HMR on Channel 4 news

Channel 4 News did a great piece on HMR’s collapse tonight, focusing on Werneth in Oldham and Anfield in Liverpool, and briefly speaking to Brendan Nevin, whose research underpinned the regeneration programme. It’s great to finally see the national media sitting up and giving this debacle the attention it deserves – because until now very few outlets have been interested. There are limits to what you can squeeze into 11 minutes on a subject like this – despite it being a really long time for a news package – so the piece really focused on what has happened since the ConDem coalition came into power in May and took away much of HMR’s funding. I still think it’s worth pointing out though that this whole scheme was a disaster from the start – I didn’t feel that was made clear enough. The pathfinders took on too much at once and did it quite often in an inhumane and cack-handed way, led (in my view) by developers and an overheating housing market. The new government has made things worse by decisions which mean the whole thing will drag on for far longer – at the expense of Kadija in the piece and other householders like her and like the people I have met in the past four years. But make no mistake – disaster was well underway under the previous government.


The background of the HMR pathfinder and its impact on ordinary people like Kadija can be seen on my Street Fighers site


I’ve reached something of a brick wall with my regeneration project and am having to think about new ways of moving forward with it and funding it. I only ever had a few clients which were interested in this as a subject and one has no commissioning budget whatsoever this year. The other is limited and in any case doesn’t cover the geographical area affected by housing market renewal, the policy I’ve been mainly covering. Besides, I’m becoming more and more dissatisfied with editorial as a means to support this work, which has accidentally turned into something of a long-term project. Not something I intended, believe me, but it feels like something I should stick with.

This is something I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to recently, even more so since the project got a shout-out in the Guardian. There must be some but I can’t think of any other independent (and therefore permanently skint) writer- journalists who have tried to cover a subject in this kind of long-form way – unless it’s for a book.

There are of course many examples of photographers who do this all the time, and it seems to me that they are increasingly funding their work through grants. I haven’t investigated this fully but from a day or so of online research I’m not convinced that I am going to fit into the various pigeonholes – I’m a journalist and certainly not an artist so surely arts grants are out. I’m not a charity so charitable trusts are out. And so on and so forth. Some people seem to seek support from relevant foundations or organisations in their field but there’s not point in me going to any regeneration bodies, housing associations or similar because they don’t tend to like my work in this field. I can’t think of other organisations which will have any money to spare – all the housing campaign groups I’m aware of seem to seek donations for themselves on their websites.

I’m still looking but it’s quite an alien world. When applying for these things you need business plans, budget forecasts and timetables. Then there is the question of dissemination. How can I get the work out there if no one will print the stories in the first place? And I still need to find a focus for the project. Overwhelming is not the word.

What is certain is that unless I find a solution, I’m going to be unable to do anything other than the occasional story – and even then I won’t get beyond the North West. I want to spend more time in the more far-flung – and for me forgotten – areas affected by HMR, such as Gateshead, Middlesbrough and Hull. But with university fees to pay later this year and another 18 months of studies to finance, even the train fares are looking unlikely. To do things properly I would want to spend a few days at least in each place. So for now the research continues….

Please check out my latest Street Fighters story, below:


“No regrets”

Eve Maley, Stoke on Trent

Eve and John Maley lived in their Stoke on Trent home for 43 years. But the 19-terrace block (above) – overlooking a Victorian park – was condemned five years ago after council surveyors declared them unfit to live in.
The Maleys and their neighbours spent thousands of pounds of their own money fighting the authorities – fighting them through a public inquiry and several high court hearings. They reached the end of the road in November 2009, and the final residents were forced to move on.
Despite the battle taking five years of their retirement and costing £12,000, Eve insists she would do it all again.
The Northwood scheme is being funded through the government’s controversial Housing Market Renewal scheme.

** I have consolidated all my regeneration work – including four years worth of written pieces and more recent multimedia pieces – on a dedicated website, STREET FIGHTERS. Please check it out **

street fighters – Leeds & Clayton



Dave Hynes (top), feels like he is living in the countryside now all the neighbouring properties have been demolished. Meanwhile East Manchester resident Bill Booth (bottom) is sick of living in limbo, not knowing whether his house will stay up or come down. Just two more streetfighters.

** I have consolidated all my regeneration work – including four years worth of written pieces and more recent multimedia pieces – on a dedicated website, STREET FIGHTERS. Please check it out **

Streetfighters #16 – Goole


Last month opponents of the planned demolition of two streets in Goole, a small town in East Yorkshire, were finally given a public inquiry at which they got to air their objections to the scheme, which is being financed under the last government’s Housing Market Renewal scheme. Not that it is likely to make a difference, mind – in March the man behind the national scheme admitted to me in a Big Issue in the North interview that the outcome of these hearings tend to be a foregone conclusion anyway (which residents of course already know). In any case, the results will take six weeks or more to arrive, after which the houses will probably move to council ownership and be bulldozed to make way for new build. Here former resident Gordon Crook, who opposes their clearance, gives his thoughts on the matter.

