For a £360,000,000 regeneration programme, the secrecy surrounding the Government's Pathfinder programme is shocking. Basically there is no accountability to the communities it's changing, a point which the Audit Commission has been stating more or less for four years.
As a result of the programme whole areas of perfectly good, affordable houses have been bulldozed and replaced with grass crofts; communities have been broken up; developers have been given £millions; and in many cases the new properties that have gone up have been either sub standard, unaffordable or unwanted. No wonder Pathfinder has absolutely no transparency.
However, the Audit Commission's report, Market Response, contains the first official hint that Manchester and Salford Pathfinder has failed…and that developers are being bailed out with huge amounts of public money.
To understand how it's failed you have to understand the strange logic that underlies Pathfinder. Put simply, the aim was to improve areas by bulldozing old housing and building posh new properties. This would have the affect of bringing in people with money who would pay higher council tax and dilute all the poverty figures at the same time. It was a win-win for the Council, while the developers were given huge grants to `encourage' them to get involved in previously `defunct' areas.
In Salford alone, there were originally plans to virtually wipe out the whole of Central Salford's old housing, with Council reports predicting anywhere between 7500 and 15000 houses being bulldozed by 2020. In 2003 a report to Salford Council's Cabinet set out some of the main points, what it called "re-structuring the housing market… by reducing the number of empty properties, increasing the proportion of owner occupied homes, changing the distribution of properties within Council Tax Bands, increasing house values and prices…"
Meanwhile, Countryside Properties, in its planning application for `New Broughton' stated quite clearly that "By introducing more market housing, which is generally occupied by a greater proportion of economically active people, there is likely to be an overall improvement in the health of the residential population of the area."
Does the health of the people who used to live in `Old Broughton' improve? No. Do the statistics improve? Yes. It's called diluting a community and its problems.
So has it all worked, at a cost of over £360million? While Pathfinder itself tells the community nothing, the Audit Commission report lets a few fat cats out of the bag.
It says that this month Manchester and Salford City Councils are setting up an `Experts Reference Group' stuffed full of `consultants'…"to assist in identifying solutions for housing schemes which have stalled or have a large number of unsold properties".
It adds that in `New Broughton' apartment blocks that were "initially built for outright sale" are now being turned over to "social rent, shared equity and first time buyer initiative". The report doesn't mention any gains for the community in terms of social housing, only that "this has helped keep the developer on site and secured a commitment to future phases."
The pattern is being repeated all over Salford – in Higher Broughton where blocks of huge overpriced houses in Broughton Green have been bought by a housing association… in Kersal where chunks of Miller Homes' `Unity Quarter' have also been turned over to social housing… and in Langworthy where Chimney Pot Park continues to draw public grants…
The Pathfinder's function now seems to be clearing up its own mess, or, according to the Audit Commission report… "to support high profile development schemes where they are on site and at risk of mothballing or withdrawal..."
Basically Pathfinder is veering off its original path and according to its own terms and objectives seems to be failing miserably… In the report the Audit Commission tells the Pathfinder Board to review "the overall impact of the changes in tenure balance of schemes on the long term strategic objective to increase home ownership in the pathfinder area"…
In other words, the whole point of the £360million exercise was to put up posh houses to be bought by professional people, thus bringing the areas `up', in some kind of weird social engineering experiment. But that hasn't happened – and it wasn't happening even before the housing crash.
They are having to put the properties out to rent - which wasn't the idea and suggests massive failure. Plus, more public money is having to be thrown at the problem to bail out developers, who were already in receipt of huge public grants…
However, while Pathfinder is failing, its bulldozers continue to wipe out Salford's old affordable houses. Indeed, while housing and land prices have dropped the Pathfinder, according to the Audit Commission report, is "looking at the accelerated acquisition of land and property".
Which means more demolitions and more grass crofts left empty, waiting for the upturn when developers will return to make more fat profits…
No wonder they don't want any transparency or accountability…
* Manchester Salford HMR Pathfinder Partnership (MSP) responded to our previous article:
"This is one of a series of reports produced by the Audit Commission to explore how each of the HMR pathfinders is responding to the changing market conditions experienced in their localities. The report on MSP highlights a number of actions taken in response to these conditions. MSP is currently considering the recommendations included in the report."