A new slum is rising. I knew of its reputation as somewhere even worse than Dovecot Towers, but only recognised the extent of its decline recently, when letting agents never offered me a flat there. Let’s call this place Happy Valley.
Before I moved into Dovecot Towers, the letting agent (who, to be fair, was unaware of the horror that greeted tenants there) mentioned a flat in Happy Valley quizzically, half-heartedly, with one eyebrow raised. When I said no, he seemed relieved.
Now Happy Valley is notorious. It’s the worst of all possible worlds: the last gasp of the property boom at its meanest, with costs cut to the dry white bone. Built near an area you wouldn’t want to live, the surrounding neighbourhood is often mentioned in news reports linked to the phrase gang-related activity. Developers must have known that.
Happy Valley’s investors were often hubristic out-of-towners, bamboozled by talk of proximity to entertainment and the city’s delights. Stupidly they never visited, having bought off-plan. That was a few years ago now, but the unfolding disaster is worse than anyone could have imagined.
One letting agent, who had previously lied through his iridescent capped teeth about a booming rental market, said of Happy Valley: I never offer flats there. Don’t go there. I wouldn’t like my girlfriend living there.
Why? The extremes of the crash hit Happy Valley hard. Entire floors are unoccupied. Landlords are desperate, and have dropped any pretence of vetting tenants. Tellingly, the letting agent abandoned all attempts to say apartment, admitting: when you move in, you don’t know how long the landlord will hold on.
Another day, another repossession. The corridors echo with burglaries on a scale that made Dovecot Towers look like Walton’s Mountain. The approach is notoriously dodgy, and muggings are increasing. Squatters are arriving. This is where neighbours from hell go to practice and refine their evil ways.
What’s to be done? There is no plan. The council have already declared that newbuilds better than Happy Valley fall short of the standards necessary for their adoption or requisition as social housing. They won’t be snapping them up at auction to house the desperate, as there are far too many badly built, unpleasant, tiny, badly planned, poorly finished flats.
Meanwhile, the legions of hell have stormed the gates of Happy Valley. Soon, people who live there will be tainted by association, when they’ve only moved in because they’re poor. Some buildings are still being completed. The owners have tried to change the tarnished name (all these parishes of doom are christened whimsically with foolishly optimistic names redolent of hope, countryside, or arty edginess.) It won’t work. The stench of that rotten reputation precedes it, blighting lives until it is demolished
My question is this: if councils don’t want these budding sink estates, and have ruled the flats as not fit for their purposes (too small, too badly built) then why allow them in the first place?
(N.B. In my new home, residents have doormats outside their flats. Nobody steals them or anything. How posh is that?)