What a waste to demolish good homes

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Passing along Accrington Road recently I was sorry to see Nos. 185 and 187 being pulled down.

Demolition of housing in Burnley is nothing new, so why was this at all different? The reason is that these houses were the home of Mr Raymond Holdgate who was my neighbour when I used to live in that part of Burnley.

He was well known and well liked. He spent all his life in the area where he worked as a cobbler. He was born only a short distance away in Villiers Street.

Some years ago, the Express wrote an article about his life. In 2007 our then Lib-Dem Council resolved to buy his home “by agreement” for so-called regeneration. As a result, Mr Holdgate was visited by council officers sent there for the purpose of employing persuasion to get him to leave. I and a friend were with Mr Holdgate and our presence was highly unwelcome to these officials. What was so upsetting was that the council was making resolutions to buy people’s homes without having the courtesy to mention it to any of them first – something for which the council in the end apologised.

The issue of whether or not any attempt should be made to have Mr Holdgate leave his home is one I raised when I stood as a candidate at the 2008 council election. When the story featured in the Express several correspondents supported him in wishing to remain. For once, the story ended happily. The council backed down, agreed it would not try to acquire Mr Holdgate’s houses and even spent a considerable sum on facelifting them.

Mr Holdate died in 2013. As his houses were never, to my knowledge, offered for sale it looks as though as soon as he had died our council stepped in, made an offer the executors couldn’t refuse, and took the houses over in order to allow them to stand empty for two years before smashing them up. What kind of behaviour is this and who benefits? How does this decision of our glorious council benefit me, a taxpayer and resident of the town? Would someone, on behalf of the council, please explain? Probably not, but if anyone does, I expect to be told it was necessary to provide a suitable site for the developer, Keepmoat, to expand its new housing site nearby.

No it wasn’t. I spoke to Steve Tilley, then in charge of much of the redevelopment funded by the Elevate scheme, after the decision not to try to acquire these houses and expressed my surprise at the change of heart. Mr Tilley told me not to obtain these two houses was something the council could perfectly well live with as they were isolated from all other housing nearby and any redevelopment could take place around them. In addition to which, they were not run down, dilapidated cottages, being fair sized, structurally sound houses of originally good quality. That is quite true; the original builder designated them Claremont Villas, placing the name and date, 1871, on a stone in the front facade. In their day, they were upmarket property and justified the spending of perhaps as much as £20,000 of our money in facelifting as they were well capable of standing another 140 years.

The obvious beneficiary of this vandalism is Keepmoat, which will doubtless be offered the site. But what is the point of bulldozing one house to build another, no better, at a subsidy from the taxpayer of, I would estimate, at least £100,000? The persons responsible for this waste are Labour councillors, including one who wants to be our MP.

Does this poor judgement justify the reward of the £67,000 a year and generous expenses that goes with the job of an MP? And what about the council officials? Plainly they haven’t even agreed among themselves. Seven years ago, when money was plentiful, they decided to spend money on improving a house. Today when money is hard to find, after spending the town’s money on the improvement, they pull it down. The responsibility for that has to lie with the former Chief Executive. Burnley has a new Chief Executive. I wish her well – let’s hope Mrs Smith shows more commonsense and imposes it on those around her.

John Rowe

Tennis Street, Burnley