Thursday, 20 December 2007

Murder flat to let again

Recently spotted at Kirkstall newsagents, note advertising:

Flat to Let
Self-contained studio flat
£325pcm Inc. council tax + water
6 Raynville Road, Kirkstall, LS12 2TF

Nothing odd in that you might think. In fact you might be thinking that's quite a reasonable rent for Kirkstall. Maybe you would ring the landlord and arrange a viewing.
What kind of background would this gentleman give you about the property?
For instance the fate of its last tenants?
How would he talk up the benefits of living in a converted pantry at the back of a larger, also rented, detached house?
Could he mention any improvements made since August and the demise of the previous tenants?
Or is the flat still as I remember it, a tiny kitchen, a tiny living/sleeping space, and a cupboard that serves as a washroom and toilet?
Should you somehow be talked into renting this priest hole, you might learn from your neighbours that it's now known locally as "the murder flat", but quite probably you'll not last longer than a few months, as with so many previous tenants.
If you did hear the story, you'd probably wonder how two people managed to live in such cramped conditions, and perhaps reflect that it's hardly surprising one ended up being murdered by the other, who in turn killed himself by driving his car into a lorry.

This tragic episode was widely covered in the local media around the August Bank Holiday 2007.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Cross Green woman 'going nowhere'

Shirley Moran is a homeowner in Cross Green for over 30 years, she now faces the prospect of losing her home to ‘regeneration’.

“In 2005, I found out that the Council was going to demolish 21 homes in Cross Green. My local councilor promised there were no plans for my property.” Then, in September 2006, the Council hand delivered a letter coldly informing her that 51 properties, including her own. Shirley was devastated.

“I still have no idea why they want to knock down my house. There’s nothing wrong with it, or with most of the others they want to pull down. The area has problems, but they’re largely caused by a few criminal families and local housing policy.”

Shirley suspects that her home is to be sacrificed to make way for property developers to profit. The area is very close to the city centre where developers are erecting new hotels, luxury apartments and mini skyscrapers. I feel the city is expanding into Cross Green, forcing working class homeowners like me out of our homes and community.”

Near to retirement, Shirley could lose her home and be given a paltry £70,000 based on the ‘market price’, leaving her unable to buy a similar property anywhere else in Leeds.

“Where am I expected to go? I bought my home in order to have the security of a property for my retirement. Now I am being forced onto the private rented market so that the Council and developers can make money out of selling Cross Green.”

But Shirley is not going to give in. She says she will fight any Compulsory Purchase Order on her home.

Gipton families fight back

In recent years, 100s of mainly council tenants in Gipton and Seacroft have been forced out or evicted, their homes demolished and the land grassed over. While some of the housing was poor quality, the way people have been treated by Leeds City Council and the housing ALMOs managing the area has been both dubious and disgraceful.

On Oak Tree Mount in Gipton, however, two families have stood defiant as the housing all around has been bulldozed: Dave and Elisa Hynes of no.11 and Geoff and Elaine Ryecroft of no.7.

The Hynes and Ryecroft families outside the only 4 houses standing in Oak Tree Mount.

“Back in 2003, we got a letter from the ALMO saying they were going to pull down our homes. ‘Over my dead body’, I told them,” explains Dave Hynes of no.11, who has lived here with his wife Elisa for nearly 35 years, bringing up their 3 children.

“So they backtracked and said we could keep our home. But then in July 2005, they changed their minds and said we’d have to leave.” Having bought no.11 under the Right to Buy in the 1990s and spent £1000s renovating it, they now face being served a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) by Leeds City Council.

“We’ve been offered £8200 for the house—where do they expect us to go with that? A 2-bed round the corner is going for £117,000. We don’t stand a chance of getting a mortgage.

The Hynes family, along with their neighbours and friends, the Ryecrofts, have vowed to fight the CPO all the way. “Why should we lose our homes to allow a developer to make a profit. Why can’t they build round us?”

The families have tabled alternative planning proposals that would enable Bellways to build around their homes. However, it appears that Bellways and Leeds City Council will not agree to this because they will lose money - that's right, they are putting profit before people.

In the meantime, the daily uncertainty about when a CPO might be served, and fear and anxiety over their long term future, plague the Gipton familes. Their semi-detached homes are adjoined to two empty, boarded council houses that could be providing two families with much needed, good quality, affordable rented homes but are instead being left to rot and their gardens overgrow.

