'There is always hope - this isn't over' campaigners vow to fight to the end to save a Leeds housing estate

A group of campaigners has vowed "its not over until it's over", following an impassioned speech calling on Leeds City Council to buy up dozens of family homes earmarked for demolition by its landlord.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 25th March 2022, 4:45 am
Updated Friday, 25th March 2022, 1:18 pm

The former coal board homes in Sugar Hill Close and Wordsworth Drive in Oulton had been a mining community for decades, with many households on long term lets - but the homes are soon set to be demolished.

Landlord Pemberstone had argued the 1950s Airey homes are now in a state of disrepair, and that the site should be redeveloped for more modern housing. To do this, the company issued eviction notices to tenants once planning permission was granted by a government inspector.

But residents and campaigners have long insisted there is nothing structurally wrong with the properties, and that the 70-home estate should be bought up by Leeds City Council and be added to its council housing stock in order to protect residents' homes.

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Many residents of the estate have already been evicted.

Leeds City Council had previously made the decision to allow the evictions to go ahead, assist with temporary rehousing for residents and for Pemberstone to sell the estate in vacant possession to a housing association so it can be demolished and redeveloped.

Following an impassioned speech on behalf of residents given to councillors at a meeting this week, decision-makers voted to refer the matter up to senior officers and councillors to look once again at the proposals.

Campaigner Bob Ward, who is involved with the group Save Our Homes LS26, remains sceptical about the decision, but added that residents would continue to fight to the bitter end.

"It's probably the equivalent of being kicked into the long grass," he said. "Rather than levelling up, this feels like levelling down.

"In Leeds City Council, whatever Labour propose, the Conservatives oppose, and whatever the Conservatives propose, Labour oppose. This kind of tribal situation is not good for the residents of this estate.

"Those people that live there, they have been living with the Sword of Damocles hanging over them all the time."

Mr Ward said evictions at the site were already taking place, and only around 20 homes were still occupied, but still hopes the council will step in at the eleventh hour to purchase the houses.

"There is always hope," he added. "And it isn't over until it's over."

At a full Leeds City Council meeting this week, all members voted to refer the matter to the director of city development and other senior council officers.

Speaking during the meeting, Mr Ward said: "It is a social injustice writ large for the way ordinary, good people can have their lives completely overturned by the pursuit of financial gain. It need not have been like this and it should not be happening in our proud city. Pemberstone, the owners of the estate had gone to appeal in 2020, after the plans had quite rightly been refused by this council.

"In June 2021, we commissioned a thorough survey of our own. This looked at a sample of houses - remarkably some of the defects found by Pemberstone in 2020 couldn't be found in 2021. Was this the miracle of Oulton? Cracked posts had somehow healed themselves.

"It is utterly heart-wrenching to see the pain and distress of these residents at the reality of them having to leave their homes and their possessions.

"This is not a prospect to be relished by residents in their 70s, thrown into a scarce, expensive and often discriminatory housing market.

"These houses are not in a state of imminent collapse. The best option would be for this council to unanimously announce its intention to acquire the estate. The evictions currently occurring can be halted, the desperate housing situation would not be added to further and the 70 houses would be added to the council stock.

"Please look at these people in the eye, and try to imagine as you go to your secure homes this evening, how they must be feeling. These people are not pieces on a chessboard."

A spokesperson for Pemberstone said: "These are pre-fabricated properties built in the 1950s which are now well beyond their projected lifespan. They are deemed “defective” by Government due to issues with their original design and construction and surveys have shown their structural integrity is compromised.

"Pemberstone has been working to address this problem for over five years. We have said from the start that redevelopment is the only realistic option. Our view has now been supported by the planning appeal inspector and Leeds City Council as well as the numerous housing associations we have spoken to.

"Even if refurbishment was viable, it would still require the tenants to leave. It is sad to see the impact of change on a community, but we firmly believe that the redevelopment of the estate to create modern, energy-efficient homes, including new affordable housing, is the best option to secure its long-term future.

"Tenants have been aware of the diminishing lifespan of the houses for a number of years. Everyone has been offered up to £3,000 to assist with relocation costs and many tenants have already taken advantage of this offer. Of the 60 homes in question, 43 are empty and a further 12 tenants have either secured alternative accommodation or undergoing reference checks. At a recent meeting attended by Leeds City Council’s Chief Housing Officer, it was confirmed that most of the tenants who had been served notice have been offered a property, either council or private, via the Leeds Housing team."

It was confirmed the further 10 homes were on protected Coal Board tenancies, on which structural work would take place before the tenants were rehoused.

The spokesperson added: "Pemberstone has always committed to meet its obligations to the ten remaining Regulated and Assured tenants. Our aim has always been to enable these tenants to stay in their current properties until their new homes are built. Pemberstone has made this quite clear in all its communications to these tenants.

"To make this happen Pemberstone is currently working with specialist structural engineers to find a temporary solution to support the structure of their homes so that they continue to be habitable in the short term."