BBC News

Stoke-on-Trent £1 houses 'can create bright future'

By Matt Lee
BBC News, Stoke

image captionThe £1 homes have attracted interest from hundreds of people
image captionDozens of homes are currently boarded-up, but many people still live there
image captionResidents say bringing the local shop and pub back is particularly important
image captionThe effects of fly-tipping can be seen around the area

Hundreds of people flooded Stoke-on-Trent Council with enquiries about its £1 homes within 24 hours of applications opening. But what do people living in the area think the effect will be?

One mile from Stoke-on-Trent city centre, dozens of houses in the Portland Street area of Cobridge stand boarded up and neglected, the roads around scattered with litter and the effects of fly-tipping.

The corner shop and local pub have been closed since 2009, their windows covered with wood panels and metal screens which are daubed with graffiti.

But in between the broken roof tiles, crumbling brickwork and fenced off gardens there are pockets of homes that are still lived in and a community centre, with a bright rainbow mural at its entrance, advertising a parent and toddler group.

These houses were originally going to be demolished and the area redeveloped until the government's £1bn national Pathfinder programme scheme was scrapped in 2010.

image captionBuilder Mark Simpson said the houses could be turned into decent homes

Steve Pritchard, from the Portland and Century residents association, said the abandonment of the scheme had left a huge amount of "ill feeling and anger".

"We lost our shop, our pub was closed, the community suffered and at the time it seemed like a deliberate effort to destroy the area, it was so frustrating," he said.

"It's very difficult to get the community energised when you're living in an area where there are so many properties empty and boarded up."

But news of the £1 home offer and the high level of interest in the 35 derelict properties was "encouraging", he added.

He said: "This can only be a good thing to improve the area.

"We are now hearing encouraging noises from private landlords who've previously been reluctant to spend on their properties because of the uncertain future.

"They're saying as soon as they see movement they will actually invest in the area and if that comes together there very much could be a bright future."

'Depressing' environment

Janine Hankey has lived with her family in nearby Century Street for 12 years.

She said: "I can't believe 600 people are wanting to move to this area, we've had problems with drug abuse, vandalism and for a family with children it can be a bit daunting.

"We do our best as a community, we've had Christmas and Easter parties for the kids at the community centre and most people are friendly but we really could do with the shop and pub reopening."

Stoke-on-Trent City Council said the initial 35 homes would be randomly allocated to the successful applicants but they had to follow strict application criteria.

People have until 12 May to apply for one.

Ken James, from Denbigh Street, said it had been "depressing" living next to houses which had been boarded up "for years."

"We all thought that these houses were going to be knocked down and rebuilt and that led to a lot of good neighbours moving away, it ripped the heart out of our community," he said.

"I think the £1 houses is a good idea that might turn out alright and improve the look of the area.

"I had looked at buying one but the rules are really strict, and I think people will find it hard to get around those rules."

'A decent home'

In return for buying the properties, people will be required to renovate them and bring them back into use.

The city council is offering loans of up to £30,000 to help complete essential repairs on the houses.

image captionJanine Hankey has lived in the area for 12 years

Anyone taking out the loan would have to pay it back within 10 years at an interest rate of 3% above the Bank of England base rate, which currently stands at 0.5%.

Mark Simpson, a local builder who has been renovating properties in Denbigh Street for a private landlord, told the BBC the houses had potential.

He said: "We've had a few problems, mainly damp, because many of these houses have stood empty for too long, and people breaking in to steal the copper piping from the bathrooms and kitchens.

"I don't know much about what it's like to live in the surrounding area but the houses themselves have a lot of potential.

"You could make a decent home by investing a minimum of £20,000, he said.

"They need new central heating, new kitchens, new bathrooms, and new windows but they could be a decent investment."

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