1000s could lose homes under EASEL regeneration

If you live in East and South East Leeds then be warned— Leeds City Council might be planning to demolish your home in the near future as part of a huge housebuilding programme called EASEL.

‘EASEL’ is the East and South East Leeds Regeneration Scheme. It is a £1bn 'public-private' partnership between the Council and developer, Bellways Homes, covering Burmantoffs, Cross Green, East End Park, Richmond Hill, Gipton, Osmondthorpe, Seacroft, Harehills, and Halton Moor.

The Council says it wants to regenerate the poorest parts of Leeds. Sounds great, until you realise this doesn’t include the people currently living there. At least 2400 council homes plus many community facilities and local schools could be bulldozed to make way for 9000 new Bellways private houses for sale, currently priced at around £120,000.

That’s why some residents there are renaming it the ‘EVIL’ project. In recent years, hundreds of perfectly sound, brick built council homes in Gipton and Seacroft have been steadily bulldozed. These demolitions have taken place for very strange reasons and have devastated the affected communities.

Now it turns out that they are the first 8 sites of the EASEL project, a fact the Council has hidden from people until recently. Several families in Gipton, however, have defied the Council, and are refusing to sell their homes. Now they face Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).

This regeneration is based on ‘social cleansing’: kicking out the poorest people in order to make way for wealthier city workers.

All is not lost, however. Some families have vowed to fight all the way to save their homes. George Mudie MP for East Leeds has also intervened against what he calls a ‘land grab’. In October 2007, he organised a series of public meetings in East Leeds to warn tenants and residents that they could lose their home. As a result, over 1000 people objected to EASEL during the recent consultation, forcing the Council to put demolition plans on hold...for now.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Leeds to build council houses for first time in three decades?

This is breaking news from Yorkshire Evening Post
Council houses look set to be built in Leeds for the first time in in almost 30 years.

By Tony Gardner
6 December 2007

Council houses look set to be built in Leeds for the first time in in almost 30 years.

Leeds City Council today unveiled plans to start building properties for rent as early as next year as part of a £2.6 billion bid to ease the pressure on the city's deepening housing crisis. The decision marks Leeds' first commitment to social housing since before the Thatcher era.

But civic leaders warned it will not mean a return to the old days of poorly designed sprawling council estates. Announcing the plans today, the Tory-Lib Dem alliance said exact costs, the number of new properties and areas of the city where they are to be built were still subject to a consultation.

But Richard Brett, deputy council leader, said he hoped the new scheme would help provide 1,000 homes per year until 2020. Housing schemes will be developed on council-owned brownfield sites in a bid to protect the environment.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Degeneration tales from East End Park ghetto

My home is in an area that comes under the EASEL partnership.

I moved to East End Park from the Dawlish's (also in East End Park) about 15 years ago with my young son after the death of my husband. It was a smaller home, Type 3 back to back, built in 1905, structurally sound, in an area that was looked upon as 'desirable'.

Shops abounded supplying fresh food, clothes, shoes, hardware. Leeds city centre just a short bus ride away. A cohesive community. Families knew each other and that created a form of benign authority. People married in their respective churches in the area, children went to the same schools their parents had attended. There was continuity.

Now it's a ghetto. We fill the criteria for the private developers and finance companies to move in. How has this happened?

The housing: unfit for humans but ok for asylum seekers

The area is built on mine-works and some (not all) back-to-back houses were built for quarry workers. These type1 back-to-backs had bin-yards that housed toilets for adjacent properties. The Glensdales were amongst these. They were condemned in 1989 as unfit for human habitation. A project to build new homes in four phases was set in motion. It was estimated that it would take about three years to rehouse tenants and complete demolition.

However, only one phase was built. Approximately 118 homes were left standing. Refurbishments were then carried out on them - yes, on homes that had previously been condemned as unfit for human habitation! Notorious housing providers such as Angel Group bought up housing in the area and were given lucrative contracts by the Home Office to house asylum seekers here; it has since been revealed the appalling conditions in which they lived, see Indymedia. I knew of two of these families who were intimidated and forced to leave. Houses were boarded up, graffiti was everywhere, rubbish lay in the streets.

In March 2003, I attended a meeting at which spoke the incumbent Labour Councillor, two council officials and two members of a community group. Here is a quotation from the councillor at that meeting:

"The houses, fourteen years on have, 'outlived their usefulness', money and resources going into removal of burnt-out vehicles, repairs to bollards, environmental problems e.g rats in disused shops and bin-yards. Properties in negative equity (many council owned), people want to leave the area, being replaced with asylum seekers, refugees and people who've been evicted from council properties in other parts of Leeds'.

