Over the past few months, eviction notices and possession orders have finally torn this close-knit community apart. Some neighbours have managed to find insecure private rentals a few miles away so they can keep their local jobs and maintain contact with friends on the estate (but in the process of forced downsizing, they’ve had to give or throw away irreplaceable family belongings accumulated over a lifetime – and they’ve lost thousands of pounds in the process). Some neighbours couldn’t find anything suitable nearby and have moved hundreds of miles away to rid themselves of the bad memories of the last few years and start a new life elsewhere. Other residents have long-overstayed their eviction notices because there’s simply nothing available to home themselves, their children, and their pets.
There are also nearly a dozen households still living on Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill because they are the miners’ generation with protected tenancies. Pemberstone are duty bound to provide these residents with equivalent homes in the new development. Sadly, that duty doesn’t seem to extend to maintaining a safe environment while evictions and re-development are underway.
We’ve reported previously on Pemberstone’s practice of boarding up the vacant properties – effectively placing a sign on the front of the house saying: “thieves and squatters welcome”. Multiple vacated houses have been broken into in the last few months, and whatever was left that had any value and was moveable (or rippable from the walls and floors), has gone.
Other vultures circling the estate are scrap metal vans. When Hazell was packing up her home on Wordsworth Drive a few weeks ago, she counted at least six different vehicles driving around searching for scrap in just a few hours. Some drivers have turned unpleasant when challenged by residents about what they’re up to. Mavis, who still lives on the estate, said the ‘scrap men have eyes everywhere. You daren’t leave anything out’.
Ordinary people, too, have made their way to the estate, hoping to get something that Wordsworth and Sugar Hill residents have been forced to leave behind. Flowers are being dug up from the gardens of vacant homes, and residents receive regular enquiries about the availability of this or that on their driveways. Of course, there are also those that don’t ask. In early April, a minivan was stolen from a lay-by in our previously quiet cul-de-sac estate.
Wordsworth Drive has also become the target of fly-tippers in recent weeks. In the dead of night, vans arrive and dump old washing machines, fridges, garden waste and other rubbish in the front gardens of boarded houses. This used to be a safe estate that children and pets would play freely on, without supervision or fear. Now they are streets filled with strangers.
Left to rot
Anxious residents and local councillor Stewart Golton have raised these security concerns repeatedly with Pemberstone, who have responded in turn with hollow reassurances. According to Pemberstone, their managing agent sends staff to the estate weekly to check vacant buildings are ‘secure’ (through putting up that well-known impenetrable material – the MDF panel – to keep thieves out). When they are made aware of fly-tipping, Pemberstone explained, they organise for its removal (though not in any rush, it seems – the garden waste took over a month to be removed). This sounds very much like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
At the very least, ‘we need some notices up saying “Private Property: Keep Out. No Fly-Tipping!”’ says Mavis, who is yet again reporting these concerns to Pemberstone in an upcoming forum. Lawbreakers need to know they risk being identified and prosecuted for dumping waste on the estate or stealing from the houses – but there’s no fear of that at the minute.
Mavis and other remaining residents – predominantly pensioners and families – now feel trapped in an estate that’s being left to rot. Losing their friends and neighbours, surrounded by boarded-up houses, and encircled by opportunist scrappies, fly-tippers, and thieves. This is the human cost of Pemberstone’s redevelopment, and I doubt very much this will appear in the glossy sales booklets that will market their forthcoming executive houses.