Pathfinder's Shameful Legacy Exposed in Devastating New SAVE Report

20 April 2011

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has published a devastating verdict on the discontinued Housing Market Renewal (HMR) Pathfinder programme. In a new report Housing Scandal! Pathfinder: a Post-Mortem, SAVE attacks both the legacy of the programme and the machinery and ideology which has sustained and supported it. Housing Scandal! includes a paragraph by paragraph critique by Bill Finlay of the recent positive Audit Commission Report which SAVE’s Secretary describes as ‘shamefully partial, disingenuous, clouded with half truths and distorted by unsupported evidence.’

As well as a riposte to the Audit Commission, SAVE’s report is a response to continuing demolitions in Pathfinder areas, and to calls from some quarters to revive the programme. William Palin, SAVE’s Secretary says:
‘We are in a bizarre situation where some councils such as Liverpool and Gateshead are in effect holding a gun to the head of government and saying ‘let us finish the demolitions or we’ll blame you for the mess’. In most cases there are no detailed plans for redevelopment and no funds to pay for it, so good housing stock worth 10s of millions of pounds, easily capable of renovation, is being sent to landfill, only for the vacant sites to be grassed over. To most rational people this seems wasteful and wrong, but the Pathfinder machine, which has grown fat on huge subsidies, continues to peddle its discredited ideology, aided and abetted by some Housing Associations who are set to profit from the destruction.
This self-interest is evident at local level where, in Liverpool for example, the clearance programme has been promoted by councillors such as Richard Kemp who chairs the board of the Housing Association-partner in the Welsh Streets area.
This is not a political battle, it is about people and homes. After all, somewhere near the root of Pathfinder’s problems was New Labour's continuation of the Tory policy of transferring poor quality and under maintained ('low demand') social stock to the private sector, under the guise of 'third sector' quasi-social landlords, and not letting elected council's borrow to maintain or build their own homes for rent.’
In his introduction to the SAVE report, Planner and Liverpool resident Jonathan Brown, gives a damning summary of the disastrous effects of the scheme in the city:
‘As the new government vacillate over calling time on catastrophe, whole districts lie half-demolished and derelict. Vulnerable households are left stranded in terrifying twilight streets. Communities have been abandoned by their public authorities, deserted by developers once lauded as saviours. Housing waiting lists have mushroomed with countless individuals displaced. Public spending has been brought into disrepute, and a once in a lifetime opportunity lost.’
Brown lists 10 charges against the programme from his experience as a resident in Liverpool’s pathfinder area:
Pathfinder prevented market correction – 1990s low demand and ultra low house-values proved a passing phenomenon, and soon became a relic as the economy grew - but Pathfinder ‘sealed in the rot’. Heseltine and Prescott's best work on urban renaissance was stopped from reaching the inner city communities who needed it most.
Pathfinder talked places down – inner Liverpool was characterised as an obsolete urban hell by quangocrats - no way to restore investor confidence, and a travesty of a historic metropolitan core rich with complex communities and strong architectural character.
Pathfinder diagnosed the wrong causes – population decline, jobs and access to them are the real problem, not low house prices or terraced streets, which are often solutions to attracting new residents.
Pathfinder prescribed the wrong medicine – demolition of the very streets that sustain urban living, and replacement by low density standard layouts just repeats 60s errors and accelerates cycles of decline.
Pathfinder ignored sensible solutions – housing refurbishment grants and environmental upgrades are well tried and far better value packages of regeneration improvements - demolition was too often a first resort to facilitate major land deals.
Pathfinder distorted local democracy – councils chased the grant despite the damaging terms, and suppressed opposition through sidelining and spin.  CPO and eviction became a mainstream activity, with social landlord and developer interests placed before those of individual householders.
Pathfinder rewarded failure – Social landlord executives and quango bosses grew rich while ordinary people lost hard-won equity averaging £35,000.  Housing management problems were disguised as market failure, and monopoly land banks built up with huge public subsidy.
Pathfinder killed local economies – removal of people means removal of networks of exchange.  Empty streets mean no customers for the shops, no locals in the pub and no cars to be repaired.  The huge negative externalities of investment forgone, residents displaced, tax revenues lost, opportunity costs and damaged confidence have never been accounted for.
Pathfinder worsened social deprivation and housing need – In Liverpool, housing waiting lists have doubled and entire districts blighted. Shelter condemned increased overcrowding. Civic pride is corroded. How do you ask children not to drop litter when the council have boarded up their neighbourhood?
Pathfinder was environmentally stupid – In enlightened hands £2.2bn could have pioneered low carbon retro-fit technology and kick-started green economies, giving deprived areas a head-start in building skills and supply chain networks to compete in rapidly expanding markets.  
This introduces the detailed critique, by planning consultant Bill Finlay, of the recent, positive, Audit Commission Report on the scheme. In his overview Finlay cites:

A catalogue of statements unsupported by evidence.

