Civic society hits out at Gleeson Homes-designed Toxteth scheme

Design experts have slammed a ‘bog-standard’ housing scheme approved by Liverpool City Council

Civic society hits out at Gleeson Homes-designed Toxteth scheme

Merseyside Civic Society criticised the green lighting of a 65 home scheme by builders Gleeson Homes for a site off Kingsley Road, Toxteth.

The group claimed that the development, which has been backed by the Homes and Communities Agency, would represent a ‘bleak return’ for massive public investment.

The society’s chair Peter Brown, told the planning committee ‘the demolition of so many fine Victorian terraces in this area is made all the worse when they are to be replaced by what can only be described as the worst examples of bland, low grade, bog- standard housing.’

He added that not requesting contributions for open space in inner city streets went against the council’s own policies, and appeared to lower the benchmark for development in Liverpool’s former ‘housing market renewal’ area.

The objections were rejected by the planning committee. 

Earlier this month, local residents staged a week long picket to block bulldozers from clearing Victorian homes on an adjacent site on Kingsley Road.

They were protesting at a council partnership with social landlords Plus Dane and developers Lovells, who are working on a similar demolition and rebuild scheme to that approved yesterday.

A spokesman for Gleeson said: ‘We constantly survey our customers and as a consequence we fully understand their needs and expectations. We are proud to say that we build and sell homes that our customers have a desire and can afford to buy and live in and we will continue to do so’.

 

Comment: Urbed’s Jonathan Brown on Toxteth

Toxteth is a national treasure, whose treatment is a national disgrace. Developed as a Hyde Park of the north, Liverpool 8’s Victorian boulevards and Georgian terraces enjoyed a mid 20th century hey-day as the Harlem of Europe, until racist policing and crass housing policies sparked July 1981’s uprising, for which the blighted heartland, Granby Street, still appears un-forgiven.

Thirty years on residents are again rising up, this time in peaceful resistance against decades of housing demolition. People from Granby’s surviving ’Four Streets’ have mounted a daily anti-bulldozer blockade to save large 19th century properties from removal by developer Lovells, Liverpool city council and social landlord Plus Dane.

As the Localism Bill undergoes amendment in the House of Lords, Granby’s spontaneous direct action is a reminder that such places, where communities have long been exploited and governance contested, set the measure by which the true beneficiaries of Neighbourhood Planning will be weighed.

The legislators should take note. L8 residents already represent a triumph of small society over big government. Authorities euphemistically describe Granby as the ‘focus of sustained regeneration activity since the early 1970’s’. In defiance of interminable cycles of top down ‘renewal‘, people have painted curtains on bricked up bay windows, and planted emptied streets with trees, picnic tables and burgeoning vegetable boxes. On the first Saturday of every month they hold the thriving Cairns Street market, complete with reggae sounds, curry stalls and vintage bric-a-brac, a little piece of 1960s Portobello Road in inner Liverpool.

Residents reserve particular mockery for the target-driven Housing Market Renewal (HMR) Pathfinder, whose wasteful spending and myopic statistical mythology of failure and ‘low demand’ is laid bare by a new Land Trust, pushing hard for ‘homesteading’ by households and small firms as an alternative to large social landlord projects. Parodying multi-branded propaganda posters of ‘approved’ neighbourhood investors, residents’ leaflets boast just one logo - ‘Funded by: The People‘.

The key question for regeneration under the Coalition is whether Localism rewards such grass roots neighbourhood initiatives, or simply accelerates their hollowing out.

Does a Neighbourhood Plan offer residents a powerful statutory base from which to resist corrupted plans, reclaim their seized housing market from indifferent officials, and repopulate grassed over clearance sites?

Or will their lack of control over approval of the ’Legitimate Forum’, indeterminate boundaries of non-Parish neighbourhood planning units, and temptingly ‘gerrymander able’ coverage of referendum electorates, actually render communities, especially under-resourced ones, ever more open to manipulation through ‘divide and rule’?

