Yesterday evening I went to a gathering at Toxteth Town Hall. It was good humoured, relaxed, positive and felt very much like a new beginning, at last, for the Welsh Streets. There’s still a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but several hundred empty homes here look like they won’t be empty much longer.
A pilot scheme to test out the solutions most likely to work around here. Place First are the developers selected by Liverpool City Council to survey the area and start bringing proposals forward. They’re a company that specialize in private market rentals. When I first heard about this I went to the City Council Cabinet meeting, as anyone can, to express my doubts about this sort of single tenure approach. Preferring more of a mixture of ownership, renting and social lettings to balance places. Anyway, we’ll come back to that and the solution that might be emerging.
It’s long been said that many of the houses in the Welsh Streets are damp because of underground streams in the area. But Place First’s surveys have not found any streams. Instead they’ve found that the dampness has been most likely caused by the fact that there’s no street drainage, plus the small garden areas that were put there for rainwater to drain away have been long ago concreted over. This is why in the sketch above they’re proposing to reinstate areas of planting in front of the houses and have additional areas for planting and drainage designed into the streets. ‘Because we’ve seen what’s been done over in Granby’ I was told.
And in fact Voelas Street, now only half a street full of houses, will be where the pilot building programme will start this summer. 35 properties there will be turned into 25 houses. Several two into one conversions producing three and four bedroomed houses. The remainder staying as two bedroomed or in a couple of cases single bedroomed.
You’ll notice that the area outlined in blue runs from Kelvin Grove to one side of Kinmel Street. Showing that Place First are not planning to carry out work on all of the Welsh Streets. The rest, moving towards the Admiral Street end, are the roads which are still reasonably well occupied. And these will be the responsibility of the City, Plus Dane housing and of course the owners of the houses where they are not the City or Plus Dane. And this, I’d guess is the area where there might be more of a balanced tenure than the private rental approach in all of the Place First streets.I suppose I’d sum up the atmosphere of the amicably detailed discussions as ‘relieved to see something happening at last after years of struggle and stalemate.’ Many years where it didn’t seem like the houses would survive at all.
Some of the people around the room here are amongst the most formidable urban activists I know and it’s huge credit to them that these streets will now be full of homes once again, even if it’s not the solution most of them envisaged. Thanks to Martin Ellerby of Place First for talking us through the ideas and possibilities.
After seeming like it would end its life as the backdrop for ‘Peaky Blinders’ the street now has its future back. And all that false grime will be sandblasted off.
And now friendly relations have been established I’d expect to see a lot more talking with community members around here on plans and ideas for the empty spaces, and building a whole new community for all of the Welsh Streets.