Tuesday, 29 July 2008

There Really Was A Murder

When people told me about the murder (Rentergirl passim) I didn’t believe them. I wasn’t trying to be sceptical, just level-headed. Then another neighbour mentioned it. He asked me what I knew, and scornfully I repeated the myths I’d heard: tales of random body parts and screaming.

This man's bombshell was to tell me that there really had been a murder. He told police he’d heard a scream and witnessed two suspicious men running away. At the crime scene, investigators discovered a trail of blood where the body had been dragged across the floor, rubbish sacks and tape, but no corpse. Since the flat was rented in a Byzantine chain of informal subletting, the victim remains undiscovered, and also unidentified.

It hasn’t even made the news – and we’ve all been watching. The suspicion is that a man has murdered his partner. Or - being as the crime occurred on the ground floor – assailant(s) vaulted over the balcony and through an open window. Since the main door is always broken, maybe they knocked before barged in. I realised a short while back that every flat on my floor has identical window locks; no danger for those on higher floors, but on the ground level, a key holder could easily have let themselves in. There are of course no CCTV cameras.

The police canvassed the building, but they didn’t put notes under our front doors asking for information, instead they put notes into post boxes many of which were crow-barred open, emptied by thieves fishing for cheques etc. Police pressed buzzers during the day, when everyone was out (in any case, nobody opens their door unless they already know who’s there). Posters requesting information were apparently ripped down by the people who run a ‘hotel’ business here (don’t want to worry the guests now do we?)

Whenever I write about the dislocated, alienated lives we urban nomads lead, I generally receive comments and emails claiming that all streets are the same, or from people who own their flat and rarely speak to neighbours, insisting that reticence and reserve are not unique to rented newbuilds.

But it is worse here. There’s almost a sense of fear. We are usually afraid to talk, but briefly, and bizarrely we were speaking but only about the murder. Now it’s heads down again, don’t look up, don’t make eye contact, don’t say a word. It takes courage to so much as nod at strangers passing on the corridor.

When I was a child, I lived in a small town, and a man was murdered in a house at the end of our quiet, ordinary road. He ‘kept himself to himself,’ caring for his learning disabled brother. He was also gay. We live in more enlightened times, and the victim had been ‘cottaging’ in the public toilets in the park where we played, and there were dark tales of blackmail. The older brother of a girl at my school was convicted of his murder.

Every locked front door conceals a secret. Crime is everywhere and nowhere is immune, wherever you live, no matter how upmarket your area, nor how diligent the neighbourhood watch scheme. Random acts of violence have always been with us, but the guarded, anti-social world of newbuilds was a contributing factor to the murder, and the emerging enigma. Could this be my final straw?


the reaper said...

dont mean to pry but I was recently looking at some flats for rent in nottingham and the prices they were asking were high to say the least?unrealistic probably more accurate..houses are way cheaper.is that not the case where you are or are the houses in rough areas

or do the LLs advertise and then accept much lower offers.

Anonymous said...

The very best of luck if you do decide to move.

Now might be a good time - perhaps you could negotiate more reasonable redecorating conditions?

Cheers and best wishes. "Dovecot Towers" has been an arresting metaphor.


RenterGirl said...

Thanks for your best wished David.

And Reaper, well rents are interesting. I write about newbuild flats, not houses, but I suspect there are still some vestiges of those silly schemes encouraging buy-to-let landlords, via letting agents, to ask for unrealistic rents. In areas carpeted with newbuilds, the rents are slowly sinking. The online agencies ask for much higher rents than they actually achieve. As with everything, price is dependent on demand and supply. There is an oversupply in most Northern Towns (Sheffield was highlighted on the ITN news the other day.) Landlords won't be able to sell for a while. Houses are often scarce, especially for families, as landlords prefer to rent as HMO's. When I hear either Shelter asking for millions of new homes, and the government boasting about building said millions of homes, with neither specifying what type of homes, I could scream. There are too many newbuild rabbit hutches. (There used to be a lack of provision for couples and singletons) and now we need spacious sturdy family houses. I'm not sure about Nottingham: if there are vast newbuild develpopments, be sceptical about the rent agents ask for.

RenterGirl said...

Oh and Reaper - you're not prying! I welcome people with comments and intelligent questions. Thansk for reading.

the reaper said...

cheers rentergirl,I for one agree that there is no shortage of property but there is shortage of decent properties.

The simple function of land moving up/down at 2.5-3 times the rate of change in houses(so a 1% drop leads to a 3% in the land)means that on the way up developers are quite simply forced to cram as many in as possible or lose money.

So as ever we can blame the blight on many cityscapes down to the Ponzi economy.Problem is that we'll be left with them for a few decades yet.

apparently there are 1 million properties for sale in the UK....


check out this place in no mans land.£1700???

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/viewdetails-21088556.rsp?pa_n=7&tr_t=rent £1500.

you really should have a most overpriced newbuild flat sh1thole thread?

some of these rents are in dreamworld.You know there's just sooo many millionaires knocking around who dont want to own their own home.

RenterGirl said...

When land is available for building, councils have to grant permission for what is to be constructed within the 'footprint.' They could say: we want ten decent sized family houses within that footprint. But, if they grant permission for three blocks on the same footprint, in theory this means 500 households paying council tax, rather than ten. Call me a conspiracy theorist....

the reaper said...

rentergirl,there was a thread on that on HPC,ie will people satart turning 3 flat victorian hosues back into homes.someone made the very valid point that they -the council-wouldn't give permission because of the cuts it may force in revenue terms.

RenterGirl said...

Hmmm...it's back to the sixties again isn't it? Municipal shenanigens causing shoddy housing. Thanks Reaper: that's fascinating.

