Friday’s walk didn’t cover too many miles, not really. But it took ten years. I’ll explain more in a bit, when we get to the Welsh Streets.
Setting out on today’s urban Friday Walk, it’s a darkly autumnal day and it’s clearly going to rain. But not yet, setting off along Ullet Road.
Opened in 1842, one of the park’s designers, Joseph Paxton later designed Birkenhead Park and also London’s Crystal Palace. This was the first purpose built park in England to have some degree of access for the public, though full public access didn’t happen until 1918 when it was taken over by Liverpool City Council.
But while the park has prospered in the care of the Council and the people over the past ten years, the Welsh Streets have been living through a very different story. One of doubt and demolition.Where some local people and organisations wanted the Street’s four hundred and some houses demolished and replaced with new ones, and other local people and organisations very much didn’t.
This doubt and demolition has lasted for a decade. Ever since the then government’s Housing Market Renewal Initiative declared this a Pathfinder area and sparked off the ‘Demolish or Repair?’ debate. In fact the doubt outlasted the Initiative itself, which ended in 2011.
But ‘doubt’ isn’t quite the word for what started happening just a few months ago, when all of the local parties were talking constructively with each other. Worn out by ten years of disagreement there was finally the beginnings of reconciliation and positive hopes. That maybe if there could be a bit less demolition? Maybe if the proposed new build could be denser and less suburban looking? Wine and nuts were taken together and a jointly supported future looked like it might be arriving.
And right then, as peace was breaking out, development plans for the Welsh Streets were ‘called in’ by the government on the request, it’s thought, of a national pressure group. No local people wanted this to happen, even those generally opposed to demolition. But happen it did. And the formal position is that at some point there will now need to be a Public Enquiry to sort out what comes next. No one in Liverpool wants this.
Let’s have a look around.
No one who lives around here now thinks that all of these houses can be saved.
But what this is, is an inner city neighbourhood. Like the Granby Four Streets just the other side of Princes Avenue. Lovely streets, lots of them tree-lined, where lots of people lived and could yet live. So though the future will definitely contain a mix of old and new housing, couldn’t it be a bit denser and, well, more like the inner city than a suburb? Affordable rents, affordable for first time buyers?
But more to the point and mainly, we want to sort this out in Liverpool. The Welsh Streets are Liverpool streets and Liverpool City and the people of Liverpool should be sorting out their future. Reconciliation and hope was happening, constructive negotiations were taking place. A decade of debate was beginning to resolve. Let it be, I say. Call off the Public Enquiry. Let the people and the place predominate and come to practical resolutions together. We already know the streets and the houses and their people must go through one more winter of weather and doubt. Let it be the last.
And who am I to speak out so plainly for streets I don’t even live in? Well who am I not to? I may not live in the Welsh Streets but I’m as Liverpool as you can get, and I don’t like to see Liverpool taken out of our hands. I trust the people and I trust the potential mediation and democratic processes of my place, and I want to see them prevail.
I walk on. The rain is now heaving down.