Monday, 21 June 2010


We had kids playing out in the yard on Friday night. They also played in the alley. And we sat in the yard whilst the sun was still out. Who said terrace housing was obsolete? Who needs gardens? These scenes are replicated throughout our terrace on a regular basis yet we are told they need to come down because we need gardens!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Con Dem the Lib Dems

So the Liberal Democrats are not only arrogant and above accountability. They are also Tories that are putting the boot into affordable housing. So, first, get rid of affordable housing by kicking people out of their homes and demolishing it. Second, don't build any replacement affordable housing. At least there will be lots of scope for developers to pull the market out of recession by building lots of high value homes without having to consider the need for affodable housing. Vote Lib Dem, get another lot of arrogant Tories.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

HMR and Accountability: Where is Warren Bradley? And what do the Lib Dems really stand for?

In an interview with the Liverpool Echo, prior to the recent elections, Warren Bradley, then Liberal Democrat Leader of Liverpool City Council (LCC) acknowledged that HMR had 'ripped the heart" out of local communities in Liverpool. This was an astonishing acknowledgement from the leader of a council that, until now, had been arrogant in the way it had been dismissive of residents experience and feelings about the demolition programme.

In the light of Bradley's concerns about HMR and demolitions, a number of people felt that it was important to ask him what would happen next. We wrote to Bradley believing that, as an elected official, he was accountable to the people that elected him, i.e. us. We therefore expected a reply. Here is my letter to Bradley, sent by email on 28th April:

"Dear Warren Bradley

Your recent comments on the problems wwith HMRI, reported in the Liverpool Echo, are welcome. The HMRI initiative has caused much pain and suffering in the clearance areas and this has been documented in research. Moreover, LCC has been less than sensitive in its approach to HMR in these areas. It has even demonstrated contempt for the feelings of residents. Again this has been documented.

However, whilst welcoming your comments, there is also a need to reconsider the continuation of the demolitions in the light of them. To do this would show that you are true to your word. I woudl therefore welcome your views on (a) whether LCC intends to stop the demolitions and (b) what steps will be taken, immediately, to ensure that this happens.

Prof Chris Allen"

Bradley did not reply. We also sent the following letter, by email, to the Liverpool Echo on 29th April:

"Warren Bradley now accepts that HMR has caused a great deal of pain and suffering to residents in the demolition areas. This is significant because, until now, LCC has been less than sensitive to the feelings of residents during the demolition process. This lack of sensitivity has been particularly apparent during public inquiries into the compulsory purchase of their homes so that they can be demolished. The residents will testify to this themselves. It is now up to Warren Bradley and LCC to show that their concerns about the pain and suffering of residents is not empty rhetoric. If they now accept that HMR adn the demolitions have caused pain and suffering to the residents, it is incumbent on them to stop it. What do they intend to do to stop the demolitions and therefore the suffering?

Prof. Chris Allen
Lee Crookes
Dr. Pauline Marne

Again, we received no response from Bradley. We were concerned about this so we decided to write to the Lib Dem parliamentry candidate, Colin Eldridge, to seek a response. Here is the email that we sent to him on 1st May:

"Dear Colin

Please see the attached email that I sent to Warren Bradley earlier this week. He has not had the courtesy to reply. I am astonished that Warren Bradley has made such a high profile statement, on something that means so much to the people of the city, but does not have the courtesy to respond to questions about his views on such an important topic. You say you will fight for the people of Liverpool [this was a key claim made in Eldridge's campaign material] but is this not empty rhetoric if your representatives will not engage in a dialogue about what you intend to do in the city.

Prof Chris Allen"

Eldridge also failed to respond. So, on 7th May, I wrote by email again to both Bradley and Eldridge. Here are the letters:

"Dear Warren Bradley

I wrote the attached letter to you on 28th April, as a citizen of Liverpool and a member of the electorate. Accountability is a vital principle in any democracy. So I look forward to your reply.

