Residents of Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close took part in a rather unusual activity this weekend…
Brave volunteers from the estate were hoisted up by a crane and filmed clinging on to the side of their homes, which of course offers a visual representation of how so many are feeling at the moment.
The film Hanging on is being made by Cosmosquare films. Creative Producer Hollie Bryan and Director Aflie Barker explain that it “combines artistic visuals of residents suspended in mid-air, literally hanging onto their homes, in this docu-drama about strength when people come together, and what it means to have a home“.
We’re excited to have the chance to share our story in a novel way and looking forward to the final film! Thanks Hollie and the team for giving us this opportunity… and for hoisting everyone so safely.
Save Our Homes LS26 has been dealt a devastating blow, as news came in on Friday night that Pemberstone’s appeal has been successful and the Inspector has granted the corporation permission to press ahead with development plans. After 3 years of fighting, families on Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close now face eviction and the demolition of their beloved homes.
“The appeal is allowed and planning permission is granted for the demolition of the existing dwellings and the erection of 70 dwellings including associated infrastructure at Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close” Appeal decision, 15 January 2021.
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
In our campaign, we have highlighted so many reasons why this estate should not be demolished, with community connectedness, socio-economic vulnerability, and heritage coming top of the list. Neighbours, friends, homes and gardens have come to matter even more to us all in the last year with the pandemic.
In the report outlining his decision, the Inspector doesn’t dispute any of that, noting that “the proposed development would have a damaging impact on the community of existing residents”. Nor does the Inspector disagree with recent surveys showing that there are many families with protected characteristics on the estate. He even demands that a heritage record must be made of our homes and streets before demolition can even begin!
So why, then, were Pemberstone granted the go ahead?
“If no scheme [of structural intervention] for the existing houses is put in place, I anticipate that the dwellings would become unsafe to occupy. In this situation, it is reasonable to expect the Appellant [Pemberstone] would give [an eviction] notice to the existing occupiers… That would dissipate the community on the appeal site”. (p.13)
In short: the managed decline of the houses would give Pemberstone the right to evict eventually anyway.
It’s almost unbelievable that the housing laws in this country can allow landlords to run houses down to an apparently unliveable condition and then give them the right to use that as an excuse for eviction!
These houses are not at their end. Far from it! They need some (long overdue) basic maintenance and a scheme of refurbishment akin to what has been done for other Airey homes elsewhere in the country. But that was never within our power to ask. And now we see that is is apparently not in the Council’s position to force.
This should be noted as foreboding news for long-term tenants everywhere: you have no right to your home, no matter how many years and how many generations of your family have lived there. You are occupiers of an asset that you may stay in on their good grace, until the point they decide you cannot. This problem is bigger than Pemberstone and speaks to the rotten core of Housing Law in the UK.
The fight continues
The Inspector’s decision says that the evictions and demolition must commence within 3 years of the date of the decision. So, that’s something to look forward to at the other side of COVID-19, the end of furlough, and a predicted recession. In the meantime, we can only hope to extend our dialogue with Leeds City Council and any housing associations that might be able to step in and prevent the wholesale loss of 70 affordable tenanted properties and their families. Families who have contributed for decades to the life and soul of the Rothwell/Oulton area.
The Save Our Homes LS26 Residents Association and our supporters will of course continue to fight against eviction and demolition. We’ll update you here and on social media as we learn the implications of the development plans and just how and when our community is scheduled to be evicted. Thanks, as always, for your support and care.
Wishing everyone much strength and good health in these really tough times.
Last Tuesday the appeal inquiry opened and we watched four days of intense debates from all sides. Many from our Oulton estate were only able to take off one or two days from work, but thanks to the amazing @Jdomicide‘s live tweets of the events, we could catch up along the way.
The opening day, Tuesday, was perhaps the most intense. All sides put forward their opening statements through legal representatives (Save Our Homes LS26, Leeds City Council and Pemberstone). Pemberstone’s lawyer Sasha White argued that, as landlords, Pemberstone had the right to evict under law: “They [the residents] will lose their homes because they are private sector tenants just like any other tenant across the country“. Don’t we know it. Charities have recently highlighted that tenant evictions under the Section 21 “no fault” clause are the leading cause of homelessness in Britain.
Leeds City Council’s legal representative Constanze Bell highlighted that the proposal is not socially sustainable – and that’s what needs to count here. There are 39 children on the estate (which make up 27% of all residents – a higher portion than the 19% of both neighbouring Rothwell and the rest of the country), and of course they all go to nearby schools and clubs. Many more of the 121 residents have other protected characteristics. As Mr Brooks of Leeds Planning pointed out on Friday, Pemberstone’s proposals for eviction undermine the planning system’s own development policy because of its impact on the community, let alone the Equality Act. “I am of the opinion“, Brooks explained, “that the impact socially is so significant on people’s lives, that it outweighs any financial benefit for Pemberstone“.
