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
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
Despite 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
So 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 …
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 …
* 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