Over the late summer and early Autumn of 2005 my brother and I became minor media fixtures in the local press, radio and on North West television. This came about because we were the first, and as far as I know, the only people in this country to be evicted from their own homes by John Prescott's much vaunted 'Pathfinder' Regeneration Scheme. The physical aspect of this was carried out by Salford's Labour Council.
At the time this seemed to be the complete antithesis of council leader, John Merry's pledge that he remained "committed to the people of the area". He reiterated this at a face-to-face meeting in February 2005, that the remaining residents and myself would not be evicted. Selective amnesia, a virulent disease amongst career politicians, has erased this promise from his memory. Not so the casualties of this programme of urban vandalism.
First and foremost, these 'pathfinder' areas are joining the dots and destroying the few pockets of mainly Victorian terraced homes that escaped the slum clearances of the sixties and seventies. Secondly, the legal machinery used to gain compulsory purchase orders on Higher Broughton, where the houses are not in any legal definition 'unfit', was never designed to instigate a
de-housing policy and therefore raises the question: 'how moral is this ?'
It should be borne in mind that at the time of astronomical rises in house prices, up by an average of 700% in some of the terrace streets in Higher Broughton not affected by CPO's, the removal of the poorest from the housing ladder can be seen as catastrophic and bodes ill for the stability of the city. When one is denied a stake in society, why care about or follow that society's norms ? One only has to look at the riots in Oldham in 2001.
Let me now return to the spring of 2000, when Salford Council stated its intention, (remember this word, it is very important and will crop up again), to purchase all of Wiltshire St, Hampshire St and parts of Vincent St for `demolition' or `selective demolition' or `possible renovation'. You tick the option which you desire. It will become clear, that when a decision needs to be made, Salford Council are always `positive, possibly, maybe'…
At a meeting in Broughton Library, (thanks girls, you were supportive all the way down the line), the council's representative reiterated that it was Salford's intention to purchase the houses with the aim of putting a playing field on the site. Very green! Very eco-friendly, showing concern for the bored teenagers of the area. Except that the present 'Topfields' recreation area was to be built on, with prices of the new houses being too expensive for the people being displaced.
The council's representative stated that if we did not go by negotiation, (capitulation?) the council intended to apply for a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO). Of course there were people who quickly accepted the deal offered by the council. Inevitably, there were the latecomers to the area who had only seen the descent into despair and the lethargy that accompanied the property market collapse of the early to mid 90's. They upped sticks and moved out in the first wave. Almost to a man/woman they left Salford behind, moving swiftly out of the city.
Just as quickly, the asset strippers and vandals moved in. Coping stones, slates, drainpipes, central heating boilers and copper pipes were magic-ed away in brightest day and darkest night. Windows were bricked in and front doors smashed open. I myself caught a youthful pyromaniac experimenting with a box of matches and a deserted house filled with unopened mail and unread free papers. The area had become a magnet for all the worst examples of anti-social activity.
The council must accept some culpability in encouraging this activity. As an example, if a window was smashed in a vacated house, several phone calls to the council, (a sort of verbal pass the parcel) resulted in the smashed windows being boarded up. But because the adjacent window was still intact, this was left to be broken the next night. Some more phone calls and this window is boarded up, but not the two undamaged windows upstairs and so on. A prime example of 'best practice'. This scenario was to reoccur 198 times in Hampshire St alone during a twelve month period.
The winter of 2000/01 saw more people move out, leaving a hardcore who still believed the neighbourhood could be regenerated and turned around. Salford Council stated practice insisted that as each property was vacated all services, water, gas and electric were terminated and the houses cleared of the detritus left behind by the vacating occupants. Some hope! In the house facing mine, the burglar alarm went off. Shrieking siren, flashing light equals interrupted sleep. Never mind, this will all stop when the back up battery runs down. After all, the council will have terminated the services, they said so. Twenty four hours later, no change. Luckily an unknown wielder of a lump hammer forcibly removed it from its anchorage.
Residents also began complaining about dampness, which manifested itself as a creeping lurgy, enveloping everything in its path. Wallpaper, clothes, records, books, video tapes and furniture all succumbed. My daughter's asthma noticeably got worse around this time.
A complaint to the council about the dampness in my hallway, which seemed to be emanating from their empty properties either side of my house, brought this professional conclusion … the culprit was my clothes rack hanging from the landing ceiling. The fact that it had probably been hanging there for close on a century cut no ice. Neither did the fact that I discovered, two years later, water had been left running in the empty properties either side of my house! Obviously the council followed its stated practice of terminating the services…
In fact, I ended up in taking the council to the small claims court, in an effort to make them behave responsibly over the houses they now owned. Needless to say, I was unsuccessful. The judge qualified this verdict by saying as it remained Salford Council's 'intention' to demolish them, it was alright to disregard the quality of life endured by the remaining residents. They still had not applied for a CPO, instead (so it seemed to me), relying on siege warfare to see off the remaining residents.
It took another year and an appeal to an all party review panel, that we managed to get convened against much stonewalling by the council, that instigated the Great Cleanout of 2003. Every day, including weekends, a three ton tipper truck plus a crew of three emptied all the combustible matter and rubbish left in the properties acquired by the council. This operation took three weeks.
