'How dare you think you can just come and move us out?' Oulton residents stand their ground
The Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close community, between Rothwell and Oulton, was meant to be a quick fix solution to a post-war population and housing crisis.
An estate was built in the early 1950s of prefabricated two or three bedroom semi-detached houses by the then National Coal Board.
Its purpose was primarily to house miners and their families working in the nearby coalfields using materials that were cheap and quick to put up.
They only had a temporary life span, however, and when the current owners of these properties aired plans to move residents out and bulldozers in they found these homes and the people that lived in them were anything but transient.
In the second day of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s special report on housing in the city, Emma Ryan speaks to the women who stopped a multi million pound development firm in its tracks.
Three years ago, private investment firm, Pemberstone, wanted to replace the prefabs with 70 new homes – a mix of two, three and four bedroom properties – but only 11 would be classed as ‘affordable’. However, after a long campaign people power prevailed and Leeds City Council refused the plans last October due to the detrimental effect it would have on the close knit community.
Hazell Field and Cindy Readman became part of a core group called ‘SaveOurHomes’ that embarked on a campaign that took them way beyond Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close.
Cindy, 55, said: “Once we realised what was happening we got local councillors on board and contacted as many people as we could and got a residents’ association going.
“They put the planning application in in December 2017 and didn’t think we would notice but we went and stated our objection to it – and it snowballed from there.
“At first we were told we would be rehoused but didn’t know where – but it could have been anywhere within a 50 mile radius. We were told those that had lived here the longest would get a new house but the rest of us it would be six to eight weeks’ notice.”
Hazell, a 56-year-old co-ordinator at Pinderfields Hospital, said: “There are a lot of campaign groups like ours and as soon as we got online and started tweeting they were sending messages of support and sending links to things. I did not realise how many people were in the same boat as us to be honest up and down the country.
“People that we would not even have known got in touch.
“If you had told me two-and-a-half years ago I would be speaking at council meetings, to the local press, being on Look North and ITV, going to London I would have said ‘don’t be daft. But I did it and I will carry on doing it.”
It proved to be an unusual reason to turn down a planning application, as the community aspect cannot be measured in bricks and mortar, but neither could it be ignored.
Mrs Readman, a teaching assistant, added: “We first moved here 16 years ago but it was just going to be for a short while because we needed something quick and we thought ‘this will do for now’ and we will go on the council list. But, the kids loved it here, everyone was so nice and 16 years later we are still here.”
However, the fight does not end here as there is still a chance that Pemberstone could appeal the decision made by the council’s planning board.
Mrs Readman added: “Because we won the first battle, we have not won the war. From October to Christmas we had a bit of a lull but we will have to wait and see what they do next.
“We are ready. The main reason it was turned down was the community aspect and that is a difficult thing to appeal against. It was not a physical aspect so I think they will try and prove there is something wrong with them.”
Mavis and Barry Abbey, who are 72 and 73, have lived on the prefab estate for the last 50 years. They moved in 1970 when Barry worked as a miner as Allerton Bywater and lived where the newer houses around Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close now stand. They moved to their current home, also on the estate in 1990.
While Mavis recalls tales of 'the good old days' she says it is the last two years where she has really discovered what community is.
She recalls the days of kids playing on the back field and mobile shops and says they were never tempted to move because they had everything they needed.
Mavis sais: “I have not been tempted to move anywhere else. We did not need to. We always had a vehicle, motorbike and sidecar. It is not cut off, it is private and there is hardly any crime. You don’t get many wrong ‘uns, we had a cannabis farm once but didn’t know until the police turned up. The children used to have a bus to go to school on and playing fields at the back of the houses with swings and slides on. Kids always used to play there and when it was tea-time you knew where to go and look at a certain age. When they got older they got a bit more adventurous.
“We had mobile shops that came around. One used to come at tea-time and used to go around the streets, one used to come up Tuesdays and Saturdays and sometimes there was a fish and chip van.”
Despite the times when her kids were growing up and the pit or the mobile shops – Mavis says it is the last couple of years where the community spirit has shown its worth.
“It has been a lot more pressure on him [her husband] than me. He can’t drive with his illness and I don’t drive. That has made my life hard but I have had some very, very good help from my neighbours taking me shopping every week for the last six or seven weeks.”