Going Backwards.....

RBH would claim that their demolition/regeneration plans for College Bank and Lower Falinge are brave and radical,somehow. If you look at it in more than a cursory way, though, they are planning to replace them with "affordable" housing, two/three bedroomed that will, over time, end up displacing people living in these communities because they will no longer be able to live there, because they won't be able to afford to. Hardly radical,that.

A more radical alternative would be to give tenants genuine control over the place where they live.What we have at present is a set of non-options, a limited and disingenuous consultation exercise, the whole process being tightly controlled by the board of RBH, in co-ordination with the virtually indivisible political/business Greater Manchester elite.The truth is that tenants are marginalised.We are told that the board is acting in our best interests, that they have expertise and contacts, that they are there because they "respect" the values of the organisation.I have no doubt that some of this is genuine, that they do have genuine,but limited,altruistic intentions.

In reality,this is about money and profit, very little of which will benefit the community.I would not be entirely surprised,further along the line, if a merger with another housing association happens, at which point the profit motive will become ruthlessly apparent, and the present values will look ever more a desirable, though hardly essential, "add on".

I would hasten to add that none of this is anything like a conspiracy; it is simply the accepted way of doing things.We are tolerated,patted on the head, and sent on our way. God forbid that we might have genuine demands about where and how we live, because you can bet those demands would be treated with contempt by the elite.

There are alternatives.Not perfect alternatives, not alternatives without problems, but better ones than we are being offered. Refurbishment, co-operatives, community land trusts would all be ways for us to take control of the process.Starting with an independent tenants organisation....

And why going backwards?When these estates were built, they were a radical solution from not terribly radical politicians, built to standards sadly not maintained down the years, leading to structural decline.Which is not in itself a decent reason for mass demolition.I would like to see more of it preserved,a lot more. But let's not make any bones about this, these estates have become regarded as "dumping grounds", a contemptible attitude, with the people living in them regarded, with poorly disguised hostility, as a "burden".
They do need regeneration, new people moving in- but not at the expense of the existing community. This has the potential to provide some long,long overdue change- but these proposals are a million miles off providing it.

The present madness that constitutes economic orthodoxy holds that it is better to demolish and replace with housing for priced out young mancs, living in a dormitory anywhere, rather than have a real, tenant led alternative.I know what i'd prefer.....
The Future part 2.....maybe,
So, a few weeks ago, RBH unveiled the first phase of the demolition and redevelopment of Lower Falinge. The deck access blocks are to be replaced by two bedroom houses. These homes are going to be 'rent to buy'. This means that homes are rented at an 'affordable' rent whilst a deposit is being saved, with the idea that this will eventually result in tenants becoming homeowners. The problem with this is that the providers offering mortgages for this new'product' are few and far between, and with significantly higher interest.

So not for the present residents, then, and not that likely to be taken up by the Rochdale resident who is maybe in low paid or zero hours work. 'Affordable' rent in these circumstances would seem to be a better option, at least locally, as there is more or less parity locally between private and social rented properties. But there is likely to be more demand than supply for these properties, as the emphasis will be, inevitably, on 'affordable' homes for sale - affordable that is to relatively comfortably off young professionals priced out of the Manchester market.

The underlying problem with all of this is that it isn't a consultation at all. It is a pretend consultation, intended to tick a box. The residents of Lower Falinge have been presented with this as being the only choices available. Demolition, and the vast majority of new homes beyond their reach,with the promise of a replacement in the area, if they wish to stay, but with less properties available.

And you may as well forget the problems being addressed by the present tenant representation structure, in partnership with employees who sometimes appear to be more concerned with addressing their own problems, with not much concern for tenants.

There is no independent tenant association representing tenants of RBH. This means no effective representation for tenants,as part of this faux mutual, where lip service is given to internal democracy, but where the choices given are determined by business, not tenants needs.

I propose that we need an independent social housing tenants organisation for Rochdale, to represent our interests. I also feel that a viable option for tenants could be true tenant controlled Co operatives. My honest opinion is that the present system cannot provide the housing we need, and one of the alternatives is to take control ourselves.

Turner's and Spodden Valley-questions unanswered and the brownfield conundrum.

So why am I writing about an old industrial site in Greater Manchester? Because it is a possible example of what could happen when the interests of property developers take precedence over the public health and safety concerns of the area's residents and people in Rochdale. Turner Brothers was the site of what was once the biggest producers of asbestos products in Europe. As is known now, the fibres produced by the industrial processes are carcinogenic, and the cause of respiratory diseases. It has been banned from use for many years now. Which makes it worrying that it has been a long term target for redevelopment.

The land was purchased in April 2014 by Renshaw Properties, a company registered for tax purposes in the British Virgin Islands, clearly with an eye to future development. After some standard corporate faux consultation in the area, an environmental testing company called RSK was commissioned by them to carry out air and ground tests for contamination. There was then a gap of some months before a partial statement was released. This showed that air quality testing had shown a minimal quantity of asbestos fibre, far below what would be considered as toxic.However, the results of the ground testing has not yet been released. And whwn we look at the recent history of the site, there are a few clues as to why this might be.

In December 2004, MMC Estates bought the 72 acre site, and submitted a planning application for what they called an"urban village" of 650 homes, a business centre, and a children's daycare centre. A particular phrase in the planning application is striking because of how disingenuous it is;

".....of particular note is the absence of any asbestos contamination..."