Complementary to this, Save Our Homes LS26’s lawyer Jenny Wigley pointed out that the Planning System already does work in ways that protect communities and this is rightly a priority. For example, Planning Panels can refuse development proposals to protect community assets, such as parks and pubs, and “only the most spiteful landlord” tries to get around this after refusal. Everyone under law has the right to a decent home, she pointed out. (Which, incidentally, someone should explain to the right honourable Housing Secretary, MP Robert Jenrick, who seems to think it’s only applicable to his and his pals’ constituencies).
Coal Mining Heritage
As well as focusing on the vulnerability of the community, we had the chance on Tuesday to share the wonderful heritage of this estate – connected to the region’s coal mining history and to Leeds’ contribution to national post-war housing through Airey designs.
Chris Kitchen of the National Union of Miners shared his knowledge of the estate’s history and his own personal experiences of growing up in a mining community. The Oulton estate, Kitchen explained, created much-needed homes for miners in the area in the 1950s. “They were built to be social in every sense of the word” – miners had to work closely together and they had to get on with each other for the mines to work safely. The design of the estate fostered that – and it’s a point of national pride that the construction method and design itself was Leeds origin. Kitchen added that it was never an issue that residents couldn’t get a mortgage on their homes, as that was never the intention. Residents were happy to have a decent affordable house to bring their families up in.
Consolidating these points, planning expert John Lynch explained that the heritage aspect of the estate must be considered as threefold: i) in the community itself, ii) in the Airey construction method, and ii) in the final aesthetic of the houses.
Sadly, these arguments were drowned out somewhat by the audible — and inarguably rude — laughing and tutting of Pemberstone’s own heritage representative, Dr Romona Usher. “Just because they [the houses] have some aesthetic value, doesn’t mean they should be allowed to stay up“, Usher declared. I imagine the same arguments weren’t put forward when, in 2016, the government committed £7.6 million of taxpayers’ money to restore Wentworth House, England’s largest private home and the house of MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s mother-in-law. While we wouldn’t for a moment argue that one of Britain’s foremost stately homes shouldn’t be considered for protection and refurbishment, we would hope for similar courtesy and consideration when it comes to regional and national working class heritage, too.
But, Dr Usher declared, “no-one even cared about this heritage until the planning application was submitted“! Hmm. Perhaps built heritage organisations and their consultants should spend more time looking for working class history.
For years a social media group of Coalboarders have shared photos and memories of the estate since it was built around 1955. A local historian has featured aspects of the area’s earlier history in his regular blogs (and he greatly supported the writing of our history pages!). And you can find news clippings, correspondence and other records about our streets and homes in local archives about Rothwell and Oulton’s coal mining community.
As soon as our estate hit the national headlines, we were overwhelmed with local, regional and national interest. We have welcomed coach tours of history buffs visit in 2018 and 2019, we’ve been covered by the Twentieth Century Society, had student interest, received enquiries from documentary makers – and that’s in addition to all of the mainstream news interviews about the community and built heritage.
The only reason our reach wasn’t bigger until now is because, like working class communities across the country, residents enjoyed the heritage locally and didn’t have the resources and attention to celebrate it at a national scale (until it came under threat!). Working class, coal mining heritage is not less socially and culturally valuable just because there aren’t preservation and exhibition resources behind it.
Thankfully, so many great people were on our side and raised these crucial points across last week. Community connectedness is a national priority and is part of the regional and local development agendas — it’s not just a desperate plea from 60+ families to stay together in their historic homes.
The inquiry restarts for its second week tomorrow. Cindy Readman, Chair of the Residents Association and all-round awesome neighbour, will be one of the first up, championing the residents’ rights to a decent, affordable home and a community safety net.
See you there! Thanks as always for all of your support.
Tomorrow – 6th October – the appeal inquiry begins and we’re all incredibly nervous. These meetings will determine whether the families of Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close will manage to save their homes after three long years of fighting.
The Appeal Begins
The agenda is packed, running 09:30-15:30 almost every day until next Friday, with representations from Pemberstone, planning officials, heritage experts and – most importantly – members and supporters the Save Our Homes campaign. The coronavirus pandemic has scuppered the possibility of joining the meeting in person, but that won’t stop our campaigning.
Cindy Readman, Karen Bruce, and John Lynch will be among others raising their voices for our tight knit community… even if we don’t get a speaking “slot” until Tuesday 13th. Throughout proceedings, Hazell Field will continue setting Twitter on fire, trying to get just one response from the elusive Mr Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for [Executive] Housing, [Wealthy] Communities, and Local Government [Party Donors].
Pemberstone have done their usual trick of submitting last minute documents stating that the houses are about to imminently fall down, which hasn’t happened in the three years since they last trotted out that line, so the jury’s still out on that one…! They’re thoughtfully planning to “dissipate” the community over several months, though, so we don’t have to lose all of our friends and neighbours at once – we can watch them disappear one by one like a horror B-movie.
A National Housing Crisis
Sadly, ours isn’t the only eviction threat in the news at the moment… this appeal comes as the national housing crisis deepens. In one area of Scotland, the housing crisis is so acute that a councillor has called for the council to build new pre-fabricated homes to prevent families from going into temporary B&Bs when evicted.
