Tuesday, 11 November 2008

81,000 Leeds homes fail to meet decent standard

Yorkshire Evening Post
Published Date: 11 November 2008
By David Marsh

More than 81,000 private homes in Leeds – including many of the city's distinctive back to backs – fail to meet modern living standards, new surveys have found. The cost of bringing properties up to the official "decent homes standard" is put at £250m and now council chiefs are working on a multi-million pound strategy they hope will win Government cash to carry out essential work.

There are 247,840 privately-owned homes in Leeds and, according to the condition survey, 81,800 – one-third of the stock – fail the decency standard because of poor insulation, inefficient heating, fire safety hazards and an increased risk of falls because of steep stairs.

Poorest quality housing is in Burmantofts, Richmond Hill, East End Park, Holbeck, Beeston Hill and Harehills. Many of the problems are centred on the 19,500 back to backs – with 73 per cent of them falling short of the decency standard.Back to backs are part of the city's heritage. They were mostly built before 1919 although some were still being constructed in 1937, despite being made illegal in 1909.

A report to the council's Executive Board said back to back houses did not exist outside West Yorkshire, apart from a handful in Birmingham now owned by the National Trust. It said many had been bought by speculative investors and private landlords but suggested there could be a demand for them as starter homes, if they were in better condition and environmental improvements were carried out to make the neighbourhoods more attractive.

The council intends to use the findings of the survey to draw up a comprehensive improvement plan for the city's private sector housing. Talks will be held with the new Government-backed Homes and Communities Agency to try to win cash backing for the plan. The report said back to backs were "a special case" and could "contribute significantly to meeting housing growth targets".

Hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent to bring the city's council homes up to the decency standard and while some grant-aided schemes have been carried out to improve private housing, much has still to be done.

Coun Les Carter, executive member for housing, said: "This administration has put a lot of effort into delivering the decent homes programme in the social rented sector, we will now look to find ways of levering money into improve housing in the private sector."

Back-to-backs in Leeds reached a peak of 108,000 in 1920 – 70 per cent of the housing stock at the time. They were originally built to provide low cost houses for the mushrooming workforce employed in the Leeds mills and factories, the first appearing in 1785, most prominently the cluster of streets on the north side of present-day Kirkgate Market known as Union Street, Ebenezer Street, George Street and Nelson Street. The 1909 Housing and Town Planning Act outlawed the building of back-to-backs, declaring them unfit for habitation. However, the rush for approvals before the Act was passed meant "modern" back-to-backs continued to be built in Leeds until 1937.


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