Prof. Chris Allen"

"Dear Colin Eldridge

As a citizen of Liverpool and a member of its electorate I wrote the attached email to Warren Bradley on 28th April and a follow up letter to yourself on 1st May. The letters were concerned with Warren Bradley's comments on the devastation wrought by HMR in Liverpool and what you propose to do to stop further damage being inflicted on the communities involved. I have yet to receive a reply from either of you. I understand that the general election has been a distraction but the socialist labour party had the courtesy to respond to my enquiry. In the interests of accountabiloity, I look forward to your respoonse

Prof. Chris Allen"

I am still waiting for a response from Bradley and Eldridge who clearly do not feel that they are accountable to anyone despite the damage they have done to the people of this city. It is a bit rich for the Liberal Democraats to stand on a platform about 'renewing' our 'broken politics' - claiming the need for more democracy and accountabiility - when they will not make themselves accountable to their own electors. Perhaps this is why they were both, thankfully, rejected by their electorates last week. Meanwhile, the suffering continues.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

12 months is a long time in a terrace house (but not long enough)

Its been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog and the reason for that has been a lack of time rather than a lack of material. During the last 12 months, I have moved house so no longer live in the terrace that I was living in. However, I loved my terrace so much that I moved to another one just around the corner. This terrace is even better than the other one. Neighbours are great. When we were moving in, some guy from across the road came over and offered us cups of tea whereas other neighbours stopped to chat. The terrace has a lovely little yard where I enjoy playing football with my young son. In fact, 4 of us had a football match in the yard the other week which just goes to show that these arguments - about the 'need' for gardens - to justfiy demolition of working class terraces are just spurious. Such arguments are ignorant of the fact that (a) people make creative use of space and value it accordingly and that (b) Liverpool is one of the richest cities for green space in the country so why would we all need gardens? The city is littered with parks. In fact, my son and I are never out of the parks. And we also love our yard because it suits us: Its not too much upkeep and we are not gardeners. In fact how many people are gardeners or want gardens? Interesting statistic here:

The architects of HMR have sought to justify the demolition of terrace houses on the grounds that they are ‘predominant’ thereby restricting choice and furthermore because they lack gardens. Yet a survey of residents in one part of Liverpool (that is now being demolished) showed that only 1% of residents surveyed mentioned choice of housing as one of the top 4 things that needed improving in their area, whereas only 3% of people wanting to move wanted a garden. This survey was undertaken by some of the self-proclaimed 'architects' of - and arch apologists for - housing market renewal themselves. Strange that they have not had much to say about these statistics.

In fact, how about this for (yet more) hypocricy in Liverpool. We all know the rhetoric about the 'need' for green space (for which read 'gardens') being used as a justification for the demolition of working class terrace housing in Liverpool. Well, residents in one part of Liverpool were telling me last week how they have been fighting to protect the green space (village green) that is attached to their estate because it is well used by the residents. The issue was so contentious that it went to a public inquiry where 'regeneration experts' tried, but failed, to prove that residents did not use the space. The regeneration agencies were so desperate to show that it was not used that they sent photographers out every 15 minutes to try to get photos of it in an empty state. They failed to prove their case because, unfortunately for them, it was well used. But that did not stop the residents' green space being passed onto developers to build new houses for sale.

So, yet again, we are confronted with key questions about HMR. Is it really about giving people green space? Or is it about taking away green space from residents? And is it really about residential development on green space by large scale construction companies? The standard question that sociologists would ask of all of this - who benefits?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

