Families Face Demolition of Airey Homes
People in the former mining village of Oulton fear the demolition of their historic ‘Airey houses’ will lead to the loss of their entire community
A community of residents living in their Airey Houses in Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close first realised that their homes could be demolished to make way for a new affordable housing estate when a leaflet dropped through their letter boxes last autumn.
The leaflets, lost amongst the usual piles of junk mail, invited the residents to attend a consultation event in order to “Give us your ideas on how the redevelopment scheme can help meet the needs of the local community”.
At first, the residents were excited about what they thought would be a much-needed project to renovate their Airey PRC houses, of which around 200 were originally built on the estate in the 1950s.
Today, around 70 Airey Houses still survive on the estate, proudly displaying their their distinct horizontal panels and pebbled exterior walls.
Barry and Mavis Abbey, both in their early 70s, have lived on the estate since 1970, when the Airey homes were owned by the National Coal Board.
They talk fondly of their Airey homes and a warm and friendly community where people still look out for each other. “I wouldn’t want to move somewhere else,” Mavis said. “We have a support system here.”
At one point in the past, the couple had been led to believe that could buy their home under the Thatcher government’s right-to-buy scheme but sadly this option was denied due to the properties being classed as defective in 1984, but this reason was never explained to them. Although ex-miners such as Barry, believed it was a form of revenge by the Government for joining the miners strikes in the 1980s.
The estate on which the Airey Houses sit, was sold off by the National Coal Board in 1986, before eventually being owned by the private investment company, Pemberstone Group.
When residents attended the consultation evening as noted on the leaflets they had received,they had hoped to find answers to their questions but sadly they claim they were treated appallingly as nobody from Pemberstone was present except for two representatives who seemed to know nothing of the impending issues and who were unable to answer resident’s questions. There were however, a number of large boards displaying pictures of the houses Pemberstone intended to build on the site occupied by the residents, a place they have called home for many years. These houses shown also appeared to be much more expensive executive style homes and certainly not affordable social housing.
Pemberstone had decided to replacing all 70 of the existing Airey houses with 71 new properties which sounds all well and good but only 11 of these would be reserved as “affordable accommodation”, which the company states is in line with Leeds City Council’s Strategic Homes plan.
The residents believe that the new homes will be priced at around £300,000 each or 10 times the value of their current homes.
Retired former miners, like Barry, and their widows have a legal right to be rehoused but the prospect of moving at this time in their lives remains daunting.
“When we got to know what was happening we couldn’t sleep,” Barry said.
The Abbeys are perhaps the lucky ones.
The occupants of more than 50 of the Airey homes – who do not have assured tenancies have no such protection and could be ordered to leave their beloved homes with just two months’ notice. Effectively making the homeless.
Pemberstone Group has stated that it was talking to social housing organisations to see if they might take on the site, but it is unlikely that any could afford the expected price-tag. If no takers are found, Pemberstone intends to carry out the development in phases, building around six homes at a time, over the next three to 15 years.
“Given the natural turnover of properties and the long-term nature of the redevelopment, it is highly unlikely that any tenants would be asked to move from their home without being offered an equivalent alternative on the same estate,” a company spokesman said.
But whether the tenants could afford the new rents is questionable.
Cindy Readman, a teaching assistant who has lived on the estate for 13 years with her husband and three children, pays £500 a month rent for her three-bedroom house.
“We couldn’t get anything like this size for the same amount of money,” she said. “There’s such a shortage of affordable housing around here. We’ve been told that once we were given notice, we would get the highest priority on the council waiting list. But even if you’re at the top, the waiting list is 70 weeks.”
Pemberstone argues that it has little choice but to demolish the Airey homes because they fail to meet the required standards, in particular for energy efficiency.
“As new standards come into force, there will come a point when these houses are considered uninhabitable,”
the company also said.
“The fact is also that concrete houses like these are becoming less attractive to tenants and therefore harder to let. Currently 12 houses – around 20% of stock – are vacant.”
But the company appears to have misjudged the mood of those on the estate, some of whom have firsthand experience of confronting authority. During the strike, when money to heat their homes was scarce, Barry recalled how he and his fellow miners went into their back gardens and dug the coal seam a metre below, a quirk that Pemberstone might need to consider if it starts building work.
When the Observer newspaper sent a reporter earlier in the year, they noticed that almost all of the homes were displaying posters protesting against the scheme, a sign perhaps that the opposition was gathering momentum . A social media campaign has also attracted the attention of the national media.
When the residents presented their reasons for opposing the scheme to the city council, they received a standing ovation. “This is the biggest injustice I’ve seen in all my time in politics,” said Karen Bruce, a Labour councillor.
The fight to save their Airey homes has been joined by the Twentieth Century Society, which is backing a petition to save the homes due to their historical importance. And now, decades on from when their collieries closed, Yorkshire’s ex-miners are preparing to march again – a show of solidarity for the last vestiges of another era.
“It’s not just about houses, it’s about the community spirit that will be lost,” said Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. “These people still talk to each other and help each other out. A lot of communities now, you don’t get that.”