Imagine… Pemberstone are trying to knock down LS26’s last estate of affordable pre-fab rental houses in an area with a 99 WEEK WAIT for a 3 bed council property (yes, that’s right – Rothwell has an almost 2-year waiting list for a 3 bed council house) at the same time that other councils in the UK are calling for (lower quality) pre-fabs as a solution to the housing crisis?! You couldn’t make it up.
Just this weekend, Cindy and Hazell attended online meetings hosted by ACORN and Axe the Housing Act to discuss the increasing job losses, evictions and homelessness across the country, as well as the implications of the troubling planning changes brought in by Jenrick. In these meetings, people spoke about how COVID is affecting so many people’s ability to pay rents and about how evictions have started again now that the government have lifted the ban on this. That’s on top of the over one million people who are stillstuck in Grenfell-style cladded flats, facing exorbitant fees to replace the cladding, as freeholders refuse to pay for their dangerous material choices and the government fails to make good on its promises to help.
How can Pemberstone be trying to evict more than 60 families at a time like this? According to CorporateWatch, Pemberstone have already made over £2million from the rents paid by hardworking families in this estate over the years. Where has this gone? Certainly not on maintenance. What security has this provided? None.
It’s Crunch Time
We’re really not sure what to expect from the 10 day appeals process, as the agenda is light on procedural information and personal detail. The key figure we have to persuade is rather ominously called “The Inspector”, and I don’t think it’ll be Morse or Gadget.
Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the appeal, we remain optimistic. With great organisations like ACORN, Axe the Housing Act, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Twentieth Century Society, and Leeds City Council Councillors on our side – we trust that decision-makers will do the right thing, and prevent the eviction of dozens of families from their long-term homes. If lockdown has shown us anything, it’s that our homes matter, our communities matter, and corporate greed should never triumph at their expense.
Thanks to everyone for your support so far, and for all of your generous donations on our JustGiving page. We’ve raised a whopping £6,600 already towards our £10,000 goal – all pennies you can spare are still very welcome.
COVID-19 has strained all aspects of the housing sector. So many tenants are struggling to pay rent as the end of the furlough scheme and growing redundancies take their toll. Thousands face homelessness when the eviction ban is lifted in four weeks. While (some) landlords across the country have stepped up and have agreed alternative payment arrangements with tenants, it has been at their own discretion and expense – exacerbating the already uneven safety net across the country.
The government should be credited for introducing the furlough scheme to protect workers and the eviction ban to protect tenants, but these were temporary measures designed to mitigate a national emergency. And they will soon come to an end. The real intentions of a government can be measured by what rights and protections they secure for their population over the longer term – whether in health, eduction or housing.
Against that measuring stick, Boris Johnson’s government performs very poorly.
There isn’t enough space on this blog to dive into the fiascos around the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money funnelled to allies of the government without tender (or effective results). Nor do I have the energy to wade through the muddy mess of last week’s A-Level shambles, where the Gavin Williamson and Ofqual managed to grade students across the country on the basis of their socio-economic dis/advantages rather than their day-to-day classroom performance (despite advance warning that this would be profoundly discriminatory).
Today’s post is dedicated to Robert Jenrick, MP: aka Champion of “Landlord Britain”.
More recently, Jenrick has been working on one of the biggest “shake ups” of the housing sector in Britain. His plans? To remove local council decision-making in planning, and to divide land across the country into zones for growth, renewal or protection.
Those areas identified for “growth” and “suitable for substantial development” would get automatic approval. Areas designated for “renewal” would get “permission in principle”, subject to basic checks. Small sites will have exemptions from financing affordable housing. After all, what a burden building more lower-cost housing might be (it might bring in more poor people… heaven forbid!).
Critics across the country (even from within the Tory Party) have said this will be a complete social disaster. Local councils will no longer get to decide on developments in their area, local people will no longer be able to object to destructive projects. It rips away some of the safety nets of affordable housing, it offers nothing for tenants, and sets the country up for a future of low-quality “slum” housing. Developers must be rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect.
We fear what it means for our estate in Oulton. Pemberstone’s appeal against Leeds City Council’s decision to refuse planning is set for 6th October 2020. If they win the appeal, 60+ families face homelessness. If they lose, then it seems as though all they need to do is wait. Wait until the area is earmarked for growth or renewal, and then they don’t need Council approval any more. Over 60 families will be made homeless regardless.
The only reason families in Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close still have roofs over their heads is because individuals and organisations across the country were able to object against the destruction of their homes and community, and because Leeds City Council was able to take a decision on a case-by-case basis. We’re going to continue fighting for the people who live in these homes to be considered as a priority above an area’s “growth” potential.
Houses and estates are lived in by people who have relationships and dependencies on those around them. You can’t map neighbours and carers and family and friends into zones.