Yet, the same Labour councillor suggested in a glossy promotional magazine at the time that the bin-yards were an ideal place to have barbecues and for children to play!

In May 2004, replying to residents concerns about the contribution of these houses to the decline of the area, Labour Councillor Peter Gruen, who was also Chair of South East Homes ALMO, wrote:

'Modelling systems are showing the Glensdales as sustainable and they are therefore included in some work in our capital programme, including new roofs. There are no plans to demolish them and in fact they require less work towards decent homes than others in our area'.

Further down, towards city centre, a seven-year £50m SRB2 regeneration project managed by re’new (a council owned company) was completed in March 2003 and reportedly had 'revitalised' the East Bank and waterfront. Who were these homes and developments for?


Anyone reading this might want to be able to look up a Daily Mail article of December 2 2007. It's a diary of a woman called Joanne who has experienced horrendous intimidation on East End Park. We should all have her determination and be as brave, even though I'm sure it cost her a lot of heartache. I did not, unfortunately, know her, but have known others who have been burnt out of their home or had to leave with their families for their own safety, because they spoke out.

In the home of a neighbour who has suffered a great deal of racism, a policeman and policewoman answered a call following the blowing up of a vehicle. The policewoman stated that she was tired of listening to people 'whining'. I left, because I'd adopted a policy of non-aggression. Recently a newly-appointed Special Constable quoted statistics to me outlining how crime had been reduced in the area and it was the 'perception of crime' that foolish people like me who lived in deprived areas were labouring under. He almost convinced me that I had imagined the last few years, but then he asked my name and queried whether I'd been drinking. His uniformed chest was fairly bursting with self-importance and I nearly forgot the policy I'd adopted!

I've been hissed at and called a grass, viewed burning cars from the kitchen window, witnessed a refugee man and his wife and child being kicked and threatened by young men and women whose vocabulary seemed to consist mainly of the word 'fuck'. Had the cat's life threatened! Sad at times, when you see elderly people, locked behind iron gates, who have lived here and brought families up here, now they won't go out.

Neighbourhood Plans

We are told that consultation will take place in the New Year so exact plans for our homes are not yet known. Maybe they will be refurbished. No doubt some demolition will happen, such as the Glensdales and surrounding streets. The investors have their own agenda. For individual residents it's a matter of wait and see. Seacroft and Gipton are the first phases. 52 houses in Cross Green are to be demolished in the New Year. As EASEL covers 1700 hectares of land, approx 36,500 homes, that's a lot of homes, a lot of prime land. A lot of money to be made. Will it be the private developers and finance companies who benefit? Will we be banished to trailer parks, other sink estates? Maybe a ship will be seconded for those who cannot afford affordable homes?

Futures are being decided by Government and local officials. We are bombarded by the wisdom of Quangos, teams, projects, a myriad of council officials, housing partnerships, joint ventures, AAP's, the list goes on, UDP, LDF, SPD, SA, narrowing the gap, PFI, PPP, joint public-private venture. Emphasis is placed on the fact that all this is for the benefit the poor and deprived. If we can afford it, that is. Poor is a relative concept and deprived would have to be defined, deprived of what?

In this country it would a concerted effort to put a cash price on education, hospitals, housing. We do and have paid for the right to aspire to these basic human rights, but the money is being used elsewhere and let's face it, if we got too educated we might be a force against those who have the power to decide how the money is used.

At a public meeting in Cross Green last year, a lady who had, days before, been informed that her home was in the demolition programme, was told by a council official on the bench, that 'no-one was evicting her from her home'. I don’t know what he was on! He had embraced 'doublespeak', well, the pay's good. The same lady was comforted by a councillor who reminded her 'no pain, no gain'. Obviously he didn't live here and didn't expand on whose was the pain or who's the gain.

We have all, through our taxes, whether we like it or not, financed the printing of the slogans such as Leeds Live it, Love it. So far though, no tourist buses have been routed through these areas, probably not aesthetically pleasing enough. The slogan should have the proviso 'depending where you live in Leeds'.

So much of this seems negative, but every word can be verified with supporting letters or witnesses. Accusations of being resistant to change, working class attitude etc have all been made as has the accusation that I'm an alarmist or a conspiracy theorist. Maybe I have really been turned into a cynic.