I suspect Localism will swing the balance of neighbourhood power both ways - low towards the people where there is already an enlightened, accountable local authority working with well organised neighbourhood groups, and further up and away where the authority is captive to vested interests. If the CLG rhetoric of localism is accepted as a sincere attempt to reinvigorate participation, it looks painfully sidelined by the Treasury view of planning as a drag anchor, and design as a luxury.

Politicians of all parties could do worse than treasure the example of Toxteth as both ’localist’ inspiration and warning. It shows that people are just as keen to use social capital to promote and lead positive change rather than resist it, whilst well-resourced vested interests, if allowed to run rampant, can actually delay investment as disgracefully as any so called NIMBY group.

 

 

James McGovern | 06-Sep-2011 5:04 PM

What has happened on Edge Lane and in Granby - under Lib Dem and Labour - is gangsterism. Beautiful houses demolished and replaced with new-build tat. Somebody somewhere must be making a packet out of it. There is no other logical explanation.

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colin dyas | 06-Oct-2011 10:16 PM

Jonathan Brown is right. As a respected urban designer in a firm widely acknowledged as being the first in the UK to adopt "urban design" principles he is vastly experienced and objective in this field. His opinions are formed by academic qualification, professional experience, client respect, observation, empathy, and an awareness that the economic, and community capital “sunk” into the Granby Road (and the Welsh Streets ) are as valid to the urban experiences as far more recognisable “civic” buildings. Thus his argument to resist HMRI is valid and ethical. He is also right to comment upon, and develop, some of the ambiguities of our planning legislation. In pure planning terms the economics of a development form no consideration to the granting of planning consent. Yet in strategic planning terms HMRI presents the almost impossible, and incomprehensible, idea of predicting demand as a rationale for strategic planning. The two are ambiguous as HMRI suggested there was none, and HMRI supporters still perpetuate this myth, despite the overall increase in Liverpool and L8 house prices and demand from student and key workers for affordable housing. Then there are the 23000 people (2010 figure) on the Liverpool housing list. But as housing demand increased post HMRI, as did local GVA, so too did measures of social deprivation, de-population (outside the city core) , de-industrialisation, and even de-servicing, the latter being the golden sector where UK PLC put all its eggs. And it is likely that the finance, tourism, professional, and retail services sector will get worse, over time, due to financial and environmental complexity. IN essence, HMRI presents the absurdity of theorists and politicians applying economic solutions to social and community problems, and when economist and politicians get it wrong, it is society that pays the price. In simple terms call it blight and that is what HMRI has done. It's blighted vast areas of Liverpool at a time when UK house building and mortgage financing require “renewal initiatives” of their own. I’d also add to that there simply aren’t enough bikes in Liverpool, or enough jobs in London, for us all to shut up shop, put the lights out and move south, as some of the more extreme economic think tanks, like the Policy Exchange, would have us do. But what we can do is refurbish our neighbourhoods along non-consumption focussed models in an incremental fashion to create green homes, better jobs and the circulation of local money. Division and complexity ought to engender creatively and resourcefulness. A coming together if you like of bright minds, and not so bright minds to find solutions. Liverpool has the people, and in terms of Development Trusts, Community Trusts, Co-op's, employee owner schemes, and the legal and intellectual tools to explore how. But I’d add that it is futile to save local houses if you can’t mend the local economy. So programmes to alter or defend the urban character of Liverpool must consider localised economic initiatives as part of a broader solution. Certainly this is what I am trying to do with my life, right now. In closing, I do wonder, when it was ever necessary to “live in an area” in order to have an opinion. It is an utterly infantile comment. And nor does it help to denigrate organisation, individuals, and others whose interests are mainly expressed in their own time and without financial reward. I don’t live in the proposed Liverpool Waters, London Olympic Village, or in an Aberdeenshire sand dune affected by Donald Trumps proposed golf course but I celebrate living in a democracy where I can talk about them.

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