The last time the government decided on people’s futures on the basis of a “dispassionate” assessment linked to geography, private school teenagers improved their A-level grades, while teenagers from disadvantaged schools across the country saw their results plummet and their university places withdrawn. Is this some of what’s in store for our estate? Automatic planning permission and overnight eviction?
Where these development zones earmarked for “growth” or “renewal” will be remains unclear at the moment. I’d confidently place a bet right now, though, that Jenrick’s expansive estate in Herefordshire won’t be one of them.
Help us keep up the fight and donate to our legal fund at JustGiving. This isn’t just about saving our homes, it’s about the future of all low-income tenant estates across the country. With Jenrick’s planning changes, tenants and other residents have less say than ever over the future of their homes and local areas.
Wordsworth Drive resident Hazell Field shares her reflections on a tough two years of campaigningand how the situation has worsened with Covid-19.
We have campaigned hard, been to many meetings, we have fundraised, tweeted and emailed. On October 3rd 2019, Leeds council sat down to decide whether to approve the planning application that our landlord Pemberstone had put in to demolish our homes (70 in total) and build new executive type houses to sell for profit, leaving the residents in our community homeless. Leeds Council reviewed the information and made a decision- they turned it down. We were overjoyed. We knew that Pemberstone had the opportunity to appeal, but as the weeks went on we were hoping that they could see that keeping our community together was the better option. Unfortunately on the very last day before the deadline, Pemberstone decided to put in an appeal.
Our world has come crashing down again.
Not only because of the battle that now lay ahead, but because we are dealing with this in the middle of the coronavirus. There are now a lot of anxious people in our community. The worries and stresses about how to make it through Covid-19 are building in addition to concerns for our homes. The committee for our campaign group are now working virtually to try and get our campaign up and running again, and to contact all the people that have been so useful and nice in the past.
But we’re worried about the toll this double crisis is having on people’s abilities to support us. I’m not sure at present how our fund raising is going to work, as a lot of it was raised through tombolas and collections at fairs — that is why we have now done a Just Giving page. Also the unions have been giving donations via cheques to start the fund raising, which we have been so grateful for. We only have a few weeks to raise this money and that is stressful by itself as in this current situation, money is not plentiful in people’s pockets.
Along with the whole country, we have had to adapt. We have learnt how to do zoom calls for meetings! We are of course unable to have residents’ meetings in a local hall so we now do newsletters and we are in the process of putting posters up in gardens and windows to show people of our plight. A couple of newspapers have done recent stories about us to remind people we are still fighting this.
We do feel that this is social cleansing in this area. We are the only affordable rents in area, the rest of the properties around here are bigger, certainly more valuable and attract people with money. That is also the problem, as there will be no affordable rents in area, we will face moving a long way away from here to find something affordable, in areas we have no connections with, not near schools, work or family and friends. Our lives will change immensely and all because we rent from a private landlord that just wants to make money and does not care that 70 families have nowhere to go. We look around our homes and realise yet again that we could lose them. Everything we have put into these homes will be gone. Our memories, our designs everything could go to make a company profit.
The prospect of facing temporary accommodation is frightening: putting our belongings into storage, getting rid of things we are no longer allowed to keep due to having no home, losing our gardens and all the plants, bushes trees we have nurtured in our happy times here. We have put in our love, hardwork and money into these homes, to make them feel homely and to think that a bulldozer could take it all away is heart-breaking. I am not even sure Leeds council have enough temporary accommodation for us— the parameter of miles away we could be put (away from friends, family, work and schools) is frightening. Living in areas that we have no involvement in, to be separated from the community we have built here over the years is too much to bear. We must fight this. We must win.
We have instructed a barrister to act on our behalf for this appeal but now another problem starts. We have to raise £25,000 to pay for this. We are constantly putting on twitter our just giving page to try and get donations in: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/save-our-homes?utm_id=60&utm_term=6BqmRVeW5 We are hoping people’s generosity will help us reach our target to help us save our homes. At least if we reach our target then that is one less thing to have to worry about.
Watch this space – the insecurity will continue of that I am sure, our feelings will get darker, our fight will get stronger and our spirit cannot afford to be broken.
On 2nd April 2020, just as COVID-19 brought the country to a standstill and people were worried about their health, their jobs, and their homes, Pemberstone reminded our estate not to forget their unique capacity to destabilise people’s lives… they submitted an appeal against Leeds City Council’s rejection of the planning application.
The grounds for Pemberstone’s appeal are, unsurprisingly, a bit of a rehash of the original application: the properties are deteriorating, they will soon be structurally unsound and unliveable, Pemberstone have “no options available” but to demolish them and build fancy new houses that the current residents won’t be able to live in. Etc. Etc. It’s a bit like saying an out of control cruise ship offers something substantively different to an out of control bus, and hoping viewers won’t notice it’s essentially *the same* plot—only with a higher budget and poorer quality acting.
The clincher in the case of the appeal is that they’re trying to turn our own community’s vulnerabilities against us.