One step forward, two steps back

Isn't it always the way; you take one step forward only to be forced to take two steps back. Only I fear, this time, I may be forced to take more than two steps back. Only yeterday I was reporting the about apparent conversion of Professor Michael Parkinson who seems to have repented of property led regeneration. Alas, Professor Parkinson's wisdom does not seem to have reached into the minds of all members of the urban elite that govern Liverpool. Today I received an email which informed me that a member of this urban elite told "one of the (reliable) people I was talking to at this conference that her aspiration was to "clear all the terraced housing from Liverpool". I would, of course, like to name and shame the author of this opinion. How can someone in such a powerful position say something so stupid? But it is the sheer stupidity of what this person said that would - if I identified them - probably lead them to threaten me with legal action. (This is what these people do when someone dares to challenge them). And why? Because they would probably want to dissociate themselves with such an unspeakably stupid opinion. That won't stop them pursuing their grand project, of course. Far from it. The idea that urban elites in this city can return Liverpool to some ideal 'year zero' without working class terrace housing prevails despite the 'credit crunch' that has wreacked havoc with Mr Nevin's idea that housing should be an 'aspirational good' and thus an aspect of our portfolio of consumption. Who is seriously thinking in these terms now, when most people are simply concerned to keep their home? Perhaps that is what we should have always been thinking about - homes and not 'investments'. But the urban elites that govern this city seem incapable of learning the lesson of the credit crunch - that endemic feature of capitalism that bites us every now and again (bust, boom, bust) but which we are encouraged to forget about as quickly as possible when the crisis has passed us by. So, in spite of the credit crunch, these urban elites are persisting in their attempts to eradicate working class housing from the urban landscape in order to replace it with 'high value' housing that represents an 'investment' or part of our portfolio of consumption that will 'speak' about who we are. Here is a extract from a paper that my colleague and Lee and I will be publishing soon which explains one of the reasons why;

"Pre-1919 terraced housing, it would seem, presents the wrong image: it is too industrial, too working-class. It symbolises a by-gone era of hard lives and hard, manual labour that sits uncomfortably with contemporary self-indulgent, leisured lifestyles. It represents backwardness not progress. As Short observes 'to be seen as industrial is to be associated with the old, the polluted, the out of date. A persistent strand of urban (re)presentations has been the reconstruction of the image of the industrial city' (1999:45). For Short, urban restructuring in the US has therefore been preoccupied with working towards a position where cities can announce, “Look, no more factories! (op cit.: 45). The equivalent ambition for housing ... might be, ‘look, no more terraced houses!’"

And that is why we should never dismiss the ignorant and stupid mutterings of urban elites (about eradicating all terrace housing from Liverpool) as too 'way out' to be credible. They mean it. And there is nothing more dangerous than stupid people with power and a penchant for class hatred. More on urban elites tomorrow when the subject will be FRUMPS. FRUMPS are Formerly Radical Upwardly Mobile Professors that once spouted Marxist views but whom have since made an about face and embraced the market. Some conversion you might say and, yes, you are right. The question is why?

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

No longer a lone voice?

The number of academics that have been lining up to proclaim the end of terrace housing over the last decade is too long to publish. But the corrollary of the idea that terrace housing has had its day is the notion that 'something better' must replace it. Welcome to the world of proprty led regeneration. This is where local authorities and developers get their hands on working class houses for next to nothing (this is what a compulsory purchase order is for) and then build 'high value' housing on it which secures super profits for both of them. Don't think it is only the developers that secure the profits in this. Local authorities also profit from these schemes; they take a share of the increased value of the redeveloped land and also charge higher council tax rates on the 'high value' houses that have been built in place of working class homes. So you thought the poll tax was bad? Well the council tax actually encourages local authorities to kick working class people out of their houses and to replace them with households that have money. But I digress.

The point is that there are no end of academics that have proclaimed this to be a good thing, and that have encouraged it. They sell their services as 'consultants' that have the 'expertise' to demonstrate that this is necessary because their 'social science' says it is, and because it is in the 'public interest'. What we have had in the last few years, then, are people like Professor Michael Parkinson of Liverpool John Moores University saying things like this about the latest property-led regeneration schemes in the city: "I cried when I saw it". So, Professor Parkinson is such a disciple of property led regeneration that he is reduced to tears of joy when placed in sight of its latest triumph. As if to bolster the view that property led regeneration is a raging success, Parkinson has also said things like this: "Many key players believe that Liverpool has dramatically improved its performance in recent years. Do the hard figures bear out their confidence? In fact, they do" (M. Parkinson, in report commissioned by Liverpool Vision, 2008).

