Pemberstone has finally responded to some of estate’s concerns – though it’s a shame they wrote to local MP Alec Shelbrooke, rather than the residents themselves. In the letter there were a lot of words, but few reassurances. While stating that they are open to considering “whether a housing association or other registered social landlord may wish to acquire the Estate” (which is ideal if everyone retains their right to live there and some of the historic architecture is preserved!), there were no details on value, the negotiation process, timescales, whether current residents would be able to stay in the estate if this happened, or the other commercial options they are also exploring.
This raises many questions. Are Pemberstone actively seeking a housing association/social landlord to purchase the estate, or are they just expecting housing associations to seek them out? [If you’re reading this social landlords – please do take the initiative!] It also raises questions as to sales price. If a housing association can, in best case scenario, offer only market rates and a private company offers above that, what will they choose? As yesterday’s Financial Times article covering our story pointed out – the estate is too well located (near schools, a sports centre, a motorway and green space) not to be heavily sought after by wealthy property development companies.
Pemberstone also failed to provide assurances on length of stay. They repeated in various ways that this redevelopment will be a drawn out process and that:
“[A]ny steps that might be taken in future to bring such tenancies to an end so as to obtain vacant possession are a long way off…”
How should we quantify “long way off” exactly? Leeds City Council understand this to mean 18 months to 3 years. I’m not sure what definition of “long” Pemberstone are using, but three years is no time at all. You can’t see your children through high school in that time. You can’t save enough money for a mortgage deposit in that time. When you’re on low income or a pension, like most of the families on Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close, it can even be difficult to save the few thousand pounds required for a deposit and administration fees on a new private rental in that time. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the psychological effects of insecurity and having the inevitability of eviction lingering over your head. You can’t make future plans in terms of family, work – and even something as basic as home refurbishment and doing up the garden – if you know you are going to have your life turned on its head with an eviction in a few short years.
The final, slightly baffling, comment that raised an eyebrow was that, apparently, “some of the elderly residents who have been regulated tenants for many years … welcomed the plans, particularly the prospect of warmer, modern, replacement homes“. The total number of Regulated Tenancy households on the estate is nine. I’m not sure what proportion of nine households said they welcomed the new properties, but even if it was half, (any more than that and it would be a “majority” and not “some”), that equates to only 6.5% of the entire estate. Hardly a statistic that sits in their defense.
More importantly than that, this comment suggests that the Regulated Tenancy households will actually get to stay on the estate and live in the new “warmer, modern, replacement homes”. This is not guaranteed, and from what we have heard from the Council and other advisers, highly unlikely.
At the end of the letter Pemberstone declared that they have undertaken what they feel to be an “appropriate level of engagement and communication” with residents. All this (and their “reassurances” as a whole) tells us is that their bar for self-assessment is clearly set very low.