Like some dastardly cartoon villain, Pemberstone are—without shame—saying in their appeal report that they recognise the community’s vulnerabilities (e.g. the fact that nearly 50% of households have someone with a disability) and that EVICTING THEM AND DEMOLISHING THEIR HOMES IS THE ONLY WAY TO PREVENT MORE HARM.
What about bringing the homes up to a modern standard and keeping the tenants on? Pemberstone may have neglected maintenance to date, which is why the houses are in such a state in the first place, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. We’ve had multiple engineers approach us explaining how easily these homes can be brought up to modern standards of insulation and energy efficiency (and for a fraction of the costs Pemberstone have proposed).
Anyway, you know the plot, you know the characters. Some of it is just too exhausting to repeat.
From our side, we will continue to fight. We will challenge this planning application wherever necessary—with the council, the government or in the courts. We have a fundraiser on JustGiving where so many people have already so generously contributed (thank you!) – if you’re able to donate, your support is really appreciated. We are planning to use this money to get the ball rolling for legal advice as soon as possible.
During COVID-19 this community, like neighbours across the country, have checked on each other, shopped for each other, and offered care and support to those who have needed it. It simply cannot and should not be true in 2020 that the only way to address tenant vulnerability is to demolish these safety nets and push people elsewhere. Let’s see if compassion and social responsibility can prevail over profit.
On Thursday 3rd October Leeds City Council councillors unanimously overturned the Council Policy Officer’s recommendation to approve Pemberstone’s plans. In short: we won!
It was such fantastic news for the community, and showed that there is strong support across the country for putting people before development. We are beyond delighted and the first thing we want to say is THANK YOU!
Thank you to everyone who signed our petition, who shared our tweets, who wrote to local councillors, who posted such excellent objections, who stood outside Leeds Civic Hall with us and for us, come rain or shine. We could not have done this without you.
Thank you to the councillors, past and present, who supported us, raised our voices where it counted, gave us tips and encouragement when obstacles seemed too high, and ultimately who sat around Leeds City Council’s table and defended our right to continue to live in our homes.
Thank you to the civil society organisations who have provided us with so much support and encouragement and from whom we have learnt so much: Hands off Our Homes, National Union of Miners, Leeds Sisters Uncut, and everyone else. Your solidarity and experience made all the difference.
This is a good news post and I hope it gives heart to other organisations. I will shortly add a page to the website that details some of the techniques we used so that you might be able to learn from our challenges and successes, too.
In the meantime, here’s a little more detail on how the Plans Panel went and some of the extraordinary developments that happened over the course of that cloudy afternoon.
* * *
From the Public Gallery
A rather large crowd of us had gathered outside of Leeds Civic Hall before we were instructed to go in, collect passes and make our way to the Plans Panel meeting room. We were informed that there was to be strictly no photography and directed to rows of seats on the left of the room. On the right was the rectangular table for the fifteen or so members of LCC that would deliberate on the application. In between us, a no-man’s land of about 6 feet that contained four load-bearing columns, which blocked the view of the panel members for the majority of the audience.
Whether deliberately designed to keep the public at arm’s length, or whether it was a misjudged attempt to inject an ancient Grecian spirit in this space of public accountability, it certainly meant we knew our place.
Our Resident’s Association Chairperson Cindy Readman took a seat near the end of the Plans Panel table as Cllr Caroline Gruen had finally relented and allowed us, and Pemberstone, to say a few more words. A decision well-made (thank you).
The discussion was to proceed as follows: an overview of the updated plans, an opportunity for Cindy and Pemberstone to speak, questions for Cindy and Pemberstone, a discussion amongst the Councillors with clarification from various heads of divisions, and a final vote.
First up was the Planning Officer (PO) for LCC. The PO was responsible for reviewing Pemberstone’s updated proposal, determining whether the landlord had done enough to meet LCC’s demands, and advising a decision on the planning application.
And I think we can safely say that if she ever decided to leave LCC, the PO would find happy employment in Worcester at Pemberstone. Not because she supported Pemberstone’s updated application and recommend approving the development – after all, a Planning Officer has to come down one way or another depending on the merits of the proposal. But because she did a better job than Pemberstone’s representative Peter Mondon at skimming over problematic aspects of the proposal and answering councillors’ questions on the development.
For instance, we were presented once again with the problematic and offensive statistics on the transitory nature of the community. While the statistics they presented showed that many tenants have been there for less than five years (and the PO declared that to be “proof” of a transitory community), the figures:
i) excluded those on protected tenancies who have been living there for decades and have deep friendships with the later arrivals; and
ii) didn’t account for the fact that the majority have moved into this estate from nearby streets because rents elsewhere in Oulton are unaffordable.
Hazell, for example, has known two of her neighbours for over twenty years – before any of them moved on to the estate. They all moved to the estate at various times because high rents in the area forced them out of their previous homes. That’s hardly transitory – these friends have stuck together despite market forces trying to disperse them. The fact remains that Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close are the last bastions of affordable rentals in the whole area
The PO also parroted the arguments that the new homes would have “Airey-inspired” features. She spent a lot of time emphasising the “high quality appearance” of the proposed houses, even ending her presentation with a picture of the computer-generated design. This image was then left as the backdrop to the rest of the panel debate, serving as a crass reminder of the aspiration that councillors shouldn’t vote against.
