Friday, 5 June 2009

Join Our Campaign - Housing is too important to be left to the market

Leeds Hands Off Our Homes has launched a campaign aimed at forcing those supposedly running the city to take measures that will address the housing crisis.

Our campaign, Housing is Too Important to be Left to the Market, was launched last Saturday with a stall in the city centre. We are collecting signatures for a petition that we aim to present to Leeds City Council. You can sign the petition online:

Friday, 29 May 2009

New Wortley says: Hands Off Our T-Blocks

Residents on New Wortley estate are stepping up their fight to stop the demolition of 36 homes on the estate. The buildings – six houses and five 'T'-blocks of flats all built in the 1970s—are mostly empty but 11 contain families.

The controversial plan will cost around £500,000. Refurbishing them now would be 40 per cent cheaper at around £300,000. However council bosses say the homes would have to be demolished in five years anyway because of their weak structure, by which time demolition costs would be £1 million.

Local residents are demanding to see the evidence, asking why only these homes are affected and not the rest of the estate. Maureen Ingham, chair of the Residents Action Group, smells a rat:

“Since they first threatened us with much larger numbers of demolitions, we have always believed the Council really wants to sell off the land for private development.

Defiant council tenant David Ralph has told the Council to 'bring on the bulldozers'. He only found out his home was being demolished after talking to a water board worker. The father of six has lived with his family in Clyde Walk for nearly a decade and says no amount of compensation will convince him to move.

"I don't want to move – it's lovely community and a close community. My family will be sitting here until the bulldozers come. We know they want to make this into a Leeds 1 postcode. They just want to rip the place down. But we are not going anywhere."

Residents have asked Yorkshire Planning Aid to help them draw up a local community plan and are challenging council bosses to let THEM decide the fate of their own neighbourhood.


Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Leeds empty homes disgrace

17,557 homes empty - 25,000 on waiting list, why?

It’s a scandal of shocking proportions – 17,557 homes currently stand empty and unused across Leeds, according to official government figures released in February 2009. That means more homes stand empty in Leeds than any other city outside London and Leeds has the highest proportion of empty properties than anywhere else in the country, making it the UK’s empty homes capital.

City Island - Half Empty

The vast majority of the empty homes (15,297) are privately owned and a large proportion are believed to be the one or two bedroom so-called 'yuppie' flats that have mushroomed in the city centre like City Island (see left). These were built during the city's boom years but are now un-sellable because of the credit crunch. The figures also show 1,979 empty properties in the city are local authority owned and 281 are owned by registered social landlords.

Incredibly the current Tory-Lib Dem Council is refusing to use its legal powers ( called ‘empty dwelling management orders’ or Edmos) to take over homes that have been left empty for more than 6 months and let them out. In Leeds, some 6851 private homes have been left empty for more than 6 months. Despite 25,000 people on the housing waiting list desperate for an affordable home, the Council won’t intervene, citing costs and, incredibly, a belief that such measures would “spook the market”. In a recent interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post, housing honcho Councillor Les Carter stated:

"Serving Edmos on owners of empty properties in the city centre in Leeds might cause a glut of these units to be put on the market for sale – potentially resulting in an accelerated downturn in the market price."

Les Carter
- Completely Empty!

So the Council won’t turn empty flats into real homes to meet need because it wants to protect investors—ordinary people can go to hell. It’s all about protecting private property and the rich. Tellingly, the only group to come out and support the Council’s position is the bloody Landlords Association!

David Ireland, chief executive of campaigning charity, the Empty Homes Agency, slammed Councillor Carter’s comments in a letter to the YEP, Ireland explained that the Empty Dwelling powers were not costly, owners could not easily avoid them and that “ruling out one of the best ways of getting homes back into use is surely just self-defeating dogma.” He added:

But what really takes the biscuit is his notion that EDMOs will "spook the housing market". What does he think a housing market with 17,557 empty homes is, if it's not spooked already?

The council's job is surely not to try to prop up artificially-inflated property prices, but to ensure that people who live in Leeds have access to decent housing.

Cllr Richard Lewis who is Labour’s Deputy Leader and spokesperson for housing backed the Empty Homes Agency and criticised the Council’s attitude as “laughable”.


Leeds Empty Homes Facts

FACT: There are 17,557 empty homes in Leeds
FACT: Leeds has more empty homes than anywhere outside London but highest ratio of empty homes in country
FACT: The Council has powers to take over empty homes but refuses to use them
FACT: 6851 private homes have been left empty for more than 6 months
FACT: 8 Leeds families are made homeless everyday due to repossession and eviction
FACT: Mortgage repossessions levels are now over 300% higher than a few years ago, while landlord evictions are at their highest rate for five years.
FACT: 24,444 on Leeds housing waiting list
FACT: The Council is demolishing homes across the city
FACT: Recently, 6000 people were bidding for just 500 available council properties per month, an average of 50 people per home
FACT: Hands Off Our Homes is standing up for communities under threat, campaigning to end the empty homes scandal and for new council housing

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Leeds skyscraper developer in administration!

