The Friday Walks – The Welsh Streets

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.

Welsh Streets, Liverpool 8

The Welsh Streets, Liverpool 8

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.

A carpet of autumn leaves along Ullet Walk.

A carpet of autumn leaves along Ullet Walk.

Some of the trees more golden than green now.

Some of the trees more golden than green now.

Into Windermere Terrace.

Into stylish and genteel Windermere Terrace.

And through to Princes Park.

And through to Princes Park.

More gold.

More gold.

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.

It's well loved, like the place we'll be arriving at in a few minutes.

It’s well loved, like the place we’ll be arriving at in a few minutes.

Deep into autumn now in North West England.

Deep into autumn now in North West England.

The Welsh Streets09

The park used to have this Doric Lodge by its gates, destroyed in an air raid in World War Two.

The park used to have this Doric Lodge by its gates, destroyed in an air raid in World War Two.

Turning left at the gates to get to where we're going.

Turning left at the gates to get to where we’re going.

The Welsh Streets, Liverpool 8.

The Welsh Streets, Liverpool 8.

So close to the park you can still look back at the gates.

So close to the park you can still look back at the gates.

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.The Welsh Streets15Where 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.

They don't look great after years of emptiness, but actually these would be amongst the cheapest of the houses to repair and get reoccupied.

Wynnstay Street. They don’t look great after years of emptiness, but actually these would be amongst the cheapest of the houses to repair and get reoccupied.

Wynnstay Street, these 1950s houses built to replace others lost in the War, at the same time as the Doric Lodge in Princes Park.

They’re relatively new. Built in the 1950s to replace others lost through bombing in the War, the same fate as befell the Doric Lodge in Princes Park.

Voelas Street. This was the ‘Play Street’ where little children would help adults across the road. In 2005, when Liverpool won the European Champions League, everyone here watched the Final where we beat AC Milan projected on to a big screen in the street. Only eight years ago. 

Now so many of the houses are empty some shops like the chippy have gone, while others struggle to survive.

Powys Street, painted up 'old' as a film set.

Powys Street, painted up ‘old’ as a film set.

For 'The Peaky Blinders'

For ‘Peaky Blinders’

Six weeks of brilliant drama on the BBC. Years of blight here.

Madryn Street, where Ringo's from. His and some of the other houses here are currently planned to be saved.

Madryn Street, where Ringo’s from. His and some of the other houses here are currently planned to be saved.

And visited into the future by Fab Four Taxi Tours.

And visited into the future by Fab Four Taxi Tours.

No one who lives around here now thinks that all of these houses can be saved.

Some are suspected to have streams running under them.

Some are suspected to have streams running under them.

Making them not just damp but structurally done for.

Making them not just damp but perhaps structurally done for.

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?

It is possible as these nearby new houses show.

Decent urban density is possible as these nearby new houses show.

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.

Normally I'd continue down the Dockers' Steps to the river on this walk. But not today. So it's along Park Road...

Normally I’d continue down the Dockers’ Steps to the river on this walk. But not today. So it’s along Park Road…

And Aigburth Road.

And Aigburth Road.

To The Onion.

To The Onion.

For a dry out, a cup of tea and a read of one of my favourite books.

For a dry out, a cup of tea and a read of one of my favourite books.

Then home through Sefton Park in rainy autumn.
Then home through Sefton Park in rainy autumn.

7 thoughts on “The Friday Walks – The Welsh Streets

  1. stephenjrobertsStephen Roberts

    Very interesting. Perhaps you, as a housing expert, can help me: why is there supposedly a housing shortage in the UK at present when there are so many houses like this lying empty? Surely they could simply be renovated which would be better than building on Green Belt land.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks for ‘expert’ Stephen.

      It’s clearly true that a lot of our empty homes could be brought back into use. It’s also true that every house has a finite lifespan and for some their time may be over.

      But my principal point here is that these decisions need to be taken locally, where people understand the issues and the neighbourhood and not remotely by central government.

      Reply
  2. Taffy

    Not many know that on the bit of green grass on Park Rd in your photo above there once stood the house of Josephine Butler, the world famous social and educational reformer of the last quarter of the 19th C. She’s a woman much overlooked in Liverpool’s history.

    Reply
  3. jackcoutts

    Nice piece Ronnie.
    Of course the Welsh Streets demolish or repair debate started at least as long ago as the Council’s 1974 Housing Renewal Strategy, following which some streets received “limited life” repairs. The prevarication over invest or replace has gone on ever since with successive governments and councils failing to put up enough cash or commitment to properly deliver either option.
    Studies, consultations, assessments – often contested – have come and gone, proposals have been started, stopped, blocked, reversed, abandoned, while some far-flung pressure groups have used the neighbourhood as a battleground for their causes without a care for the majority of people actually living in the streets themselves.
    And now Pickles has delivered his own anti-localist intervention.
    I agree, local people and the Council have finally arrived at a deliverable compromise solution to the Welsh Streets. Let them get on with it.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Jack, I think part of the issue in this instance is that an apparently well-meaning pressure group assumed it knew local minds without asking. And so Liverpool people are left in the ludicrous situation of having their own Liverpool streets become the business of distant functionaries with no stake in the place.

      It would be a simple matter to reverse this, I feel.

      Reply
  4. Jan Hasak

    What an enlightening tour, without my having to leave my comfy chair at home! You’ve certainly whetted my appetite for more of these types of photo shoots. I especially like the street where Ringo lived. Very colourful!

    Reply

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