Housing

The £1 homes: can we have more please?

Thousands respond to a pilot scheme to buy empty homes for £1 in Liverpool – making a mockery of council demolition plans

One of the most contested parts of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is the Right to Buy, the cornerstone of a plan to create a property-owning (and Conservative-voting) democracy.

Who knows what she would have made of whole neighbourhoods of boarded up houses in inner-city Liverpool? She was no great friend of the city (one of her closest cabinet colleagues even recommended leaving the place to “managed decline”). Yet some of the former residents in the empty streets of Toxteth, Granby, Anfield and the Klondyke area of Bootle were homeowners who had taken advantage of the Right to Buy.

Many were turfed out for below-market prices as part of a grand project by the last Labour government and the local authority to “regenerate” along the lines of developers’ fantasy plans; ventures diminished, stalled or shelved by the great crash of 2008.

Once certain areas were earmarked as “problem” neighbourhoods, the buildings were considered fit only for the bulldozers

The sorry saga of the Pathfinder scheme is long and complex, but in essence it was based on a very strange set of assumptions at the end of the 1990s. Once certain areas were earmarked as “problem” neighbourhoods, incapable of taking advantage of the burgeoning housing market, the very buildings were considered irredeemably rotten, fit only for the bulldozers.

Mercifully, plans to clear way neighborhoods ran out of money. Sadly, the policy of deliberate dereliction has left many Victorian and Edwardian houses completely neglected for much of the past decade.

Who would want to live in a house like that? Well, there are thousands of prospective homeowners who wish to bring life back to the terraced streets of the inner-city. A pilot scheme has been set up for residents to be able to buy one of 20 terraced homes located across Granby’s Four Streets in Toxeth and Arnside Road in Edge Hill for just £1.

To be eligible for a £1 home, prospective buyers must prove they are committed to refurbishing the derelict houses to the Decent Homes Standard – which requires properties to be warm, weatherproof and reasonably modern. More than 4,000 people have expressed an interest in buying.

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Campaigners point out the 20 homes on offer is merely “a drop in the ocean”, since the local authority is pushing ahead with plans to demolish 440 houses in the iconic red-brick Welsh Streets.

Elsewhere council bosses are beginning to see sense. Having said there was “no demand” for empty houses in the Cobridge area, Stoke City Council are set to sell off 35 derelict homes, mainly two-bedroom terraced properties, for £1. Another other 89 properties will follow. More than 600 people have stated their interest in buying and renovating the rundown homes.

The world has changed since Pathfinder, but Liverpool City Council is still unwilling to rethink the viability of some of its most cherished stock. George Clarke, the architect and TV star drafted in as a government consultant on empty homes, is against the “poorly considered and frankly ridiculous” proposal to demolish so many viable homes in the Welsh Streets.

The housing association Plus Dane (who consulted with Mr Clarke on its plans for the area) says objections threaten a bid to build 150 new homes and refurbish 37 of the houses. Yet Plus Dane’s plans would see the loss of 440 perfectly good houses. Information suggests that the demolition contract is worth a whopping £6 to £8million.

The sheer waste is staggering. Perhaps even Thatcher – the thrifty grocer’s daughter who grew up in at the end of a red-brick Georgian terrace – might have seen that.

You can sign the petition to restore Liverpool’s Welsh Streets here.

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