mine. It all sounds Utopian, but it’s not  impossible.

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As my kids have grown into adults and I have seen them and their friends mix and matching clothes from previous decade , have seen them “borrow” from Gerardine and my wardrobes and have seen them and their contemporaries re edit great dance tracks from before they were born, I realise more and more the value in vintage and the how “looking back to look forward” is a progressive way of making sure that great music, fashion, design and culture never dies, stays available for future generations and is re-evaluated like all great things should be.

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In January 2011 we entered the next stage of community consultation with the Hillington Square project.

Hillington Square was built in the late 60s and was formerly owned by King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Council. The design of the square was seen as revolutionary when it was built with its ideals of communal living spaces. There are a lot of places like this around the UK where supposedly somebody came up with good ideas in the 60s and the 70s and got it wrong. At the time I think residents were quite happy because old so called  “slum streets” were knocked down – streets of houses that had outdoor loos, no kitchens and probably some of them didn’t have running water – and so it was seen as an advancement.

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I hadn’t been to the Anfield area of Liverpool for a while and this week had a look round and left in a state of shock, anger but also with a mid racing of what can be. Anfield is, or in some cases now, was an area of proud looking solid mid 19th century houses build for merchants and traders.

Like a number of areas of old housing that had low values in that daft and damaging time of pre downturn housing boom, Anfield,was declared a Pathfinder area   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housing_Market_Renewal_Initiative

What a bloody travesty this happened.

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There are a number of good things coming out of this housing led downturn. One of the most interesting for me is the fact that in most cases land values have fallen to an extent so as to make wholesale demolition and a complete rebuild uneconomic. I have been banging on for years about how the housebuilding and RSL industries on the whole are working on a level way below what we need if we are going to create liveable places that never require wasteful regeneration funding again. The CABE National Housing Audit painted a depressing picture of the quality of our new build and it beggars belief that when we have so many great examples of liveable new build developments on the near continent, and a rich history ourselves of creating great places that stand the test of time, that today Britain continues to built slums of the future.

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