As a means of addressing the problem of abandoned and surplus housing in parts of the North and Midlands, in April 2002 the Government announced nine ‘pathfinder’ bodies (ten subsequently had formal status, and there were some similar bodies). The remit was ‘to provide lasting solutions for communities blighted by derelict homes through investment and innovation’, with implementation adjusted to the local situation.
Around 700,000 homes of all tenures were included in these housing market renewal areas. Pathfinder bodies were to be responsible for bidding and overseeing delivery as well as maximising resources from the private sector and mainstream local authority funds. The Government allocated an initial £500m of stepped funding from a £1.2bn provision. At the time, it was said the Pathfinder programme might run to 2020.
Shortly after their introduction, the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) appointed the Audit Commission to monitor the pathfinders. In February 2005, the Commission published a best practice handbook. A number of pathfinder strengths were identified which included effective community consultation methods, a comprehensive range of hard data, and good methods of involving stakeholders.
Observed weaknesses were stated as being ineffective analysis and use of the information base, confusion in implementation, inability to demonstrate value for money of proposed interventions, and poor understanding of the impact of plans on adjacent areas.
According to the Commission, the new bodies were looking to ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions (which had not work properly the first time round) and were being driven too much by the agenda of the local authority. It was suggested that the pathfinders might be unclear on how the programme was to differ from previous programmes and felt under pressure to achieve results.
A full review, published May 2009 at what was described as the beginning of the second phase of pathfinder development, recorded a maturing in structure, delivery and management. Frustration had been expressed among some commentators regarding the length of time taken for physical outcomes to emerge but this delay, the Commission advised, was to be seen in the light of the size of the task. Expectations had perhaps been unrealistic. The recession was not helping, and the pathfinders had focused on process rather than asserting a clear vision of where they want to get to.
The Commission concluded there was still more to be done in terms of overall promotion of the housing market renewal objective, and adjustments to be made ‘so that the programme generates less noise and more substance’.
The Hull and East Riding Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder was something of a misnomer since the target areas fell entirely within the city of Hull. For operational purposes, it was called Gateway.
Gateway got off to a rather bad start. An original bid was submitted for £69.9m, for work to start 1 April 2005 on building 2,800 new homes, refurbish 3,400, and demolish 700 in various parts of the city. The bid was unacceptable to the Government. While Gateway wanted to get on with building in order to generate confidence, the funding source took the view that the real problem was oversupply, and new homes would exacerbate the situation. Instead, £16m was awarded for twelve months with another £35m flagged for the following two years. Hull’s was the last of the nine pathfinder projects to be granted funds.
Then, with concerns over progress of the project, the Chief Executive of Gateway left his £100,000 per annum post after only six months (departure announced May 2005). The Council’s Head of Housing Strategy took over as Acting Chief Executive. It was reported in the specialist housing press that officials from another pathfinder, Renewal North Staffordshire, might be sent to mentor their Hull counterparts, though the measure was denied by Gateway.
Gateway eventually began to achieve results in the east and the west of the city. By the end of 2009, Government funding for the Hull and East Riding pathfinder amounted to £113m (5.8% of a national total of £1,946m). For 2010-2011, a further £28m was expected from a pot of £311m. A £400m scheme for long-term regeneration in west Hull was approved in principle.
In November 2008, the Audit Commission reported that Gateway was performing well in its place-shaping role, was developing comprehensive and detailed master plans for its intervention areas, and had made good progress in addressing most of the suggestions for improvement identified in the previous (February 2008) review.
As part of the founding plans of Gateway, Hull’s Orchard Park was designated a priority area, specifically the Thorpes urban village. A figure of £3.4m was mooted as being initially required. In the summer of 2005 the Orchard Park (Gateway) Partnership Board was set up.
Altogether, there were twenty scheduled board meetings and two special meetings between June 2005 and September 2007, plus eight informal meetings for residents. But, with pathfinder funding coming to the city piecemeal and belatedly, with the east and west Hull projects under way, and with Decent Homes an entirely separate programme, the Thorpes remained, as one Council portfolio holder put it, a ‘twinkle in the eye’ of Gateway.
In the wake of the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October 2010, the coalition Government announced that funding for the Pathfinder Housing Market Renewal initiative would be discontinued at the end of March 2011. Some committed projects were in a position to complete, though Hull’s Gateway programme was adversely affected.