The presentation would not have been so galling, however, had the PO not been forced to answer questions directed at Pemberstone.
Peter Mondon was asked by one of the councillors – “As per council policy, 10% of the energy for the new houses has to come from renewables. How will you do that specifically?”. Peter’s response? “Perhaps the Planning Officer can answer that as I don’t know off the top of my head and do not have the details in front of me”.
Eyebrows hit the ceiling.
“Couldn’t find a climate change expert”
That wasn’t even Mondon’s most cringeworthy response. Here are some of my favourites, in descending order:
3) When asked what the exact tree loss would be with the demolition, Mondon and his fellow representative from Pemberstone admitted that they yet again did not have figures to hand, but if we could wait a moment, they could count the trees in the pictures on their application. *Awkward silence ensues while they rustle through pages and count out loud, slowly, to seven*.
2) When asked what exactly Pemberstone will do to ensure the properties meet minimum climate standards, Mondon replied, (and I paraphrase here): “well, what typically happens is that you give us the approval and we decide these things later down the line”. To which a Cllr Finnigan enquired to the Planning Officers: “Does that then mean the council have the capacity to test the houses and then tear them down again if they don’t comply?”. Erm, no, not really.
Eyebrows once again hit the roof.
1) But the winner is this elegant race to the bottom came quite early on in the questioning. A councillor put to Pemberstone: “The Council requested, as part of this process, that you provide information on the climate cost estimates of refurbishment versus demolition and new build. You did not comply. We did not receive the information and this meant that Planning Officers in the Council had to do your work for you. Why did you not comply”?
Pemberstone’s answer: “We could not find any consultants for this so we couldn’t do the assessment”.
Pemberstone, a multimillion pound corporation involved heavily in the development sector, could not find one single expert to do a climate cost estimate on a tiny part of their portfolio?
Joking aside, the climate change impact of these development plans was a vital consideration in the council’s deliberations, and rightly so. As we have previously argued (alongside scores of academics and developers), refurbishment has a much lower climate cost than redevelopment. While our houses were assessed to have ‘only’ 50 years more of life with full refurbishment, the new development would have a minimum 60 year lifespan – just ten years more. That is simply not good enough. An additional ten years of usability would be nowhere near long enough to mitigate the climate cost of the construction waste and carbon emissions that would result from a full redevelopment. It genuinely makes more climate sense to refurbish.
The Council indicated that their climate targets and building standards are actually set to get more stringent towards the end of the year, and that they wish to be ahead of the curve in making climate-protective development decisions, not simply waiting for the policy to have sign-off before considering them. This is the first step to making these targets a reality.
A turning tide – community matters
Climate change concerns built momentum, and then the panel turned to the issue of community. As the discussions progressed, and so many councillors shared the difficulty of this particular case, the tide seemed to be turning:
Cllr Brooks: “I’m concerned about the loss of affordable rental housing and the impact a mass eviction would have on an already stretched council”.
Cllr Finnigan: “Planning should be about people… houses should be designed around people”.
Cllr P. Gruen: “I think it is right to take the impact on the community as a material planning matter”
Cllr Heselwood: “I am concerned about the loss of affordable rental housing – we are obviously in deficit. We support affordable housing for public sector workers”.
These councillor interventions are significant. So many historic decisions around development have been made strictly on the basis of physical concerns, such as: are the driveways large enough for a car, does the building overshadow any other building? etc etc. This is how panels have long been pushed to understand the law.
But as Cllr Finnigan rightly pointed out, what sits behind those considerations are people. It has to be people. After all, houses are not designed for the mice that inhabit their skirting boards or the sparrows that occupy the eaves.
Chair of the panel Cllr Caroline Gruen noted the shift stating that, “community cohesion seems to be the big tip”. And when she took a vote, it was unanimous. The recommendation to approve the proposal was overturned and the development rejected.
In addition to the issue of community protection, councillors also cited the reason for refusal that – as a nod to more conservative understandings of planning law – 14% of the gardens still remain smaller than the guideline minimum. (Come on Pemberstone, that could have been an easy win, surely?)
And then it was done.
We filed out of the room flabbergasted and delighted in equal measure.
This is a HUGE victory for the campaign, but it’s not quite the end. Pemberstone can appeal the decision, which we will find out in due course. And ultimately, the rejection of the development plans still doesn’t enhance our protection as tenants – we continue to live in a country that puts rental profiteering before tenant protection.
But it’s a significant step in the right direction – and one that we are damn proud of.
At 13:30 this coming Thursday, Leeds City Council Plans Panel will meet to decide the fate of our homes and our community.
Will we get the chance to represent ourselves at this life-changing meeting? NO!
Cllr Caroline Gruen, Chair of Plans Panel, has decided we cannot speak.
In May , we were given just four minutes to speak in defence of our houses, our community and our lives; this time, we are given none.
