The Only Woman Left on a Derelict Street

  • 9 years ago
  • Uncategorized

Houses on an all but abandoned street in Liverpool are being
sold for £1. But 30 years ago it was a vibrant inner-city street, 

It looks empty because no-one lives there. Except for Lynda
Hunter, her husband George, and another man a little further down the road are
Garrick Street’s only residents.

All the other houses are “tinned up”, their
windows blocked with metal against vandals. They were to be earmarked for
demolition nearly a decade ago as part of a housing policy which would have
seen these Victorian terraces replaced by new-builds.

“I moved in 27 years ago,” says Lynda “when I
married my husband. This was his house. It was a lovely street then. We had
good neighbours – families, elderly people – a good community. Summer days were
the best. We’d have street parties and we would sit out into the early evenings.”

So where is everybody on Garrick Street?

Garrick Street was a mix of owner-occupiers like Lynda and
others who rented privately or lived in social housing.

In 2002 the Labour government introduced the Housing Market
Renewal Initiative. The idea was to regenerate areas that were in “housing
market failure”.

There was a lot of money to be had, over £300m in Merseyside
alone and, as Liverpool City Council deputy mayor Ann O’Byrne says; the
administration at the time bought as many properties as they could so they
could clear streets for housing renewal.

The initial plans covered an area of 40,000 houses which
were to be considered for refurbishment or clearance. The majority of
properties were listed for refurbishment but over 7,000 were to be demolished. Garrick
Street houses were on that list.

The scale of the project was huge. The Lib Dem leader of the
council from 2005-10, Warren Bradley, has
said that
 on reflection, his council had left parts of Liverpool
looking like a war zone. “We announced six renewal areas, and in hindsight
we should have done it one by one. You can’t rip the heart of the community and
promise them something in 15 years time. We should have landscaped areas so
that people didn’t feel they were living in a war zone.”

Lynda says: “The council said they’d done a survey of
people on Garrick Street and the majority they had spoken to were unhappy and
wanted to move.”

But Lynda says the street was fully occupied. People only
started moving out once demolition was threatened.

Was it that Garrick Street only declined because the council
ran it down in order to get HMRI money? Town planner Jonathan Brown followed
HMRI closely: “If you draw a red line around an area and say it’s
unsustainable it becomes unsustainable. You can’t get mortgages and it freezes
in the very blight it is supposed to resolve.”

Meanwhile Lynda says it was terrible watching people leave:
“The old lady two doors away, lived here 57 years. She had buried her
husband from that house. She had buried her daughter from that house. All her
memories were there. She was sobbing the day she left.”

The Housing Market Renewal Initiative (or Pathfinders)

  • The
    intention was to renew failing housing markets and reconnect them to
    regional markets
  • It
    was launched in 2002 and ran until 2011 when the coalition government
    ended funding
  • There
    were nine Pathfinders schemes in Birmingham/Sandwell, East Lancashire,
    Hull and East Riding, Manchester/Salford, Merseyside, Newcastle/Gateshead,
    North Staffordshire, Oldham/Rochdale, and South Yorkshire
  • Each
    scheme was allowed relative freedom to develop strategies; their boards
    were made up of members from local authorities and other key regional and
    local stakeholders

When the coalition government came into power in 2010, HMRI
was scrapped. O’Byrne says: “The city lost £120m. And our housing policy
was an absolute mess.”

Lynda was left in a street with almost no neighbours and no
clear plans for her future.

“In the last three years, it’s been like a warzone.
Youths setting fire to vacant properties, lead stolen off the roof, people
trying to kick the door in. A couple of weeks ago someone put a brick through
my living room window. It’s been horrendous.”

In January this year the government changed policy again.
“The government removed all the powers that local authorities had to do
demolition,” says O’Byrne.

So the council had to review housing policy again. In 2014
they had run a pilot scheme offering derelict houses to potential residents for
£1. In return new owners had to promise to do up the houses and live in them
for five years.

The halt on demolition has provided the council with the
perfect opportunity to expand the £1 house scheme.

Garrick Street is one of a handful of streets in Liverpool
which will be part of the council’s new £1 houses scheme. Called Homes for a £1
Plus, applicants can bid for one of 150 houses as long as they live and work in
the city, promise to do it up within 12 months, and live in it for at least
five years.

Good news for Lynda surely. The whole of Garrick Street will
be refurbished. The community will be rebuilt. “It’s too late for me at my
age. And it also means my house is only worth £1. The scheme is good for
first-time buyers but I need my forever home now. I can’t live on a building
site for years. I want my grandchildren to be able to stay with me and play

Lynda is waiting for the council to move her into a
different home elsewhere. And as she plans her move away, 2,000
people have applied to rebuild Garrick Street and others around it.

Meanwhile Lynda shows the plastic sheeting that now protects
her bay window from another brick attack. But after living under the threat of
demolition for years she is positive.

“I’m looking forward to moving and I am relieved the
council is going to help me at last.”

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