** All my work on regeneration, dating back to 2006, is now available at my Street Fighters project website **

Street fighters #15 – Barrow in Furness


Ann Hillman was the lynchpin of the campaign against the clearance of two streets in central Barrow-in-Furness (Cumbria) but she finally moved from her lifelong home just days before Christmas 2009.
Here she describes how her community lost heart as the council planned its demolition. No firm plans are in place for the streets being bulldozed.

** All my work on regeneration, dating back to 2006, is now available at my Street Fighters project website **

Streetfighters #14 – Gary Loftus, Manchester Beswick

“The end result seems to be that the people that deal with the problems are then portrayed as the problem” – Gary Loftus


I first met Gary Loftus and Jonathan Cross in spring 2007 and stayed in close touch with them over a period of about six months, until they were ready to go public with a huge list of complaints they had about the new property they had bought off plan in Beswick, part of the New East Manchester Housing Market Renewal area. We got their story into a number of publications, including this feature in Inside Housing. The result was that the developer offered to buy back their property – an offer they refused – although three years later a number of issues persist.

Gary and Jonathan are exactly the kind of people regeneration schemes like New East Manchester are meant to be about….bright professionals who have lived in East Manchester their whole lives and who bought into the vision of lovely, modern mixed tenure communities. The reality, as Gary explains in the clip above, hasn’t been quite so rosy.

Quoting from my orginal piece:

“We’ve had in excess of 300 faults. We’ve had two en-suite showers, two kitchens, six front doors and three lawns.

“All the rear windows had to be replaced, we’ve had problems with our patio doors and tiles replaced…”

He takes a deep breath and carries on: “All the properties were fitted with Whispergens – a combined heat and power system which keeps breaking down. We’re meant to be having them replaced, but they’ve been taken off the market.

“On top of this, the builders have breached their planning consent. Our house ended up around 60 sq ft bigger than it should have been, and we’ve been advised by the council’s planning department that a retrospective application is now needed.”

…….Cross is not a one-off. I met residents of more than 10 neighbouring properties, and all told a similar story.

“We’ve faced fault after fault,” says Alan Jones, who chose the development for its proximity to his beloved Manchester City FC.

“Twelve windows had to be replaced because they were scratched. Ceilings have been replastered because it was all falling off. The kitchen was put in wrong.

“Lead blew off the roof in the high winds and smashed our shed. The render was cracked and three internal doors have been replaced. Electric wires had not been screwed in properly. The list goes on.”

** All my work on regeneration, dating back to 2006, is now available at my Street Fighters project website **

Street Fighters, the website

I’m not sure why I only just thought of doing this but I’ve created a stand-alone website to consolidate all my work on regeneration. I had no idea quite how much of it there was until it came to putting it all together. I’ll continue to post new work on this blog of course as well as popping it onto my Street Fighters site but this is an opportunity to get a lot of stuff not previously available online ‘out there’ in case anyone finds it useful. It will probably bore most people to tears, mind. Imagine how I feel.

Street fighters #12 – Liverpool Picton

The leader of Liverpool Council made quite an astonishing admission today – but also quite a calculated one. He admitted publicly – for the first time as I understand it – that the city’s Housing Market Renewal scheme has been a shambles which has wreaked untold damage on the communities it is meant to be regenerating.

Quite a confession, but the timing is no accident. The city council is, after all, a Lib Dem administration which has been behind the rolling out of this heavy-handed New Labour regeneration scheme. Now, with two weeks to go before the general election and when the writing would appear to be on the wall for the government, it would seem that the council is trying to distance itself from what has been a controversial and divisive programme.

I found out about this interview in an email from a housing campaigner in Liverpool, who forwarded it onto a number of contacts. One of the responses I was copied in to was from Steve Ord, a former Liverpool resident and landlord who I’ve interviewed for my Street Fighters project.

“So does that mean I can have my house back?” was his bitter response.

Steve Ord’s former family home in Picton, an area in Liverpool’s Wavertree neighbourhood, was taken from him after his opposition group lost a public inquiry into a Compulsory Purchase Order. The property, which he was renting out to students – accounting for 45 per cent of his total income -may well have been demolished by now. Along with most of his childhood landmarks.

Please listen to it in Steve’s own words:


Street fighters #11 – Broughton, Salford


Guy Griffiths and his brother Jimmy were physically evicted from the terraced properties they both owned in the Broughton area of Salford after the council obtained a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to make way for a regeneration scheme. At the time they were offered £21,000 for their properties – despite the fact the new “affordable homes” built to replace the demolished streets started at £115,000, rising to £138,000. Taking the issue to a land tribunal meant the brothers were offered more money but five years on Guy remains in conflict with the local authority over compensation. His original home has been demolished but here he is photographed in front of another house he owned and rented out, the valuation of which he is also disputing. The background noises in the recording by the way are the squeaks of his leather jacket…