This is despite Leeds City Council declaring at the last Plans Panel meeting that they needed to learn more about the impact any eviction will have on our community. This is despite the extraordinary impact any decision will have on our lives and the environment. We are not alone in feeling this is a kick in the teeth.
October 3rd is currently, albeit tentatively, scheduled for the next (and possibly final) Leeds City Council meeting where the fate of our homes will be decided. We won’t have confirmation of that date until the 24th or 25th September, just one week before the meeting. This already puts our community at a disadvantage.
While the planning application is part of Pemberstone’s asset portfolio – so they can ship a colleague up from Whittington Hall in Worcester at short notice – we have to try to save our homes around working lives, family lives, and health issues. It is not straightforward to take annual leave at the drop of a hat (nor to waste a day on an unconfirmed date) when you work for the NHS or in a school or have childcare responsibilities. Leeds City Council should know this, as a public institution themselves, and yet here we are.
Now, back to the application at hand. What have been the latest developments? Well at the end of May this year, LCC decided that, in order to come to a decision, more information was necessary and changes to the planning were required:
From a social perspective, they declared the need for more information on the impact it would have on current residents and the housing needs of the community.
From an environmental perspective, they were concerned about the impacts of the proposed demolition and whether the planned development would worsen Leeds’ carbon footprint.
From a structural perspective, they wanted changes in the design and layout of the estate, as they were concerned about the aesthetics of the new houses and the reduced size of the gardens.
On 6 September 2019, Pemberstone added a range of new house designs and a policy statement.
What has changed on paper? Beyond that, what has really changed? Let’s take a deeper look (and be warned: this is a long post).
In a nutshell, Pemberstone have reduced the number of 4-bed houses by 5, adding one more 3-bed and one more 2-bed, but reducing the overall number of houses to 67. They claim that the energy efficiency of the houses will be better, the houses would now be able to accommodate solar panels on the roof, and – although the garden sizes have not changed – they kindly reminded us that such green spaces can be used ‘for horticultural purposes or as a convenient place for fresh air to improve occupier quality of life’. (I do hope they’re not trying to take credit for oxygen). The appearance of the houses, too, has changed – more on that shortly.
Where are the social impact surveys?
One glaring absence on LCC’s Planning Portal is the information around social and community impact.
In January 2019, LCC send around an Equality Information Form for residents to fill in. Not for all residents, mind you – there were not enough copies delivered to the estate, and one of our poor neighbours received letters for 3 other households, with all missing the form itself and the return envelope. Despite this haphazard delivery and distribution, we filled in the forms we had in good faith. What has happened since? Nothing.
We have not been provided any synthesis of the results, no hard data on the vulnerabilities of our community. Of course the personal details on the surveys must be kept confidential, but it is troubling that we have not received any notification of the findings, via mail or on the planning portal. It is troubling for three reasons.
This is our data, that we provided in good faithin the hope that it will contribute to our objections against the planning and the eventual refusal of the application. Even if we cannot see the findings, LCC have at least the obligation to explain how they are using it – at the very least it will reassure us that the information has contributed to something (which we can’t be confident of, given the haphazard way in which they collected it).
It is troubling because it underscores the asymmetry of resources we face in this fight to save our homes. As we have explained in a previous post, Pemberstone have the money to muster up studies to support whatever claim they wish to make. We do not. This survey is of vital importance to our claims of vulnerability, and yet we have had no sight of the findings.
LCC’s lack of data sharing materially disadvantages our case. The only means that we have as a community to fight this application is through the planning portal on LCC’s website. This portal is meant to be a repository where allpaperwork related to planning is shared so that all parties have sight of it and can mount a reasonable argument in support, or against, the application. Pemberstone are able to share any number of documents that enable them to make their arguments. We are not able to see one of the key documents that will enable us to make ours.
ON TOP OF THIS: As part of the deferral decision in May 2019, LCC committed to look into the social impact that eviction would have on 70 low-income families with “protected characteristics”, as they termed it. What this suggests is that Plans Panel members took the results of the January survey seriously, and that they were concerned how our vulnerable community might be affected by mass eviction.
Absolutely nothing has happened since then. No follow up survey to see what the impact might be for each family, no consultation with residents, and still no sharing of the original results.
Has resident vulnerability ceased to matter?
Now onto the changes that are meant to address LCC’s concerns around the carbon footprint of the new development.
Pemberstone have proposed that the new buildings would be more energy efficient than the current properties because of improved insulation and more modern boilers; because the new dual-flush toilets would mean less water wasted per resident; because health and well-being will be improved by gardens and windows; and because some of the properties would now face southwards in order to improve “solar gain”. Let’s take each of these in turn.
What is unsaid in this policy document is that Pemberstone has the authority to make many of these changes already to the current housing stock,which would ultimately be cheaper, faster, and more environmentally-friendly than demolition and rebuilding.
For instance, yes, it is true that the energy ratings of most of our homes are between Energy Efficiency Rating D and E (which is currently the average energy efficiency rating for houses in England and Wales).
