Empty Homes Week 2012 – the story of the Garnets, Leeds 11

Garnet Grove, as it still appears on Google Earth

Garnet Grove, as it still appears on Google Earth

Below is a video of Leeds City Council contractors demolishing the last of 76 terraced houses being cleared in the Garnets area of Beeston, in the south of the city.

The houses weren’t worth doing up. Apparently. And pulling them down will help “regenerate” the area – or that’s the plan.

So down they’ve come, leaving what the council says is going to be “an area of temporary greenspace (sic)”.

“Temporary” because some day, one day a developer or a government grant may come along and get something built there – the kind of new housing that, the city fathers believe, will help turn the area round.

It’s a crap video*, shot on a phone, but it’s a record of homes being demolished in a city with 24,000 on the council housing waiting list.  Demolished at a time when there’s never been such a clamour nationwide and locally for homes in “blighted” areas to be refurbished.

The demolitions have been a long time coming. It’s a story that I think is worth telling.

Dreamed up in 2005 at the height of the Housing Market Renewal fervour, the council plan for the clearance of the Garnets chimed with the theory that if you knock down old homes and build new ones you attract new and more “economically active” populations into an area that’s struggling.

Bricks and mortar and aspirational new people end up acting as catalysts for broader economic and social change – in this case a change to the fortunes of the ailing northern end of Dewsbury Rd.

Or so the theory goes.

When the plan was initially hatched in 2005 over half of the housing in the Garnets area – an area classified as seriously deprived – was social housing, and the providers were thinking of getting rid: turnover of tenants was high, too many homes were empty, and there was no “business case” for bringing homes up to a decent standard.

First time round, the plan never came to fruition. In the end, the cash required to buy up the properties and demolish them went elsewhere.

Seeds of doubt

Garnet Grove, September 2011

Garnet Grove, September 2011

But the fact that clearance was officially being talked about left doubts, particularly in the mind of one of the big housing providers in the area – Leeds Federated Housing Association. If clearance was a possibility, what was the point of them investing in their housing stock?

Investment was duly suspended, and the housing association told the council that if there was no commitment to comprehensively regenerate the area, they might well end up selling their homes to the private sector.

The potential negative knock-ons of such a move will have set alarm bells ringing in Civic Hall. Something had to be done.

So, in 2009 – at the height of the recession – a more modest version of the clearance plan was back on the agenda, a Plan B: 43 privately owned back-to-backs in the Garnets would be bought up by the council at a cost of £2.9m and demolished along with 69 others in public sector hands “to provide a development opportunity for the provision of modern high-quality housing, a proportion of which would be affordable homes”.

The estimated total cost of the clearance scheme was put at £4.3m.

Officers “confident” site will attract interest

IMAG0481Despite misgivings, local councillors went along with the plan. They were concerned that if private sector funding couldn’t be found the site could lie vacant for an indefinite period.

Council officers reassured them over the prospects for the site. Despite the economic climate, “considerable interest” had been shown in similar clearance sites, they said.

“Officers are … confident that the redevelopment of this high profile site will attract similar interest from social housing providers but potentially also from the private sector. In view of the potential timescale for clearance, which could be between 2-3 years there is the prospect that the housing market could be on the way to recovery by the time the site is ready for redevelopment,” a report at the time said.

Then the money ran out

IMAG0487lighterSo the council started buying up the properties – despite the fact that not all of the £4.3m needed to finish the job was in place.

By early 2011 much of the social housing already stood unoccupied, waiting for the bulldozer, and 25 of the private properties earmarked for demolition had already been bought and were boarded up.

But then the money ran out.

Cuts in government grants meant that there wasn’t enough cash to continue with the scheme as planned.

All further offers from the council to private owners were withdrawn. “All remaining funding will be utilised to complete as many demolitions as possible”, a council report said.

Some day, one day …

The Garnets, November 2012

The Garnets, November 2012

On to Plan C.

A revised clearance area of 76 properties was drawn up and plans were put in place to refurbish others that had been destined for the bulldozer.

It’s one of the last 16 of those 76 that is captured in the video.

The end result?

The city’s housing stock is lighter by 76. Houses condemned six years ago as “unsustainable stock” are now being refurbished. Others bought up from private owners for demolition (with all the associated costs) are going to be brought back into use.