Unfortunately for them, by September 2005, they were obliged to admit there was "significant" contamination.( Remember that this is a toxic substance responsible for a great deal of illness and death in Rochdale.). There was then a major pause in the planning process until October 2008, when the principle planning officer for Rochdale Council at the time, Richard Butler, said;

".....The application has not yet been determined, and is suspended whilst the applicants and their consultants, together with our own contamination experts, assess a number of issues, the most importaint of which is the asbestos risk and the remiadiation work required as part of the development."

And despite no such work being carried out, the council then earmarked the site for a further 568 homes, proposed to be built at a density of 30 homes per hectare. Now, if you consider the main road in this area- Rooley Moor Road- building housing at this density would require major improvements in infrastructure, to the detriment of the area, quite apart from the contamination concerns. This was part of a future allocation of brownfield land targets. By January 2010, however, any mention of this had disappeared from the council website.

It is enlightening to look at the history of past test results for the site. HSE (the Health and Safety Executive), after testing the site, said that out of the eight samples tested, three samples showed a content of 1% of asbestos, ten times higher than the level at which it would be classified as "special waste". There is also the test results of Encia Environmental during the same period, which found asbestos levels of 1.3 and 2.3% respectively, 13 times above the level considered as "hazardous" for the former, 23 times for the latter. To give some context, a level of 3% is considered "toxic". In addition, the HSE inspector for the site, Anna Bliss, claimed their was a hotspot of "100% contamination" at the northern end of the site. MMC  said they had "no plans" for developing that area of the site. Inconveniently for them, Ken Smith, a planning officer for Rochdale Council, said the planning application aws for "the whole of the site."

Then in July 2006, a report commissioned at a cost of £80,000 pounds from Atkins Global, said that a considerable amount of work neede3d to be done to the site before development proposals could even be considered, and that the tests commissioned by the developers had not determined the true levels of contamination, concluding that ;

"....the presence of asbestos cannot be ruled out across much of the site cannot be ruled out."

Eventually, after throwing a massive strop, Countryside Properties, partners of MMC, withdrew, and finally in January 2011, the application was rejected. Which brings us back to now, and the question- what has changed to make the site suitable for development. The previous negative ground testing may explain why the announcements of the recent tests have been so slow in coming. Unfortunately, public health and safety concerns , with plenty of evidence to back up those concerns, does not seem to stop the constant attempts to build on this unsuitable site. Huge credit must go to Jason Addy, Carl Faulkner, and the redoubtable Mick Coats, who have all put in sterling campaign work on this issue.
It is worth bearing in mind that the driving forces behind the redevelopment of Lower Falinge and College Bank are also the people who think Spodden Valley is suitable for dedevelopment, This is on our doorsteps. To put it mildly, Iam deeply skeptical regarding their intentions.
The future... 
I have seen the future of housing, and I believe the market does not, and cannot, work in our interest. This is something that the recent history of regeneration in Greater Manchester should tell us. Housing as lucrative investment opportunity, yes, housing that meets actual needs... not so much. The present waiting list for social housing in Greater Manchester amounts to 80000 and counting. Homelessness is visibly, utterly shamefully, growing exponentially, compounded by the utterly dishonest labelling of vulnerable, damaged people as aggressive beggars. One of those bastards is responsible for regeneration in our borough - I know, couldn't make it up etc...
Which brings me neatly to the regeneration proposals. The ones where we have plenty of input, but no control at all, with this faux mutual. The solution has to based, ultimately, in government investment in housing benefit, because the market is not going to provide us with a solution. As far as we're concerned, at Lower Falinge, I think the answer could well lie in a genuine, tenant managed housing co-operative, an alternative I intend to explore in future blogs. Bye for now...

Interesting Times for Lower Falinge

Cherry trees in springtime on Lower Falinge in Rochdale.

Things are changing. Rochdale Boroughwide Housing has decided on a dramatic plan to demolish half of the blocks. There are obviously mixed feelings about this development, but at the moment there are not many details of what will replace the homes being brought down. Here are a few links that may be useful during this uncertain period.

Lower Falinge Community Activity Group, the local Tenants & Residents Association, has provided a Facebook Group for residents to discuss the plans.

RBH has provided a Facebook page for news and discussion: A Stronger Future For College Bank and Lower Falinge. They also provide news and information on their own website about the regeneration on here and on College Bank: College Bank and Lower Falinge: Latest Updates.

There is a Lower Falinge Facebook Page at facebook.com/lowerfalinge, feel free to drop by and contribute. We are also on Twitter as @lowerfalinge, please follow us there and say hello. 😀

Christmas Cheer 2011

The second Lower Falinge Christmas Cheer event will be on 14th December 2011 6.30pm in front of Newstead.

There will be carol singing accompanied by the Salvation Army Band and Father Christmas, followed by a nativity play with coffee and mince pies at Hebron Church, Howard Street.

For more details please contact Jackie Robinson on 07570 040 983.

Furniture flog-it day

The Rochdale Boroughwide Housing Money Matters Team are selling furniture at bargain prices.

It is happening on Tuesday 10th May from 2-4pm at the garages near the end of Melrose.

Also the Lower Falinge Gardening Group will be doing some gardening on the Melrose play area and would love it if people want to join in.

For more details contact Louise Keenan on 07976 038 197.