PART 6 - OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH
Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here
Read Part 4 here
Read Part 5 here
This week, the Salford Pathfinder programme winds up. Its symbolic last act in Salford has been to finance the demolition of a further 108 terrace houses in the Top Streets of Higher Broughton, which will wipe out the remaining streets – apart from those covered by a High Court injunction (see here) or those few houses that still have people living in them.
The Salford Council report approving the demolitions states that "it is possible that this proposal may attract a degree of adverse publicity". Why? Is it because, yet again, perfectly good houses that could have been refurbished and handed to those on the city's ever growing housing waiting list are being bulldozed to make way for yet more knee-railed grass crofts?
The Top Streets wipe out is Pathfinder's final two fingers to the community. Because this ill thought out Government programme - that has cost hundreds of millions of pounds of public money - was never about Salford's community or affordable housing. It was about providing housing for Manchester city centre commuters. Or, as the latest Audit Commission report puts it, `to maximise the productivity and competitiveness of the regional centre and to support the economic growth of the Manchester City Region'.
"I think that's what the intention was, to try and re-populate places by making them more attractive" says Roy Irwin, the Audit Commissions Head of Housing "If you've got an economy that's working reasonably well…do you want everyone to arrive by car, rail and bus from further afield and have no-one live nearby? I think what the Pathfinder was trying to do was to make the housing offer of the place better - as well as tackle indirectly some of the other stuff around skills and job opportunities but that's not been the main driver."
Since Pathfinder first started in 2003 there have been bitter battles by Salford's community to hang onto their homes. In Seedley, huge banners were hung from houses saying `No demolition' – they've now largely been replaced by grass crofts. In Langworthy, people were given a pittance for houses that they were told were being demolished – only for Urban Splash to move in with huge Government subsidies to `re-model' houses that, in the first phase, were totally unaffordable to local people…
On Spike Island in Lower Broughton, the community was horrified to discover that there was a plan to replace their houses with duck ponds and bistros. The community fought back and won that particular battle. But rumours persist that the war isn't yet over. Elsewhere in Lower Broughton the demolitions continue every day – despite the scheme needing another £400million to ever be complete.
In Higher Broughton, a whole community has almost been wiped out. In 2005 the Bottom Streets of Higher Broughton were the scene of the first ever physical eviction by Pathfinder in the country, as the sheriff and his posse arrived to force out the Griffiths brothers. One of the brothers, Guy Griffiths, summed up his situation in Issue 4 of Salford Star…
"Basically they're getting rid of people who are poor or working class, so somebody more affluent can move in" he wrote "Look at this area – I can get to Manchester in ten minutes on the bus…I'm in the right location, my house wasn't unfit, yet I got turfed out – something's wrong, isn't it?"
Back in 2003, Salford Council set out its plan for Pathfinder in a report to its Cabinet. Within ten years, it stated, the aim was to reduce (demolish) 8,360 Band A (ie terraces) homes in Central Salford. And to increase band D-H homes (more expensive ones) in Central Salford by 3,231. The plan was very clear. Although, in the event, Pathfinder has failed even on its own terms.
In line with the total unaccountability and lack of transparency of Pathfinder, we don't know the full figure for demolitions and new builds in Central Salford alone. What we do know is that in Manchester and Salford together, there have been 6014 demolitions and 3807 new builds, proving, we believe, clearance of much of the existing community. This is why an Audit Commission report this month has largely given the Manchester Salford Pathfinder (MSP) a positive outcome.
"MSP has nearly completed its demolition programme and has made good progress on laying the foundations for the long term transformation of the housing market in its major intervention areas."
But having now done the demolitions and cleared the land and community, the Audit Commission admits that the whole programme is in danger of going back to square one if it doesn't get yet more public money on top of the £354.11million for Manchester and Salford that it's already had.
If not, it states, any gains that have happened (on its terms) will be reversed – leading to `blight', `dereliction', `a reduced ability to attract and keep economically active residents' and `a loss of extra council tax revenue'. In Lower Broughton "there is a danger of significant areas of cleared land being left with little immediate prospect of development".
We believe that behind Pathfinder there were two different agendas going on. For Salford Council the agenda was about bringing in more council tax revenue and diluting the city's poverty figures by having more expensive houses filled with `economically active people'. For that, it was willing to upset and destroy existing communities.
For the developers the agenda was about profit. With public money underpinning the programme they couldn't really lose. The land was cleared and prepared for them with public money and there was `gap funding' subsidies. If it worked they took a tasty profit – and when it didn't work, they were paid millions in Kickstart funding to carry on building, or through social landlords buying up their unsold private sale stock with huge Government grants. Or through a multitude of subsidised mortgage schemes to enable people to buy the private sale stock at sky high prices.
It's no coincidence that Pathfinder was driven by developers, investors' agents, buy-to-let mortgage floggers and business interests. In Issue 6 of Salford Star we revealed that sat on the board of the Manchester Salford Pathfinder in 2007 was Alan Cherry, chairman of Countryside Properties, developers of Lower Broughton; Bryce Glover of the Alliance and Leicester bank wholesale section which was launching buy-to-let mortgages; and Derek Nesbitt of DTZ, the sole selling agent for Broughton Green houses. Also on the board was George Mills of MBLA Architects which did the masterplan for Lower Broughton, and John Early, who was working for AMEC, a private investment partner in the Chapel Street regeneration.
The main role of the Pathfinder board was "to provide strategic direction for MSP" and to "scrutinise, challenge and make decisions on funding". The Audit Commission report stresses that "residents are engaged at various levels throughout the HMR programme, although they are not directly involved in the Partnership Board".
The Audit Commission estimates it will now take £38million a year for Pathfinder to complete its programme over the next three years, and suggests the new Local Enterprise Partnership, or LEP, could be involved in this. Chairman of the shadow Greater Manchester LEP is former Pathfinder board member, John Early, now a founder of Genr8 Developments, `established to deliver large scale mixed use regeneration schemes'.
Apart from the community being cleared and some expensive new housing gone up, everything else has failed. The Audit Commission report states…
• the Pathfinder area continues to suffer above average levels of unemployment…almost 20% of the working age population remains workless.
• House values have not risen in line with other parts of the country.
• The Pathfinder housing market still relies heavily on public funding
• There's more long term empty houses than in 2006.
All this after £354.11million of public spending.
Make no mistake about it, Pathfinder poured more money into the regeneration of Salford than any other scheme. To build expensive houses and clear the community out of homes that weren't slums - where was the logic in that? Where were the jobs? Where were the opportunities for people to become more `economically active' and make their own housing choices?
After the 1970s mess the city was on its knees for a whole generation. Is history repeating itself in Central Salford?
A Public Inquiry into Pathfinder now please!