"We've had ten years of different panels telling us different things – every time we come to these meetings you can't tell us anything…"
Last night, Salford Council's top brass turned out to face residents on the Whit Lane estate who feel totally let down, disillusioned and furious that, after ten years being in the middle of the Charlestown and Lower Kersal New Deal for Communities (NDC) £53million regeneration scheme nothing has happened. The NDC has gone and its legacy is confusion and anger.
In 2004 residents got a glossy brochure through their door telling them their houses were to be demolished, and since then there's been consultation after consultation, meeting after meeting, plan after plan. And after eight years, no-one is any wiser, as lives have been put in limbo. And the estate has been run down. Local kids have christened Whit Lane `The Forgotten Estate'.
At last night's meeting, held at the newly refurbished St Sebastian Centre, residents discovered that they won't find out about their fate for another two months, while Salford Council concludes its `review'.
"Every time we come to these meetings you can't tell us anything" said one resident "Our houses are falling down and Whit Lane has been abandoned…"
Residents also feel trapped as the Council has downgraded their re-housing status from top priority to low priority until it decides what to do. Residents were originally told that if they found a property they liked elsewhere they could move. Now they can't.
"After only thirty years our houses are falling apart" said one lady, whose sentiments were echoed by another "My kitchen's falling apart but I don't care any more…"
The complete disillusionment felt by residents was shown in how few turned up to the meeting – and after only a five minutes of listening it was clear that no answers would be clear by the end of this one.
Paul Walker, Salford Council's Strategic Director for Sustainable Regeneration, blamed the world economy for the scheme to be no longer "financially viable" for developers, Miller Homes… "It has to be re-engineered to be viable" he said.
Councillor Peter Connor, the Council's Lead member for Housing, talked of the "upset" in the area and laid into the NDC… "For ten years we were told that the NDC had been working pretty hard and communicating. Tonight we are being told that they have not been communicating."
And this despite hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on magazines, brochures, consultations and the setting up of so-called `community reporters'.
"We need to ask the NDC Board members `What did you do?'" said Councillor Connor.
Local Councillor Steve Coen, chairing the meeting added "There are issues where the NDC failed at some point. We perceived the NDC to have championed a lot of things in this area. Clearly they didn't."
John Merry, Leader of Salford City Council, who was the accountable representative on the NDC Board, should have been at the meeting but couldn't make it as he had media commitments in connected to the Salford riots. But last Christmas, the Salford Star interviewed John Merry about Whit Lane…
Salford Star: Don't you think it's a bit of an indictment that after £53m nothing's happened? You've got people there who still don't know when their houses are coming down
John Merry: There are some things I regret that we haven't been able to move faster than we have been moving. Some things I regret about attracting developers into that area but £53m in terms of the site we're talking about is not a great deal of money.
SS: But the original blueprint was bonkers
JM: Why was it bonkers?
SS: Because they were talking about putting a marina in the middle of it,
JM: New Deal was not a Council project per se. The idea of New Deal is that it would be a different sort of project where the Council was acting as support for the community in terms of what they wanted and that's what we tried – we had community reps on that board who actually did that job, who actually represented that community
SS: We disagree with that
JM: I think we've got more to do down there, I recognise that, and I would like more resources to do it.
SS: Are you recognising it's been a failure?
JM: No I'm not recognising it's a failure, I'm recognising there's more to do which is not the same a s recognising it's a failure.
SS: But the original plans – let's pull the houses down by the river because we can get more money etc – it seemed to be led by developers
JM: Because we wanted a return that's perfectly true. If we'd got that return that would have meant there were more resources going into that particular area . We went through those properties on the basis of which ones we thought were viable and which ones weren't, and I chaired some difficult meetings down there where people came to discuss it and came to the conclusion that they may be reluctant, but they came to the conclusion that the plans were a step forward .
SS: Do you know how unpopular the NDC are down there?
JM: I'm not saying that the NDC is perfect, I'm not saying that at all, what I'm saying is that there are still issues that we need to address…
Graham Cooper, representing Oliver's Youth Club said Whit Lane had been left looking a "disgrace", and asked "How can we teach our kids to look after their estate when the Council can't look after it?"
The sense of abandonment of this community was obvious throughout the meeting. Whether Salford Council can turn things around won't be known for yet another three months. Judging by reactions, residents aren't holding their breath.