Exclusive: Tens of thousands of homeowners are marooned in derelict streets after the government decided to save money by stopping an ambitious housing regeneration scheme.
Channel 4 News has learned that up to 62,000 households are affected by the Coalition’s decision to halt a £5bn project to transform housing in towns and cities across the North of England.
Labour launched the so-called Pathfinder programme in 2003, with the aim of regenerating housing in nine areas from the Midlands to Tyneside.
But, although it was supposed to run for 15 years, it has now been quietly shelved by the Government less than halfway through, leaving tens of thousands of homeowners in limbo.
The spending cut means the demolition of around 30,000 sub-standard houses and the refurbishment of 32,000 will no longer go ahead, according to analysis by Brendan Nevin, a visiting professor at Manchester University, for Channel 4 News.
We visited Oldham and Liverpool where residents are stranded in streets of boarded-up houses. In some areas there, the majority of homes have been knocked down under the last Government, but the remaining householders are no longer able to move out, because the new Coalition Government has decided not to foot the bill for the purchase and demolition of their homes.
“You feel like a prisoner in your own house.” Oldham resident Khadijah Sadiq
In Werneth, in south Oldham, the regeneration scheme has seen nearly 100 smart modern homes built since 2004. But now the project has been suspended, hundreds of houses are empty and boarded up, waiting for the council to find the money to demolish them.
In Cambridge Street, all but three of the houses are boarded up. Khadijah Sadiq owns one of those. Oldham Council had agreed to buy her house and she’d found another one. But after the General Election the deal collapsed.
She says the council has broken its promise, and she and her family are now stuck in a house she can’t sell. It’s so small that she and her two daughters share a single bedroom.
Ms Sadiq told me she had a message for David Cameron. “I would say to David ‘Would you like to live in one of these houses?’ I think he was born with a silver spoon, not with the one, probably with the two. So he needs to come and have a look around…You feel like a prisoner in your own house. I don’t come out at night. I’m thinking ‘Who’s going to be behind there, my door?'”
She says she’s scared, as the area – once a thriving community – has now been taken over by criminals and yobs. And although she voted Conservative at the last election, she vows she wouldn’t again because she believes the Government is hitting the middle classes.
The council needs to find the money to knock down 200 houses like Khadijah’s to finish the project in Oldham. It has bid for emergency cash from a housing quango to foot the bill and will find out next week if it has been successful.
But the impact of this spending cut can be seen far beyond the streets of Oldham.
In Liverpool, the problem is on an even larger scale. Again, the funding cut means householders are left in the lurch, surrounded by dereliction.
“We just can’t leave these people in derelict streets. It’s just not fair.” Local campaigner Ros Groves
In Anfield alone, housing work will stop within months, leaving 360 householders trapped in boarded-up streets.
Local campaigner Ros Groves told me: “We just can’t leave these people in derelict streets. It’s just not fair. It’s not what we were promised. We were asked to sign up to a commitment, which – yes, it was going to take 15 years to do – and then all of a sudden it looks in jeopardy and we’re halfway through a project – well, not even halfway through a project in most places. You just can’t do that to a community.”
She said that a whole generation of children in the area have grown up in a delapidated urban landscape. Children in her neighbourhood draw pictures of houses with boarded-up windows, she added.
Of the £5bn pledged by Labour to the Pathfinder project, only £2.2bn has so far been spent. Ministers say money from the Regional Growth Fund will go towards housing regeneration. But that Fund is only worth £1.4bn, and it has to be shared out across an array of regeneration schemes. So Ministers admit there won’t be enough to cover the housing shortfall.
Ian Cole, Professor of Housing Studies at Sheffield Hallam University, said there is a “a lot of competition for funding” from the Regional Growth Fund – “and I think housing will come in second place in any kind of bids”.
The Pathfinder project was the brainchild of the academic Brendan Nevin. He said that stopping it more than seven years early meant that the billions of pounds already spent could be wasted. Areas where demolition and rebuilding work has yet to be completed are now blighted, he added.
“Failure to complete this would be a disaster for the communities involved…It really is without precedent for us to stop a programme like this in its tracks without having a Plan B agreed between local and central government.”
But the Housing Minister Grant Shapps told me the regeneration plan was “dysfunctional” and that he didn’t see the point in pulling down perfectly good Victorian terraces.
“Money that is already committed can continue and we will make sure that all of the contracts that are in place carry on,” he said. “And then we need to find a better way of getting money direct to the communities, obviously all set against the background of deficit reduction and trying to resolve the big national problems.”
He challenged local authorities to show “innovation and leadership” to help people stranded in derelict streets.