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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hands Off Our Homes!

Six years ago I was looking for somewhere to live, as I was had got to the end of the contract for my student house. On buses and various other places around Sheffield there were ads for their social housing, advertising the fact that there were lower rents and no bonds to pay. This all appealed to me and I applied and a few weeks later moved into a council flat.

I was living somewhere bigger, and cheaper, than I ever could have with private renting, and not having to give anyone a £severalhundred bond was very helpful during this period, as I had no income at all.

I had thought that there were rules as to who could and couldn't get council properties, but discovered that mostly this was true. I also learned that Sheffield was one of the few places in the country which had more council properties than they needed. I thought (and still think) that this is a great state of affairs, and it means that it is available and accessible to people quickly, as it was for me.

Of course, there were areas it was more difficult to get into, which required long waiting times, but the availability of others in other, maybe less desirable, areas was positive.

And then at some point, council housing estates started being demolished. Some were in very bad disrepair, and others were not popular. Others needed money spending on them that wasn't available, and others because there were a lot of social problems.

I lived on Park Hill, and neighbours just down the road in the Claywood Flats were told that they all had to move out of their homes because the flats (tower blocks) were being demolished. Many of the tenants did not want to have to move, but there was no choice.

A few years later, it was announced (in the newspaper!) that Park Hill flats were going to be sold to developers and then private buyers, private business and a housing association. There was a lot of anger amongst residents because we found out the news from the local paper, we had not been consulted (although the tenants association had been), and all of a sudden it was a done deal.

In any case, the clearance started and I, among thousands of others, have moved away. But finding a new property - even with the extra priority points I was awarded because of being part of a compulsory clearance - was really, really difficult. It was becoming clear that many council properties were being demolished or sold, and they just weren't being replaced.

Claywood Flats had been demolished, as had Norfolk Park (including 15 tower blocks), and Park Hill and Skye Edge flats were being cleared. St George's flats were being demolished too, and somewhere around that point was when I lost track.

So I was interested to hear that on today's Thinking Allowed, which I was listening to earlier, they were talking about high rise flats in Sheffield and, more specifically, their demolition. It was focussed on the Norfolk Park area of the city.

Between 1963 and 1966, after slum clearance, 15 tower blocks, several hundred maisonettes and several hundred terraced houses were built. Homes for 9000 people were built in 3 years, and they were very popular, modern and desirable, with huge waiting lists for new tenants.

However, as time went on problems began to emerge, as a result of bad maintenance, problems with the original building, changes in how the Housing Benefit system worked, and huge problems within the local economy due to the demise of the steel industry.

In the 90s, the demolition of all 15 tower blocks, and most of the other properties began. The newly built tram system had just come into operation before the demolition and clearance process started, so their stops for the area were hugely underused. It was only four and a half years after the demolition that the first of the new properties were built, and the big, big delay in rebuilding has caused problems.

People who were determined to come back to Norfolk Park when it was rebuilt are not actually doing so, as they have lived in their supposedly-interim areas for so long now that they are quite settled, so instead of reuniting the local communities, as the properties are built, a whole new population will be moving in. A lot of shops are boarded up. And as the new properties are mainly either privately owned or run by a Housing Association, rents are higher and the tenancy agreements are less secure.

Listening to this programme this afternoon really got me thinking again about the whole situation. Sheffield has gone from having an excess of Council Housing, to having huge waiting lists and difficulty getting in to even quite unpopular areas. Communities are being broken up, and tenants feel like promises are being broken, and big decisions are being made which might not be the correct ones.

Photos of Park Hill Flats, Sheffield

Photos of Demolition of Claywood Flats, Sheffield, by 'nibbler'

Photos of Demolition of St George's Flats, Sheffield

Defend Council Housing


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Freezing Frog said...

Hello. I am a long time reader of your blog, and have found it one of the most informative and sensible blogs in cyberland. I had to comment on this particular post as I too have been affected by homelessness, private rented property, and housing association takeovers. I live in Scotland, near Glasgow, and we have a problem whereby the council housing is deplorable, damp and riddled with so many problems that the council basically ignore it until the houses/flats are unfit for habitation. Private rented accomodation is run more or less (in my own experience) by non-white landlords (putting it politely) who seem to think that charging the earth and giving you crap is SO the way to do things. Then you have housing association - which, again for me at that time, 3 years ago, was an absolute blessing as I was in a terrible predicament. Our biggest problem up here though, is property developers buying up tons of land and building tons of flats and houses, and charging the absoloute earth for them because they are in "desirable" areas. (Like Argyll Street in Glasgow, one of the main shopping streets in Glasgow is REALLY where you want to be).NOT. Every spare bit of land is up for houses that only the very rich can afford - some of these are nothing but squared off plots of land, and they get SOLD!!

Everyone wants a property. Nobody wants a home.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes. Have a read of my ongoing council housing saga and the endless sub-contraction...