In a recent burst of tacky toys and tat, there’s been a huge push to get people to pick a future for Pendleton. Residents were urged to vote on three Options – but how much input did the community actually have over those options ? And did they work out that, whatever the vote, there’s a plan to put families back in towerblocks.
Just over a year ago we were interviewing, Bob Osborne, the most senior housing bloke in Salford, and told him that a lot of people in the city remember the 60s and 70s and, basically, don’t trust the Council or its housing policies…
“That’s why we work with them” he said “If you look at the work we’re doing in Pendleton…that’s the way it has to operate these days. I did Pendleton the first time around and I want to get it right this time…”
What, so he messed it up the first time ?
“No, what I’m saying is that we did the best we could with the money we had at the time” he explained “If you look at north of Churchill Way now, and all those tower blocks with close circuit tv and security, people are very happy in general. We didn’t have enough money to do the south side of Churchill Way so we’re having to go back. That’s what I mean. I don’t mean I screwed up on the north side of Churchill Way, I’m proud of that.”
So, the Council just screwed up on south side then…And people have had to live with that, and the problems it created, for a whole generation. Why should Salford people trust the Council to lead the area’s tart up this time around ? Bob Osborne said that this time the community is being involved in the plans. That’s great. But the Council has to do that now, by law…Regulation 28 of the Town and Country Planning Regulations 2004. Is it just a tick box exercise?
For instance, in two year’s worth of community consultation leading up to the vote, the majority of residents made it clear that they wanted family houses to be built in any future Pendleton. Within the Options that people voted for, most of the new properties were apartments. And any family houses that are built will be “town houses rather than semi-detached houses”.
Also during this two year’s worth of consultations there’s no record of anyone from the community asking for the demolition of three tower blocks (Mulberry, Sycamore and Magnolia Court), nor for the demolition of homes in Amersham, Athole and Blodwell Street – yet these are included on all three Options with Hobson’s choice. Neither did anyone from the community ask for an extension to Frederick Road smashing through the centre of the area, linking the University with the Quays – so how did that get included in Option 3?
The Council writes that its community consultation meets the “minimum requirements” set out in the Regulations and also meets its own Partners IN Salford Gold Standards IN Community Involvement. However, a closer look at the whole process leading up to the vote on the Pendleton Action Plan - which is the formal planning document that will guide the regeneration of the area for the next 15-20 years - reveals questions about who’s driving it and what that community involvement has actually been.
The powerful overall body which has been directing and guiding the action plans for the area is the Pendleton Steering Group. This Steering Group is made up of the usual suspects in Salford’s regeneration, including the University, Central Salford URC, GMPTE, the Police, a bunch of councillors, Salford Primary Care Trust and others, plus Shopping City and, strangely, Tesco, which is planning a huge superstore right next to the Precinct.
Given the controversy over the affect Tesco stores have on local shops and the environment it might be thought that the company would be subject to controls, rather than sitting at the top table `directing and guiding’ the plans. Residents never got the chance to vote on the new superstore in any of the Options.
However, the community had its input into the Steering Group with four selected representatives – who were bound by confidentiality agreements and gagging clauses to stop them communicating, not only with the press, but the public too. Meanwhile, the minutes from Steering Group meetings have never been made public, despite promises to put them on the net (we certainly can’t find them).
What is on the net is the Community Forum’s minutes, which hardly show a picture of community empowerment. This Forum – “designed to keep the community at the heart of decisions made” – was open to anyone living in the area covered by the plans. And at its very first meeting, in January 2005, people noticed that the community was outnumbered on the Steering Group by 14 to four, and asked whether the developers will “lead the regeneration according to their own interests”.
After 12 months of Community Forum meetings, council officers were questioning why dwindling numbers of local people were turning up. The remaining members replied that ”people felt they were being preached to rather than informed” and that there was “a lack of information”. By March 2006 there were as many officers and councillors attending the Forum as there were people from the community (nine…out of 13,000 people living in the area)…And by June 2006, a full year and a half after the start of the Forum, members were asking for a “jargon buster”, saying that they had learnt “not a lot” from the meetings and just wanted to know “how safe are our homes?”…the “proposals for demolition”…and “what is going to happen to our homes?”.
In September 2006, the last public record of any minutes, and after 21 months of its existence, officers were still asking how the Forum could be improved…”By having people at the meeting who know the answers to our questions”, came one reply, while someone else noted that “The small number of attendees is not truly representative of the regeneration area”. So much for the Pendleton Community Forum as an example of Gold Standards IN Community Involvement.
Meanwhile, during the last couple of years, a number of direct public consultations have been taking place to inform the new Pendleton plans, including the snappily titled Pendleton Area Action Plan Issues and Options Quiz where one lucky resident who filled it in could win £25 of vouchers `to a high street store of your choice’. This prompted 18 people to respond. There was also the Consultation Bus which was all about “going out to the community, as opposed to them having to come to us”. Unfortunately it broke down the night before and didn’t make it to the planned venues.
And there was a Consultation Booklet which drew 33 responses from people (although 11 of them didn’t actually live in the area). This gives a grand total of 40 formal responses from the Pendleton community, described by the Council (going for the Understatement of the Year Award) as “somewhat disappointing”…
Still, all the community responses were analysed…and then subjected to a battery of other Government and Council strategies and policies like the Sustainable Communities, the Community Plan, the Northern Way, the RSS, the UDP, the NRS, MSP, URC, SLI, NDC, BSF and CSVRF…By the time those views had been through this lot they had changed somewhat…So, a lot of what residents wanted to be included in the vote wasn’t there, and a lot of what they didn’t want to include was voted on.
In the 80 page Preferred Options Report - which was placed in local venues like libraries but not available to be taken home and studied - there is a section called Developing The Options which shows how and why the community’s original choices were ironed out on issues like housing density and the increase in population.
There’s also a section on the Sustainability Appraisal which showed that “Options 1 and 3 with their greater emphasis on clearance and redevelopment generally performed well with regards to several social, economic and environmental objectives”. It doesn’t say what these are other than “environmental quality, crime etc…”
Further on, a paragraph on Financial Viability gives a clue to what’s driving the plans for Pendleton…”There has been a need to ensure that sufficient value can be created through the private sector developments to help cross fund the improvements…and this has informed the quantity and mix of additional housing that is proposed”…Reading this, it appears that it’s not about what kind of homes the community wants, it’s about what the developers want to build – apartments.
Which explains another incredible statement which was never made clear during the vote…”It is proposed to promote the provision of larger apartments, which could be suitable for families…” What, putting families back in towerblocks ? A city yells
Just before the vote on the three Options, a DVD was posted through every door in Pendleton. The voiceover said “In the next few weeks you will have the opportunity to have a big say about the future of your home and local community and what you would like to change for the better…You can help decide that future…”