Where those 76 houses stood, the rough ground will be turned into “greenspace”, waiting for a developer or a government grant to come along some day and build those new homes that may or may not regenerate the area.

Some day, one day …


yjb1949disc* The quality of the pictures in the video may be crap, but the music isn’t. It’s from Leeds very own New Orleans jazzers, the great Yorkshire Jazz Band. Appearing on this 1949 recording of St Louis Blues on the Tempo label are:

Dickie Hawdon – trumpet
Alan Cooper – clarinet
Tommy Durn – piano
Diz Disley – banjo
Eddie O’Donnel – trombone
Tiny Lancaster – drums
Bob Barclay – tuba


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23 Responses to Empty Homes Week 2012 – the story of the Garnets, Leeds 11

  1. Pingback: Bookmarked: Travesty of the Garnets - South Leeds Life

  2. Chris green says:

    I am appalled at the incompetence of Leeds city council! HOW is this REGENERATION!!??? (ed: couple of sentences deleted) And we should not be knocking down our heritage and our communities so they can waste more and more money!!! I am fuming at this and feel ashamed to be living in this city!!!! My grandfathers house was knocked down in the same way by the same jobsworths

    • Chris green says:

      I didn’t finish… They knocked down my grand dads house in hOlbeck to make into a stupid development site for ugly new spit and cardboard houses! A part of my history deemed unsanitary by these idiots! Yes the houses have problems but taking them away and leaving a hole in the community is not the answer! If you ask me all those fools in regeneration who support this, plus that two faced idiot who think he is all about “community” should become the next round of council cost savings! Holbeck neighbourhood planning! Pah!

  3. Stephen Hunt says:

    Great article and its difficult to see how a Council supposedly committed to regeneration and the provision of affordable housing could take such a course of action. £4.3m could have been used to regenerate existing stock and an area of Leeds. The other so called ‘blighted’ stock could have been offered to the private sector on conditions that a set amount of money was spent to achieve decency and neighbourhood renewal. I work very closely with Leeds City Council and I have to say that there just isn’t any vision for dealing with these issues. Money and politics ensures that they jump from one round of crisis management to the next. As with all local authorities, the councillors favour seeing their name in a positive news story and political expediency over an actual commitment to stick to the plan, if they ever had one.

  4. Steve Williamson says:

    As someone who was involved in some of these issues and lives in Beeston perhaps I can make a few comments?

    While I can understand people’s frustrations about the Garnets I don’t think it helps to slag off Council officers who, from personal knowledge, I can say were honestly trying to do their best in difficult circumstances. I know of no instance when either (ed: names deleted) has lied to residents. It is not acceptable to make such comments without backing them up with evidence and it is not fair to do so about Council officers who are not in a position to defend themselves.

    How we have got to where we are now is not straightforward and requires some background.
    Leeds has more back to back houses than the rest of the country put together. The reason for this is two fold: a lot were built and unlike other authorities (e.g. Birmingham), in the sixties and seventies Leeds demolished some but not all such properties. Of course, some mistakes were made and some properties were demolished that probably shouldn’t have been done and some weren’t demolished which should have been done. It is also true that in those decades there was inadequate consultation with the people most affected: the residents. While some modern housing has been of limited quality all social housing built in the city since the late 70s had been of a high standard and, in particular, of considerably better thermal efficiency than the housing it replaced and with better kitchens and bathrooms.

    There are three principal problems with back to back housing: (a) thermal efficiency (b) risk from falls because of the steep staircases (c) difficulties with means of escape in case of fire. All 3 of these are difficult to resolve. In addition back to backs which face north lack sunlight. In my view back to backs, which vary considerably in type, can provide good accommodation but this depends on the occupier. They are not ideal for older people particularly those with mobility problems nor, with their lack or outside amenity space are they ideal for children.

    Improving the standard of back to back properties is not cheap and some of their fundamental problems are difficult to overcome. In terms of costs one of the real bugbears is the imposition of VAT on rehabilitation projects which means there isn’t a level playing field between building new homes (where no VAT is levied) and repairing of older houses.

