Thousands of people have been left “utterly stranded” in desolate streets up and down the country because housing regeneration schemes have stalled. What’s it like to be the only resident on a road full of empty houses?
As Maureen Walsh sips tea in her homely back room, surrounded by family photos, it might be a scene typical in homes across the UK.
But a peek through her front curtains reveals something far from the norm; a patch of scrubby grassland where a terrace once mirrored her own.
Behind a wire-fence barrier, a single inhabited home of an elderly lady is propped up by the remains of its derelict, pigeon-infested neighbours, their gaping sides covered with tarpaulin.
“I just feel really, really sad when I look out of the window,” says Mrs Walsh, who bought her two-bedroom terrace in Oldham with husband Terry in 1973.
“We’ve lived in this area for 50 years and it was a superb community. There’s no community now, no children. All they’ve done is knock down houses, grass over the land and put little railings around.”
London Road in Oldham’s Derker district was just one of scores across England earmarked for demolition in 2005.
It was part of Labour’s ambitious £2.2bn project to breathe new life into neighbourhoods “characterised by dereliction, crime, anti-social behaviour and poor services” and blighted by “housing market failure”.
The 15-year Pathfinder scheme, initially in nine areas of England, was designed to attract private-sector investment to improve housing stock and increase demand. In places, it meant replacing terraces, said to be in low demand, with family homes with gardens and parking spaces.
But eight years on, the scheme was reeling from the successive blows of the recession, the collapse in house-building, and public spending cuts.