You’ll find more on the Pendleton Estate at the current exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester which showcases the work and archives of long-term residents John Aitken and Jane Brake of the Institute of Urban Dreaming.
Last week’s post examined what can only be judged in social and economic terms the failure of the Ellor Street comprehensive redevelopment of the 1960s. As a further round of regeneration took off in the 2000s, new priorities and methods – and perhaps changed values – were in evidence.
When Ellor Street and surrounds were first comprehensively redeveloped fifty years ago, it was understood that responsibility lay with the state or, to use a language less currently tarnished, with the tools of democracy. One of those tools was cheap finance – grants provided directly by central government and backed by the assets of local government. From 1979, however, under both Thatcher and New Labour, there was a belief that the private sector offered resources and capital that the state lacked – although no-one ever argued that the latter was in any way cheaper money.
There were other changes too. Once council housing had seemed the necessary (if not unchallenged) solution to the housing needs of the working class. Now reliance was placed to a far greater extent on the market. This, at least, was the rationale of the Labour Government’s 2002 Pathfinder Housing Market Renewal programme: a plan to demolish generally structurally sound – sometimes neglected but rarely slum – housing in order to build smaller numbers of new homes and revive local housing markets. Much of central Salford was covered in the scheme.
In Pendleton itself, the major intervention – well-known to planners and architects – occurred in an area of Edwardian terraced housing adjacent to Chimney Pot (or Langworthy) Park; the very same illustrated as an example of Edwardian bye-law housing in the first post of this series). A joint venture between Urban Splash, English Partnerships, Salford City Council and the Northwest Regional Development Agency was agreed in 2003. The first phase of the so-called ‘upside-down houses’ was completed in 2007, remodelled with bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor, and living rooms and kitchens above where a new roof terrace spans the former back alley to create garaging and, on top, a communal deck.
It’s attractive enough though it all seemed, despite the architectural acclaim the scheme has received, a little sterile when I walked through. ‘Achingly fashionable’, in the words of one report, the scheme was designed for ‘a new community of urban pioneers’ and ‘aspirational young couples’. (1) But, at an initial sale price of £120,000 (judged three times what might count as ‘affordable’ in local terms at the time), it had little relevance to the lives of those who once lived there or those that live in the social housing nearby. Urban Splash themselves pulled out of the project in 2014, replaced by the Great Places Housing Association. (2)
Still, in 2008, 93 per cent of Pendleton’s housing stock was council-owned. In the next phase of regeneration, the ‘target position’ – outlined in the ‘Benefits Realisation Plan’ behind ‘Creating a New Pendleton’ in July 2009 – was to create ‘a mixed tenure residential area’. The language is as telling as the detail. (3)
The vehicle for this shift – which would raise 1253 council properties to Decent Homes Standard, oversee the demolition of 860 homes including those in four multi-storey blocks, and ‘deliver a minimum of 460 units for affordable rent, circa 950 units for market sale and a minimum of 25 units for shared ownership’ – announced in 2013 was a Private Finance Initiative scheme.
I’ll quote from a contemporary report to illustrate the nature of the high finance involved. You might understand it better or differently but, to me, it’s an act of mystification; an example of the smoke and mirrors which currently reward capital at the expense of social need: (4)
Investec Bank arranged the bond issue on behalf of joint venture FHW Dalmore, with £71.7 million of Class A senior secured notes at 5.414 per cent and £10.9 million of Class B junior secured notes at 8.35 per cent. The two-tranche approach sees subordinated B loan notes offering protection to A note investors, with the debt on-lent to the borrower as a single loan at a blended margin, and a standard project finance covenant package.
Pendleton Together, charged with delivering the scheme, was a consortium comprising, amongst others, the housing association Together Housing Group, ‘building and regeneration specialist’ Keepmoat, architects and planners Lathams, and Salford City Council. Its vision is outlined in what is – and I don’t mean this quite as cynically as it sounds – a masterpiece of the type, a glossy brochure called An Ideal for Living.
For a total investment of some £650m, the Ideal envisaged: (5)
a distinctive neighbourhood with a strong identity…it will be a celebration of everything that is good about urban living. It will be an area of opportunity where anyone can make something of their life, set up a business and live happily, healthily and safely.
These are worthy enough aims although the idea that we should aspire to setting up a business seems a far more sinister marker than intended – a sign of how far we have moved from the idea of dignified and secure employment, how easily we accept the current statistical lie of ‘self-employment’. The detailed agenda is admirable: as well as improved housing, 10 hectares of ‘quality public space’, 500 new jobs, training for 3200, ‘healthy lifestyle classes and programmes’, a city farm and so on. All this is accompanied by the new buzzwords – ‘secure by design’, placemaking’ and ‘people streets’. (‘Some would say’, the brochure pronounces, ‘that the 1963 Comprehensive Development Plan for the place was designed by a road traffic engineer. We think they are right.’)