    In the early 2000s leeds had a surplus of social and cheap housing and a problem with what to do with increasing numbers of back to backs in inner city areas in poor condition. The then Labour government recognised this problem with a number of targeted housing market initiatives in the country, couple with significant resources, but unfortunately not in Leeds. The Council was therefore left with a significant problem of stock in poor condition which was either increasingly becoming vacant or, as the years went past, being bought up by private landlords; much of the private rented stick was not improved or well managed which increased the run down nature of some of these areas.

    The original decisions about the Garnets were made on the basis of the information available at the time in terms of the resources available and government policy. It was not the Council which changed its policy but a Labour government, which did not adequately recognise the scale of Leeds’ problems at a time when public money was far more plentiful, despite the best efforts of the Council which from 2004 to 2008 was run by a Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition. With the advent of the present national government in 2010 the inadequate central government resources devoted to this programme disappeared overnight. While it was reasonable to assume the programme would be reduced, the scale of reductions in public funding and especially to housing which was the most severely curtailed of all publicly funded programmes was unprecedented since 1945. It is this shutting off of public funding which has been the single biggest contributor to the current difficulties.

    The decisions about the Garnets were not straightforward and I can say that the decisions were not made on the grounds of political expediency but were made on the basis of trying to stick to a plan.

    Bringing about regeneration is very complex. Without adequate funding – public or private – it is extremely difficult to achieve. I have tried to explain the problem with public resources. Quite reasonably, the private sector won’t invest unless it can make a profit. The way private landlords can make money locally is by spending minimal amounts on management and maintenance because the rent levels they can achieve are relatively low. At one point landlords were prepared to invest on the basis of capital growth but given the fact that (at best) local property prices are static that no longer applies. Unless more people with more money are attracted into inner city areas they will continue to decline.

    The position today is that there is a shortage of affordable housing in Leeds; some of this is exacerbated by empty houses and one of the things which would be worth looking at locally is what we can do to improve such houses and get them occupied – this won’t be simple because of the economics of the problem. The real reason why there is shortage of affordable housing is not because of the demolition of properties but because of the massive reductions in government funding made available to provide housing and a significant reduction in affordable housing produced by planning gain because of a similar reduction in house building by the private sector because of the collapse of the property market.

    Sorry this comment is long and a bit tedious but the truth is often complex…

    • Philip says:

      The truth is, Steve, you have just assessed the viability of houses by their structure and failed to place them in a social (or human) context. Eg. You say back streets afforded little outside amenities for children. Are you serious? Children loved living in back streets; they could walk to school and play in the streets! they could be independant.
      The social fabric of Leeds has been torn to shreds; neighbourhoods have become lifeless or abandoned because of a policy encouraging urban sprawl and car dependency to the detriment of healthy functioning communities and the needs of children. Leeds City Council’s anti social and divisive planning blunders continue.

      • Giselle Morgan says:

        I agree Philip I live on the Oakleys and love my back to back home. Nonsense also is what is said about elderly getting up and down the ‘steep stairs’ The lady who owned mine before me was a sprightly 80 year old who ran up and down the stairs as do I most days. As for north facing and thermal problems I still use the coal fires in the living room and bedroom and have no central hating and am absolutely fine! When it snows the sign of a well insulated houue is if the snow stays on the slates for a day or more. and my house the snow does so no heat is actually being lost like all the other centrally heated houses nearby! Back to backs breathe life into community and help people to become and stay neighbours!

  5. Peace says:

    Why do some back-to-backs (even north facing ones) sell for £250k in one part of the city while in other parts they are demolished?

    The state of housing is a symptom of wider issues in an area. Therefore, simply replacing the housing will have no long term impact. The council should focus on ensuring areas have sustainable facilities, attractive environments, transport links and local economy. Individuals will then be attracted to the area who can improve the existing housing stock.

  6. Peace says:

    It’s a shame the council couldn’t sell these properties on a leasehold for a nominal amount with set conditions. One being they are used as a primary residence.

  7. Have I got this right?
    The plan was to replace one set of folk with another set of folk who are more ‘economically active’. ie to move the ‘poor’ out of this part of town, attract the ‘less poor’ and call it progress? The trick of taking ‘problem communities’ and turning them into ‘aspirational addresses’ has won many a developer an award and allowed them to turn a healthy profit, while enabling local authorities to claim ‘regeneration’.of the area. All we have really done is displace one community and invite in another.

