The end of the Q
Why are hundreds of much-loved houses on a popular estate being knocked down by Nottingham Council? Martin Hilditch speaks to some residents who are about to lose their homes.
Up until recently Keith and Janet would probably have considered themselves lucky.
The couple lived in a nice three-bedroom home in a decent estate in Nottingham next to neighbours they like. Formerly employed by the RAF, they moved into their property 20 years ago and thought it would be their home for life. At the end of last year they found out they were wrong.
Their lives were turned upside down following a visit from Nottingham Council. Officials told them that their home was to be knocked down, along with the 209 other properties that make up the ‘Q blocks’ on the Meadows estate.
Keith, 60, and Janet, 55, who do not want Inside Housing to print their surname, were devastated by the news. ‘I get upset about it,’ Janet admits, with tears in her eyes. ‘Basically, they are making us homeless.’
Janet refers to the estate as ‘lovely’. When Inside Housing pays them a visit, the couple’s pride in their home is certainly obvious. At one stage Janet darts into the lounge and produces a folder-cum-scrapbook containing certificates awarded to Keith after he took second place in the Meadows in Bloom competition in 2006 for the work he has done in his flower-filled garden - he went on to achieve consecutive third place finishes from 2007 to 2009.
And it’s not just their home that looks good. Certainly a visitor to the Q blocks, which are almost fully occupied, would be hard pressed to understand why they are being demolished. The blocks - which are not even 40 years old - look attractive, despite the rather strange mix of houses with low-rise flats above them. Most of the houses have gardens and there is plenty of green space nearby. There’s a row of local shops round the corner and the city centre is a maximum of 10 minutes’ walk away. It’s about as far removed from a sink estate as a hamburger is from being crowned king of England.
Off the books
Why, then, are the homes that make up the Q blocks set to be demolished? And what does the future hold for residents like Keith and Janet, who chose to make a life here?
The answer to the first question boils down to money. As Inside Housing reported last year (4 November) numerous demolition programmes, including the Q blocks, were approved by councils across England in September last year. The timing of the decisions was entirely due to the government’s axeing of the housing revenue account subsidy system, which took place at the end of March this year.
Source: Fabio De Paola
As part of that process it reallocated £29 billion of historic housing debt between councils, based on the number of homes they own. In other words, the more homes they had, the more debt councils would take on. Any homes which councils were planning to demolish would not be counted, as long as plans for demolition were in place before 10 October 2011. This gave local authorities a pressing reason to make decisions about properties they thought were unlikely to last for the 30 years of their housing business plans. As a result councils as diverse as Birmingham, Nottingham, Harlow and Eastbourne approved plans to knock down thousands of homes between them.
Nottingham will flatten 973 homes between now and 2017 - 209 of which are in the Q blocks. Despite all of this activity, however, the demolition of the Q blocks is different to most of the other plans.
Like on all of its other estates, Nottingham Council asked residents of the Q blocks what they thought about its demolition plans. Unlike other areas, however, the results of its survey were very, very close. Fifty-one per cent of the 143 households that eventually responded to the local authority’s question indicated they were in favour of demolition. Forty-nine per cent said they were not. If just two people had voted ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ the plans are unlikely to have gone ahead.
This becomes even more concerning when speaking to people like Janet and Keith.
‘We didn’t know anything about a vote,’ Janet says. ‘We didn’t even know there was a vote to do it.’
Both Janet and Keith say that if they had voted or indicated their opinions in advance they would have rejected the demolition plans. Now, despite being firmly opposed to the proposals, it is far too late for them to have a say. They are both clearly sick with worry. Even though their future is on the line, however, they have a rather British reserve about creating a stir. Janet makes me promise that no one from the council or its arm’s-length management organisation Nottingham City Homes will get into trouble before she agrees to speak to me about the distressing situation she and her husband have found themselves in.