A Planning Officer Writes... said...

There won't be any permission for more newbuild or converted flats outside of city centres in Manchester and Salford for the forseeable future (next 10 years at least, and this is all in publically available documents, so I'm not giving anything away) there's plenty in the pipeline, though obviously market conditions might mean they stay unbuilt.

The initial "idea" behind high density city centre/edge of centre development is a sound one - higher densities closer to where people live and work is much more sustainable than the alternative of (sub/ex)urban sprawl.

Incidentally, you don't need planning permission to re-convert flats back into a single house, though you might need Building Regs consent, but thats purely about safety issues. And, not that it would really be an option for the newbuild blocks.

Incidentally, love the blog from both a personal and academic point of view. It should be required reading where I work.

RenterGirl said...

I'm glad planners are reading this, and thank you for taking the time to write. Now I'd like to get the arhcitects and developers not just to read this, but to make amends and admit their sins.

I agree about high density housing in a way, but the problem is the kind of high density low rise housing; ie low quality, meagre 1/2 bed hutches. And they are getting smaller (see the excellent UK Bubble on links). After ten years of frantic development, Manchester is only just about to get another health centre to cope with the new population.

The policy has led to a homogenising of age, which is not healthy. We need facilities and variety to stop these settlements becoming, as I have said elsewhere, like Neverland.

the reaper said...

great to see a planner on here.why not jsut build 2 bed terraces,the mainstay of many inner cities and nice places to live on the whole.

agree on the need to get people back in cities,but then why have they allowed sooo much david wilson type developments on the edges of towns?

RenterGirl said...

The newbuilds about which I whine at lenght have recently been spotted appearing in suburbs, usually close to stations. I am planning a post about this...Why shouldn't newbuild flats have three or four beds, utility rooms, cupboards and lounges, and be family homes? because that way,, you squeeze more in. It's: David Crosby Identikit boxes on the outskirts, and rabbit hutches around the innner city.

A Planning Officer Writes... said...

rentergirl - i think the short answer is it takes a loooooong time to build health centres, especially as virtually all of them are public-private-partnerships (under the LIFT scheme, very dull, very slow) - in general, i just think there's going to be a natural lull before the market catches up and the infrastructure appears. not much consolation right now, i know... but i absolutely agree that those kind of things are absolutely vital, and its a good thing that planning policy has caught up. without it written down on paper, planners are pretty much powerless to demand these things (forgive the alliteration!)

reaper - its a good question, and i think what we're seeing approved now is a return to more traditional family housing development. not in the centres of large cities, frankly the market there can still tolerate high densities at high prices, but certainly in that next zone out from the centre. that should emerge as whats in the pipeline starts being built.

in the long run, developers may be evil (hehe) but they're not stupid, they won't build what doesn't sell. eventually...

i suppose it would be ironic if it turns out that after knocking down boarded up terraces that have lain empty for a decade or more, we start rebuilding similar properties not long after. hindsight is nice, obviously... the streets upon streets in northern cities of empty terraced housing suggested in the mid/late 90s that there was no demand for that kind of housing.

what is written about in this blog resonates though. i'm in my late 20s but absolutely nowhere near being able to afford to buy anywhere, i don't want to give too much away but my choices are between a 'dovecot' style place like yours, or a flat in a sub-divided victorian house further out. i was leaning toward the excitement of bowling out of the (hip area of my city) and straight into a nice swinging pad, but now... having my doubts.

RenterGirl said...

Hmmm. If the choice is between a suburban conversion, and a dovecot, I'd ask the following questions: do you have a need to be in the city (work, friends, entertainment etc.) the one advantage is proximity, and lower transport costs and travel times. I'd also say, don't move into a generic bog standard low rise 'dovecot' but check them out: there are few nicer ones. The Letting Agents or landlord should know, and should be obliged to disclose the ratio of owner occupiers to buy to let tenants, and students (sorry; I was one once but let's be realistic here.) The persistent problems are caused by shared postrooms, poor soundproofing, poor security (ie a main door that can pulled open) and no caretaker. If you can find a development with few of the abovesnags, it's worth a try. I like living in the city. I just don't like the assumptions that are made, such as by people who scream under your window, or have parties every night etc etc.
Developers are evil. They pushed the newbuild concept to it's limit. They might stop building them, but the fact is, they were half way through their evil plans (paving the land with hutches.) And they're only just changing their minds. Good luck with the house hunting. Meanwhile they are plenty of flats going in and around Dovecot Towers...

the reaper said...

'but absolutely nowhere near being able to afford to buy anywhere'

don't buy now planner,the marekts crashing.I'm an avowed HPCer.

RG,the simple reality is that land moves up at 2.5 to 3 times the price of hosuing ,so hosues go up 1% land goes up 3%.thus many developers have found the only way to make a profit was to build poor quality housing as they were paying so much for the land.All part of the illusory wealth created in the last decade.

BTW planner,I'd always take the vistorian conversion.thsoe inner city flats are tnaking.saw one go through auction the otehr day in notrhampton at 60% below 2005 price.

off topic,I nkow it's your blog RG but comment moderation does stunt dialogue.many don't have it eg guido fawkes and jsut delete if needed.cant imagine there are that many nutters around.

RenterGirl said...

Reaper, you'd be amazed at how many nutters and piffle mongers I filter. I think Planner was talking about renting a newbuild; but you're right about the auctions and prices being hacked. No amount of price cuts would make me buy one.

the reaper said...

wow about the piffle mongers,than fair enough RG.of all the places to troll etc.........

do you visit HPC much?some of the auction threads lately have been stunning in numbers of unsolds and the prices of places that are selling being back at 2005 or below.