Standing up for Save Our Homes residents at appeal

Save Our Homes march through Rothwell with the NUM photo

It was just a year ago residents were celebrating as the council turned down the planning application to bulldoze the former coal board estate near Rothwell Sports Centre and Oulton Drive. But today saw the last day of a two-week inquiry by a government inspector as Pemberstone seeks to overturn the council’s decision to refuse the application. Save our Homes have been a Rule 6 party working with the council’s representatives. I’m proud to have given evidence at the appeal as part of the Save our Homes team.

As well as giving evidence I was able to watch and listen to much of the appeal as other witnesses gave evidence. Leeds City Council and its barrister did a great job of presenting its case, but it was also clear how important it was that tenants had their own independent voice and legal representation.

Cindy Readman, resident and Save Our Homes representative spoke powerfully about the devastating impact of the residents and community if the development was to go ahead. She spoke powerfully and emotionally about how their homes would be demolished and a vibrant community dissipated.

In my evidence I spoke of my experience as a Rothwell councillor supporting and helping local people trying to find council, social and general affordable housing. I explained about the lack of such housing in the Rothwell area and how it would be impossible to house another 50 plus families who would be homeless.

It would also mean the loss of 70 homes which are genuinely affordable to local people making it even harder for people to live in a home at a rent they could afford. I spoke about the long waiting lists for council houses and about the average two-year wait for a house with 300 families applying for each house.

Chris Kitchen from the National Union of Mineworkers spoke knowledgeably about the mining heritage of the estate and how the estate was designed to build a community to live and work together. His heritage evidence showed how the heritage value of buildings isn’t just their superficial facade but more importantly about their place in the community.

I’m proud to have fought with residents every step of the way and this is an issue which is close to my heart. Since we found out that Pemberstone appealed we formed a core team taking on the case and from that was asked to be one of the witnesses for the appeal by our barrister. This is definitely one of the biggest local injustices I’ve seen and we are all determined to fight it all the way.

While Pemberstone has lots of money to pay for expensive expert witnesses to provide evidence we had to rely on pro bono support from people willing to give their time for free and crowdfunding to pay for our barrister.

We were incredibly fortunate to have pro bono support from a senior planning consultant who is a member of Elmet and Rothwell Labour Party. John Lynch gave invaluable expert planning evidence about community being a relevant planning consideration. Based on his many years of experience as a local authority director of planning he spoke with immense knowledge and integrity. Even Pemberstone’s barrister acknowledged his forensic analysis of planning legislation to cite arguments against allowing the appeal.

We had two witnesses to provide evidence on how the homes were viable for repair. Tyrone Lawton of Structherm and Joe Rogers of Westdale Group, told the inquiry how the homes could be refurbished for approximately half the cost of the refurbishment option as stated by Pemberstone. While Pemberstone’s evidence depended on a large amount of theory, they were able to talk practically about fixing hundreds of similar Airey Houses.

Jenny Wigley, our barrister, did a fantastic job putting our Save Our Homes case across and cross-examining the expert witnesses called by the Pemberstone side.

Pemberstone’s legal case appeared to rest largely on some very specific legal points which fly in the face of what most people would consider to be common-sense.

One of these arguments rested on the legal definition of ‘affordable’ housing rather than what normal people would consider to be affordable. You and I would probably define ‘affordable’ as can local people afford to pay the rent. The legal definition means that there has to be a mechanism to prevent rents being increased even if that initial rent is more than people can afford to pay! Using the narrow legal definition of ‘affordable’ housing they even attempted to claim that its demolition scheme would provide more affordable housing.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if demolishing 70 homes with low rents and replacing them with 59 for sale and 11 for rent is increasing the amount of affordable housing in the real sense that actual people understand it.

Pemberstone’s barrister consistently threatened the tenants with eviction, regardless of the outcome of the appeal. Interestingly he presented no evidence that if Pemberstone lost the appeal it would make good on its threat of eviction. Pemberstone didn’t even put forward any of its own representatives to give evidence and based its case entirely on expert witnesses (who I assume all received handsome fees for providing evidence). Nor did it provide any written evidence that it would automatically evict people. Why would it be so reluctant to actually prove it is telling the truth? Perhaps because it knows it wants to carry on collecting the rents?

We now have to pray and wait for the planning inspector to make his judgment.

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