Alongside this were other, linked initiatives. Some Salford council housing stock had been transferred to City West in 2008. A new stock transfer of 8500 homes from Salford Council to the arms-length management organisation Salix Homes was voted through by tenants in November 2014 – though almost 40 per cent of those who voted rejected the proposal. By writing off an existing £65.1m debt, the new registered social landlord was released to access new funds – a prerequisite (not available to the council) to the expenditure of £22m on modernising 2000 homes across the city in 2015. (5)
Salford City Council’s report, Shaping Housing in Salford 2020; a Housing Strategy for Salford, published in November 2015, confirms that ‘private sector investment in the city will continue to provide a vital role in delivering housing development’ and – in an understandable and perhaps necessary display of civic boosterism – proclaims the success of other local regeneration initiatives, notably MediaCityUK [sic] in the new Salford Quays.
Salford may still be, it admits, the 18th most deprived local authority in the country, but we have moved a long way from the politics of the 1980s when Hackney, as a form of political mobilisation, proclaimed itself. ‘Britain’s poorest borough’. The report asserts that ‘Salford’s population and economy is growing, employment is rising and the social and cultural life in the city is thriving’. (6)
There have been improvements. The flat I stayed in in Thorn Court at the top end of Broadwalk was modern and well-equipped. Thorn Court and most of the adjacent blocks have been refurbished, albeit reclad in the now de rigueur dayglow style.
There are new bright, shiny blocks too and suburban-style housing to please the new traditionalists. Of the original three slab blocks of the Ellor Street redevelopment, one had been demolished and those which remain now house students from nearby Salford University. Social housing across Salford has been updated and modernised.
In the meantime, in the midst of the Pendleton regeneration, things are a mess. There are swathes of wasteland where homes have been demolished, barren open spaces still very far from the parkland envisaged, and down-at-heel or redundant community buildings untouched by the new Salford apparently emerging. There’s an alienating mix of contemporary refurb and the unreconstructed past exacerbated by the drawn-out process and blight of actually existing regeneration as it is experienced beyond the pages of the glossy planning brochures.
St Paul’s Church, occupying a central position on the Broadwalk, still caters devotedly to those left behind by all this change. The question remains – as it does for all such regeneration schemes (and I will acknowledge their generally good intentions here) – how far the plethora of training schemes and lifestyle programmes can address the intractable realities of non-existent or insecure and low-paid employment and simple, plain poverty.
Nor is it controversial now to question Private Finance Initiatives as a vehicle for – what should be, at least – public investment. The method’s convoluted and protracted deal-making, the additional expense incurred catering for all the special interests involved, the high cost of borrowing have been widely criticised as have – although the Salford example doesn’t seem especially egregious in this regard – the long and disruptive delays in implementation. It’s been ‘an extreme form of contractualisation’, proven, in particular, ‘to be far more complicated and expensive to apply to the social housing sector’. (7)
In all, as Stuart Hodkinson has concluded, rather mildly in the circumstances:
The PFI experience…calls into question one of the underlying principles behind the modernisation of social housing—that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector in providing housing services.
And that’s a good place to finish. Clearly, this extended Salford case-study demonstrates that the national and local state didn’t get everything right in its own rehousing programmes. There have been errors and inadequacies in process and implementation which have treated its citizens poorly. Having learnt from those mistakes but with an awareness now of our contemporary failures, it’s hard not to see public finance and democratic procedures as offering the most cost-efficient and accountable solution to our current housing crisis. Beyond that, the lesson from Salford – and other left-behind communities – is that we owe a communal duty to all those who have not benefited from our nation’s affluence. In this, decent and affordable housing is but one component.
(1) Phil Griffin, ‘On the Terraces’, Special issue. Housing Building design, BD magazine supplement no. 8, June 15 2007
(2) ‘Urban Splash Chimney Pot Park Housing Scheme Eyesore Slated by Salford Councillor’, Salford Star, 17 June 2014
(3) Creating a New Pendleton Benefits Realisation Plan (July 2009)
(4) Luke Cross, ‘Together closes Salford PFI with £82.6m two-tranche bond’, Social Housing, 4 October 2013
(5) Pendleton Together, An Ideal for Living (ND)
(5) Pete Apps, ‘Salford tenants vote for stock transfer’, Inside Housing, 4 November 2014 and Neal Keeling, ‘Modernising 2,000 homes to cost £22m: Investment follows vote to transfer ownership of housing’, Manchester Evening News, 9 February 2015
(6) Salford City Council, Shaping Housing in Salford 2020; a Housing Strategy for Salford (November 2014)
(7) Stuart Hodkinson, ‘The Private Finance Initiative in English Council Housing Regeneration: A Privatisation too Far?’, Housing Studies, vol 26, no 6, 2011