Monday, 16 March 2009

Hell In Happy Valley

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?)


Anonymous said...

Happy Valley = Thamesmead?

the reaper said...

there's happy valleys all the way through the midlands.

more importantly,if council's won't pay £400pcm for them,then what on earth made the developer a young solicitor on £25k p.a. would pay £800cpm?

Anonymous said...

I think I may live in 'Happy Valley'. I think I may also take to cementing my next doormat to the corridor floor. Urgh! Great entry as always. Good to read you've left the Dovecot.

RenterGirl said...

I suspect that in every town where this kind of development has arisen unchallenged, there is a version of Happy Valley. The decent into slummery was far quicker than I would have imagined.

Neil80 said...

I think the problem is that the developers are only interested in the short-term, once the units are sold what becomes of the development ceases to be their concern.

At least with Social Housing, the Councils or Housing Associations which commision the developments are long-term stakeholders so design aimed at creating a sustainable community is more likely to happen.

The picture of Social Housing is often painted with broad brushstrokes depicting 1960s modernist, brutalist, damp-infested, modules beset by crime and anti-social behaviour... This does Social Housing and advances in design and housing/community management a disservice, of course there are sink estates, mainly a legacy of the past, but there are also well managed, well built and most importantly sustainable communities.

By leaving our housing needs to the market we will end up, as with this example, repeating the mistakes of the past by creating poorly planned, incoherently managed developments.

RenterGirl said...

That's so right, and watching this happen is truly horrific. The people who live in the many emerging Happy Valleys will suffer. And the point you make about management in social housing is intriguing. In private rental buy-to-let estates (and they are estates) the management is not there to manage, rather to save money and minimise inconvernience tio itself and landlords. Tenants are never the focus of the managements work. I never thought this disaster would run its course so fast.