What goes up if it all comes down?

Gov­ern­ment plans to re­gen­er­ate ail­ing east Lan­cashire com­mu­ni­ties are slow, says David Conn. Painfully slow

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Northern Blights -

‘ This area has great qual­i­ties,” Max Stein­berg is in­sist­ing, from be­hind the chief ex­ec­u­tive’s desk at El­e­vate, the some­what op­ti­mistic ti­tle given to the or­gan­i­sa­tion charged with re­shap­ing bat­tered hous­ing across a swathe of east Lan­cashire. Mr Stein­berg doesn’t at­tempt to spin away the prob­lems Burn­ley, Black­burn and the other for­mer tex­tile towns face; he mar­shals a lorry-load of sta­tis­tics to prove them: half the wards are among the 10 per cent most de­prived in the coun­try, a third of the pop­u­la­tion have no qual­i­fi­ca­tions, heart dis­ease is 26 per cent higher than the na­tional av­er­age. Of 85,000 houses in the af­fected ar­eas, a quar­ter are un­fit and 15 per cent stand empty.

This blight, and its causes – eco­nomic col­lapse, and fl ight by lo­cals with bet­ter prospects – are bleakly familiar across all nine north­ern and mid­lands re­gions des­ig­nated by the Gov­ern­ment as “Pathfind­ers”, but Mr Stein­berg fer­vently ac­cen­tu­ates the pos­i­tive. El­e­vate, with an ini­tial bud­get of £103 mil­lion up to next year, has de­mol­ished 800 houses al­ready and im­proved 1,200, and has also com­mis­sioned ex­ten­sive re­search, in­clud­ing a re­port from An­thony Wil­son, the North- West pop im­pre­sario who es­tab­lished the Ha­cienda night­club in Manch­ester’s 1980s mu­sic hey­day.

Mr Wil­son, with his part­ner, Yvette Livesey, de­scribed their task as “imag­i­neer­ing”; to en­vis­age a so­cial and cul­tural rein­ven­tion around which hous­ing

g re­de­vel­op­ment can take place. Pro­pos­als in­clude mak­ing prouder use of the towns’ stone in­dus­trial ar­chi­tec­ture, re­gen­er­at­ing

g the Leeds-Liver­pool Canal, build­ing a “Fash­ion Tower” as a cul­tural ral­ly­ing point, pub­lic squares and green spa­ces to at­tract com­muters, “ creatives” and the as­pi­ra­tional mid­dle classes. They even pro­pose re­brand­ing the re­gion as “Pen­nin

ne Lan­cashire”.

Sur­pris­ingly, per­haps, Mr Stein­berg says

s the pro­pos­als have not been dis­missed as self-in­dul­gent, Dids­bury whimsy. “Peo­ple have shrunk back from each other, be­caus

se of the prob­lems they’ve had. We need to cre­ate more thriv­ing, con­nected com­mu­ni­ties, oth­er­wise any im­prove­ment

ts to the houses them­selves may not be sus­tain­able.”

All of which sends you out of El­e­vate’s mart of­fices full of hope for “Pen­nine

an­cashire”. A short trip to one of Burn­ley’s hree worst-af­fected ar­eas, Burn­ley Wood,

ow­ever, ham­mers home the im­men­sity of he task. Here, since 2000, they have

lready de­mol­ished – “ cleared”, to use the

uthor­i­ties’ pre­ferred de­scrip­tion – 456 wo-up, two-down, ter­raced houses, in ary­ing states of empti­ness and ne­glect.

Na­tion­ally, the Pathfinder ini­tia­tives, which have a bud­get of £ 1.2 bil­lion be­tween

004-08, have been crit­i­cised for be­ing mass de­mo­li­tion ex­er­cises. The House of Com­mons Plan­ning, Hous­ing, Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment and the Re­gions Com­mit­tee eported in March this year that 200,000

ouses could be cleared – a fig­ure the Gov­ern­ment de­nies be­cause it claims it is oo early to say – and called for clearer

ro­ce­dures on ear­mark­ing houses for


In Burn­ley, how­ever, de­mo­li­tion it­self is

ot con­tro­ver­sial. There have been few am­paigns to save houses for their his­toric

rchi­tec­tural mer­its – mostly the ranked er­races tell only of a his­tory in which mil­lown­ers cared too lit­tle about how their work­ers lived. Here, in­stead, the main con­cern is the time it is tak­ing to re­place the ter­races with any­thing bet­ter. In Burn­ley Wood, a prom­i­nent row has been “facelifted”, a state­ment of con­fi­dence in the area, but with the cleared space await­ing de­vel­op­ment, and pock­marked rows still stand­ing, you feel there can be nowhere in Bri­tain more des­o­late than this.

