Families have been betrayed by this half-finished project

Rarely has a Sentinel front page stirred my emotions as much as yesterday’s which carried the story of Stoke-on-Trent’s 15-year, £2.3 billion housing renewal programme being hit by Government funding cuts.
It’s not that I was surprised. After all, it doesn’t take a political analyst to work out that the Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition was unlikely to support Labour’s much-vaunted Pathfinder programme.
But as I read the news that the city council had been forced to call a halt to demolition work I couldn’t help but feel angry for the thousands of people caught up in what could well be the death throes of RENEW North Staffordshire.
Some of our most deprived communities have been betrayed and it seems the families who live in the blighted streets are the victims of a half-finished project.
The big questions are: Who is to blame and what can we do to help the families being forced to live in squalor?
I well remember Regeneration Agency RENEW being launched with much fanfare in 2004.
Back then it seemed that the Potteries, which had for so long been the poor relation of other cities like Liverpool, had at last struck lucky.
As the millions of pounds of regeneration funding began to flow and new neighbourhoods started to take shape there was a genuine sense that real, lasting, significant change was upon us.
Of course, from day one there were the cynics and the critics who slated RENEW for everything from poor public consultation to what was perceived as a ‘scatter-gun’ approach to regeneration.
There was bound to be a backlash because people were literally fighting for their homes and some simply couldn’t understand why their houses had to be demolished.
Similarly there were others, just a few streets away, who were heartbroken to discover that their properties fell just outside of clearance areas and would, therefore, remain untouched.
Irrespective of the vocal minority, no-one could deny the great strides made in areas such as the former mining community of Coalville or at the new City Waterside development.
Of course, the problem was that in order to effect change on such a grand scale RENEW was always going to require a great deal of money and time to fulfil its potential.
And no-one knew just how much of either resource was actually going to be forthcoming.
Keeping the 15-year programme ticking over was always going to depend on two things: a) Labour being re-elected to government for fourth and fifth terms; and b) Labour remaining committed to spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a city with three safe Labour seats.
It was a bit like trying to bake a cake and starting off with some of the ingredients but relying on a dodgy cooker and hoping that the leccy wouldn’t be cut off before you’d finished baking.
To be fair, we shouldn’t underestimate the effect that the global economic crisis has had on our Pathfinder project.
Perhaps 10 or 15 years ago developers would have been queuing up to work on sites that had been cleared by RENEW but in the past two or three years they have been thin on the ground to say the least.
The net result is that across North Staffordshire today you will find semi-derelict streets and large swathes of land where homes once stood.
In communities such as Middleport and Cobridge, families are quite literally living in limbo – not knowing whether or not they will be moving or staying put.
Meanwhile, levels of crime and vandalism in these areas continue to increase.
Others face being forced to live among boarded-up properties while the bean-counters at Whitehall complete their comprehensive spending review and decide what, if any, crumbs from the table will fall at our feet.
It would be easy to point the finger of blame at the newly-elected Coalition Government which, after all, may soon stop the funding for our housing renewal programme.
That would be wrong.
To me, what is most staggering is that no-one from RENEW, the city council or the previous Government had the wherewithal to pre-empt this disgraceful state of affairs.
Many fine examples of regeneration work have been achieved by RENEW and I’ve met some passionate and dedicated employees who are committed to improving the lives of local people.
However, RENEW and the city council seem to have merrily ploughed on with consultation work and clearance of properties without the proper funding or partnerships for rebuilding being in place.
It is now 10 years since the Nevin Report exposed the full scale of Stoke-on-Trent’s housing crisis — revealing a city saddled with the legacy of almost 20,000 crumbling terrace properties.
This was, and still remains, the greatest social challenge facing North Staffordshire and it seems that a decade on, far from coming up with a solution, we may only have succeeded in perpetuating the problem.

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One thought on “Families have been betrayed by this half-finished project

  1. Chris McGuigan says:

    Saw the piece on last night’s Newsnight. Totally shocking and indefensible. Another generation failed…

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