THE FORGOTTEN ESTATE: PART 1
It has taken ten years and £53million of New Deal for Communities (NDC) cash to `regenerate' or improve Charlestown and Lower Kersal. For the people of Salford bold promises are nothing new; promises of better homes, improved services, jobs, education, health - you name it and they've heard it. They have been there and bought the T-shirt. Whit Lane, included within the NDC area, is no exception. Indeed, it's known by local kids as The Forgotten Estate.
Sandwiched between the River Irwell on one side and a railway line on the other, some might say Whit Lane is on the wrong side of the tracks, but that would imply there is a right side, and for many people living here, there simply isn't.
Whit Lane was an area earmarked in 2001 for regeneration and allocated a vast pot of New Deal cash. The NDC project finished over a year ago, after a decade of glossy brochures, promises and plans.
The first issue of the printed Salford Star arrived half way through the decade-long NDC programme and featured pages and pages of residents' incredibly negative views of the regeneration. Now, six years later we re-visited Whit Lane to see how much their lives have changed, if the money was well spent and what they believe the future holds for them…
First though, we went to visit St Sebastian's Community Centre, on the edge of the estate, to yet another 'drop in session' for yet another set of proposals - `Whit Lane: A New Approach'.
This latest `consultation' was hosted by Paul Walker, Salford Council's Director of Sustainable Regeneration, and representatives of Countryside Properties which has taken over, it seems, from the original developer, Miller Homes. And we were told in no uncertain terms that the expensive looking artists' impressions adorning the walls were merely, at this stage, 'a vision'.
However, with the money already spent, and with almost no outward signs of improvement, it was hard to imagine how this latest vision would be achieved. And so the question, as yet unanswered in any understandable or meaningful way, remains on everybody's lips – `What has happened to all the money?'
According to Mr Walker "a fair amount went on assembling the site. They spent a fair amount of the budget doing that."
With no explanation of what 'assembling the site' actually meant, nor how so much of the funding could be spent on doing it, Mr Walker went on to say "I think we would have made faster progress if we had not run into the economic recession."
At this point it is worth noting that, according to the BBC, the economic downturn officially began in 2007. The regeneration project on the estate had begun in 2001. Residents might be forgiven for wondering what happened during the six years in between.
However, despite everything the people of Whit Lane are apparently happy enough with what is viewed by many as almost criminal negligence. "Well, I have been on the doorsteps" Mr Walker told us "I was on the estate last week, last Wednesday, and I didn't meet any hostility".
The next day we set out to discover it Mr Walker was right, or if he had merely misinterpreted common decency and good manners as vindication for ten years misery and lack of progress.
Louise Coleman is a young mum whose family have lived in the area for more than a generation. Like many others, Louise has grown accustomed to living with uncertainty, often not knowing if next week, next month, or next year she would even have a roof over her head. Today is no different. In this latest vision Louise has been told that her home is now 'under review' – more Council speak for 'don't decorate'. We asked what she thought it all meant and what she thought of the last ten years' progress.
"It's actually been quite a bit longer than ten years" she tells us "Fifteen years ago they started talking about all this, then eight years ago we all went to a meeting at St Seb's (St Sebastian's Community Centre) and they told us to start looking for somewhere else to live."
Since then there have been a lot of false starts and confusion…
"Every time we ask about the future, nobody has any answers" Louise says "So, you can't even do anything nice to your house, because you don't know if you are going to be moved out."
Like many residents of Whit Lane, Louise does not particularly want to leave. She just wants to see some of the promises of the last decade materialise; she wants to live in a decent home and have a decent environment for her children. It would be fair to say that she is, indeed, quite angry – even if not openly hostile to people like Mr Walker when they come knocking with yet more vague promises.
But it is not only residents who are suffering. With the complete lack of progress over the last decade, business is suffering too. Whit Lane has only one surviving corner shop to service its entire population. Senior citizens of the area are forced to walk almost a mile to the local post office or bakery. All of which has been highlighted, time and again, during ten years of expensive consultations.
Mo runs the convenience store on Concorde Place, by St Sebastian's community centre. His shop is the last one on a row of business units long since abandoned. Only five years ago there was the COM CP computer centre. where people could learn IT skills. and CREST, a community resource centre that housed the Salford Star office amongst many other services. Now all lie empty and abandoned due to Salford Council funding decisions.
However, it is here where we are able to see at least a lick of new paint, though being in the shape of a graffiti style mural on the forever closed metal shutters, it is perhaps not what Mo would have asked for.
"In my opinion these shops should be demolished and replaced with something better" he says "It feels like a prison. You could tell it was a shopping parade before, but now it just looks rough, with all the graffiti".
Surely he gets a lot of passing trade, given that Gerald Road winds right by his business and is a well travelled route through the area?
"People can't even tell it is a shop" he replies "It looks rough. It's not rough, but people going past think it's a rough area and they don't want to stop".
According to Salford Councils own website, however: 'During the last decade, massive investment has created more jobs, greater economic prosperity, improved environment quality and lower crime levels'. All of which seems at odds with Mr Walker's earlier assertion that the global economic situation is largely to blame. None the less, we wondered if Mo had seen this 'massive investment'?
