Arriving on Cairns Street, in the heart of Liverpool’s vibrant Toxteth district, on a dank winter evening feels like wandering onto the set of a Apocalyptic movie.
Home to just 10 households and more than 50 derelict properties, its once-elegant two-up, two-downs are starting to crumble and crack through neglect.
The remaining residents try to make the street attractive, painting empty buildings, planting hanging baskets and pots and displaying fairy lights.
But nothing can mask a nagging sense that this area is waiting for something.
The fate of Cairns Street, and three neighbouring roads which with it make up the Granby Triangle, is uncertain.
For more than a decade, locals have waited to learn which of their homes will be bulldozed and which refurbished under plans for a £27m redevelopment. No firm decision has yet been made, but a consultation was carried out by the developer, Lovell, and a report is due before Liverpool City Council over the coming months.
Meanwhile, however, the rot has set in. Rented properties stopped being maintained, which in turn drove tenants away and left homes empty.
The uncertainty and dereliction puts off potential buyers and local owners struggle to borrow the cash for home improvements.
As properties become vacant, contractors secure doors and windows with metal security grilles and remove bay windows they deem to be dangerous.
The situation has left locals feeling resentful and neglected. Many suspect they are being deliberately squeezed out of the area – just 10 minutes walk from the city centre – to make way for homes the working class community cannot afford.
Hazel Tilley, 51, a Granby resident for more than three decades, says: “We’re seeing the slow death of a once-thriving community. These are beautiful streets but since these plans were announced, Granby’s been ghettoised and its cohesion destroyed.
“The dereliction’s horrendous but we have no way of doing anything about it. We can’t get anything repaired and the buildings are rotting before our very eyes.
“To people here this feels like a deliberate attempt to demoralise us and drive us out so young professionals can move in. We’re not against development if we are able to benefit from it. But we want renovation and not demolition.”
The Granby project is being paid for by the city council but similar schemes are taking place across inner-city Liverpool, under the Housing Market Renewal Initiative.
The programme, known as Pathfinder, uses government funding to rejuvinate run-down areas.
Seven out of nine schemes are in the North of England: Manchester/Salford, Newcastle/Gateshead, East Lancashire, Oldham and Rochdale, South Yorkshire, East Riding and Humberside.
It has sparked outrage in parts of Liverpool, where critics accuse the council of concentrating too heavily on demolition at the expense of home improvement.
More than 3,750 homes are due to be bulldozed in the city’s Pathfinder areas between now and 2018.
Like their counterparts in Edge Lane – who in November persuaded a judge to quash dozens of compulsory purchase orders – and other parts of Liverpool, campaigners in Granby want existing terraces adapted to meet modern structural and environmental standards.
Liverpool’s Liberal Party is a fierce critic of its clearance programme and campaigned on an anti-demolition platform at last year’s local elections.
They say the scheme is driving low-earners out of the city, and pushing house prices out of reach of most local people, fuelling debt.
And they claim the neglect of areas like Granby is a deliberate tactic aimed at clearing the way for redevelopment.
Group leader, Cllr Steve Radford, says: “The council’s attitude seems to be that if people dare to resist, their community will be run down by stealth until they leave. I don’t believe there is a malicious intent there, but more of a political calculation.
“By emptying housing association and council homes and boarding them up, the market is prevented from operating normally. The areas are left to rot until residents get fed up and move away.”
Deliberate or not, the pattern is happening. Across the city in Anfield and Breckfield, a Pathfinder area where phased demolition is just beginning, the mood among residents changed from reluctance to leave to desperation to escape, as the dereliction attracts drug addicts, vandals and social blight.
Margaret Smith, 62, of Vienna Street, is one of dozens of residents stranded with vacant properties all around. Her home of 42 years is in one of the last stages of the scheme and she must wait seven to nine years to be bought out by the council.
She says: “It is horrendous and we all just want out. This used to be a lovely area, and when we heard about the plans we didn’t want to leave, but it’s got worse and worse and we’re now living in a slum. There is terrible anti-social behaviour every night and we are terrified. But we are stuck here.”
Liverpool City Council is partway through a review of its demolition plans, and may be forced to scale it back as central government slashes funding for Pathfinder.
But the authority is adament that it has the support of the majority affected by housing renewal and says proper consultation was carried out in all areas.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Frank Doron, assistant executive member for housing, says criticism of the policy is unfair. He is keen to stress that efforts are being made to support residents in redevelopment areas, through environmental works, improved security and financial assistance.
He says: “Unfortunately we can’t please everyone, and communities are inevitably divided over what is going on. Some residents want their housing replaced while others don’t and are very vocal about it.
“Liverpool Council hasn’t run anywhere down – it has happened naturally over a number of years. All these areas we are talking about have seen serious decline and under-investment over a number of decades.
“I am not one for letting the bulldozers run amok but this is about listening to what communities themselves feel is the way forward.
“Having heard the views of many residents who want this scheme to go ahead, I am certain what we’re doing is right.”
RESPONSE AS SENT BY CLLR FIELDING:
The Reality of Regeneration in Liverpool
In her article featured in your 8-14th January 2007 edition, Ciara Leeming paints an incredibly negative view of HMR and a range of other regeneration initiatives in Liverpool. Like much of the commentary on the 2008 Capital of Culture, the piece reflects the author’s failure to understand the facts or appreciate the reality of the transformation that is happening today. As a local Councillor, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods and Housing with Liverpool City Council and Board member with the Pathfinder, NewHeartlands, perhaps I can help.
Despite experiencing long term economic decline and significant challenges that stem from this fact, the Granby area of Liverpool has a strong sense of community and clear identity. LCC is directing substantial resources to addressing the challenges this neighbourhood faces and significant work is underway.
The City Council has recently agreed to extend the Renewal Area period for a further 5 years .A lead developer is in place and detailed consultation with residents is ongoing to identify ways forward that build on the physical, social and cultural infrastructure that exists. The suggestion that there is any intent to force residents out of the area is entirely without foundation.
On the contrary, the aim of all stakeholders involved in the regeneration of this historic neighbourhood is to respond to the needs of local people and to deliver a range and quality of housing that meets their aspirations.
The allegation that the HMR programme has "sparked outrage" amongst local residents is a further misrepresentation of the truth. Yes, there is a small, vocal minority who, for a variety of reasons, are opposed to the HMR programme.
But the reality is that HMR plans in Liverpool are underpinned by an extensive consultation programme.
The simplistic suggestion that refurbishment alone can provide the range and quality of housing needed, simply ignores the facts. We have a housing infrastructure created for a population of 800,000 where now we have around 460,000 residents.
The legacy of our industrial past also means that in some areas we have an oversupply of a single type of property. This restricts choice and can force local people out of a neighbourhood when their lifestyle changes.
HMR is helping address these problems, bringing much needed investment to transform communities. Strategic, targeted demolition and new build are part of the solution but the reality is that over the lifetime of the programme HMR will see six times more homes refurbished than cleared.
Possibly the biggest challenge we face is supporting residents through the regeneration process. Specific initiatives have been implemented as part of our Living Through Change Programme but turning round long term decline isn't easy and change takes time.
Additional resources would help speed up the process and we are working with colleagues in the Pathfinder to maximise investment. Part of this is about convincing the Government that we need guaranteed, long term funding to build on the progress we have made.
In the meantime, we will continue working with local people to address their concerns and develop new, innovative ways of responding to the challenges ahead.
Finally, I'd like to invite Ms Leeming, or any other journalist who has a genuine interest in the regeneration of Liverpool to come and see for themselves. There's a long way to go but progress is being made and with the continued support of our communities then we can create neighbourhoods for the future.