The property company headed by multi-millionaire developer Kevin Linfoot has gone into administration. KW Linfoot last year mothballed their landmark Lumiere development in the city centre, which was set to boast the tallest residential glass skyscraper in Europe. The directors of his company KW Linfoot Plc blamed "continued difficulties in the banking and financial sectors". Unfortunately, the Lumiere development is still "alive", but we should all watch this space on that front.

More news here:

Yorkshire Post

Linfoot Statement

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Leeds to build new council housing for first time in 20 years

Jon Land for, 23 Feb 2009

Leeds City Council is to begin building new council houses in the city after a break of more than 20 years, it was announced today.

As part of its push to boost housing in the city by providing a range of different types of homes, the council is currently seeking tenders to build almost 80 properties across three sites – 27 of which will be council homes.

The news comes after the start of the Leeds: The Housing City campaign, at which council leaders declared providing affordable housing to be a top priority for Leeds.

It is the first time the council has built council homes since 1989, during which time the number in Leeds has shrunk from 96,000 in 1980 to around 57,000 due to homes being purchased through Right to Buy and being demolished when they have become unsustainable.

These council houses are part of larger developments aimed at providing decent housing in a range of tenures and will be the first phase of council house building in the city.

There is also potential for even more council homes after these, with 400 to be delivered through the PFI schemes at Little London and Beeston Hill & Holbeck.

These schemes demonstrate the council’s commitment to the delivery of high quality affordable housing and also responding to the challenge that central government has placed upon local authorities, particularly in the current housing climate.

Along with these new properties, the council is embarking on the phase one build of its Affordable Housing Strategic Partnership, which will see more than 100 houses built for ‘social rent’.

Funded through the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) national affordable housing programme, being delivered by the housing association, Accent Housing. They will not be council properties, instead they will be owned and managed by Accent, however the council will nominate people for the new properties.

The sites include 23 social rent and ‘HomeBuy’ properties on Glendale Road in Morley, along with 47 similar units on Highfield Gardens, Wortley, and 26 on Farrow Rd in Armley. There will also be 16 social rent units on Chaucer Gardens in Pudsey. These schemes are still subject to funding approval from the HCA and planning has so far only been issued for Farrow Road.

This first phase contributes towards the target of delivering over 1,150 affordable homes through the Affordable Housing Strategic Partnership, attracting over £150 million of public and private sector investment.

The second phase of schemes will see significant delivery of affordable homes on sites in South Leeds at Middleton and the Beckhills estate, together with a range of smaller sites across the city.

Councillor Les Carter, the council’s executive board member for housing, said: “This is an important step for Leeds and a great sign of our commitment to providing decent homes for the people of Leeds.

“We have built plenty of sheltered housing since the ‘80s but these are the first ‘bread and butter’ council homes for 20 years.

“It is, however, vital to remember that building council housing is part of the solution, not the solution itself. We will not see a return to the vast council estates of the past, instead we aim to create sustainable communities based around a variety of different housing types and tenures.”

Friday, 13 February 2009

Is EASEL a dead parrot? A recent timeline

In November 2008, the Council announced that progress in EASEL (the East and South East Leeds Regeneration Scheme) was temporarily suffering from the emerging global credit and housing problems. Consequently, talk of 5000 new homes on 120 hectares was dropped and more realistic plans for 1848 homes on 37 hectares by 2022 was announced, with the reassurance that once the market picked up again, the scale of regeneration would also be expanded.

On 17 December 2008, the Yorkshire Evening Post ran a frontpage exclusive claiming that EASEL was in "jeopardy" due to the credit crunch and housing market crash. With mortgages increasingly impossible to get due to the banking crisis and falling house prices, and the looming threat of mass unemployment, demand for the 743 new private homes earmarked for Gipton and Seacroft had simply vanished.

Lack of demand meant that Bellway would not carry on building homes they had no confidence in selling, which in turn meant that the Council's own revenues from the sale of land and houses to invest in the regeneration also shrivelled up. The YEP confirmed that, nearly five years after first being announced, 9 months after a contract was signed between the Council and Bellway, and 100s of flattened council homes later, construction work had started on only 2 of the first 8 development sites. The article stated that 'top-level talks' were underway to rescue the project.

Two days later (19 Dec 2008), the YEP ran the Council's response. The Council would "submit new plans to the Government in a bid to keep a £1 billion regeneration project on track".
Tory Councillor Les Carter, executive member for housing and neighbourhoods, said: "We have met with Government officials and it has been agreed we will submit plans early in the New Year on how best to keep people on site and keep work going. This is a housing-led regeneration scheme and the credit crunch and falling house prices have clearly had an effect. While we have acknowledged there will be delays in the current climate, we will not be walking away from this... We want to be in a position where the work on Easel can easily be stepped up when the economy improves and development becomes more attractive." In other words, the Council still believed that regeneration based on private housing and a continually growing housing market would still work, we just had to wait for the market to stop failing.

Although the Council acknowledged there was a problem, construction workers on site in Seacroft were telling locals in December that they'd almost no interest in the new houses and were preparing to stop work and cover the unfinished sites.

