Labour-run Liverpool City Council is proposing to destroy 440 homes. These are mostly derelict, but potentially attractive, terraced houses. Instead it wants build 150 ugly new ones. All very much in the spirit of the mad Pathfinder scheme favoured by Lord Prescott.
The council claims the support of local people. That seems to amount to one woman, Irene Milson, who is described as "chair" of the Welsh Street Tenants Association. I wonder how many members they have who are up to date with their subs. Never mind – the great thing is that she is a "stakeholder" – so why care what anyone else thinks? I suspect the Welsh Streets Housing Group – who back refurbishment over demolition speak for rather more locals.
Then the council cry localism, to demand the right to go ahead. The trouble with that is that they are wanting us to pay for it – via our taxes to the Homes and Communities Agency. Liverpool City Council is behaving like a petulant teenager demanding money from his parents and then indignantly objecting when they ask what he wants it for.
The council says there is no alternative to demolition. That the houses are in such a bad state nobody would want them. This is surprising as the scheme to buy a house for £1 in Liverpool has had more than 4,000 expressions of interest from people in the city – this applies to vacant properties in Granby and Picton.
The Liverpool Echo reports:
Applicants must live or work in Liverpool, must be a first-time buyer and must be employed.
They are asked to specify which area they are interested in, and provide details of any local connections they have with their chosen area.
Applicants must also agree to live in the property for a minimum of five years and not sub-let it within this time.
They are also asked to specify how they intend to undertake and finance the refurbishment of the property.
The council estimates the scale of works required on each property is likely to cost more than £35,000…
The Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, should use the PROD mechanism – the Public Right to Reclaim Land, or Community Right to Reclaim Land as it is now called – so that the same can be done for the Welsh Streets. The Government wants to encourage people to use this mechanism. Here is a chance to do so by agreeing to the request that has been made from Save Britain's Heritage.
These are properties near the centre of Liverpool. Ringo grew up round the corner. Liverpool Cathedral is a 20 minute walk away. Lifting the threat of demolition would in itself lift their value.
The Homes and Communities Agency has not covered itself in glory. The abolition of Lord Prescott's Pathfinder project included providing a "transition fund" of £71 million intended for refurbishments – yet most of the money went on further demolition. This has now been stopped.
But what is the HCA playing at? Why did it feel entitled to press ahead with Lord Prescott's brave new world? Their belief in the continuity of Pathfinder – not allowing themselves to be distracted by the tiresome 2010 General Election result – does not strike me as a very democratic approach. It does indicate that this Quango should be abolished, and that there would be greater accountability if its work was done by the Department for Communities and Local Government directly.
Last December the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:
“I think there is a fundamental, wilful blindness on localism. Localism in the view of some local authorities, is power to them, and what they say therefore goes. Localism is not, and has never been, exclusively about giving powers to local authorities. Localism is about giving powers to local communities – sometimes to local authorities, sometimes through local authorities, and sometimes to individuals. I coined the phrase, with tongue slightly in cheek, ‘muscular localism’. Individuals have a right to justice. Localism is not the rule of the majority at the sake of oppressing the minority. Where ‘muscular localism’ comes in is when we stand up for the rights of those minorities.”
Time to flex your muscles, Eric.