  8. Its the same as in cross green and richmond hill where they’ve knocked perfectly good SEMI DETACHED houses and have now ran out of money to finish the job. At least one of the abopve named council officers reassured us that the the clearance space, you know the traingular area, would be kept free from development…but now all of a sudden they are building on it and they are washing thier hands of the whole thing.

    As for Mr Williamson’s comments, well i despair, this has nothing to do with lack of funding, if the funding was there there would be far more buildings knocked down! Please bear in mind that one of the main benefits of these houses is that they are robust and can be knocked about and modified. But this is too tricky for the council they prefer to pay millions to knock them down and sell off the sites to developers who in turn will build the cheapest houses that will certainly not last as long as these old terraces.
    In my experience, people like the terraces, they are a bit cold but not that bad when you consider the thermal mass, plus they can easily be drylined inside now to increase thermal efficiency. But people love thier quirkiness, thier space, thier features and knocking them down is so short sighted i despair by comments such as the ones from mr williamson.

    Please bear in mind that Nobody…absoloutly nobody will invest in an area while there is a threat of demolition hanging over or whilst there are demolition sites left empty and trashed. This is a complete failiure of regeneration and the best thing the government has done (probably the only good thing) is to cut the funding to these projects.

    The council should give its money to the third sector to invest in these houses, not the housing associations who are often jumped up slum landlords, but those people who actually care about these buildings and will inject much needed pride and community back into them. This is true regeneration, but if we want new buildings that look alien to thier surroundings, are cheap and will date poorly, with pokey rooms and cramped sites, that create an ‘us and them’ feel and that simpyl do not appeal to the people who are buying houses in these areas…then carry on….i would hate to see all of these communities be displaced because of all this, yes the landlords need regulation but these houses are fine and fit for purpose, they have been for the last 150 years and we should not fall for these people who say we have no choice, because we have and these areas will be in more demand if only the council would stop meddling!!!

  9. John Boocock says:

    They did exactly the same in Bramley. However it would have probably ended up being “gentrified” if they had left it alone. Planning should be about people, communities and the future.

  10. Having moved to Leeds in 1990 we have seen the gradual transformation of Leeds and the surrounding areas for the worse. Leeds has always been a place were i knew i would settle however the emergence of the lego town developments hos took Leeds soul in my opinion.

    We have operated as locksmith in Leeds for the 20 years we have lived in the area for the first time we are considered moving back to Scotland. i hope blogs like this can put the brakes on the developers.

  11. Paddle Daddle says:

    Hello There.

    Well said Steve Williamson.

    It’s also nice to see a load of lefty middle class arm-chair critic who live in nice suburban semis in North Leeds going on how demolition of back to back houses not only destroys the local ‘community.’ and patronisingly go on about how it devastates people’s lives. Oh and the misty eyed vision of the marvellous working classes loving living in those conditions playing in the street brought a little bit of sick into my mouth. You clearly have never lived in a two bedroomed back to back terrace house that tips straight oout on to the street – with three children

    And as for comments about terrace housing being not bad – if a little cold. Right On Comrade! Let’s be blunt, those houses are a hundred years old and when they were built were expected to last 50 years. The people who live in them are mostly what Mike Chitty so rightly labels ‘the poor’ who also face the double slap of suffering from ‘fuel poverty.’ How clever to suggest they could dry line their homes. Yes -and pay with what? And as for community – back to back areas are mostly transient with people tending to stay less than 18 months – as tenants.

    19,500 back to backs in Leeds – more than the rest of the UK put together. Mostly built on the cheap by speculators who wanted to make a quick buck, and sell them on to landlords who wanted to exploit – oh yes- the poor. And let’s not forget that those same builders were building these lovely properties in Leeds 10 years after they were made illegal. Maybe those of you living in Roundhay or the left bank of Chapel Allerton would like them to remain as a monument to those marvellous examples of urban capitalism.

    the truth is that most of you would love to become all righteous; political; and stick to your principles and play games with people’s lives.

    All of you above who have had a go. Nail your colours to the mast. If you live in a back to back in Beeston you have every right to comment. If you don’t then don’t then shame on you.