A heavy reliance on 'evidences' in graphic form but with the underlying data withheld, thereby preventing checking, further working or comparison with other data.

Statements based on a highly selective use of evidence when the bulk of contextual and other evidences point in the opposite direction.

Contradictory evidences and statements which attract no investigation or explanation.

The expression of prejudicial political sentiments supporting the very programme which is ostensibly being subjected to 'independent' review.

An unambiguous political thrust which demonstrates that a key purpose of the document is to bid for the replacement of curtailed HMR funding with other public subsidy streams, relying on the argument that the prematurely-axed HMRs' legacy needs to be secured – even though the report spectacularly fails to demonstrate with any clarity that the HMR has any positive legacy to leave.

An anonymous authorship which, given the evident policy and political bias in the Report, leaves the reader wondering whether the contributor(s) might be seeking to disguise a history of allegiance to HMR.

SAVE’s Report makes the following recommendations:

New funding should be targeted mainly at repair and refurbishment, and decisions placed in the control of individual occupants and owners, as were the successful area-based grant schemes 20 - 30 years ago.

Mega-Social-Landlords driven by development ambitions must be brought under tight democratic control to make them better neighbours – 70% of their income is publicly funded grant and housing benefit. They must be subject to Freedom of Information Act legislation, proper scrutiny and limits on their monopoly ownership of entire communities. If necessary, they should be broken back down into smaller tenant co-ops and housing associations, as was their original intent. The HCA should not be both funder and auditor.

Area-based retro-fit to high environmental standards will help renew market confidence and generate economic opportunity in deprived areas much more effectively than expensive HMR quangos.

The constitutional implications of Compulsory Purchase Order powers over private home owners need to be carefully reviewed by Parliament – at present, 95% of orders are granted, with new ‘Localism’ and Big City Mayoral powers extending their reach yet further. CPO of homes should be a last resort, not a mainstream activity.?

A more respectful approach to deprived neighbourhoods that does not assume those with power necessarily know best – community regeneration should be about creative ways to revalue what is there, rather than aggressively seeking to remove it altogether.  Sometimes traditional urban forms are popular simply because they work.


The Report with Introduction by Jonathan Brown and Critique by Finlay Research, is now available as 3 PDF files from Here


Sample links and references

Welsh Streets Homes Group – Toxteth residents fighting clearance of their historic neighbourhood: Here

House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found Pathfinders “priced out poor owner occupiers”, “left them with a shortfall averaging £35,000”, “threatened the distinctive historic character of neighbourhoods”, and “created a risk that demolition sites rather than newly built homes will be the programme’s legacy”: Here

Streetfighters – Ciara Leeming’s photojournalism gives voice to residents living under wrecking-ball regeneration policies: Here

Telegraph - MP’s Condemn disastrous Pathfinder: Here

Guardian - Once they called it Rachmanism: Here

Liverpool Echo/Inside Housing – millions written off values by Pathfinder blight: Here & Here

Social Cleansing - “A Labour minister has told a public inquiry that the demolition of 367 mostly Victorian homes as part of a regeneration scheme funded by John Prescott's department amounts to the "social cleansing" of her constituents.”: Here

Empty Homes Agency – supported residents campaigning to save Liverpool’s Grade II listed Newsham park and conservation area from Pathfinder imposed neglect: Here, Here & Here

Shelter Report blame Pathfinder for homelessness: Here & Here

Joseph Rowntree Foundation - average shortfall of £35,000 between the cost of buying a new home and compensation received by home-owners: Here

Urban Task Force report – e.g. “Many plans are clumsy, insensitive, rushed, funding driven and wasteful. This applies particularly in Housing Market Renewal and growth areas.”, p11: Here

Renewal projects were ‘open to abuse’: Here

Toxteth historian condemns HMR for ‘ripping the heart’ from his community: Here

The late Sir Simon Milton, advisor to the Mayor of London, warns of ‘rogue mayor’ risk from new Localism powers: Here

Daily Mail coverage: Here & Here

Wayne Hemingway in the Sunday Express, and other Express articles: Here, Here & Here

The Save Madryn Street Facebook Campaign: Here

Report from 2005 shows residents in Madryn Street, Welsh Streets, Liverpool, opposed demolition by 35 to 1 (pp.104 & 105): Here
Riverside/ LCC joint venture 'Community 7' boss Steve Robinson demonstrates a less than sensitive sounding understanding of neighbourhood regeneration: Here