Roll forward to January 13 2009. The YEP reveals that, as the EASEL scheme was floundering, Bellway was announcing bonuses of £275,000 to Chief Executive John Watson and £178,500 each to the commercial and finance directors. The bonuses took Watson's total pay for 2008 to £824,917 (or approx 10 new Bellway Homes in Seacroft). Meanwhile, as the directors of the cocked-up regeneration scheme were adding to their immense wealth, locals of East Leeds were unable to afford any of the new housing being built.

Then, on 29 January 2009, council leader Andrew Carter announced The Housing City Campaign, which included news that the Council would spend £2.4m buying up 20 out of 53 homes to be built by Bellways by Summer 2009 (7 two bedroom properties and 13 three bedroom properties).

The details were then confirmed at February's (Friday 13th) Council Executive Board. £1.2m would come from the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) - yes, out of Leeds tenants rents - and £1.2.m from money the council made in selling the EASEL phase one sites. 10 of the homes would be let as council housing (with the potential for using target rent levels - that means, higher rents than elsewhere in the area), and the other 10 as 'intermediate rented' housing (possibly 'rent to mortgage' schemes). The whole purpose was to persuade Bellway not to abandon the house building programme by the end of January 2009. The £2.4m would provide the finance to enable Bellway to complete a total of 53 homes, safeguard the jobs of workers currently employed on the sites and recruit an apprentice joiner. The Council would then seek a two year funding partnership with the new Homes and Communities Agency and East North East Homes (the ALMO managing council housing in the area) to support the building of 200 homes encompassing a variety of "housing products for both sites 5 & 7, including intermediate rent, equity share (including the council’s equity loan scheme) and register social landlord (RSL) products". These packages would "help to stimulate demand for house sales in the area and allow local people to afford the new homes".

That, folks, is what Paul Daniels might call Magic! Or rather, what we would call, Alice in Wonderland.

Let's be clear: back in March 2008, Bellway signed a contract to build 743 new private homes over a 10 year period on eight sites in Gipton and Seacroft. Less than one year later, and the Council is desperately trying to support the building of just 200 homes on just 2 sites. In the process, the Council has knocked down 100s of homes and while some were poor quality unpopular with tenants, others were decent, brick-built homes that just happened to be 'in the wrong place' (i.e. next to an adjoining empty site that if enlarged would get both Bellway and the Council more money). Now, the Council - and that ultimately means tenants and taxpayers - is bailing out the 'private' housing project in return for... a mix of homes whose rents and prices will still be unaffordable to the vast majority of local people. And the Council believes that these piffling numbers will somehow reinvigorate the private housing market!!!

We fully understand the difficulties imposed by 20 years of anti-council housing policies on the Council for investing in and building new council homes. But we cannot comprehend why the Council continues to believe in the magic of the housing market and the illusion of cheap credit availability. It should scrap the EASEL project, place the 8 sites into its affordable housing programme and stop trying to gentrify East Leeds for a group of people who no longer exist.

Seacroft pensioners still fighting EASEL demolition

This story, from Seacroft Today (1/2/09), is about two of the last remaining tenants on site 7 (phase 1) of EASEL - see Map.

They were the first to move into a Seacroft estate – and after four happy decades have vowed to be the last to leave. Friends Maureen Ramsden and Rita Varley are among the last few tenants standing in Seacroft's Easel demolition area. The two live in Parkway Vale, their flat-roofed, terrace homes looking isolated amidst the debris of demolition sites and the blocks of abandoned homes. The metal shutters over their doors and windows make them look like mini-fortresses.

Rita said she moved in when she and her late ex-husband had returned from Australia in December 1968. The mum-of-two explained: "We we there nearly four years but we got homesick. It was the right decision. This was a lovely estate with lovely people. I've always been happy here and couldn't have wanted a better neighbour than Maureen."

Maureen, a great-grandmother of 10, said that over the years the community has shown its spirit through big events such as bonfire night parties through to the smaller things, such as feeding each other's pets. She recalled: "I'll never forget the Queen's silver jubilee in 1977. We had a big party in the square, we crowned Rita's daughter and there were trestle tables, balloons and union flags everywhere. "It is memories like that that have made us all so happy here."

The Parkway Vale houses are being flattened to clear the way for new homes which will eventually be built as part of the £1bn Easel regeneration scheme. The massive project, aimed at creating 5,000 new homes and 2,000 new jobs, has been hit by the credit crunch, although work is under way to build new houses in South Parkway, near Parkway Vale. Most residents have now left, with council tenants helped to find another home and private owners handed the market value of their property plus a 10 per cent relocation fee.

A short distance away from Rita and Maureen's homes stands a cleared site, the last property on it being torn down in the short time the Yorkshire Evening Post was in the area. As the claws of the digger bit, the inside of the house was left cruelly exposed, the once intimate interior of someone's home left on display with pink bathroom tiles on an upstairs wall, the remains of the staircase itself a few feet away. The rest of the house, reduced to twisted metal, broken glass and discarded brick, lay on the muddy ground.

One demolition worker said: "Some of them are like glorified sheds. It's for the best they are going." But Rita, 66, said: "We were the first in and we never wanted to leave, but we know we will have to now. It does feel like our lives have been on hold for the last three years, and when the day to leave does come it will be hard."