Terrace housing

Terrace housing
14 August 2007

Salford has long been seen as Manchester’s poor relation — rough, working-class and more than a bit shabby. Engels described the city, with its courts and narrow lanes, as “an old and therefore very unwholesome, dirty, and ruinous locality”.1

Its industrial cityscape was encapsulated by Tony Richardson in his 1961 film adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s kitchen-sink drama, A Taste of Honey.2 But much of its gritty setting of crumbling factories and rows and rows of red-brick terraces was, in fact, disappearing at the time the film was made; throughout the 1950s and 60s, local authorities attempted to improve living conditions in Salford, by extensively demolishing its old buildings and putting up tower blocks in their place.

A five-year-old urchin seen playing in the opening shots of Richardson’s film, Hazel Blears grew up to become Salford’s Labour MP. Since June 2007, she has been communities secretary, in charge of the government’s housing market renewal (HMR) programme, which is continuing the rebuilding of obsolete property that took place in the postwar years. HMR was inherited from Prescott’s former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and aims to replace a great deal of the housing stock in the Midlands and the north of England, including Blears’s own constituency.

Manchester and Salford was identified in 2002 as one of nine so-called Pathfinder areas, in specific need of investment for new homes. Between 2003 and 2006, the area received £115m, £44m of which was invested in central Salford.3 Back-to-back terraces in neighbourhoods such as Seedley and Langworthy — whose houses were once used for the title sequence of Coronation Street — are consequently being compulsorily purchased, demolished and replaced by “modern sustainable accommodation”.4

The destruction of Victorian and Edwardian terrace housing, in places such as Seedley and Langworthy, has led to considerable criticism of the HMR programme. People living within Pathfinder areas have formed protest groups and opponents of the scheme have developed a campaign website, fightforourhomes.com. Community groups have also received small grants to support their campaigns from the conservation group Save.

Save argues that demolition should be a last resort and many of the Pathfinder areas have great architectural and historic character that should be preserved. In consultation with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2005, it accused the department of unnecessarily destroying perfectly sound buildings, which have been well maintained and modernised by their owners. “For such homes to be condemned and demolished is simply Orwellian,” the organisation stated.5

In 2006, Save wrote a report highlighting this situation, but Prescott’s office dismissed it as “utter nonsense” and “ill-informed scaremongering”. A spokesman said: “To date over 13,000 homes have been refurbished compared to 4,000 demolished.”6

But the Civic Trust, a charity dedicated to improving the built environment, supports the findings in Save’s report. It claims that demolition is happening without proper assessment of buildings or consultation with residents. In its statement on HMR, the trust expressed concern that the programme will do “irreparable damage to the historic environment of these areas” and “potentially destroy their local distinctiveness”.7

Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage, has also been very vocal in his opposition. Speaking to Planning magazine in 2005, he condemned the HMR programme. “To say that terraced housing causes problems is, to put a technical term on it, bollocks. Fulham, Chelsea or Bath have plenty of terraced housing and are not dysfunctional.”8

For Thurley, the terrace house is an important part of England’s (as well as Wales’s) architectural heritage because it is not found anywhere else. He wrote an article in the Times arguing that, alongside the parish church and the seaside town, the terrace house should be celebrated as “a vital and central part of defining who we are.”

The success of the terrace is that it gives people the opportunity to have their small square of England. It gives external anonymity and conformity, but inside allows for the expression of individualism and eccentricity.9

In a 2004 report, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) argued that clearance and rebuilding “will not necessarily solve the problem and may indeed cause new ones”. According to CPRE, clearing high-density terrace housing stock is an “expensive option” that could, in fact, be “contrary to sustainable development”.10

An ITV Tonight with Trevor McDonald programme in 2005, proved that a house in Liverpool, that had been earmarked for demolition, could actually be refurbished for £18,000: only slightly more than the cost of knocking it down, without having built anything new to replace it.11

Save and the Civic Trust both cite a development in Salford’s Seedley and Langworthy, by Tom Bloxham’s Urban Splash, as a favourable alternative to clearance. At the Chimney Pot Park scheme, the developer is maintaining and restoring the facades of around 400 Edwardian back-to-backs, but rebuilding the rest of each house. Marketed as “the terraced house turned upside down”, the properties have been redesigned by the architects shedkm, with an upstairs living space, downstairs bedrooms and private parking at the back.12

Offering some homes exclusively to first-time buyers, Urban Splash’s £40m scheme has received £10.8m of public-sector investment from Salford city council and English Partnerships.13 In 2005, the development won a Housing Design award and contributed to the council winning Municipal Journal’s Housing Achievement of the Year.

But it has not been universally popular with Seedley and Langworthy’s established residents. The Salford Star, a community magazine, has published the views of many local people who are worried they are being transplanted from the area, which is becoming more upmarket with the redevelopment of Salford Quays and the BBC offices moving nearby.

Many resent that public money has been given to the Urban Splash development, when the previous occupants cannot afford to move back in. One of whom, Jacqueline Booth, told the magazine: “They’ve pulled all the houses down and built these so no one here can afford them. I think they’re for yuppies coming from the Quays, and the BBC will just make it worse, honestly. Where are we supposed to go?”14

Just around the corner from the Urban Splash site, the clearance of many more of Seedley and Langworthy’s terraces continues unabated. Here, as in the other Pathfinder areas, there seems to be no let-up in government policy, despite the protests from community groups and heritage lobbies. The appointment of the local MP into a position responsible for the programme, also looks unlikely to change the situation.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News in 2007, Blears insisted: “It’s always hard for people to understand why their house needs to be demolished, and we need to be sensitive to that, but at the same time we need to transform Seedley for the long-term.”15 (Last edited: 20 May 2008)

Commenting is closed for this article.