However, there are also houses on our estate that are “C” grade, which is a satisfactory level of energy efficiency according to UK guidelines. And, importantly, there are simple ways to improve the energy efficiency rating of the “D” and “E” grade houses to make them “C” and “B” rated, including: double glazing, fitting doors that seal, boiler replacement, and installing an efficient secondary heating source (all things suggested in their plans for the new houses). These changes should have been done to our Airey homes by Pemberstone already. But it is never too late – they can be done now and do not require demolition and refurbishment to achieve.
The same is true for the dual-flush toilets and restricted-flow showers and taps – these can be retrofitted across all 70 properties without delay and this can save dozens of litres of water daily for residents.
A 2014 study by University College London(pdf) found that, “even older, high rise or poorly insulated structures, known as hard to treat buildings, can be retrofitted to achieve high energy efficiency standards”. The real environmental damage in these developments comes from construction. In the same study, researchers reported that:
The construction and demolition sector contributes 35% of all waste in the UK every year. Much of this is due to demolition waste… Recycling demolition waste reduces the environmental impacts of demolition, but refurbishment avoids waste to landfill and many of the environmental impacts of new construction.
In other words, Pemberstone (or LCC) can achieve a positive environmental impact for the area by refurbishing their current housing stock. Demolition and reconstruction will only contribute to Rothwell and Woodlesford’s landfill waste output.
This is important for Leeds City Council’s environmental agenda. Less than a decade ago, Leeds City Council was the only the second local authority in the country to commit to a government-backed scheme to reduce construction waste to landfill (2012 Construction Commitment, Halving Waste to Landfill). Is this still a priority for the Council? If not, why not?
Blue sky thinking
Elsewhere in the updated plans, Pemberstone appear to lay claim to the benefits of fresh air and sky, reporting that these new houses will have gardens that contain fresh air and windows that will enable residents to see the sky.
Beyond the obvious arguments that gardens and windows already exist in the current properties, there is a point to be made about what ecological impacts demolition will have as the properties are redeveloped with much the same benefits. As John Davies(pdf) has cogently argued in his recent objection, existing trees, hedges and green space will all need to be dug up in order to develop these new gardens – destroying already existing habitats and natural buffers against carbon dioxide.
Now for the argument of “solar gain”. Some of the new houses, according to the updated proposal, will be orientated southwards and have roof space for solar panels. Hurrah, the earth is saved! Does this mean Pemberstone will construct them with solar panels? No. Does this mean new homeowners will be obliged to fit solar panels as a condition of purchase? Of course not. What this means is the houses can, theoretically, be adapted to take advantage of renewable energy.
The theoretical part here is important. While renewable energy adaptations to buildings are essential in order for the world to reverse the trend of carbon emissions and fossil fuel usage, we have to be wary of greenwashing (i.e. misleading claims about environmental benefits of a scheme or service). Without new homeowner enforcements (or even incentives) to get solar panels, it is no more likely that new residents will install them than it is they will take up vegan diets or eschew cars in favour of bicycles.
Anything that is down to individual choice cannot be considered in the deliberations around planning.
The concrete facts of these updated proposals are that: all of the energy efficiency measures in the new houses are already possible in the current housing stock, and no evidence has been put forward that the efficiency gains in the new houses will offset the negative environmental impacts of demolition, construction waste, and nature loss.
If LCC consider that the new rooves *may* encourage the use of solar panels, then they must also consider that the increased number of 4-bed middle-class houses *may also* result in a rise in car ownership per household, as we have previously reported. Does solar energy offset car pollution and the impacts of increased traffic?
Last but not least, we come to the new design of the houses.
In the last Plans Panel meeting, LCC members remarked that the original design of the proposed houses left a lot to be desired, with the suggestion that Pemberstone should go back to the drawing board. And re-draw them they did, introducing ‘additional character which draws inspiration from the Airey Housing’ (see picture below).
This part of the proposal is disingenuous to say the least. Part of our campaign to keep our homes is because of their historical value as a uniquely large sample of post-World War II ‘homes for heroes’. As we have written elsewhere, Sir Edwin Airey himself was a local designer and our homes are a standing example of social history. They are distinctive in their design, important for their place in post-war industrial history, and they have attracted a lot of attention nationally and locally.
For the last two years in a row, English Heritage and Leeds Civic Society have organised coach tours of interested visitors to come to the estate, tour our homes and learn about the area’s coal mining and working class past and present.
The idea that any of this working-class architecture and heritage can be replicated or paid homage to by demolition and the construction of a middle-class housing estate is simply laughable. The proposed houses look nothing like the Airey originals, and as soon as the current estate is demolished, Leeds City Council will lose that heritage forever.
Middle-class mimickery of local working-class history doesn’t cut the mustard, I’m afraid.
So, there we have it; Pemberstone’s latest offering: no mitigation of social vulnerability, total greenwashing and Airey imitation.
Will it still be enough to render us homeless?
Join us outside Leeds City Council on 3rdOctober to protest and find out.