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If you want a detailed overview of our long road to nowhere then the blog linked below is well worth a look. Thank you to David Gibbens for being so thorough.
Among the very few things missing from David’s account is mention that individuals, families and heritage investors have offered to buy all or part of the site and do repairs at their own cost. Pavements, street furniture and other public realm renewal might have to be funded separately, but as we reported to the Public Inspector over three hundred would be buyers, and five sizable investors made offers on all or part of the site in the past 11 years. This includes local housing co-ops, and reputable heritage re-modellers. We felt their offers should be considered and encouraged as they would bring much needed diversity to the site, and help to create a sustainable community. We mention it now, because now seems a good time to look again at the options these investors offer. The Plus Dane proposal has been blocked by Secretary of State Eric Pickles and residents are yet again left with no end to broken promises and false starts.
It seems absurd that only public subsidy has been seen as a means to fund renewal of the area, because ultimately and after demolition plans were to sell most of the new homes to private buyers. The refusal of the cash strapped council to sell existing houses to willing buyers, but be willing to sell replacement new houses remains a mystery (see a suitably mystified would be buyer here )
If Plus Dane Group and LCC had included more kinds of investment into different kinds of property and to effectively share the site, we perhaps would not now be facing further prolonged delays. We call on all those involved to now put completing the Welsh Streets area renewal at the very top of their list of things to do in 2015 and to be open to a changed scheme. We particularly want to see anyone in housing distress rehoused immediately, with an option to return to a new or refurbished house in the area when the work is complete. Will this, like other calls fall on deaf ears ?
Also missing from David’s excellent report is the Welsh Streets Home Group community lead design project Design Diplomacy. This local research project is also worth a mention now, as it addresses what the options might be if the whole site were not demolished. We commissioned energy efficiency experts Constructive Thinking Architects to produce some discussion designs and budgets so we could see what fixing, or extending existing houses, building new homes, and including community amenities might look like and cost. Whilst this project was initially designed to avert the need for a Public Inquiry perhaps it can now form the foundation to satisfy a variety of interests on the site, quickly and peaceably. We certainly don’t want a war on the Welsh Streets.
This week we heard that people seem unaware that our discussion design options were properly costed by professional architects. So for the record – Jon Morehouse from Constructive Thinking presented Design Diplomacy Project documents to senior housing staff at LCC offices in September 20,12 with costs for all units included. He was complimented by Plus Dane’s head of Regeneration for his accurate and realistic figures. You can see the work for yourself linked below, a summary of the community feedback was supplied to the Public Inquiry and will soon be published. It shows overwhelming local interest in retaining more and demolishing less.
For those who don’t want to open the link – the per metre cost for refurbishment was the same as the square metre cost for new build to provide homes with similar running costs.
In addition SAVE Britain’s Heritage and LCC both sent surveyors into a sample of empty Welsh Street houses to asses the cost of repairs in Spring 2014. Both parties agreed the sums needed for repairs and insulation, and these costs match the sums our architects suggested. The Design Diplomacy project was a mammoth undertaking for our small self started residents group, and we promote it as as a step towards consensus decision making. A step towards a peaceful and deliverable outcome.
We are of course aware that the housing associations have to work to specifications defined by government, that this makes it too expensive for the existing homes to be repaired with public funds. Private buyers however can renovate the houses to a very high standard at a much lower cost. When we have suggested that some houses be released for private sale so that ordinary people, heritage developers and housing co-ops can fix them at their own expense, the idea was ridiculed.
Since Plus Dane Group and LCC don’t want to release the houses for sale we have not thought it possible to force them to, and so as David Gibbens’ report says, reluctantly accepted the proposal now thrown out by Eric Pickles. As a measure of the seriousness of these offers to buy skeptics take note – Princess Park Housing Co-op who have made offers to buy some of the Welsh Street empties over a period of many years have now purchased two houses on the non demolition side of Kelvin Grove and are starting repairs. There is no way to measure the frustration we feel knowing that the authorities have denied, derided, mocked and ignored offers from Princess Park Housing co-op and others in the open the market , a market that Pickles rightly assesses as fixed. In preferring to destroy houses that others would gladly repair the housing authorities have created both national scandal and local misery of truly epic proportions.
At some point in the next five weeks we will find out if LCC plan to pursue an appeal against Eric Pickles decision. In the meantime we are hoping still – at the eleventh hour, in the eleventh year that a sensible solution can be found by agreement, because as we have seen over the past decade the failure to do so hurts the residents and no one else.