That, how­ever, would be wrong, as a trip to Daneshouse con­firms. Home to Burn­ley’s com­mu­nity of Pak­istani and Bengali ori­gin, it is the sixth poor­est ward in the coun­try, be­dev­illed by drug prob­lems and anti-so­cial be­hav­iour, and with seven Bri­tish Na­tional Party coun­cil­lors now elected in Burn­ley, res­i­dents feel em­bat­tled. Here, 1,300 houses have been pulled down, but, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, lit­tle land­scap­ing has been done. A SureS­tart nurs­ery and com­mu­nity com­plex have been built, but oth­er­wise there are still boarded-up houses await­ing clear­ance, and derelict tracts in be­tween.

“The peo­ple can’t see any im­prove­ment,” says Syed Ibrar ul Has­san, 28, a res­i­dent, who works for the Jin­nah Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Trust. “We’re told there are plans, but we have piles of rub­ble, rot­ting away, and no sign of the rad­i­cal change the com­mu­nity needs.”

Michael Wel­lock, Burn­ley Bor­ough Coun­cil’s El­e­vate man­ager, ex­plains that the awe­some scale of the prob­lems means the coun­cil can’t do it all at once. “We’re look­ing at 10, 15 years, to trans­form th­ese ar­eas and it takes time to as­sem­ble the land.” Mr Stein­berg agrees, but ad­mits, too, that there is “no ex­cuse” for not land­scap­ing and says it must be put right.

El­e­vate is still wait­ing to con­firm how ex­actly the ar­eas will be im­proved. Each will have a new pub­lic park, some hous­ing will be re­fur­bished, and some will be newly built to pro­vide greater variety than two-up, two-down. The coun­cil hopes build­ing will be­gin in Burn­ley Wood next year, but Daneshouse

could have to wait for two years af­ter that.

In Trin­ity Ward, south-west Burn­ley,

sev­eral blocks have been cleared, and

some im­prove­ments al­ready made,

which do glad­den the soul. There is a healthy- liv­ing project, new NHS den­tal surgery, an at­trac­tively land­scaped green space and chil­dren’s play­ground, a site read­ied for SureS­tart. Around West­mor­land Street is a “Home­zone”, roads pleas­ingly re-paved, planters in­stalled with pan­sies, bol­lards keep­ing cars away.

“It is work­ing,” smiles Wendy Gra­ham, 43, a mother of four and life­long res­i­dent who lob­bies re­lent­lessly for the area. She says houses fell empty when old peo­ple passed on, private land­lords moved in and the usual story fol­lowed: drug abuse, lit­ter, petty crime.

Now, Mrs Gra­ham is im­pa­tient for the next phase, for some “ emp­ties” to be re­fur­bished so that peo­ple whose homes are pulled down have some­where to move into. “If it works here, we can be a model of good prac­tice.”

In Bur­dett Street, a row of five ter­races teeters on what looks like the edge of col­lapse. John Macauley, 67, a re­tired pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer and for­mer school gov­er­nor, lives with his wife Kath­leen in the only house still oc­cu­pied.

“Hor­ri­ble,” he shud­ders, point­ing to the fly-tipped de­bris in back­yards, the van­dalised shell next door, the gut­ter­ing which fell off the pre­vi­ous week.

“We need to be re­lo­cated, but the coun­cil won’t give us a date. We’re wor­ried that one night the kids will burn next door down and we’ll go with it.”

As we talk, an old lady bus­tles up: “If you think this is bad, come and look at mine.” She doesn’t want to give her name but, grey-haired and prim in a pur­ple flow­ered dress, she’s lived here for 50 years, alone since her hus­band died. Next door to her is the same pic­ture: torn-down board­ing, an aban­doned fridge, a heart-rend­ing mess. “This used to be a lovely area,” she says.

Michael Wel­lock sighs; clear­ing fly­tip­ping is the coun­cil’s job, and it wants to pros­e­cute, but it’s hap­pen­ing all over.

“You’ve seen for your­self the size of the prob­lems. We sym­pa­thise with our res­i­dents’ im­pa­tience, but re­de­vel­op­ment can­not hap­pen overnight. Now, at least, we have mas­sive in­vest­ment com­ing, longterm com­mit­ment and a vi­sion. We can be more op­ti­mistic than ever.”

It is, in other words, harder to make the changes hap­pen, brick by prob­lem­atic brick, than to “imag­i­neer” a rosy fu­ture.

Green and pleas­ant: ( above) the Scott Park area of Burn­ley, a prom­ise of things to come? Clock­wise from top left: unlovely Daneshouse and Vil­liers Street; crazy for cricket in the town’s back streets; Mic chae

Wel­lock, El­e­vate project man­ager for Burn­ley Bor­ough Coun­cil; ‘ no im­prove­ment’ – lo­cal res­i­dent Syed Ibrar ul Has­san; ‘ it is work­ing’ – com­mu­nity vol­un­teer Wendy Gra­ham ( and be­low) with her chil­dren, Do­minic and Alice, bright­en­ing up Athol Street

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