Saturday, October 16, 2010

Housing Market Renewal: another fine mess

The Derker district of Oldham has the misfortune to have been designated a Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder. The scheme, launched by New Labour in 2002, is the biggest programme of demolition since the slum clearances of the mid-twentieth century. In Derker, row after row of tinned-up houses stand empty, and newly-laid grass has already replaced many of the 588 two-up, two-down Victorian terrace homes scheduled for the bulldozers. According to Anna Minton, in her book Ground Control (which I strongly recommend), 400,000 properties in the nine Pathfinder areas across the north of England are destined to meet a similar fate by 2015.

Unlike the earlier slum clearances, the homes are not being knocked down because they are in poor condition. The programme was not designed to improve conditions for the current occupants, but to “correct” so-called “housing market failure” in order to attract a “better social mix”. The areas in question are all places which have seen major falls in employment over the last thirty or so years, a collapse of the local economy, and a consequent decline in population. Opponents have labelled the process “social cleansing”, and there has been widespread resistance from residents who do not want to move from homes they have lived in for decades, or see the break-up of their communities. The piles of rubble and the silent streets are the very visible sign of another attempt at a market-based solution to a problem that requires social and economic planning, not more laissez-faire profiteering. If the demolished houses are ever replaced, which seems increasingly unlikely in the present economic climate, the only people likely to benefit will be private developers.

Lynn Ogden (below, left, with her ex-neighbour Margaret Rowcroft) is the last remaining resident in Ramsey Street, where she has lived for 43 years. Despite a long campaign and a partially successful battle in the High Court, she believes it is now too late to save Derker. Almost everyone has left, worn down by years of uncertainty. It is not often that results of bad government policy are so starkly evident.

More Housing Market Renewal photographs are available here.

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