  12. Ed Carlisle says:

    Hi Paddle Daddle and co.
    I live in a back-to-back just off Tempest Road in Beeston, and have done for 7 years. (Although I am also unfortunately middle-class, and a bit lefty.) But I guess I get to make a short comment…
    I agree with Steve W that there’s little fruit in slagging people off – I’m reasonably confident that the decision-makers were doing so with good intentions (based on the info and worldviews they had, and within a whole load of limitations). But I’m disappointed that the brakes couldn’t be put on this demolition scheme, what with the changing circumstances and the limited chance of anything being done with the site for the forseeable future. And let’s now work out what to do in scenarios such as the Garnets, going forward from here…
    We can all agree that new build houses are more efficient than old homes. But a wide range of projections suggest that in 50 years time, 80%+ of people in Britain will be living in homes that are already built. So the big challenge is how to improve current housing stock.
    I’ve lived in back to backs for 10+ years, and – whilst I see how they’re not suitable for everyone – I don’t think they’re so bad. Being packed in together, I’ve found them fairly energy-efficient. And – especially on back streets, without passing traffic – I really don’t think it’s a big issue having the front door straight onto the street. On our (back) street in Beeston, it sounds cliched, but there are loads of kids who play out together in the street year-round, people actually talk to one another and share stuff, and it’s generally pretty nice.
    Also, I don’t have the facts and figures to hand, but it seems to me like we’ve got plenty of youngish people/families wanting cheap housing. I think back to backs in places like Beeston can serve such people well. And I actually think a small bunches of streets like the Garnets are/were far more attractive to live in than – say – streets like the Trenthams, where you’ve got dozens of back to back streets one after another. (I’ve good friends on the Trenthams, and they’d totally echo that.)
    Another point of Steve’s: back to backs are not cheap to renovate. But surely those houses could have been renovated/insulated/etc for far cheaper than the 4m+ quid spent on this demolition scheme. (And as an aside, it would have been far greener than all the carbon expended knocking down and one day rebuilding the site, or building replacement houses elsewhere.)
    Overall, to conclude, I’d agree with Steve W that regeneration isn’t easy – but I think we too often look for big bricks-and-mortar solutions (that play a part, but are costly), whereas I’d like to see far more emphasis upon loads of micro-level investment. Eg working with communities to enable them to grow and develop. How about this for an idea? Work with local Beeston folk to skill them up in insulating properties (which is a serious art-form!), then employ them to do retro-fitting insulation and home-greening in properties across the community. It’d cost peanuts compared to these big schemes.
    So, I went on a bit in the end. Oh well. That’s my pennorth.

  13. Steve Williamson says:

    Lots of interesting comments – great to see so many people making them..

    On Philips’s point I didn’t say back streets ‘afford little outside amenities’, I said back to backs don’t have outside amenity space. Playing in the street which I enjoyed as a child does not happen as much now because of parental fears and the ubiquity of the car, which rightly or wrongly, most people aspire to own.

    On Peace’s point I would agree it would be good if houses were made available to prospective owner occupiers to improve. I tried to institute such a scheme when I worked but the Council were not prepared to sell the properties at prices that would make this work. Ultimately the only thing that affects property prices is location. The ares where back to backs are expensive are in the more prosperous, more suburban parts of the city.

    In respect of Mike Chitty’s point unless areas have some people who have reasonable amounts of money the areas will deteriorate and become more run down. In the last ten years no one was forced to leave Beeston or Holbeck because their house was demolished. The move out of inner city locations in nearly every city in Britain (except London and Edinburgh) has been happening for a long time as people seek a better quality of life. It is the poor who get left behind.

    With regard to Charles Knowles’ point dry-lining is not a cheap option and involves removing all internal plasterwork – it also reduces the space within rooms. It is true that many of the houses being built today may not last as long as some of the houses built prior to 1914. This however is not true of social housing built in the last 30 years but it does apply to some of the private developments produced for owner occupation. I would agree that some house and street design has been poor and not taken account of how design can be used to increase people’s feel of belonging.

    The really poor condition housing was system built housing put up by Leeds City Council from the thirties to the seventies. Clearly the threat of demolition is problematic and the Council has taken care to be as clear as it can about which properties are affected. This was not the case in the sixties and seventies. Back to back houses have not been fit for purpose for 150 years as very few existing back to backs were built before 1890 and those of that age were built without internal toilets and have understandably required considerable modernisation as is only to be expected. My point was that there were certain inherent problems with them which cannot be addressed. This does not mean they should all be demolished but that thye will not be suitable housing for all people.

