Exactly which area is meant by the Thorpes?
All that part of the Orchard Park Estate in Hull where the names of streets end in thorpe, together with Thorpepark Road. The Thorpes ‘urban village’ has just over 1000 residential addresses with a mix of home types: bungalows, houses, midi-blocks and high-rise.
Why the current concern about the future of the area?
The Hull City Council, as landlord of over 90% of Thorpes homes, is faced with making a decision it cannot put off any longer. The outcome of this decision will affect every resident.
A decision on what?
The question behind the decision is whether it is better to demolish rather than improve the Council’s housing stock. Similar decisions have also to be made regarding the Danes urban village (where significant demolition has already taken place) and for neighbourhoods in other parts of the city.
Why is the Council faced with having to make this decision?
There are three pressures acting on the Council.
1) The introduction in 1980 of the right by tenants to buy their council homes started a national decline in renting from local authorities. If anything, the drift away from council housing accelerated during the 1990s.
2) Hull’s population has been diminishing for a number of year as people leave the city mostly to live in East Yorkshire or move to the south-east. Over the last decade alone, the city has lost some 20,000 inhabitants. By the year 2000, the combined effects of 1) and 2) had left the Council with 2,800 empty homes on its register, around 8% of the total stock. Piecemeal demolition of unwanted units has hardly kept pace with continued abandonment. The Government wants to see a much lower percentage of empty council homes.
3) The Government is insisting that all homes owned by a social landlord such as a local authority must conform to a decent homes standard by 2010.
Why should the last point be regarded as a pressure?
In the case of the Thorpes, a lot of the homes are of the Wimpey ‘no-fines’ design. Built over 30 year ago, these are past their first flush. According to Government advice published last year, no-fines properties stand a greater risk of failing decent homes standards.
Does this mean improvements could be expensive?
Maybe. By way of a guide, Wimpey houses on an estate in Castleford were externally refurbished last year at a cost of £15,000 per unit. There are similar examples to be found elsewhere. If only half this amount were to be spent on each of the Council's current stock of Wimpey houses in the Thorpes, the total would come to almost £3.5m. That’s without any work on the two high-rise blocks, the three midi-blocks, or the 100-odd brick-built houses.
So is it just a matter of costs?
No. Besides the above ‘pushes’ there is also a ‘pull’ factor.
What is this ‘pull’ factor?
The Government has called for future house construction to be on recycled ‘brownfield’ land. That means existing buildings are demolished to make way for new homes to be built, usually for sale. It so happens that there is a famine of potential brownfield sites in East Yorkshire, where demand for new housing is buoyant. Developers could therefore be looking to Hull.
Would Hull be attractive to a developer?
Just look at the success of Kingswood.
Where does the Thorpes area come in?
To a developer thinking in terms of a repeat of Kingswood, the Thorpes territory is particularly attractive. Located only half a mile across a field from the Dunswell roundabout, access would be ideal. And it gets better. The Thorpes, the Danes, and a cleared Schultz site would together provide an extensive brownfield tract. All that is needed is the removal of existing homes. As far as the Council is concerned, the sale of a large part of its worst estate may be a much better proposition than finding millions for homes improvement.
But what about the people?
It is unlikely that a determined council would let the people get in the way of demolition. Each tenant household is entitled to £1,500 for relocation and to removal expenses. This would cost the Council around £1.35m. Owner-occupiers are offered market value compensation. However, a council wishing to minimise costs might resort to systematic prior destabilisation of an area. Methods used for driving out existing tenants and eroding property values are: the withholding of proper information; the allocation of empty properties to dysfunctional families; and a flagrant neglect of the environment.
Would demolition mean the end of a community?
The Council's own community survey discovered that 77% of residents of Orchard Park had plans to stay in their neighbourhoods for the foreseeable future. As for the Thorpes, which enjoys a high rate of occupancy, a show of hands at a packed meeting of residents last October showed that a good three-quarters would like to stay put. Demolition, it seems, would disperse a stable community and cause unwilling movement.
Where would the people go?
Accommodation of choice would be limited. In the main, tenants would be offered homes in parts of the city for which there is currently little or no demand. Owner occupiers would be obliged to pay present market prices for properties elsewhere.
Should the community put up a fight?
It must be emphasised that, so far, there are no firm proposals for any course of action, including demolition. The Council is still debating its strategy. A consultation programme will probably be the next stage. This may merely be a legitimising exercise although, because the Council is at present under close scrutiny from central Government, it could also be a genuine attempt to gather ideas. The Thorpes community should certainly fight against being kept in the dark and also for the right to have some say in its own future. If demolition becomes a fact, then residents should call for a dignified programme of translocation. There could also be a good case for additional compensation covering loss of community.
To summarise, what might the options be?
1) The rented Thorpes properties are brought up to decent homes standards, and the Council remains the landlord.
Perhaps unlikely, given the costs, though a number of residents are campaigning for this option.
2) The Council transfers ownership of its stock to a housing association or similar body which is able to borrow money for refurbishment.
Assumes an interested party could be found (doubtful).
3) The Thorpes community makes a direct approach to the Government for funding.
Highly unlikely - the community lacks the right leadership and the Government doesn’t have the interest.
4) A portion of the Thorpes is demolished and the remaining part receives improvement.
Has merit and carries the promise of sustainability, though Council assurances would need to be cast iron.
5) The Thorpes are vacated and demolished. Tenants are offered homes elsewhere in the city, in an area of choice. Owners are compensated at today's market values. There is an acceptable ‘loss of community’ compensation package.
This would be a sure option should a developer be after the land. The settlement terms would have to be fought for (costs could be passed on to developers).
6) The Council decides on demolition after a superficial consultation exercise. The Thorpes are allowed to deteriorate rapidly as a result of targeted ‘social dumping’ and general service failure. Existing tenants leave before entitlements are due. Owner-occupiers have no alternative but to accept what they are offered for their homes.
Worst case scenario and may possibly contravene human rights. Unfortunately, to a council under stress this might seem an ideal solution. Residents would need to watch for the signs.