Friday, 23 November 2007

City centre speculative flats development scrapped

From today's Yorkshire Evening Post (23/11/07): it seems the developers are finally listening to what we've been saying - the 'city living' market has already peaked. Could this now send the jitters throughout other city centre flat developments, and see them axed too?

Green Bank £100m flats plan axed

By Nigel Scott

Developers have pulled the plug on £100m Leeds city centre apartments. The decision by George Wimpey City (GWC) to mothball its Green Bank development today sparked new fears over the high-rise market.

More than 800 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments had been planned on Globe Road, alongside the River Aire and a £1m marketing suite was opened on site in June, 2006. The award-winning design for 2.5 hectares would have been part of plans, unveiled in the summer, to develop a £1bn Leeds 'West End'.

In a statement today, GWC said it had taken "the difficult decision" to postpone construction.

It added: "This is a result of the current uncertain market conditions for high-rise apartments in central Leeds. GWC has notified customers at the site and will be refunding all deposits along with accrued interest."

A spokesman told the YEP: "We are extremely disappointed and regret the inconvenience that this decision may have caused our customers."

He said the company would be conducting a review of plans over the next 12 months. It is understood GWC pulled the plug at the 11th hour as construction contracts were about to be signed.

One Leeds businessman, who asked not to be named, received a letter from GWC yesterday saying the two apartments he had paid a deposit for were not going to be built. He told the YEP he planned to buy one for himself, as an investment, and one for a family member. He said: "On the one hand, I'm disappointed. But maybe I have had a lucky escape rather than buying into the market at a bad time."

Green Bank, launched in 2005, also had space for shops, restaurants and offices. When the scheme was first announced, apartment prices started at £105,000 and went up to £350,000. The most recent starting price for apartments was £162,500. Leeds Civic Architect, John Thorp, had praised the developer's vision as "striking", adding it would create "a dramatic canal and river crossing gateway at the western edge of the city centre."

This summer it was included as part of a joint marketing strategy bringing together the developers of several of Leeds' most ambitious projects – including KW Linfoot's proposed giant Lumiere towers.

But Wimpey's shock decision to shelve it comes in the wake of a recent housing market assessment, commissioned by Leeds City Council, which indicated there could be an over-supply of city centre apartments. A council report said external research showed "demand for city living had not proved to be as robust as initially anticipated".

Property adviser DTZ also warned during the summer that investors were turning their backs on apartment schemes and said a "question mark" existed over demand for units in Leeds. It warned of a "steady decline" in investor interest due to "stagnant" rental levels and little potential for capital growth as the housing market nationwide is squeezed.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

About Hands Off Our Homes

Welcome to Hands Off Our Homes! (Leeds). We are a campaigning coalition of tenants, home owners, community activists, trade unionists, and university researchers based in Leeds. We started meeting in summer 2006 after the Save Little London Campaign organised a series of meetings with tenants and residents from across Leeds to explain what was happening to their estate and ask for support.

We have come together to campaign for genuinely decent and affordable housing for all, and to fight the privatisation of housing, gentrification, unwarranted demolitions and community destruction brought by so-called 'regeneration'. In Leeds, such schemes include: the East and South East Leeds Regeneration Scheme; the Swarcliffe, Little London and Beeston Hill / Holbeck Private Finance Initiatives; and the West Leeds Gateway.

Our campaign has the following official aims:

- To campaign against the wholesale demolitions of council and owner- occupied housing.
- To campaign against the crisis being experienced in affordable housing.
- To campaign against the destruction of communities under regeneration plans.

We support the Leeds Tenants Federation’s Right to Rent campaign, and the Fourth Option Campaign led by Defend Council Housing and the House of Commons Council Housing Group. We believe that everyone should have the 'Right to Choose' to rent in the public sector, or even live cooperatively or communally if they wish. Yet, since the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, successive governments have sought to ensure that there is only been one option available - the private housing market. History shows that the private market can never meet all the housing needs of society; the present affordable housing crisis and present global financial meltdown that began in the collapse of the US 'sub-prime' mortgage market and spread to engulf the entire financial system are yet more reminders that we need affordable, high quality public housing as a genuine choice for everyone.

We have vowed:

- To give solidarity to those on the front line facing evictions and Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).
- To campaign against all so-called 'regeneration' schemes in Leeds that imply the demolition of perfectly sound and affordable housing (whether publicly or privately-owned), and the further privatisation of council housing in a city with 24,000 people on the waiting list and almost no choice housing for the majority of people in housing need

We will act as a campaigning umbrella throughout the city for public and private housing, threatened under regeneration.