New life for Accrington ghost streets of terraced homes

Woodnook, Accrington
Image caption The developers are converting "two-up, two down" homes into four bedroom houses in Accrington

Waiting for customers can be a lonely vigil for Mohammed Zahir in his corner shop.

His business is marooned among a sea of boarded up terraced houses in Accrington, east Lancashire, serving a remnant of a once thriving community.

"There's no customers, there's nobody in the houses", he said.

But there is hope that the Woodnook neighbourhood's fortunes are going to be revived by a private developer and a housing association backed by the local Hyndburn Council.

In 2010 public spending curbs saw the coalition government abandon the Pathfinder/Housing Market Renewal Initiative - the plan introduced in 2002 by Labour to demolish housing in areas needing regeneration and replace with them new homes - leaving huge swathes of homes turned into ghost streets in the north of England.

Woodnook was one of the areas left in limbo as most of the residents had moved out before the funding was halted.

Developer PlaceFirst and social landlord Twin Valley Homes are refurbishing and remodelling 200 empty homes in Woodnook with a re-versioning of the traditional "two-up, two-down" properties.

Family homes

The first phase of the scheme is seeing work begin on properties between Augusta Street and Booth Street which is funded in part with a £2.5m loan from the Homes and Communities Agency under its Get Britain Building programme and £6.5m joint capital from PlaceFirst and Twin Valley Homes.

Its second phase will see £3.7m from the HCA's Empty Homes Cluster Fund matched by £3.7m funding from PlaceFirst and Twin Valley Homes.

Some of the homes will be more "four-up, four-down", according to Claire Pritchard (Labour), Deputy Leader of Hyndburn Council.

"It's just the type of housing that causes the problem in Hyndburn, there is not the call for "two-up, two-down" that there used to be," she said.

"We wanted to do something different and allow families - maybe a bigger family - to remain in an area they are committed to," the councillor added.

The archetypal northern terraced houses on a steep hill look like they belong in cult gritty 70s movies like Get Carter or the famous Hovis Advert where the little boy pushes his bicycle up a big hill.

David Smith-Milne, managing director of PlaceFirst, believes it is important to retain the shell of these houses even though inside, two homes will be knocked into one, creating three or four bedroom properties.

'Killing my business'

"Accrington itself is quite a distinct northern market town with an architecture and a built environment which reflects its heritage and its industrial heritage in particular," he said.

Last week a survey conducted by charity Empty Homes shows almost 3,000 properties (7.36%) are empty in neighbouring Burnley, with Lancashire the county that has the highest percentage of vacant properties, with one in 20 houses empty (4.81%).

Hyndburn (7.03%), Pendle (6.43%) and Blackburn with Darwin (5.80%) also have high numbers of empty properties.

For people left behind in Woodnook the transformation of the tinned terraces cannot come soon enough.

"It's horrendous, there's nothing for the kids and there is no way can sell our houses because of the boarded up property" said resident Mary Mitchell.

Mohamed Zahir added: "It is killing my business."

The building work is expected to be completed by 2014.

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