The Residents Campaign
After the initial badly prepared consultation evening, the residents knew that it would be down to them to save their homes and formed a campaign group. Cindy Readman is Chairperson, Mark Field Vice-Chair, John Readman Secretary and Susan Gould Treasurer.
Since the group formed they have made numerous media appearances to raise awareness of this terrible situation that they find themselves in to save their Airey houses. They have been on BBC Look North on a couple of occasions with residents being interviewed on the estate. They have also made the front page of the Morning Star (Local Yorkshire Newspaper). In addition, a reporter from a well respected national newspaper is talking with Cindy and Karen Bruce (The labour Councillor representing the people of Rothwell, Woodlesford, Oulton, and Carlton) about doing a story. Hazell and Mark have been on BBC Radio Leeds and Hazell has also appeared on LBC radio talking to Sajid Javid.
5 of the residents including Cindy, Mark, and Susan went to a deputation at Leeds Council in front of 99 Councillors and were warmly received even getting a standing ovation from them. Cindy, Susan, Hazell, and Mavis subsequently attending a follow-up meeting with 6 of the councillors which unfortunately yielded few answers to the questions posed by the campaigners and the councillors have gone away to gather further information.
A member of the housing department visited some of the residents to explain how the council housing list works and a large number of the residents are now on the list for housing although they have been told that last year the people that got a 2 bedroom place had been on the waiting list for a massive 71 weeks!! and for a three bedroom property which are in short supply as it is has a 46 week wait. The question of “where do we go while waiting for a home” was answered with “they would look into temporary accommodation” it is believed to be highly unlikely to have sufficient numbers of temporary accommodation available for this situation. An overwhelming majority of the residents do not want to move from their Airey home and quite frankly why should they this is a place they have called home for a number of years why should they be brushed aside for corporate greed pushing for profit over people.
It appears that there are two types of contracts on the estate. With around 13 families having a lifetime contract (this is for ex-miners or their descendants) meaning Pemberstone have to find them a property of equal size and unfortunately some of the residents that this contact applies to believe they will get one of the new properties on the estate, this is highly unlikely. It appears that they have to be found a property within a certain radius believed to be around 25 miles. Which would mean they would be moving out of the area a prospect the other residents are also faced with. The rest of the residents have assured shorthold tenancies and only have to be given just 8 weeks notice I am sure you will agree that uprooting your entire life with just 8 weeks notice is a daunting prospect to be faced with not to mention the anxiety and fear that this would cause.
Additionally, there is an environmental aspect to this case as Bats currently roost in the area. Bats are a protected species and can not by law be disturbed without a licence issued by the Government it is unclear at this stage if a licence has been granted.
The 70 Airey houses on this estate were built over 50 years ago by the National Coal Board, originally intended for short-term use to provide housing for miners who worked at the colliery close to the estate. Pemberstone, a property investment company located in Worcester purchased the properties from UK Coal and they plan to demolish them to build executive homes instead of affordable social housing. This isn’t good enough and we must all as human beings stand shoulder to shoulder with the residents and not let this terrible act take place. The campaigners had a meeting with the director of city planning in January to ask the council to buy the estate and have it as housing stock. There would be an added expense of renovating the houses to bring them up to a certain standard but as the residents point out does not have to be completed immediately it could be undertaken over a period of time. This is a superb suggestion by the campaign group and would solve this issue in its entirety.
One elderly couple has resided in their Airey home since 1953 and have seen it all in their 65 years on the estate. They are now both in poor health and had hoped to see out their days in their home a wish that is on the verge of being denied them. Imagine if this was your parents or grandparents. How would you feel and what would you do to prevent this?
Among the other residents, there are many elderly people (mostly ex-miners) who have no interest in leaving their Airey homes and their friends and neighbours. There are many families with young children who attend the local schools. Why should they have to go through such traumatic and stressful experiences which will undoubtedly have a negative impact on their education? One of the campaigners young son has been battling stress and severe anxiety due to pressures at school. He had been improving and on the road to recovery who knows what kind of setback this will cause him if it’s allowed to happen?
This is unfair and we can not sit by and allow this to take place due to a company putting profits over people.
A lot of the residents have called this estate home for over 10 years and if you live somewhere for that length of time you put down roots you get to know the neighbours and you share in each other’s lives.
What would you do if this was happening to you? How would you feel? Now magnify that by 100 and then you can really begin to appreciate the pain, misery and suffering this is causing for all concerned.
The petition that the group posted on Twitter is still going please can everyone reading this post take just a minute to sign it. A Link to petition is also at the bottom of the page.
It’s so quick and simple to do but it could make a huge difference to the resident’s lives. So let us show them they are not alone and we are all here for them.
The residents hope this article has given you further insight into what the families are campaigning for.
If you are able to help or have suggestions please contact the campaigner’s links to their twitter are below if you want to tell us anything that could help or you have advice we will be more than happy to pass it on.
Petition link (Please Sign)