Celebrities join forces to call for halt to controversial regeneration project

Date published: 05 May 2020

Iconic film director Ken Loach has joined forces with legendary ex-Wales goalkeeper Neville Southall and veteran DJ Liz Kershaw to call for an ‘immediate and indefinite’ halt to controversial regeneration plans.

The famous trio are among 56 signatories to an open letter urging Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to draw a line under its proposals for College Bank and Lower Falinge – which include tearing down four of the town’s landmark ‘Seven Sisters’ tower blocks.

Numerous academics, campaigners and professionals have put their name to the letter, which is also addressed to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Rochdale MP Tony Lloyd MP.

RBH insists its plans will ensure a ‘better quality of mix’ of homes in the town centre, meeting future need and guaranteeing no one will be forced to leave the area if they do not wish to. 

But this latest move will put further pressure on the mutual – coming shortly after 57 councillors put their names to a letter demanding specific details of its redevelopment plans for the two estates.

Local campaigners and councillors have repeatedly raised concerns over the number – and type – of homes that will be available for social rent at the end of RBH’s regeneration process.

And opponents of the scheme say the coronavirus crisis has made the situation all the more urgent.


Liz Kershaw
Liz Kershaw


The letter reads: “We believe that to continue with this regeneration scheme now during the worst pandemic in a hundred years would be criminal. 

“While we acknowledge the important work RBH is doing right now in supporting vulnerable households affected by the lockdown, RBH should be focusing 100% on supporting all existing residents to remain healthy, and protecting the homeless in Rochdale who are more vulnerable to illness and less able to take preventative measures than those in secure housing. 

“It can only do this if it permanently stops this regeneration scheme and redirects those human and financial resources to saving lives.”

Signatory Dr Stuart Hodkinson, associate professor and housing researcher at the University of Leeds said: “In the face of climate change, a housing crisis and a global pandemic, the last thing anyone should be doing is emptying and demolishing homes – we need to use, renew and retrofit our existing housing stock. I urge RBH, Rochdale Council and the Mayor of Greater Manchester to work together with residents to pioneer a humane model of regeneration that allows existing residents to stay put and avoids the bulldozer.”

RBH says it has worked with the council to address homelessness and that of 40 Rochdale families currently in temporary accommodation, 32 are housed at its specialist family accommodation unit or furnished temporary accommodation it owns.

The letter also raises concerns over the ‘terrible effect’ ongoing uncertainty is having on residents’ physical and mental health – with many of signatories being psychologists, counsellors and therapists.

Saiqa Naz, a cognitive behavioural therapist who has been offering support to residents said: “For over three years now, residents have been subject to enormous stress and anxiety that has resulted in ill-health. Being told that your home will be demolished and that you will have to leave is devastating.”

RBH guidance for residents says the mutual ‘completely understands how unsettling and distressing the rehousing process can be’ and has an ‘experienced team’ providing personalised support to all those residents who need it.

Once the pandemic is under control, campaigners hope RBH will work with the authorities ‘to enable an alternative, community-led approach to regeneration that improves the existing housing and area without further demolition and displacement’.  

Gareth Swarbrick, RBH Chief Executive, said: "We understand and appreciate the concerns raised in the letter and welcome any constructive discussion about the future of the town centre and its residents.

"We have always taken a collaborative approach in developing our plans for College Bank and Lower Falinge, from the hundreds of face-to-face and online conversations conducted with the local community since our consultations began in 2016 to liaising with senior council officials and local councillors.

"These ongoing discussions lead me to believe that we are all, in fact, striving for the same long-term goal. We all want the security of more, affordable homes in central Rochdale suited to a wide range of current and future residents, of the standard that local people and families deserve. We need a mix of homes for older people, couples, single people, and families, for those in the highest levels of need, for key workers and most of all homes that people choose to live and stay in as their long term secure affordable home.

"The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has brought the importance of good quality housing into sharp focus. While we rightly suspended all new home moves for people affected by our proposals before the Government’s instructions, our resolve to increase the number of homes and diversify beyond the limitations of high-rise living has only been strengthened.

"RBH’s recent, well-received development of family houses and bungalows in Lower Falinge was the first new housebuilding in our town centre neighbourhoods since the 1960s. Overall demand for our high-rise, ageing flats has reduced over a long period, while demand for family homes continues to rise, and outdoor spaces to enjoy are especially important in the current circumstances.

"Since 2016, we have repeatedly reviewed the potential investment required to refurbish our existing high-rise accommodation at College Bank, to deliver decent homes that will stand the test of time. The latest independent, technical report puts the cost of refurbishing all these seven blocks at over £90m, which RBH has no means of raising in the foreseeable future.

"We met with senior councillors last week and stated again that if Rochdale Council can demonstrate a way to undertake the necessary renovation works at College Bank, we would be happy to look at alternative solutions that guarantee the current residents and future generations a good quality home. However, since 2016 the small campaign group has not offered any alternative that can guarantee this."

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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