They are not alone, though. Seventy-eight-year-old May Rolfe lives a minute’s walk from the couple. Ms Rolfe has lived in her house for 22 years and is also unhappy with the demolition plans.
‘I am absolutely gutted,’ she says. ‘It is a lovely place. It will ruin my life. I just can’t sleep at night worrying about where I might end up.’
Ms Rolfe says she didn’t even realise her home was in the Q blocks until she was told it was being knocked down.
‘I didn’t even know I was a Q blocker - it sounds like a prison,’ she says with a smile.
Like Keith and Janet, Ms Rolfe says by the time she heard about the demolitions it was a fait accompli.
‘I didn’t know about a vote,’ she says. ‘They did no voting when I went to the [public] meeting [about the plans].’
Source: Fabio De Paola
Ms Rolfe says if she had had the opportunity, she would have voted against the demolition plans. Instead, she describes the public meeting as having been ‘rubbish’ and full of unsympathetic ‘men in suits’.
‘The reason they gave us [for the demolitions] was that in 30 years’ time it would cost too much to keep the homes up to standard,’ she says.
Looking out at the estate from her front door she shakes her head in disbelief. ‘I just can’t understand it,’ she states. ‘People would give their right hand to live in a place like this. They [the Q blocks] are only about 35 years old. I can remember them being built.’
While Ms Rolfe has clearly been to public meetings and is knowledgeable about the plans for the estate, she is less certain when asked what will happen to her or how she will find a new home.
‘When houses become vacant we have to bid for them or something,’ she states doubtfully. ‘They haven’t told us anything. You are the first person I have spoken to about it. Nobody has come round. They keep sending letters.’
Grandmother Margaret Connolly is another worried tenant.
‘I have been here about 18 years,’ she states. ‘Most of my family was brought up here. I really don’t want to move. I feel apprehensive about going somewhere else.’
Like Keith and Janet, and Ms Rolfe, Ms Connolly says she was unaware of any vote or test of opinion about the plans. ‘I just came to my door and they told me it was coming down,’ she states. Had she known there was an opportunity to vote either for or against the plans, ‘I would be “no”,’ she says, adding sadly: ‘I just don’t understand why it is coming down.’
Just one resident I met during my afternoon on the Meadows estate was reasonably happy with the plans. The man, who did not want to be named, states that ‘if they have got to come down, they have got to come down’.
‘I can’t remember nothing like a vote, mate,’ he adds. ‘I think they just basically told us that they had to come down. A lot of people are going to have to go. At the end of the day you have got to do it to save money.’
He is not too bothered, he states, because ‘obviously they will give me another house’. This is fine ‘as long as it is where I want to go’, he adds.
With the result of the vote on the future of the Q blocks so close, it is concerning to find people who were unaware they had a chance to alter the decision.
A spokesperson for the council insists that it made extensive efforts to make sure everyone had a chance to influence their future.
‘We did go to every property in the Q blocks and we door-knocked,’ she states. ‘If people were in we gave them the questionnaire and the survey. Where there wasn’t an answer we put the information through the letterbox. We also had local meetings in the areas.’
The council will support all tenants who are affected by the demolitions, she adds. ‘That includes doing the best to find them a new home in the area that people want to live in.’
But with 209 homes being demolished in the Q blocks alone, doesn’t this make it unlikely that many people currently living in the Meadows will be able to remain in the area?
‘The caveat is that there are some areas of the city where there are limited supplies of homes available,’ the spokesperson admits.
Come what may, the plan to bulldoze the Q blocks rolls on - despite almost 50 per cent of the residents who actually stated an opinion being opposed. Legitimate questions need to be asked about why a number of residents were entirely unaware that they could have a say in the future of their homes until it was far too late - is it fair to expect tenants to read every piece of literature that’s put through their doors, especially when it relates to making decisions that could change their lives?
For the moment, though, Keith and Janet and a number of their neighbours are facing up to a very different future than the one they had hoped for.