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Pathfinder regeneration schemes 'better at demolition than house building'

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Pathfinder regeneration schemes 'better at demolition than house building'

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities

Pathfinder regeneration schemes 'better at demolition than house building' Pathfinder regeneration schemes 'better at demolition than house building'

A Government programme to revive the housing market in depressed areas has proved more successful at demolishing homes than building new ones, according to a report published today.

Without support in the longer term, there is a risk that the legacy of the £2.2 billion Pathfinder programme will be demolition sites, rather than new homes, warned the report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

While the number of homes suffering from low demand in the nine Pathfinder areas in the North of England and Midlands has declined since the programme was launched by then deputy prime minister John Prescott in 2002, the fall has not been as fast as in other parts of England, the report found.

It was "difficult to determine" whether improvements in housing demand in Pathfinder areas were due to the programme of refurbishment, demolition and rebuilding or to the normal operation of the market.

The committee called on Hazel Blears' Department for Communities and Local Government to work harder to reduce the "community stress" caused when neighbourhoods are demolished.

Action should be taken to ensure that residents are not forced out of their communities by the scheme, said the MPs. At present, the compensation on offer for the compulsory purchase of their homes is £35,000 less on average than they need to buy a suitable alternative property in the area.

The housing market renewal programme was designed to tackle the problem of low demand in areas where economic decline and lack of investment had left thousands of homes - many of them dilapidated Victorian terraces - hard to let or sell, resulting in streets of empty properties.

Pathfinder projects were set up in Newcastle and Gateshead; Hull and East Yorkshire; South Yorkshire; Birmingham; North Staffordshire; Manchester; Merseyside; Oldham and Rochdale; and East Lancashire.

But the changes faced resistance from residents in some areas, and protests saved historic buildings - such as the Liverpool terrace where Ringo Starr was born - from the bulldozers.

With Government funding of £1.2 billion so far, and a further £1 billion committed up to 2011, the Pathfinder schemes have refurbished 40,000 properties and demolished 10,000 more, but built only 1,000 new homes, today's report found.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said the programme had been "more successful at demolishing old homes than at building new ones".

"The Department for Communities and Local Government must work to foster confidence among local residents, especially where the programme has led to community stress," he said. "It does not help where demolition plans threaten the distinctive historical character of neighbourhoods.

"The desire of those who wish to continue living in their areas should not be disregarded. Ways need to be found of helping existing residents bridge the gap between the compensation they receive under a compulsory purchase order and the cost of another local property.

"Even though the programme is now five years old and some £2.2 billion investment has been committed, it is difficult to tell whether Pathfinder interventions are having any more effect on local housing demand than the normal operation of the market.

"The Department should draw on a wider range of socio-economic indicators to determine the extent to which Pathfinders are having a beneficial effect on deprived neighbourhoods."

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said: "The Pathfinders programme has made a huge difference transforming local communities in desperate need of regeneration - almost 50,000 homes have been refurbished, they have closed the gap in house prices, and people are now returning to live in these areas.

"It is completely wrong to suggest Pathfinders have only succeeded in demolishing homes when four times as many houses have been refurbished through this programme.

"Meanwhile, the number of properties expected to be demolished has been cut by over a third, reflecting the success in increasing house prices in these regions and the improved consultation with local communities."

While reductions in numbers of "low demand" homes in Pathfinder regions have not kept pace with areas of England with more active housing markets, the DCLG pointed out that they have performed better than comparable areas.

Conservative regeneration spokesman Stewart Jackson said: "Under the Government's flawed Pathfinder scheme, town halls which fail to meet the arbitrary targets for bulldozing or seizing homes face the threat of cuts to their funding, giving a perverse incentive to demolitions.

"It is wrong that councils are forced to let rip with the wrecking ball, irrespective of local views just to receive Government handouts. Many of these demolitions - including Victorian terraces - are environmentally, socially and financially wasteful."
 

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