Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Housing Renewal and the Community in a Shrinking City: Two Recent Books on Liverpool - a Review Article*

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Housing Renewal and the Community in a Shrinking City: Two Recent Books on Liverpool - a Review Article*

Article excerpt

For more than half a century, Liverpool has been a shrinking city: its population falling from around 791,000 in 1951 to 452,500 in 1991 and 439,500 in 2001. But, as in many other British cities, the rate of decline has reduced, and recent years have seen a degree of re-urbanisation: the movement of people back into the cities. Van den Berg and Klassen's well known urban life-cycle model (1987) argues that after a sequence of urbanisation, suburbanisation and 'disurbanisation', the process of re-urbanisation begins with relative growth in the core while the suburbs continue to decline, and peaks with absolute population growth across the urban area. The quest to stimulate re-urbanisation is an important driving force in British urban policy. In some cities, such as Leeds and Birmingham, the last decade has brought absolute re-urbanisation, but Liverpool has only experienced relative re-urbanisation. While years of investment in urban regeneration (Meegan, 2003) and strict controls on peripheral development do seem to have stemmed the outflow of population, the modest growth that can now be perceived is concentrated in the city centre and masks continuing decline in the rest of the city, notably the inner urban areas. The question is, what should urban policy-makers do, what should be the aims and mechanisms of housing renewal in these inner urban neighbourhoods if re-urbanisation is to be sustained?

Liverpool's inner urban areas have experienced many renewal initiatives. Although slum clearance had been an important policy in the post-war years, it drew to a close in the 1970s, with just a few schemes lingering into the next decade. By the 1980s only obsolete council (social) housing was still being cleared, including one neighbourhood, Portland and Eldon Gardens, which is the subject of discussion below. Through the 1970s and 1980s much of the private housing stock in the inner areas benefited from housing improvement, with more than 20,000 dwellings treated over the period. The late 1980s and early 1990s also saw improvements to the social housing stock as council housing received investment through 'Estate Action' and later through the work of the Liverpool Housing Action Trust. In some cases stock was transferred to registered social landlords who also received funds for improvements to the housing stock and local environment.

After 1991, with steady growth in the national economy and the increasing availability of mortgage funds, the local housing market saw significant price increases. However, the pattern of demand was quite segmented, with some parts of the city, notably the southern suburbs, proving very popular and seeing rapid prices rises as demand outstripped supply. But there were other parts of the city, particularly the inner urban areas east and north of the city centre, where supply continued to exceed demand and prices declined relative to city and regional averages. These were frequently areas with some of the oldest housing, with fewest amenities, and the poorest market image. Kensington, lying to the east of the city centre, typified such neighbourhoods. It is these areas that began to experience, in the late 1990s, the phenomenon of 'market failure' and housing abandonment. While the problem was nothing like as acute as in parts of Manchester, Salford and Newcastle upon Tyne, the area was nevertheless included as one of nine pathfinder areas in the Government's Housing Market Renewal (HMR) programme in 2001. In Liverpool and neighbouring Sefton (Figure 1) and Wirral, the agency responsible for delivery of this programme, New Heartlands, was established in 2003 and covered around 130,000 properties in 'some of Merseyside's most disadvantaged communities'. By 2008 they claimed to have refurbished 6793 homes, built 2117 new houses and apartments and cleared 2086 older properties (NewHeartlands, 2008).

Recent decades have also seen changing approaches to participation in planning and urban renewal. …

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