"I've asked the Council for help to put in a window, so it looks like a shop, and they said I have to do it myself, but I do not even know if they are going to pull my shop down soon" he explains "Why would I spend money when I do not know?"
Despite everything, Mo does not want to leave. He has sunk ten years of his life, and every penny he has into this business. He has watched local children grow into adults and made good friends here. In the past the Council has promised him a new shop. Now they won't even give him a tenancy agreement.
Tina Wilde is another resident of the estate who feels overlooked, ignored, and frustrated.
"We don't know a thing" she says "and that's how it is with the Council. They come around and post a leaflet through your door, and then you don't hear anything else for a year or two."
Did she attend the drop in session at St Sebastian's?
"I would have liked to, I need to know what is going on, but they are always at seven or eight o'clock" she explains. "I've got a four year old and a two year old and they are in bed by then. I can't leave them in the house alone while I go to the meeting. And then they say they will let everyone know what happened and you never hear anything."
So, does Tina feel that the Council are doing a good job of keeping residents informed?
"Not at all" she tells us, with a bitter laugh "They just stick a letter through the door when they feel like it, and then none of it ever happens anyway. You don't even know if you should bother to decorate because our homes are coming down, then they are staying up and then they are coming down again. I just wish they would tell us what is happening."
So, despite all the 'massive investment' and 'greater economic prosperity', it appears that, aside from Paul Walker, everybody we spoke to feels frustrated and let down.
Angela Moss lives above the former shopping parade, and is in the same position as Mo.
"I had a little baby girl and she is eight years old now" Angela tells us "That is how long I've been moving off the estate."
Angela's home, along with the shopping parade, is once again earmarked for regeneration, though with the ten year 'Masterplan' just completed, and many residents still waiting for even the most basic, day to day maintenance to be carried out on their homes, it is hard to see how this will happen.
"We were told five years ago we only had six months to go" she adds "We were told again that we'd be out by Christmas and in a new house. Five years later, we are still here".
So, what does Angela think has happened? Where does she think the money has been spent?
"Well, take the old cottage flats for example" she explains, referring to a block of flats not far away which were demolished, leaving only a bleak and empty croft... "They did them up, "put in new windows, new central heating, spent months doing it. Three months later they pulled them down. Tell me that is not wasted money!"
These same sentiments were echoed to us again and again all over Whit Lane, across all ages and genders.
Stephen Brown is a disabled local pensioner. He has lived in the area his entire life. We asked what he thought of New Deal and how the massive cash injection had improved things for him…
"I haven't seen where they have spent a penny" he tells us.
But, surely there have been improvements?
"Well, on the other side of the estate, they put up some new garden fences and planted some flowers. I wouldn't say 53 million quid's worth of flowers though!"
And what about his house, is it coming down?
"Well, you hear that all the time" he says "but after the first five years, you don't believe it."
Stephen has lost whatever little faith he had in Salford's local government many years ago. And that is an opinion shared by the majority here, who can see the increasing number of tinned up houses around the estate.
Ashley Morgan-Phillips is a Salfordian and young mother of two who has only lived on the estate for nine months, and is already wondering why she ever accepted the property. Even basic repairs, promised over and over again and part of the Salix Homes' contractual agreement with its tenants, go undelivered.
"If you look at my back garden" Ashley tells us, with a massive sigh "It is an absolute disaster. The day I moved in here they told me it would be done immediately. Then they gave me a deadline of December. In the end I called them up and reported it again, it's a health hazard out there. They sent an inspector around who said it would be done straight away, and that is the last thing I heard from them. They are never going to come and do it, are they?"
We couldn't answer that question, but looking at the Council's record over the last ten years, it would appear unlikely. Ashley told us that she loves the estate none the less; that it is the people who make the area, and the people are decent folk. She told us how local residents can often be seen sweeping the streets outside their homes; exhibiting, it seems, the same indomitable spirit which has kept Salfordians going through two wars and hundreds of years of grinding, abject poverty.
Like many others we spoke to, she doesn't want or expect a Miller home or Countryside property by the river. She doesn't go to bed at night dreaming of riches and grandeur. She would simply like to see good facilities for the local children, a decent shopping parade and some basic repairs carried out.
It doesn't seem like a lot to ask, in the scheme of things. It seems very little, in fact, when considering that the NDC, approved by Salford Council, have allegedly spent £53 million pounds doing, among other things, just that.
We had wanted to return to Salford Council's Paul Walker to ask if he was mistaken when he felt that people were not hostile - or at least angry - towards him or the Council.
But Paul Walker himself has now been bulldozed by Salford Council, his job axed as part of the cuts. One thing is for sure. All the highly paid NDC executives and the likes of Paul Walker, with his £130,000+ salary, pension pot and golden pay-off, won't ever have to live on The Forgotten Estate…
* Today, Salford Council announced the `clean up' of the overgrown dump it's left on Charlestown Riverside, where rows and rows of affordable terrace housing used to be (see here). It's going to be planting wild flower seeds as "part of the Council's commitment to redevelop the Charlestown Riverside area"...
For Part 2 click here
Photos by Nathan O'Brien