Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Alan Wilson


  1.1  As with most things Governmental (National, County and Local) when providing a solution to a problem—there is a headlong rush for a physical answer with little or no regard for the social implications.

  "Housing Building a Sustainable Future" is no different. Although the rhetoric is strong with terms such as "sustainable communities", there is little if any true involvement of the community, with decisions being taken by bureaucrats totally divorced from the real world. How can communities be sustained if the bulldozer has flattened their homes and environments! How can demolition and the consequent manufacture of the building materials to replace those homes be good for the environment?

  1.2  Housing renewal policy, namely Pathfinder, is being driven ahead irrespective of what the communities want and against the well being of the environment. In my home town of Goole, East Yorkshire, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) have authorised demolition of 117 homes (two streets) which through a very dubious and flawed consultation process were deemed to be "Non-Sustainable", and therefore only fit for demolition. We also have another 3,000 homes designated as "Fragile". Neither of these definitions would stand up to close scrutiny, yet East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) feels justified in demolishing the lives and homes of the residents in these two streets with nothing planned to replace the homes lost.

  1.3  The decision as mentioned above was taken in Cabinet, (9 councillors—none of whom represented Goole) despite letters from ERYC to the contrary clearly stating that the matter would be debated in full council and the decision-making process would be "open". ERYC comprises 65 councillors yet the Cabinet (7 Tory, 1 Labour, 1 Liberal) felt that such a monumental decision to remove individuals and families from their homes, their friends, and their community could be made by the few rather than the many without "open" discussion.

  1.4  A limited questionnaire was sent to the residents and some of the landlords, with strong incentives to vote for demolition; but yet there were no incentives offered for individuals to stay in their own homes. Even this could not persuade the majority of residents to vote for demolition—65%+ opting to stay. ERYC through some "creative" statistical analysis turned this into "a majority in favour of demolition".

  1.5  ERYC held open days where apparently no notes were taken, and no attendance sheets were kept—yet they proudly proclaimed that the open days were well attended with the majority in favour of demolition. When asked for proof of this statement, a senior ERYC official stated that all records had been destroyed!

  1.6  How can any policy succeed against a backdrop of such inappropriate (even dishonest) behaviour by the Council and a total ignorance of the community's wishes! But again, it would seem that County Councils are acting with the same heavy handedness all across the North, totally against the will of the people but with the full approval of the Government.


  2.1  Fiscal Measures should be introduced to reward innovation and renovation. Demolition should not be rewarded unless it can be demonstrated without a doubt, that all other measures have been exhausted, and that it does truly carry the full weight of the community behind the decision. Once these homes are demolished, the town's heritage and community are destroyed. In Goole we have a local developer, willing to take on and renovate the two streets under threat of demolition but who is meeting strong opposition from ERYC. Renovation would cost a fraction of the amount needed to demolish these homes and turn this area into a wasteland or car park!!

  2.2  Serious scrutiny should be applied to councils such as ERYC, who through flawed consultation processes seek to impose their policies on a community that will resist fervently. In the meantime, an area that has been seriously neglected by ERYC, but could through limited intervention be a jewel in the town's crown is now an area blighted by demolition and will be allowed to "run down" even further, as the Council seek to "buy out" more residents by a policy of intimidation and misinformation. Once a resident moves out, the council moves in and boards up the property, some of which have been boarded up for at least six months, and could continue to be boarded up for several years to come. Surely this is in direct contravention of "Empty Dwelling Management Act", or does this only apply to private landlords. Councils within the "Pathfinder" areas are the biggest culprits, but seem to evade any form of prosecution, even though they are increasing the housing shortage!!!

  2.3  There are several examples of homes and communities being renovated to very high standards, but at reasonably low cost (The Trevor Macdonald TV programme). As a cost/benefit analysis will show, it is much more beneficial to the community to renovate and not demolish. But yet all the incentives are awarded for demolition!!


  3.1  The Governments "Sustainable Communities Homes for All" will see two streets comprising 117 quality low cost terrace houses demolished, and a community vandalised, in order that ERYC qualify for a Government grant. This grant or what will remain of it (after demolition costs have been met) is supposedly going to be spent on renovating another 3,000 "fragile" houses over a period of 10 years. In amongst the homes designated as "fragile", are properties valued in the region of £100,000+.

  3.2  ERYC will receive approximately £10 million in grants, the vast majority of which will go in compensation and demolition costs. The remainder is supposedly going to be spent on the renovation of the 3,000 "Fragile homes", over a period of 10 years. It is estimated that at least £8 million will be spent on compensation/demolition—not a lot left to regenerate a town!! "Throwing" money at individuals in the form of housing grants does nothing to address the social and environmental issues. The Community must be involved; they should decide how the money should be spent. They should be responsible for the spend and the environmental upgrades.

  3.3  In order to regenerate an area or a community, the heart of that community, which has been bled dry over many years of council neglect, must be restarted. Demolition of 117 homes against the wishes of the residents and landlords, and a refusal by ERYC to listen to any ideas of renovation does not do anything to reinvigorate that community. In fact it does just the opposite, it reinforces the view that the council patronisingly "knows best, all the time", which it categorically does not.

  3.4  The very process of demolition, and the councils failure to consult in a fair and meaningful manner will mean that the timescales will be elongated to as much as 10 years! Blighting the area and lives of the remaining residents and those living close by.


  4.1  ERYC have failed on every occasion to answer the question "Why demolition—why these houses". The Consultation and Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment Report failed to demonstrate that any homes in Goole qualified for demolition—except that the conditions of the grant state specifically that x number of homes has to be demolished. ERYC have no plans to replace these homes.

  4.2  These homes are ideal for those wanting to begin the climb up the property ladder, and for those who want to downsize. Should these homes be demolished, in a town that is already desperately short of housing, prices will surely rise out of the reach of these prospective homebuyers. This will create a higher demand for social housing—in direct contradiction to David Miliband's (Communities Minister) speech—recently, when he said he wanted less social housing rather than more.

  4.3  Contrary to its intentions this government's policy does nothing to address the need to provide a wide range of affordable housing, or indeed to provide sustainable communities. It seeks to remove those people at the lower end of the housing market, by pushing them away from property ownership and into rented accommodation, where because of the shortage of houses, rental payments have become much higher. This forces people who were once "comfortable" homeowners into a potential "poverty trap", with all its attendant problems. Thereby increasing the pressure on local services.

  4.4  I believe that communities and the environment must be repaired before attention is turned to physical aspects of property refurbishment. The majority of tenants when asked "would you like new pvc windows and doors, or the anti-social person(s) removing from next door" would invariably select the removal of the anti-social elements. In order for this to work local communities have to become empowered—responsible for their own neighbourhoods. This means that local communities should be supported not thwarted by the County Council. It means that the County Council when dealing with the community must always be honest and open. It means the County Council going that "extra mile" to ensure that all the community is involved in the decision-making that affects them. Sadly in the case of Goole and ERYC this is not the case.

  4.5  It is the people that must become involved and direct the regeneration of their community, which ultimately will be the "ripple in the pond" for the whole town. This cannot be achieved if the houses are demolished.

  This submission is from Alan Wilson. Resident in the Renewal Area, and a landlord with a house in the street designated for demolition.

November 2005

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