Shortly afterwards, in late May, a demolition team moved in on the even numbered side of Hampshire St. The council was at great pains to point out the disturbance caused by the demolition of the 25 properties to the remaining residents would be kept to a minimum. For fourteen weeks across the summer of 2003, dust, noise and anti-social behaviour occupied this oasis of despair. Bricks were launched through the windows of occupied homes. Stolen cars used the resulting croft as a stock car track and vans roamed the street, using it as a rubbish dump. A flatbed dropped a load of garden soil and garden debris onto the street one Friday teatime. Despite reporting the incident to the council and supplying the offending vehicle's registration number, nothing was done. In the end I became quite fond of that hillock, with its covering of wildflowers, during its eighteen month residence on the street.
I wouldn't like the reader to feel that it was all doom and gloom, only about 95% of the time. In the spring and summer following the demolition, nature quickly gained control of the land that had been missing from her for close on a century. With a little help from my brother, poppies and wild flowers sprang up all over the newly-made croft. Birds of a type I had never seen in industrial Salford arrived. A fox made his lair in a boarded up house at the top end of the street, entering and leaving via the vandalised airbricks.
It was unusual but by no means rare to see him wander down the emptly silent street close to midday. Then finally, as a mid-summer dusk rolled over the street, a bat made its grand entrance, foraging on the wing, between the pools of light cast beneath the street lamps. The peace and tranquillity, and above all the quiet in the heart of the city, was something to be savoured.
But more frequently it was the asset strippers, fly tippers, vandals and bored teenagers who vented their spleen on the forlorn terraces. There is nothing worse than trying to sleep while listening for that smooth scraping sound, which denotes a roof being stripped of its slates, hoping it is too far away to affect your own roof.
In the autumn / winter of 2004 the houses that backed on to mine were demolished. It was a quicker job than the evens of Hampshire St, and because Salford Council admitted liability over bricks from the demolition site finding their way via front room windows into occupied homes, remaining residents were supplied with riot shield type coverings for vulnerable glass.
Almost simultaneous with this, Salford Council finally got a CPO on the streets, leaving the final seven households to gird up their loins. It was nearly five years since the Housing Associations sold their properties en masse to the council to start the ball rolling, and seven years since councillor Bill Hinds told me that 'Topfields' was a carrot to raise finance to demolish the streets. And ten years since the rumour of demolition was first mooted. This was denied in writing by the council (I have a copy of the letter).
The most outrageous fact to emerge from all this is the council's role in me being evicted from a home I own, thus reducing my social status from being on the first rung of the property ladder to being that of a voyeur. I can look at the properties not affected by demolitions but cannot afford to buy one with the derisory compensation being offered by the council's purchasing department. And I don't mean the new properties on Broughton Green. I am not a greedy man, but even the identical type of terraced houses not covered by a CPO in the adjacent area are beyond my reach.
If I put all the compensation I received, I could be a stakeholder in one of the council's 19 Social Housing replacement properties built not thirty yards from where my home was. I can own a third of a terraced house on the site where I once owned all of a terraced house.
So, things finally ran their course. On the Bank Holiday Weekend of August 2005, the eviction was scheduled for Monday 30th August, except that year Monday was the 29th. Another example of Salford Council's ability to put two and two together and make five. It was the following Monday, the 5th September, when the circus finally rolled into town.
Three removal vans, an ambulance, half a dozen police officers, the radio, the TV, the sheriff and enough deputies to make Wyatt Earp jealous. The accompanying locksmiths struggled to cut through the steel security gates, but when they finally did I walked peacefully out into the glare of the attendant media and the sniggers of the police officers. I don't know what caused the hilarity, as I told them, "If they did it to me, they can do it to you."
John Merry, who is the local councillor, leader of Salford Council, was conspicuous by his absence that fortnight. He was on (political) "holiday". When questioned about this matter - the eviction, the CPO etc, he says he owes a duty to the Council Tax payers of Salford. (Citizens of Salford is not the same thing). So, for the privilege of being evicted from my own home, that I worked for, brought a family up in and generally did what New Labour and Tony Blair in particular call being a 'good citizen', I was charged over £900 (duty to the council tax payers, remember). All this was done in your name dear reader. Why? I think we'll let the great Al Read** have the last word…. "Ave I offended you?"
** For younger readers Al Read was a Salford sausage maker, turned comedian, who took the country by storm over the radio in the early 1950's.
I was seven when all this started and I'm 18 now…there's nothing from my childhood still standing.
The worst thing is that it was supposed to be for my own good and that really bothers me. I went to Brentnall Primary School and a couple of years after I left they knocked it down…then I went to Kersal High School and in my last year of GCSEs I had to go to a completely new school because they knocked it down…and then when I'm doing my AS levels at college and supposed to be concentrating on exams, my house is under threat. I got my results the day before we got kicked out.
I know exactly what they're doing. My friends always say I've got my head screwed on and after all I've been through I kind of have to have my head screwed on…my view of politicians is that they're all lying quite blatantly. This is happening all over the place – in Salford, in England, in Zimbabwe – it's the same bloody thing.
The day after we got evicted I was walking to college down our street and I looked into my home – it was the most depressing day of my life…
Read Part 1 here
Read Part 3 here
Read Part 4 here
Read Part 5 here
Read Part 6 here