    I would agree that some of the design and build quality of new housing for sale in the city has been poor. In my view the Council has not historically taken a tough enough line with some developments but it is important to remember that the Council has to operate within a national policy framework which has wanted to encourage house- building. It is interesting that Scotland has had a better record with new housing development in terms of standards than England which reflects a different attitude.

    I don’t disagree with most of what Ed Carlisle says but think that unfortunately there are too few people like him! Most young people will use places like Beeston and Holbeck as stepping stones until they can afford to live somewhere else. So increasing transience becomes a fact of inner city areas which destabilises areas. Most young people, particularly if and when they have children, aspire to live in a house with a garden in an area where they feel there will be less crime and better schooling. In my view the major housing problem locally is private landlords not managing and maintaing properties in the area properly, I think skilling people up with general DIY skills would be great – one of the things that has been largely lost over the past 50 years is fathers (well it was generally fathers!) passing on their practical skills to their children.

    Sorry again for droning on but I’m very interested in these issues. think debating them is very important and dislike TV so I have lots of time!

  14. JDLeeds says:

    This is the first time I have posted anything on this site despite being a regular reader. I am doing so in defence of people (one of whom is a personal friend) who have been named on here. It’s good to see that Steve Williamson has made similar comments.

    Some of the comments that have been made are at the least defamatory and verge on the libellous. People who post on here and make those kind of comments should remember Lord MacAlpine.

    Comments on here should focus on the issues nothing else.

  15. Charles knowles says:

    To paddle daddle etc, I have lived in a back to back and know many people who still live in them. I live in a through terrace now which is by the way another type of house the council have knocked down at great expense this year. Yes back to backs aren’t suitable for all and yes I don’t live in beeston, BUT the only reason other back to backs in this city are more desirable is simply because these areas have survived the bulldozer!!! Places like chapel allerton, headingly, meanwood are presumably the places where these ‘middle classes” who should have no say live, but the fact is that if the council had not built a motorway through holbeck moor, and knocked down whole massive areas then beeston and holbeck would be just as “middle class”! So the lesson is to learn from this and simply stop knocking down these houses. Dry lining is not expensive when compared to knocking the places down and I still don’t see why we can’t knock through or take out ever other street to create more through terraces! But the fact is that regen people do not think this way and are almost trigger happy with thier bulldozers! This is totally unsustainable! Oh and btw these terraces were not built to last 25 years, the developer mentality was different then and the fact is that if retrofitted sensitively and if, like Leeds locksmiths say, their character can be kept there is no reason as to why these areas cannot and should not last another 200 years!

  16. Pingback: South of the River - at Christmas - South Leeds Life

  17. Marina says:

    Please stop the demolition of these wonderful little houses in the Garnets. Stop destroying the comunity spirit, the friendships made, the whole happy feel of togetherness. People are crying out for somewhere to call home. The councils should really think the situation through instead of willy-nilly destroying everything that people strive for. Let the people make these houses “Home” .

  18. Liaq says:

    I think council , should do something about now when most of the houses has been demolished .. and improve the conditions of those those houses around garnets because most of the houses in Beeston got grants to improve their gardens and inside of houses ,however Garnets and Oakley streets houses those not demolished got no help from Government whatsoever!!and its a shame someone should be talking about this and it is a fair campaign!

  19. Marina. says:

    When people talk about “social” housing,do they mean people that have jobs,and can afford the new “social” housing ? Or do they mean people who live on a very small income (mostly with children) and struggle to pay bills,food,rent,etc.? Can people AFFORD new “social” housing? Most people today are struggling to pay bills,mortgage,rent,food,etc. The utilities companies make MASSIVE profits,but still increase our bills year by year. The last thing they want is the thought that they will be thrown out of their houses,and not have a roof over their heads. Please STOP knocking down any more houses. Do them up and give someone a home ! And get rid of that stupid bedroom tax! What is the point of giving someone vulnerable a home,then slapping on a “bedroom tax” ? (The second bedroom tax is usually a pokey old attic which you are not supposed to use as a second bedroom !!!) When it suits someone in authority,it is an attic,when money is to be made it is a second “bedroom” . You cant win, can you? May I say that Ed Carlisle speaks a lot of sense. He says what I want to say ! Good on yer, Ed. !

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