Jan 1 2008 by Nick Coligan, Liverpool Echo
AVERAGE house prices have more than doubled in some of Merseyside’s poorest areas.
New figures show the cost of a property in streets allocated for demolition and rebuilding by regeneration body NewHeartlands have gone up by 130% since 2003.
Increasing house prices in very deprived areas was the main aim of NewHeartlands when it started four years ago.
Values had fallen so dramatically in some districts that large-scale abandonment of homes was seen as a real risk.
Convincing residents in NewHeartlands’ target areas that widespread demolition and rebuilding was the solution proved extremely difficult in many cases - and impossible in some.
But significant changes are now happening in Toxteth, Anfield, Wavertree, Kensington, Bootle, Tranmere and Rock Ferry.
By next year, 3,000 officially unfit properties will have been bulldozed and more than 550 new homes built in their place.
About 13,000 properties will have been repaired or refurbished by April, including almost 150 in Anfield, which were originally going to be demolished but saved on residents’ request.
Seven compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) have also been confirmed, some after public inquiries, giving NewHeartlands the legal power to buy up hundreds of houses.
According to the organisation’s managing director Pauline Davis, the scheme will be more or less on target by March.
She said: “There are things I thought would happen a bit quicker, but when you are dealing with a programme on this scale, sometimes things takes a bit longer.
“Some of that has been linked to the fact we have to give people the opportunity to have their voices heard.
“A CPO can take a minimum of two years, by the time you go through a public inquiry and work with the community about what they want to see in the new areas.
“Sometimes communities are frustrated that we are not going fast enough. They say that loud and clear to me and the government.”
According to Ms Davis, actions are the key to getting residents on board. The completion of a new estate for residents of Toxteth’s Welsh Streets, where opinion was split, is given as a reason many people came around to the idea of moving.
All but two of the 107 homes in the Clevedon Park development were occupied by former Welsh Streets residents.
Ms Davis said: “If they were not happy with those new homes, we would have known about it and it would have been devastating.
“What was really important for me was they moved there as a community, so they could stay with people they had known for years.
“It is a stone’s throw from their old homes, so they still consider themselves to be in the Welsh Streets, but in dry, warm, quality properties.”
Other success stories for NewHeartlands include the Dobson Street development and the ongoing refurbishment of homes in Tancred Road, both in Anfield.
But not everyone is satisfied with the organisation’s track record.
There is still vocal opposition in the Welsh Streets, Kensington, Bootle and Wavertree, where some residents opposed CPOs at public inquiries.
City councillor Steve Radford is heading a council investigation into how effective NewHeartlands has been at tackling the city’s housing market problems.
He is a staunch opponent, nicknaming the scheme “Housecrusher” and claiming rising property values actually price families out of areas.
Cllr Radford said: “Demolitions reduce the supply of affordable housing and push thousands of people on to council house waiting lists.
“The conclusion must be rising house prices. But in a low wage economy like Merseyside, this puts houses out of the reach of many local residents.
“In the demolition areas, with an average wage of £10,000, how many people can afford the new homes at £120,000?
“The real problems of these areas are low wages, not the housing stock. Demolishing the housing of the poor does not remove poverty.”
We thought all was lost when it was bedsit land
JACK Costello moved into Keble Road, Bootle, in 1940 and thought he would never leave.
But in May, the 74-year-old grandfather and his wife Pauline, 69, made the short but significant move just around the corner, to a new house in Queens Road.
Their five-bedroom home was in the middle of a NewHeartlands regeneration zone - and the bulldozers were ready to move in.
Mr Costello admits many of his neighbours were opposed to the idea of demolishing and rebuilding their community at first.
But the vast majority were won over once new homes started springing up nearby.
Mr Costello said: “Years ago, this was quite a well-to-do area, with big three, four and five-bedroom Victorian houses.
“But when the docks started to decline, people moved out, the private landlords moved in and it became bedsit land.
“Immediately that meant trouble - no one looks after a house when it is split into three flats.
“When NewHeartlands came along, a lot of us thought it was a chance to start again from scratch.
“But there was opposition, mainly because some people felt they were not being offered enough money to move from their homes and go somewhere else.
“Once the demolition started and people saw new houses underway, there was a better feeling. I would say 90% of people were delighted with the properties they built.”
Mr and Mrs Costello left their five-bedroom house for a modern two-bedroom property.
Mr Costello said: “We had raised a family there, but it was miles too big and economically it was expensive to run.
“This is a lovely house, with a nice garden, off-street parking and all the mod cons.”