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.