It is interesting, then, that this is a summary of Parkinson's contribution to the recent Northern Regen Summit: Parkinson told delegates that the old way of carrying out regeneration development is gone. "City centre apartments, buy-to-let and volume housebuilders [have driven] the regeneration economy," he said. "That model is frankly dead." see

Readers, I am concerned that authorities such as Liverpool City Council are continuing with their schemes to knock down good houses that house good people when even some of the consultants that encouraged them to do this now seem to be changing their minds. Terrace housing obsolete? I don't think so. And I am clearly not the only one that does not think so.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Always worrying.

Readers, I'm worried. And what am I worried about. Area effects. I discussed area effects in a recent blog entry and I am woried that, perhaps, I trivialised them too much. Over the last few days I have had a chance to reflect on area effects borne of my experience of living in my obsolete terrace house that is unsuitable for modern living, especially for a contemporary flexible service sector householder like me. The problem seems to be this. Area effects happen when habits are transmitted between households. This is a problem when bad habits are transmitted between neighbours that are from the same social class backgrounds. It embeds the culture of that class when, perhaps, it is wrong and needs to be challenged. The way to resolve this is to create neighbourhoods with a social mix so that households from social class backgrounds that have good habits can act as role models and transmit their habits to other households so that they achieve a boost. I am beginning to think that there might be something in this and I want New Labour to do something about it because the human race is facing a crisis situation that we will not reverse unless radical action is taken to address it. And I think that social mixing can help us reverse the situation we face. And, funnily enough, housing market renewal can teach us a lot in this respect.

Let me explain. I think that the some people have some very bad habits and that these bad habits are being transmitted through the population like a disease. The bad habit I am talking about is 'rising aspirations' or over consumption if you like. This is a bad habit of the middle classes and I am worried about them. This obsession with consumption is devaluing human life and human relationships. The more we seek happiness from status, and status from onsumption, the emptier we become as people and the emptier our relationships with other people become. So it seems obvious to me that we need to break this habit. And I think I know what to do about it and, better still, housing market renewal is my solution. What I am thinking is this. There is a monolithic provision of bland detached and semi detached houses in suburban locations across Britain that are often under occupied and that primarily act as status symbols. The consumption problem writ large! Now, the problem with these areas is that they are sufering from chonic levels of what I think I will call 'superfluous demand' (a bit like low demand but in reverse). This is a waste when the realisation of this superfluous demand results in a general impoverishment of human beings. So we've a big problem here. Clearly, areas that are sufering from the problem of 'superflous demand' should now be deemed to be experiencing chronic 'housing market failure'. What I propose - and I am guided by the principles of housing market renewal here, which I find most helpful - is that we undertake a radical restructuring of these suburban housing markets. I propose that we issue compulsory purchase orders on houses that have a 'high value' (in exchange terms) but low value in utility terms. Personally, I would demolish some of these houses (but not all of them) and replace them with obsolete terrace houses that would be owned and managed by the state. Now if we put working class people in these houses, I think they would have a good role model effect. I say this because working class people, generally speaking, tend to prioritise the use value of their houses over their exchange value. This is certainly the case in the neighbourhoods in Liverpool that I studied (see my book HOusing Market Renewal and Social Class). If working class people did act as role models in this way then they could potentially save the middle classes from themselves and avert a human disaster. I am suggesting, then, that my proposals could pull us back from the brink of our obsession with consumption (in particular, its symbolic aspects) by returning us to a basic concern with use value, need and happiness. So, possibly, there is something in this area effects stuff after all. My recommendation today is: kick me out of my obsolete terrace house and put me into a nice bland semi in some suburban hell where I can compete with my neighbours for distinction and see how I like it there.